Archive for April, 2013

A Tale of Two Back Covers

Posted: April 26, 2013 in Off Topic, Sweden

marklundjacketLifetime coversThey were the best of covers and the worst of covers……OK I am biased but comparing the US and UK back covers of Liza Marklund’s new thriller Lifetime I not surprisingly came to the conclusion that the US version is far superior. A nice photo of Liza and blurbs from experts.

The UK version has a blurb from the Daily Express comparing Annika Bengtzon with Peter Hoeg’s Smilla’s Feeling for Snow 1992, and Clarice Starling in the Thomas Harris novel The Silence of the Lambs 1988. It has been a very long time since I read those books,  they are over twenty years old, and I agree they do have determined female protagonists, but otherwise the Annika Bengtzon books are very different. 


Posted: April 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

anzac-07I have posted about my wife’s grandfather Petty Officer Percy Kempster DSM previously, but make no apologies for providing this link to his story on ANZAC Day. RAN_badge



41Tp7vFqe0L._SL500_P1010568_2Detective Inspector Ewa Moreno is looking forward to her summer vacation, part of which she will spend with her newish boyfriend, Mikel Bau at his holiday home at Port Hagen. She just has to interrogate a lowlife, Franz Lampe-Leermann, held in prison at Lejnice near Port Hagen; a useful snitch in the past he will only talk to her.  
On the train she sees a young girl weeping. The girl Mikaela Lijhart explains that she is on the way to visit her father, who she does not know. Sixteen years previously something happened and he has been in an institution ever since. Once she was eighteen her mother was obliged to tell her about him. The two women go their separate ways.
At the end of her interview Moreno understands why Lampe-Leerman only wanted to speak to a woman, as he reveals he knows a journalist with proof that one of her colleagues at Maardam is a paedophile.
Moreno confides in Munster, but before she can really begin to enjoy her time away from work, Sigrid Lijphart comes to Lejnice and reports her daughter as a missing person. Mikaela had visited her father, Arnold Maager, at the institution and then made a trip into town before going missing. Moreno learns that Arnold Maager, a teacher,  had murdered a 16 year old girl pupil Winnie Maas, and believes Mikaela’s disappearance is connected to this old crime and begins her own unofficial investigation. Moreno devoting her holiday to amateur detective work causes her relationship with her bloke to suffer, and nothing in this case is at it seems at first glance.
I’ve just told my boyfriend to go to hell because of this business…..I don’t know if that can be classified as occupational injury-what do you think?
This is another brilliant addition to a series of ten books that rivals the Martin Beck books of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo for consistent excellence. 
The Weeping Girl was originally published in Sweden as Ewa Moreno’s Fall [Ewa Moreno’s Case] and the Chief Inspector makes only the very briefest appearance in this story. But Moreno has the personality to carry the book without much assistance, and the other characters are well drawn varying from the helpful local police constable Vogesack to the obnoxious Lejnice Police Chief Vrommel.
The true story of the chief of police in Lejnice.
He had already written over fifty pages, and the title he was currently thinking of giving it was: The Skunk in Uniform.
Although he had not entirely eliminated the possibility of The Long Arm of the Bore, or A Nero of Our Time.
The plot of investigating an old crime  has been attempted many times in recent years [remember this is a book that has taken 13 years to reach us in English] but never quite like this. Hakan Nesser is never predictable, his stories are full of surprises, when a body turns up it is not the one you are expecting. The clever plot combined with the author’s trademark wit and dark humour keep the reader intrigued, a little off-guard and puzzled to the end.
Baasteuwel’s jaw dropped for a moment. ‘I’ve got to hand it to you, you know what you are doing. Do you spend all your holidays like this? ‘You should see me when I’m on duty, said Moreno.
Hakan Nesser has won the European Crime Fiction Star Award [Ripper Award] 2010/2011, the Swedish Crime Writer’s Academy Prize three times, and the Nordic Glass key Award.
The photo shows Hakan Nesser with Maxine Clarke at Crime Fest 2009. 
My reviews of the rest of this superb crime fiction series:

51UBZ-3nJ+L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU02_My reading in April so far has been a bit restricted as some of  life’s little pleasures intervened; arranging a relocation for a relative, VAT returns, hlphaving  windows replaced, and clocking up yet another birthday. Those birthdays do seem to come round rather quickly now. 

