Archive for the ‘tv crime fiction’ Category

Ann CleevesI moved on to read The Moth Catcher by Ann Cleeves. I am ashamed to admit that this is first novel I have read by this author, having watched and enjoyed the adaptations of her Vera and Shetland book series on television.

The Moth Catcher is the seventh book in the series featuring Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope, and it is the sort of novel that if you have become jaded with too much crime fiction will reinvigorate your interest in the genre. This story has everything with a setting in beautiful Northumberland, an interesting plot, superb characters, a biting social commentary and a great trio of detectives lead by the idiosyncratic Vera.

Silver earrings. Make up. Vera wondered if she was on her way out to a special lunch or if she always made the effort. It was clear her husband doted on her.

Vera thought for a moment that she might have found a man if she’d scrubbed up a bit better, then decided no man was worth the time it took to plaster stuff on your face in the morning, when you could have an extra cup of tea instead. 

Vera, Holly Clarke and Joe Ashworth are interesting characters, who investigate a double murder in an isolated valley in Northumberland. The plot is becomes complex when it is discovered that the two victims  are both moth collectors. Vera’s investigations centre on the claustrophobic group of people, who live in the upmarket barn conversions and call themselves the “retired hedonists”. The lives of these comfortably off retirees are contrasted with that of the locals, and the detectives delve deeply into the past histories of the victims and suspects.  

Highly recommended, a very enjoyable read. This is definitely one of the best English detective novels I have read for some time, and shows you don’t necessarily have to go Nordic to get a great crime story. Time permitting I hope to go back and read the earlier books in this series.     

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cobenI picked up Harlan Coben’s The Stranger in our local supermarket simply because the main character was called Adam Price.

The book was a typical quick read airport novel with Adam’s American Dream life coming to an abrupt end as a stranger tells him something about Corinne, his wife, he does not want to hear. In typical Coben style Corinne mysteriously goes missing. This is the third Harlan Coben novel I have read and in Tell No One, Six Years and The Stranger the main protagonist is searching for his woman. It seems to be a winning formula? 

The setting is in one of those idyllic American small towns where everyone seems to have a plenty of money, but there is an undercurrent of trouble. The reader realises the suburban town is very wealthy, because Adam’s sons play lacrosse at high school. The plot features embezzlement, corporate greed, murder, blackmail and computer hacking. 

One of the book’s failings is that many of the characters lack any depth. They seem to have been selected from a box of standard stereotypes, but Coben sells millions of books simply because his novels are such easy reads.  

Too bad. Too bad his old man couldn’t see how his only son had become such a big man in this town. Bob no longer lived on the crummy side of town where the teachers and blue-collar guys tried to survive. No, he bought the big manor with the mansard roof in the ritzy “country club” section of town. He and Melanie drove his-and hers Mercedes. People respected them.

I have noticed reading Le Carre, and some Nordic authors, that “happy endings” are not in vogue, and Harlan Coben follows this trend. Does ending a novel with a tragedy make it great literature?   

In the past few weeks I have read three thought provoking John le Carre novels; The Night Manager [1993] Our Game [1995] and Absolute Friends [2003] all of which I enjoyed immensely despite reservations about their politics. 

635878802254689284-The-Night-Manager-AMCThe TV series based on John le Carre’s book The Night Manager reached it’s climax last week. As with many television adaptions of a novel you realise how good the author is when the TV version plot starts to deviate from the original. The classic case of this phenomenon was the Dalziel and Pascoe series based on the novels of Reginald Hill which when the original plots were exhausted, and some of the great characters abandoned, was a shadow of the earlier programs. 

In The Night Manager’s tv adaptation the alterations in the plot and the changes in chronology, geographical locations, and the sex of Burr had worked quite well up to the last episode. In the final episode the novel’s plot was totally abandoned with the result that much of the political message was lost. Of course  the female audience was was catered for with scenes featuring Tom Hiddlestone, and if you have an elegant beauty such as Elizabeth Debicki constantly wandering around in floaty dresses and expensive lingerie you are likely to have a television success on your hands. But I did not approve of the scenes where her character Jed was water-boarded, this was totally unnecessary. There is enough violence towards women in real life without having to watch this sort of thing on TV.

