Archive for December 31, 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.