The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly was disappointing, and I can understand why readers of the ABA Journal favoured Robert Dugoni’s Murder One as their choice for the 2012 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. 

Over 500 pages of first person Mickey Haller was a bit difficult to digest, turgid and in places frankly boring, perhaps you had to be a lawyer to fully appreciate it. At times it did read more like a textbook for aspiring defence lawyers than a novel, and I was not entranced because I thought  the “brilliant double twist” [Evening Standard] was telegraphed for all to see.

Some passages did interest me though, Haller enjoys himself at the expense of his junior associate Jennifer by constantly calling her ‘Bullocks’ after the art deco department store in LA that was purchased by the Southwestern Law School to be part of the campus. This reminded me of the reverse situation when the Royal Dental Hospital in Leicester Square, London was bizarrely situated over a Tennessee Pancake House. The property was worth a fortune, and although dentists from all over London referred patients there, it was sold off in 1987, and reincarnated as a five star hotel.  A similar fate awaited Exeter’s Eye Hospital a few years later, as the sight of a Victorian/Edwardian hospital building produces £ signs to in the heads of NHS administrators.

I think I might have enjoyed The Fifth Witness more if Haller had been defending a more pleasant and deserving character than Lisa Trammel. Lisa is one of Haller’s clients in his new business of preventing bank foreclosures in the property debacle following the banking collapse. Lisa is then charged with murdering the bank’s CEO Mitchell Bondurant, when he is found with his head bashed in and a witness sees her near the scene of the crime. The reader is taken through the minutiae of the case. We learn about foreclosure mills, Hollywood deals, Haller’s relationships with his two ex-wives and teenage daughter, and all this is interesting but doesn’t make up for the fact that Mickey Haller is not Harry Bosch.

It is difficult to criticise an author whose books you have enjoyed so much in the past, but I think because of the weak plot twist and the unsympathetic characters this was not one of  Michael Connelly’s better books, even though it did win the Harper Lee. 


Thanks to Barbara Fister for pointing out to me that the US version of Liza Marklund’s new Annika Bengtzon novel Lifetime has a blurb from Crime Scraps on the back. The blurb went on…..

This is an excellent addition to what is becoming a classic crime fiction series, and one which exhibits so many of the key factors that have made Scandinavian crime fiction so popular. Detailed coverage of a subject, social commentary, large doses of cynicism, dollops of humour both light and dark, characters who distrust their superior’s motives and who feel loneliness and despair, and of course the interesting female protagonist. The reader is helped by an excellent seamless translation from Neil Smith and I am definitely looking forward to reading the next one in the series, Lifetime, due out later in the year. 

You can read the full review here. 

I am very pleased that Last Will has been shortlisted for the prestigious Petrona Award. This award is in memory of Maxine Clarke, who very sadly died last December.

Maxine was a great champion of Scandinavian crime fiction, bloggers, and women in crime fiction, and I think it would be appropriate if Last Will written by Liza Marklund and featuring Annika Bengtzon were to win this inaugural Petrona Award. Just my opinion which I hope is shared by the judges.

When at the end of the year I picked my favourite books of 2012 Last Will was high on my list and I commented: 

Last Will by Liza Marklund tr. Neil Smith

Annika Bengtzon, the most popular and attractive journalist in Scandinavia continues the struggle to balance her career and family. In this brilliant book the reader learns about Alfred Nobel, his prize, how a media outlet is organised, and tales of scientific rivalry. No wonder Liza Marklund was one of Maxine’s favourite authors. 

You can get full details about the Petrona Award at the Petrona Remembered website.   


