Monday, November 30, 2009


The winner of the Best Swedish Crime novel of 2009 is Tre Sekunder [Three Seconds] by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom.
The crime writing duo were nominated for this award in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

Borge Hellstrom is an ex -criminal who helps rehabilitate young offenders and drug addicts.

Anders Roslund is the founder and former head of Culture News on Swedish Television, and was a prize winning investigative reporter on Rapport , the Swedish equivalent of CNN and the BBC.

The Martin Beck Award for translated fiction went to Bleeding Heart Square by Andrew Taylor.


You can read my review of Stettin Station by David Downing at Euro Crime.
I seem to be reading a large number of Second World War era books lately, but then there are a lot being written. Stettin Station is a fine addition to the wartime spy genre with its frightening evocation of life in Nazi Berlin, and the reminder that not all Germans supported that brutal regime.

Friday, November 27, 2009


I have finished reading The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill, and have no explanation as to why it has taken me this long to find this series. I was given a proof copy of number four 'Anarchy and Old Dogs' in my book bag at Crime Fest 2008, and the blurb on the back cover begins:

'When a blind retired dentist is run down by a logging truck as he crosses the road....'

That alone should have encouraged me, but when I won a copy of number five 'Curse of the Pogo Stick', and my son travelled off to Cambodia right next door Laos, where the stories are set, I had to buy the first three books to complete the series, and start reading. [since then another book, The Merry Misogynist, has been published in hardback].

Laos, 1976: the Pathet Lao after fighting in the jungle for many years have deposed the royal family and taken power.
The 72 year old Dr Siri Paiboun was looking forward to a well earned retirement, but the great honour of becoming National Coroner to the People's Republic of Laos is bestowed on him. Siri was always a reluctant communist who in Paris many years before had only joined the party because the love of his life, the beautiful Bouasawan, was dedicated to the revolutionary movement.
Comrade Siri has a brilliant intuitive and inquisitive mind that will allow him to excel in the position of coroner. He also has other powers and abilities that seem perfectly natural in the world Colin Cotterill describes with such loving care. But his sense of humour, lack of respect for his nominal superiors, and subtle appreciation of the ridiculous make him totally unsuitable for working in an unsympathetic communist regime.
Although he has no training as a pathologist, and only one ancient textbook, he is lucky that to assist him in the morgue he has a happy dedicated twosome, his nurse Dtui, who reads out of date fashion magazines, and Mr Geung, the morgue labourer, who has Down's Syndrome. More about Mr Geung in another post.

Laos is a poor landlocked country and Dr Siri has to suffer a shortage of chemical tests, forensic technology and all the other assistance that Western pathologists take for granted. When Mrs Nitnoy the wife of local party big wig Comrade Kham dies in suspicious circumstances Siri has to tread carefully as he deals with his young incompetent boss, Judge Haeng, and the party hierarchy.

'His only claim to respect was a Soviet law degree on paper so thin, you could see the wall behind it.'

When the bodies of two apparently tortured Vietnamese soldiers bob to the surface of a Laotian lake, an international crisis is imminent, and Siri's life is at risk. He has to seek help from his lunch partner, old comrade Civilai, a policeman Inspector Phosy, and a Vietnamese doctor, Nguyen Hong; while of course he is assisted by the spirits of the dead that come to him in his dreams.

Colin Cotterill, who won the 2009 Crime Writer's Association "Dagger in the Library' prize, has mastered the technique of imparting chunks of information, about a country we know very little about, while keeping us engrossed with a clever plot. We learn about the Hmong people and their shamanic belief in tree spirits, and about the antagonisms between the richer and more powerful countries in the region, Taiwan, China and Vietnam.

But as with most of my favourite crime fiction it is the clever humour, and the sharply drawn characters that bring the greatest pleasure.
I am really looking forward to reading the rest of the series, and getting further acquainted with these superbly quirky characters.

'I'm sneaking into the embassy this afternoon when all the dignitaries are at the reception. You people are never short of receptions, are you?'
Civilai rolled his eyes. He was obviously slated to meet the Cuban delegation too.

'That is why it's called the Communist "Party", and not the Communist "sit down and get some work done".'

[More about Mr Geung in a few days]


Finally we have a winner for Colin Harrison's Risk!

