Archive for April, 2014

41Cg4odPZZL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_The Red Road is the fourth book in Denise Mina’s Detective Inspector Alex Morrow series set in Glasgow. It was intended that the Red Road blocks of flats were to be demolished as part of the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this summer, but that idea has now been scrapped. The blocks were built in the 1960s and if the architects, politicians and administrators, who planned their construction had been required to live in them for a few weeks they would have been demolished much earlier.

The Red Road narrative is in two time frames and the story is told from several perspectives. The reader is informed at the start that on the night Princess Diana dies in her car crash in Paris, Rose Wilson a 14 year child prostitute stabs to death young Pinkie Brown, another 14 year resident in a children’s home, and then her abuser Sammy.

Sixteen years later DI Alex Morrow is giving evidence against Pinkie’s younger brother local gangster Michael Brown, who had served time for his brother’s 800px-Red_Road_flats_2murder. But Michael’s fingerprints have turned up all over a murder scene high in the half demolished Red Road flats. The murder of Aziz Balfour has occurred while Michael was held in prison so this is impossible? Meanwhile Robert McMillan, whose father Julius represented Rose when she was tried for the murder of Sammy, is hiding in a remote castle. He expects to be murdered as he has exposed a money laundering ring to the SOCA [Serious Organised Crime Agency]. His wife Francine, and three children are attending  his father Julius McMillan’s funeral along with the children’s nanny, Rose Wilson.

I thought at first that I was confused by the plot because I had not been concentrating as much as I do when reading translated crime fiction, but later I realised the degree of complexity was the reason. Obviously diving into book four of a series causes problems and I wish now I had read the earlier books, one of which The End of Wasp Season won both the 2011 Martin Beck Award in Sweden, and the 2012 Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year. Once I had got further into the book everything became much clearer and I found this excellent example of tartan noir very dark and depressingly factual.

Pakistan could be a rich country, you know, a safe country. All over the world, they’ve raised enough money to build three houses for every single family made homeless by the earthquakes but they’re still living in tents, children dying of cold and hunger.

It’s bastards like Dawood who let that happen.

But you can’t prove it because he never touches anything, someone else holds the money, someone else holds the drugs, the guns, the everything.  

The story gives an account of a corrupt police force, corrupt alcoholic lawyers, and the depressingly bleak lives of those who are not in that rich elite that is comfortably insulated from real life. The Red Road is a good story that needs some degree of concentration from the reader to follow all the characters, and their interactions.

I did however enjoy the character of Alex Morrow, a cop with one year old twins and whose half brother  is a notorious gangster, and is surrounded on all sides by problems. I may go back to read the earlier books in the series. 

Every police force had corruption issues, but Strathclyde’s were over giant bags of greasy bank notes, not fripperies of social status. It seemed more honest to Morrow, somehow.    

Anzac Day 2014

Posted: April 25, 2014 in Australia, New Zealand

anzac-07Anzac Day has some significance for our family even though we live on the other side of the globe. 

My wife’s grandfather Percy Kempster DSM served in the Royal Australian Navy and sadly did not survive the war. His daughter, who remembered him as a kind father, died a few years ago at the age of 98. 

Australians and New Zealanders came in very large numbers to help defend Britain in two world wars, and one of my heroes was the Australian General Sir John Monash, whose parents were Jewish immigrants from Prussia. He commanded a brigade at Gallipoli attempting to preserve the life of his men, and rose to become commander the Australian Imperial Forces during the last decisive campaigns of 1918.

The great sacrifices made by these countries with such small populations was brought home to me  some time ago when I was searching online for the cemetery in France where my uncle was buried. I came across a small cemetery where there were only 46 soldiers buried….. 2 British and 44 New Zealanders.

Thank you brave ANZACs for your service.   

41sDxT2PRGL._AA160_perssonFree Falling As If In A Dream subtitled The Story Of A Crime is the third book of a trilogy. The previous books are Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End, and Another Time, Another Life.

I would recommend setting out on the marathon task of reading the lengthy books in order. Although this one can be read as a standalone it won’t be as satisfying because the reader won’t appreciate the way in which the clever jigsaw of a plot all fits neatly together over the three books. Author Leif GW Persson has been an adviser to the Swedish Ministry of Justice and a Professor at Sweden’s National Police Board, he is the country’s foremost expert on crime.

 

517CY6O6qWLHis crime fiction novels have been winning awards for three decades. In 1982 he won Best Swedish crime fiction novel with The Pillar of Society, in 51l72rqLc6L._AA160_2003 Another Time, Another Life won and in 2010 and 2011 The Dying Detective won Best Swedish novel and the Nordic Glass Key.

His dark humour and biting satire exposes the Swedish state and police force to some close scrutiny and they don’t come out of it very well. His writing style may take some getting used to but his books become addictive. There is a lot of detail, a lot of detail, and sometimes the plot drags as any 500 plus page will in places, but this is compensated by the brilliant characters. Of course his plots are complex and convoluted with lots of minor interesting characters, but characters are in my opinion what makes us read crime fiction, and Free Falling has them in abundance.

