Sunday, May 31, 2009


I am ashamed to admit I have never read an Andrew Taylor book, but I did watch the superb Roth Trilogy on television and have his novel Bleeding Heart Square perched on my TBR mountain.
I missed the first few minutes of the interview conducted by Peter Gutteridge and arrived just as Andrew was discussing Bleeding Heart Square, whether Fascism could have taken a firm hold in Britain during the early 1930s, and the present danger we face today in the local and European elections which take place in a few days time. The agendas of some of the extremist parties standing for election in other EU countries such as Hungary, Slovakia and Romania are a warning that Fascism is not dead. 
Andrew and Peter spoke about the Roth trilogy, and the Lydmouth series. They also discussed Edgar Allan Poe [who was educated in England from 1815-1820] and his novel The American Boy, which had brought Andrew a second Crime Writer's Association Ellis Peters Historical Award as well as a Richard and Judy bookclub recommendation. 
Andrew Taylor seemed a quiet studious man and perhaps was not comfortable when the Richard and Judy book club put The American Boy into the best seller list. He felt people treated him slightly differently and perhaps they expected a more outgoing personality. 
I was fairly exhausted by this stage of the convention so I may have got the wrong impression, but after listening to Andrew I will definitely read Bleeding Heart Square as soon as I can. 
The only reason I have not read The American Boy yet is that the paperback version has a very small print font, and the publishers did not think about us older folk who need large fonts. 

This was the last event that I attended at the very enjoyable Crime Fest 2009. If I am able I would definitely go again in 2010, but not attempt to drive between Bath and Bristol, which can now take over an hour as opposed to the 15 minutes when I lived in Bristol. 
I realised just how long ago it had been since I was a student in Bristol when a new bendy bus drove past our B&B in Bath and another guest [going to a 30 year reunion at Bath University] read on the side "last bus to the university 3.00 am". 
He spluttered "Today's students are spoilt, in my day the last bus was at 11.30 pm."

I raged "In my day it was last 'sedan chair' at 6.30 pm, and we only had bread and dripping to eat".
OK, a slight exaggeration, but the last bus was about 6.30 pm , and after that we walked home. 
I will be posting a few more photographs taken at Crime Fest over the next couple of weeks.

Friday, May 29, 2009


In the June 2009 issue of the BBC History Magazine teacher Guy de la Bedoyere bemoaned the fact that his pupils were drowning in learning skills, but starved of knowledge. 
His pupils laughed at him when he told them during a discussion about medieval villages and their food that "remember they did not have potatoes". 
As well as that a talented artist in year 12 had never heard of Hans Holbein, and according to one young year 8 pupil during the English Civil War Charles I defied Parliament and captured Brazil. Sorry she meant Bristol!

M. de la Bedoyere commented "Now call me amazingly old-fashioned, but I think I heard that potatoes came from America by the time I was 12." 

Perhaps one of the reasons translated crime fiction is of such a high standard is that with publishers not employing editors, or sometimes it seems like it, the translator remains as a backstop to prevent silly inaccuracies creeping into books. The charming Tiina Nunnally mentioned during our trip round Bath that she had recently  intervened pointing out to one author that in medieval Scandinavia they did not eat tomatoes!

I can't be too critical of the young students, when a magazine like Mystery Scene Issue 109  comes up with this howler in an article on Olen Steinhauer's books.

"Oh, there is this crazy guy in Romania, Milosevic. He is like Hitler, but he's going to be much worse." And I said in some stupid , cocky American way, "You guys are so melodramatic! Come on have another drink." Then two years later the Balkan War started.

I know Slobodan Milosevic allegedly had an expansionist Greater Serbia policy but I did not know he had taken over Romania. No wonder NATO had to intervene.

