Archive for December, 2012

Well thanks to the appalling weather that kept us indoors I did finally manage to read the  50 crime fiction books this year. I will post a list of my top 5 favourite reads next week, but here are a few meandering thoughts about the year in crime fiction.

2012 was a year of great loss for the online crime fiction community  with the tragic death of Maxine Clarke. Maxine’s intelligent comments, encouragement, book recommendations and above all friendship will be missed by so many in the community of crime fiction fans. 

Reginald Hill, creator of Dalziel and Pascoe, died earlier in the year and this was a big loss to fans of intelligent well written crime fiction. He did not receive as many accolades as less worthy writers, but his books are a fine epitaph. 

This was the year of the “sock puppet scandal” with a well known writer coming clean that he wrote excellent reviews of his own books, and derogatory ones of other authors. I suspect he is not alone, and many of those throwing up their hands in horror are just as guilty. 

One feature I noticed was the continued trend for crime writers to want to add on another couple of hundred pages of narrative to their books. Sometimes it works and sometimes it leads to repetition, padding and sub-plots that go nowhere. The 700 page novel…Middlemarch, Bleak House perhaps….. modern crime fiction no way.

Then there were a few books where the writers decided to both make a very bleak book even darker with a sad miserable ending. It was as if the writers said “hey we are Swedish let us lay on even more trauma on to our characters, and leave our readers really depressed”. In Cell 8 Roslund and Hellstrom decided that they would end the book with a too clever twist. Clever twists have to be believable, and most good twists have already been done by Agatha Christie, who in her later book Endless Night [1967] even succeeded in plagiarising her own twist in Death on the Nile [1937].

It was the end of  the great character Sarah Lund in a finale to series three of The Killing that was entirely satisfactory. I think many people read or watch TV crime fiction because they believe in Justice, and not in the what masquerades as Justice in our societies; the Law. Well done Sarah. 

Rebus is back, and I am reading Ian Rankin’s Standing In Another Man’s Grave at the moment. You have to read Scottish crime fiction on Hogmanay. I read the first Malcolm Fox book, and said to Mrs Crime Scraps as I finished it “Rebus will be back!” Interestingly Arnaldur Indridason with Outrage [featuring Elinborg], and Black Skies [featuring Sigurdur Oli] succeeded in producing two fine books without his main protagonist Erlendur. What will Ian Rankin give us next Rebus or Fox?

Scandinavian crime fiction continues to get published although some books have slipped below the high standard set in the past. But we can look forward to more from the elite writers such as Asa Larsson, Anne Holt, Liza Marklund and Leif G.W. Persson in 2013. On TV as well as The Killing, my viewing included Borgen and The Bridge from Scandinavia along with the superior British police procedural Scott and Bailey, and the Israeli inspiration for Homeland, Hatufim [Abductees].  

This was the year that Italy finally broke the Franco-Swedish grip on the CWA International Dagger. Andrea Camilleri at last won with The Potter’s Field, and BBC4  showed the ten part Montalbano series on television. This was one of the highlights of my TV viewing year. Also from Italy came the first in a series by Maurizio de Giovanni [translated by Anne Milano Appel] set in Naples in the 1930s featuring an anti-Fascist detective Commissario Ricciardi. I Will Have Vengeance [The Winter of Commissario Ricciardi] was subtle and intelligent, and I am looking forward to the next book in the series Blood Curse [The Springtime of Commissario Ricciardi] due to be published in May 2013. Historical crime fiction continued to be among my favourite reads during the year with author Roger Morris leaving his and Dostoevky’s Porfiry Petrovich in late 19th century Imperial Russia and starting a new series in 1914 Edwardian London in company with inspector Silas Quinn of ScotlandYard’s special crimes unit.

The Ellis Peters Historical Crime Fiction was deservedly won by Icelight, the third book in the ever improving Peter Cotton series by Aly Monroe. This evocative novel inspired a late in the year spy fiction reading and viewing bonanza in which I watched Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in the Gary Oldman version. Old timers like me will always hark back to the BBC TV Alec Guinness portrayal of George Smiley, but I really enjoyed this movie version. I finished off the year reading the brilliant novel Spies of the Balkans** by Alan Furst, and the slightly too long The Nearest Exit by Olen Steinhauer, which introduced me to the “old fat woman” Erika Schwartz of the BND [German foreign intelligence service]. Erika enjoys a daily bottle of Rheinland Riesling and a Snickers bar, and became one of my favourite characters of the year.

