Thursday, January 31, 2008



This blog is now dormant but you can see all the old posts and a lot of new material at Crime Scraps Review.

An inconvenient marriage between finance and philosophy has brought doubt and turmoil into the lives of vulnerable people.

The philosophy apparently backed by the government and local authorities is that “people with learning difficulties” should live in the “community”, and be able to walk to the pub, and shops. This will apparently improve their lifestyle from the CSCI inspector’s report of EXCELLENT to what I don’t know.

How can you improve on excellent?
The fact that pottery and woodwork take second place to shopping and drinking in pubs under this scheme is perhaps typical of this government, and their warped notions.
Is the community ready for our vulnerable relatives, who are for the most part more trusting than your average person?

Will our relatives’ new homes be placed in those deprived areas of small towns that already face enormous problems with their bored disaffected youth?

Follow the link below to see the possible scale of the problem.

I don’t claim to know the details of the funding problem with “care in the community” funded from a different source than “intentional communities”. One is funded by central funding and the other from local authority funding.

I do know that this financial anomaly and this philosophical theory have come together at a very convenient time for some, because the rural sites bequeathed for the use of the charity’s beneficiaries have become incredibly valuable.

One of my sources informed me a parent was told by an official “I can’t afford to live on Exmoor and it may be that your son won’t be able to live there either.”

The charity trustees sold in December 2005 a site near Sevenoaks in Kent, and came away with £3.9 million. The developers then built about £40 million of property on the site.

It was too isolated for people with learning difficulties, but the location was ideal for the very rich who paid £3.2 million and upwards for the luxury houses on the development. [There were some more affordable apartments and mews cottages from about £500,000-£750,000; I think my eyes became a bit blurry when I read all of this.]

You might agree with me that it is strangely ironic that while vulnerable people are being thrust into society, the rich are seizing the opportunity to isolate themselves on the very same rural site away from that society.

I am pretty certain that in years to come we will want to go back to the village concept started by Peter Forbes, because the care in the community option:

1) Will be more expensive to monitor smaller more scattered units.
2) It will not be possible to obtain sufficient suitable staff.
3) There will be scandals such as the tragic death of Steven Hoskin in Truro. [See link]

And you might find this article interesting and quite disturbing:

What can you do to help stop the closure of Blackerton village?

Firstly comment on the blog, and if you feel care in the community is the way to go put your point of view.
Secondly if you agree with me that it is a disaster waiting to happen email my MP Ben Bradshaw at

Or the local MP for Blackerton, Nick Harvey at
The last time I was in contact with Nick he was very much against the closure, and supports the campaign to keep Blackerton open.

Or you could contact the management at:

Chief Executive Officer: Patrick Wallace 9 Weir Road, Kibworth, Leicester LE8 0QL

What I have learned from all this is that charities and housing associations are really just like any other business, with some CEO’s earning six figure salaries.

How many of the general public realize this when they so generously put their hands in their pockets?

How many people have bequeathed legacies to CARE over the years simply because they believed in the ethos of the village community?

Apparently the trustees can ignore the ethos of the charity and go ahead with the closure. I believe this is wrong and I think Blackerton and the other villages should be left to continue their excellent work.
"It's home, I love it here.... we must save Care village"
Kylie Jarvis, aged 22, a resident of CARE Shangton who has Down's Syndrome


The care of people with learning difficulties used to leave a lot to be desired, and many ended up in large institutions where their abilities were not recognised or given a chance to flourish. Others were kept at home with elderly parents, stagnating as the parents became too old to provide the stimulation they needed. But some people had the vision to see there was a better option that promised a good life for them without being in anyway patronising.

The innovative charity Cottage And Rural Enterprises Ltd [CARE] was set up over 40 years ago by Peter Forbes to provide “a semblance of normal life without its hazards” in beautiful rural village communities. He believed the residents could fulfil their potential “within a compact secure background that would remain unchanged through their lifetimes.”

Peter Forbes was ahead of his time when he began the charity on a farm in Devon with rural crafts, gardening, catering and growing things organically. It’s always been part and parcel of CARE’s ethos. The charity grew with parents, relatives and donors impressed by the concept, and eventually consisted of eight rural villages.

The first of these villages at Blackerton is only 15-20 minutes by car from South Molton or Tiverton, which enables the villagers to participate in local events such as the South Molton Carnival. They can also attend East Devon College in Tiverton for various courses in living skills such as cookery, and IT.
On the site itself they could participate in music, cookery, pottery, woodwork, textiles and gardening. An away team of gardeners worked for local people, and a lively rock group the Honeytones was good enough to get a lottery grant.
The Commission for Social Care Inspection [CSCI] rated the lifestyle at Blackerton as EXCELLENT.