Mystery Scene also has a blurb about another author's book that chirps cheerfully that detective X "must travel the globe to uncover a cunning plot". 
The detective actually only makes one journey from Rome to San Francisco, which in my humble opinion is not the globe, but I suppose I am just "amazingly old fashioned" and like details to be correct.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


This session was very amusing as Gyles Brandeth and Simon Brett knew each other very well and the jokes flowed back and forth. Gyles apologizing for once being an MP and making a joke about finding his feminine side and his subsequent inability to park his car, which I would not have the cheek to repeat here.  ;o)

I was particularly interested in that Simon and I had been at Dulwich College at the same time although he is a bit younger. Also I read that he was born in Worcester Park just across the A3 from where I worked in New Malden for 17 eventful years. 
Simon mentioned the opening at Dulwich of the Raymond Chandler Library by crime writer Tom Rob Smith and the existing of the P.G.Wodehouse Library. My memory might be faulty but in my days at Dulwich 1955-1961 Chandler and Wodehouse were not as highly regarded by the school as another very famous writer and Old Alleynian O.A. C.S.Forester
The reasons were that Chandler was a "crime writer" who had gone to Hollywood, and Wodehouse had broadcast from Berlin during the war, see here.

Simon discussed his time at Oxford , his job as a Father Christmas, his interest in acting, his career with BBC Radio, his  involvement with the pilot episode of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, his time with London Weekend television, and his creation of Charles Paris, the acting detective. It was all fascinating stuff and very enjoyable, so enjoyable in fact that I bought one of Simon's books at full price and had it inscribed "to another O.A."       

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Steven T. Murray aka "Reg Keeland", the translator who brought Lisbeth Salander to an English readership, signing a huge pile of books  at Crime Fest 2009 watched by a very young fan and her father. 
Steven translated not only Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy, but books by Karin Alvtegen, Henning Mankell, Leif Davidsen, and Camilla Lackberg.
You can read Steven's blog here.  He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with his wife Tiina Nunnally, who translated Smilla's Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg as well as books by Astrid Lindgren, Karin Fossum, Mari Jungstedt and Leif Davidsen.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Ann Cleeves has the knack of drawing out the best from her subjects, and as last year when she interviewed Karin Fossum, this Hakan Nesser interview was a definite highlight of the convention.
Hakan Nesser has written 22 novels of which ten comprise his award winning Van Veeteren series. The reason he set his Van Veeteren books in an unnamed Northern European country was that he had not done the geographical research to set them in Sweden, and was worried if he did this his German fans would pick up on incorrect details when they read his books. With his dry humour you never quite know whether Hakan is joking or not but it makes a good story.
The Van Veeteren series features in two of the first four books sympathetic murderers with very good motives for killing their victims, but we were told that by books nine and ten some suitably nasty murderers turn up. 
The grumpy chess and badminton playing Van Veeteren retires from the police in book five and opens an antiquarian book shop, but his former colleagues continue to consult the intuitive master detective in the remaining books, while Van Veeteren becomes less abrasive because he finds a woman. Unfortunately so far we have only four of the ten books translated into English. 

Hakan and Ann went on to talk about the new series, the neatly named Barbarotti Quartet. Inspector Gunnar Barbarotti's parents could agree on nothing except they wanted a divorce, which meant his Italian father and Swedish mother battled over his name and luckily mother won because the books are set in Sweden and he became Gunnar rather than Guisseppe Barbarotti. 
The Italian Swedish detective seems to be a captivating character who makes a bargain with God in which Barbarotti keeps score marking God's performance. This all sounded such promising stuff that after the interview was over I did go over to Tiina Nunnally and suggest that with so many Van Veeterens and Barbarottis still to be translated into English Hakan Nesser needed a team of translators to quicken the process for the sake of us older readers. 

Earlier in the interview a much more serious Hakan, when discussing the sympathetic murderers in his earlier books, had said that he had told his daughters that if they were ever being assaulted or raped to tell the perpetrator that "my father will seek you out and kill you". 


I can now reveal what Don Bartlett, translator of both Jo Nesbo and K.O.Dahl's books, inscribed in my second copy of The Devil's Star, which I reviewed here.