A lot of le Carre’s emphasis in the novel was lost, and although I disagree with most of his politics, I felt the novel’s ending should have been retained. If a book is good enough to put on television surely the key message should be retained. But overall this was a gripping series, but I would respectively request there is no Night Manager Two, or we may face another Broadchurch Two debacle. 

gameOur Game was the next book le Carre wrote and apparently it was not as successful as some of his previous books, only reaching number 3 on the NY Times bestseller lists.

I have to admit finding most of this novel hysterically funny, although I am not sure le Carre intended it to be a black comedy. Perhaps I was amused by the fact that most of the book is set in North Somerset rather than the North Caucasus.

Bath University, Bristol, the Mendips, and Priddy, where retired civil servant Tim Cranmer tries to batter his old friend Larry Pettifer into submission are fairly familiar to me.

The story begins with the disappearance of Larry, a double agent whose dedication to left wing causes includes the seduction of Tim’s mistress the beautiful young Emma. Tim has inherited a run down estate with a failing vineyard from his uncle, and more luckily a large amount of money from an aunt. He and Larry were at school together at Winchester. In the past our security services were overrun by the alumni of Westminster, Greshams, Marlborough and Eton, which did not work out too well. 

The only possible benefit in having these people as spies was that if they were thrown into the Lubyanka, however badly they were treated the food was bound to be superior to that served up in an English Public school in the 1950s and 1960s.

The police investigate Larry’s disappearance……

Yet who did they think he was? -Larry, my Larry, our Larry?-What had he done? This talk of money, Russians, deals, Checheyev, me, socialism, me again- how could Larry be anything except what we had made him: a directionless middle-class revolutionary, a permanent dissident, a dabbler, a dreamer, a habitual rejector, a ruthless, shiftless, philandering, wasted semi-creative failure, too clever not to demolish an argument, too mulish to settle for a flawed one? 

Strangely this passage from a 1995 novel instantly made me think of one of today’s leading British politicians. 

Tim is questioned by both the police and his old employers in the security service, as they suspect he is involved in a financial scam.

In a minute you’re going to tell me it’s all in Checheyev’s weaselly imagination, he forged Larry’s signature. You’ll be wrong. Larry’s in it up to his nasty neck, and for all we know, so are you. Are you?

Tim naturally begins a convoluted search for a missing 37 million quid and the beautiful young Emma, both of which have been expropriated by Larry and Tim’s former agent Konstantin Abramovich Checheyev.

The money is intended to help the oppressed Chechen and Ingush people in the Caucasus. Tim’s search takes him from to Bristol, Paris, and Moscow and eventually to the conflict in the Caucasus. John le Carre views the situation there as very black and white but in these far away conflicts things are usually shades of grey. I wonder what the author felt when nearly decade after this novel the events took place at a place in North Ossetia called Beslan. 

Absolute Friends, le Carre’s first post 9/11 political novel also had me laughing out loud on many occasions, and perhaps again I wasabsolute not supposed to find this novel so amusing. The narrative tells of the long running friendship between Ted Mundy, son of a British army officer, conceived in India and born in Pakistan on partition day; and Sasha, a son of Nazi Germany brought up in the GDR. The friendship begins among the revolutionary students of West Berlin in the turbulent 1960s, and ends in ………..I won’t spoil the ending.

Endings are not John Le Carre’s strong point, and however nuanced the narrative he seems to want to leave the reader feeling somewhat bruised, and hopefully convinced that the Americans and British are responsible for every evil in the world. 

Mundy becomes a secret service agent by chance after his experiences in Berlin.

“What is the purpose of our revolution, comrade?”

Mundy had not expected a viva voce, but six months of Ilse and her friends have not left him unprepared. ” To oppose the Vietnam War by all means…To arrest the spread of  military imperialism….To reject the consumer state….To challenge the nostrums of the bourgeoisie…To awaken it, and educate it. To create a new and fairer society ….and to oppose all irrational authority.”

