Archive for the ‘Conan Doyle’ Category

HOL sat peopleFrom the back cover: Oslo 1969.

When a wealthy man collapses and dies during a dinner party. Norwegian Police InspectorKolbjorn Kristiansen, known as K2, is left shaken. For the victim Magdalon Schelderup, a multi-millionaire businessman, and former resistance fighter, had contacted him only the day before,  fearing for his life.

This is the second book in the series featuring K2, and his brilliant young associate, the wheel chair bound Patricia, and is dedicated to Agatha Christie. The narration is in the first person by K2, and the plot is a classic in that there are a limited number of suspects, the ten that attended the dinner party, and that the victim is a thoroughly unpleasant character. Therefore the book comes over as being very similar in atmosphere to The Human Flies, the first book in the series. One persistent theme, like the previous book, is events during the German occupation of World War II.

One misconception about Agatha Christie’s body of work is that she wrote the same English country house mystery over and over again, when in fact by varying the location and producing new plot twists she kept her work fresh. If she did parody herself there were usually thirty or forty years between the books.

The ten guests at the Schelderup dinner party, include a wife, two ex-wives, three children from the various wives, a young attractive secretary, and friends who go back to his wartime activities. K2 must negotiate his way through this plethora of suspects, numerous red herrings, and of course in true Christie tradition some of his suspects will not survive till the end of the book. 

The combination of K2 and Patricia is unlike Poirot and Hastings, or Holmes and Watson, and much more like Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. K2 tells the story and does the legwork, but Patricia is very much the brains behind the duo.

I found myself faltering while reading Satellite People, as I was distracted by advancing old age, the serious political problems facing this country, and very much more pleasant events. I would not say that Satellite People is a great read because the plot lines are very derivative, as they were intended to be, but this means that it lacks a freshness and the ability to grip the reader. But if you haven’t read a lot of classic crime fiction it is a very interesting take on the genre.

Patricia stared at me wide-eyed for a moment.

‘You surpass yourself,’ she remarked, apparently serious.

My joy lasted for all of ten seconds. Because when she continued it was far less pleasant.

‘I would not have believed it was possible to get so much wrong in two sentences, and at such a late stage of a murder investigation.’ 


photoxii The unusually mild and dry autumn weather in Devon this year has affected my reading, simply because we have been out a lot enjoying the sunshine. I do have another of my quizzes in preparation to keep readers busy over the holiday period. These were a feature of the blog in earlier years and I hope this one will tempt people to enter for the prize. More about this in a few weeks.

Interestingly the folks at Thriller Books Journal seem to approve of  some of my efforts as they informed me of their item Crime Fiction Blogs Worth Investigating [part eight]. 

Crime Scraps Review:

News, reviews and thoughts about crime fiction by Norman Price, a man with NOIR written through him like a stick of rock. Tremendous.

I would have thought that if there was a word written through me at the moment it was probably RHEUMATISM, but it was very pleasant to read such a flattering appraisal. 🙂

It has encouraged me to make a few comments on the recent CWA Daggers handed out a few days ago at the Specsavers Crime and Thriller Awards.

ctacutoutweb-300x263The Best Actress Dagger: Keeley Hawes, Line of Duty

 The Best Actor Dagger: Matthew McConaughey, True Detective

The Best Supporting Actor Dagger: James Norton, Happy Valley

The Best Supporting Actress Dagger: Amanda Abbington, Sherlock

The TV Dagger: Happy Valley

The Film Dagger: Cold in July

The International TV Dagger: True Detective.

The Specsavers ITV3 Crime Thriller Book Club Best Read: Peter May, Entry Island 

 Crime Writers’ Association Goldsboro Gold Dagger for the Best Crime Novel of the Year: Wiley Cash, This Dark Road to Mercy 

 Crime Writers’ Association John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger for the Best New Crime Writer of the Year: Ray Celestin, The Axeman’s Jazz 

 Crime Writers’ Association Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for the Best Thriller of the Year: Robert Harris, An Officer and a Spy 

Last year I read the Gold Dagger novel Dead Lions by Mick Herron, which I enjoyed very much, and will certainly read this year’s winner This Dark Road To Mercy by Wiley Cash, a previous winner in 2012 of the John Creasey New Blood Dagger. I will also try and get round to reading Entry Island by Peter May.

I was very pleased to see that An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris won this year’s CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, it was one of my best five reads of 2013photoxx1

An Officer and a Spy is not only an exciting read, but perhaps might educate those who read it to the dangers of  anti-Semitism, and politicians attempting to cover up gross miscarriages of justice. That list of my best reads of 2013 also included the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger winner the masterly Norwegian By Night by Derek B. Miller

In picking the Robert Harris book for the 2014 Steel Dagger the judges have chosen a quality novel after last year’s poor choice of Ghostman by Roger Hobbs. I read Ghostman and deciding that I did not want to be too negative deliberately did not review it. My failing memory and time have mollified my feelings somewhat, but I still do not think it warranted a prestigious dagger.