The resident villagers, some of whom have lived at Blackerton for over 30 years were happy and contented, and the “hands on” carers were a skilled highly dedicated group.
My own son Jacob could hardly wait to get back to his mates after his visits to his old parents.

What has gone wrong with this rural idyll that has operated so successfully for over 40 years?

Why do the trustees intend to close Blackerton and another village at Shangton, in Leicestershire?

Why will they will probably eventually close all the villages, and cause Peter Forbes to spin in his grave at their actions.

[To be continued]


Just to remind readers that there is still time to enter the Quirky Quiz:Winter Edition and that entries should be in by the morning of Tuesday 5 February UK time.

I knew that my regular readership were very attractive, or very intelligent, or both, but I did not realise that some were that brilliant, and they could worm their way into the devious section of my brain that sets these questions.

I thought I had made the questions so difficult, that 3 or 4 correct answers would be the best anyone could offer.

I was wrong....but there is still a chance to come up with a winning entry.

Answers next week.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


The talented Maxine at Petrona has embellished my undeserved title as Euro Crime's Italian expert, upgrading it to "Euro Crime and everyone's Italian expert."

"Euro Crime and everyone's Italian expert, Norman Price, has done it again -- his review of Death's Dark Abyss by Massimo Carlotto has provided me with yet another author I simply must read."

Having been also quoted at the brilliant It's a Crime! (or a mystery...) in the last few days over the Totnes smelly cobbler caper I am in danger of becoming a little big headed.

Monday, January 28, 2008


Karen of Euro Crime has posted my review of the hard hitting Death's Dark Abyss by Massimo Carlotto at:

Karen has a sense of humour as she introduced me as Euro Crime's Italian expert, an undeserved designation, which I willingly accept if it means more excellent Italian noir to review.
I must admit I do find Italy fascinating, not only the excellent crime fiction and wonderful food, but also the history of that beautifully imperfect country.
"Please thank the above named gentleman for the sentiments that he expresses.......but Il Duce was unable to grant his request."
No prizes for naming the "above named gentleman" who in 1927 was requesting an inscribed photograph of Mussolini.

Friday, January 25, 2008


A prize-winning novelist has won a settlement of more than £100,000 after she claimed to have become so intoxicated by fumes from a nearby shoe factory that she was reduced to writing thrillers.
Joan Brady, who beat Andrew Motion and Carol Anne Duffy to win the Whitbread Prize in 1993 with her book The Theory of War, has received £115,000 in an out-of-court settlement after she suffered numbness in her hands and legs allegedly caused by solvents used by Conker, a cobbler based next to her home in Totnes, Devon.
She told The Times that the fumes were so bad that she was unable to concentrate on writing her highbrow novel, Cool Wind from the Future, and instead wrote a brutal crime story, Bleedout
, which she found easier. The violent plot of the book also allowed her to vent her frustrations on the factory and South Hams District Council, which failed initially to detect the smells. According to Nielsen Book-scan, Bleedout has sold a respectable 10,000 copies.

[from the Times]

I was in Totnes, Devon yesterday, actually wearing shoes by Conker and underpants by Tommy Hilfiger, in case you are interested.

In all my visits to this interesting market town I have never smelt anything other than the strong fumes of Marijuana. They add immensely to the quaint ambience of the place.

I only wish I had enough hair for a pony tail then I am sure I would fit in better.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Albuquerque N.M., Jan. 22 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ --

Best-selling novelist Tony Hillerman, author of the critically acclaimed mystery series set on the Navajo Nation, will receive the Owen Wister Award for lifetime contribution to Western literature, Western Writers of America has announced.
Hillerman will be honored June 14 at Chaparral Suites in Scottsdale, Ariz., during the organization's annual convention. The nonprofit Western Writers of America was founded in 1953 to promote and recognize literature of the American West.

"Tony Hillerman is truly a national treasure, bringing all of us wonderful stories of the modern West while giving us memorable glimpses of the distinctive ways of the Navajo Nation," WWA President Cotton Smith says. "Western Writers of America is proud to present him with the
Owen Wister Award for lifetime achievement.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


I have stopped trying to read two or three books at once, because my memory confuses one plot with another, it's my age.

Also the general quality of the books I read lately seems to be much higher and I don't get bored with one. That is probably due to the excellent advice I get from various brainy, loquacious and beautiful bloggers. I am sure you know who you are, and can work out which is which. The kindly Karen of Eurocrime also allows me to pick and choose the review copies she sends me, which usually means I pick those authors recommended by my past reading experiences, or on recommendation from bloggers and reviewers.

