Archive for the ‘Spain’ Category

Mid EuropeAlan Furst’s espionage novels set during the turbulent years of the 1930s encapsulate so many features that 350px-PicassoGuernicashould be in a good thriller that I usually read them in one of two sittings. Midnight in Europe was no exception, and seemed an appropriate title to read at the time of the dreadful Paris terrorist attacks.

The book’s dedication page is a quote by Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary, on the eve of the Great War, 3 August 1914.

“The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”

Europe has faced great threats in the past but let us hope we have learned a little from the traumas suffered during the twentieth century by our parents and grandparents generations.

Midnight in Europe begins in late 1937 when Cristian Ferrar, a handsome Catalan lawyer, is recruited to work for the Spanish Republic’s arms buying agency. He is a senior partner at the well respected firm of Coudert Freres, fluent in several languages he is an anti-Fascist and a good candidate to deal with the numerous problems he will face. Along with Max de Lyon, a former arms trader with a Swiss passport, Ferrar will travel across Europe to Gdansk, Berlin and Odessa dealing with gangsters, spies, and Fascist agents in various attempts to obtain arms for the doomed Republic.  The Spanish Civil War was like most civil wars a dreadful conflict in which both sides committed atrocities. The  disunited Republican left backed by Stalin’s Russia proved no match for Franco’s Nationalists backed by Hitler and Mussolini. The real tragedy was that Britain and France refused to sell arms to either side, which in reality meant the Republicans were always short of weapons and planes. [above right Pablo Picasso’s 1937 painting depicting the bombing of Guernica] 

Ferrar will manage to meet beautiful seductive women along the way, and the reader will learn about Europe’s dire situation in the late 1930s. The book is full of great characters, exciting incidents, historical information and the accurate atmosphere of that terrifying time. 

Defiance? The stationmaster would not stand for it. His face knotted with anger, his voice raised, he said, ‘Don’t you dare contradict me, Monsieur Cohen or Levy or whatever your name is. I say what goes on here, so don’t you try any of your sneaky little tricks on me! We’ve had more than enough of your kind in Poland.’

Crack. The speed of the blow was astonishing. De Lyon’s hand, as though on a coiled spring, swept backhand across the stationmaster’s face. Shocked, his mouth open with surprise, the stationmaster put his hand to his cheek. 

‘How’s that for a little trick? de Lyon said.

Furst’s thrillers are unequivocal in their stance that evil must be confronted. The plots are thrilling but not overcomplicated, the characters well drawn, the locations varied, and the clarity of the writing means that the social and political commentary is easily absorbed by the reader. 

‘To fight Franco, to  fight them all; Hitler, and those who aspire to be Hitlers……..I don’t mean to give a speech but the subject forces you to, doesn’t it?………

From de Lyon a dry laugh. Then, ‘True. And if a time comes when the phrase to fight turns into fight back, it will by that time be too late.’   









Arnaldur Indridason- Strange Shores translator Victoria Cribb

Pierre Lemaitre – Irene translator Frank Wynne

Arturo Perez-Reverte – The Siege translator Frank Wynne 

Olivier Truc – Forty Days without Shadow translator Louise Rogers LaLaurie

Simon Urban – Plan D translator Katy Derbyshire

Fred Vargas- Dog Will Have His Day translator Sian Reynolds

I have only read one of the books on this shortlist and will probably only read one more before the award is made on 30 June. Although this should mean I am not qualified to comment I have never let lack of qualifications discourage me in the past. This is the first time in the history of the International Dagger, which admittedly only goes back to 2006, that there is no Swedish book shortlisted. I wonder if this is because of the existence of the Petrona Award. The Swedish novel Linda, As In The Linda Murder by Leif G.W.Persson won this award defeating among others the International Dagger shortlisted Strange Shores by Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason. Of course Olivier Truc’s highly acclaimed Forty Days without Shadow, although originally written in French, is set in Lapland so there is still a Scandinavian connection.

The International Dagger has been dominated by French and Swedish books; of the 54 books nominated from 2006 to 2014 French books make up 14 and Swedish 12, with the Italians coming in third with nine. The French have won the dagger five times, the Swedes twice and Andrea Camilleri won in 2012.

Why have I read so few of this year’s list? In the past I have read them all or almost all the shortlist. 

Arnaldur Indridason’s Strange Shores I have read and I thought it was a dull depressing read, and below the very high standards set by the earlier books in the series.   

Dog Will Have His Day by Fred Vargas. I may get round to reading this, but I did not enjoy The Three Evangelists [a past winner of the Dagger] as much as the Adamsberg series, which is one of my top favourite detective series.

Pierre Lemaitre’s Irene is the first book in the Camille Verhoeven series. The second book Alex was translated into English last year and deservedly, despite the violent content, won a share of the International Dagger. Why these books were published out of order is beyond my comprehension? Jo Nesbo’s Oslo Trilogy suffered a similar fate with The Devil’s Star number 3 in the trilogy was published in English first! 

