Wednesday, May 30, 2007


I try not to read other reviews or look at the author's website before I post on the blog about a book. I like to make up my own mind, and sometimes I am surprised such as when I was half way through Jed Rubenfeld's Interpretation of Murder not realising it was number one in the bestseller lists.
When after reading and posting about The Death List I went to Paul Johnston's website I was impressed by both his honesty, his sense of humour, and the fact that he was questioning through Matt the morality of his profession.

"Another area I wanted to investigate was the relationship crime novelists have with their material. It's often curiously hands-off. The closest most of us come to illegal acts is parking with a wheel on the kerb. I wanted Matt to experience the reality of murder (notice that I put my fictional character through the meat-grinder rather than courting danger myself - typical author…). He is forced to question the morality of his profession - something that I don't think all crime novelists do.
For what it's worth, my opinion is that reading and writing about awful acts are worthwhile activities because they put us in extreme situations and make us wonder how we would cope - not least, how we will cope with death, something we're all going to face sooner or later. Whoah, this is getting a bit heavy…
The fun side of the book, at least from the writer's point of view, was making use of Jacobean revenge tragedies. Plays like Webster's White Devil are seriously over the top - and this stuff was acted in front of people, rather than re-enacted in the reader's mind. A few crimewriters have made references to the genre (for instance, P. D. James's novel The Skull Beneath The Skin), but I'm amazed its similarities to the modern crime novel haven't been explored more. Too late, the rest of you scribblers. I've beaten you to it…"

from where you can find a wealth of information and a long interview with the author

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


"The White Devil was performed in the Red Bull Theatre, an open air theatre that is believed to have specialized in providing simple, escapist drama for a largely working class audience, a factor that might explain why Webster's highly intellectual and complex play was unpopular with its audience." [from Wikpedia]
I really enjoyed reading this book, and not only because in the novel the reviewer who had given fictional crime writer Matt Wells a bad review met a grisly death. There aren't many crime novels that mention Ruskin Park, Brockwell Park, Herne Hill and Dulwich Village all of which feature in Paul Johnston's thriller. I lived overlooking Ruskin Park as does Caroline, Matt's ex wife, and his daughter Lucy in the book but left the area long before the birth date of the fictional crime writer. I must say in my time there was plenty of material in the adjacent areas to keep an army of crime writers busy for years.
This book certainly succeeds as a thriller with its chase for the maniacal serial killer, The White Devil. The killer is motivated by revenge for a dreadful childhood to murder those who have abused and annoyed him in the past. Our fictional crime writer Matt has written a series of well received Jacobean thrillers featuring an unsavoury detective Sir Tertius; taking inspiration from the plays of John Webster about "hypocrisy and corruption being justly punished." He has then moved on to write an very unsuccessful detective series set in Albania.
The White Devil contacts Matt, who has been rejected by both his agent, publisher and wife, in order to force him to write his terrible story, using threats to his daughter, mother and his girlfriend to ensure cooperation. The Devil is murdering those on his "death list" using the exact methods described in Matt's novels. He then begins to kill those about whom Matt has had revenge fantasies.
Paul Johnston wrote the highly acclaimed Quint Dalrymple series and won several awards, before he moved on to the Alex Mavros books set in Greece.
Has Paul Johnston also decided to create a pastiche of the extremely violent crime thriller, sending a message to publishers, reviewers, and even the reading public?
There was so much meaningless horrible violence that frankly I became anaesthesised, and just enjoyed some of the gloriously inventive cliches in the book.
We had it all from physically abusive fathers, school bullies, negligent doctors and sexually abusive Roman Catholic priests; then on to gay agents and fat degenerate reviewers; with a lesbian expert on Jacobean drama and a tough blond woman detective named Karen Oaten as a Jane Tennyson clone thrown in for good measure. Matt's ex-wife Caroline was of course a city high flier and his woman publisher, a man hungry bitch, while the White Devil had become wealthy by winning the lottery. This was surely satire with real verve, and chutzpah.
Yes, even the SAS had a prominent part to play, and Matt's assorted friends joined in to help him track down the White Devil in the manner of Bulldog Drummond, Algy, Toby and Peter chasing the elusive Carl Peterson.
You could drive a Jacobean coach and horses through the plot, and I spotted the final twist quite early on, but that was surely all part of the fun.
There is clearly a limit after which violence even the disgusting violence portrayed in this book, becomes background and just another part of the story. As a escapist violent drama it is good, but as satire and a pastiche it is a brilliant expose' of the crime thriller genre.
By the way just in case Paul Johnston did not like this review among my friends and associates I have an ex- army bomb disposal expert, a Japanese martial arts black belt, a former secret service bodyguard, and a security consultant.
pastiche: a literary, musical, or artistic piece consisting wholly or chiefly of motifs or techniques borrowed from one or more sources.

satire: a literary composition, in verse or prose, in which human folly and vice are held up to scorn, derision, or ridicule

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Some while ago I read a review of The Death of Dalziel by Jake Kerridge in which he said that "having to read another crime novel about terrorists makes me feel like Dalziel when confronted by a salad."