Here is the answer:

The question asked you to work out alternatives for:

'on a minor path'- Sidetracked
'anonymous murderers'-Faceless Killers
'domesticated Latvian carnivores'- The Dogs of Riga
and a 'silently amended female'- The Fifth Woman.

The 'Fifth' relates to the amendment of the US constitution which maintains the right of the accused to maintain silence, and refuse to answer questions, in order not to incriminate themselves.

The four books were all written by Henning Mankell, but the odd one out is The Dogs of Riga translated by Laurie Thompson, while the other three were translated by Steven Murray aka Reg Keeland.

The winner who struggled through to get the correct answer comes from British Columbia, and I will post the prize off next week. Well done.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends, and another chance to show my photographic skill.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I must admit I was tempted to cheat with my contribution to this week's Crime Fiction Alphabet Meme at Kerrie's Mysteries in Paradise.

The letter H could have been used for one of my favourite detectives. But it has to be the title of the book or the first or second name of the author, so my choice is:

H for Hakan, Hakan Nesser.

I knew I wanted to read Hakan Nesser's books some time ago, but I was delaying until the first book in his Inspector Van Veeteren series Mind's Eye was published this year. I had been confused in the past with Nordic crime being translated out of order by pixilated publishers.
Hakan Nesser is one of the nominees for the Best Swedish Crime Fiction novel of the year with The Worms in Carmine Street.
His novels with their subtle humour, interesting characters and well constructed plots have won him many awards including a Nordic Glass Key, Best Debut novel in 1993 and Best Swedish novel in 1994,1996, and 2007, as well as nominations in 1995,1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001.

At Crime Fest in Bristol this year he proved to be just as amusing in person as he was on the written page, and I am looking forward to many more of his twenty novels being translated into English. Unfortunately only four of his Van Veeteren books have been translated so far and none of his new series featuring the intriguingly named Gunnar Barbarotti.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


I have just finished reading Stettin Station by David Downing, an exciting Second World War spy thriller and my review will appear on Euro Crime. I seem to have read a large number Nazi themed books recently and all this wartime tension can prove a bit wearing, so it is time for a break.

Therefore I have moved on to read The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill, which possibly will be a lighter read because Dr Siri Paiboun, National Coroner of Laos, seems from the first few pages to have a wicked sense of humour.

'And what do you put the loss of blood down to?' Judge Haeng asked........

'The body's inability to keep it in?' The little judge h'mmed and looked back down at his report. He wasn't even bright enough for sarcasm. "Of course, the fact that the poor man's legs had been cut off above the knees might have something to do with it.'

Saturday, November 21, 2009


Unfortunately no one managed to get the complete answer to the 'win a copy of Risk competition' although good efforts were made by entrants from British Columbia and Texas. I will repeat the question with an extra clue to give you another chance.
I did make the question a little obscure because we had so may correct answers to the straightforward question about Andrew Bonar Law.

Work out alternatives to:

on a minor path, anonymous murderers, domesticated Latvian carnivores and a silently amended female.

Then explain which is the odd one out.

The first three were easy, but the "silently amended female" was a problem. Here is a clue, another word for a female is woman, and if something is amended it is an amendment.
Please send answers to by Thursday 26 November 12.00 midnight GMT. Good luck, it should be easy now.

Friday, November 20, 2009


The Swedish title of Stieg Larsson's Millennium volume three was Luftslottet som sprangles but this was altered in the English version to The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest. Which of course got me thinking about some other Hornets' Nests, such as that complained of by Lord Cornwallis on his way to Yorktown, and his appointment with George Washington and Comte de Rochambeau.
"Charlotte is a veritable hornets' nest of rebellion".

And my photograph of The Hornets' Nest at Shiloh, Tennessee.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Slightly delayed this week because I wanted to post about my reactions to finishing the Millennium trilogy is this week's contribution to the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme at Kerrie's Mysteries in Paradise.

G is for Gage. Leighton Gage.

I first met Leighton Gage, another of crime fiction's many nice guys, on line and then in person at Crime Fest 2009 in Bristol. He writes the thrilling Chief Inspector Mario Silva Investigation series set in Brazil, where he and his charming Brazilian born wife Eide, live most of the year.

He also has a new joint blog Murder is Everywhere with Cara Black, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip [Michael Stanley], and Dan Waddell.

