Book review: The End of the Wasp Season by Denise Mina

The End of the Wasp Season
by Denise Mina
Orion, 2011

The second novel in the series begun last year with Still Midnight is a more traditional affair. DS Alex Morrow of the Strathclyde police has calmed down considerably, mellowed by her pregnancy (she’s expecting twins) and resigned to the promotion of her erstwhile colleague Grant Bannerman. Bannerman is a very bad DI, rude to the DCs and taking a delight in the lack of morale of the team, while at the same time ensuring he takes all any credit and limelight for himself. The result is a miserable, resentful group of constables, a situation that is echoed in the other stations that crop up during the narrative – this author does not have much good to say about the Scottish police force! Despite the rivalry and dislike between the characters in the previous novel, here Alex is more tolerant of Bannerman than any of her colleagues. Add to this the lack of friction between Alex and her husband Brian (who barely features in this book), and the early abandonment of the theme of the “black brother, good sister”, and Alex is in danger of becoming rather bland and featureless.

She’s a good detective, however – we catch glimpses of how different the team would have been if Alex, rather than Bannerman, had won the promotion they were competing for. As the novel opens she is called to investigate the killing of Sarah Erroll, apparently a burglary gone wrong. The woman has been badly beaten, but nothing has been taken from the large house – indeed, soon the police discover extremely large sums of cash hidden in a shelf below a table in the kitchen. One of the main plots concerns Alex’s investigation into the crime, as she discovers more about Sarah’s identity but nothing about the source of her money or a motive for murder.

The other main storyline concerns Thomas Anderson, a 15-year-old schoolboy who, with his friend Squeak, is the person who has broken into Sarah’s house (this is not a spoiler as the reader is provided with this information from the start). Thomas’s life story, as well as that of his family, gradually unfolds. As it does so, the reader begins to understand the connection between Thomas and Sarah, but the author does not reveal who committed the crime or why until the end of the book.

The connection between the two plots is Kay, a single parent to four teenagers aged 13, 14, 15 and 16 (!). Kay cleans houses in the area where Sarah lived; it transpires that she was the main carer for Sarah’s mother when she was alive, and is a long-lost schoolfriend of Alex’s. There is also another connection between Kay and Alex, which Kay knows about all too well but which is completely unknown to Alex.

I enjoyed this novel, which is very slow-paced but builds up to a climax of its various themes, as Bannerman’s team runs out of patience with him; as Sarah’s life is gradually revealed; and as Thomas’s world implodes around him. The solution to the Sarah case relies only partly on detection, and is a bit contrived. Although I did not find any of the characters sympathetic, they are well-drawn, even if some of them are stereotypical. The author is keen to make several points about social attitudes and class structures, but never really follows through on the interesting situations she throws up. The End of the Wasp Season is a classic, rather than an innovative, crime novel, and is none the worse for that – though I hope that in the next book the author will push the envelope a little more in her depiction of Alex, who is strangely faded here compared with her drive and energy (not always constructive) in Still Midnight. I also hope that the author develops the character of the only female DC in the team, as from the hints provided she sounds potentially interesting.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Other reviews of this novel can be read at: Bookreporter, Reactions to Reading, Auntie M writes, and Mean Streets.

CrimeScraps reports that this novel won the 2011 svenska översatta kriminalroman [Martin Beck Award].

About the book at the author’s website, where you can read the first chapter.

My review of Still Midnight, the previous (first) novel in this series.

This post is published at http://petronatwo.wordpress.com. If you are seeing it at another site then it has been stolen and/or used entirely without permission.

Book review: Scandinavian Crime Fiction, eds Nestingen and Arvas

Scandinavian Crime Fiction
eds Andrew Nestingen & Paula Arvas
University of Wales Press, 2011.

Ten years in the making, Scandinavian Crime Fiction is a series of essays, academic in tone, about the “brand” (as the editors call it) of crime novels from the region, in the light of their increasing popularity since the 1990s. The only connection between the essays is this broad subject area; there is no central thesis or attempt to synthesise contributors’ views, though several of them write from similar perspectives. There is also no attempt to cover all the books from the region, leading to the omission of several important authors.