” Irrational? What is rational authority? All authority is irrational, arsehole.”

The Soviets classified these fellow travellers as useful idiots, and unfortunately they are still around today even in the UK waving Mao’s Little Red Book and forgetting the millions who died under Communism, and it’s close relative National Socialism.

Sasha’s father was a Pastor who became a Christian Nazi, and later decamped to the obnoxious West from the GDR socialist paradise, installing a deep personal and political hatred in his son. The story explores both men’s relationship with their fathers, and the secrets they uncover. 

This is a long, but highly readable book, that has many complexities as the friends frequently lose touch and then meet up again after several years and catch up with events. Mundy is never sure which side Sasha is on, or even at times which side he is on. 

As a prized Stasi agent, Mundy receives a fat retainer, bonuses and incentive payments. The conventions of the trade, however require him to turn those sums over to his true masters, whose remunerations are more modest, since London unlike the Stasi, takes his loyalty for granted. 

These books are well written, and are fascinating reading perhaps enhanced by our knoweledge of recent events. 

happy_valley_600-211x300The second TV series of Happy Valley finished last night. It was probably the most succesfull sequel since The Godfather Part II, and I found the program was a good antidote to the duplicitous world of Richard Onslow Roper in John Le Carre’s The Night Manager also on our TV screens at the moment. The people in Happy Valley had real problems, not connected with lobster salads in Michelin star restaurants, and it represented some of the sad struggling lives of many people in England. I don’t expect many of the characters in Happy Valley went to Winchester and Oxford, or holiday in Switzerland or Nassau.

Happy Valley was an excellent series, with gritty writing from Sally Wainwright [Last Tango in Halifax, Scott and Bailey] and Sarah Lancashire’s iconic performance as Police Sergeant Catherine Cawood. Sarah was supported by a brilliant  ensemble cast in which Kevin Doyle as Detective Sergeant John Wadsworth stood out.

If this series doesn’t have success at the BAFTAs I will be most surprised. 

I am reading The Night Manager by John Le Carre, and after watching the excellent first episode on Tv have decided to postpone watching further episodes till I have finished the book. 

Viewers of Happy Valley, the award winning TV series, have already seen a promotion when James Norton went from playing psychopathic rapist and murderer Tommy Lee Voyce to playing the dashing Prince Andrei Bolkonsky in War and Peace. With Happy Valley series two now on our screens Norton is demoted back to Tommy Lee Voyce. Happy Valley is a brilliant  program that has kept the excitement and high standards of series 0ne.

The Night Manager also involved a considerable change of status as glamourous French actress Aure Akita played Sophie, the mistress of crook Freddy Hamid, only to move on to play Gabrielle Tackichieff, Madame Secretary General at the Elysee Palace, in the second series of Spin [Les homme de l’ombre].  

I am in danger of becoming a television addict and my reading is suffering. My excuse is the plethora of great miniseries dominating our screens in the last few weeks. My recorder has been overworked, and I have even discovered Van Veeteren lurking among the mysteries on my Tivo boxed sets.

BBC 4 are playing the second series of Young Montalbano. I have now got accustomed to the youthful Salvo, Livia, Mimi, Favio and Catarella and even Mrs Crime Scraps is a fan of this excellent series.

More Four have also gone continental with the French policial thriller Spin [Les Hommes de l’Ombre] which stars the gorgeous Nathalie Baye, as a Presidential candidate, Bruno Wolkowitch, and Gregory Fitoussi. Fitoussi played Pierre Clement in Spiral, and sent many female hearts of my acquaintance throbbing, so it is nice to see him playing a real nasty piece of work managing the presidential electoral campaign of the Prime Minister, an even nastier guy. The sexual relationships of these fictional characters are nowhere near as intricate as those of the last two French presidents, Nicholas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande. Obviously true life is stranger than fiction and power must be the ultimate aphrodisiac. 