Yesterday I finished reading Alibi by Joseph Kanon  which has a short but tempting opening line- “After the war, my mother took a house in Venice.” Both The Nearest Exit and Alibi won the Hammett Prize from the International Association of Crime Writers North American Branch.

I hope to find time in the New Year to review Spies of the Balkans as I particularly enjoyed  the twists and turns, and a plot that almost made you forget real life doesn’t always have happy endings. In January my reading plans include Leighton Gage’s Perfect Hatred, the sixth Mario Silva thriller set in Brazil, Pierced by Thomas Enger, and Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst. 

Happy New Year, and pleasant reading to everyone.  

The New Winter Quirky Quiz 2012-2013

Posted: December 27, 2012 in Quiz

 I know some readers look forward to the annual quiz at Crimescraps, and interestingly I have noticed that there are always a lot more viewings of the answers  than there ever are of the questions.  So this year I have tried to create something with a range of questions from very easy to those that will test your little grey cells a little as well as hopefully entertain. So do have an attempt sending your answers to by midnight GMT on 20 January 2013.

For the winner the prize is a copy of the CWA International Dagger winning novel The Potter’s Field by Andrea Camilleri. [If the winner has read this book there will be an alternative choice]

1] The first question is tricky.

Who are the people depicted in this print which resides in Torquay Museum? 

2] What is the connection between a young pilchard, a Slovakian female, a small citrus fruit, and a South Slavic Viking?

3] In what timely way is Gordon Daviot linked to Anne Neville?

4] Who lived or lives at: [a] Whitehaven Mansions [b] 221B Baker Street [c] The Larches [d] an old Brownstone on West 35th Street [e] 14 Farraway Street [f] a residential home in Marnas and [g] a studio apartment in Santa Teresa

5] Who gives this valuable advice? ‘As a man gets older if he knows what is good for him, the women he likes are getting older, too.’

6] In which crime novel are the chapter headings taken from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens?

7] In which novel is Kjell Eriksson murdered, and who is Holt’s best guy?

8] Make an educated guess as to the connection between Raymond Chandler and Dame Ngaio Marsh?

9] Which crime novel begins with a chapter one entitled November, and a quotation from La Rochefoucauld about  funerals? 

10] What nationality are these investigators?

a] Mario Silva [b] Mario Conde [c] Hector Salgado [d] Siri Paiboun

11] Who created these characters?

a] Anna Marie Mella [b] Ann Lindell [c] Annika Bengtzon [d] Hanne Wilhelmsen [e] Kimmo Joentaa [f] Jakob Skarre [g] Ingrid Sjostrom 

12] Who wrote:

[a] Summon Up The Blood [b] Blood of the Wicked [c] A Question of Blood

13] Philip Glenister [star of TV series Life on Mars] also played the part of DCI Danny Lloyd, co-starring with Michelle Collins who played DS Judy Hill, in a pilot TV show. Is there a shred of evidence for a latin connection with a famous Oxford sleuth?  


There it is, some questions that may test your knowledge of crime fiction and could possibly keep you busy into the New Year. Good Luck.

The weather has been terrible here in England’s South West with severe flooding, constant rain and it is almost dark today before 15.00. So I thought I would post a couple of photos I took during the blue sky weather of the Autumn. These I think are evocative of England and the Golden Age of the Detective story. More suitable to wish everyone a Happy Christmas and Best Wishes for a peaceful and above all healthy 2013. I will be back after Boxing Day with the Winter Quirky Quiz, a Review of the Year, and my favourite books of 2012.



Maxine Clarke of Petrona

Posted: December 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

I had sent our dear Maxine an email card last week, and she hadn’t replied which was so unlike her. I knew her health was very bad but hoped I was wrong and that perhaps she might be on holiday. The dreadful news of her death came yesterday. My computer froze earlier today, it was if it could not or would not accept the terrible news. Other people have spoken movingly of Maxine’s qualities, and as I read through the dozens of emails we had exchanged over the last six years I thought what a kind and very brave lady she was. {We only met in person twice, she was lovely.} 

She tempted so many inexperienced bloggers to dip their toe in the blogging water and then jump in with her helpful comments and encouragement, that we all owe Maxine a great debt of gratitude. Her own blog Petrona was a source of pleasure, excellent writing, valuable opinions, and a constant temptation to plagiarise. 

Maxine was a true friend, I will miss her terribly.

[The photos show Maxine at Crime Fest and with Hakan Nesser, and translator Don Bartlett, one of her favourites.]



