Archive for January, 2013

pi764d5364b057b5b7@largeI went through a stage last year of becoming bored with Nordic crime fiction. At one point four out of five Nordic books disappointed me with their sameness piling misery on misery. I wondered if the “Golden Age” had passed.

I had forgotten that several of the greats of the Nordic crime scene had many of their books still untranslated into English. The Blind Goddess, the first in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series, was one of my favourite reads of 2012, and the second in that series Blessed Are Those Who Thirst [translated by Anne Bruce] did not disappoint, and must in my opinion be a strong contender for the International Dagger.

The novel, originally published in Norwegian in 1994, is the story of two investigations carried out by an overworked  Detective Inspector Hanne Wilhelmsen during a warm Oslo spring. The title is taken from Matthew 5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled. I rather like stories that differentiate between justice, righteousness and the law.

Hanne is sent to an abandoned shed where large quantities of  blood cover the walls, but there is no body. On one wall an eight digit number is written in blood. This is the first of several such occurrences until Police Attorney Hakon Sand realises the significance of the numbers….

 Hanne also has to deal with the brutal rape of a young woman, Kristine Haverstad and track down the perpetrator. The reader knows more than the police and that Hanne is in a race with Kristine ‘s father, Finn, a widower and 6’3″ dentist who is also searching for the man who has raped his daughter. 

 “All rapes are dreadful,” the police attorney mumbled. Having read for a few moments, he concurred. It was horrendous. “How did she seem?”

“An all right kind of girl. Rather sweet. Decent in every way. Medical student. Smart. Successful. And very raped.”

Blessed Are Those Who Thirst is only 211 pages long, but covers a lot of ground; the police investigations, Kristine’s trauma, Finn Haverstad’s private investigation, the motives of the warped perpetrator, and also succeeds in developing the characters we first met in The Blind Goddess.

Personal relationships play a big part of this story, Finn’s love for his daughter, Hakon’s affair with corporate lawyer Karen Borg, Hakon’s friendship with Hanne, and Hanne’s dilemma whether to “come out” to her work colleagues about her longterm relationship with her lover, Cecilie. 

“Yes. It’s about time you got to see what I’m up to when I wander off outdoors during the night. This bloodbath is probably no worse than your own operating rooms.” Cecilie did not believe her. She began to read again but was clearly preoccupied with what Hanne was about to say.

“I mean it my friend. Put on your clothes. We’re going to inspect a crime scene. Hurry up.”

Anne Holt has the knack of getting inside the heads of her characters, changing perspectives with ease, and getting the reader to identify with the people in the story. Kristine becomes more than a victim, she becomes a real person during the horrifying rape. We can sympathise with her father, and fume silently with Hanne as her boss Chief Inspector Kaldbakken comes up with the appalling expression “self-inflicted rapes…”.

The reader is also drawn into the immigration debate over asylum seekers.

They were offered five hours of Norwegian lessons per week, and the remainder of their time was a sea of frustration, uncertainty and tremendous anxiety.

But what really makes this book special is that author Anne Holt has cleverly created such a likeable character in Hanne Wilhelmsen. I can highly recommend the series and am waiting  impatiently for the next in the series to be translated.

“A pink Harley-Davidson! The worst thing I’ve ever seen!” He looked her up and down.

“On the other hand, you’re altogether too attractive to be riding a motorbike at all. At the very least, it would have to be a pink one.”

……………………..

Red-haired Erik was elated. By the end of the journey he didn’t know which he was more in love with: Hanne Wilhelmsen or her big rose-colored Harley.   

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

The clues were there in the Tom Adams print and the fact it resides in Agatha Christie’s home town. The people were Sherlock Holmes and a young Miss Marple.

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

This was easy for Danes as they refer to the four novels of Leif Davidsen. The Sardine Deception; The Woman from Bratislava; Lime’s Photograph; and The Serbian Dane. I can highly recommend these thrillers.

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

This was more straightforward. Gordon Daviot was a pseudonym used by Josephine Tey, who wrote the brilliant novel The Daughter of Time [timely way]. The Daughter of Time is an investigation into the murder of the Princes in the Tower in which Tey clears Richard III of the terrible crime. Richard was married to Anne Neville. Richard III’s skeleton was recently discovered under a parking lot in Leicester.

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

These were the residences of  [a] Hercule Poirot [b] Sherlock Holmes [c] Hercule Poirot [d] Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin [e] Hercule Poirot [f] Gerlof Davidsson from the books by Johan Theorin [g] Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone

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.’

Lew Archer in Ross Macdonald’s The Zebra Striped Hearse, adding that “The trouble is that most of them are married.”

