Persson and Lindell via Facebook

Although I have an account at Facebook I don't often go there, even though it might look as if I do, because blog posts here and items I write at FriendFeed (where I do spend a little time most days) automatically import into my profile. However, Karen Meek joined Facebook recently and immediately unearthed various crime-fiction-related people and goings-on there, one of which is the "Fans of Scandinavian crime novels" group. Although I dislike calling myself a "fan" of anything, I did join this group, which was set up by Glen Dersley.

One of our discussion threads there is of our favourite novel (not sure if Facebook URLs resolve correctly if you are not already a member and in the group at the link). And via that route I have learned of two novelists who sound very good but who do not yet seem to be translated into English. One is Leif G. W. Persson, and the other is Unni Lindell (both recommended by Risto Raitio).

Leif Persson, according to an automatically translated Wikipedia entry, has written eight novels and a long-running TV series in Sweden, as well as a couple of films. He is also a professional criminologist, appears regularly on TV, and has written books on cookery and hunting (maybe these last two topics are related!). Although he was born in Stockholm, Wikipedia refers to him as American; it is a fascinating biography (despite the auto-translation).

Unni Lindell is a Norwegian writer who was a journalist before her first book, The Green Day, was published in 1986. Since then she's written many books, including a series about a detective called Cato Isaksen (see this automatically translated Wikipedia page).

So, Facebook has been useful in introducing me to two authors of whom I hadn't previously heard, but whose books I can't read unless they are translated into English. (Or are they and Amazon doesn't list the translations?)

Here is the Fans of Scandinavian crime novels Facebook group (if the link works). All are welcome to join.

David Peace and Pulp.net

The new issue of Pulp.net is just out, with the usual stimulating collection of short fiction and reviews. This month, author David Peace provides his top-ten selection of reading material, including best music to write to (not exactly reading material), favourite opening line of a novel (not exactly modest), best never-heard of book, etc. If you are around in London on 12 January, a new initiative is the Pulp.net short-story cafe, "an hour of short stories a month in the comfort of a London coffee house" – the first venue being Costa Piccadilly, with stories by Helen Simpson, Chris Killen, Davy Spens and Stephen Moran. Further details at the link.

David Peace's first novel, 1974, was recently reviewed by Pat Austin at Euro Crime. This novel is the first of a quartet; the author writes about this series and how he came to write it at Crime Time. I read 1974 some years ago, and while I enjoyed it, it was too noir and bleak for me. But as I believe the books will be televised in 2009, and have recently been reprinted, I imagine there will be a lot of renewed interest in them. The author now lives in Tokyo, and is perhaps best known for the novel he wrote after the quartet, which is called Tokyo Year Zero.

Plan your reading in 2009

If you are of the list persuasion and have by now either written or almost written your selection of favourite books of 2008, perhaps it is about time to begin planning reading for 2009. Erin Miller has complied a calendar of the "hottest releases" for 2009 in the USA. The page will be updated throughout the year as publishers announce new titles, so it might be worth bookmarking. Erin notes that John Grisham, Janet Evanovitch and Richard North Patterson have books coming out in January; James Patterson and J. D. Robb are among those in February; and Harlan Coben has a new book out in March.

Hillary Waugh, last seen

It is sad news that Hillary Waugh has died, on 8 December, aged 88. Hillary Waugh's books were an eye-opener to me, aged about 14. Or, more specifically, his book Last Seen Wearing, which I borrowed from the local library (then my main source of books), probably having run out of their stock of Ian Fleming, Peter O'Donnell, John Gardener's Boysie Oakes series, Len Deighton, etc, to which I graduated after Sherlock Holmes. Last Seen Wearing was one of those books that opens another world that I did not know existed. Following that, I scoured the shelves for any more by the author, which I read when I found them, which was not very often, so I read Last Seen Wearing several more times. I also read many other yellow Gollancz books in the hope of finding similar books, most of which I have forgotten – possibly owing to them not being as good, though Celia Fremlin sticks in my mind as one favourite Gollancz author – and through her I discovered Ruth Rendell's Wexford series (not Gollancz, I think), probably via a blurb recommendation. I missed Sjowall and Wahloo's Martin Beck series, only recently realizing via an introduction to one of the books by Andrew Taylor that they were originally published in English in these distinctive yellow editions (possibly not stocked in my library at the time).