I faced Peter Temple's The Broken Shore with some trepidation here was yet another lonely disturbed traumatised detective sent to his sleepy home town to recuperate, and surprise surprise there is a murder. I felt more like Brunetti discovering that Paola has gone on a lecture tour and not left him any food.

I had studiously avoided reading any of the reviews and numerous online discussions concerning The Broken Shore, because I wanted to make up my own mind. Well this book is good, very good and the writing has a realistic honesty.

But what I really liked was that too many crime novels start with a bang and then fade away to a whimper, not with this book.

The Broken Shore has the pace and atmosphere of a real investigation, and the second half of the book is even better than the first.
Homicide detective Joe Cashin has returned to his home town Port Monro to recover both physically and mentally from a disastrous case in which a young colleague was killed, and he was badly injured. When local philanthropist Charles Bourgoyne is battered to death in his home Cashin is given charge of the case. Bourgoyne's watch is traced to three Aboriginal youths from the settlement at Daunt and an attempt is made to arrest the boys before they reach their homes. Cashin and Dove, an Aboriginal cop, are delayed, and in the resulting shoot out two of the boys are killed by cops under the direction of Hopgood. When Donny Coulter the third boy is killed during a stake out the case seems closed, but the political ramifications disgust Cashin. But in this case all is not as it seems, and as more facts are revealed Cashin believes the boys are innocent, and that this is not a simple robbery killing but something far more terrible.
As well as Joe Cashin there are other interesting characters in the book among them Dave Rebb, a mysterious swaggie, and of course a beautiful lawyer Helen Castelman.
"Old school mates," said Dove. "Lucky you."
"She was too good for me," said Cashin. "Old Cromarty money. Her father was a doctor...."
And also there is Hopgood. Hopgood and some other characters in the novel express racist and bigoted opinions that are a bit of a shock. Perhaps Peter Temple, who was born in South Africa is able to view Australian society with a clearer eye than those who have lived there all their lives.
"Jesus,not enough coons here," said Hopgood. "We have to import another black bastard."
"....Poofs, mate. Detective Poof and his swaggie bumchum."
"Takin out those two Daunt coons. Pity it wasn't a whole fuckin busload."
You only have to watch a few minutes of Australian Rules Football, or Australian Rugby League, to realise that it is a tough hard uncompromising country. This is a tough uncompromising book and some readers will probably be surprised at Australia's treatment and attitude to its indigenous population. This is no politically correct treatise, but a harsh story of evil which is difficult to push out of one's mind.
I hope to read more of the four time Ned Kelly winner Peter Temple's novels.
Next on my reading list is The Death List by Paul Johnston. I see from the early pages that the leading character take his daughter to school in Dulwich Village. I frequently walked to school through Dulwich Village, back in the 19**s, so I feel I must postpone my next Montalbano to read this.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


As crimefic reader very quickly correctly identified my "teaser" as Haddon Hall in Derbyshire I have posted this new effort.

A slightly more modern building, but with historical connections.

Monday, May 14, 2007


"They said that in one polling station, they had found 200 ballots that had been completed by the same person using the same mark and a pencil that had not been supplied by voting staff. Police also said that at least seven people had been reported for photographing their completed ballot slips on their mobile phones."
"They noted that vote buying was suspected in such cases. Centre-left MPs wrote to the interior ministry to complain in the run-up to the ******* vote that they had evidence of parties backing Cammarata handing out free mobile phones, money, food vouchers and boxes of pasta to voters in poor neighbourhoods."
No prizes for guessing the missing word *******in this news item from ANSA, but the boxes of pasta might be a clue. Another is the fact that I do like reading Andrea Camilleri, and that the word begins with P, and ends in O.


Maxine at Petrona really enjoyed her first Camilleri, The Shape of Water and has reviewed the book over at Eurocrime.

What a feast of top quality crime writing awaits anyone who has not read this series.