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

The novel is Recalled to Life by one of the greatest English crime writers Reginald Hill, who sadly passed away last year. 

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

I have to admit this was difficult unless you had read the book, which was Another Time, Another Life by Leif G.W. Persson, who likes using the names of other crime writers in his novels.  Anna Holt’s best guy is her son, Niklas.

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

Raymond Chandler was educated at Dulwich College founded by Edward Alleyn, actor and proprietor of brothels and bear pits, and part of the same foundation was Alleyn’s School. Dame Ngaio Marsh named her detective Roderick Alleyn because her father had gone to Alleyn’s School. 

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

Colin Dexter’s The Secret of Annexe 3. Another great crime writer who despite only writing 13 Inspector Morse books, the last in 1999 still has a TV series running with Morse’s sidekick Lewis as the lead character.

10] What nationality are these investigators?

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

a] Brazilian [b] Cuban [c] Tricky this one because although the book The Summer of Dead Toys is set in Barcelona Salgado is Argentinean. This was the only question the winner got wrong. [d] Laotian

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 

a] Asa Larsson [b] Kjell Eriksson [c] Liza Marklund [d] Anne Holt [e] Jan Costin Wagner [f] Karin Fossum [g] Andrea Camilleri

12] Who wrote:

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

[a] R.N. Morris [b] Leighton Gage [c] Ian Rankin

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?  

Lloyd and Hill are the creations of the late Jill McGown. One of her later books is titled Shred of Evidence note the clue in the question. Jill attended Corby Grammar School where she was taught Latin by classics master, Colin Dexter creator of Inspector Morse, who put Oxford on the map. 😉

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I hope you enjoyed your attempts and congratulations to the winner, who was from British Columbia. A result that our dear Maxine would have predicted. 

best crime fiction 2012You can see my favourite Euro Crime books of 2012 here at Karen’s encyclopaedic resource. 41M+3apQq1L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU02_

My discovery of the year was the Norwegian crime writer Anne Holt, and I recently finished the second book  in her Hanne Wilhelmsen series Blessed Are Those Who Thirst and that must be a strong contender for the 2013 International Dagger [review soon]. All the five writers I enjoyed most in 2012 concentrated on their characters, and I think that is the key to any good writing. Brilliant plots and clever twists are all very well, but it is the ability to create interesting characters that are the  basis of a long running crime fiction series and a successful career as a writer.

And of course being able to empathise with your readers, especially if they are retired dentists.

He had been newly qualified as a dentist, at a time when the previously lucrative profession had become less profitable after twenty years of social democratic public dental services. Anne Holt-Blessed Are Those Who Thirst 

PERFECT HATRED: LEIGHTON GAGE

Posted: January 18, 2013 in Brazil, review
51tCiXym7fL._SL500_AA300_Perfect Hatred is the sixth book in the Chief Inspector Mario Silva series which is set in Brazil.
Many books published in the USA get recommendations from various newspapers, but Perfect Hatred has a blurb on the cover from no less than the Wall Street Journal which reads: “Hard -hitting, atmospheric… a world-class procedural series.”
 
 
An analysis and opinion I can endorse. Each of the Mario Silva investigation series deals with some of the numerous problems which face the Brazilian Federal Police in that vast country.
Perfect Hatred blends the investigation of a suicide bomb outrage at the American Consulate in Sao Paulo, with the separate search for the person behind the assassination in Curitiba of Plinio Saldana, a reformist candidate for the Governorship of Parana Province. With these twin tragedies occurring within hours of each other Mario Silva is forced to split his experienced team of his nephew Hector, his longtime friend Arnaldo Nunes, Haraldo “Babyface” Goncalves, Mara Carta, Hector’s Chief of Intelligence, Lefkowitz the forensics expert, and Danusa, who during her time in the Israeli Defence Forces did something in logistics and supply. The team gradually work through a systematic questioning of witnesses and relatives in an attempt to track down those behind these horrific crimes. When Nestor, the candidate’s bodyguard, wounded in the assassination is murdered in the Santa Cruz Hospital Mario Silva suspects a political conspiracy.
As the investigation proceeds it turns out that Plinio Saldana, has a mean corrupt father, a useless brother, both as capable of murder as his electoral opponent the corrupt Governor Abbas. Plinio’s wife Stella becomes the leading candidate but she is not quite the good Samaritan they first thought.
 
