Saturday, December 30, 2006


"When in doubt have two guys come through the door with guns"
Raymond Chandler [1888-1959]

A great line from Chandler who obviously learned his lessons, as I did , from that typical English Public school education at Dulwich College.

Well it is probably time to look back and assess the highs and lows of a year which seems to have whistled by even quicker than 2005. I am convinced that as well as global warming being a reality there is also something Einsteinian occuring, and that as I get older time is speeding up.

This was the first year for a long time that we had not been abroad on holiday, but that surprisingly did not seem to make the year drag, because we were kept so busy with our family chores.

We can't feel sorry for ourselves about not having had a foreign holiday because in the previous 7 years, we had been four times to the USA , and three times to Italy, as well as touring Spain and Ireland.

FAMILY HIGH: Our son getting a 2:1 Sociology degree from University of Bath, and a fork lift driving licence. I am not sure which will be more useful in the long term.

LOWS: The inevitable funerals and trips to see friends and relatives recovering from illness. When they are younger than you it seems even more traumatic, and quite sobering.


This was the year I made real use of the internet and met some interesting people online. I was also able to keep in touch with old friends and relatives in Mauritania, Jamaica, Zimbabwe, Sciota PA, Forest Hill, Columbus OH, and Oxfordshire.

In the first half of the year I worked on a game enhancement for a computer baseball game with some helpful guys from Phoenix, Arizona and Portland, Oregon. It was a very successful collaboration, but on those rainy days in Devon one gets a bit jealous when informed about Arizona's superb weather and Oregon's wonderful scenery.

Later in the year I started Crime Scraps and met online with a very friendly group of crime bloggers, especially Maxine, Rhian, Karen, and Peter. My apologies if I have forgotten anyone.


The conviction of Danny and Ricky Preddie for the manslaughter of 10 year old Damiola Taylor. It had taken 6 years, three trials, and two police investigations to reach this conclusion and frankly the 8 year sentences were too lenient. There can really never be a "good moment" in this sad saga, but at least the convictions brought some kind of justice for young Damiola.


The shooting of five young girls aged between 7 and 13 at a school house in the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.

The lack of anger in the community and their forgiveness for the shooter, who had committed suicide, was an example of their deep faith.

I think these two incidents particularly affected me because I knew both areas quite well, Peckham from my childhood in Camberwell, and Lancaster County from holidays there in 1979 and 1994.


The reappearance of 18 year old Natascha Kampusch near the Austrian home of Wolfgang Priklopil, where she had been imprisoned for 8 years. The full story will probably never be revealed as Priklopil threw himself under a train when he realised she had escaped.

The discovery of authors Leonardo Sciascia, Andrea Camilleri, Gianrico Carofiglio and Carlo Lucarelli, and enjoying every page they had written.

The realisation that Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo were as good as I remembered after a 15 year gap in reading their police procedurals.

Learning so much history from the wonderful crime fiction of CJ Sansom and David Liss.

And of course delving into all those other crime fiction blogs with their excellent recommendations.


A difficult one this as there were so many good books, but the choice is a triple tie:

The Locked Room by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, Day after Day by Carlo Lucarelli, and The Coffee Trader by David Liss.
I really could not seperate these three novels.


Another tie between Half Broken Things by Morag Joss, and Predator by Patricia Cornwell.
I really enjoyed the best of them, History of Violence and Criminale Romanzo, both were exciting and even though you knew the probable outcome very gripping.
At the other end of the scale I nearly walked out of Hidden, and was only prevented doing so by the fact that most of the people in our row were comatose and asking them to move could have been dangerous. A totally hideous film that had all the subtlety of a charging rhinoceros, and none of the excitement.
To lose weight, my regular New Year resolution, and to enjoy every day whatever it may bring.
Today the weather is Devonian in that it is dark, very windy and raining, obviously an ideal day for reading about Salvo Montalbano and his problems on sunny Sicily.
"It is a great thing to start life with a small number of really good books, which are your very own."
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle [1859-1930]