"To Norman, Very exciting to meet the Uriah I already knew, Don"

This was wonderful news for two reasons, firstly that the great translator Don Bartlett had read my blog, and secondly that if he thought meeting me was "very exciting" he obviously did not get out much, and was usually busy in his study providing us with more translations of the Nesbo and Dahl books. 

I am looking forward to Don Bartlett's next two translations to be published which will be  K.O.Dahl's The Last Fix [next month] a winner of the Riverton Prize, and The Snow Man by Jo Nesbo. 

Monday, May 25, 2009


I planned  to attend the Paul Johnston interview of veteran crime writers John Harvey and Bill James, which I thought would be a highlight of the convention. Unfortunately Bill James was unable to attend because of a family emergency but John and Paul gave us full value and the sparse attendance was very surprising.

John began by reading extracts from a favourite Bill James Harpur and Iles novel Roses, Roses. He then went on to talk about his own long career, writing westerns, the Resnick books, the attempt to put Resnick on TV with Tom Wilkinson, and retirement. 
At the end he gave a long list of books that he particularly enjoyed and I was pleased that he chose The Man Who Like Slow Tomatoes by K.C. Constantine, one of my featured Dartmoor Dozen.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


You get a tremendous amount of information delivered at these conventions and it is impossible to retain everything in your brain. But I do remember that a couple of books were recommended by the translators Tiina Nunnally and Don Bartlett that they had particularly enjoyed translating.
Tiina recommended The Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard, and Don enjoyed The Burnt Out Town of Miracles by Roy Jacobsen.         

Saturday, May 23, 2009


The intervals at Crime Fest were too short. 
Thirty minutes is just not long enough to collect your thoughts, get a book signed by an author or translator, or chat with old friends and make new ones. The pace becomes just a bit frenetic as you try to remember which panel or interview you planned to attend next. When it comes to a mere thirty minutes for a lunch break this is ridiculous. While I can understand the organizers want to pack as much as possible into the convention if I want to socialize during the intermissions how much more important a little more time would be for the professionals cultivating their contacts. 
During one of the intervals I had the shock of paying full price for a hard back book at the Blackwell stall. £16.99 as opposed to the Amazon price of £9.34 with free postage. 
No wonder bookshops are closing.

One of the great delights of Crime Fest is that the ordinary fan gets to meet up close and personal some of the famous authors and translators. 
Photograph on the left is of author Hakan Nesser, in serious mood, deep in discussion with star blogger Maxine Clarke of Petrona.

On the right the group consists of from  left to right, Lady Petrona, Don Bartlett [translator of Jo Nesbo and K.O.Dahl's books], Peter Rozovsky award winning blogger from the USA, and Karen Meek, creator of that great encyclopedic resource Euro Crime and surely a future award winner for services to translated crime fiction. 

Friday, May 22, 2009


The next panel was all about comic crime fiction. 
Bill James because of a family emergency was replaced by the highly talented and self admitted very poor ex- cultural attache L.C.Tyler
The other very funny participants were Ruth Dudley Edwards, Kaye C. Hill, Hakan Nesser and Simon Brett as moderator. 
I was still buzzing from the previous panel and the interval events, but what was noticeable is that Hakan Nesser's dry Scandinavian humour stood up well in this very amusing company.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


The first Crime Fest panel I attended was the multi award winning translators panel comprising Tiina Nunnally [aka Felicity David], Steven Murray [aka Reg Keeland], Ros Schwartz, and Don Bartlett.
The moderator was the author of the Shetland Quartet Ann Cleeves, who once again brought out the best in her charges with some excellent questions.

