Wednesday, October 31, 2007


I have decided to make the quiz a regular item and this is the October quiz, rather late so it is very easy.
At almost the very end of a well known detective series the sidekick looks at the main protagonist and says....

"The trouble with you,....., is that you've got the wrong job. At the wrong time. In the wrong part of the world. In the wrong system."

"Is that all?"

I think we all feel like that sometimes, and I thought it was a part of a great ending.
Who is the person in the wrong job?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Have Arnaldur Indidrason and his translator Bernard Scudder become the Mozart and Da Ponte, or Rodgers and Hammerstein, of crime fiction?

Well with The Draining Lake the latest in the Reyjavik Murder Mystery series they have attained a new level with a gripping story that succeeds on so many levels.

The plot is not new and could well be classified as derivative, but then so are Verdi's Otello or Puccini's Butterfly. You can tell I am in a musical mood today.

The Draining Lake is a police procedural, woven together with a love story, interlinked with a spy story and all constructed with subtlety, humour and a deep understanding of human emotions.

The water level in an Icelandic lake, Kleifarvatn, falls to reveal a skeleton weighted down by a radio device with Russian markings. Erlendur, Sigurdur Oli and Elinborg begin an investigation to discover the identity of the skeleton. Erlendur is particularly interested in one of the missing persons from the 1970s called Lepold who disappeared leaving his girlfriend Asta abandoned, and his Ford Falcon car outside the coach station.

Part of the pleasure of reading the Indidrason stories is that we learn so much about the lives of the detectives, and their everyday problems. Sigurdur Oli and his partner Bergthora are trying to conceive a child. Elinborg's cookery book is being published and she is worried about the reviews. Erlendur is continuing to have problems with Eva Lind, his drug addicted daughter, and is trying to form some kind of understanding with his son Sindri Snaer.He is also hoping that his budding friendship with Valgerdur develops further and becomes a romance.
Erlendur's situation is almost a treatise on the damage caused by family breakdown.

The back story tells the story of left wing idealistic Icelandic students sent to study at Karl Marx University in Leipzig in the years before the Hungarian uprising of 1956. The East German state was a brutal dictatorship masquerading under the guise of socialism, and the story captures brilliantly the atmosphere of fear and suspicion among the students. As some of the students become more and more disillusioned Tomas and Ilona fall in love and as their romance proceeds they are watched by the Stasi and their agents.

The book is full of believable minor characters such as the extremely grumpy old farmer Haraldur.

"I think Lepold came to visit you," Erlendur repeated without answering Haraldur.
Haraldur raised his head and stared at him from beneath his bushy eyebrows.
"Get out," he said. "I never want to see you here again."

And the pompous German Ambassador, Frau Doktor Elsa Muller.

"I know you'll find it amusingly absurd," she said," but in terms of the diplomatic service, Iceland is the back end of the world......"

Iceland may well be the back end of the world but Indidrason and Scudder have brought it to the forefront of the crime fiction genre.

The Draining Lake is definitely one of the best crime books I have read this year.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


This is another great mystery featuring the Oslo maverick detective Harry Hole. You can read my review at:

My constant praise for these Nordic crime writers is getting a bit repetitive.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


I am 120 pages into The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason translated from the Icelandic by Bernard Scudder, and I am totally gripped by the brilliance of their collaboration.

The sparky dialogue between Erlendur and his colleagues Elinborg and Sigurdur Oli is just right. There is the wicked humour that crackles when Erlendur and his drug addicted daughter Eva Lind are struggling to form a relationship, and the interesting back story is full of melancholy for a lost and discredited cause. This is wonderful stuff and I am wallowing in the anticipation of more to come as the novel develops.
Of course I could be influenced by the fact that my wife has had a kipper for lunch and the whole house smells like a fish shed in Reykjavik.
"You still seeing that old bag?" Eva said, fiddling with her hair.

"Stop calling her an old bag,"Erlendur said. "Valgerdur's two years younger than me."

"Right, an old bag. You still seeing her?"
Can you get away with bigamy in Iceland? Sigurdur Oli asked.
"No," Elinborg said firmly. There are too few of us."
Bernard Scudder (1955-) is a distinguished translator of Icelandic into English. He has translated old things, like Eigil's Saga and the Voluspa (The Prophecy) and new things, Thor Vilmjamsson's novel, Justice Undone and Einar Mar Gudmundsson's Angels of the Universe as well as a number of Icelandic poets. He was short-listed for the Aristeon Literary Award in 1999. Born in Canterbury, England, he somehow found his way to Iceland in 1977 and has lived there ever since. [taken from]

Monday, October 22, 2007


From the Daily Telegraph:

While millions of patients in England will still be expected to pay for vital medication, prescriptions in Scotland will be available free of charge within four years.
The move was cited as the starkest example yet of the "unfairness" of the current funding arrangement, with English taxpayers forced to pay towards improvements to health care and education available only in Scotland.
Scottish residents already have access to free eye care and dental check ups, free personal care for the elderly, extra central heating grants and a number of drugs deemed "too costly" for the National Health Service in England and Wales.
As a result of plans announced earlier this summer, Scottish students will receive a free university education and pupils in the early years of primary school could soon be taught in class sizes as small as 18.