Friday, December 29, 2006


"(ANSA) - Police arrested about 100 people in the southern city of Bari and in several northern Italian cities on Tuesday as they smashed a powerful mafia organisation which was run by women.Eight of those arrested were women believed by investigators to have held 'management' positions in the Valentini clan which is based in the town of Bitonto near Bari.The women's first job was to communicate the orders of jailed bosses to the rank-and-file members and then see that they were respected. But after that they acted autonomously and reportedly demonstrated an aptitude for crime in no way inferior to that of the men.Prosecutors accuse them of belonging to a mafia association, a range of drug crimes and extortion.According to investigators, the female bosses also ensured that the families of jailed mafia men received support and paid all legal expenses.They also paid weekly wages to clan members. Drug pushers received 250 euros per week, drug trade organisers 1,000 euros and district mafia chiefs 5,000 euros. When members were arrested it was up to the women to find a new place to keep the clan's arms arsenal.The Valentini clan has been fighting a feud with a rival family in Bitonto for years and has until now managed to stay on top, acquiring considerable influence. Police on Tuesday froze bank accounts connected to the clan and seized businesses, apartments, land and cars worth 25 million euros.The organisation was able to smuggle drugs into prison with relative ease. One of the few times such an operation was intercepted was in 2004 when prison police found a shoe full of cocaine that had been thrown over the wall into the prison courtyard.The feud with the Conte-Cassano family is believed to have produced at least six killings since 2003, although the bodies of the victims have never been found."
It is nice to know that some of my favourite authors will never run out of inspiration as long as real crime in Italy produces such interesting plot lines.
"Never, ever, set up a direct debit in this country. Not unless you've been introduced to both the bank and the billers. Don't ever put a cheque in the post, because you can't tust the post, let alone the postman." [The Dark Heart of Italy: Tobias Jones]


I am reading Excursion to Tindari, as stage two of my Camilleri/Montalbano marathon read.

In the book Salvo Montalbano as well as investigating the murder of a young man and the disappearance of an elderly couple, is reading Manuel Vazquez Montalban's crime novel The Buenos Aires Quintet.

Montalbano reading Montalban, is there a nicer word than incestuous for such an event?


Thanks to Rhian at It's a Crime!(or a mystery...) who informed me about the very interesting reading program at Bensenville Community Public Library near O'Hare airport, Chicago.

The program aims to get participants to read 52 books in 52 weeks, and the website has a lot of advice on starting a reader blog, and how to organise your reading.


Now that have your own reader blog set up, you may be saying to yourself, “What should I write about?“ That’s the beauty of blogging. You can write about whatever you wish! There are a lot of reader blogs in the blogosphere, and no two are alike.
Visit some of our favorite reader blogs to get some ideas for your own reader blog:

Blog Happy
Crime Scraps
Dear Author
It’s a Crime
Journal of an Avid Reader
The Misadventures of Super Librarian
Occasional Book Reviews
Paperback Reader
Rosario’s Reading
Thrifty Reader

No my son/daughter/cousin/great aunt/uncle or nephew isn't a librarian in Illinois. It is a little bit frightening to think readers will come to these blogs expecting to get inspiration for their own blogs.

Input equals inspiration, and therefore I need to get back to my reading.

Behold she stands beside her inland sea
With outstretched hands to welcome you and me
For every art, for brotherhood she stands,
Love in her heart, and bounty in her hands
Chicago, Chicago, Chicago is my home
My heart is in Chicago, wherever I may roam [early pre 1920 city anthem]


This Christmas my children bought me some crime linked presents.

My constant hints over the last few months actually worked and because I know their funds are very limited I really appreciated the thought.

My wife bought me an outrageously expensive Swiss army knife [called the Champ or Chump] with every attachment you can possibly think of; so that I cannot use the excuse that I have not got the right tool when faced by a task around the house.