I am surprised that I haven’t read any of Arturo Perez-Reverte’s books as some of them feature chess and the works of Alexandre Dumas, two of the few subjects I know something about. But The Siege is a formidable 672 pages long, and I wonder if  historical crime fiction might be out of place in the International Dagger field. 

Simon Urban’s Plan D set in a world where the Berlin Wall never fell has been compared to Fatherland by Robert Harris. But the translator Katy Derbyshire has said it is more literary with “long sentences running on for whole paragraphs”. Certainly the 528 page book’s first sentence gives the reader no inkling that they are beginning a book  of great literary merit. If it wins I will read it otherwise not for me.

Forty Days Without Shadow by Olivier Truc set in Lapland has won seventeen international awards, and I will definitely read this one and hopefully write a review before the winner is announced.    

 Annika Bengtzon turns down the offer from Anders Schyman to be lead editor at the Evening Post and finds herself on a rota with Patrik, her new boss, giving her orders. Then a 515i2VGp3SL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_story comes her way as the news agency inform them about a whole family killed by gas used in a break in in Spain. 

‘Every break in uses gas. Gas-detectors are more common than fire-alarms in the villas of Nueva Andalucia.’ 

Annika learns that there is a large Swedish colony on the Costs del Sol, and the murdered family are the Soderstroms. The husband Sebastian was an ex-NHL ice hockey star who ran a tennis club, and the mother Veronica, a corporate lawyer with an office in Gibraltar, and probably some shady clients. When Annika realises that a teenage daughter Suzette was not killed in the gassing  she becomes involved in a difficult search for the missing girl which will take her across two continents

The Long Shadow is a direct sequel to Lifetime and I would advise anyone to read that book immediately before attempting this one. If there is too big a gap you might forget whose who! There are many characters and numerous familial connections with that novel. I wished I had made a chart of all the characters and their relationships because complex and convoluted don’t go far enough to describe a plot full of coincidences.

There are certain features that seem standard in recent Scandinavian crime fiction. There is a massive amount of detail packed into the 568 pages; the reader learns about the European drugs trade, money-laundering and financial crimes, narcotic drugs, naloxone and fatal doses of morphine, how journalists work in Sweden, and how Swedes enjoy the jet set lifestyle in Spain. The Swedish title of The Long Shadow is appropriately “en plats i solen”-A Place in the Sun.

The novel is an easy read because the narrative closely follows Annika’s progress and to enjoy these books you have to like or be interested in Annika Bengtzon. She is however a flawed heroine, egocentric and at times  impossible to work with; her clashes with photographer Lotta are one of the best parts of the story. Liza Marklund’s male characters are unfaithful pathetic creeps or violent villains, and It is sad that Annika has such poor judgement when it comes to her sex partners, and the reader is teased into thinking the unthinkable. Will she take trophy husband Thomas back?

I don’t think this is one of Marklund’s best books but despite the length, the very complex plot, being taken down paths that turn out to be dead ends or themes for future books, and the scattering of anti-Brit comments [which may be Agatha Christie like clues] I enjoyed reading about Annika’s adventures in the sun.

‘One in five households won’t join our little association because of the membership fee, which goes into gardener’s wages, pool maintenance and the satellite television dish. Isn’t that just dreadful?’ She drank some more wine.

‘They’re not welcome here. And guess what?’ She whispered in Annika’s ear: ‘They’re all Brits.’

Racism comes in all shapes and colours, Annika thought.

Barcelona police Inspector Hector Salgado has lost his temper and beaten up Dr Omar, a scumbag running a “clinic” that was involved in trafficking of young girls mainly from Nigeria. His superior Superintendent Savall asks him to stay away from that case and look into the apparent suicide of Marc whose mother Joana Vidal has asked him to find out whether the young man had jumped, fell or was pushed from a high window. The trafficking, the police brutality allegation and the subsequent disappearance of Dr Omar will be dealt with by Salgado’s colleague Sergeant Martina Andreu, and a new girl Leire Castro. Salgado will mix with some of Barcelona’s wealthy, but dysfunctional families, as he tries to discover the truth. A search which will lead back to another case, the death of a child over a decade earlier.

It is always exciting when a new author begins a debut novel with fascinating characters that the reader can learn about and hopefully follow over a series of books. When the author covers such a wide range of subjects from Catholic priests and drugs to voodoo and lesbians, and charts numerous sexual and social interactions between the large cast of characters I wonder whether he has given us too much to digest in one book. I really enjoyed reading The Summer Of Dead Toys  but sometimes I was confused as I had forgotten who was who. That might not worry a younger reader with a more efficient thinking machine.

‘Whatever you say. But, in that case, we split the bill.’

‘Never. My religion forbids it.’

‘I hope it doesn’t forbid you eating duck as well.’