Of course there is organisation in the book: the first section loosely looks at the history of Scandinavian crime fiction, looking back into the relatively distant past (not as far back as the sagas and myths) when the output was more similar to Agatha Christie-style novels, until the watershed of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo’s ten-book Martin Beck series in the 1960s and 70s, “the story of a crime”, which examined and heavily criticised the Swedish welfare state and a perceived increase in fascist government and politics. This part of the book examines some police procedural novels. The second section is about regions in various novels; and the third is about gender and cultural politics. TV programmes, as well as novels, come under scrutiny.

I found this book both fascinating and irritating, in almost equal measure. The fascinating parts, to me, were the synopses of novels that haven’t been translated. An early Erlunder book by Arnaldur Indridason and several by Hakan Nesser were particular favourites, but there are several nuggets about books by authors I’ve never read or heard of. I also enjoyed the parts about public debates and articles within Scandinavia – though amazingly I learnt less from these than I had read in online newspapers and crime-fiction blogs (examples are the accusations against Liza Marklund and Camilla Lackberg of being “lipstick” authors rather than creating “proper” crime fiction; and the controversy about the truth behind Liza Marklund’s expose of sex-trafficking.) As the authors of these essays are from the region and/or speak the language fluently, it was frustrating to me that there wasn’t more information or analysis of matters such as these compared with what is already available in English (and has been for a while).

The most irritating aspect of the book is its pseudo-academic nature. Each essay takes a particular ideological point of view, cherry-picking one or two books, series or TV episodes to make the author’s point. This is not convincing in the least. For example one essay author wants to make the point that female detectives are single parents, and provides three or four examples (some of which are wrong) but ignores a host of others from the opposite perspective. Not only is there far too much generalisation from skimpy specifics, but many significant, commercially successful authors are omitted (for example Karin Alvtegen, Gunnar Staalesen, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Roslund & Hellstrom, Adler-Olssen) or mentioned only in passing (Asa Larsson, Helene Tursten, and many others). I don’t think that one can “prove” a point on this basis.

Nevertheless, as a keen consumer of Scandinavian crime fiction, I enjoyed this brief collection of essays on the subject (the book is 194 pages long, probably around 20 of these are lists of references), and was able to pick out a few points of interest from most of them. One or two were much weaker than the rest, for example the idea that a sort of mafia of the literary establishment excluded Peter Hoeg from serious consideration after Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow does not consider the alternative hypothesis that the author’s subsequent books might not have been that good compared with the earlier title.

I don’t recommend this book if you are looking for an overview or analysis of crime fiction from the Nordic countries (Barry Forshaw’s upcoming book Death in a Cold Climate is much more likely to do that); but if you like the idea of picking out a few gems from a collection of pieces whose authors take themselves more seriously than is justified, then this is a book for you (if you can afford it; I was lucky enough to be given it as a birthday present). One final note, I am still not sure how up-to-date it is. One or two of the essays refer to recent books, but several of them seem rather old, for example the “last” Wallander book is not the last one, and several series have more titles in total than are provided here. As most of the books under discussion take years to be translated, this is not a major issue as many of the newer novels are not (yet) available in English.

About the book at the University of Wales website, and at the website of the US distributor, the University of Chicago Press.

Update: My posts rounding up Swedish crime fiction and Norwegian crime fiction.

This post is published at http://petronatwo.wordpress.com. If you are seeing it at another site then it has been stolen and/or used entirely without permission.

SinC25: Asa Larsson, #4 post of expert challenge

Having completed the Sisters in Crime book bloggers’ moderate challenge, I am now embarking on the expert level:

write ten blog posts about works of crime fiction by women authors. For each, mention three similar women authors whose works you would recommend.