The high quality discussion ranged from what books they would avoid translating, for instance those dealing with crimes against children, to whether they read the book  right through in the original language before translating. 
Tiina who started the Scandinavian crime fiction popularity ball rolling with her translation of Peter Hoeg's Smilla's Sense of Snow admitted to being puzzled by the ending.
Ros was concerned about the poor pay and conditions for some translators In Europe who were forced to work very fast to provide a living wage. 
Steven mentioned that he had translated all three of Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy in less than a year, and that he would really like to work on number four!
Don spoke about how he loved Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole and kept a file with all his details so that no mistakes crept in to the translations. This was essential because of the out of order publication of much Scandinavian crime fiction especially the Hole books. There the publishers had thought that The Devil's Star would be a really big entry novel into the English speaking market for Jo Nesbo, but ignored the fact that they were ruining a major sub plot by publishing the books in the order 5,3,4.

All the translators regarded their primary loyalty to the authors and themselves as musicians, interpreting the composer's work.
The panel are all meticulous practitioners of their craft and we are very lucky that they have given us the chance to experience all those superb Scandinavian and French authors. 
This was an informative and educational panel that was a real treat for the readers of translated crime fiction. Well done to Adrian and Myles for arranging it and hopefully we will have something as good for next year.

Don Bartlett was kind enough to sign an extra paperback copy of The Devil's Star for me  and inscribe it with a sentence that I did not read till later.  
[to be continued]

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


'New man' Poul Jensen is a Danish house husband looking after his two young children and living in the shadow of his glamorous TV journalist wife Charlotte Dansbourg. 
Charlotte was the epitome of a certain type of career woman travelling around the world, following her stories and taking lovers whenever she felt like it.

When Poul hears that she has been killed in an ETA terrorist bombing in a bar in San Sebastian, in the Basque country, he flies to Madrid to make arrangements to retrieve her body. Poul has mixed emotions obviously he will miss Charlotte, the mother of his children, but is almost relieved that he can no longer be hurt or humiliated. In Madrid he meets Lars Hansen, from the Danish Embassy, and the tall blond handsome Swedish journalist Claes Hylander, who was one of Charlotte's lovers. 
Poul finds himself in a web of intrigue and double cross where nothing is quite as it seems. When he travels north with Claes to the Basque country his situation becomes even more complicated as he meets the beautiful Ogoya, and becomes involved in a plot to change the government. 

"I haven't met many Spaniards who can speak anything except Spanish."
'That's probably because I am not a Spaniard."
"Are you English?"
"I'm Basque. Una vasca," she added in Spanish, but there was no anger in her voice.

This did remind me of our trip to Santiago de Compostela in 2004 where scrawled on the walls in English was written "This is not Spain, Freedom for Galicia."

The Sardine Deception journalist Leif Davidsen's first novel was translated from the Danish by Tiina Nunnally and Steve Murray and published by Fjord Press of Seattle in 1986. Some of the subject matter of the book  seems very relevant today as it deals with torture, the fragility of democracy and the place of women in society. The Danish edition was written in 1984 only three years after an attempted coup d'etat in an attempt to overthrow the fledgling Spanish democracy. 

This fast paced political thriller is  a very easy read, which is a tribute to the translation, and as well as a complex plot has interesting character studies. It has stood up amazingly well to the passage of time and is worth reading if you can find a copy.

"What language is that you're speaking?" he asked in his falsetto.
"It's Danish, the girl said in Spanish, and as if she were a teacher trying to expand his vocabulary, she added, "We're Danes. We're speaking Danish."
"Ah, Danish," said the owner. "That's difficult. A very difficult language."

"Not for Danes," said the girl and laughed so you could see all her strong white teeth, obviously a product of Danish dental hygiene.

[Thanks to Tiina and Steve for the translation and the gift of the book]


Unfortunately family commitments meant I missed the first afternoon session of Crime Fest on Thursday.

Little Ms Crime Scraps: Blaming us! I think Granddad was scared of the quiz. He was also worried about my Uncle who was safety consultant for this opening ceremony. 
Why fly someone business class all the way to Taiwan when I could have advised them........stay on the ground it's the typhoon season. 

