Archive for March, 2013


Posted: March 25, 2013 in Book Awards, review, USA

71-HEXQ9M1L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU02_I find that the mainstream media and large book chains continue to push the same old books with the same old blurbs about books that frequently turn out to be disappointing.

I am much more likely to find a new author worth reading from bloggers posts and recommendations, and so it turned out with Robert Dugoni’s Murder One. I was inspired to read this novel by a post at Bill Selnes excellent blog Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan about the fairly new Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. 

This prize to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the publication of the classic To Kill A Mockingbird  written by Alabama native Nelle Harper Lee, has been awarded twice; in 2011 to John Grisham for The Confession, and in 2012 to Michael Connelly for The Fifth Witness. But Bill pointed out that a poll  of the Alabama Bar Association Journal readers preferred Robert Dugoni’s Murder One. I needed no more encouragement to read this novel but because I haven’t read The Fifth Witness yet I will give my opinion about the award at a later date. Murder One is a fine legal thriller as attorney David Sloane, recovering from the murder of his wife Tina, is asked by attractive fellow attorney Barclay Reid to take her case for wrongful death against drug dealer Filyp Vasiliev, who she holds responsible for the death of her drug addicted daughter. Vasiliev has escaped prosecution for drug dealing on a technicality, but the burden of proof in a civil action is less demanding.

That this warrant was in part based upon speculation by Drug Enforcement Agents that Mr Vasiliev associated with members of organized crime-specifically hlpRussian mafia-is equally reprehensible and a generalization no less offensive to the Russian community than it has been to the Italian and Asian communities.

Vasiliev is found shot in the back of his head, Barclay [American female names can be confusing] is arrested and asks David Sloane, who has become her lover, to defend her in the criminal case. Sloane, a civil attorney, has never tackled a criminal case before and is tested by the complexities that arise.

Upon entering the back room, Stafford noted the single hole in the sliding-glass door, calling it a defect. They were trained not to say ‘”bullet hole”, as it could be considered a conclusion that a good defense attorney might later try to exploit.

This is an excellent legal thriller with strong well drawn characters, and the sort of forensic detail that is contained in the best of American TV crime series. As someone who enjoyed the Perry Mason series this blend of police procedural, legal thriller and courtroom drama was a pleasant diversion from dark Nordic angst and Nazi atrocities. The intriguing characters struggling to deal with personal tragedies, and an interesting series of plot twists made this a very satisfying read.  

51HrSuGfaBL._SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_ Ireland 1963.

A German business man is murdered in a guesthouse at Salthill just outside Galway City. He is the third foreign national to be killed in a few days, and with the forthcoming visit of President John F. Kennedy young Irish Minister of Justice Charles J. Haughey must have the matter cleared up as quickly as possible. A note left on one corpse threatens famed SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Otto Skorzeny and therefore Haughey brings in a reluctant Albert Ryan to track down the killers.  Ryan works for G2, Directorate of Intelligence, but he is an outsider, a Protestant in a majority Catholic country and above all an Irishmen who fought with the British against the Nazis. Now he is asked to protect Nazis and a rag tag bag of nationalists who fought with them in the war, the Irish call  euphemistically ” The Emergency”. 

Author Stuart Neville in his fourth novel successfully blends real life characters Skorzeny [who rescued Mussolini in September 1943] , the  unpleasant future Taoiseach Haughey, and Breton nationalist Celestin Laine along with his fictional creations, Ryan, the beautiful Celia Hume, various mercenaries and Mossad agents. The Ratlines of the title are the escape routes from Europe for Nazis and collaborators organised with the money held by Skorzeny and his associates. 

We know, for example, that Martin Bormann siphoned off a huge fortune right out of Hitler’s pockets. In 1945, when the end came, as far as we know, Bormann never made it out of Berlin. But the money did. Eight hundred million dollars wound up in Eva Peron’s bank account, not to mention the gold bullion and the diamonds. We are talking enough money to run a small country.