Well there has to be a downside to every holiday.
Syriana won the 2006 Edgar Award for Best Motion Picture

Thursday, December 21, 2006


I have finished stage one of my Montalbano reading marathon,
The Voice of The Violin, and am about to start Excursion to Tindari.
Reading a detective series is a comforting and comfortable experience, it is nice to return to familiar characters, and learn a bit more about their lives. While the author has to be careful that his, or her, detective fiction does not become a pastiche or parody.
The series must continue to contain interesting plots, rather than just wallow in the weird behaviour of the characters. Fortunately Andrea Camilleri has not fallen into the Patricia Cornwell trap of having increasingly quirky characters without any plot development.
But perhaps Camilleri could even get away with that literary sin because of the humour, gastronomic delights, clever interplay, and inherent charm of Montalbano that abounds in the books.

In fact in The Voice of the Violin there is plenty of plot and action. The story begins with Montalbano finding the naked body of the beautiful Michela Licalzi, who has been suffocated, and left in the house she is renovating.
The Inspector and his team begin an investigation and there are several suspects in Michela's murder:

Maurizio Di Blasi, a shy besotted admirer, who has learning difficulties.
Dr Emanuele Licalzi, her elderly husband.
Guido Serraville, an antique dealer from Bologna, and Michela's lover.

and even perhaps her close friend Anna Tropeano, another beauty whose charms Montalbano appreciates, while it is apparent that the attraction is mutual.

This makes for an interesting sub-plot of will they or won't they, get involved throughout the novel.

Salvo has other problems as his long distance relationship with Livia is facing a traumatic incident. On top of this he also has major difficulties with the new Commssioner Bonetti-Alderighi, and the new chief of the crime laboratory Dr Arqua.

At one point Bonetti-Alderighi actually takes the investigation away from Montalbano and puts the Montelusa flying squad captain Ernesto Panzacchi in charge, with predictably disastrous results.

Once again I really enjoyed this book and hope the others in the series are as good, and I can't wait to find out how Salvo and Livia sort out their problems.
Outside the Sicilian city of Agrigento, Camilleri's model for the city of Montelusa, stands the Greek Temple of Concord [440BC], by far the best preservedof the ruins........against the protests of conservationists, historians, and people of good sense, a large unsightly hotel was built directly behind the archaelogical site....[from the notes by Stephen Sartarelli]
A visit to the city of Exeter would show that it is not only in "corrupt" Sicily that such planning crimes are committed. Within yards of a beautiful medieval cathedral the city is building a monstrous shopping mall that seems to have been designed by Attila the Hun, although that may be unkind to that barbarian.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


I had suspected some reviewers of not having read the book they were reviewing, but this reviewer beat that by a wide margin.

The story comes from The Local Sweden's news in English with thanks to Sarah Weinman.

A book reviewer who slated a book that had never been written has been fired.Kristian Lundberg, an author and poet, wrote book reviews for the Helsingborgs Dagblad newspaper.
"The foundation of all journalism is credibility. This is also true of culture journalism. We have therefore decided that Kristian Lundberg will no longer review books for Helsingborgs Dagblad," said the paper's culture editor Gunnar Bergdahl.The paper had published an article by Lundberg late last week in which he said that Britt Marie Mattsson's book 'Fruktans Makt' (The Power of Fear), had a "predictable" plot and one-dimensional characters. But despite having appeared in publisher Piratförlaget's autumn catalogue, Mattsson had never got round to writing the novel.While ruling that Lundberg will no longer write reviews for the paper, Bergdahl said he might still commission creative pieces from the writer.
James Savage

This gives a new meaning to the phrase "creative pieces".

Monday, December 18, 2006


The Australians regain the Ashes in 15 months, after England had previously taken 16 years to retrieve them.

The euphoria of 2005 has indeed turned to ashes.

Inadequate preparation, loss of key players to injury, ludicrous selection policies and underestimating the determination of the Australians to regain the urn, were the cause of the defeat.

Roll on 2008 when battle will be recommenced on England's green and pleasant cricket grounds.

England's players will probably face a virtually new younger team with many of Australia's great players due for retirement, and it will be a very interesting series.

But for now, well done Australia.


I have started reading another Andrea Camilleri, The Voice of The Violin; and also have Excursion To Tindari, and Rounding The Mark on the to be read list.