Leighton does not have to worry about the anomaly that affects crime writers in Sweden and Iceland. The conundrum in which there are many more fictional murders than ever occur in real life does not have an influence on a Brazilian set crime fiction series. I think Sao Paulo's murder investigation department has over 800 police officers and is still understaffed. But Mario Silva is a Federal cop which allows him to travel all over that huge country, and that provides Leighton with plenty of scope for his plots.
One of the most important facts I learned from the Mario Silva series and from interviewing Leighton is that Brazil is not a poor country.
It is a very rich country with a lot of very very poor people living in it.

Luckily I have a advanced review copy of the third book in the series, Dying Gasp, which has a pretty sensational opening chapter. More on that next month.

Here you can read part one, part two and part three of my wide ranging interview with Leighton Gage.
The Mario Silva series has not only some memorable characters, but also the quality of writing that makes you smell tension, fear and even cigar smoke, in the air.
I should say that although the books are about violence, corruption, poverty and social divisions, they are not gratuitously violent.

The reader also learns a lot about a country that will probably be one of the powerhouses of the century. But Brazilian police methods in their search for justice in very difficult circumstances are sometimes slightly different from those adopted in the UK, USA, Canada or Australia.

Booklist said '...Silva just may be South America's Kurt Wallander.'
A more cheerful Latin Wallander, and well worth reading about.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Last night I finished reading The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest and already acute withdrawal symptoms have begun. What is on Stieg Larsson's laptop? Could there really be a fourth novel, and outlines for six more books on the hard drive?

We have been privileged to witness, with his Millennium trilogy, the growth and development of Stieg Larsson as a writer from the clunky and turgid journalistic approach of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, through the much more exciting The Girl Who Played With Fire, and on to this final triumph with Hornets' Nest. It makes his early death even more tragic when we consider how many more more books he might have written if he had lived a full span. In making my journey from sceptic to fanatic I was lucky enough to spend a day with the translator 'Reg Keeland' [Steven Murray] in May, and learn that we were in for a real treat with this final book in the series.
By the way 'Reg' did a fantastic job completing the huge task of translating this monumental work into English.

In the first hundred pages or so of Hornets' Nest Larsson reminds us of the events at Gosseberga, and how Salander and her father, the Soviet defector Zalachenko, ended up under guard a few doors from each other in Sahlgrenska Hospital.
The story then moves on dealing with four multilayered plots, each fascinating and worthy of our attention on their own, but skillfully interwoven into the complete story.
I thought Dragon Tattoo could have been edited down by a couple of hundred pages but Hornets' Nest in my opinion would have suffered if anything from the sub plots was lost.

Firstly there is the revival of the plan to silence Salander instigated by the Section for Special Analysis, a secret unit within SAPO, the Swedish security police.

Secondly, Mikael Blomkvist,and the staff at Millennium magazine, who along with Armansky's Milton Security organization and Lisbeth from her hospital bed, work to expose the breaches of Salander's constitutional rights going back over years by the secret Zalachenko clique.

Thirdly we follow Erika Berger in her new position as editor-in -chief at Svenska Morgen-Posten, S.M.P., where she discovers that when running a newspaper not all the problems are financial.

Finally there are the 'good guys' in the Security Police led by Torsten Edkinth, Director of the Constitutional Protection Unit, who are also investigating the Section for Special Analysis, and who luckily for Blomkvist have among their number the attractive Monica Figuerola.

The narrative moves back and forth between these gripping plot lines and there is considerably less information dumping than in previous books, despite the inclusion of some chunks of Swedish politics, and the history of the Swedish security services. Interestingly for a book in which one of the main themes is the mistreatment of women by men there are some wonderfully strong female characters.
Lisbeth Salander, whose character develops becoming a bit more human and even showing some empathy towards those trying to help her, while still retaining that ability to surprise and shock.
Erika Berger, lawyer Annika Giannini [Blomkvist's sister], security police woman Monica Figuerola and Milton Security's Susanne Linder would probably rate number one billing as a female lead in any book that did not feature Salander. I do find Blomkvist a little bland compared with these feisty women but that may well have been Larsson's intention.

The four strands of the story come together in a satisfying climax, and [minor spoiler alert] in a brilliant court room drama that had me shouting yes, yes, yes!

Stieg Larsson was a writer who had a deep hatred of injustice and a crystal clear view of what was right and wrong. The Millennium trilogy is mainly concerned with the the mistreatment of women and the breaches of Salander's constitutional rights, but because of Stieg Larsson's anti-fascist stance at Expo magazine I think the books are also intended to send a message that when any state regards some citizens as less important than others, we are on that slippery slope to totalitarianism.

