Archive for the ‘Germany’ Category

51FLkOS0cLL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_David Downing is the author of six John Russell spy thrillers set in World War II Berlin one of which, Stettin Station, I read and reviewed for Euro Crime back in 2009. That series is now completed so I was interested to get an ARC from publishers Soho Crime of the first book in what promised to be a fine new spy series set around the Great War. Jack McColl, a luxury car salesman, is also working  for British spymaster Cumming and hoping to obtain a full time post in the fledgling intelligence service.

Cumming is based on George Mansfield Smith- Cumming, the original C, first director of the Secret Intelligence Service SIS whose top agent during the Great War was the “Ace of Spies” Lieutenant Sidney George Reilly, the man Ian Fleming probably based his creation James Bond. It has always amused me that the quintessential British secret agent was based on a  man going by the name Sidney Reilly, who was actually Georgi Rosenblum from Odessa.

The story starts with McColl in Tsingtao, a German colony on the Chinese mainland, where along with his younger brother Jed and his friend Mac he is marketing the Maia luxury automobile. McColl, the spy, uses local prostitutes to obtain pillow talk information from German officials and naval officers about their East Asian Squadron. Tsingtao fell to our Japanese allies early in the war, but this German colony left the legacy of a beer sold widely in our supermarkets. When one of his young Chinese information gatherers asks too many questions and the German officer becomes suspicious, McColl has to flee Tsingtao travelling by rail to Shanghai. 

McColl himself was thirty-two years old, and had been born into a world without automobiles or flying machines, phonographs or telephones, the wireless or moving pictures. Who in his right  mind would exchange this thrilling new world for battle fields soaked in blood? 

Well that question was answered earlier in the chapter by a supposed German water engineer, talking about the Kaiser.

He grew up playing soldiers and can’t seem to stop.

Simplistic but probably not too far from the truth.

McColl begins an involvement with the beautiful  suffragette journalist Caitlin Hanley, and the story moves rapidly on as he journeys from Shanghai across the Pacific to San Francisco; enjoying Caitlin’s company at every opportunity despite worries about her family’s affiliations and her antagonism to British colonialism. There is much more to McColl’s journey, and the reader learns about  working conditions in American factories, India’s struggle for independence, the Irish problem, and the Mexican revolution.  

This book was an easy read and there was tension and excitement in places, but I could not get over the feeling that there was more than enough international incidents packed into the 338 pages to fill another couple of books. I wondered if some of the plot, that occurring at Tampico and Vera Cruz, was added later with thoughts of an American readership. Unfortunately the frenetic action meant the characters were a bit predictable and somewhat naive, with McColl’s ability to sustain punishment and get out of impossible situations a bit more James Bond than Richard Hannay. A good, but slightly disappointing read, and I will be very interested to see how the rest of the series develops.  

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Karen at Euro Crime is running a feature on the Euro Crime Reviewers 5 favourite reads of 2013

My own five favourite books of 2013 were:

The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas translator Sian Reynolds

This book was joint winner of the CWA International Dagger as Vargas intrigues and teases the reader with more Gallic quirkiness. 

An Officer and A Spy by Robert Harris  

A superb novel retelling the true story of the Dreyfus Affair from the perspective of Georges Picquart. The truth proves to be more astonishing than any fictional plot dreamt up by an author.

Norwegian By Night by Derek B. Miller  

A brilliant novel about loss and ageing that made me both laugh and cry. Definitely one not to be missed and on many people’s best of year lists.

Summertime All The Cats Are Bored by Phillipe Georget translated by Steven Rendall

My discovery of the year, and hopefully this debut novel will be the start of a fine police procedural series set in Perpignan.

Linda, As In The Linda Murder by Leif G.W.Persson translated by Neil Smith

The first in the Evert Backstrom trilogy featuring an obnoxious character you won’t easily forget.

************ 

 There were several fine books that after some thought and a lot of prevarication just failed to make that top five.

These included:

Blessed Are Those That Thirst by Anne Holt trans Anne Bruce-The second book in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series

Into The Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes- A psychological thriller that gripped this reader.

Black Bear by Aly Monroe- The return of Peter Cotton in a spy story set in post war America.

Police by Jo Nesbo trans Don Bartlett- A fine come back by Jo Nesbo after a couple of novels that were in my opinion not up to his usual standard.

Alex by Pierre LeMaitre trans Frank Wynne- A French police procedural with a clever twist and the joint winner of the CWA International Dagger. 

The Strangler’s Honeymoon by Hakan Nesser trans Laurie Thompson- The Van Veeteren series is consistently satisfying with one of the most interesting team of detectives ever created.

 Moving on to new publications in 2014.