Taggants in the C4 used in the American consulate bombing trace the explosive to the Paraguayan Army, and the hunt for the perpetrators of the Saldana murder also leads to the TBA [Tri-Border -Area] where Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil meet, near the magnificent Iguacu Falls. This is coincidentally home to one of the largest Muslim communities in South America. Perfect Hatred is mixture of corrupt politicians, police on the take, Paraguayan smugglers, terrorists, plus jealous wives and mistresses, all blended together in an exciting story in an exotic setting. The situation is complicated by a third strand to the plot as a vicious and wealthy crook is plotting to kill a prosecutor and Mario Silva. In addition the reader is given a large amount of factual information about Brazil, its immigrant population, and in this book the cross border relations with Paraguay. Leighton Gage’s fund of knowledge about Brazil gives the books an accurate atmosphere. 
 
What sets the Mario Silva series apart is that the smooth writing style makes for easy reading, the plots ring true in a country with so many problems, and author  never pulls his punches and tackles difficult themes. 
 
“In case you guys never noticed, politics and favoritism is what Brasilia is all about.” 
 
Read my reviews of the rest of the Mario Silva series:
 
My copy was an ARC but this is a series I would not miss even if I did not receive a free copy. 

41bj7+hXB3L._SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_I will possibly have more to say about this superb spy thriller after I have watched the final TV episode some time next week. I intend to watch the two episodes straight through as I believe that will be fairer to the adaptation of the novel, and I might forget the plot with a week interval between episodes.

The Spies of Warsaw, set in 1937, was an even better book than Spies of the Balkans, it had a bit more history, an interesting main character in Mercier and plenty of tension. Alan Furst cleverly blends real life events and personalities with his fictional characters. The  narrative style is episodic but that does not jar because of the packed content in those episodes. The author switches third person perspectives occasionally from the French military attache, the dashing aristocratic widower Colonel Mercier, to the German engineer Edvard Uhl, a secret agent, or the vindictive SD Major August Voss, but the tension never flags.

‘Evil bastards, Jean-Francois, they’ve got their whole country in prison. I have friends who are Jews, a couple , who fled Frankfurt with their clothes on their backs. No doubts great threats to the government: cellists, both of them. Did you know that, by German law, persons of more than twenty-five per cent non-Aryan blood are forbidden to play Beethoven, Mozart, Bach or any other Aryan composer?’

The reader learns all about the duties of Jean-Francois Mercier, and the reality that military attache really means a “spy”, working for the French Deuxieme Bureau. We accompany him to smart embassy dinners, to social events and on his dangerous investigative activities. He deals with both German secret agents, the Abwehr [German Military Intelligence] and the anti-Nazi ex-Nazis from Otto Strasser’s organisation, the survivors of Hitler’s purge on the Night of the Long Knives in 1934. He helps Russian NKVD operatives avoid the dreaded trip back to Moscow, and “nine grams”. [The weight of a bullet is slang for execution.] He checks fortifications on the Polish-German border, and tank exercises in the Black Forest. 

‘So Marshal Petain, the hero of Verdun, much honoured, idolized, even, has persuaded himself he is omniscient. In a recent pamphlet, he wrote “The Ardennes forest is impenetrable; and if the Germans were imprudent enough to get entangled in it, we should seize them as they came out!”‘

The reader learns about  Mercier’s teenage years, his relationships with women, and especially his romance with intriguing Anna Szarbek, a lawyer with the League of Nations. And on top of all the personal details we learn about the articles and books written on tank tactics by Basil Liddell-Hart, and Charles De Gaulle. These are almost totally ignored by the French and British General Staffs, but their ideas are eagerly adopted by German officers including Heinz Guderian, and Erwin Rommel with devastating effect in the Blitzkreigs of 1939 [Poland] and 1940 [France]. This is just the sort of book that should be read by young people starting on their GCSE History of the Second World War course at 15 or 16, because it gives you a lot of facts in an easily digestible form alongside, both an exciting spy story and a love story. It makes history interesting, and as a result I am becoming a bit of an addict for Alan Furst’s writing. Although of course as well as history you get the tension and  excitement of spying and other activities.

Then they kissed for a while, the tender kind, touch and part-until she raised her arms so he could take her sweater off. Small breasts in a lacy black bra. For a day at the Cracow office?

Madame Dupin, you told.  

Quiz reminder

Posted: January 14, 2013 in Quiz

P1040118A gentle reminder not to forget to send your Winter Quirky Quiz 2012-2013 answers to thbear08@googlemail.com by 20 January.

This photo was taken 1 January 2013 showing the first blue sky over our part of Devon for many weeks in what has been an incredibly wet year.

 

 

 

SiAMGraveian_photoRebus is back! When I finished reading Ian Rankin’s The Complaints featuring his new cop Malcolm Fox I was fairly certain that at some stage he would bring back that loveable old rogue, John Rebus.