More on Hornets' Nest.

[My thanks to publishers Quercus, who supplied the book for review. Regular visitors, there must be a few, will know that I always give my honest appraisal of a book even when it gets me into hot water.]

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Those kind people at Picador USA have provided me with a mint copy of Risk by Colin Harrison.

To win this work out alternatives to: on a minor path, anonymous murderers, domesticated Latvian carnivores, and a silently amended female.

Then explain which is the odd one out?

Please send answers to by midnight GMT Friday 20 November. Good Luck.


The quiz to win The Interrogator by Andrew Williams proved very popular and it helped that for once my question was very straightforward.

The only British Prime Minister born out side the British Isles was Andrew Bonar Law, who was born in New Brunswick, Canada.

A flood of correct answers came in from British Columbia, California, Denmark, England [several], Ireland, Michigan, Scotland, and Spain; unfortunately I had only one prize and so we had to draw a winner.

The lucky entrant was from Manchester and The Interrogator will be posted off next week. Well done and thanks to all those who took part.

Sunnie Gill of Sunnie's Book Blog commented that she preferred 'the mind bending find the link questions' so watch this blog for another chance to win a free book.

Friday, November 13, 2009


I am approaching the final chapters of The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest and reading slower and slower as I really don't want to part company with Lisbeth Salander.
I am going through an experience that is similar to those childhood summer holidays where at the start the days seem to go on for ever, but as the end approaches every day rushes past quickly, and before you know it your precious holiday is over.

Reg Keeland, Larsson's excellent translator from the original Swedish, was right when he told me the books get better and better. Hornets' Nest fairly buzzes along in comparison with the fairly pedestrian first book in the trilogy, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

Stieg Larsson's death was tragic, made more so by the unfortunate family dispute that has followed, and the loss of a writer who was going to produce a lot more thought provoking crime fiction if he had lived.

Many years ago I read five of the ten books in the great Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo 'Story of a Crime' series. Later I spent weeks searching for the missing books in the series eventually finding two more in a bookshop in Totnes, and only when the Harper Perennial series was published recently did I get the complete series on my bookshelf.

But I still have not read two of the books Murder at the Savoy, and The Abominable Man, because I want to delight in the anticipatory pleasure of reading them for a little bit longer.
Does anyone else do this, or am I alone in this idiosyncrasy?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


The French TV series Spiral 2 has finished and my life is a little emptier.
Why was this series so impressive?

Firstly like The Wire it seemed almost at times like a documentary rather than crime fiction. That effect was achieved by excellent camera work, fantastic casting, superb acting and a total disregard for the sort of political correctness that blights much of British TV.

A good plot, wonderful characters and a distinctive French atmosphere made this a viewing treat, and the attractive female leads helped as well.
The main plot-line of the series concerned police capitaine Laure Berthaud [Caroline Proust], and her team's efforts to bring the brutal drug dealing Larbi gang to justice. The Larbi's front man Mister Aziz [Redah Kateb] has incinerated a drug dealer, who held out on them, at the start of the series and he held the people of his 'banlieue' in an iron grip of fear with his casual violence.

The gangsters Mustafa Larbi [Mehdi Nebbou] and Farouk Larbi [Samir Guesmi] were full of cold menace and one feared for the safety of undercover cop Samy [Samir Boitard] who has infiltrated their organization.
It was fairly obvious that once Laure had cast her predatory eye on the boyish Samy he would supplant prosecutor Pierre Clement [Gregory Fitoussi] as her lover. It is France after all.
Laure, Gilou [Thierry Godard] and Fromentin [Fred Bianconi] make credible detectives although their interrogation methods would not pass a police complaints commission investigation in the UK. French police apparently work under slightly different rules.

The series brought home the desperate plight of those living in the banlieues tormented by criminals of North African origin and let down by the inefficient and corrupt French judicial system.
Prosecutor Pierre Clement is struggling against the political machinations of his brilliantly creepy boss le Procureur Machard [Dominique Daquier]. While the lawyers Maitre Szabo [Daniel Duval] and the Jezebel-like Josephine Karlsson [Audrey Fleurot] pursue money and more money without worrying about annoying impediments such as ethics.