Waugh said: “Authenticity is the key to good mystery writing. Not only must you be able to write well, but you must also possess the instincts of a good reporter who has witnessed firsthand the darker side of human nature.”  Reading Last Seen Wearing made me thirst for more, and I am sure that it is the book that led me to Raymond Chandler, James Hadley Chase, Ross MacDonald and my all-time favourite, Dashiell Hammett.

Oh happy memories! Perfect reading for a teenager in an England that was a very differnt place from its modern, globalized, form. Thank you Hillary Waugh – although your books have, I think, dated (I returned to one some years later and found it predictable) – I owe you a debt for introducing me to this rich genre of writing. As The New York Times tribute puts it:

"Mr. Waugh started out writing private-detective mysteries before he tried his hand at writing a novel that focused on the details of an unfolding police investigation. “I was tired of reading about these superdetectives and a police force composed of a bunch of bumbling idiots,” he told an interviewer in 1990. “I wanted to get away from the neat little corpses with the perfect bullet through the head and instead write a story as it really happened.” “Last Seen Wearing,” his debut effort in this vein, follows a small-town police chief as he inches toward solving the case of a student who disappears from her small college in Massachusetts. Based on an actual case in Bennington, Vt., and on Mr. Waugh’s interviews with detectives, it is regarded as one of the best early police procedurals: a taut, terse, just-the-facts record of crime detection in which no clues are withheld from the reader. “If a single book had to be chosen to show the possibilities of the police novel which are outside most crime fiction, no better example could be found than ‘Last Seen Wearing,’ ” Julian Symons wrote in “Bloody Murder,” his history of the mystery genre. In 1995 the Mystery Writers of America named it one of the top 100 mystery novels of all time."

Wallander and Montalbano: films or books?

Wallander and Montalbano – TV series or books? In the interests of answering this vital question I abandoned my usual "no live TV" rule of life - well, not quite, I did record the programmes but watched them within a week or two of their live airings, which for me is highly unusual. The answer? Books, without a doubt. But the TV episodes, although not a patch on the books, are in both cases highly watchable, and I recommend them.

Kurt Wallander, as everyone must know by now, is Henning Mankell's morose detective, based in Ystad in southern Sweden. For English-language readers, Mankell acts as a bridge between the classic 10-book Martin Beck series by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo (written in the 1960s and 70s), and the current cornucopia of Swedish authors now translated, favourites of mine being Lisa Marklund, Ake Edwardson, Kjell Eriksson, Asa Larsson, Stieg Larsson (no relation), Camilla Lackberg, Mari Jungstedt, Helene Tursten, Johan Theorin and others. (And that list is just a few of the Swedes: from the Scandinavian region there are also Norwegian, Icelandic, Finnish and Danish authors who write similar excellent novels.)  Wallander is a pretty accurate type-example of the Swedish police detective as featured in many of these books – thoughtful, sad, unglamourous, middle-aged, not big on media communication skills – though inspiring loyalty and respect from colleagues by being good at the job. Urban sophistication and other trappings of materialism are universally mocked by these authors. The thriller element is not usually in evidence much if at all, the main joys of most of these books being the characterisation and observation they contain.

The TV version of the Wallander novels focuses almost entirely on two elements: Kenneth Branagh's portrayal of the main character; and the photography. Both are compelling, and good reasons to watch the programmes. Less impressive are the plots, necessarily trimmed down to the bare bones, meaning that the identity of perpetrators is obvious and the storylines somewhat clunky; and the atmosphere, for example the police station and interactions between the colleagues (and reception desk!) are ruined, instead we are given cliches, modern decor and "generic planet-TV detective team". Subtleties are missing, for example the arc of the relationship between Wallander and his daughter Linda is reduced to a sentimental (though touching) plot-enabling device from the start. If you stop at the TV series and don't read the books, you are missing a lot: even though the denouements in some of the books are daft, the rich portraits of a society, its values and people, make this flaw seem irrelevant. 

