Archive for July, 2013

Leighton Gage

Posted: July 29, 2013 in Brazil, notes, review
LG_LR_RGB_1I was shocked to learn of the death of Leighton Gage. Although I had only met Leighton once in person at Crime Fest 2009 in Bristol I had emailed him many times and had come to regard him as a friend. Leighton’s charming Brazilian wife Eide said to me at Crimefest that I must have a bad view of her country after reading her husband’s books, and that Brazil also had wonderful beaches, superb food and beautiful people. A few years ago Leighton summed up the enigma that was his adopted country when in an online interview he stated that; “People think that Brazil is a poor country, but in fact it is a very rich country with a lot of very poor people in it.” 
His books are full of wit, sharp dialogue and insights into the problems faced by Brazil. There is violence in his stories but it is never gratuitous. His books are easy reads but never lightweight in their subject matter, and a good blend of entertainment and education. I understand there will be one more book in the Mario Silva series due in january [The Ways of Evil Men], but it is incredibly sad that this will be the end of this series. Leighton will be greatly  missed by all his friends and readers. He was a genuine nice guy. My deepest condolences to Eide and his family.
Read my reviews of the Mario Silva series:

P1040347I was rather pleased to have made the following comment on my previous post, and then to discover the books had become joint winners of the International Dagger

“The International Dagger should be between three time winner Fred Vargas, with her eccentric novel The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, and Pierre Lemaitre with another quirky French offering Alex.”

Obviously my critical faculties are still functioning. Although after nearly seven years of constant blogging about crime fiction I intend to take a short break. Therefore I am going to do a brief summary of the six books I have read while on holiday, although I will probably come back with  reviews of one or two of the better books. 

An American Spy: Olen Steinhauer-

This was a big disappointment considering I have enjoyed  other books  by this author.  Not enough of over weight German secret service boss Erika Schwartz and far too much American and Chinese complexity that I had trouble following.  


P1040383Live By Night: Dennis Lehane-

An easy read and this novel won the Edgar, but I kept on getting the feeling I had read this book before and that Lehane was parodying himself.


At the End of a Dull Day: Massimo Carlotto translated by Anthony Shugaar- 

Anti-hero is too mild a classification of the main protagonist of this very noir novel, Giorgio Pellegrini. He could be described as a violent misogynist bastard, who discovers he is being screwed by a politician “friend”, and plots revenge.

I quote:

‘Nicoletta described the Chinese girls as “the dolls that Italian males grew up wishing they could play with.” That was true only in part. Actually, they were just sex slaves with long practice at satisfying their masters’ wishes.’

At the End of a Dull Day is a short novel packed with violence, whores, politicians, and the ‘Ndrangheta. Not everyone’s cup of tea but an interesting example of Mediterranean noir.


Death of Demon: Anne Holt translated by Anne Bruce-

Another top class novel in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series, and one which packs a lot of back story, and tension into a short book. A lesson for those authors who think they have to write 500 pages to attract the reader. I will come back to this book later.

The Caller: Karin Fossum translated by K.E.Semmel-

An original twist on the crime fiction novel. A story about actions and the unthought of effects they can produce. A beautifully constructed and thought provoking novel.

P1040444The Glass Rainbow: James Lee Burke

The Glass Rainbow proves that you can produce the same plot over and over again and the fans will enjoy it. But your characters have to be larger than life, your social commentary like a sharp dissection, and your writing so lyrical and evocative of  the location that the reader expects a hurricane to tear through their back garden at any moment. Another great book [number 18] in the Dave Robicheaux series 

There are only a limited number of plots so readers and judges are always on the lookout for originality. Fred Vargas and Pierre Lemaitre both wrote books that were that bit different from the usual ‘hunt for a serial killer’, ‘solve a current murder connected to an old unsolved crime’ stuff that is constantly churned out by crime fiction authors and TV producers. I once read a very unkind crime fiction review that said that this particular book was written for people who can’t read by someone who can’t write.

I worry that many crime fiction books today are written for people who don’t read crime fiction. They have plot twists that are obvious and are just variations on a theme. Agatha Christie is the mistress of plot twists, for a great example read the superb Peril at End House [1932], but even she managed to use a similar plot device in Endless Night [1967]  to that in Death on the Nile  [1937]. But perhaps we can forgive her after a gap of 30 years.

The search for the crime fiction series that is original and has something different within its pages is what makes reading so much fun. 

” You must promise you’ll never leave me. Never never never.”

“Never in this world and universe and all eternity,” Cecilie whispered into her hair. [Death of a Demon: Anne Holt]   

51Jx542D48L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_I shouldn’t attempt to pick a winner of the CWA Ellis Peters because I have only read three of the shortlist, but I did find Pilgrim Soul by Gordon Ferris a 51c0Fu8cTKL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_brilliant read.

On the other hand I have read four out of the six novels shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger and from information gleaned at Crimefest at Bristol I don’t think I would rate the two books I haven’t read. Neither The Missing File by D.A. Mishani nor Death in Sardinia by Marco Vichi should have been shortlisted as I think both were somewhat wordy and self indulgent including back stories and side stories that added nothing to the narrative. The International Dagger should be between three time winner Fred Vargas, with her eccentric novel The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, and Pierre Lemaitre with another quirky French offering Alex.

My selection would be Alex which has the usual attributes of good crime fiction, a plot that has surprises, great characters and a thought provoking theme. The winners will be announced on Monday 15 July.