The clash between the two women, Laure Berthaud and Josephine Karlsson is the major sub plot in the series and it makes compelling viewing, which is probably why I will miss this series so much in the weeks to come.

Spiral Trois, s'il vous plait.


'Yet during those last months, staring on 18 July with the Second-the unknown-Battle of the Marne, and continuing through the Battle of Amiens, 8 August, Germany's 'black day', and 29 September, the breaking of the Hindenburg Line, right to the very end, great feats of arms were performed and great victories won as deserving of commemoration as Austerlitz or Waterloo.'

'Successive British governments bear a heavy load of responsibility for what followed the armistice. They gave their name to a peace dictated to a beaten enemy on the assumption of victory, but allowed the victory which was the sanction of that peace to be forgotten, and the sinews that should have upheld that victory to wither away.

In short, by disparaging the soldiers capacity to win a war, the politicians made certain that they would lose the peace.'

Extracts from To Win A War, 1918 The Year of Victory: John Terraine March 1978

Monday, November 09, 2009


As my contribution to this week's Crime Fiction Alphabet meme at Kerrie's Mysteries in Paradise I have chosen F is for Franklin.

Ariana not Ben.

Historical crime fiction novels need an intriguing plot, interesting characters, credible dialogue, period accuracy and the right atmosphere. The further you go back in time it appears to be more difficult to be able to create the right ambience for a crime story, or it would seem so.
Of the thirty books shortlisted over the last five years for the Ellis Peters, an award named for the writer who created medieval mysteries featuring Brother Cadfael, a 12th century Welsh Benedictine monk, only two are set in the Medieval period.

The thirty on those shortlists 2005-2009 also include three set in the Tudor period by C.J.Sansom, and one in the 17th century, all the rest are have 19th or 20th century settings.

Ariana Franklin, married to film critic Barry Norman, is a former Fleet Street journalist, and a meticulous researcher into the Early Medieval Period; she is another female crime writer with a first name beginning with the letter A who spent her early years in the seaside town of Torquay.

Ariana Franklin is the only writer to have won the Ellis Peters award who sets her books in the Medieval period. She won in 2007 with Mistress of the Art of Death in which she introduced us to her 12th century forensic pathologist Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar. She was shortlisted in 2008 for the sequel The Death Maze, and her most recent book in the series Relics of the Dead, is set in Glastonbury.

The technique of using a heroine from a strange world, where dissection of bodies and even women are accepted in the great medical school in Salerno, allows the author to explain English medieval society to the reader at the same time as Adelia learns about this foreign and to her fairly backward land.

'I am a doctor of Salerno. You will show me respect.'

The books are full of interesting facts and very strong characters including the historical Henry II, Rowley Picot Bishop of St Albans Adelia's lover, and Adelia herself. If you want to read something a bit different, with a feisty female heroine, while at the same time learning a lot of history I can recommend these books.

Below are my reviews:

The Death Maze [A Serpent's Tale in the USA]
Relics of the Dead [Grave Goods in the USA]

Sunday, November 08, 2009


My review of Siren of the Waters by Michael Genelin, an exciting thriller featuring a Slovakian police officer Jana Matinova, has been posted at Euro Crime.
This is an very interesting book as the author cleverly combines a story about Europe's current international criminal gangs with one about the communist past of Slovakia, one of Europe's newest countries, into a thought provoking thriller.

Saturday, November 07, 2009


I have found a mint copy of The Interrogator by Andrew Williams on the shelves at Crime Scraps HQ. This book was shortlisted for both the Ellis Peters Historical and the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger awards.
You have a chance to win this book by answering just one straightforward question.

Who is the only British Prime Minister to be born outside the British Isles ?

Please send answers to by next Saturday 14 November midnight GMT.

Update: sharp eyed readers may spot that I have altered the term Great Britain to British Isles as it was pointed out to me that the term Great Britain would lead to another Prime Minister meeting the criteria.
I admit to constant confusion on when to use the terms United Kingdom or Great Britain. Answers next Sunday 15 November.

Friday, November 06, 2009


I am now 172 pages into The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest and even stuck seriously wounded in a hospital bed Lisbeth Salander dominates the book.

Sandberg had looked so nervous for a second that Zalachenko had to smile, although the pain drilled into his jaw.
"I see that you milksops are too sensitive to kill her, and that you don't even have the resources to have it done. Who would do ? But she has to disappear.
Her testimony has to be declared invalid.
She has to be committed to a mental institution for life."