The masterly series of Montalbano novels by Andrea Camilleri, set in Sicily, is well-captured in the Italian TV films of Excursion to Tindari and one with a title about croquettes (seemingly written for TV by the author). These films give a good sense of the books, particularly the quick-fire sensation that everything is about to collapse into chaos throughout, and Montalbano's love of the countryside and its food. Montalbano is a much faster wit than Wallander, operating with furious energy and with emotions constantly erupting, not least due to the endemic political and mafia-related corruption he lives with daily, and the frustations engendered by some of his colleagues (a painstakingly built team of hilariously disparate types). The novels are superbly and sensitively translated by the poet Stephen Saterelli; inevitably the wonderful subtleties of the language, particularly the puns and jokes involving Caterella, are lost in the films' subtitling. One's Italian would have to be extremely good to follow the extreme speed of the dialogue. Similar to Mankell, Camilleri's mystery plots not only sometimes leave plenty to be desired, but also sometimes seem irrelevant. Yet despite this, the books are miniature masterpieces, providing an absorbing tribute to this beautiful if ruined country and the ways of life there, leaving the reader at the end of each one with a yearning sense of loss.

Other related posts on the topic are at Crime Scraps, Lizzy's Literary Life, Do You Write Under Your Own Name, Material Witness, It's a Crime! (or a mystery), Euro Crime, Crime Scraps (again), The Independent newspaper in a weak article that misses opportunities, Euro Crime (again) , Euro Crime (yet again!), and The Guardian.

Book reviews 2009

See all my book reviews


My book reviews 2010


My book reviews 2008


My book reviews 2007


Highlights of 2009


Book reviews 2009


Missing by Karin Alvtegen (Euro Crime, April)


Shadow by Karin Alvtegen (Euro Crime, March)


Betrayal by Karin Alvtegen (Euro Crime, June)


True Murder by Yaba Badoe (Euro Crime, November)


Skin and Bones by Tom Bale (Petrona, January)


A Place of Safety by Helen Black (Euro Crime, February)


Three Weeks to Say Goodbye by C. J. Box (Petrona, December)


City of Fear by Alafair Burke (Petrona, February)


The Paper Moon by Andrea Camilleri (Picador blog, January)


August Heat by Andrea Camilleri (Euro Crime, July)


The Twilight Time by Karen Campbell (Euro Crime, March)


After the Fire by Karen Campbell (Euro Crime, May)


Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo (Petrona, November)


Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child (Euro Crime, July)


Red Bones by Ann Cleeves (Euro Crime, May)


The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves (Petrona, September)


Hold Tight by Harlan Coben (Petrona, January)


Long Lost by Harlan Coben (Petrona, May)


The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly (Petrona, May)


Nine Dragons by Michael Connelly (Petrona brief, October)


No Escape by N. J. Cooper (Euro Crime, November)


Suffer the Children by Adam Creed (Euro Crime, August)


Burial by Neil Cross (Euro Crime, January)


Frozen Tracks by Ake Edwardson (Euro Crime, August)


Dead Lovely by Helen Fitzgerald (Euro Crime, June)


My Last Confession by Helen Fitzgerald (Euro Crime, August)


Inspector Singh Investigates: A most peculiar Malaysian murder by Shamini Flint (Petrona, June)


The Water’s Edge by Karin Fossum (Euro Crime, July)


Island of the Naked Women by Inger Frimansson (Euro Crime, July)


Good Night, My Darling by Inger Frimansson (Euro Crime, October)


The Shadow in the Water by Inger Frimansson (Euro Crime, November)


Thumbprint by Friedrich Glauser (Petrona, November)


The Coroner by M. R. Hall (Euro Crime, January)


The Sinner by Petra Hammesfahr (Petrona, April)


The Lie by Petra Hammesfahr (Euro Crime, October)


The Other Half Lives by Sophie Hannah (Euro Crime, March)