My reasons were that Ghostman was a first person monologue by Jack, a professional armed robber, a man who lives off the grid, and who gave readers  a series of laundry lists of how to get in through a locked door, how brilliant he was, how a shovel makes a terrible weapon, how clever he was, and how he blended into the background by arriving in a simple private jet, and how successful he was. But despite being this master criminal he failed to notice his car had a tracking device installed etc etc etc etc…..

I can’t remember much more about it except all the characters were totally amoral thugs, and criminal geniuses, one proved that by telling Jack how he had made a young child drink drain cleaner. Personally I lost interest in Ghostman at that point, but in reality that probably means it will be made into a high grossing movie starring Brad, or Ben or Tom, or all three. 

On a more positive note TV programs that I watched and enjoyed received three daggers: James Norton-Best Supporting Actor in Happy Valley, Best TV series-Happy Valley, and Best Actress-Keeley Hawes in Line of Duty [written by Jed Mercurio].

Happy Valley was written by Sally Wainwright, the creator of another brilliant TV series Scott & Bailey, which has unfortunately  just ended on ITV. In any other year Sarah Lancashire who played police Sergeant Catherine Cawood in Happy Valley would have won Best Actress, but Keeley Hawes did produce a mesmeric performance as Detective Inspector  Lindsay Denton in the superb Line of Duty. 

I think that Happy Valley, Line of Duty, and other gritty series like Southcliffe, and Mayday prove that the best of British TV crime series can match any Nordic or American  series, with the possible exception of the Dickensian brilliance of The Wire. But then of course almost everyone in The Wire was British. 😉  


Where in the world could you enjoy such contrasting weather in the same afternoon?











The clue is in this third photo.



The third non fiction book I read last month was Einstein’s German World by Fritz Stern. With my limited knowledge of German culture it was a little above my level of understanding, but I could grasp the main points. The book is a collection of essays about Paul Ehrlich, the relationship between Fritz Haber and Albert Einstein, Max Planck, Walter Rathenau, historians of the Great War, the New Germany and Chaim Weizmann. The portrait of Fritz Haber [who played a major role in the development of chemical warfare] is far more sympathetic than that in the BBC production of Einstein and Eddington that appeared on our TV screens back in 2008. This is probably because the author Fritz Stern was Haber’s godson. I was rather surprised when I realised that Haber had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1918 so soon after he had personally overseen the gas attack at Ypres in 1915, in contravention of the 1907 Geneva Convention.

But this book is one long story of bitter tragedy and the introduction begins with this ironic passage.

It was in April 1979 in West Berlin. Raymond Aron and I were walking into an exhibit commemorating the centenary of the birth of Einstein [Nobel prize for Physics1921], Max von Laue [Nobel prize for Physics 1914], Otto Hahn [Nobel prize for Chemistry 1944], and Lise Meitner [should have won the Nobel prize with Hahn]. We were passing bombed-out squares and half-decrepit mansions of a once proud capital, our thoughts already at the exhibit, when Aron suddenly stopped at a crossing, turned to me and said, ” It could have been Germany’s Century.”

But I was not surprised to read in the essay about Paul Ehrlich [who won a Nobel prize for Medicine in 1908]…

Like Haber, he relaxed by reading detective novels. Arthur Conan Doyle’s portrait hung on the wall of his study, and the author sent some of his books as presents.   

There were some very good entries to the Diamond Jubilee Quiz, with some contestants doing a lot of research. It was very difficult to pick a winner as no one got every question completely correct. Sometimes the answer was a bit simpler than it seemed at first glance sometimes a bit more complex. 

Here are the answers:

1] What is the “Royal” connection with an Old  Brownstone House at West Thirty-Fifth Street ?

Detective Nero Wolfe lived in that Old Brownstone House, and the royal connections I wanted were that:

 The books were written by Rex Stout, “Rex” is Latin for King, Nero was an Emperor, and one of Rex Stout’s well known novels is Some Buried Caesar. But I also learned that there are  omnibus editions of the books entitled Royal Flush and Kings Full Aces.

2] Where is the “Queen of Watering Places”?

This question refers to opening sentences of The Majestic Hotel, Chapter 1 of Peril at End House by Agatha Christie.

“No seaside town in the south of England is, as attractive as St Loo.  It is well named the Queen of Watering Places and reminds one forcibly of the Riviera.”

3] How Royal are Daniel Nathan and Emanuel Lepofsky?

Quite royal. Daniel Nathan was the real name of Frederic Dannay and Emanuel Lepofsky of Manfred B. Lee. Dannay and Lee in their writing used the pseudonym Ellery Queen.

4] Who did Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond von Ormstein employ, and what is the Royal connection?

This comes from Conan Doyle’s A Scandal in Bohemia. Wilhelm von Ormstein, aka Count von Kramm, employed Sherlock Holmes to retrieve a photograph of himself with Irene Adler.  Wilhelm von Ormstein was in fact the hereditary King of Bohemia and his marriage plans would be ruined if that photograph was circulated.  