“Olof Palme,” said the chief of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Lars Martin Johansson. “Are you familiar with that name, ladies and gentleman.”……………………….

“Olof Palme,” Johansson repeated, his voice now sounding more urgent. “Does that ring any bells?” 

Free Falling As If In A Dream is set during the summer of 2007 and is the story of a secret investigation set up by Lars Martin Johansson into the murder of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme on Friday 28 February 1986.

Johansson, the detective known as the man who can see round corners, is determined to deal with the unsolved crime which has remained a blot on the record of Sweden and the police force. After all this time is the investigation dead as Anna Holt says like Monty Python’s parrot or is it just a little tired.

Johansson collects around him an elite team of three; Police Superintendent Anna Holt, Detective Chief Inspector Jan Lewin and Detective Chief Inspector Lisa Mattei. The narrative is the story of their lives, their investigations and the backgrounds of suspects and others involved in some way. The book is full of wonderful set piece meetings as Johansson and his team deal with the investigative tracks previously covered by the shoddy investigation years before. A lone crazed assassin, the Kurds and elements of the police had all been suggested as likely perpetrators. 

Evert Backstrom, the horrible misogynist homophobe, now rightly banished to police “lost and found” begins a lone investigation drooling at the thought of reward money he can possibly share with his informant. Backstrom plays a medium size role in the plot and even takes second level when it comes to the level of revulsion as sadistic SePo [secret police] officer Claes Waltin’s appalling life and suspicious death are dissected by the investigators.

But despite the presence of male characters who treat women badly, luckily the more major roles are played by Anna Holt and Lisa Mattei, who both have that interesting blend of brains and beauty and show a competence that shames their male colleagues. It seems at times that they do the work while the men eat, drink, and talk. 

There is one brilliant passage when Johansson goes for a nine course meal with the “special adviser”. 

The special adviser lived in a palatial villa in the Uppland suburb of Djursholm, where the creme de la creme in the vicinity of the royal capital had the highest fat content…………….

“That’s what characrerizes us real Social Democrats. That we have both our hearts and our wallets to the left.”

The special adviser, Sweden’s own Cardinal Richelieu, the prime minister’s top security adviser, the extended arm of power or perhaps simply power?

The two men definitely a couple of crime fiction’s great characters indulge themselves in the meal which begins with finger foods and champagne:

Mostly beluga caviar, duck liver , and quail eggs, and why fritter away your short life on nonessentials?

The subtle mixture of serious social comment, political double dealing, and dark satirical humour makes this an excellent read, and an example of the very best in Swedish crime fiction.

I don’t buy many books in hardback but Leif G.W. Persson is one author for whom I make an exception.

“Guys,” said Mattei, shrugging her shoulders. “There’s only one thing you need them for.”

What has happened to little Lisa? thought Holt. Is she becoming a grown woman?

” But not Johan, exactly, ” said Holt.

“No, not him,” said Mattei. “He’s actually good for several things. You can talk with him, and he’s really good at cleaning and cooking too.”      

delucatrilogy51+bu8dd1xL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_I have recorded, but not had the time to watch, all four programs in the Inspector De Luca series, which has been showing on Saturday nights on BBC4.

My humble blog started in September 2006 and was switched from blogger to wordpress in July of 2011. It was jogging along with a small but highly intelligent readership with about 2,000 hits per month.

The hits recorded in the second half of 2011-17,491, in 2012-29,228, and in 2013-24,645……

In January this year 2,348 and February 1,842, and then on 16 March I posted about the upcoming Inspector De Luca series on BBC4.  There were only 118 hits that day but the next day 239, then 254-170-183-297 and on the Saturday 22 March the day the first episode was screened 2,518.

The following day there were 1,677 hits and while things have calmed down now there were a total of 10,077 hits in March and over 6,000 so far in April. This was deluca4simply because the post achieved a high position on Google third or fourth for a period of time; although I like to think the links to my reviews of the three books in the De Luca trilogy were a valuable resource for fans of Italian crime fiction.

I hope to review some more crime fiction set in Fascist and wartime Italy over the next few months as I have several books staring at me from the TBR shelf.  

 

51kmTzUoq6L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_A little frazzled by reading hundreds of pages about real life genocide and ethnic cleansing I picked up Six Years by Harlan Coben for some less challenging reading. I had only read one book by this author Tell No One; and I had watched the brilliant French film adaptation of the novel three times.  A serious Kristin Scott Thomas addiction.

Six Years begins with a heartbroken Jake Fisher at the wedding of Natalie, the only woman he would ever love, to Todd Sanderson in a small white chapel in Vermont. Jake is a political science professor at Lanford, one of those Massachusetts liberal arts universities where students discuss the theories of Locke and Rousseau while wondering which Wall Street firm, or US Senator will find them employable.

Six years after that wedding Jake sees on his computer news feed that Todd Sanderson has been murdered, and although he had promised Natalie he would leave her alone he cannot resist the urge to see her again and travels to South Carolina to attend Todd’s funeral. There to his shock he sees that Todd has a different widow and children grieving for him. Where is Natalie?