In the third century before the birth of Christ, the Samnites succeeded in trapping a large Roman army in the Claudine Forks. Possessed of a glut of prisoners, the Samnite ruler asked his father, Herennius, what he should do with them.
"Let them all go," replied the father. The son said that this was impossible. "Then kill them all," countered the father.

This was equally impossible, said his son, and asked for some middle course.

"There is none," said the wise father, "for a middle course would neither make the Romans your friends nor deprive you of your enemies."

[Erich Eyck quoted in The Kings Depart by Richard M. Watt]

Because it was then at Kut el Amarah, after a futile siege of 147 days, that thirteen thousand British and Indian troops surrendered to the Turks and began a horrifying march into captivity.
Kut el Amarah was the most humiliating disaster to have befallen a British Expeditionary Force since 1842 when, in a lunatic retreat from Kabul, sixteen thousand men died because of the decision of one half witted general...........

.....but it was not military ineptitude alone that precipitated the tragedy. Years of political ineptitude had also played their part.

..........and the King Emperor himself grumbled that he should have remained with his troops at Kut, to share their fate, there could be , and was no hope for him.
So he became a Member of Parliament.

Generals have over their troops a power of life and death that is terrifying. Against that power there is no right of appeal.

Passages quoted from The Siege by Russell Braddon.

Please no more disastrous campaigns under disastrous generals, and let us remember our history, and use some common sense.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


With many thanks to Dorte H. Jakobsen of DJS Krimiblog for the translation.

"Svenska deckarakademin" [the Swedish Crime Academy] have selected the nominees for this year's best translated crime novel-the Martin Beck Award- and the best Swedish crime novel.

Nominated for best Swedish crime novel are:
[Swedish titles translated by Dorte]

Ingrid Hedstrom: Flickoma i Villette [The Girls in Villette]- Alfabeta

Tove Klackenberg: Domd pa forhand [Judged in Advance]-Alfabeta

Hakan Nesser: Maskama pa Carmine Street [The Worms in Carmine Street]- Albert Bonniers forlag

Anders Roslund & Borge Hellstrom: Tre sekunder [Three Seconds] - Piratforlaget

Veronica von Schenck: Kretsen [The Circle]- Ordfront

Hakan Nesser [in the photo above with Petrona blogger Maxine Clarke] has won the award no less than three times with En helt annan historia, 2007 [Quite Another Story], Kvinna med foldelsemarke, 1996 [Woman with Birthmark], and Borkmanns punkt, 1994 [Borkmann's Point]. Furthermore he was nominated in 1995,1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001.
Even Roslund and Hellstrom are veterans in this coneection with nominationsin 2005,2006 and 2007.
Ingrid Hedstrom won the debut prize in 2008, Tove Klackenberg in 2002 and Nesser in 1993. Klackenberg was also nominated for the best Swedish crime novel in 2004. Veronica von Schenck had her debut last year with Anglalik [Angel Corpses].

Nominated for best translated crime novel, the Martin Beck award [ the other photo shows Martin Beck's creators Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo with their children] are:

Gianrico Carofiglio: Pa sannolika skal [Testimone incosapevole translated by: Ulla Trenter- Schibsted, numera Telegram Bokforlag]

Guillermo Martinez: Lucianas langsamma dod [La muerte lenta de Luciana B translated by: Manni Kossler-Bonniers]

Deon Meyer: Jagarens hjarta [Heart of the Hunter translated by: Jesper Hogstrom-Weyler]

Denise Mina: I midnattens stillhet [Still midnight translated by Boel Unnerstad-Minotaur]

Andrew Taylor: Det blodande hjartat [Bleeding Heart Square translated by: Jam Malmsjo- Forum]

Newcomers are Carofiglio and Martinez, whereas Mina, Taylor and Meyer have been nominated before, Andrew Taylor three years running [2002-2004] for his Roth trilogy, De fyra yttersta tingen [ The Four Last Things], Framlingars dom [The Judgment of Strangers] and De dodas massa [The Office of The Dead].
Denise Mina's Blodsarv [The Field of Blood] was nominated in 2006 and Deon Meyer's Dod i gryningen [Dead at Daybreak] last year.

The best Swedish crime novels are selected during the crime academy's autumn meeting in Eskiltuna Saturday the 28th of November. A debut prize may also be selected.