The Inspector Salvo Montalbano Mystery Series(Translated from the Italian by Stephen Sartarelli)
The Shape of Water (#1) (La forma dell'acqua)
©1994English Translation©2002
The Terra-Cotta Dog (#2) (Il cane di terracotta)
©1996English Translation©2002
The Snack Thief (#3) (Il ladro di merendine)
©1996English Translation©2003
Voice of the Violin (#4) (La voce del violino)
©1997English Translation©2003
The Excursion To Tindari (#5) (La gita a Tindari)
©2000English Translation©2004
The Smell of the Night (#6) (L'odore della notte)
©2001English Translation©2005
Rounding the Mark (#7) (Il giro di boa)
©2003English Translation©2006
The Patience of the Spider (#8) (La pazienza del ragno)
©2004English Translation©2007

Not yet translated from the Italian

La luna di carta (#9)
La vampa d'agosto (#10)
Le ali della sfinge (#11)
La pista di sabbia (#12)
Il campo del vasaio (#13)

Information from

Sunday, May 13, 2007


Recording Maigret Day on ITV3 was very successful and I have watched a couple of the episodes. Budapest, the Danube and Lake Balaton have stood in for Paris, the Seine and LaRochelle, and the acting of Michael Gambon and company has been superb. Simenon's creations Maigret, Lucas, Janvier, and La Pointe are the blue print for later detective teams, and the series captures the atmosphere of the novels.

A friend touring Eastern Europe sent me this note in an email:

"Odessa is incredible! The downtown area is so much like Paris with the older architecture and tree-lined streets. I think I walked the entire city."

So perhaps a new Maigret series might go even further east.


I thought I would pose another where is this teaser.

I am about three quarters of my way through The Broken Shore and in the book the Aboriginal settlement at Daunt sounds a bit like the town of Chinle in the Navajo Nation reservation, Arizona.

I must say at Chinle we stayed in the cleanest motel room I have ever seen, and had some of the best food, but also saw some of the poorest people in the USA.

After The Broken Shore I have an ARC of Paul Johnston's The Death List, and The Patience of The Spider by Andrea Camilleri to read.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


(ANSA) - Rome, May 10 - A former top-ranking secret service officer was on Thursday definitively convicted of helping the Mafia and sentenced to 10 years in jail. Italy's highest appeals court ended a 13-year judicial battle by upholding the guilty verdict handed down to 77-year-old Bruno Contrada a year ago.Contrada worked as Palermo police chief in the 1970s, as a top Criminalpol official, as a top official at the anti-Mafia commission and finally as number 3 at the SISDE secret services.In his trial several former mobsters who had become state's witnesses testified against him, saying that Contrada had provided Cosa Nostra with secret information on police and judicial investigations.Contrada has always denied the accusations, saying they were motivated by a desire for revenge.His lawyers are expected to request house arrest, rather than detention in a military prison, on the grounds of Contrada's age and ill health.

Write down the words Palermo-Secret Service-Lawyers-Cosa Nostra-Mafia and it could be a plot summary for a crime novel, or real life in Italy.
Furba gente...cunning people

Sunday, May 06, 2007


Tomorrow is a holiday in the UK and ITV3, a digital channel, which I am lucky to get on my cable package is featuring about 12 hours of the Michael Gambon Maigret series.
Gambon will introduce each episode with a little 5 minute film explaining for instance why the Paris scenes were filmed in Budapest!

I won't be able to watch it but with the technology in the cable box I will be able to record the whole series and digest it at my leisure. I hope!

My sick laptop has had a complete medical, and at the moment behaving very well. PC or Mac that is the question for the future.

Thursday, May 03, 2007


Following the Clive James article featured by Peter at Detectives beyond Borders John Sutherland in the Sunday Times wrote yet another article about "the humble detective novel crossing national boundaries like never before."

It was not a fully comprehensive review, but made the significant statment that "the Italians, it would seem, beat the world in detective fiction as serenely as they do on the football pitch."

Brunetti, Montalbano, Zen, Guarnaccia, Sciortino and Negro sound as if they would be as good on the soccer pitch as they are on the page.

"The implicit, false premise in much of Anglo-Saxon detective fiction is that crime can be cleared up. The disillusioned Italians think differently. It makes for great detective fiction."

I have to agree with this assessment although at the moment I am really enjoying Aussie Peter Temple and The Broken Shore. I thought not another lonely detective with a sad past, but Joe Cashin is interesting and the plot line has potential.