Sicily, beautiful women, and fantastic food make an interesting combination. Perhaps that should be fantastic women and beautiful food, but I am sure you get my drift.

I am finding the character of the bumbling policeman Catarella a little disconcerting, because Stephen Sartarelli has translated what I presume is a Sicilian dialect, and made Catarella sound like Chico Marx.
Marx used an Italian accent for his on-stage character; stereotyped ethnic characters were common with Vaudeville comedians, and all the Marx brothers sometimes performed "dialect characters" early in their careers, but Chico was the only one to continue this into their films.
The obvious fact that he was not really Italian was referenced twice on film. In their second feature,
Animal Crackers, he recognizes someone he knows to be a shady character, impersonating a respected art collector:
Chico: "How did you get to be Roscoe W. Chandler?"
Chandler: "How did you get to be Italian?"
Chico: "Never mind — whose confession is this?"
A Night at the Opera, which begins in Italy, his character, Fiorello, claims to not be Italian, eliciting a surprised look from Groucho:
Driftwood: "Well, things certainly seem to be getting better around the country."
Fiorello: "I don't know: I'm a stranger here myself."
[from Wikpedia]

At the moment Montalbano is on the track of the killer and the book is full of interesting suspects, but no Groucho or Harpo.
"as first course, he served him a large dish of macaroni in a light sauce dubbed foco vivo or "live fire" [olive oil, garlic, lots of hot red pepper, salt], which the inspector was forced to wash down with half a bottle of wine. For the second course, he ate a substantial portion of lamb alla cacciatora that had a pleasant fragrance of onion and oregano. He closed with a ricotta cheesecake and a small glass of anisette as a viaticum and boost for his digestiev system."
It is a hard life in the Italian police, no "bacon butties" for them.


A wish for a peaceful 2007 to everyone, and especially to those friendly crime bloggers I have met online since I started Crime Scraps.

Saturday, December 16, 2006


I may be wrong but with some reviews I get the impression that they are written from the publisher's notes and blurbs, and rushed out at the last minute.

Wash This Blood Clean from My Hand by Fred Vargas was reviewed in todays Daily Telegraph [Saturday 16th December] and I quote:

"is a bit of a departure in that it is set in Canada"

The book starts and ends with Adamsberg in France, only about half of the story is set in Quebec.

"Adamsberg has to deal with that old chestnut of being accused of the murders"

Adamsberg is a suspect in only one murder that occurs in Quebec. Most of the book concerns a series of murders in France, which Adamsberg suspects were perpetrated by the same man.

Pedantic the definition: "overly concerned with minute details or formalisms, esp. in teaching." That's me.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


How do Italian crime writers pack so much plot into 200 pages?

What can I say about Day After Day by Carlo Lucarelli except WOW.

I might try to describe it as Day of the Jackal meets Prime Suspect, or a sexy Italian Henning Mankell. But Carlo Lucarelli is my kind of crime writer melding noir, psychology, weapons, and an interesting protagonist with a dedicated detective in a rapidly moving but thoughtful novel.

Inspettore Grazia Negro and her team try to track down a ruthless professional killer, who has begun to leave a picture of a "pit bull"[a cross breed of a bulldog and a terrier] at the scene of his crimes.

When a young man encounters "Pit Bull" in an internet chat room he unwittingly starts a chain of events that gives Grazia a clue to her target.

I know chasing professional killers has been done before, and some of the plot seems familiar, but this book is a very superior crime thriller with excitement, suspense, deep characters, and lots of bodies.

"Dottore, no-one's answering the phone at the villa, either."

"Why?" he said, wondering out loud. "Where are they?Have they left? What did they do? My men......"

"Stop, Dottore," Grazia said, bending down to look for the siren under her seat. "Your men are dead."

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


I am now reading Day After Day by Carlo Lucarelli which features Inspector Grazia Negro. The beginning is fast and furious with plenty of action, and bodies.

Born in Parma, Carlo Lucarelli is considered to be one of the best Italian mystery authors. Journalist, playwright, author of movie scripts and professor of creative writing, his first book Carta Blanca was published in 1990 and is based on a university thesis on police work during the Republic of Salò. This was not only the start to a successful career but also the first of a series of three detective stories based during the various periods of the Fascist regime ending with the birth of the Republic of Italy and featuring Inspector De Luca. Winner of numerous Italian mystery awards, he has also written two further series: the first with Superintendent Coliandro, a type of Dirty Harry made in Italy, and a second with Inspector Grazia Negro hunting for serial killers. Lucarelli has also written mysteries for children and has a successful television program on the Italian State Channel that revisits and analysis unsolved murders. His books have successfully been translated into French.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006


I have taken a bit longer to read Love in Amsterdam by Nicolas Freeling than I thought I would. Firstly because I was also digging into a non-fiction tome at the same time, and secondly because I found it a very deep book.

1973 was it really that long ago that Eye Level, the Van der Valk TV signature tune reached number one in the UK charts.
1972 was the year that Freeling killed off his detective in the books amid much wailing from his readers. Yet it all seems like yesterday, and it is frightening that Barry Foster, the TV Van der Valk died aged 71 in 2002, and Freeling himself died in 2003.

Freeling was working as a senior chef in an Amsterdam hotel, when he was arrested on suspicion as a foreigner of being involved in the city's underworld. Intrigued by the worldly-wise detective who interrogated him, he smoothed out sheets of paper salvaged from his prison job of wrapping soap, and started to write a story featuring such an operator.

The story was Love in Amsterdam, and the detective Van der Valk, and after its success Freeling began to write full time.

Is this book a crime novel or a novel in which crime plays a major part?

I am not sure, but the novel is structured into three parts, in the first of which Martin and Van der Valk discuss the murder of Martin's ex-mistress Elsa. Van der Valk's style of interrogation is more like a friendly chat with a friend as he tries to get all the facts. Van der Valk acts like the "good cop" listening as Martin begins to open up and tell his story.

The second part of the book, which I enjoyed most, is the back story of Martin and Elsa's meeting, love affair and their life together. It continues on to their subsequent break up as Elsa humiliates him, and Martin falls for the younger enigmatic Sophia.

This is an interesting novel within a novel, and Van der Valk does not feature.

The final part of the story covers the examinations of Martin by the Officer of Justice, and the solution to the case.

This is really a book about relationships and their destructive nature. It is an unusual crime novel in which Van der Valk is a supporting actor in Martin, Sophia and Elsa's story.
In the Van der Valk, Freeling created a detective who is an observer of human foibles, and really the main star of the novels is the city of Amsterdam.

Monday, December 11, 2006


The comments I received about my post on casting got me thinking about locations for films and television series.

The 1983 film Lords of Discipline must be the classic location foul up, because as the actors with watered armpits tried valiantly to pretend they were in South Carolina it became obvious that at any moment a number 285 London omnibus was likely to go past the gates of the "Citadel".

The Kneller Hall School of Music in Twickenham doubled for the military academy with a few library shots of Charleston badly cut in to try and fool the audience as to the location.

The film was originally intended to be filmed on location at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. It was shifted to production in England following the veto of the Citadel leaders, who had been warned about the time consuming delays of film production from the commandant of Valley Forge Military Academy, the scene for the 1981 military school film Taps (1981). The school and its alumni also believed that the novel was derogatory to the school (the story was set in Charleston at a "fictional" military college that was obviously based on The Citadel) and that the movie would do the same. [from IMBD]

Friday, December 08, 2006


I think that correct casting in television, or film, is absolutely vital to audience enjoyment of the production. This is particularly important in the case of the dramatisation of a series of books with which the reader has become familiar.

In some cases the casting is so brilliantly successful that the readers can effortlessly slip into the TV series with the same pleasure they get from the novels.
An example of this is Warren Clarke's portrayal of Andy Dalziel in the highly successful Daziel and Pascoe British TV series. Warren Clarke is almost exactly how I had imagined Dalziel from Reginald Hill's books.