Thanks to the hardworking Karen at Euro Crime for producing a lengthy list of the new releases in 2014. I am particularly looking forward to reading:

Deon Meyer, Cobra

Asa Larsson, The Second Deadly Sin

Hakan Nesser, The G File

Leif G.W. Persson, Falling Freely As If In A Dream

Liza Marklund, Borderline  

Ariana Franklin and Samantha Norman, Winter Siege

51DiUU6W8XL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_ The complexity of The Dreyfus Affair means that writing a book about the gross miscarriage of justice that divided France so deeply might J_accuseproduce something that is a difficult read. But Robert Harris, author of superb books like Fatherland and Enigma, has by the simple expedient of making the story a novel retold in the words of Colonel Georges Picquart, newly appointed head of the statistical section, has brought a clarity to the events of 1895-1906, and in the process written a brilliant thriller.

As a teenager I learned the basic facts of the case; a Jewish officer Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a French artillery officer from Alsace, was convicted of espionage on the flimsy evidence of handwriting on the ‘bordereau’ a document retrieved from a waste paper basket at the German Embassy. He suffered a terrible public degradation ceremony, the episode which begins this novel, and was subsequently exiled to spend a lifetime in solitary confinement on Devil’s Island, a hell hole off the coast of French Guiana. It later becomes clear that another officer, a low life Major Walsin Esterhazy is the traitor, but the Army are unwilling to accept this evidence as they believe overturning the verdict of the military court will weaken the nation’s confidence in the Army. Blatant anti-Semitism masquerading as concern for the nation, and the reaction of the powerful to any challenge.

Of course he would betray us, because he hates us; he has hated us all along because he isn’t like us, and knows he never will be, for all his money: he is just…..A regular Jew!

This stance is supported by large elements of the population who would rather see the traitor Esterhazy go free than the innocent Jew Dreyfus be released from a captivity. A captivity which he bears stoically still proclaiming his innocence. When Colonel Picquart, who at first believes Dreyfus to be guilty and does not particularly like the man, becomes convinced of his innocence and thus of Esterhazy’s guilt he is packed off by his superiors on a lengthy tour of provincial France, and then exiled to Tunisia, where they attempt to send him on a suicidal mission into the desert.

‘But if we discover Esterhazy was the traitor and Dreyfus wasn’t…?’

‘Well we won’t discover that, will we?  

Thanks to the efforts of the Dreyfus family the Affair attracts the attention of many important people. France becomes a divided nation. The Dreyfusards importantly include among their numbers the novelist Emile Zola, and the politician and newspaper editor Georges Clemenceau.

Esterhazy is acquitted in a farcical court martial, Emile Zola writes a famous letter to L’Aurore and is convicted of libel, Dreyfus faces a second trial and is found guilty again, although his sentence is commuted to ten years………..

The ironic end of this story is that Alfred Dreyfus, is the only leading character in this tragic drama who serves in the French Army during the Great War, and then he outlives all of them dying in 1935 at the age of 75.

An Officer and A Spy is a very fine novel full of great characters, plot and atmosphere. Robert Harris has got inside the personality of his protagonist, Georges Picquart, cleverly used the real life characters to give an account of the real life events embellished with a dialogue that reflects the atmosphere of Paris in that period. It helped the author that the Affair is full of memorable villains with Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy, a rogue, traitor and embezzler who awarded himself the title of count while gambling away his family fortune; and those responsible for manipulating the evidence Major Hubert-Joseph Henry; Colonel Armand du Paty de Clam, and their pathetic superiors Generals Mercier, Billot, de Boisdeffre and Gonse. With a plot full of lawyers, shootings, forgery, gay diplomats, suspected murders, surete detectives, prisons, duels, beautiful women, corruption, court martials and treachery in high places An Officer and A Spy has more than enough action to keep the reader turning the pages.

In order to write such a superb novelisation Robert Harris meticulously researched original sources, letters, court transcripts and newspapers of the time to produce a thriller with a strong message about incompetent security services and virulent anti-Semitism that is relevant to our time.

‘It is a great thing to have done all that, and at the end of it to have been appointed to the Cabinet of the French Republic.’

‘And yet, you know, the strange truth is I would never have attained it without you.’

‘No, my General,’ says Dreyfus, ‘you attained it because you did your duty.’

 

An Officer and A Spy has already won the National Book Award Popular Fiction Book of the Year, in my opinion it has to be a contender for the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Crime Fiction Prize.      

51QVPdKjBiL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_You can read my review of John Lawton’s Then We Take Berlin at Euro Crime.

John Lawton once again uses historical fact as a framework to build a story with larger than life characters. Cockneys in the Blitz, Belsen and post war Berlin…..I can’t wait for the sequel.

 

P1030783Crime Scraps was started in September 2006, and I don’t know what is the average life of a blog, but I think it is well into adulthood by now. My original plan was to have a record of the books I had read, and to bring to the attention of any readers two series of detective books. The first was the ten book Martin Beck series Story of a Crime by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, of which I had read about six during the 1970s and 1980s, and I had searched second hand book shops for the remaining books with little success. The second was the Salvo Montalbano series by Andrea Camilleri which I had recently discovered. 

I remember three years later charging into a WH Smith in the company of a distinguished translator of Scandinavian crime fiction, and finding only one of his books on display at the back. But within a few months Scandinavian crime fiction was all over the shelves in every type of retail outlet that sold books. And now we have had various Wallanders, Sarah Lund, and numerous other Nordic shows on TV, as well as Montalbano and Young Montalbano representing Italian crime fiction and Spiral from France with its distinctive Gallic approach.  I therefore decided to go back and spend a few weeks reading some of the crime writers who had me hooked years ago, and have read thirteen books since my holiday reading roundup.

I read and scored with star ratings:

Feast Day of Fools**, Pegasus Descending**, and Sunset Limited*** by James Lee Burke,

A Guilty Thing Surprised** and Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter*** by Ruth Rendell,

A German Requiem*** and The One from the Other*** by Philip Kerr,

The Hanging Garden*** by Ian Rankin,

Recalled to Life*****, Pictures of Perfection***** and The Wood Beyond*****by Reginald Hill,

The Scent of Death*** by Andrew Taylor [winner of the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger]

The Windsor Faction***** by D.J.Taylor [reviewed at Euro Crime]  

So what did I learn from reading and re-reading these books. Well some authors were not as good as I remembered and others made a fresh impression that encouraged me to read more of their output. Some of the writers produced such worthy messages that it made up for their over convoluted repetitive plots. But above all I came to the conclusion Reginald Hill was an outstanding crime writer coming up with new fresh ways to write interesting crime novels. I particularly liked his Dickensian Recalled to Life, his very clever Austen like Pictures of Perfection, and one that I had read a while ago Midnight Fugue, a parody/pastiche of the TV series 24 Hours.

Andrew Taylor’s The Scent of Death was well written, with a very atmospheric  setting in 1777 Revolutionary New York, and a good read, but was it any better, and did it have as strong a moral message as  the other contenders for the Ellis Peters Award. This was the third time Andrew Taylor has won this award and I sometimes think that winning the award is a major factor in repeat wins. I am not singling out Andrew Taylor for any criticism, because there are transatlantic authors who regularly win awards every year, and when I have read a sample of their work I have found it far less worthy than The Scent of Death. Even a great Fred Vargas fan such as I still cannot understand the thinking behind her win in 2009 over a strong field which contained books by Johan Theorin,  Arnaldur Indridason, Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbo and Karin Alvtegen.

I have some new translated crime fiction to read and hopefully will be able to produce some full reviews, but I will end my catch up with a quote from Reginald Hill’s Recalled to Life, which begins with a murder in that watershed year of 1963, when an American president was assassinated, a British government fell, and a young innocent went off to university. 

Up to nineteen sixty-three it was still possible for thinking men to believe in progress. A just war had been fought and won, and this time the result would be, if not a land fit for heroes, at least a society fit for humans. We who grew up in the ‘sixties and ‘seventies and came to our maturity in the dreadful ‘eighties have seen the destruction of that dream without ever having the joy of dreaming it. Recalled to Life; Reginald Hill 1992     

TWFactionYou can read my review of The Windsor Faction by D.J.Taylor at Karen’s Euro Crime website.

 

My interest in history made this book irresistible and emphasised the fact that small events can change major trends in our future. It always interests me when “experts” predict what the world will be like in 2030 or 2050, after all who one hundred years ago would have predicted with any degree of certainty the cataclysmic events of the next few decades.

 

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.

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Usually when the CWA International Dagger Shortlist is announced I have read most of the books, but this year I have only read one of them, The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas. I normally would not comment until I had read more of the books, but the  announcement on the CWA website reproduced below made me think the judges are unhappy at the quality of the shortlist. Surely if “several outstanding books” are not submitted by publishers within the deadlines some kind of failsafe system should be arranged. I can understand the organisers wanting a fee to include the books in a shortlist, but the prestige of the award will be tarnished if the shortlist becomes  a collection of books that wouldn’t have made it but X, Y and Z weren’t submitted in time. There is mention of terrible violence in two of the books, and I always wonder if this is really necessary in any circumstances. I will possibly get round to reading only one of the two violent books, but when I read in the press about the murder of April Jones, and the fact that Drummer Lee Rigby had to be identified from his dental records, I think authors and scriptwriters have some responsibility to tone down any descriptions of violence in their work.