5] How are a Cornish Duchess and a Frozen Princess linked?

The name Camilla. The Duchess of Cornwall is the former Camilla Parker-Bowles, and the frozen princess comes from The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg.

6] Which novel features an assassination attempt on a Crown Prince, and a criminal known as the Prince?

The novel is The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo.

The winner came from British Columbia, but thanks to those who took part and better luck next time.  [photo of Royal Crescent , Bath]

Reading a crime fiction series can be a bit tricky at times because:

1] The author has written the series out of chronological order.

James Lawton’s Troy series and Liza Marklund’s Annika Bengtzon books are two examples of this particular quirkiness. At the moment I am reading Exposed by Liza Marklund, the first chronologically of the five books published in English, and the young inexperienced Annika is feisty but obviously immature in comparison with the Annika of Red Wolf [number 5]. This is the fourth of the Bengtzon series I have read and I have tackled them in the order 4, 2, 5, 1 -reading The Bomber [4]  some years ago before I began blogging. New readers to Liza Marklund will be able to read the series in the correct order, and not become confused. 

2] The publisher has had the series translated in the wrong order.

The worst example of this foible was the Harry Hole series by Jo Nesbo, where book 5 [The Devil’s Star] in the Oslo trilogy of connected stories was translated before book 3 [The Redbreast] and book 4 [Nemesis]. 

This happens fairly frequently, or the publisher dives into book 11 of a 15 book series for some unknown reason. So for once it is a pleasure to read a long running series in order such as the Montalbano books by Andrea Camilleri.

3] The author switches perspectives between characters

The multi award winning S.J Rozan writes each book in her series alternately from the different perspective of her two protagonists Lydia Chin and Bill Smith. When you are not expecting it such as in Outrage by Arnaldur Indridason, where his usual lead character Erlendur does not appear and Elinborg takes over it can be a pleasant surprise, and give a new lease of life to the series. Hakan Nesser even had his Inspector Van Veeteren retire to run an antiquarian bookshop, but still have his advice sought by his former subordinates. When you have a team of investigators as in the Martin Beck series [Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo] or a cast of quirky characters as in the Adamsberg books by Fred Vargas the author can alter the emphasis from book to book, or within each book. This must make it much more interesting for the writer and ensures a better experience for the reader.

I particularly like this method of continuing to keep a series fresh.

4] The reader comes to a series late.

Some series have been running for so long that if one comes to them late and decide to catch up you face a marathon reading session, and have to absorb a lot of back story about the character. Diamond Dagger winner Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone alphabet series started with A for Alibi in 1982, and has reached V for Vengeance in 2011. But Sue Grafton is a beginner when it comes to keeping a protagonist going on and on for years. 

Ruth Rendell, Baroness Rendell of Babergh, began her Chief Inspector Wexford series back in 1964 with From Doon with Death and last year the 22nd Wexford, The Monster in the Box was published. In the new Wexford The Vault the former Chief Inspector is enjoying his retirement. Ruth Rendell could be almost considered the first Scandinavian crime writer to make it big in the UK as her mother was born in Sweden, and brought up in Denmark. 

5] The characters do not age in real time

Some characters age for example Ian Rankin’s Rebus in the 17 book series which ran from Knots and Crosses [1987] to Exit Music [2007]. This series did not really take off until the 8th book Black and blue which won the CWA Gold Dagger, and Exit Music is set during the period before Rebus is due to retire. 

Hercule Poirot, probably the best known Belgian in the world, was imagined by his creator Agatha Christie as an old man in her first book The Mysterious Affair at Styles published in 1920. He had been a policeman in Belgium for many years, retired and a refugee in the Great War. 

‘That is not true,’ said Poirot. ‘I had a bad failure in Belgium in 1893.’  [Peril at End House]

Elephants can Remember was published in 1972, and Curtain: Poirot’s Last case was published in 1975, although that was written in the 1940’s and locked away to be published after Miss Christie’s death. A disconcertingly long  career for the great detective, but hours of pleasant reading for crime fiction fans. 

A crime fiction series can raise a lot of questions for readers.

Do you continue to read them even when they have lost their early promise? Should authors take their characters to the Reichenbach Falls, or allow their protagonist to quietly retire to tend their vegetable garden, or run a bookshop? Do authors run out of plots and just rely on their idiosyncratic characters to carry a book? Do authors eventually get bored, or even begin to hate their creations? When authors who are best known for a series write a one off  will a fan of the series buy that one off, or wait for the next book in the series? What is the ideal length for a series? What part has television played in the popularity of crime fiction series? ……………

The Desolate Moor

Posted: October 4, 2011 in Conan Doyle, England, photo essay

Then fourteen miles away the great convict prison of Princetown. Between and around these scattered points extends the desolate and lifeless moor.

The Hound of the Baskervilles: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle