Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Since I noticed the gender inequality in my reading I have read five books in a row by female crime writers. In fact of the last twenty two books I have read eleven have been written by women, and the balance for the year is now 14 female writers to 28 male.


When does a review step over the line between constructive criticism, and become a vitriolic attack?

A condensed version of this review was published in the Saturday edition of the Telegraph.

Friday's version had the simple headline announcing a review, and a sub title 'The Swedish TV adaptation botches the job of compressing the Stieg Larsson book'.

By the Saturday edition the headline had metamorphosed into:
'Larsson sequel that's pure tat'.
For those not familiar with informal English language, 'tat' is defined as tasteless and shoddy usually referring to clothes and jewelry.
The criticisms made of the film were that the book's Caribbean prologue had been omitted, 'Noomi Rapace's bisexual avenging hacker' has less to do than in the first film, and 'the film flunks on all levels of sustained tension, plausible back story or moral depth, but it's luridly violent denouement with shades of bad Thomas Harris leaves the grimmest taste in the mouth'.

Firstly this was a long book, something had to go, and most people who read the book wondered where that prologue fitted in to the whole saga.
The book had two separate plot lines one with Blomqvist's investigations, and the other with Lisbeth Salander on the run from a triple murder charge. Obviously Noomi Rapace could not be in every scene, although her performance warranted that.

In 2001 I watched the film Hannibal [based on the Thomas Harris novel] on cable television, because of the beautiful locations at Asheville, North Carolina and Florence, Italy, both of which we had visited earlier in the year.
In that film there is one character who had been deliberately disfigured and left paralysed by Hanibal Lecter , and who was eaten alive by wild boars. Later in the film Hannibal [Anthony Hopkins] eats brain from a still living Ray Liotta's head after cutting off the top of his skull.

The violence in The Girl Who Played with Fire is certainly nowhere near at that level.
The bad guys in the Larsson trilogy, and this film, are neo-Nazi biker gangs, Eastern European people traffickers, serial abusers of women and rogue Swedish intelligence agents.
Fifty hours community service, six months probation, a discussion of women's rights, or a good telling off, is just not going to work with these people.
Lisbeth Salander's violence towards the bad guys is almost certainly justified in her circumstances, and provides a strong moral depth to this movie.
Are some people evil? Do they need to be stopped?
Or do we go on proclaiming abuse of women, and people trafficking is terrible but.........

The feedback I have had from as far afield as the English Midlands, Denmark and New Mexico is that this was an enthralling film, and an extremely good effort at adapting a complex story for the screen.
I can't wait for The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


A Not So Perfect Crime by Teresa Solana, translated from the Catalan by Peter Bush, is a biting social commentary on Catalan society, which won the 2007 Brigada 21 Prize.

In Barcelona non-identical twin brothers Borja, and the narrator Eduard work as confidential investigators for the very wealthy on matters that require the utmost discretion, and definitely no paperwork and invoices.
Pep, who disappeared for years and returned as Borja, is posing as an aristocrat with the manners that enable him to charm his way around those upper class circles, that Eduard finds very intimidating. No one knows that the twins are brothers, not even Eduard's wife Montse.
The brothers lives are a clever charade to maintain that professional image. Their office waiting room has false doors to non-existent private offices [always being painted by decorators], and their secretary is always out of the office to ensure complete discretion, and because she only exists as a perfume spray and a woman's magazine.
The twins private lives are very different; Borja, has a rich mistress Merche, who helps keep him in the style to which he aspires; Eduard, has twin daughters and a young son, and is married to Montse, who now runs an Alternative Centre for Natural Wellbeing after fifteen miserable years as a school psychologist.

......she couldn't face any more juvenile delinquents, mafiosi fathers, sadistic adolescents, racist mothers, pregnant teenagers and skinheads, not to mention an acquiescent Authority too politically correct to even hear mention of such things.

Smooth politician Lluis Font consults Borja, and Eduard, about a painting by Pau Ferrer of his beautiful wife Lidia. Font believes the painting, which he has bought when he spotted it in a catalogue, may signify that Lidia and Ferrer were having an affair that will be bound to cause a scandal, and affect his political future.

The twins begin to follow the politician's glamourous wife around Barcelona's cafes and tapas bars, and then Lidia Font is found poisoned by a marron glace, a confection that all her friends and enemies know she adores.
The twins have to deal with forged paintings, a trip to Paris, Montse's exotic sister Lola, and a society that makes clear demarcations between the classes, before solving the mystery.

"Stuff and nonsense! Good taste depends on your pocket. It's a business like any other. When they say someone has good taste, it's either because he's rich or because he's trying to ape the rich."

A Not So Perfect Crime is a charming amusing book, written with a sense of sharp humour, full of clever dialogue and social commentary.
Obviously the non-Catalan will probably miss a lot of the cleverness, but I enjoyed this lighter read and look forward to reading more about these intriguing characters, and the city of Barcelona, in the future.

Friday, August 27, 2010


Last night I watched The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, on DVD, and this afternoon I went to our local Picture House Cinema to watch The Girl who Played with Fire.
I missed seeing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo when it was at the cinema, because of my broken leg [patella] and subsequent immobility.
It will take something similar to stop me going to the The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest when that is released in cinemas early next year.

TGWTDT was the first movie I had watched on my 21 inch I-Mac, and it was like having my own private cinema. Very pleasant.
This was superb film, with beautiful cinematography and performance from Noomi Rapace that swept away any doubts I might of had that she would not match the Lisbeth of my imagination. Michael Nyqvist still does not seem to have the personality to be the "Kalle" Blomqvist of the books.
But the TGWTDT is all about Lisbeth Salander, and the story of the sick men of Vanger family, whose abuse of women goes back decades.

The Girl who Played with Fire was even better, and the 129 minutes flew by in a very quiet, but fairly well attended cinema.
Noomi Rapace's performance was gripping, and she is so good in the part I cannot imagine why Hollywood wants to remake the film with another actress in her part. Once again it was scenically beautiful, and the violent action scenes were brilliantly directed with the result that this is a very tense and exciting movie.
Some judicious editing of the book, including those first irrelevant one hundred pages for instance, created a much tauter screenplay, which made a remarkable good effort at dealing with a complex story.
I can see in the future cinemas showing all three movies over the course of a marathon "Lisbeth Salander" day, because if you haven't read the books you are left in a state of limbo at the dramatic finale of the The Girl who Played with Fire.

The recent article proclaiming that Stieg Larsson was a bad bad writer, raises the question what do you want in crime fiction books?
If it is clever elitist but ultimately bland wordsmithery, and characters who you ultimately don't care about, there are other authors for you.
If you want good storytelling, despite much superfluous material, and a very relevant message then it is worth putting up with the odd IKEA shopping list, and the "flat cliche ridden" prose.
Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code a better book than Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? I think not. Irrespective of whether the plot of The Da Vinci Code has a modicum of truth, or whether there were Nazis in Sweden in the 1930s and 1940s.

When you see her on the screen, acted so brilliantly by Noomi Rapace, it comes across what a vulnerable and damaged character Stieg Larsson created in Lisbeth Salander.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Some weeks ago I ceased to be an audio book virgin, thanks to Donna Moore.
This audio version of The Looking Glass War was read by the author John le Carre, and this added enormously to the enjoyment of the experience as his characters came over as he intended, and not interpreted by a third party.
This was particularly noticeable when he gave Johnson, the radio operator a more working class accent, compared with the upper class tones of administrators Haldane and Leclerc. George Smiley, who plays a minor role in this book, is portrayed as similar to the quiet inoffensive classless civil servant made famous by Sir Alec Guinness in his TV recreation of Smiley in the novels Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and Smiley's People.

This brilliantly downbeat novel involves the rivalry between the Department, effectively mothballed since the war without agents or resources, and the Circus. When the Department has a chance to mount an operation the chance of reclaiming former glory cannot be missed.......
I bought a paperback copy of The Looking Glass War as I enjoyed the audio book so much, and noted the former glory theme in the quotations chosen to start each of the three parts, the "runs" , by Taylor, and then by Avery to Finland, and finally by Leiser into East Germany.

The three quotations are a strange choice for any book written in 1964, unless you are thinking about former and lost glories :

'A fool lies here who tried to hustle the East.' Rudyard Kipling

'There are some things that no one has a right to ask of any white man.'
John Buchan, Mr Standfast

'To turn as swimmers onto the cleanness leaping
Glad from a world grown old and cold and weary' Rupert Brooke, 1914

I will get round to reading the paperback of The Looking Glass War in the future.


On 10 July I noted the countries from which I had visitors over a thirty day period and was pleasantly surprised.
The list of countries has got longer since then with seventeen more countries, and therefore I have produced an updated map.

Monday, August 23, 2010


My review of the fourth book in the Adelia Aguilar [Mistress of the Art of Death] series by Ariana Franklin has been posted at Eurocrime.

This medieval historical crime fiction is at its best when Adelia is using her medical training on the dead and sometimes on the living.

Reviews of the three previous books in this excellent series Mistress of the Art of Death, The Death Maze, Relics of the Dead [Grave Goods in USA]

Saturday, August 21, 2010


I am back on my meds, and not feeling quite so sensitive; time for some fun.
Last year I participated in a meme to describe my life in the form of the book titles I had read that year, see at My Life with Books of 2009.

The meme has revived this year with different questions, and I have noted the contributions by:

Here goes with mine, although I haven't read as many books this year so this may be tricky.

In High School I was: The Informer [Craig Nova]
People might be surprised I'm: The Snowman [Jo Nesbo]
I will never be: The Monster in the Box [Ruth Rendell]
My fantasy job is: The Stone Cutter [Camilla Lackberg]
At the end of the day I need: Skinny Dip [Carl Hiassen]
I hate it when: Vodka Doesn't Freeze [Leah Giarratano]
Wish I had: Thirty Three Teeth [Colin Cotterill]
My family reunions are: A Night of Long Knives [Rebecca Cantrell]
At the party you'd find me with: The Woman from Bratislava [Leif Davidsen]
I've never been to: Cemetery Lake [Paul Cleave]
A happy day includes: Midnight Fugue [Reginald Hill]
Motto I live by: Truth [Peter Temple]
On my bucket list: Blood Safari [Deon Meyer]
In my next life I want to be: Bad Boy [Peter Robinson]

Photos taken on Dartmoor, and at the Lambeth Country Show 2010.

Friday, August 20, 2010


I have been reading Sean McMeekin's The Berlin-Baghdad Express, subtitled The Ottoman Empire and Germany's Bid for World Power 1898-1918.

Professor Norman Stone, author of The Eastern Front 1914-1917 and father of crime writer Nick Stone, is quoted on the front flap, 'This superb and original book is the reality behind Greenmantle.'

Sen McMeekin teaches at Yale, and at Bilkent University in Ankara, where Norman Stone is a Professor in the International Relations Department.

Usually the current Middle East situation is blamed on the British for making promises they could not keep in order to disrupt the Ottoman war effort.
McMeekin puts a portion of the blame on Kaiser Wilhelm, and his advisers such as Baron Max Oppenheim for attempting to raise a jihad against the infidel, unless those infidels happened to be German or Austro-Hungarian.
It is clear from the many quotes from John Buchan's Greenmantle [1916] that the author was far more knowledgeable about the politics of the region than many diplomats. Of course John Buchan became Director of Information in 1917, and later went on to be Governor General of Canada.
Would crime writers make a better job of governing us than the politicians?

I was inspired to read The Berlin-Baghdad Express when watching our current Prime Minister David Cameron on his recent visit to Turkey.
He was asked about Turkey's entry to the European Union and the probable effect on immigration levels to the UK.
From his expression I am not sure he knew a lot about Turkey's past relationship with the Russians, Persians, Arabs, Armenians, Circassians, Jews, Levantine Christians, Kurds, Cyprus or the Greeks.
He made a comment about income levels becoming equalized throughout the EU, and that population movements would therefore not be necessary. That certainly amused me because income levels between Cornwall, where his daughter was born yesterday [congratulations to him and his wife Samantha] and his own constituency, Henley, will take a lot of equalizing.
Equalization between London and Anatolia might take a fraction longer.

The Berlin-Bagdhad Express is introduced with a quote from John Buchan's First World War spy story :

Some day, when the full history is written with ample documents-the poor romancer will give up the business and fall to reading Miss Austen in a hermitage.
John Buchan , Greenmantle [1916]

There are more references to Greenmantle in the book which tells a sad story of incompetence, brutality, arrogance mixed with a total lack of understanding of the aspirations, and inclinations of the various peoples in the region. Buchan seems to have understood this better than most.

Colonel Stumm warns the neutral American Blenkiron in John Buchan's Greenmantle, one needed to be extra careful when speaking English while the world war was on, because the locals 'don't distinguish between the different brands'.

The Berlin-Bagdhad Express is a sad book although occasionally the sheer lunacy of events can bring a smile to the reader's face.

German propaganda had turned into a farce.
Oppenheim's jihad bureau in the Pera Embassy was a laughing stock after the story broke that his lead holy war writer in the Turkish press, 'Mehmed Zeki Bey', was actually a Romanian Jewish conman, who had recently done a turn running a bordello in Buenos Aires.

But it also has some interesting comments to make about our present situation.

But there is a subtler version of the virus coursing through the veins of the West, such as the fashionable Third Worldist auto-critique which decries every sin of European imperialism while absolving the world's most wicked post-colonial regimes of responsibility for their crimes.

The more I read crime and spy fiction novels the more it seems that the writers, whatever the agendas they favour, know a lot more about the problems of society, and their world, than the politicians.
I have digressed from my original intention, and perhaps it is a bit cruel to mention at this particularly happy time for him, David Cameron's foreign policy and historical gaffes on his trip to Turkey and India, but politicians as well as:
'Generals have over their troops a power of life and death that is terrifying' [The Siege: Russell Braddon], therefore they have to be held to account.

I bought The Siege in 1971, having read Russell Braddon's brilliant previous book The Naked Island about the fall of Singapore, and was shocked that so few people had even heard of this disastrous defeat on the banks of the Tigris.
The frightening thing is that the more one reads about history the more one realises that politicians and their generals repeat the same mistakes over and over and over again.....
The cause of these mistakes is a cocktail of arrogance, ignorance, and a lack of care for the men and women who serve, that sometimes defies belief.
The information is all out there for the politicians, but they just ignore it, and sail on regardless.

From the second paragraph from Chapter One of The Siege.

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. It was to remain the most humiliating disaster until Singapore fell in 1942, because of the decisions of a series of half -witted military planners. In 1916, however Kabul had been forgotten, Singapore was inconceivable, and Kut seemed an unprecedented defeat at the hands of the despised Oriental.


As part of my plan to devote more time to crime fiction by female crime writers I have read Ruth Rendell's latest Wexford book, The Monster in the Box. This is the twenty second book in this series which began in 1964 with from Doon With Death.
It is possibly a bit cheeky to review this author, who was a major factor in starting my crime fiction addiction, but it is sometimes interesting to see if your old favourites still retain their magic.

The Monster in the Box is about obsessions.
The first obsession and the main plot concerns Eric Targo, a short muscular man with a noticeable naevus [birthmark] on his neck, which he constantly covers up in all weathers with a scarf. Wexford has glimpsed the naevus when as a young constable he was part of a murder enquiry. Targo, a man obsessed with animals was walking his dog, when he looked up defiantly at Wexford, who was in the victim's house and the policeman became obsessed with the idea that Targo was the murderer, despite an absence of any evidence.
Targo moves on with his life, moving through several marriages, gradually becoming more wealthy, and at one point returning to Kingsmarkham, when Wexford is sure he committed another murder.
In the present day [sometime in the 1990s in the book] Wexford spots a much older Targo, who has now had the naevus removed, and he is certain that yet another murder will occur. The only person he can confide in is Mike Burden, who does not believe in Wexford's obsession.

The second obsession is Reg Wexford's desire for a certain type of woman. This is dealt with as Wexford reminisces about his past, and Rendell plays a little game with her readership. Luckily Wexford eventually finds his Dora and settles down to a happy married life.

The third strand of the plot becomes an obsession, when concerns felt by Jenny Burden, are subsequently passed on to Detective Sergeant Hannah Goldsmith.
Jenny, Mike Burden's second wife and a dedicated history teacher, is concerned that bright local teenager Tamima Khan is being prevented from attending a sixth form college.
When Hannah takes up this it becomes an obsession, a teenager possibly wanting to go out to work for a while, turns in her politically correct view into a possible arranged marriage, from there it develops into a forced marriage, and finally an honour killing instigated by Tamima's family.
I must admit I was mildly irritated by a series of anomalies in the plot, which impair Rendell's attempt to create the image of a Kingsmarkham in 1990s Britain unused to Asian immigrants.

In fact some of the dialogue just does not ring true, and Hannah's statements with reference to the Rahman's house are so patronising that they seem more appropriate to a colonial memsahib in Simla than a liberal anti-racist woman police officer in 1990s Britain.

Also some of the ideas expressed make it seem the book was set in the 1950s rather than the 1990s, or else that Reg Wexford, and his team, just don't get out that much.

......to follow Wexford into the general store. Another surprise awaited him. Out here, in this rustic and intensely English spot, the proprietor and postmaster was Asian. And a particularly dark-skinned hook-nosed Asian at that. Wexford wondered if it was politically incorrect even to think these things.

In my experience by the 1980s a very large number of small shops in England were run by Asians. Surely by the 1990s even in a rural village it would not have been a surprise to come across an Asian shopkeeper.

I was enjoying The Monster in the Box till about two thirds through the book, and looking forward to Wexford finally chasing Targo down. But the ending unfortunately became rather obvious far too soon as both plot lines converged leaving Wexford, and this reader ultimately unsatisfied.
Ruth Rendell is a wonderful storyteller, but spoils this book with exaggerated attempts to get over her agenda unnecessarily putting ideas into the characters minds that might be considered even to denigrate the indigenous population.

'There was a solidarity in this family he had seldom seen before the immigrants came.'

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


I have completed Dorte's 2010 Global Reading Challenge to the medium level [twelve books from six continents].

The books I read were:





North America:

South America:

These books are set in Algeria, South Africa, Laos, China, Australia [NSW], Australia [Victoria], Greece, England, USA [Washington DC], USA [Cincinnati], Argentina and Brazil. I might add to my challenge later in the year by reading a North American book from outside the USA, and a New Zealand book.

A very enjoyable and pleasant challenge. Thank you, Dorte.

Monday, August 16, 2010


I read Bunker by Andrea Maria Schenkel [translated from the German by Anthea Bell] as part of my challenge to read more books by female crime writers, and also to read possible contenders for the short list for the 2011 CWA International Dagger. Andrea Maria Schenkel's first two novels, The Murder Farm and Ice Cold, won the German Crime Fiction prize in consecutive years so my expectations were high.

I was also partially seduced by back cover blurbs that proclaimed "AMS has shown and redefined the possibilities of the genre."
"Crime writers have to use considerable ingenuity to bring anything fresh to the genre. AMS has done it."

These may have referred to her first two books?

In the novel Bunker the reader is presented with first person narratives that shift back and forth from the perspectives of Monika, who has been kidnapped and taken to an old mill, and also from the kidnapper, who may be a man from her past.
Monika spends some time making half hearted attempts to escape, some time hallucinating, and a lot of time thinking about her past. The man also spends time thinking about his equally miserable past, with for some reason one passage concerning his recent activities in italicized typeface.
There is also a chapter of events which chronologically occur after the main action sliced up into smaller sections, and inserted at various points throughout the novel in bold typeface.

The reason for the bold typeface is quite beyond me as most readers would be able to work out that this action is in a different time frame without this aid. Was this an attempt to reproduce an effect that was successful in her first two books?

There is some build up of tension in the novel, but a lot of this is spoilt by most of the slender plot being revealed on the front flap.
But with such unappealing main characters the author failed to get me interested in what happened to them, and I could not wait to get to the end.
One good thing was that thankfully this bleak book is only 177 pages long, but perhaps to be entirely fair I should read one of Andrea Maria Schenkel's earlier prize winning books, and give her a second chance.

Friday, August 13, 2010


I have finished reading Truth by Peter Temple, the South African, who moved to Australia in 1980 and has won the Ned Kelly Prize five times, becoming one of Australia's acclaimed writers. I am still left in breathless admiration for the author whose only other book I have read The Broken Shore, won the Duncan Lawrie CWA Gold Dagger in 2007.

This novel concentrates on the life of Stephen Villani, head of the Victoria Police Homicide squad, as he struggles to cope with problems at work and in his personal life.

A young girl, who resembles his own daughter Lizzie, is found murdered in the bathroom of a luxury apartment high above the city. The Prosilio Tower is one of Australia's most expensive residential addresses protected by high tech electronic security, which has apparently failed on a night when the high stakes casino it houses had arranged a preview for high-rolling gamblers, and other glitterati.
The owners and management of the Prosilio are distinctly uncooperative, and use their political connections to attempt to block the progress of the investigation.

Meanwhile the homicide team are investigating a triple murder with one man shot and two notorious gangsters, the Ribaric brothers, tortured to death.

'The other two, multiple stab wounds, genitals severed, other injuries. Also head and pubic hair ignited, shot, muzzle in mouth. Three bullets recovered, 45 calibre.'
'So you can't rule out an accident?' said Villani.

As the story progresses Villani's relationships with his team, especially Paul Dove, a part aboriginal, who took a bullet in The Broken Shore and returned to work in a mere eleven weeks, is explored. Villani is offered both the carrot and the stick by his slithy political bosses.

'You following me, inspector?' said Orong.
Villani knew why he was there, what was at stake for him, how he should behave in the presence of this shoddy little arsehole, a nothing, no talents, just a political creature who knew how to slime around, how to get the numbers, how to suck up to those who could advance him, screw those who couldn't, how to claim credit, duck responsibility.

On top of all this Villani's marriage is on the rocks as Laurie, his wife, driven by his infidelities and gambling, has created her own life with a successful catering business, and her own lover. For his children, Corin, Tony, and Lizzie, Villani has been an absent father and now fifteen year old Lizzie is running wild on the streets with druggies.
Meanwhile Villani has become involved with Anna Markham, an attractive and influential television political journalist and is beginning to mix with the elite.
In a series of flashbacks woven into the narrative we learn about Villani's unhappy childhood, his father Bob, a hard man Vietnam veteran, the forest they planted that means so much to them both, his brothers, his police career, Singo, his former boss who had so much influence on him, and the death of Greg Quirk, a case that may come back to haunt him.

Justice for the dead. Singo's message to new arrivals. 'We're the only ones who can get them justice. That's our work. That's our calling.'

As the summer fires threaten Bob Villani's farm, a decisive election looms, the political elite scheme, and Villani faces even more troubles as he fights to save his career.

Dove lifted his eyes.
'They're powerful people,' he said. 'They run the world. Why shouldn't they get away with killing a whore?'

This novel is a complex police procedural, but it is worth the extra effort to follow the fast paced narrative and terse dialogue, along with numerous flashbacks and a multitude of characters.
I think most Western nations have a similarly dysfunctional, and corrupt society to the Australian portrayed in Truth, but it is the abrupt, poetically harsh language that makes it seem so real. Peter Temple's style does take a bit of getting used to, and he does not bother such things as political correctness, but that just makes the story seem more authentic, and the characters more realistic.
This is a stunning read of which I have only scratched the surface, and I understand why it won the Miles Franklin Literary Award, Australia's version of the Booker.

A life spent dealing with the dishonest, the cruel, the callous, the vicious, the drunk, the drugged, the temporarily deranged and permanently insane, the sick and the sad, the sadists, sex maniacs, child molesters, flashers, exhibitionists, women-beaters, wife -beaters, child-beaters, self-mutilators, the homicidal, matricidal, patricidal, fratricidal, suicidal.
Some of them dead.

Peter Temple has shown that the police procedural still has a lot of mileage left in it, and I can't wait for his next book.
This was my second Australasian book, and my final book for Dorte's 2010 Global Reading Challenge Medium Level.

Some other reviews of Truth by Maxine at Petrona, and Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


You can't help admire the people who thought up this innovative marketing campaign.

Obviously not as innovative as I thought.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


I had read two very heavy dark books in a row, and in order to lighten my mood on the recommendation of Margot Kinberg I read Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassen.
This Florida based novel is hilarious, and had me laughing out loud at the outrageous characters and their antics. Although I have to admit to having come across characters almost as way out as these in my career.

Attractive blonde Joey Perrone is on a second anniversary cruise aboard the M.V. Sun Duchess when her husband Chaz throws her overboard.

' She had been co-captain of her college swim team, a biographical detail that her husband obviously had forgotten.'

Joey survives, and is rescued by Mick Stranahan, a retired reclusive ex-cop with a string of ex-wives and a friendly dog. Rather than go to the police the gorgeous and feisty Joey, presumed dead, and Mick decide to make Chaz's life a living hell.

Chaz, Dr Charles Perrone, a "marine biologist" has a well paid scheme going with Red Hammernut to falsify water samples taken from the Everglades so that Hammernut's farming business avoids paying huge fines for polluting the environment. Chaz believes Joey knows about the fraud, and will inform the authorities, so she has to die. Chaz and Hammernut have too much to lose.

'A big farming operation like his was a challenging enterprise, relying as it did on rampant pollution and the systematic mistreatment of immigrant labor. For Red it was no small feat to keep the feds off his back while at the same time soaking the taxpayers for lucrative crop subsidies that might or might not be repaid this century.'

The memorable supporting cast of characters include:

Karl Rolvaag, a python owning detective desperate to leave Florida for his home state of Minnesota.

'From his vantage Rolvaag counted five dogs, all of them edibly sized for a python.'

Earl Edward O'Toole, [Tool] a huge hairy neanderthal body guard, who forms a kindly relationship with Maureen, an elderly lady dying of cancer, while looking for drugs in her nursing home.

"Really. And back in the Netherlands you're a physician?"
"No, a doctor," he said pointedly.
Sneaky little bitch, Tool thought, squeezing himself into the Grand Marquis. Thought she could trick me!

With Corbett, Joey's eccentric sheep farming brother from New Zealand, Ricca Chaz's girlfriend, and a crazy one eyed Vietnam veteran living in the swamps entering the action at various stages there are plenty more laughs.

But with plenty of mosquitos, saw grass, snakes, swamps, duckweed, leeches, gators, and crooks the novel had a wonderful sense of place in glorious South Florida. Of course behind all the frivolity was the serious message about overpopulation and the subsequent pollution.

Ninety percent of the original 'glades had been developed, converted to agriculture or otherwise debauched. The only untrampled remnant was a national park, the waters of which were of dubious purity.

Skinny Dip is a brilliantly funny novel with memorable characters, and it also proves once again that crime fiction is a useful tool to both educate and get across an important agenda.

" But I'm still bleeding, for God's sake."
"Did you ever see Deliverance?" the blackmailer said. "Remember what happened to the chubby guy?"
Chaz Perrone started paddling.

Sunday, August 08, 2010


You can read my review of Bad Boy by Peter Robinson, the 19th book in the Inspector Banks series, at Euro Crime. There is no question in my mind that this will be yet another best seller for the Canadian based author.