Skin by Mo Hayder (Euro Crime, March)


Just Take My Heart by Mary Higgins Clark (Petrona, September)


Out of a Clear Sky by Sally Hinchcliffe (Euro Crime, April)


The Darkest Hour by Katherine Howell (Petrona, November)


Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indridason (Euro Crime, October)


Dead Tomorrow by Peter James (Euro Crime, June)


To Steal Her Love by Matti Joensuu (Euro Crime, November)


Half Broken Things by Morag Joss (Euro Crime, April)


A Lonely Place/Unknown by Mari Jungstedt (Euro Crime, February)


Dark Times in the City by Gene Kerrigan (Euro Crime, June)


Publish or Perish by Margot Kinberg (Petrona, October)


The Preacher by Camilla Lackberg (Petrona, July)


<A href="http://www.eurocrime.co.uk/reviews/The_Girl_Who_Played_With_Fire.html&quot; >The Girl who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson (Euro Crime, January)


The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson (Euro Crime, October)


Millennium trilogy (brief) by Stieg Larsson (Petrona, November).


City of the Sun by David Levien (Petrona, December).


Executive Privilege by Philip Margolin (Petrona, April)


Body Count by P. D. Martin (Petrona, June)


Core of Evil by Nigel McCreary (Euro Crime, November)


A Darker Domain by Val McDermid (Petrona, April)


Fever of the Bone by Val McDermid (Euro Crime, September)


Bleed a River Deep by Brian McGilloway (Euro Crime, April)


Blood Safari by Deon Meyer (Euro Crime, December)


The Southern Seas by Manuel Vazquez Montalban (Petrona, November)



Go to Helena Handbasket by Donna Moore (Euro Crime, March)


Nemesis by Jo Nesbo (brief) (Petrona, July)


The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo (Petrona, July)


The Mind’s Eye by Hakan Nesser (Euro Crime, May)


Back to the Coast, by Saskia Noort (Euro Crime, September)


Doors Open by Ian Rankin (Petrona brief, October)


Wicked Prey by John Sandford (Petrona, November)


Consorts of Death by Gunnar Staalesen (Euro Crime, November)


Lullaby by Claire Seeber (Euro Crime, May).


Bloodprint by Kitty Sewell (Euro Crime, February)


Ice Cold by Andrea Maria Schenkel (Euro Crime, May)


The Abominable Man by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo (Euro Crime, January)


Genesis by Karin Slaughter (Petrona, July)


Shooting Star by Peter Temple (Petrona, May)


The Darkest Room by Johan Theorin (Euro Crime, August)


The Herring Seller’s Apprentice by L. C. Tyler (Euro Crime, February)


The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas (Petrona, July)


Close Up by Esther Verhoef (Euro Crime, September)


The Trophy Taker by Lee Weeks (Euro Crime, January)


The Trafficked by Lee Weeks (Euro Crime, May)


Dead Time by Stephen White (Petrona, August)

Buzzwords and films of 2008

Holiday season is a time for lists, of course. Here are a couple of non-book-related ones that caught my interest:

Buzzwords of 2008 (New York Times). "The lifespan of Hillary Clinton’s campaign “meta-narrative” could be charted entirely in buzzwords and catch-phrases — “inevitability” to “Clinton fatigue” to “Obamamania” to “he can’t win” to “team of rivals.” Same with Sarah Palin — the “hockey mom” who “Geritoled” (or Viagra’d) John McCain’s campaign back to life and threatened to supplant Mrs. Clinton as the new face of American “femocracy.” That is, until she started palling around with Katie Couric and her Joe Six-Pack bona fides got lost in the aisles of Nordstrom and a string of off-message headlines. Ms. Palin was ultimately dubbed a “whack job” by a (rogue) McCainiac, and many have dismissed her efforts at image rehab as akin to putting lipstick on something or other, we forgot."

And A Year of Films by Stephen Lang of Booked Out – from No Country for Old Men to Madagascar 2. I have actually seen three of the nineteen films on the list. As one of them features Viggo Mortensen, I don't need to say which was my favourite.

Sunday Salon: another Swedish novel

TSSbadge3 My review of Murder at the Savoy, the sixth book in the Martin Beck series, is now up at Euro Crime. The book "follows the same lean, sardonic and insightful formula as the previous volumes. It is summer, and most of the events take place in Malmo, the coastal town which is the home turf of DI Per Mansson, who has collaborated with Martin Beck in previous investigations. He's assisted by the young, ambitious Benny Skacke, newly transferred to the region after his disastrous intervention at the end of THE FIRE ENGINE THAT DISAPPEARED." Read the rest of my review here

Last week, my Euro Crime review was of The Outcast by Michael Walters, the third in what I call the author's Mongolian crime series. From my review: "THE OUTCAST is a book of two parts. In the first, we observe previously established characters as they deal with the various crimes and events going on in the city, trying to understand them and, particularly in Tunjin's case, avoid censure or worse. Sarangarel, the judge at the heart of events in the previous book, THE ADVERSARYand possible romantic interest for Nergui, becomes involved and she, as well as Solongo, end up in some danger as it becomes clear how much is at stake and the level of seniority of those involved."

I also draw your attention to yesterday's post, about a novel publishing experiment called The Dolphin Man. Some nice 'reading by installment' for the upcoming holiday season, if you would care to subscribe to The Dolphin Man blog. Probably more about science in fiction than crime in fiction, though don't be too sure.

The dolphin man: a publishing experiment

"For the few who knew I'd left, I have arrived. Who am I? Some people call me the dolphin man. That's all you need to know for now. Where am I? That is a secret, a top secret."

So starts an account by a researcher (who dislikes the term 'scientist') who is investigating the way dolphins communicate with each other over distances of hundreds of miles of ocean. The researcher has set himself three to five years to prove the sceptics wrong — "there's just me, and this blog. I have a laptop with satellite broadband Internet…. if you are reading, please feel free to spread the word to friends but avoid snoopy academic or journalist types. And animal extremists too…….This is between you, me and the dolphins."

The experiment begins here.

Footprints in the sand.

An indigenous welcome.

My humble home.

A sacred story.

CrimeFest and Harrogate news

Exciting news in my email box when I finally staggered home tonight – Michael Connelly will be the "international guest of honour" at next year's CrimeFest in Bristol, UK (14 – 17 May), joining Simon Brett, Hakan Nessar, Meg Gardiner, Martin Edwards, Brian McGilloway, John Harvey, CrimeScraps honoree Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Bill James, Michael Walters, Andrew Taylor, Zoe Sharp and many more – too many to mention here so check out the CrimeFest website, which is offering some good early registration deals. There are also two publishers' parties which CrimeFest registrants can attend. On Friday 15 May, Creme de la Crime is celebrating the publication of a short-story collection, Criminal Tendencies; and on 16 May Constable and Robinson are "highlighting their impressive crime list". A lot of authors are promised to be in attendance.

I'm delighted that Michael Connelly will be at CrimeFest, as he's one of my very favourite US authors whom I have not yet met or seen at a festival (and I've only ever been to two!). For a taste of his work, see my reviews of his most recent novels, Echo Park , The Overlook and The Brass Verdict

There is also news from the other big crime-fiction event of next year, the Theakston's Old Peculier festival at Harrogate, UK (23-26 July). I haven't yet decided if I am going to this festival, not least because the timing is not brilliant, but the "star" line-up of Mark Billingham, John Banville (Benjamin Black), Lee Child, Reginald Hill and George Pelecanos is tempting, even though rather heavily biased towards the Y chromosome. (This is balanced a bit by the choice of programme chair, Laura Wilson, and Val McDermid and Laura Lippman among the other confirmed authors.) If you join the e-mail list for Harrogate, you can download a free e-book sampler of four first chapters from upcoming Faber and Faber novels by Nicola Upson (whose character is "Josephine Tey"), Adam Creed, Stav Sherez and Tobias Jones, if that is your sort of thing. If you sign up for the festival now, you get 5 % off the price and a signed copy of Quiver by Peter (son of Elmore) Leonard.