‘I’m not sure about that. I’ll have to seek advice.’

She laughed. ‘Well seek it tomorrow…..just in case.’

Salgado, Andreu and Castro are interesting characters and I liked all the details of their personal lives, which means I want to see what happens to them in further books. But next time I will make myself a chart to follow their complicated lives and investigations. The complex plot, well drawn characters and interesting location make this a sophisticated and welcome new entry into crime fiction genre. 

‘No one has ever been killed out of love; that’s a fallacy from tango. One only kills out of greed, spite or jealousy, believe me. Love has nothing to do with it.’    

Lime’s Photograph was written by Danish thriller writer Leif Davidsen in 1998, and won the Nordic Glass Key in 1999. It was preceded as winner of this prestigious award by Jo Nesbo’s The Bat and followed by Hakan Nesser’s Carambole [Hour of The Wolf]. 

Peter Lime is a Danish photographer, a paparazzo, living happily in Madrid with his Spanish wife and daughter. One day he “executes a hit” getting a photo of a married Spanish government minister and a much younger Italian film star, and shortly after that he is visited by Clara Hoffmann, from the Danish Security police, about another photograph he took many years ago. Peter’s life is tragically turned upside down and his story is told in a dramatic  first person narrative which despite the book’s length [371 pages] works well for several reasons. Firstly the author seems to care deeply about his character and despite his profession Peter Lime is a protagonist with whom the reader can develop some empathy. Secondly the book educates the reader as we are given a lot of information about Europe, General Franco, Spain, ETA, the IRA, Denmark, Germany, the fall of the GDR, and the New Russia. Thirdly although the book was written back in 1998 we get some hints as to the causes of the failure of European Union experiment. 


Copenhagen had been designated Cultural Capital of Europe and as happened in Madrid, certain creative personalities had taken this opportunity to milk the coffers of the European Union, Denmark and Copenhagen.

The plot is predictable, but this reader despite spotting  the villain very early on, enjoyed being taken along Peter’s difficult path to the truth. There is a particularly dramatic description of bullfighting, which occurs probably deliberately during  a discussion about Franco’s Spain, and when Peter draws a comparison with the German Democratic Republic. The narrative will take Peter to Berlin, and on to Moscow for a tense climax. 

The Caudillo’s vision was right. Spain had to follow its own course for many years in order to emerge from its past unscathed.” You could hear the echo of servants of servants under other dictatorships. From Stasi informers in the former GDR to fascist executioners in many Latin American countries.

Even Denmark’s utopian social democracy comes in for some criticism. 

We pay for our social tranquility. We pacify them [the forgotten third of society] with welfare handouts.

Leif Davidsen’s clever blending of fiction and real events tells the story of Europe in the later part of the 20th century through Peter Lime’s life from the leftist communes of the 1970s, the democratisation of Spain, on to the collapse of Communism and to the establishment of a new order in Russia. Lime’s Photograph, is a grown up thriller that reminds me a little of the works of Eric Ambler, high praise and therefore I am not surprised it won the Nordic Glass Key.  

[continued from part one]

8] Favourite new authors discovered

A bit repetitive but those I have mentioned previously Jussi Adler-Olsen, Arne Dahl, and Tom Franklin. 

9] Most hilarious

Those who have been reading the blog will know that I found The Dinosaur’s Feather by Sisssel-Jo Gazan rather funny, and posted about it at Back story blues…..

I am still not convinced that the author was being entirely serious with this book, but if she was my apologies for making fun of her style.

10] Most thrilling unputdownable book

I think this was The Vault [Box 21 in the USA] by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom. I felt this was a far better book than Three Seconds which won the CWA International Dagger. The Vault left me shaking at the end as I realised over the last few pages that it was going to end with that dreadful twist. 

11] Book most anticipated

I had been looking forward to the new John Lawton Troy book A Lily of the Field, and it did not disappoint.

12] Favourite cover

I like the covers of books to be evocative of the story and not just a stock photo taken out of the archive.

Therefore my favourite cover was that of Death on a Galician Shore by Domingo Villar

And the book was very good as well.

13] Most meaningful character

I think Larry Ott in Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is someone I will remember for a long while. He is absolutely desperate for a friend, and loneliness is a dreadful problem in western countries where today close family ties are the exception rather than the rule.

14] Most beautifully written book

This is too difficult for me as I am not a judge of literary excellence, I just like a good story simply told. 

15] Book that had the most impact

At the time I read it The Vault [Roslund-Hellstrom] but I suspect that the book I just finished, and have not reviewed yet, The Tears of Autumn by Charles McCarry about the assassination of President Kennedy will have a great impact.

16] Book you can’t believe you waited till 2011 to read

This was Missing by Karin Alvtegen. I have enjoyed all her books and Missing won the Nordic Glass Key back in 2001. Way before there was Lisbeth Salander there was Sibylla Forsenstrom. 

That’s it.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy New Year.