But this morning we had to take mother-in-law aged 96 to the doctor, and because my current read A Vengeful Longing by Roger Morris [review to appear on Eurocrime in due course] was too large to slip into my pocket I took out and started reading another smaller book.

It was obviously too early for most patients as the wait was not as long as usual, but I was able to get involved in my supplementary read, Looking For Rachel Wallace by Robert B. Parker. I had collected a number of classic P.I. novels over the last eighteen months to read if the supply of translated European crime novels dried up. I was foolish as I have not had time to read one page of these books before this morning.

The crackling dialogue between Spenser and Rachel Wallace, a militant lesbian feminist, was in total contrast to the polite tones of 1868 St Petersburg in the Roger Morris novel.

It was a culture shock, which made me wonder do people like all types of crime fiction, or are they fixated on one form of the art?

What sub genre of crime fiction is your favourite?

Police procedural or P.I. novels, mysteries in the style of the Golden Age or modern day terror related, European or American, historical crime fiction or psychological thrillers, exotic locations or English home counties?


Brent Martin was, according to his family and friends, a caring and trusting man.
Even when the 23-year-old - who had learning difficulties - was being subjected to an onslaught of violence, Newcastle Crown Court was told he did not lift an aggressive finger to his attackers.
The two teenagers - one aged 16, the other 17 - and a 21-year-old man who killed him have been warned they face a mandatory life sentence.

Disability Now, the magazine covering disability issues, has put together a dossier of what it believes are disability hate crimes.

Over two years it identified fifty-one cases of people with a wide range of disabilities being attacked. Detailed in this dossier are some truly horrific attacks:

In Cornwall in 2006, Steven Hoskin, who had learning disabilities, was murdered by people he thought were his friends. He was led around on a dog's lead and then made to hang from a viaduct by his fingertips. He fell to his death when they stamped on his hands.

In the Forest of Dean a few months later, Kevin Davies who had epilepsy and learning difficulties died after being tortured and kept in a shed. His tormentors were jailed for unlawful detention.

And in April of last year, Colin Greenwood who was blind, was kicked to death by two teenagers in Sheffield. He told the woman who went to help him he had stopped using his white stick because it attracted attention and he'd been attacked before.

Katharine Quarmby, news editor at Disability Now, was shocked by what she found: "I think it tells us that disabled people are targeted by a certain number of people in the population and they are seen as easy targets because of their disabilities. [From the BBC website 23/01/2008]

Why when these despicable attacks are becoming more frequent are certain charities closing down rural village communities and pushing the concept of care in the community?

These rural communities are usually situated in pleasant surroundings with beautiful views. They provide both safe accommodation and the chance to enjoy crafts such as pottery and woodwork. Yet are close enough to towns to allow residents to go to college and take part in local activities.

Why close them? Why deliberately move the residents into flats and houses in the more deprived areas of towns where they will be in danger of adding to these statistics?

Apparently the residents will be able to walk to the shops and to the pub. Of course whether they will be able to walk back home again is questionable in our broken society.

I shall be posting again on this subject in the next few weeks, and perhaps explaining what happens when there is an unholy marriage between philosophy and finance.

[to be continued]

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Yesterday we went to see No Country For Old Men at Exeter's excellent and civilised Picture House.

I know that Cormac McCarthy's books are bleak, but this film made All The Pretty Horses seem like a Miss Marple story.

Directors Joel and Ethan Coen and actor Javier Bardem, who plays the psychopathic killer Anton Chigurh, will no doubt be nominated for awards, but the mindless violence and bleak message were too close to reality to say I enjoyed the film.
We never really get inside the mind of Llewellyn Moss, who finds $2 million dollars as a result of stumbling on a drug deal gone wrong, and then goes on to make some rather poor decisions.
Javier Bardem sleep walks through the film killing people in various ways, and carting a "cattle gun" around with him. He uses this to kill and to blast out locks; I wondered what had happened to door security bolts. I heard an interview in which Bardem said he does not drive, speak good English or like violence......
Tommy Lee Jones, as bitter Sherriff Ed Tom Bell, does a workman like job with his part and utters most of the clever lines in the film in a suitably deadpan style.
Woody Harrelson as Carson Wells, a hired gun, makes a cameo appearance, but the star for me was Kelly MacDonald. The young Scottish actress, who played a maid in Gosford Park, is Carla Jean Moss, Llewellyn's wife, she speaks with a believable American accent and shows she has a fine career ahead of her with a virtuoso performance.
The stark empty beauty of the American South West contrasts well with the sad run down motels along the roadside.

