Archive for the ‘Israel’ Category

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.   

Svenska deckarakademin har idag utsett årets bästa kriminalromaner.
Bästa svenska kriminalroman blev: Christoffer Carlsson: Den osynlige mannen från Salem (Pirat)

Motiveringen löd: ”Stark noirroman med förtätad stämning av vemod och uppgivenhet”

51qyzrjrcnl-_bo2204203200_pisitb-sticker-arrow-clicktopright35-76_sx385_sy500_cr00385500_sh20_ou02_Bästa till svenska översatta kriminalroman:
Dror Mishani: Utsuddade spår (övers: Nils Larsson, Brombergs)
”Ett intensivt engagerande familjedrama i lågmäld ton” var motiveringen.                         

Two surprises with three previous winners beaten by Christoffer Carlsson for the Basta Svenska kriminalroman, and the translated/overseas prize, the Martin Beck Award, going to Israeli author Dror Mishani, whose book was nominated for the CWAInternational Dagger!

51qyzRJRCNL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_One evening at a police station in suburban Tel Aviv, Hannah Sharabi reports her sixteen year old son Ofer is missing. Inspector Avraham Avraham [probably a tribute to Meyer Meyer in the 87th precinct books of Ed McBain] dismisses her with a stupid story that Israel doesn’t have crimes like those in books like Agatha Christie or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and that: Regular kids don’t just disappear. 

He almost immediately regrets his attitude, and the next morning when the mother returns, he organises a search for the young man. Avi Avraham is a 38 year old single cop who leads a very dull life outside work, dealing with his elderly parents, and thinking dream-like about his platonic relationship with Ilana, his female superior officer. He is an ordinary policeman in a country where any really serious crime might be referred to the Shin Bet, internal security service.

The story is told from Avi’s perspective, and also from the perspective of a neighbour Ze’ev Avni, who was a part time tutor to Ofer, and who wishes to insert himself into the search and investigation in an unsettling way. He is a teacher, a writer, a little crazy, with an enormous chip on both shoulders. He tells Avi about the school where he teaches.

At fourteen they are already movie directors. Little Spielbergs. Some are poets and writers; they form rock bands and work on albums. They derive their confidence not from themselves but from their environment, from their parents, from society, which tells them they can do anything and everything, that they excel at everything. I am not saying it’s a bad thing, although it may sound like it. I’m simply stating the facts. Ofer comes from a different place and was a different child. 

When he says he is simply stating the facts he is actually just giving his opinion. Ze’ev may be clinically crazy, but he is a far more interesting character than Avi.

The narrative is quite slow, and Avi Avraham does not seem to be a very bright detective, clashing with colleagues; young fireball Shrapstein, the more experienced Ma’alul, and even Ilana. He suggests that Ofer is lying on a beach in Rio de Janeiro, and I was not sure if he was serious.

‘How do I know he isn’t there. I don’t know anything.’

‘You can find out. You can check with Border Security if he has left the country. He didn’t get on a plane with a false passport. He’s not a Mossad agent , he’s a schoolboy.’

Avi likes to watch crime TV and point out the errors the detectives make, but does not seem to notice his own caused by indecision and self doubt. The author is a literary scholar specialising in the history of detective literature, so we get numerous references to Agatha Christie, and he produced a story to make the reader think twice about the truth, and the assumed truth.

During the search for Ofer, Avi Avraham takes a side trip as part of a police exchange scheme to Brussels. An amusing tribute to Hercule Poirot? But the police there are dealing with a murder of a young woman, Johanna Getz, a fictional case that copies exactly, almost incident for incident, suspect for suspect, the  murder in Bristol of Joanna Yeates. 

‘Who was it? Avraham asked, and Jean-Marc said, ‘A neighbour. A different neighbour-not the landlord. A psychopath who lives on the first floor.’ 

I thought this was entirely unneccessary and a bit unsettling. It was particularly bizarre when  a blurb on the cover from Henning Mankell mentions the author writing with “profound originality”.

I very much wanted to enjoy this Israeli novel and did up to a point. But I am just not sure the author managed to create a special enough lead character who I would want to follow through any more books.  








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.”