Monday, May 18, 2009


Crime fiction conventions such as Bristol's Crime Fest offer a wonderful opportunity for ordinary fans to meet and chat with the authors and translators who have given them so much pleasure over the years. When one discovers that these "superstars" of the genre are charming, friendly and totally unpretentious it is an additional delight.
As a particular fan of Scandinavian crime fiction I was very happy to show translators Steven Murray and Tiina Nunnaly some of the sights near Bristol. 
Even though they have translated some of the biggest names in Scandinavian fiction including Astrid Lindgren, Mikkel Birkegaard, Peter Hoeg, Karin Fossum, Leif Davidsen, Karin Alvtegen, Henning Mankell, Mari Jungstedt, Camilla Lackberg, and Stieg Larsson, they were willing to listen to some of my advice on proper English terminology. So they next time you read the expression "Bloody speed bumps" or "blinking bollards" in a Scandinavian book you will know who is responsible, and I will be receiving 0.000001% of the royalties for that translation. 
We had a lovely day, the weather was typically English and our visitors said the rain was a pleasant change from the heat and sunshine of Albuquerque. I think they were being polite. 
We visited the Royal Crescent, the Circle and the Pump Room in Bath, the World Heritage site at Avebury, and the village of Lacock. 
I hope they enjoyed getting out of the busy city and seeing something of the very green English countryside. We certainly enjoyed their company, doing our bit for Anglo-American relations, and receiving a wonderful signed copy of The Sardine Deception by Leif Davidsen. This fine political thriller was Steven and Tiina's first co-operative translation from the Danish and was published by their own appropriately named Fjord Press of Seattle. 
I will certainly not be offering this book as a prize in any of my quizzes. 

Sunday, May 17, 2009


The last time I drove regularly between Bristol and Bath, Park Street seemed like a gentle slope, Lyndon Johnson was the US President, and there was broken glass on top of the walls of the women's halls of residence. Perhaps that is why I was so exhausted by my four days in the Bath-Bristol-Swindon area, I am getting old and Bristol has got a lot busier in the last 40 odd years.
I didn't have a lap top or other clever device to post direct from the convention but did have my trusty camera and over the next few days will try to give you an impression of my two days in the countryside and two very pleasant if truncated days at the convention. 
What a very charming and friendly crew the crime fiction community are!
The photo shows the haul of books I was given on the right and the three books I bought on the left. Getting this lot back to my car was a fairly exhausting process for this decrepit old wreck. To think when I was accepted at Bristol University  in 1963 I was quite a good rugby player, and now I would be struggling to cope with a game of chess with Inspector Van Veeteren.
When I post about Crime Fest 2009 please excuse any name dropping, it is unavoidable in reporting anything about an event which was attended by so many authors, translators and bloggers.
To be continued.........

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


There are so many precious gems in Hakan Nesser's The Return that posting about them is slowing my reading but sharing a little bit is part of the joy of blogging.

"Sorry about that," said Moreno. 'I promise to plan things a bit better next time. Aren't you married, by the way?"
"A little bit, " deBries admitted.
"I thought so. Goodnight!"
She scrambled out of the car. 

[John Adams thanks to the USNI website]

Monday, May 11, 2009


I have only reached page 93 of Hakan Nesser's The Return, but then like a good wine or delicious meal this is a book to be savoured, and not gulped down in one mouthful. 

24 August 1993 a man is released from prison after serving 12 years for murder. He had previously back in the 1960s served another 12 year term for another murder. [A liberal Northern European setting rather different from the USA]

Eight months later 6 year old Eunice on a nursery school outing finds the body of a man wrapped in an old carpet. The identification of the body is complicated by the fact it has no  head, hands or feet. 

The investigation is complicated by the fact that Van Veeteren has been called into hospital for a vital operation. 