Go and see this film and decide for yourself whether the unremitting violence and the very bleak message that our society is being overrun is just too full of despair to stomach.
I was reminded of driving from Santa Fe to Taos and watching the young pilgrims walking to the little adobe church at Chimayo for Good Friday. The sun was hot and the scenery beautiful, and so very different from green England.
The next morning in Taos were found out that two of those young pilgrims had been murdered and left near the roadside.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


Sue Grafton has been named as the winner of the Cartier Diamond Dagger for sustained excellence in the genre of crime writing. I have to admit that I have never read a Kinsey Milhone alphabet mystery, which is something I must remedy sometime soon.

The first winner, in 1986, was Eric Ambler. Subsequent recipients have been P.D. James, John le Carré, Dick Francis, Julian Symons, Ruth Rendell, Leslie Charteris, Ellis Peters, Michael Gilbert, Reginald Hill, H.R.F. Keating, Colin Dexter, Ed McBain, Margaret Yorke, Peter Lovesey, Lionel Davidson, Sara Paretsky, Robert Barnard, Lawrence Block, Ian Rankin and Elmore Leonard.
Last year's winner was John Harvey
. [from the Crime Writer's Association website]
This is an impressive list of 23 writers of whom I have read 16. I also have not read Julian Symons, Leslie Charteris, Michael Gilbert, Margaret Yorke, Peter Lovesey and John Harvey.
I assume the award is made only to living authors, but still there are some glaring omissions.
To whom would you give a Cartier Diamond Dagger? [work translated into English is allowed]
And who on the actual list do you consider overrated?

Friday, January 18, 2008


Thanks to David J.Montgomery at Crime Fiction Dossier for news of the Edgar nominations.

The nominees in the major categories are:


Christine Falls by Benjamin Black (Henry Holt and Company)

Priest by Ken Bruen (St. Martin's Minotaur)

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon (HarperCollins)

Soul Patch by Reed Farrel Coleman (Bleak House Books)

Down River by John Hart (St. Martin's Minotaur)


Missing Witness by Gordon Campbell (HarperCollins – William Morrow)

In the Woods by Tana French (Penguin Group – Viking)

Snitch Jacket by Christopher Goffard (The Rookery Press)

Head Games by Craig McDonald (Bleak House Books)

Pyres by Derek Nikitas (St. Martin's Minotaur)


Queenpin by Megan Abbott (Simon & Schuster)

Blood of Paradise by David Corbett (Random House - Mortalis)

Cruel Poetry by Vicki Hendricks (Serpent's Tail)

Robbie's Wife by Russell Hill (Hard Case Crime)

Who is Conrad Hirst? by Kevin Wignall (Simon & Schuster)


Over at the always informative Rap Sheet is an article by Ali Karim of Shots Magazine about the launch party in London on Tuesday January 15th for Stieg Larsson's novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This is the premiere publication of the new Quercus imprint MacLehose Press, and I have this and another Quercus/MacLehose in Andrea Cannobio's The Natural Disorder of Things to read in the next few weeks.
There were some important attendees:

A pretty diverse crowd it was, too, including Dr. David Owen, a renowned British politician; Karen Meek of Euro Crime and critic Maxine Clarke; and critic and bookstore owner Maxim Jakubowksi, who was recovering from a case of influenza that he believes he caught while in Dublin celebrating the new year with authors John Connolly and Declan Hughes.

The full article can be read at:


I have to admit that I found in In The Woods very disturbing, and really should move on to something new. I felt throughout Tana French's fine debut novel that I wanted to scream at Ryan to get his brain in order.
She informed me, matter-of-factly, that she was old enough to know the difference between intriguing and fucked up. "You should go for younger women," she advised me. "They can't always tell."

Perhaps good crime fiction can be so much like real life that it actually hurts to read it.
Life frequently doesn't do neat happy endings. Which brings me on to the film All The Pretty Horses [starring a very young Matt Damon and Penelope Cruz] which I recorded a few weeks ago and watched the other night, as preparation for a visit to the cinema to see No Country for Old Men.

I also had a look at the book which my son had studied for his English A level, along with William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. His copy is full of underlinings and notations, which shows he actually did a lot of work!

His last note is "No neat ending....yet another journey.... Grady's journey is not over....Life is a journey."

Perhaps I will read the book in a few months, when I have forgotten the film.

No Country for Old Men, is based on another Cormac McCarthy novel, and is released here today so I will see that sometime in the next week.