I knew that President De Valera with “strict neutrality” had expressed condolences to Admiral Doenitz [Hitler’s successor as German head of state] on the death of the Fuhrer, but I did not know of the extent of the sanctuary and protection given to Nazis by the Irish Republic. 

The set up of the situation with Ryan’s difficult choice between his conscience and following orders is very well done. But I felt the book lost its way a bit with Ryan becoming just an Irish version of James Bond. He survives some graphically described torture, but is able to make love to the beautiful Celia despite physical violence that would put most men out of action. 

But I think I can forgive this minor weakness in the narrative and some interesting plot twists that did not convince me, because the novel is well written, tense and exposes a part of Irish and world history that many would like to forget. 

‘Perhaps,’ she said. ‘If I had known the truth of it, the Germans who promised us so much, if I’d known what they were doing to those people, the Jews, the Roma, the homosexuals, I would have made a different choice. Do you believe me?

home1Veteran Italian crime writer Andrea Camilleri won the 2012 CWA International Dagger with his 13th book to be translated in English by Stephen Sartarelli, The 51AzBePwjbL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU02_Potter’s Field. His 14th book The Age of Doubt is another fine addition to this addictive series.

Only Camilleri could begin a novel with Salvo Montalbano dreaming he is dead and with the detective attending his own funeral. When Montalbano awakes he drives to Vigata in the pouring rain, but is held up by a line of traffic as the road has been swept away by the sea. He approaches the first car which is hanging over the chasm and encourages the young woman driver to leave her vehicle and come back to his house. The young woman introduces herself as Vanna Diguglio and says she was going to the harbour to meet her aunt Livia’s yacht named the Vanna. Montalbano learns that the Vanna is bringing in a corpse they have found floating in a dingy just outside the mouth of the harbour. The dead man’s face has been deliberately disfigured, and when Montalbano realises the glamourous yacht owner Livia Giovannini is very surprised to learn she has a niece he knows this case is going to test his abilities to the full.

This novel contains most of the ingredients that have made this series such a success. There is social commentary as the reader learns about Italy’s not so gentle treatment of immigrants; and we are invited to enjoy Catarella’s malapropisms, Montalbano’s appetite for food, Mimi Augello’s amorous talents, and Fazio’s solid police-work. The ageing Montalbano falls head over heels in love with the aptly named  Lieutenant Laura Belladonna, while discovering the identity of the disfigured corpse, and eventually the mysterious niece.

The lieutenant not only lived up to her surname, she exceeded it. She wasn’t just beautiful; she was knockout. For a brief moment, Montalbano was speechless. She was a good six inches taller than him, dark, with bright sparkling eyes, red lips in no need of lipstick, and above all, a very pleasant manner.

‘I’m entirely at your disposal,’ she said.

I wish! thought the inspector.

Why didn’t I enjoy this novel quite as much as some of the previous Montalbano books? I should say this is relative because this series is always a good read. Firstly I watched the TV version on BBC4 before I read the book, and therefore I knew the detail  of the plot. I do prefer to read a book first and then watch the TV or movie version. It should not make any real difference but I enjoy seeing if the film follows the book.

But also Montalbano’s attitude to his superiors is usually amusing, unfortunately in this book the lies he tells the well meaning Dr Lattes are in poor taste and frankly not worthy of the honest policeman we have grown to admire. That won’t stop me going on to read The Dance of the Seagull which sits expectantly on my book shelf. 

He started with a seafood  antipasto. Since the  nunnati were crispy as can be, he ordered a second side dish of them. He continued with a generous helping of spaghetti in squid ink. And he ended with a double portion of mullet and striped sea bream.  

AMWBreathYou can read my review of Philip Kerr’s latest Bernie Gunther thriller A Man Without Breath at Euro Crime.


This novel should be a strong contender for the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Crime Fiction Award simply for its educational value in being informative about some of the terrible events that went on in Eastern Europe, before and during World War II. Yet another novel that makes me very grateful that my great grandparents, and grandparents had the foresight to take a boat trip west in the 19th and early 20th century. 