Monday, November 02, 2009


After my weightier deliberations on the Ellis Peters award, and the Bernie Gunther series, it is nice to lighten the mood with a book about a Mafia murder.

Excursion To Tindari is one of my favourite books in the Salvo Montalbano Mystery series created by the Sicilian author Andrea Camilleri.

In many of Camilleri's books we read about the struggles of the underclass, but it is the indifference and ruthless brutality of many of the rich and powerful that is the crux of his stories. The reader gets the feeling that Montalbano, Mimi Augello, Fazio, and Catarella are in that middle ground trying to protect the silent majority within a judicial system that barely functions.

In Excursion To Tindari Andrea Camilleri does not pull any punches, and it is the stark contrast between all the humour, and the heartless real world that makes this such a good novel.
Salvo Montalbano is investigating the murder of Nene Sanfillippo, a twenty year old "with too much money in his pockets , and who brought a different woman home every other night".
The Griffos, a grumpy elderly couple, have disappeared, while they were on an excursion to the shrine at Tindari, and because they lived in the same apartment building as Nene, Montalbano suspects some connection.
Meanwhile Don Balduccio Sinagra, the old style local Mafia don, is concerned about his grandson who is on the run from both the police and rival 'new style' Mafia gangs.
Montalbano has to devise a scheme to prevent Mimi Augello leaving his team and relocating to Pavia where his new fiance works. He also needs to try to discover who is the beautiful older lover of young Nene featured in some pornographic videotapes.
This cocktail is stirred and shaken with accounts of Montalbano's relationships with his superiors, his team, his lover Livia in Genoa, his friend Ingrid and most importantly his stomach.

Caponata- a zesty traditional southern Italian dish often served as an appetizer or side dish, made up of sauteed aubergine, tomato, green pepper, garlic, onion, celery, black olives, vinegar, olive oil and anchovies.

As well as delicious sounding food Excursion To Tindari features some of Camilleri's greatest lines such as :

'He opened the fridge and let out a whinny of delight.'

And this superb passage that could only come out of Italy.

'They saved everything-letters, greeting cards, photographs, telegrams, electrical and phone bills........

There was even a copy of the certificate of living existence, that nadir of bureaucratic imbecility. What might Gogol and his dead souls, have concocted from such a document?
Had a copy fallen into his hands, Franz Kafka would surely have come up with another of his anguishing short stories.
And now we had self -certification, how was one supposed to proceed?
What was the protocol, to use a word dear to government offices?

Did one simply write on a sheet of paper something like: I the undersigned, Salvo Montalbano, hereby declare myself to be in existence, sign it and turn it in to the appointed clerk.'

Don't miss this great series and if you haven't tried it yet there are ten books by Andrea Camilleri translated into English with more to come. Enjoy.

Sunday, November 01, 2009


The Daily Telegraph of Saturday 31 October contains a review by Toby Clements of Philip Kerr's latest Bernie Gunther novel, If The Dead Rise Not.
The first paragraph of the review reads as follows:

In 1989 Penguin published March Violets, the first of Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther novels. It was set in pre-war Berlin and it inverted the convention of having horrible Nazis and charming Jews.

No it doesn't, not in my copy of March Violets. The paragraph ends:

Not only was this wonderfully transgressive, it also lent the novel a real sense of doubt as to the whereabouts of the moral high ground, quite a feat when the subject is National Socialism.

March Violets is set in 1936 and the Jewish characters in it are much more concerned with staying alive, and on the "right" side of the Nuremberg Laws than attempting to be horrible.
I quote from March Violets:
"The Jewish population of Dachau was never large, but in all respects the Jews were worse off......In an Aryan hut the death rate was one per night; in a Jewish hut it was nearer seven or eight.
Dachau was no place to be a Jew."

"The starving steal from the starving, and personal survival is the only consideration......"

I don't see much moral ambiguity in the narrative of March Violets, which clearly describes the absolute evil of the Nazi regime.
But then perhaps TC has confused his books and his idea of an "inverted convention" might possibly apply to parts of the sixth Bernie Gunther novel, If The Dead Rise Not, although the Nazis in it are never very charming for very long.
TC writes that:

Perhaps like his hero, the author has become too world weary and flabby, because for the first part of this one-in which he flashes back to Bernie's early days as a 'hotel peeper' at the Adlon, just before the 1936 Berlin Olympics [well actually 1934, two years before]- you find yourself crying "enough already!"
I get it that the Nazis were bad, I get it that Bernie does not like them. It is not only that it is unsophisticated, it is actively unsettling, because you have to stop yourself reacting against it and cheering on the Nazis.