Rebus is retired from the police but working as a civilian employee in Lothian & Borders Serious Crime Review unit. This is where old cops go to fade away. The unit is on notice as their boss Detective Sergeant  Daniel Cowan, still a serving officer and not happy about being stuck with the geriatrics, is applying for the job at the national cold case unit that will take over their workload. Rebus is persuaded by the attractive Nina Hazlitt, whose daughter disappeared on New Year’s Eve 1999, that there is connection between several similar cases of disappearances of young women in the vicinity of the A9 road north of Edinburgh. Rebus along with his former colleague Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke begins an investigation into a possible serial killer operating in the area.

Ian Rankin appeared at Crime Fest a few years ago, and charmed his audience of crime fiction fans. His frequent television appearances are always interesting. His pleasant personality as well as the character of Rebus is the great selling point of his books. But I thought it was a little sad that Standing in Another Man’s Grave showed that while Rebus was still the insubordinate old dinosaur living off whisky and takeaways, and had lost little of his energy over the years; Rankin himself had lost a little inspiration when it came to plotting and creating new characters. The title comes from a misheard line in a Jackie Leven song “Standing in another man’s rain”. It seems as if the plot was made to fit the title, rather than the title arising naturally out of  the narrative.  

Of course the character of Rebus can carry a book even if the plot is shaky, for the most part  it isn’t, apart from a lot of driving around Northern Scotland and two subplots that seem strained and slow the action. These are firstly, a struggle between Rebus old nemesis Cafferty, and a couple of other gangsters, the old veteran Frank Hammell and the brother of one of the victims the young computer literate Darryl Christie. This is probably meant to emphasise Rebus own difficulties fitting in with the new police force and new methods. The second sub plot involves Malcolm Fox investigating Rebus. This just does not work as Fox, quite a nice character in The Complaints, comes over just as another bitter twisted internal affairs cop trying to pull down a real detective.

Despite these minor quibbles and the “Mad as a March Hare” risky scheme that Rebus pulls to finally get the perpetrator I enjoyed reading this book. Rebus does not bother with forensics, evidence, or DNA, he relies on an old copper’s hunch, and that is part of his charm, that and his humour and an insubordinate attitude we would all like to emulate.

Dempsey pointed at him, but her eyes were on Page. ‘I want him gone, do you hear me?’

‘Loud and clear,’ Page responded.

Dempsey was already getting back into the car. Her driver starting to pull away.

‘Thanks for backing me up there, boss,’ Rebus commented. 

Read the late Maxine Clarke’s Review of Standing in Another Man’s Grave here  

51pC8LH9yPL._SL500_AA300_This is a fine novel that puts the current problems of Greece in perspective. 

1940-Costa Zannis is a senior police official in Salonika. He deals with special political cases

Was the Belgian consul being blackmailed by a prostitute? Call Zannis.

Had the son of an Athenian politician taken a diamond ring from a jeweller and refused to pay for it? Call Zannis.

With Mussolini’s troops in Albania about to invade and German agents all around, Zannis still manages to set up an escape route for Jews fleeing from the Nazis. He also embarks on a passionate but dangerous love affair with the beautiful Demetria. Zannis a consummate wheeler dealer arranges safe passage for his both his family and that of his valued work colleague, Gabi Saltiel, a Sephardic Jew from the large community in Salonika. In between all this Zannis mixes with British spies, Turkish officials, pickofthemonth2012Yugoslav policemen, and French resistance making dangerous trips to Paris and Belgrade. I was amazed that Furst squeezes so much action, characterisation, back stories, and easily digestible history into a mere 279 pages. We are even taken to Berlin as we follow the Gruens in a long  journey across Europe as they try to escape from the Nazis. He reminds us that Salonika was one of those cosmopolitan cities in the Ottoman Empire that along with Smyrna, and Beirut  have suffered the devastating results of war and a total change in character. 

But Zannis and Demetria even in a city about to be occupied, and suffer a catastrophe, were able to dine like the last meal of a condemned man. 

They ate spiced whipped feta, they ate calamari stuffed with cheese, they ate grilled octopus and grilled aubergine and mussels with rice pilaf and creamy thick yogurt with honey.

It all adds to the atmosphere of a very fine spy thriller.

The narrrative of Spies of the Balkans with all its tension does have a nice twist at the very end that can almost, but not quite, make you forget the terrible fate that awaited Salonika.

‘ More luck- especially for your Salonika Jews. Because our Jews, in Zagreb, are right at the top of the Ustashi list. They’d like to get rid of the Serbs, and the Croat politicians who oppose them, but they really have it in for the Jews. If the Utashi ever took control of the city, well…………..’     

Spies of the Balkans was my Pick of the Month for December.

Next week 9 January BBC are televising another Alan Furst wartime novel Spies of Warsaw.