On Channel Four we have the spy thriller Deutschland 83 in which we see both that the GDR [East Germany] was part of the evil empire and the FDR [West Germany], or at least their army, seems to have been part of an incompetent empire. Some people are rooting for the GDR spy Martin in this series seemingly failing to see his predicament as the ruthless cynical exploitation of a decent person by a foul regime. Part of Ronald Reagan’s evil empire speech is used in the trailer and it is unfortunate that the fall of the Berlin Wall has not changed the ideas of many influential politicians in this country. They still won’t accept that Chairman Mao and Uncle Joe killed more people before breakfast on any single day than the British Empire in the last three centuries. 

I have seen that it won’t be long before a new series of Happy Valley will be back on our screens, and I was surprised to realise that the rapist from that series Tommy Lee Royce was played by James Norton, who stars as Prince Andrei Bolkonsky in the visually magnificent War and Peace currently on BBC One. I am really enjoying that series although it would be nice if Pierre Bezukhov, played with great intensity by Paul Dano, sent his slutty wife Helene [Tuppence Middleton] off to a convent somewhere near Irkutsk.

War and Peace has lead me to start reading a book that has lived on my bookshelves for nearly twent years. I have decided it is time I read How Far From Austerlitz by Alistair Horne so less crime fiction and a bit of history for a change. In my pre-Crime Scraps days I read Alistair Horne’s magnificent trilogy on modern French History, The Price of Glory:Verdun 1916;  To Lose a Battle: France 1940, and A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962. 

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I read Pierre LeMaitre’s Camille [reviewed here], Death’s Jest-Book by Reginald Hill, The Ghost by Robert Harris, and only just started the Petrona Award winner The Silence of the Sea by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. 

Death’s Jest-Book is another big blockbuster of a novel being both a sequel to Dialogues Of The Dead, and also having several new intriguing sub-plots. The fact that two 600 page books can be read without too much of a struggle is a tribute to one of our greatest crime writers, and the wonderfully quirky characters created by Reginald Hill. It was quite sad to say goodbye, even temporarily, to Andy Dalziel, Peter Pascoe, Ellie, Wieldy, Hat Bowler, “Ivor” Novello, Franny Roote, and their relationships and problems.

The Ghost by Robert Harris is a brilliant read, but not quite my cup of tea, I much prefer his historical fiction books Fatherland, Enigma and An Officer And A Spy, simply because modern politics seems still a bit too raw as we still face the problems discussed in The Ghost. 

The Ghost is roped in to rewrite the autobiography of an ex-British Prime Minister called Adam Lang, who despite the usual disclaimer that any resemblance to actual persons is entirely coincidental bears a strong likeness to a recent British politician. The real Lang was a master of illusion, won three general elections, and was surrounded by political colleagues some of whom spent more time plotting his demise than running the country. 

In the book the previous “ghost” writer has met an untimely end apparently falling off the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. Our new ghost, a man who does not know anything about politics, and who is never named, discusses the manuscript he is to rewrite with Amelia, Lang’s personal assistant.

‘Honestly? I haven’t had so much fun since I read the memoirs of Leonid Brezhnez.’ She didn’t smile. ‘I don’t understand how it happened,’ I went on.

‘You people were running the country not that long ago. Surely one of you had English as a first language?’

Author Robert Harris fell out with New Labour, and our ex-PM, over the Iraq War, a conflict which may well go down in history as one of the greatest strategic mistakes since Cornwallis marched his army into Yorktown. But who knows………..

 

HummfliesDoD Reginald HillThe weather in April was very good and that meant less reading, and more travelling around the glorious Devon countryside. Roaming around the scenic Jurassic coast at Budleigh Salterton and Seaton, and the stark  beauty of Dartmoor, as well as the idiosyncratic market towns, we constantly realise how lucky we are to live in the South West of England. I should get employment with the Devon Tourist Board.

I read the two strong contenders for the Petrona Award, The Hummingbird and The Human Flies,  and as light relief Dialogues Of The Dead by Reginald Hill.