I will start reading A Vengeful Longing by R.N.Morris later today, and immerse myself in St Petersburg during the hot summer of 1868.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


This lot should keep me busy over the next few weeks.


I was lucky enough to win Tana French's In The Woods in a competition on Declan Burke's excellent site, Crime Always Pays. Thanks Dec.

Katy Devlin aged 12 is found murdered on a sacrificial stone in Knocknaree Woods near Dublin. The site is being excavated by an archaeological team before a motorway is driven through the woods. Twenty years previously three children had gone missing in those same woods, Jamie Rowan, Peter Savage and Adam Robert Ryan.
Only Adam Ryan is found by the searchers, covered in blood and with no memory of what has happened to his two friends.

Now as Murder Squad detective Rob Ryan, he returns to Knocknaree to investigate Katy’s murder along with his partner Cassie Maddox.
The Devlin family may be hiding secrets, and the father Jonathan Devlin is leading a campaign against the motorway.
Is the murder connected with the corrupt landowners who have purchased land near the proposed motorway?
Were Katy, her twin Jessica and older sister Rosalind being abused by either or both of their parents?
Is there a possible connection with the twenty year old mystery disappearance of Rob’s friends?
Will Rob Ryan, the narrator, remember what happened all those years ago?

I have to say this is a memorable first novel and definitely a real page turner. I did suspect almost all the main characters of the murder, before I finally came upon the real perpetrator.
But I felt the crime seemed almost incidental to the story of the relationship between Rob and Cassie.
It seemed to me that Ryan is trying in his pathetically close and almost unhealthy relationship to Cassie to reconstruct those idyllic innocent summer childhood days with his lost friends. I did not find Ryan a particularly believable character perhaps because of the difficulty of a female author relating to a disturbed male character, or my own preconceptions.
But this did not spoil my enjoyment of the book in any way, and I rushed through the 600 pages to find the answers to the questions posed.

Tana French ratchets up the tension again and again, and one has a feeling that something even more terrible is going to happen. It is a disturbing feeling and far too reminiscent of real life for comfort.
A brilliant debut novel and a book with such a deep psychological insight into life’s disappointments and missed opportunities that it left me a bit drained at the end.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


I have just started to read In The Woods by Tana French, and although I am usually intimidated by 600 page books that have not been written by Jo Nesbo, this one is gradually seducing me.

Tana French writes with enticing beauty and describes every little detail of the locations and characters. She also, like Ken Bruen and Declan Burke, is blunt and honest about the harsh corrupt world in which we live.

I particularly liked these passages:

"We are going to have to find out who has a serious stake in that motorway going through Knocknaree."

"Which means fucking about with property developers and County Councils," said O'Kelly...........

Corruption is taken for granted, even grudgingly admired:..............And a huge amount of the corruption centres on that primal, cliched Irish passion, land.

Property developers and politicians are traditionally bosom buddies, and just about every major land deal involves brown envelopes and inexplicable re-zoning and complicated transactions through offshore accounts.

Not only in Ireland I am afraid!

Sunday, January 13, 2008


I know you have been waiting to use those little grey cells to answer another quiz of extreme quirkiness.

One of the questions has nothing to do with crime fiction, but I told you the quiz was quirky, and it is topical.

The Questions:

1) Which President was Governor of two different states?

2) Raymond Chandler went to school at Dulwich College, which crime writers were educated at Stonyhurst, Scollard Hall, Cambridge High School and Abraham Lincoln High School?

3) How are Jeroen van Aken and the River Porciuncula connected?

4) I am seven and three, with Eve's favourite fruit, created in Sardinia, but I only live in China and the USA? Who and what am I?

5) What does an Icelandic policewoman do that would endear her to an Italian policeman?

6) Who disappears in Budapest, and who goes to find him?

7) Name the grandson of Mr Reich?

8) Who worked as an administrator in the British National Health Service?

9) Maurice Roy Ridley was a visiting professor at Bowdoin College, what is his claim to crime fiction fame?

10) Samarkand, and Snowden's Ladies Companion. What is the connection?

Some questions are easy, some are a little bit more difficult but do make an attempt and send your answers to by 4 February 2008.
Good Luck.

Friday, January 11, 2008


Peter of Detectives beyond Borders reminded me that there is an award for translators. The Duncan Lawrie International Dagger is awarded by the British Crime Writer's Association for translated crime fiction.

But this is a joint award for both author and translator of a specific book and the author gets top billing, both literally and financially.
"The Duncan Lawrie International Dagger for the best crime novel translated into English, with £5000 going to the author and £1000 to the translator."