But last night I wandered on to a different cable station away from cricket, and watched 30 seconds of Bones. Now I am sure this is a very good series but I had to switch it off.
I had always envisaged Temperance Brennan as the real Kathy Reichs, after all both are forensic anthropologists working in Montreal and Charlotte. In the books Tempe has a college aged daughter and in my mind she was an attractive blonde of indeterminate age but certainly over 40, which fitted in nicely with the photos of Kathy Reichs on the book covers.

Emily Deschamel, who plays Tempe in the TV series, is very attractive but she is a brunette and was born in 1976!

Kathy Reichs, to me the real Temperance Brennan, was a Ph.D before Emily Deschamel was born.

American University 1971 B.A. Anthropology
Washington, DC
Northwestern University 1972 M.A. Physical Anthropology
Evanston, IL
Northwestern University 1975 Ph.D. Physical Anthropology
Evanston, IL

I think I will stick to the novels and keep Kathy, not Emily, in my mind.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


I am currently reading the Nicolas Freeling 1962 classic Love In Amsterdam, which was his first book featuring police detective Van Der Valk.

A very popular TV series with an even more popular musical theme was made in the 1970's based on the books. I see that the series is out now on DVD, and I am tempted to see if they were as good as I remember. I cannot believe it was that long ago!
[review of Love in Amsterdam coming soon.....]


The other outstanding non fiction book I read earlier in the year was Only Yesterday by Frederick Lewis Allen.

This is a fascinating social history of America in the 1920's written in 1931, hence the title. There is material here for a plethora of historical crime novels, and I think it would be essential reading for anyone contemplating writing such a book.

The book covers the Red Scare of 1919, the new morality, Teapot Dome, Coolidge prosperity, Lindbergh, Prohibition, Al Capone, the Florida Land boom and of course the Wall Street Crash.

This book shows history does not have to be written many years afterwards, sometimes it can be written more successfully without the intervening events that cloud our view. We know how historical events turned out, but this book written as the depression deepened has an interesting immediacy because the author did not know the end game.

"Here was a new generation.....grown up to find all the Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken." [F. Scott Fitzgerald: This Side of Paradise]


As the year winds down I have been looking back over some of the books I read earlier in 2006.

I had intended to avoid any politics on Crime Scraps, but I feel I can safely mention this book because although it tells the story of targeted assassinations, terror, torture and even a school massacre, the conflict ended some 2,436 years ago.

Victor Davis Hanson's A War Like No Other is a brilliant analysis of the Peloponnesian War with a cast that includes Alcibiades, Pericles, Sophocles and Plato.

It is a sobering book, and well worth reading if you have any interest in how classical studies can bring sense to our current world problems.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


One of the main advantages of being retired is that I have been able to stay up for an hour or so to watch the cricket from Australia.

Last night I decided not to bother as the match was certain to be a draw. But England contrived to lose a game they dominated for three days. My apologies are due to the team I called "ageing antipodeans".

I have decided reading crime fiction is less frightening than watching England's batsmen.

Monday, December 04, 2006


One of the most important modern Italian writers, Sciascia told the story of Sicily with its positive as well as negative aspects that also reflected life in Italy, both from a social and political point of view.
Born at Racalmuto, near Agrigento, in 1921, he went to school at Caltanissetta and held either clerical or teaching posts until 1968 when he became a full time writer. Communist Party member in the Palermo city council he was also elected to the Italian as well as European parliament for the Radical Party. His first work, Favole della dittatura (Fables of Dictatorship) in 1950, was a satire on fascism.


A very pithy intelligent parody set in an imaginary country which has a strange resemblance to.........

Inspector Rogas, the shrewdest investigator the police have in their ranks, is sent to investigate the shooting of District Attorney Varga. Then Judge Sanza and Judge Azar are killed. Is the perpetrator out for revenge for some injustice, or is this a conspiracy.
Rogas begins to track down the suspect, but then he is transferred and the political establishment encourage him to put the blame on the Left. The Left is not entirely pure, backed as it is by rich intellectuals and wealthy capitalists.

Nothing is clear in this Leonardo Sciascia fable written in 1971, but with frightening relevance in todays troubled times.
"ideologies are reduced to policies in name only, in a party politics game in which only power for the sake of power counts."