51c0Fu8cTKL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_In the third book in the Douglas Brodie series it is the winter of 1946/47, one of the coldest in memory. Brodie now a journalist but formerly a cop and a Major in the army is asked by his landlady [with benefits] Advocate Samantha Campbell to solve the burglaries occurring in Glasgow’s Jewish community. Crimes in which the local police had shown a distinct lack of interest. Brodie quickly solves the crimes, but when the perpetrator is murdered while breaking into a safe owned by a Lithuanian Jew, who might not be a Jew, the situation becomes more complex.

Are there Nazis hiding in Glasgow before resuming their journeys to South America via the Rattenlinien? May they even be hiding within the Jewish community?

Isaac’s place of worship was built about twenty years after Garnethill, at the turn of the century. It looked after the burgeoning Gorbals’ enclave. Jewish one-upmanship  [And sense of humour] dictated that they called the Johnny-come-lately the Great Synagogue. 

Samantha is involved as a prosecutor in the new wave of war crime trials starting in Hamburg, and Brodie is recruited by MI5, promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, and sent off to Germany to re-interview Nazis, and give evidence about his previous interviews before the Belsen war crime trials. Brodie is still traumatised by his work during those trials, although he is determined to track down those who organise the ratlines. The whole situation becomes even more fraught when on his return to Scotland the extremist Irgun Zvai Leumi aim to meet out their own brand of justice to the Nazis.

I found this a difficult book to read and at times almost came to tears, which is probably a tribute to the clarity of the writing as well as the subject matter.

Shimon was born here from parents who’d pushed a cart two thousand miles from Estonia to Scotland seeking shelter from the Tsar’s murderous hordes. 

The educational value of a book that recounts the real life horrors of the Holocaust, while pointing out that the crimes were committed by rather ordinary human beings is immense. The book is well written and told in a matter of fact first person by Brodie, a great creation of whom I hope we hear a lot more. The atmosphere of post war austerity and the male dominated culture where marriage automatically meant the end of a woman’s career are conveyed accurately by the author who has researched deeply into the events of  that period. Gordon Ferris doesn’t shy away from the controversial, mentioning the gradual collapse of the mandate in Palestine, the problems of the movement of vast numbers of people as the Iron Curtain cut Europe in half, and the involvement of the CIA and even rogue priests in the Vatican in the ratlines. Pilgrim Soul has a good believable plot, interesting characters, and a blast of historical information that must never be forgotten.

The rest were former SS officers or medics at Ravensbruck, its sub-camps or other camps. Together they formed a roll  call of the most terrible places on earth: Auschwitz, Belsen, Treblinka and Buchenwald. 

Gordon Ferris has produced one of the most memorable crime fiction books I have read for some time. Pilgrim Soul was deservedly nominated for the 2013 CWA Ellis Peters Historical Crime Fiction Award.

516Kb3vwpVL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_It is the winter of 1909 and Maud Heighton has travelled from the north-east of England to study painting at the renowned Academie Lafond in Paris. 

This period 1871-1914 was known in Europe as La Belle Epoque, as the similar period in the USA was called The Gilded Age, but neither were very belle or gilded for the poor. Paris eats money, the women at Academie Lafond pay twice the fees of the men for their women only classes, and Maud is hungry and cold. But her luck seemingly changes when benefactors find her a position  in a luxurious apartment as companion to the beautiful young Sylvie Morel, whose brother Christian confides in her that his sister has an addiction to opium.

The Paris Winter is a beautifully written pastiche of Victorian novels with glimpses of Henry James, Wilkie Collins, Alexandre Dumas, and Charles Dickens. Imogen Robertson writes with consummate skill drawing the reader in with fine descriptive writing, clever plot and believable characters to a larger than life world of artists, models, drunks, whores, and incredibly wealthy Russians and Americans. Some things never change. I admit to finding this period fascinating as the wealthy partied on and on and did not realise that an incident in Sarajevo would soon bring their comfortable world crashing down around them.

‘There’re lots of Russians in Paris might like a taste of proper food from their homeland, and none of these Frenchies can cook a damn. All sauce, sauce, sauce till you don’t know what you’re eating.’

This was the France of  Alfred Dreyfus, exile to Devil’s Island, and Emile Zola, and the Paris in which in March 1914 Henriette Caillaux, wife of a French minister, shot dead 220px-Henriette_Caillaux_1914Gaston Calmette, editor of Le Figaro and was acquitted.  The murder was regarded as a crime of passion and the misogynist idea that women were unable to control their emotions!

The attractive female characters in The Paris Winter; Maud the demure Englishwoman, with an interesting past, Yvette, the French model who survives on her wits, and Tanya, the rich Russian contemplating defying her family over a marriage proposal; are the forerunners of the independent women of the 21st century.

She felt his eyes examine her threadbare cuffs, but he made no comment and when he found he was being watched, smiled at her warmly. “Ah! You are one of the new women. Independent in thought and deed. Excellent.’

The smooth easy to read narrative introduces real life characters, such as Getrude Stein, and a real life event like the Paris Floods of 1910, into a gripping story of deceit, and revenge. The reader is taken to high society salons and dark opium dens, and kept guessing by an intriguing plot. I enjoyed this book, Paris, beautiful women, and some old style villains set in a period that has been surprisingly neglected by English speaking authors.

What more could a crime fiction aficionado want? This novel has been nominated for the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Crime Fiction Award.

‘Our sins will find us out. Be assured, sir.’

‘What did you say?’

‘Our sins. Look at us with our electric lights and our underground railways. Motor-cars everywhere. The moving walkways at the exhibition in 1900. We rebel against Nature and she will punish us. It is the cutting down of the trees, it makes the wood spirits angry….’