Past winners of the International Dagger have been:

2006 Fred Vargas and Sian Reynolds for The Three Evangelists

2007 Fred Vargas and Sian Reynolds for Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand

There should be a separate award for a body of work, or a lifetime achievement in translating such as the Cartier Diamond Dagger of the CWA, The Eye of the Private Eye Writers, or the Grandmaster from the Mystery Writers of America.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


The Guardian today had an obituary of Bernard Scudder, who gave so much pleasure with his fine translations of Arnaldur Indridason's crime fiction.

I think that it is sad there is no prize to recognise excellence in translating for the English speaking readership.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


My five best reads of 2007 were an interesting range of stories that came from all across the continent. They took me on a wonderful literary journey from Sicily up the coast to Bari, then Norway, the west coast of Ireland, and on to volcanic Iceland.

Ken Bruen - Priest
A brilliant portrait of a city and its people corrupted by the Celtic Tiger. The dialogue and wit is so Irish you can taste the Guinness.

Andrea Camilleri - Excursion To Tindari

If I had to choose one of the excellent Montalbano series this was the one for me with the "certificate of living existence" and this line.
He opened the fridge and let out a whinny of sheer delight.

Gianrico Carofiglio - Reasonable Doubts
The third of the Guido Guerrieri series which seemed to get better and better, as Carofiglio exposes the Italian legal system to close scrutiny.

Arnaldur Indridason - The Draining Lake
Superb stuff from the Icelandic master who spurned the usual Bush bashing of some crime writers to launch a fierce attack on the Communist East German regime of fear and suspicion.
Jo Nesbo -
The Devil's Star

How do these Scandinavians produce crime fiction of such good quality again and again?

This multilayered thriller [number 5 in the series] cleared up a crime that had occurred in The Redbreast [number 3], which was almost as good. Nemesis [number 4] is out soon so newcomers wil be able to read them in the correct order.

Even this early in the year I have read a very strong contender for the top 5 of 2008 from a different country from the above. We shall see as the year unfolds whether it holds its place as numero Un.

Monday, January 07, 2008


My review of Donna Leon's thought provoking novel Suffer the Little Children is up on Eurocrime at:

It was very kind of Eurocrime-meister Karen to refer to me as an uber-fan.

The alternative was;

An "uber geek" is a prominent or extreme example of the common geek.

Sunday, January 06, 2008


The most important vote of the last week is in. The Eurocrime reviewers have spoken on their favourite European reads of 2007, and their verdict can be seen at:

I was particularly pleased that two of my selections The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason, and Reasonable Doubts by Gianrico Carofiglio were on top of the pile.
A little bit more about about my reasons for picking these and my other selections next week after I have had a chance to digest my fellow reviewers' choices.
Concerning the other vote last week in Iowa, you would have thought with all those reporters hanging around they might have found the lost British driving licence information.
"I think I might as well give up so far as being a candidate. There are so many people in the country who don't like me."
President William Howard Taft 22 July 1912

Saturday, January 05, 2008


I used to rush down excitedly to buy Patricia Cornwell in hardback during the All that Remains, Cruel and Unusual, and The Body Farm period.
Then as she imploded around The Last Precinct and got worse with Blowfly, Trace, and Predator I merely bought each paperback to see if she had improved, only to be sorely dissappointed.

Now her The Book of The Dead sits at the top of the fiction hard back lists, and I would like to know whether this book has recaptured any of her lost magic.


I just love these surveys where someone, usually the tax payer, wastes a lot of money to find out that people are healthier in Reigate than in Blackburn, or that people like living in the winter better in Palm Springs, California than Fargo, North Dakota.

The annual survey by the economic daily Il Sole 24 Ore into the best places to live in Italy confirmed what anybody who reads Italian crime fiction already knows.

The 103 Italian provincial capitals were compared and not surpringly the bottom ten cities were all in the south, and the top ten were mostly in the far north, apart from Rome and Siena.

Sicily was of course well represented in the bottom ten with Agrigento in last place 103rd, Palermo 94th, Caltanissetta 96th and Catania 100th. But cities from the Naples area south also featured heavily with Caserta 94th, Taranto 98th, Foggia 101st, and Benevento 102nd.

The heel of Italy rounded out this bottom group with Vibo Valentia 95th, Catanzaro 99th, and Reggio di Calabria 97th.

The best places to live in Italy were Trento 1st, Bolzano 2nd, Aosta 3rd, Belluno 4th, and Sondrio 5th.

In fact you could postulate that if you are actually in Switzerland or Austria it is even better.


Even the American Dialect Society knows how risky home mortgages are these days. The group of wordsmiths chose "subprime" as 2007's Word of the Year at its annual convention Friday.