The Petrona Award:  You can read all about this exciting new award for Scandinavian crime fiction at Karen’s Euro Crime website here:

The award is in memory of my dear friend Maxine Clarke, who blogged so beautifully at Petrona, and who did so much to encourage and support other bloggers.

I think I know which of the four shortlisted books Maxine would have chosen to receive this award. I wonder if the judges will agree with me? 

female crime writersA photographic celebration of female crime writers for International Women’s Day.

I realised with some surprise that I had only read two women authors in my first ten reads of 2013. Therefore I decided to read Into The Darkest Corner the debut novel of Elizabeth ehitdcHaynes. This novel had come highly recommended Amazon Best Book of the Year 2011, Winner of Amazon Rising Star 2011, and blurbs from Karin Slaughter, S.J.Watson and the Guardian. But more importantly it had a favourable blurb from my friend, Rhian Davies, CWA John Creasey Dagger judge, aka Crimeficreader.

This is a brilliant book which after a brief but important preamble  tells the story of Catherine Bailey in two separate time frames each one dealt with in alternating chapters. Firstly we are in Lancaster in 2003 as Cathy meets and gets involved with Lee Brightman, a handsome charming young man, who the sociable, effervescent, and sexually liberated Cathy finds very attractive. All her young girl friends also lust after the dishy Lee, usually a sign of trouble to come in novels and real life.

Then we are taken forward to 2007 where Cathy is managing to hold down a job in London, but is now suffering from OCD and obsessively checking the door locks and windows of her flat over and over again. Something terrible has happened to her and when the young doctor Stuart from the flat above begins to pay her attention that anxiety increases. One day she learns Lee has been released from prison……

Once I had got into this book, which was very different from the rest of my current reading, I literally could not put it down. The narrative fairly roared along to the conclusion. Possibly one of the reasons I enjoyed the book so much is that Stuart works and Cathy seeks treatment at the Centre for Anxiety Disorders and Trauma at the Maudsley Hospital in Denmark Hill. I lived on Denmark Hill only a couple of hundred metres from the Maudsley in the late 1950s and early 1960s, an age when mental illness was not regarded in the same enlightened way as today. The characters are so well drawn that it is sometimes very easy to identify them as people we have known in real life. [Including a violent real life Lee who murdered his wife] The twin stories are told in the first person a difficult technique but one which adds enormously to the mounting tension. 

I’d always thought that women who stayed in abusive relationships must be foolish. After all there had to be a moment, a realisation that things had taken a wrong turn and you were suddenly afraid to be with your partner-and surely that was the moment to leave. 

The book is not faultless, the two short prologues remove a lot of the mystery concerning what has happened in the past to Lee and Cathy. But this is a very good thriller with a lot of relevance for today’s young people as they deal with difficult relationships. 

ehitdcI read six more crime fiction books during a cold miserable February and they varied between historical thrillers and psychological mysteries. pickofthemonth2012


Into The Darkest Corner: Elizabeth Haynes-[To Be Reviewed next week]

A superb  psychological thriller and a debut novel which I literally could not put down as the author racks up the tension towards the conclusion.


Pierced: Thomas Enger translator Charlotte Barslund- A disappointing book for me with too many pages, too much switching of perspective, and 119 chapters. I will be reading number three in this series and hoping the choppy style will be smoothed out a bit. 

The Bridge of Sighs: Olen Steinhauer– A good police procedural set in a fictional post-Second World War Eastern European country that had been “liberated” by the Red Army. Four more books await me in this interesting series.

Bones and Silence: Reginald Hill– The 1990 CWA Gold Dagger winning police procedural from one of England’s greatest crime writers. 

Beast In View: Margaret Millar- This brilliant psychological mystery won the Edgar in 1955, but unfortunately shows its age with outdated attitudes. Nevertheless a great read with a fantastic twist and a glimpse of the past. 

A Man Without Breath: Philip Kerr- [The review to appear on Euro Crime]- Another fine book in the Bernie Gunther series.

And my pick of the month was another close run thing but Into The Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes was something a bit different from my recent reading and therefore was my February choice.