I plead guilty to being unsophisticated because I don't think you can ever cry "enough already" when telling any part of the story of the Nazis, and the horrendous crimes they committed. They were guilty of possibly the greatest crime in history, they were not just "bad", they destroyed a thriving culture and murdered 1.5 million children altering forever the ethnic makeup of Europe from Salonika to Vilna. I would be astonished if anyone reading the first half of If The Dead Rise Not would be cheering on the Nazis, apart from those who always do still cheer for them.
But it was not only the Jews who suffered under that terrifying regime.

From March Violets, referring to those imprisoned in Dachau:
"There were Sozis and Kozis, trade unionists, judges, lawyers , doctors, school teachers, army officers. Republican soldiers from the Spanish Civil War, Jehovah's Witnesses, Freemasons, Catholic priests, gypsies, Jews, spiritualists, homosexuals, vagrants , thieves and murderers. With the exception of some Russians, and a few former members of the Austrian cabinet, everyone in Dachau was German."

I agree that in If The Dead Rise Not, there are horrible Nazis with a very thin veneer of charm, and indeed some horrible Jews, including Meyer Lansky, as well as some rather confused Cubans; after all there are good and bad in all races. But it would be clear from reading the book even to the most unsophisticated mind that Batista, Castro and Lansky are very much second division evil compared with Hitler and Stalin, or Heydrich and Eichmann.

TC does say some good things about the book, and he wants to learn more about Gunther's time with the SS in Russia. He thinks the numerous hints are not enough and that "Kerr really owes us another flashback, this time to the heart of Gunther's personal darkness in the Ukraine, rather than to the twilight of the Caribbean."

I could even forgive the bizarre understatement that the Nazis are bad, and apparent confusion over which book is which, if not for this passage;
'....Bernie in Cuba, just before the revolution, where he bumps into his old friends and once more finds himself involved in a murder investigation,********* '

There then follows a plot spoiler which reveals the murderer to anyone who knows anything about the history of crime fiction. I find it difficult to comprehend why a reviewer would do this, unless to prove to aficionados that he had read the genre.
This was a strange review of an excellent book, which won Philip Kerr both the prestigious and financially rewarding RBA Prize and the CWA Ellis Peters Award.

If you want to read my interview with author Philip Kerr click here and scroll down.

'Yes, I noticed that the rain was a little warmer than usual. At least a rotten summer is one thing they can't blame on the Jews.'
'Don't you believe it,' I said.
[March Violets: Philip Kerr 1989]


Some time ago I prepared a blog post that complained about misleading blurbs and people writing reviews about books they did not seem to have read, or know anything about. I exclude our Friend Feed community from any criticism on these grounds, their reviews are always an inspiration to this amateur.
I decided to dump my post when I realised that the book I was going to use as my prime example was written by a charming author, who was probably not responsible for the misleading blurb that appeared on the cover of her book, or the wide variation in quality of the reviews. Many of these reviews sensibly mentioned the flaws in the book, but others made ludicrous comparisons with well known authors, and even a cinematic masterpiece.
I did not want to seem mean spirited and thankfully the book in question was not shortlisted for any awards.

We drove back from North Devon yesterday afternoon and I opened my copy of the Daily Telegraph to read a review of Philip Kerr's If The Dead Rise Not that was slightly surprising. I thought I would post a rebuttal to this "review" but decided what was the point, and that really no one cares any more about basic standards of accuracy even in a newspaper such as the Telegraph.
After all BBC TV and radio had informed me over the past year or two that:

Quisling was Swedish. He was Norwegian.
Death Valley is in Nevada. It is in California.
And last week that Wallander is a Dutch detective.

I though who cares, and then I turned over to read this in the TV planner, the week's best films:

Chariots of Fire [1981]
The film that so cleaned up at the Oscars that writer Colin Welland uttered the ill-advised words "The British are coming" makes the racing fortunes of two English runners at the 1924 Olympics seem as inspiring as........."

Does anyone read this stuff before it is published?
Surely someone has to care a little, and so I decided to go ahead with my analysis of the Telegraph review of Philip Kerr's prize winning book.
[To be continued]