You people are the lowest scum in town."........This expression of utter frankness takes over Jason's beautiful face, and he says, "I don't think we're the lowest scum in town." He didn't argue we weren't scum,just disputed our position on the depth chart.

They'd been holding those kids as hostages to the welfare machine and drawing decent ransom he'd installed Jamalee to answer the phone and mimic his woman. A piece of paper had been taped to the wall above the phone, and it had files, sort of, on his kids: birth dates, eye colors, school situations, excuses: so Jamalee could talk straight to any social welfare snoops.

Tomato Red....Daniel Woodrell

Definitely candidates for a "supersubprime" loan, or perhaps a "superduper-subprime" loan.

What is a bank, an organization that lends you an umbrella on a sunny day, but wants it back when it starts raining.

Friday, January 04, 2008


The Quirky Quiz prize of a copy of Margery Allingham's classic Tiger In The Smoke will soon be winging it's way to the winner in British Columbia.

The internet is really incredible in allowing communication across the globe, and one day in the distant future perhaps we will even be able to get a radio or phone signal in the Exe Valley near Tiverton.

Back to the answers, we had got to:

6) By what name is Salvatore Lombino better known?

He is Ed McBain, author of the 87th Precinct police procedurals.

But he was also Evan Hunter creator of The Blackboard Jungle, and a brilliant screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds.

7) Which detective has a housekeeper named Adelina?

I should have said housekeeper and cook, but that would have made it too easy. Glutton and gourmet Salvo Montalbano of course.

8) Which famous crime writer also wrote a History of the War in the Aleutians?

I was thinking of Dashiell Hammett, but I learned that Edgar winner Brian Garfield had also written a book about the Aleutian conflict.

9) Which detective tracked down a killer known as "Pit Bull"?

Ispettore Grazia Negro, in Carlo Lucarelli's thrilling Day After Day.

10) Which crime writer worked as a copywriter in an advertising agency?

Dorothy L. Sayers, and she used this experience in writing Murder Must Advertise.

11) Who starts a novel on a diet of Lemsip and Greek yoghurt?

Jack Taylor in Ken Bruen's novel The Dramatist.

12) Which city had sixteen different police forces?

Milan after of the collapse of Mussolini's fascist regime in 1943. Mentioned in the preface to Carlo Lucarelli's De Luca Trilogy books, Carte Blanche, That Damned Season and Via delle Oche.

13) Which detective should never play cards?

This was a bit of a nasty trick question: because poker is a game of chance [with some skill] and although the Busted Flush was won in a poker game I thought it might be lost if John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee kept playing.

That's it, thanks to all those who participated and I hope to produce another slightly easier Quirky Quiz before the end of the month.


I have been told that most readers won't appreciate my witty reference to Burke's Law while reviewing Declan Burke's The Big O.

It's my age.......I remember Bill and Ben The Flower Pot Men and Weed, and Andy Pandy, and Muffin the Mule................

Burke's Law was a detective series which ran on ABC from 1963 to 1966 and was revived on CBS in the 1990s. The original show starred Gene Barry as Amos Burke, millionaire Los Angeles Chief of Detectives, who was chauffeured around to solve crimes in his Rolls-Royce. [From Wikpedia]

Thursday, January 03, 2008


Over the holiday period I read Declan Burke's novel The Big O.

Frank a crap plastic surgeon has problems, with an ex wife, twin daughters, and the medical ethics committee, all on his back. His golf is not too good either.

He decides to arrange the kidnapping of his ex wife Madge, in an insurance scam, and pocket the ransom money less the kidnappers' fee.

Frank's receptionist Karen moonlights sticking up gas stations, and during one of these stick- ups meets hunky Ray, a decorator, who happens to be also the designated kidnapper of Madge. Madge and Karen are friends and Karen's ex boyfriend Rossi Francis Assisi Callaghan is just out of the slammer and is looking for Karen, his 44, his Ducatti and his stash.

Frank is then mugged by Rossi and cop Stephanie Doyle enters the scene and develops a thing for Ray. Then Doug, Frank's insurance broker,who is sleeping with Madge gets in the way of a golf ball hit by Frank.......

Confused no way, and I haven't even introduced Anna yet.

Rossi's partner in crime is called Sleeps because he suffers from narcolepsy, but I can guarantee you won't fall asleep reading The Big O.

This book is a blunt, rude, crude, politically incorrect, raucus, rumbustious, rollicking, romp of a crime caper novel. The characters are larger than life and the action is convoluted and non-stop. I certainly admire the chutzpah of Declan in writing this, because among all the other stuff....