I read four books in March:pickofthemonth2012

The Age of Doubt by Andrea Camilleri

Ratlines by Stuart Neville

Murder One by Robert Dugoni

and my pick of the month, The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas.

I was impressed by Robert Dugoni’s Murder One as I find the American legal system endlessly fascinating. I spent too much time in my youth watching Perry Mason.

But the inventiveness of her plots and the brilliant quirkiness of her characters make every novel written by Fred Vargas a  joy to read. 

51yeLmS3pVL._SL500_AA300_It seems a long wait between any new additions to the Commissaire Adamsberg series, but when they do arrive they are always a treat and give the Vargas, Fredreader a slightly offbeat approach to the crime fiction novel. In the seventh book in the series, The Ghost Riders of Ordebec [L’armee furieuse in the original French edition] Adamsberg and his quirky crew face two cases. 
A rich Parisian industrialist has been torched in his car and a convenient suspect, serial arsonist Momo, is available, but the intuitive Adamsberg believes he is innocent and goes to great lengths to prove it.
Meanwhile a little old lady has come to the capital from a village in Normandy to tell Adamsberg that her daughter Lina Vendermot has had a vision of a ghostly army of riders lead by Lord Hellequin carrying along three terrified victims that she can identify, and one she can’t.
When the intrigued Adamsberg learns more about the legend of the Furious Army  which is said to have roamed the countryside  chasing the damned souls of evil people to Hell, he travels to Ordebec discovering that the first of those evil victims has been murdered.
“He was at the service of cupidity and deception rather than of justice.” And that is why Landri, Vicomte d’Ordebec, was seized by the Furious Army. To be a corrupt magistrate in those days was a serious as to commit bloodshed . Whereas nowadays, nobody cares. 
Adamsberg’s investigative team has always been a sandwich short of a picnic, but in this story, the walking encyclopaedia Danglard,  the narcoleptic Mercadet, the Alexandrine quoting poet Veyrenc and the statuesque goddess Retancourt seem almost normal alongside the crazy Vendermot family of Ordebec. But in Ordebec almost everyone has a personal story to tell some of which contain clues and some merely red herrings. 
With Zerk, Adamsberg’s newly discovered son, and Momo looking after Hebbeaud, a tortured pigeon, while on the run from the authorities [Momo not the pigeon]; six fingered hands, crossbows, men made of clay, sugar lumps and the distracting beauty of Lina, this is one of Adamsberg’s most complex, but engaging adventures.
‘So what do you make of that, commandant?’ asked Adamsberg as they walked slowly back up the track to Leo’s house.
‘Could be a whole family of killers,’ said Danglard cooly, ‘self-contained, sheltered from the outside world. All of them with a screw loose, they’ve been badly abused, they’re wild, incredibly talented and very engaging.’ 
The Ghost Riders of Ordebec is original, full of Gallic charm, eccentric, slightly confusing in a nice way, and one of those books that you don’t want to finish because it should be enjoyed slowly like a fine wine. In a genre where sometimes one feels that there is nothing new to interest the reader Fred Vargas always manages to provide intelligent entertainment while dealing with varied human emotions.
Fred Vargas is the pen name of Frederique Audoin-Rouzeau, a medieval historian and archaeologist, who has along with translator Sian Reynolds won the CWA International Dagger three times.
The Ghost Riders of Ordebec would in my opinion be a very worthy winner of a fourth award, but this year Fred Vargas, and her French eccentricity, may face strong challenges from Scandinavia and further afield.
“No, not really. My guess is the boy who likes torturing pigeons, and the Ordebec  murderer, and whoever burnt Clermont-Brasseur, all of them are going round in his head, without him really seeing much difference between them.
The rest of the Commissaire Adamsberg series with my reviews. [English publication date in brackets]:
1996 The Chalk Circle Man*** and here [2009]
1999 Seeking Whom He May Devour [2004]
2001 Have Mercy on Us All [2003]
2008 An Uncertain Place [2011]