Just a mention that the website Euro Crime under the superb stewardship of Karen Meek goes from strength to strength, and is a marvelous resource. A new feature on the review page is an archive with reviews split by reviewer.

You can read more about Peter Robinson and view a teaser for Bad Boy and a short interview video at Craig's Crime Watch website.

Friday, August 06, 2010


As I start reading my 37th crime fiction book of the year I realise that the number of books I have read has been greatly reduced by the weeks I spent dosed up on those scrumptious codeine tablets after my accident and operation.
I have also noted that of those 37 books only nine have been written by women.
This is an unfortunate bias, and with such a record I might be banned from the grounds of Greenway, home of the greatest of female crime writers.
Therefore I have created my own personal challenge to remedy this state of affairs, and read more books written by female crime writers.


I intended to use Paul Cleave's Cemetery Lake as my final contribution to Dorte's 2010 Global Reading Challenge at medium level. [Twelve books from six continents.]
But I did not find this book to my personal taste, and I don't want to end a very enjoyable challenge on a negative note so I will choose another Australasian book.

I should have read the reviews before starting Cemetery Lake, one review on Paul Cleave's web site states:

Cleave's writing is uncompromising, unpredictable and enthralling........Made me vomit-seriously it's that good.

Unfortunately I come from an older generation where vomiting is not a sign of appreciation.
Michele Peckham on the Euro Crime web site tells us "This is a grueling novel", and I would concur mainly because it is written in the first person narrative present tense. This takes you right into the action with Cleave's protagonist Theo Tate, an ex-policeman now a private detective with a traumatic past that makes the histories of Rebus, Morse, Wallander and Harry Hole look positively idyllic.
Anyone who thinks Scandinavian crime fiction is bit dark and gloomy has not read the Australasians Leah Giarratano and Paul Cleave.

Why did I not like this novel?
Firstly there were plot developments that caused me to rapidly lose sympathy and patience with the protagonist, Theo Tate.
The other characters play a comparatively minor role, and so the book lives and dies on the reader's opinion of Tate.
Then a clunking clue was dropped early in the book as to what was going to be the problem, and possibly there were a few holes in the plot. Do people really behave the way they do in Cemetery Lake?
Also the novel was set in Christchurch, New Zealand, but there was no sense of place and it could just as easily been Seattle or Cardiff, anywhere it rained constantly.
I found the whole thing very depressing, and long before the end had begun to read Carl Hiassen's Skinny Dip to lighten my mood.
When the clunking clue, and the denouement came together, and all was explained I wondered if some people might feel offended by the plot line. But then what do I know, and I am sure a lot of people will love this book..........

Wednesday, August 04, 2010


This year the CWA judges did an excellent job in picking Johan Theorin's The Darkest Room as the winner of the International Dagger. Obviously a lot of thought had gone into the make up of the short list.
The previous year's list had been made up of 5 Nordic books, and the one French winner. Perhaps in 2010 the judges wanted both a more varied type, and wider geographical spread from the shortlisted novels.
This may be the reason that two such strong contenders as The Man from Beijing [Henning Mankell] and The Snowman [Jo Nesbo] were not included.

Twenty Nine books have been nominated for the International Dagger since its inception in 2006. The chart on the left shows the original languages of the books.
Interestingly 18 of the 29 were written in French or Swedish. Yasmina Khadra, who has been nominated twice [2006, 2007] is an Algerian, but lives in France and writes in French. So one could regard Deon Meyer's Thirteen Hours written in Afrikaans, and translated by K.L. Seegers, as the only fully non-European book among the twenty nine.

Interestingly although this year Johan Theorin was the first man to win the award no male translator has ever won. Marlaine Delargy was Theorin's translator, Ros Schwartz and Amanda Hopkinson won in 2008, and Sian Reynolds has won three times.
Translator Steven Murray [aka Reg Keeland] has been nominated five times, but has failed to win so far.

Thanks to the hard work of Karen Meek of Euro Crime, who listed the translated novels due to be published during next year's eligibility period [see right hand chart] we can see that publishers are becoming less adventurous.
If Swedish books are popular they are the ones that will get published, and out of 43 books eligible for the 2011 International Dagger, as of 24 July, ten are from Sweden.
Europe dominates the field with only 5 from the rest of the world. Four if you count Turkey as inside Europe.
If excellent books from Latin America, Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East are overlooked because of the "discovery" of Swedish crime fiction it would be a very sad day for crime fiction aficionados.

Monday, August 02, 2010


There are books that at first glance look to be a long read, but when you start the interesting characters, and the wit and wisdom carry the reader speedily through to the end, and even wanting more.
The Woman from Bratislava, a political thriller by Danish journalist and author Leif Davidsen, translated by Barbara J. Haveland, was just such a book.
This was the Danish contribution to my Scandinavian Reading Challenge plus Denmark and Finland. Written in 2001, and set in 1999, at the time of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia it has taken nearly a decade to reach an English readership.