"He actually said he'd staple your tits together?"....Doyle thinking how they'd need to be big staples,.....

there is a lot of wit and wisdom.

That was when it finally dawned on him: it's not the way a woman looks, it's the way she looks at you.

And other gems:

"And you've trained for this? Done courses and shit?"

"Believe it. At the university of fucking hard knocks."

"So you're not actually, y'know, qualified."........

"See, this is the beauty of it," Rossi said. "Know what kind of qualifications you need to start a charity?"

The Big O is a loveable rogue of a novel and while it is not literature you will have a lot more fun reading it than some labyrinthine incomprehensible Booker prize winner.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


Here are the answers to the first five questions of the Quiz, the rest will be posted later in the week in order to stretch out the agony.

1) In which book was 40 kilos of cocaine smuggled into Italy from Montenegro?

The brilliant third book in the Guido Guerreri series Reasonable Doubts.

2) Which crime writer was born in Racamulto, Sicily?

A little trick question as it was not Andrea Camilleri, but the master Leonardo Sciascia. Camilleri was born in Porto Empedocle.

3) Which crime writer died in Lausanne, Switzerland?

Georges Simenon, creator of Maigret.

4) "The day was hot and stifling, without a breath of air." Is the first sentence of a crime novel set in which city?

This was another tricky question, and one contestant who knows what a devious mind set the questions made an intelligent but incorrect guess of Oslo.

It is the first sentence of "Polis, polis,potatismos", Murder at the Savoy in the English translation, by the Swedish masters of the police procedural Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, which is set in Malmo.

5) What apart from writing crime fiction did Raymond Chandler and Rex Stout have in common?

These two masters of the genre were both of Quaker descent.


We have a winner in the Quirky Quiz!

Well done Philip Amos, who correctly answered 9 out of the 13 testing questions.

Unfortunately Philip you have a quirky email address and I have been unable to reply to you.

If you contact me again I will sort out which of the prizes you want, and send it on to you.

It seems as if I shall have to make future questions a little bit easier, as only one contestant got more than 6 correct answers!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


Over the holiday period despite the presence of three children and one beautiful granddaughter I managed to finish The Big O by Declan Burke
[review coming up in next few days] and whiz through America 1908 by Jim Rasenberger.

Anyone with even a passing interest in history and the development of the modern world would enjoy this book. I thought I knew quite a bit about the period, but still found this book fascinating.
The book is obviously not for the professional historian, but is an excellent introduction to the period and to the momentous events of that year.
For those wanting to delve deeper there is a comprehensive list of sources.

Some of the subjects covered include:

The last year of the Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt
The Springfield [Illinois] Race Riot
Anarchists and the Tobacco Night Riders
Henry Ford and the Invention of the Model T
The New York to Paris Automobile Race
Wilbur and Orville Wright and the Birth of Aviation
The Unforgettable Baseball Season of 1908, and the Merkle "Bonehead" Play
Frederick Cook, Robert E. Peary and the Race to the North Pole
The Trial of Henry Thaw
The Great White Fleet
The massive Earthquake in the Straights of Messina, which killed 200,000 people

But three events from this year of stood out for me from all the others.

1) On the last day of the year Wilbur Wright flew over the skies of Le Mans, France for two hours and twenty minutes demolishing every endurance record up to that point, and beginning that giant step for mankind.

2) The manufacture of 309 Ford Model T automobiles on the third floor of the Piquette Avenue plant in Detroit, Michigan. The sale price on October 3, 1908 was $850.

"I will build a motorcar for the great multitude." Henry Ford

3) The visit of the Great White Fleet to Tokyo in October 1908.

"The Japanese nation asks you to convey the message that the Japanese believe a war between Japan and America would be a crime against the past, present and future of the two countries." The Mayor of Tokyo

I am sure the people of 1908, like my grandfather who was thirty five at that time, had great hopes for the future. The advances in science, technology, medicine and social policy promised a much better world for their children and grandchildren.

Did they ever imagine what would happen to the world during the next thirty eight years?

On January 1, 1946, those who had survived must have wondered where were those dreams of a better world that they had on January 1, 1908.

What will the next hundred years bring? Much better times I hope if we can learn from history.

"There she lies, the great Melting Pot-listen! Can't you hear the roaring and the bubbling? -From The Melting Pot by Israel Zangwill: Premiered October5, 1908


Wishing everyone a very Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2008.

It was very bracing with a very cold wind on Budleigh Salterton beach this morning, and the dark clouds looked as if they had come from Siberia, or Northern Canada.

"Anything, everything, is possible." Thomas Edison, 1908