It is a bittersweet irony that the first ever Israeli crime novel to be shortlisted D.A. Mishani’s The Missing File appears alongside a book by the grandson of Baldur von Schirach, Reichhsjugendfuhrer and then Gauleiter of Vienna, a man who served 20 years for crimes against humanity. No one could blame author Ferdinand von Schirach for the terrible crimes of his grandfather, but equally I don’t believe he can absolve his family name by writing novels, however well intentioned.

The last time Fred Vargas won this award in 2009, the shortlist included Karin Alvtegen, Arnaldur Indridason, Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbo, and Johan Theorin. Was this a stronger shortlist than that of 2013?

An analysis of International Dagger shortlists over the past five years shows 8 Swedish, 7 Italian, 6 French, two  South African, Norwegian and Icelandic, and one  German, Argentinean, Spanish and Israeli novels were nominated. 

The announcement of the winner is on 15 July therefore I hope to review more of the shortlist before then.  

From the CWA website:

“Questions of quality led to two long discussions by the judging panel: one is whether a socially important book which is otherwise not exceptional in originality or aesthetic quality is, nonetheless, an ‘outstanding’ book; the other is the problem of exceptional violence.

In both cases, the judges agree that one of crime fiction’s claims to attention is when it reveals, analyses, and publicizes issues of social concern. Crime fiction can alert its publics to failures in laws and law enforcement, on the street, in the courts, and in legislation. It can perform the work of historical memory and bring injustices to public attention. Three of the shortlisted books raise these questions: one performs the work of publicity and has called the attention of its society to a questionable change in its laws; in two, though there is terrible violence, it is employed in the service of serious questions, and is never gratuitous.

The judges regret the non-submission of several outstanding books, and wish to remind publishers of the CWA’s deadlines.”

covers_for_hannah_threeThe first three books in Rebecca Cantrell’s award winning Hannah Vogel series are available now on Kindle UK at exceptional value ranging from £2.99-£3.33. I can heartily recommend this intelligent series, which features a feisty female protagonist while at the same time educating the reader about major events in European history.
 Award winning author Rebecca Cantrell majored in German, Creative Writing and History at the Freie Universitaet of Berlin, and Carnegie Mellon University. She lives in Hawaii with her husband and son.
My review of A Night of Long Knives with links to my four part interview with the author.

51HrSuGfaBL._SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_ Ireland 1963.

A German business man is murdered in a guesthouse at Salthill just outside Galway City. He is the third foreign national to be killed in a few days, and with the forthcoming visit of President John F. Kennedy young Irish Minister of Justice Charles J. Haughey must have the matter cleared up as quickly as possible. A note left on one corpse threatens famed SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Otto Skorzeny and therefore Haughey brings in a reluctant Albert Ryan to track down the killers.  Ryan works for G2, Directorate of Intelligence, but he is an outsider, a Protestant in a majority Catholic country and above all an Irishmen who fought with the British against the Nazis. Now he is asked to protect Nazis and a rag tag bag of nationalists who fought with them in the war, the Irish call  euphemistically ” The Emergency”. 

Author Stuart Neville in his fourth novel successfully blends real life characters Skorzeny [who rescued Mussolini in September 1943] , the  unpleasant future Taoiseach Haughey, and Breton nationalist Celestin Laine along with his fictional creations, Ryan, the beautiful Celia Hume, various mercenaries and Mossad agents. The Ratlines of the title are the escape routes from Europe for Nazis and collaborators organised with the money held by Skorzeny and his associates. 

We know, for example, that Martin Bormann siphoned off a huge fortune right out of Hitler’s pockets. In 1945, when the end came, as far as we know, Bormann never made it out of Berlin. But the money did. Eight hundred million dollars wound up in Eva Peron’s bank account, not to mention the gold bullion and the diamonds. We are talking enough money to run a small country.

I knew that President De Valera with “strict neutrality” had expressed condolences to Admiral Doenitz [Hitler’s successor as German head of state] on the death of the Fuhrer, but I did not know of the extent of the sanctuary and protection given to Nazis by the Irish Republic. 

The set up of the situation with Ryan’s difficult choice between his conscience and following orders is very well done. But I felt the book lost its way a bit with Ryan becoming just an Irish version of James Bond. He survives some graphically described torture, but is able to make love to the beautiful Celia despite physical violence that would put most men out of action. 

But I think I can forgive this minor weakness in the narrative and some interesting plot twists that did not convince me, because the novel is well written, tense and exposes a part of Irish and world history that many would like to forget. 

‘Perhaps,’ she said. ‘If I had known the truth of it, the Germans who promised us so much, if I’d known what they were doing to those people, the Jews, the Roma, the homosexuals, I would have made a different choice. Do you believe me?