From this simple beginning Hakan Nesser draws the reader in with some very dark humour, and teasing plot that means we learn relevant facts along with the team of detectives in a true police procedural style. I suspect that real life detectives faced with murders have to react in a similar way to Van Veeteren's team or they would go mad. My own memories of dissection as a student are clear in that although we did have great respect for the body, when you spend hours in communion with a head and torso you have to break the tension somehow. 
If you don't  laugh a little at life and death you end up like Hakan Nesser's forensic specialist Meusse, who has sadly lead a miserable life due to his less than uplifting profession, impotent by 30, his wife left him at 35, a vegetarian at 40, he stopped eating solid food at 50. 
I obviously have a similar sense of humour to the author because it is the contrast between the horror of the crimes and the sarcastic banter between the cops that is the major factor, along with the plot and sharply drawn characters, making this novel so enjoyable for me.

"Can we be certain that it was  a murder?" asked the chief of police. Rheinhart sighed.
"No," he said. "Obviously, it could be a straightforward natural death. Somebody who couldn't afford a proper funeral, though. It's a expensive business nowadays....... The widow no doubt donated his head and the rest to medical research, in accordance with the wishes of the deceased."
Van Veeteren coughed. 

This is yet another excellent Scandinavian crime mystery and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

Saturday, May 09, 2009


I have moved on to read The Return by Hakan Nesser which is the third book in his Inspector Van Veeteren series.
The clever Literature Maps website here shows that the closest author to Hakan Nesser is Andrea Camilleri, which is probably why I am really enjoying this series. 
You can read my previous posts about Van Veeteren here.

I like the way he blends the very black humour into the police procedural format, and that reminds me a lot of the Martin Beck series. 

"Do nothing!" said Van Veeteren. "I'm on my way."
He started to climb out of bed, but at that very moment the doors opened and in marched an unexpectedly large squad of personnel dressed in green.

The receiver was left dangling. 
"Hello?' said Munster. "Are you still there?"
The nurse picked it up.
"Mr Van Veetern has just left for the operating theatre," she explained and replaced the receiver. 


Gordon Brown wondering whether some of his Outer London MPs might be claiming
more travel expenses than the French deputies from Reunion, New Caledonia, or Martinique. 


This quiz proved more difficult than some of the others but despite that I had some excellent answers from as far afield as Texas, Virginia, Scotland and the garden of England, Kent. 
The TEN National Parks and the most popular choice of books for each were:

Dartmoor: The Hound of the Baskervilles:Arthur Conan Doyle

Exmoor: He Should Have Died Hereafter: Cyril Hare

Lake District: The Arsenic Trail: Martin Edwards

New Forest: A Mortal Curiosity: Anne Granger

Norfolk Broads: Gently Down a Stream: Alan Hunter and Waterproof: Chris Crowther

North Yorkshire Moors: Malice on the Moors: Graham Thomas

Northumberland: The Crow Trap: Ann Cleeves

Peak District: Black Dog: Stephen Booth

South Downs: Death on the Downs: Simon Brett

Yorkshire Dales: Gallows View: Peter Robinson

There were of course other correct choices but these were the most popular. 

Friday, May 08, 2009


I finished reading The Foreigner, Francie Lin's Edgar winning debut novel, and I can now see why it won. 
The exotic but corrupt location, the very powerful themes of family loyalty and respect, and the terrible crimes related in the latter part of the book all make this a moving read. But also the reader is educated by the characters Atticus and Angel into the politics of Taiwan and there are some interesting passages;

It says Taiwan was refused entry into the WHO for diplomatic reasons. Meaning for fear of offending China.......
China prefers we die rather than let us go. Other countries, they prefer that we die rather than risk offending China.

The story is spoilt for me in that the narrator Emerson Chang is pusillanimous and more than one occasion cannot see what is staring him in the face. I get the impression that the very attractive Francie Lin has had some 'Emersons' in her life and had to write this novel to get this sharply drawn character out of her system. 
It was not the fact that Emerson was not physically brave but his unwillingness to accept the truth about his brother, Little P, that I found a bit strange. 
Perhaps in her next novel Francie Lin will give us a more intuitive protagonist.


