Archive for February, 2015

P1020051I have always considered crime fiction awards and polls very useful for introducing readers to writers and books that they haven’t read.  Even if one doesn’t agree with the choices made by the judges, or general public, the results are usually quite fun. But they do have to adhere to certain basic standards like sanity. If we judge the best crime writers simply on all time sales there is obviously only one winner with Agatha Christie a long way ahead of the number two, and James Patterson back in third place.

Do you know who number two is? 

WH Smith has a list 107 crime fiction authors in order of merit, and I do worry about my ageing eyesight, because I cannot see Colin Dexter’s name anywhere. Some of the voting was quite astonishing with S.J.Watson, who up to date has only published one book, at 65 ahead of Stieg Larsson 68, Lindsey Davis 69, Elizabeth  George 70. That one book may be very very good, but surely S.J. has to produce more than one book to merit a position among the best crime writers of all time.

Television exposure does not seemed to have helped some fine authors with Ann Cleeves at 90, Ellis Peters at 89, Andrea Camilleri at P102004884. I am ashamed to find that I haven’t even read any of the books by the numero uno on the list, Peter James. His detective Roy Grace works in Brighton, a town I used to know very well, as three of my mother’s sisters lived in Hove, the adjoining seaside resort. I will have to remedy my omission as “he won the crown effortlessly by an incredible number of votes.”

He must be very good to streak ahead of  Agatha Christie at 5, Raymond Chandler at 47, Michael Connelly at 32, Reginald Hill at 48, and Patricia Highsmith at 52. I would suggest that if the poll had asked readers to name their “favourite” five crime fiction authors it might have produced a more interesting result. 

By the way the number two  all time best selling crime fiction author was Georges Simenon. 

 

Well for once the postie didn’t ring our bell today. He probably thought his delivery time was too early in the morning for retired old age pensioners, but he did leave two very nice parcels on our doorstep. 

cc2Well timed as I had just finished this morning reading A Colder War by Charles Cumming. I had made slower progress with this exciting spy drama, number two in the series featuring disgraced agent Thomas Kell and his former boss the glamorous Amelia Levene, simply because of the wonderful early spring weather we have been having on the English Riviera.photo

When MI6’s top man in Turkey is killed in a plane crash Kell is called back again to track down a possible mole. After a suitably slow start, with Kell mixing work and pleasure [no spoilers], the action and the trade craft becomes fast and furious as Kell journeys from Ankara, and Istanbul, to London and Odessa to track down the mole. An excellent read with an ending that makes you want to read the next in the series. I am usually not keen on endings that leave the reader wondering what happens next, but this is cleverly done and probably more authentic than a nice cosy finish. My copy had bonus content including the author’s interesting essay on The Changing Face of Spy Fiction, making A Colder War a very good read. 

But what was in those two parcels?

ricciardizagrebIn the first was thanks to Daniela Petracco of Europa Editions a copy of Maurizio De Giovanni’s new Commissario Ricciardi novel Viper. I have read and reviewed the first three books in this fine series, but the next two sit unread on my shelf. But I have now promised myself that I will read Viper first, and catch up with the others at a later date.

Karen from Euro Crime knowing that I have read all of the previous nine Bernie Gunther thrillers very kindly arranged for the folks at Quercus to send me an uncorrected proof of The Lady From Zagreb by Philip Kerr, the tenth book in the series. 

Now I don’t mind if it rains, my reading for the rest of February is planned out.   

17-john-le-carre-books-blog480As I commented earlier as I am reading some hefty non-crime fiction books alongside my usual crime fiction diet I will only be making the briefest comments on the books I read, unless there is something particularly interesting to note.

Since my last review I have read:

Entry Island: Peter May:- Neither of the two plot strands in this long book were particularly original, but the descriptive writing was excellent. The historical back story set in 19th century Scotland was exceptionally good, and a little bit superior to the modern day story set on Entry Island off the coast of Canada. 

Duet in Beirut: Mishka Ben-David translated from the Hebrew by Evan Fallenberg:- After a failed mission in Beirut agent Ronen is dismissed from Mossad, and when his former commander Gadi discovers he has gone to Beirut to redeem himself he follows to prevent another disaster. There is some discussion about the morality of targeted assassinations that inevitably lead to tit-for-tat killings, and a lot about the interpersonal relationships between the characters, a situation that is complicated by Ronen’s wife having been Gadi’s lover in the past. A good read with much more about planning an operation rather than the actual action.

The Golden Egg: Donna Leon:- The Guido Brunetti books are usually enjoyable, and his close family life with Paola and the children make such a interesting contrast to that of so many other detectives. But this was such a miserable slow paced story that even a devoted Donna Leon fan was struggling at times. 

From Eden To Exile: Eric H. Cline:- The author discusses the archaeological evidence that might explain some biblical mysteries. An interesting read although no easy answers were found.

This Dark Road To Mercy: Wiley Cash:- A gripping story told from several perspectives set mostly in the author’s home state of North Carolina. This book deservedly won the 2014 CWA Gold Dagger.

A Mad Catastrophe: Geoffrey Wawro:- One of many books published in 2014 on the centenary  of the outbreak of the Great War. This long book deals with the disastrous conduct of the war by Austria-Hungary in 1914 on both the Serbian and Russian Fronts. Full of unpleasant details of ludicrous offensives that lead to horrendous losses, and the ultimate fall of the Hapsburg and Romanov dynasties. With a few exceptions most Great War Generals seem to have been out horse riding, playing polo, or chasing women when their military schools covered the tactical lessons of the American Civil War, the Russo-Turkish War of 1877, and the Russo-Japanese War. The Great War was a dreadful tragedy that cast a long dark shadow over the last century, and we are still living with the results today.

I also tackled two very different spy thrillers A Most Wanted Man by John le Carre, and A Foreign Country by Charles Cumming [winner of the 2012 CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger] which was my favourite read in January. The contrast between these books was fascinating, and in some ways surprising as the veteran was surpassed by the comparative newcomer.

I haven’t read John le Carre since The Looking Glass War [1964] back in 2010, a novel nowhere near as good as the Karla trilogy, or Theforeign country Constant Gardener. Since then I have re-watched the TV version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and seen the 2011 movie with Gary Oldman, and am now watching the TV version of Smiley’s People with the brilliant Alec Guinness. The amusing thing about The Looking Glass War was that the three sections were introduced by quotations from Rudyard Kipling, John Buchan and Rupert Brooke,  a choice hardly representative of  le Carre’s political stance today.

The problem with A Wanted Man is that the narrative is so turgid, and lacks the subtlety of the Karla trilogy and many of the earlier books. I read a ranking of le Carre’s novels somewhere on the internet that puts A Most Wanted Man at 20 out of 22.

I think this book could have been so much better. The author hints that the “most wanted man” Issa Karpov, a Chechen who has been tortured by the Russians,  might not be everything he seems, and there might be a clever twist to the story; but unfortunately there isn’t and the ending is both predictable, and abrupt. What was most disappointing was that most of the characters seemed more like walking political statements than real human beings. I will be extremely interested to see what the movie starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as German intelligence agent Gunther Bachman makes of the book. 

Charles Cumming’s A Foreign Country also begins slowly, but it has plenty of trade craft and action as it follows disgraced agent Thomas Kell as he attempts to track down the missing newly appointed head of MI6, Amelia Levene. This is more nuanced novel with some intriguing little twists in the plot, and a very exciting ending. This was a book  that definitely deserved the award of the 2012 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger. I enjoyed it so much that I am now reading the sequel A Colder War, which also features Thomas Kell.