This is grossly unfair as many other things are in life but leads on quite well to my next moan with a Scottish connection.

I recently purchased The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction by Barry Forshaw with a foreword by Ian Rankin. This book covers crime fiction around the world and does contain an enormous amount of valuable information, but a lot of people new to crime fiction will probably buy it because it has the name Ian Rankin on the front.
However I think the book is fatally flawed and I am still shocked that the editor of Crime Time magazine and Ian Rankin did not notice the omissions.

"Barry Forshaw has tackled these issues [and many others] in a book that covers crime fiction from every part of the world-it's a daunting task."

"This insider's book recommends over 200 classic crime novels and mystery authors...."

I wondered whether my copy has some missing pages, or were the author and publisher more interested in getting Ian Rankin's name on the cover than producing a definitive summary of crime fiction.

Among the missing authors are;

Rex Stout, creator of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin

Laura Lippman

Giles Blunt

R.D.Wingfield, creator of Inspector Frost

Ken Bruen

And if these omissions were not shocking enough:

Reginald Hill, creator of Dalziel and Pascoe
Any suggestions as to why these authors were omitted from an "insider's book"?

Thursday, October 18, 2007


There are two scenarios which seem to appear repeatedly in recent crime fiction. Two detectives, who are almost equal protagonists, investigate different crimes which are usually found to have some kind of link, or alternatively a lone protagonist goes back to their home town and solves a crime from the past.
This formulaic approach does not worry me in the slightest, because Harry Bosch or Alan Banks can delve into as many cold cases as they want as far as I am concerned.
But would this apply to an author I had never read before, or even heard of until I looked at the 2007 Ned Kelly winners?
Gary Disher’s Chain of Evidence does follow both these proven formulas but succeeds in putting a slightly different slant on this well worn trail.
Inspector Hal Challis returns to his hometown of Mawson’s Bluff in the South Australian outback where his father is dying.
A few years before his brother in law Gavin Hurst had disappeared and some locals suspected suicide. However Meg Hurst Hal’s sister had been receiving strange mail as if Gavin were still alive and Hal decides to investigate. Then Gavin’s decomposing body is discovered while a new grave is being dug in the town’s cemetery.

Meanwhile back on the Mornington Peninsula, south of Melbourne, Sergeant Ellen Destry is coping with the abduction of Katie Blasko by a gang of disgusting paedophiles. Ellen’s team of cops is a disparate group ranging from the bribable through the mildly incompetent to the totally unprincipled. Of course she lacks resources, has an obnoxious superior and works in an environment where the prosecutors must prove guilt beyond the faintest glimmer of doubt and then some more.

“We had a good case.”
“He had a good lawyer.”

Her investigations are complicated by the activities of two old style cops Van Alphen and Kellock, and by the Jarretts. This is an Australia we don’t hear about very often, and the Jarretts and their extended family would be equally as home in the Ozarks or Peckham’s tough estates in South London.

….pretty well summed up the Australian national character, which is not fine and egalitarian but grovelled at the feet of men who’d gone to private schools or could kick a football or had become billionaires by being allowed to evade tax.

Chain of Evidence does follow a formula, but the flawed main protagonists with all their traumatic past history contribute to making this book a prize winner. The supporting police characters John Tankard, Pam Murphy and Scobie Sutton have a integral part to play in the plot and also have their share of problems. Is Guido Brunetti the only fictional policeman with a happy family life?

Once again a crime fiction writer has discussed the difficult social problems of both isolated rural communities and the burgeoning suburban underclass with skill and flair. Some of the book is a harrowing read as it deals with the activities of paedophiles, but Gary Disher keeps you guessing with some unexpected plot twists right up to the exciting climax and that make this a very satisfying police procedural.

Scobie searched his memory. “There’s a kind of spa room in his house. Spa bath and toys.”
“Toys? Does he have children?”

Sunday, October 14, 2007


The "insignificant" Gray Snyder murder case was mentioned in the last post in quote from a book published in 1931, Only Yesterday by Frederick Lewis Allen.

The following is from the Syracuse University Press site:

Few incidents in crime history have been as notorious—yet mundane—as the 1927 murder of Queens suburbanite Albert Snyder by his wife and her lover. Resonant of the footloose Jazz Age, it made persistent headlines and led to a sensational trial, spawning a 1920s Broadway play and the classic noir film of the 1940s: Double Indemnity. This book assesses the entire case, from grisly slaying and shabby cover-up to sharp police work and aftermath. Moreover, it explores sociocultural questions that beg to be answered: what effect does news reportage exert upon high profile cases, and why did such a transparent crime earn such an enduring place in the popular psyche?

What effect does news reportage exert upon high profile cases? A question just a relevant for cases in 2007 as in 1927.


In the 1920s newspaper editors and owners discovered that the public became excited about one story at a time, and if they threw all their star reporters; their front page display, and the bulk of their space at this story they sold more newspapers.

"according to Mr Bent's compilations, the insignificant Gray-Snyder murder trial got a bigger play in the press than the sinking of the Titanic;Lindbergh's flight and the 1918 Armistice."

Unfortunately for Colonel and Mrs Charles Lindbergh his famous flight was overshadowed as a story a few years later when on 1 March 1932 their baby son was taken from his bed at their new house in Hopewell, New Jersey. The tabloids gave the kidnapping the full "ballyhoo" treatment and the other vultures that prey on such misery were able to thrive. Gaston B. Means wangled $100,000 out of Mrs Evelyn Walsh McLean on the false pretence that he could get the child back; and John Hughes Curtis of Norfolk, Virginia had hoaxed Colonel Lindbergh to take a boat out into the middle of Chesapeake Bay to make contact with the kidnappers.

Unfortunately the tabloid press have for the past few months feasted voraciously on the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. Never can have so many column inches and pictures been published about a case with so little definite facts. There is no question that the very sad McCann case will provide copy for newspapers and the subject matter for fiction and non-fiction books for many years to come. I just hope the search for Madeleine ends better than that in the Lindbergh kidnapping. "BABY DEAD" announced the tabloid headlines; those two words sufficed.

"Any truth is better than indefinite doubt." The Yellow Face by Arthur Conan Doyle

This post has been composed with material from two books by Frederick Lewis Allen; Only Yesterday, An Informal History of the 1920s published in 1931 and Since Yesterday, The 1930s in America published in 1939.

Mr Bent is Silas Bent author of Ballyhoo.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


I have been rather busy with a research project this week so I do not have another crime related post. Except to mention that the Old Alleynian website proclaims that:

The most well known Old Alleynians are perhaps Sir Ernest Shackleton and P G Wodehouse, although other ‘household’ names include Raymond Chandler, C S Forester, Lord Shawcross and Trevor Bailey.
I am extremely shocked and disappointed at not finding my name on the list.

I would also challenge the position of P.G.Wodehouse, who had an interesting war, over Raymond Chandler who among other things wrote this classic lesson for crime fiction writers.

"When in doubt have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand."- from the Introduction to Trouble Is My Business

Today in Paris two Old Alleynians will star for England against France; Andrew Sheridan and Nick Easter.
Good Luck lads, but I have a feeling this game will be decided by the kicking of Jonny Wilkinson or Lionel Beauxis.

England to win and go on to beat Argentina in the final. Funny I predicted that for the World Cup at football as well, perhaps I will be right this time.

Monday, October 08, 2007


There, Watson, this infernal case had haunted me for ten days. I hereby banish it completely from my presence. [The Adventure of Black Peter]

The answers to the quiz:

1) "If a herd of buffaloes" ...... from A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle. It was also used in The Boscombe Valley Mystery.

2) ...... "a herd of hippopotamuses had been tramping about"....... from The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo.

Next week I hope to post a review of Gary Disher's gritty police procedural Chain of Evidence, which won this years Ned Kelly Award. It says something about the Australian psychology that where other countries name their crime fiction awards for authors, Glauser, or fictional detectives, Martin Beck; Australia's award is named for an outlaw.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


Peter at Detectives Beyond Borders has linked to his interesting article about humour in Scandinavian crime fiction at:

It got me thinking yet again about the wealth of crime fiction that has not been translated from Scandinavia, such as Nordic Glass Key winners Stieg Larsson and Matti Ronka, and Swedish best novel winners Inger Frimansson and Leif G.W Persson.
Matti Ronka was the first Finn to win the Glass Key this year, and Larsson's novels are soon to be translated into English.

But having finished The Redbreast I have started to read Garry Disher's Ned Kelly winner Chain of Evidence. The back flap gives information about the author and I find that this is the fourth Detective Inspector Challis and Sergeant Destry book. The first in the series The Dragon Man won the German Crime Fiction Critics Prize for 2001. Chain of Evidence does appear to be very up front and Australian with a lot of comment about Oz society.

In fact Australia seems very much like the UK circa 2007, or are they trying to discourage immigration.
There is obviously an enormous amount of crime fiction even in English that never gets full exposure in the UK. The same authors get publicised over and over again with Ian Rankin dominating the crime fiction scene, even over writers like Val McDermid. Perhaps that was a bad example as Val is able to stand up for herself in any "rough wooing" with Rankin.
But even Ken Bruen is virtually unknown among the general public while Ian Rankin is constantly on television and radio. Therefore it is perhaps not surprising that I have missed the antipodean Garry Disher up to now.
I will keep the quiz about Scene of Crime Preservation going till Monday because I am sure Peter will kick himself if he does not get the solution.