The set up and hook is very good, but from then on the story is a bit too far fetched and very derivative. The whole plot will be familiar to readers of Tell No One with only a few variations on the theme. Six Years was easy escapist reading and clearly if you have won an Edgar, Shamus and Anthony and your books sell in their millions you have a successful formula. But although I enjoyed the book, it was a rapid read, in my opinion you owe readers a little more than just a clever reworking of Tell No One.    

510-na8C0iL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_My serious reading project needs a brief interlude because Anne Applebaum’s superb Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe contains so much detailed research, and so many accounts of tragic events that I do need a breather. You can only take so much evil and perhaps attempting to read Bloodlands and Iron Curtain back to back was not wise. I will return to Iron Curtain but felt I should say something about it now. 

I spent an hour today watching Prime Minister’s Question Time in the House of Commons. Maria Miller, the Minister for Culture  has resigned after repaying £5,800 of expenses claimed in error. What struck me was the way smug bank benchers from the government side sprang to their feet asking ludicrously sycophantic questions such as “Would the PM agree with me that we are all wonderful, and that the two apprenticeships created in my constituency are a sign that all the coalition’s policies are working, and we are entering a golden age of full employment?” Or some such nonsense. 

It was all a bit reminiscent of the show trials of Stalin described in Iron Curtain, in which lifelong communists, recent ministers of the interior and general secretaries of the communist party stood up and suddenly admitted they were CIA agents, working for the Americans, Tito and the Zionists.

Iron Curtain is full of stories, some horrifying , some worrying and some amusing. Surprisingly during that period many in Britain’s elite supported Stalin’s regime, by actively spying for the Soviets like Kim Philby and the notorious Cambridge spy ring, or by being fellow travellers and apologists for the excesses of the regime.

 Long after he had fled East Germany, Wolfgang Leonhard-by then Professor Leonhard- addressed the question [of the show trials of 1936-1938] in a famous annual lecture at Yale University, as part of his undergraduate course on Soviet History.

Among the possible explanations for the ‘Great Purge’, Leonhard listed Stalin’s insanity, Russia’s historic fear of foreign invasion-and an outbreak , in the 1930s, of highly active sunspots.

Anne Applebaum describes a post war Europe that was a terrible place to live with deportations and ethnic cleansing on a vast scale, even more terrible because the war was over, but the hatred remained.

The Czech people for instance were told to prepare for the final retribution of White Mountain for the return of the Czech lands to the Czech people. The Battle of White Mountain was fought in 1620 when Bohemia was defeated by the Holy Roman Empire and her German allies. This went on all over Eastern Europe.

Between 1945 and 1948, some 89,000 Hungarians were thus ‘persuaded’ to leave Slovakia for the Sudetenland, where they replaced the missing Germans, or else to cross the border into Hungary itself. Some 70,000 Slovaks arrived from Hungary in their place.

Not a word of protest was heard from outside the region. One Hungarian historian declared that this was because”the fate of the Hungarian minority did not interest anyone”.

But in truth, the fate of none of the minorities interested anyone……….By 1950, not much remained of multi-ethnic Eastern Europe. 

Although of course there was one multi-ethnic state left after all the forced population movements, Yugoslavia.    

51eCX1AIs2L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_I have now finished reading Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder, Professor of History at Yale, and the book is in the words of Anne Applebaum “the definitive history of the mass killing of this period”.  I have read many books on twentieth century Polish, Russian and German history but this superbly researched book brought home better than most the utter horror of the period. In a mere twelve year period from 1933-1945 the Soviet and Nazi regimes murdered fourteen million people. Fourteen million individual lives. 

I think Bloodlands should be compulsory reading for anyone in the west who was ever a Communist fellow traveller or a party member in the 1940s and 1950s; for those people who exhibit concern about the Bombing of Dresden: for anyone who thinks about supporting an academic boycott of a tiny country in the Eastern Mediterranean; and above all for those teenagers taken on school trips to Auschwitz. Auschwitz was not the whole story and they need to learn about the Einsatzgruppen, the mass shootings and burnings, Babi Yar, Bikernieki Forest, Katyn Wood, Gulags, deportations, deliberate starvations, the Great Terror……..

I learned a lot.

Concerning Shmuel Zygielbojm, who was the representative of the Jewish Bund to the Polish government in exile in London.

In a careful suicide note of 12 May 1943, addressed to the Polish president and prime-minister but intended to be shared with other Allied leaders, he wrote ‘”Though the responsibility for the crime of the murder of the entire Jewish nation rests above all upon the perpetrators, indirect blame must be borne by humanity itself.” The next day he burned himself alive in front of the British parliament, joining in he wrote , the fate of his fellow Jews in Warsaw.

And that as many Poles were killed in the bombing of Warsaw in 1939 as Germans were killed in the bombing of Dresden in 1945.

And perhaps even more stunning…

On any given day in the second half of 1941, the Germans shot more Jews than had been killed by pogroms in the entire history of the Russian Empire.