Posted: December 16, 2012 in Australia

This was a very interesting and thought provoking novel, the second by Yvette Erskine a former Tasmanian police officer, about what happens when young thebetrayal_0police officer Lucy Howard makes an allegation of rape against a member of the Special Operations Group.

The author uses the compelling technique of  having each of the thirteen chapters take the story on from a different person’s perspective; starting with the complainant, Lucy and moving through  various other participants including the Commissioner, Director of Public Prosecutions, a psychologist, a journalist and friends of the participants and ending with the Soggy [the alleged rapist].

This keeps the reader gripped but means that we get more than a fair ration of despicable characters. The strange attitude of the females that Lucy by complaining has somehow “betrayed the sisterhood”, and that will put back the advancement of women in the police service I found hard to stomach. The majority of the male characters are corrupt and no better than the perpetrator, Nick Greaves, and Cam the man Lucy believes is her boyfriend [another cop in prison for assaulting a criminal] fails to support her.

Cam, even more so than Nick, had taught her a valuable lesson: not only could you not trust anyone, but you couldn’t rely on anyone, no matter how much you wanted to.

The Betrayal is a bleak story that shows Australia’s Federal system gives great opportunity for a level of corruption and venality at the local level that is perhaps predictable. We all know that politicians can be corrupt, and the policeforce are not a normal cross section of most societies, but I really wondered if  Tasmanians at any level really have misogynist and racist attitudes similar to  those portrayed in this book? 

Torino was one of the two token wogs in the force, a solid bloke who seemed to keep his nose relatively clean. He was slightly less annoying than the other wog, the Greek who was currently out on some weak-as-piss stress claim. 

When I have heard places such as Tasmania described as like England in the 1950s I did not think it meant they still exhibited the worst of the racial attitudes. A depressingly harsh novel that makes its point well, and with a technique that could grow on me. I look forward to another book from Yvette Erskine.  

Looking back: November 2012

Posted: December 5, 2012 in Book Awards, Denmark, USA

My pick of a very good reading month was The Black Box by Michael Connelly, but that was only by a short head from Lime’s Photograph by Leif Davidsen. pickofthemonth201251H1aQ0GtWL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU02_

I am about to finish my 45th crime fiction book of the year, which probably means I will miss my target of 50 for the year; but considering the number and length of the non-fiction books I have read in addition I think I have done quite well. 



Posted: December 1, 2012 in review, USA

51H1aQ0GtWL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU02_During the LA riots of 1992, which followed the acquittal of four LAPD police officers for the beating of Rodney King, homicide detective Harry Bosch is called to the body of Anneke Jespersen, a white female journalist, shot through the eye in what looks like an execution. In the chaos of the riots with shooting, looting and burning buildings all around Harry is called to another case and the murder of Anneke Jespersen is passed on to the Riot Crimes Task Force.

Twenty years later Harry now working in the cold case unit gets a lead when modern technology links the gun used in the murder of Anneke Jespersen with more recent gang killings. The reader is taken on a classic police procedural journey as Harry methodically and systematically pursues all the leads which will take him to the “black box’ that will unlock the case. This is one of those books where you don’t want to know too much about the plot before you start reading. 

Hieronymus ‘Harry’ Bosch has always been one of my favourite detectives and this book reminded me of his appeal as he clashes with his politically motivated superiors. 

“You forgot that I close cases. Not for the stats you send up to the tenth-floor Power Point shows. For the victims. And their families. And that’s something you’ll never understand because you’re not out there like the rest of us.”

His daughter Madeline is now living with him and Harry is struggling with the complications of dealing with a teenage daughter. There is a very interesting section when Harry takes Madeline to try out the Forces Options Simulator at the police academy where she goes through various shoot/don’t shoot scenarios on the computer. 

“You are within policy if your action is in immediate defense of life. That can mean your life or somebody else’s. It doesn’t matter.”

The jazz loving Harry Bosch usually has his own policies when it comes to dealing with criminals. What I really liked about The Black Box was that it was a straightforward police procedural without the fancy bells and whistles, italicised thoughts of dead people, multiple perspectives, numerous flashbacks and other writing techniques that characterise so many of today’s crime fiction. It seemed old fashioned, and despite the use of mobile phones, as if it had come from a different era. I enjoyed The Black Box so much that I am tempted to go back and read both the early Harry Bosch books again, and the last couple of books that I have missed. 

“I had just come back from the war in Vietnam, and people like me-you know, ex-soldiers from over there-they weren’t accepted back here. Especially by people our own age.”