I try to avoid blogging about politics, it is too depressing, but today I am going to break that rule. 
The scandalous abuse of the  MPs expenses system which has been published today in the Daily Telegraph would be disgraceful at any time, but when most people are facing the results of Brown's laissez faire regulatory system it is outrageous. 
These cabinet ministers spend time manipulating the system and then claim accountancy is not their strong suit; in plain language they claim they can not add up. Are they are too busy to be honest?

If the unemployed or those on low incomes make a mistake with the complicated benefit claim forms the possibility of fraud is raised, but for these people on large salaries, it is an oversight, an error, an inconsistency, a gaffe, a miscalculation.

They should be ashamed of themselves and are clearly not fit to govern the country.

From the zeros in the Cabinet to a young hero Harvey Philips, aged 4, who lost three limbs to meningitis as a baby and has taken up ballet and by all accounts smiles all the time.

Harvey deserves a better government.

You have been sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart I say and let us have done with you, in the name of God, go!

Oliver Cromwell, April 1653, repeated in the Norway debate by Leo Amery 7 May 1940

[Photo of Harvey Phillips from The Sun website]

Thursday, May 07, 2009


Next week Rebecca Cantrell's brilliant debut novel A Trace of Smoke will reach the bookshelves of Hawaii and California see here. This novel is getting fantastic reviews and I am pleased to be among the first on this side of the Atlantic to sing its praises. 

See some of the reviews here and read interviews and links to my interview with Rebecca here

At the end of the novel Rebecca includes an excellent glossary, which readers might want to look at before they read the book if they are not conversant with the period. There are also comprehensive author's notes which refer to many of the books read during the exhaustive research in writing SMOKE.
One of these The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer was the first book I read on this subject and is an very good read. A more recent book covering the subject from a more academic approach is The Coming of the Third Reich by Richard J. Evans, Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University. 

'Ernst Rohm really did exist.' 

This sentence in the authors notes expresses one of the difficulties in writing historical crime fiction for a general readership and including real historical figures. Will the reader realise the author has taken the real life characteristics of Ernst Rohm [his homosexuality and military background] and created fictional encounters for him? Or will they think the character is totally fictional?
I think the use of Rohm works very well in the story and certainly educates the reader about one of the most important figures in the Nazi hierarchy, who was one of Adolf Hitler's closest friends. 
I am really looking forward to the sequel set in 1934, and called A Night of Long Knives. 


I must admit to be still finding The Foreigner heavy going, but this might be due to a number of factors. 
Firstly every muscle in my body aches from tangling with a recalcitrant allotment. Secondly reading about the Taiwanese criminal underworld while Number One Son [apologies to Earle Derr Biggers] is phoning me from what sounds like a building site in Hsinchu City, Taiwan is a bit disconcerting. 
Thirdly I have been distracted by some redundancies at Number Two Son's village home at Blackerton and there will be more meetings there in the future. 
The charity that administers Blackerton village formerly known as CARE [Cottage And Rural Enterprises] has renamed itself SELF UNLIMITED. 
See here and scroll down for my previous posts on the thorny subject of Blackerton's relocation or transformation in the new management speak. Thanks to Maxine at Petrona here you can read a comprehensive coverage about Number Two Son [chronologically I hasten to add not in order of importance] and his band The Honeytones here.

There have been several times in my life when I have felt like King Canute trying to hold back the waves or someone at the Wannsee Conference in January 1942 suggesting that the Final Solution was evil. Whether it was trying to prevent the introduction of crap capitation schemes for NHS children's dentistry, trying to prevent the closure of a hospital or trying to save a rural village for people with learning disabilities, my record is one of abject failure in what I think were just causes. 

But at least we have beaten that allotment into temporary submission.