Dialogues is one of Reginald Hill’s door stop novels at over 550 pages, but it is an easy read [the print size is large enough to be read by septuagenarians, a vital matter for this reader]. There is a laugh on every page, and  just when you think you have identified the murderer, he or she is bumped off. I did get it right in the end, but only after my first choice met an untimely end. Dialogues is classic Reginald Hill, erudite with a Dickensian cast of characters joining with the usual suspects of Dalziel, Pascoe, Ellie, Wieldy and playing a big part in this novel DC “Hat” Bowler. Shirley Novello is recovering from a gunshot wound which she received  in the previous novel Arms And The Women, so Hat becomes a vital member of the investigative team, who are always one step behind a deranged serial killer. But of course Reginald Hill’s take on the serial killer novel is very different from most other writers.

‘ I’m just thinking, shouldn’t we concentrate a little harder on solving this case, sir, rather than finding out who the mole is?’

‘Nay, that’s down to you, Pete. This is one of them clever-cut cases. Old-fashioned bugger like me’s right out of his depth. I’ll fade into the background and let you call the shots on this one.’

Oh yes? thought Pascoe sceptically. Previous experience had taught him that having the Fat Man in the background tended to block out the light.

The news this week of the death of Ruth Rendell was very sad. Rendell’s first book From Doon With Death was published way back in 1964, and it featured one of my favourite detective teams of  Reg Wexford and Mike Burden. For many years I read every Wexford book that was published, and many of the psychological thrillers written under the name Barbara Vine, but unfortunately there isn’t enough time to read everything and I moved on to other authors, while still respecting the subtle plot twists and interesting characters that featured in her books.

In recent years British crime fiction has lost Reginald Hill, P.D. James and now Ruth Rendell, all three were giants of the genre they will be greatly missed.   

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. 

 

51a6twGKBUL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_When I want to read for pure enjoyment with no thought that I should be reading this or that to keep up with what is occurring in reg hillthe world of translated crime fiction, I turn to Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe long running series.

I suspect I am addicted to these books and in making a brief appraisal of the series I might butcher some Tolstoy: “All dull books are alike; each Dalziel and Pascoe is interesting in its own way”. I thought of Tolstoy because a lot of the Dalziel and Pascoe books are of of epic length. Luckily the Harper paperback versions have a large font or else the almost 600 page length of many would be off-putting.

In the last few years I have read:

Deadheads 1983, Underworld 1988, Bones and Silence 1990, Recalled to Life 1992, Pictures of Perfection 1994, The Wood Beyond 1995, On Beulah Height 1998, The Death of Dalziel 2007, Midnight Fugue 2009 and have just begun A Cure for All Diseases 2008 [the opening chapters of which are extremely funny].

I regret not reading the books in order, but I may well go back and fill in the gaps.

The Death of Dalziel [Death Comes For The Fat Man in the USA] weighing in at 598 pages was published in 2007 the year of the terrorist bombings in London. When Police Constable Hector, not the brightest copper in Mid -Yorkshire Constabulary’s employment spots a man with a gun in a video rental shop in Mill Street that stocks Asian and Arab stuff, Dalziel and Pascoe get called in. The property has been flagged by CAT [Combined Anti-Terrorism] but Dalziel’s lack of confidence in Hector’s ability to tell the difference between a gun and a lamb kebab mean he and Pascoe get caught in the blast when the shop  blows up. Pascoe is protected behind the fat man’s vast bulk, but Andy Dalziel is severely injured and spends the majority of the book in a coma.

Pascoe is determined to track down the perpetrators of this outrage and other connected attacks carried out by vigilantes. The reader is given more information than the police concerning the reasons for attacks committed against those who preach, or are perceived to preach violent jihad. Some of the questions concerning treatment of our troops in Iraq, revenge, hatred, personal loss, and fear of the other are cleverly raised with great care in this tense story.

The Death of Dalziel was a very enjoyable and thought provoking read, with the serious subject matter pleasantly distracted by the wise words of St Andy. 

Bump into your best mate coming out of the Black Bull, that’s coincidence. Bump into him coming out of your wife’s bedroom, that’ s co-respondence.