The book is divided into four parts.

Part one concentrates on Theodor Nikolaj Pedersen, "Teddy", an academic who having come up with the thesis that "The Soviet Union would enter the next millenium fortified and reinforced" was no longer flavour of the month, and the object of derision by his colleagues. In Bratislava on a cultural tour of Eastern Europe he meets a woman who claims to be his half-sister, telling him a story about his real father.

Teddy has the endearing habit of viewing his life as a series of pictures.

Teddy's World Falls Apart this picture might have been called. Cracks starting to Appear in Teddy's Life would have also have made an excellent title for this still life,

Returning to Denmark early because of lumbago, and toothache, he finds his sister Irma has been arrested as a spy, his wife has left him, and he is taken to see a museum dedicated to those Danes who fought on the Eastern Front for the Germans.

'The stone was erected on Christian Frederick von Schalburg's birthday. We felt that was rather fitting. He was a brave soldier and a good Dane.'
'And a fucking Nazi and an anti-Semite,' I burst out, but his voice did not falter:
'Yes , and so was I , but that's all in the past.
Nazism died in a bunker in Berlin in 1945.'

Part two returns to the characters who featured in The Serbian Dane as Jytte Vuldom, head of the Danish Secret Service, recruits Per Toftlund, now married to Lise, who is expecting their baby, to travel into Eastern Europe on a mission.
A NATO stealth fighter has been shot down by the Serbs, something that should be impossible, and Per has the task of obtaining information about Edelweiss, a spy for the GDR's Stasi for many years, who may still be working for the Russians, or Serbs, or ......
Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have just joined NATO, and while Per is in Poland Colonel Gelbert, a security official, informs Per about a meeting with his Russian counterpart, who told him.

"It's nice talking to you , Colonel Gelbert. Might I ask you to remember that when a lion is sick even a monkey can beat the shit out of it. But what happens to the monkey on the day when the lion is back on its feet?" It was an elegantly worded threat, but a threat nonetheless.

Part three is in the form of a letter written by Teddy's sister Irma, held in solitary confinement, to her half sister, Maria or Mira, in which she relates the story of how her father went off to fight the heathen Communists with the Danish SS at the time enjoying the tacit approval of the Danish government and people. While stationed in Croatia he fathered Maria. On their return to Denmark the soldiers had been branded as traitors, and she writes movingly of the 1952 shooting party incident as the family's comfortable life is ruined, when her father is identified by a former resistance leader.

But what I remembered most clearly about our home was that those who were constantly being hailed as heroes were regarded, in our family, as villains who had not understood the necessity of shaping a new Europe under the leadership of Germany.

Irma and Fritz, Teddy's older brother believe in the rehabilitation of the reputation of those Danish troops who fought for against communism.
Irma has some other contrasting ideas at one time writing:

"In the Peasant and Worker State of the GDR they have succeeded, despite the machinations of Imperialism, in producing both an industrial miracle and an equality between the sexes and the classes which does not exist in late-capitalist West Germany."................

How in hell's name does a woman like you get to be a university professor with responsibility for educating future generations?

The problem in the West is that we have had generations of young people educated by people who support various forms of totalitarianism.

In the final part of the book Per and Teddy go to Albania searching for Teddy's half sister, and the ending is as confused as the world of international crime and espionage.

I had an image of Denmark's glorious resistance to the Nazis based on the fact that 90% of Danish Jews were saved form the Holocaust, and to learn that more Danes died fighting for Germany than against them was a little bit of a shock. But there is no doubt that if Britain had been occupied there would have been numerous collaborators willing to fight Communism and eliminate Jews, and so I admire Leif Davidsen's honesty for writing this book.

Understanding the history of Europe is so important, but I get the impression that our current politicians know about as much about countries a long way away as Neville Chamberlain did in 1938 before Munich, or perhaps even less.

'In Croatia, even under Tito, not everyone regarded the Germans and the Ustashi as fascists. To many people they were patriots, fighting for a free Croatia. For the Croatian nation and its culture.'

The states of Eastern Europe went from rule by autocratic empires, to fascist states run by brutish thugs, and then on to decades of oppressive communism.
It is surely important that we learn everything we can about countries whose citizens, because of European Union membership, will have full rights of access to our green and pleasant land.

The Woman from Bratislava is a long sprawling, sometimes rambling book full of anecdotes, history, politics and wit, and I can highly recommend it.

Reviews of Leif Davidsen's earlier political thrillers, The Sardine Deception and The Serbian Dane.