"One has to fight an idea with an idea. I cannot stand an authority that expects blind following, blind loyalty. I cannot stand it. I have rejected everything in my life that requires such blindness from me. 
Even God.
Even the Confucian teachings - even those."
Atticus in The Foreigner: Francie Lin 

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


You can read my review of Alone in Berlin Every Man Dies Alone in the USA] by Hans Fallada translated by Michael Hoffman at Euro Crime here.

This is a brilliant book about ordinary people fighting back in the only way they know. What do you do when your whole country gets stolen? 

This book should be compulsory reading in all our schools in order to educate our children against the dangers of Fascism in all its forms. Don't take my word for it and for once the blurbs are spot on.

"Alone in Berlin is one of the most extraordinary and compelling novels ever written about World War II. Ever. Please, do not miss this." 
Alan Furst

"An unrivalled and vivid portrait of life in wartime Berlin"
Philip Kerr

"The greatest book ever written about German resistance to the Nazis"
Primo Levi   

NUMBER 5,000!

On 18 February I managed to insert a sitemeter and yesterday I had visitor number 5,000 [from New York state] to Crime Scraps. Thank you all for those 5,000 visits because I never thought I would get a 1,000 visitors in a year, yet alone 5,000 in two and a half months.
The really interesting phenomenon is the world wide appeal of crime fiction because I have had visitors from an astonishing 92 countries, if you count Hong Kong and Gibraltar as countries, and 90 if you don't. From Argentina to Yemen and Burkina Faso to Mongolia and Cambodia to Chile there are intelligent readers captivated by crime fiction books. I hope you have all found something to interest you.

Sunday, May 03, 2009


With Crime Fest in Bristol approaching fast I thought that England should be the theme of the May Miniquiz, and the question should be straightforward.

Name the TEN National Parks in England and name for each park one crime fiction book set there for as many of these parks as you can? 

Please just put your answers in the comments or email them to thbear08@google 
by Friday 8 May [midnight BST].

This is the fourth quiz in the battle for the big prize and so far the leading contenders have been from Australia, Denmark, New Mexico, Scotland, Texas, Virginia and Wales.
Come on England!

Friday, May 01, 2009


Picador USA sent me a review copy of The Foreigner by Francie Lin some while ago but had not got round to reading it. I am now 170 pages in and have noted that the book has been awarded the Edgar for best first Novel by an American author.
See The Rap Sheet's run down of the winners and nominees here.

Emerson Chang, a mild mannered financial analyst and 40 year old virgin, is dominated by his mother who runs a battered motel called the Remada Inn. Emerson's mother has ruined his one chance of a relationship with an older American woman many years before and keeps him close to her with ideas of loyalty to family and culture.

"A son is always the little boy to the mother", she explained, filling her own teacup.

"Everyday he just work, work ,work, and then on Friday all he want is to have dinner with Mother."

When his mother suddenly dies and Emerson discovers that she has left the Remada Inn to his younger brother, Peter Chang, Little P, who they have not seen for 10 years. Emerson, who does not speak Chinese, sets out for Taipei to scatter his mother's ashes and to find Little P. When he does find his brother he is involved with the Taiwanese criminal underworld running a some kind of racket from his uncle's Karaoke bar. There Emerson meets some very unpleasant cousins andin wandering the city other Chinese Americans looking for their roots. His uncle's mysterious employee, the cultured Atticus explains to him much of the history of Taiwan.

Long shelves of English and Chinese volumes were carefully arrayed along the walls; even the bathroom had a bookshelf: Dickens, Tolstoy, an anthology of Checkhov plays.

"Now Taiwan was given to Japan at the end of the Sino-Japanese War. A big dishonor for China; you cannot imagine the shame."

I have found this novel a little slow and predictable in that Little P was bound to be in big  trouble, but perhaps things will brighten up in the second half of the book. The character of Emerson who narrates the story is rather wimpish, and I find myself shouting at him "Come on find out what is going on". 

My son flies out to work in Taipei on Sunday therefore the Taiwanese setting interested me.
[to be continued]