Asa Larsson is my fourth choice in the expert challenge. I read a review of her first novel, Sun Storm, at Sarah Weinman’s now-retired blog, and was entranced when I read the US edition soon afterwards (the UK edition was not published until later), in a wonderful translation by Marlaine Delargy. The character of Rebecka Martnisson was the first aspect of the book that made an impression on me. She’s a financial lawyer in Uppsala, but grew up in the far north of Sweden, near Kiruna. She returns there when an old childhood friend is accused of murder. As the story progressed, I was won over by the atmosphere and location of the novel, as well as by its sympathetic descriptions of the old people still living in this remote region and Rebecka’s identity with them (in particular her dead grandmother and the old neighbour Sivving). There is a religious-mystical element to the novel, but this is not at the cost of a down-to-earth denoument. The author herself wrote to her potential readers about the book thus:

I hope you’ll like it. That you’ll like the biting cold of midwinter, the austerity of the people, the dogs that are so important in all my books. I hope you’ll like my police officers: pregnant Anna-Maria with her horse-face, her idle husband whom she loves in spite of everything, and all her children; her colleague Sven-Erik Stålnacke, a man of few words, with his moustache which resembles a squirrel that’s been run over. And I really hope you’ll like my main character, Rebecka Martinsson. I know she’s a little bit isolated from other people and a little bit difficult. The kind of person who works herself to death instead of asking herself how she’s feeling. But she does have her own story, a story she’s running away from.

Asa Larsson’s next two novels, The Blood Spilt and The Black Path, were translated into English, and continued the story of Rebecka’s conflicts between old and new, city and country life, the real world and the “spirit” world. These stories were wonderful, but sadly the rest of the series was not translated and some time elapsed before a new publisher took on the books. The fourth, Until Thy Wrath Be Past, was published in the UK this year in a translation by Laurie Thompson, and continues the themes of the earlier novels. There is one more novel in the series so far written but not translated; according to Larsson’s prologue to The Black Path, her intention is for the series to consist of seven novels.

I hope that anyone who has not yet read this author will try her books: they are listed below, with links to my reviews.

Sun Storm (UK title: The Savage Altar)

The Blood Spilt

The Black Path

Until Thy Wrath be Past

Three authors who write in a similar vein to Asa Larsson – this is quite a hard one. The author whose books I think are quite similar is Johan Theorin, with his stories of the old island legends and ageing populations, but he isn’t a woman author! So I shall choose:

Stef Penney, whose novels The Tenderness of Wolves and The Invisible Ones share themes of old mysteries, and of protagonists who are outside the society in which they live, and are conflicted about this. The two authors have a rather similar approach to wolves, in Penny’s first novel and in Larsson’s The Savage Altar, in which the life of a wild wolf is entangled with Rebecka’s fate. But the lupine aspect is not the only similarity that these authors share!

Camilla Ceder is another Swedish author who so far has had one novel, Frozen Moment, translated into English. It shares with Asa Larsson a sense of people struggling in a remote community while the rest of the world is fixated on city dwelling and its associated “benefits”. There’s a police procedural element, in common with Larsson, and a tragic past back-story involving some of the themes addressed in Sun Storm. There isn’t an explicit religious or mystical aspect to the plot, however, although there is a great sense of location.

Kersten Ekman is more of a literary than a crime writer, and I’ve only read one of her books, Blackwater. This novel is longer and more convoluted than Asa Larsson’s books, but shares many of the same elements: remote communtity; tensions between rural and city life; value-systems of the old and the young; superstitions; and a sense of threat if any old secrets should be in danger of being revealed.

My previous posts in the SinC25 challenge.

The Sisters in Crime 25th anniversary challenge.

Book review: Nairobi Heat by Mukoma Wa Ngugi

Nairobi Heat
by Mukoma Wa Ngugi
Melville International Crime, 2010.

A beautiful young woman is found dead on the steps of a house in a rich suburb of Madison, Wisconsin. Detective Ishmael (who actually does say “call me Ishmael” when asked for his name) is dispatched to investigate. The only possible suspect is Joseph Hakisimana, the owner of the house, but there is no evidence to connect him to the crime. Indeed, Hakisimnana turns out to be a hero of Rwanda, having saved many of his fellow citizens from genocide, who is now a university professor of genocide studies involved in a foundation to help the rebuilding of the country and its survivors after the terrible civil wars there.

Ishmael’s chief decides to send him to Kenya as the only clue to the woman’s identity is an anonymous phone call from that country, promising some information about the killer. Ishmael is of African descent but has never visited that continent; the main part of this novel is about his experiences in Kenya and, later, Rwanda as he attempts to solve the case with the help of local detective “O” and a singer, Madeline. As he sees and experiences life in Nairobi and, later, the villages of Rwanda, Ishmael has a personal voyage of discovery about his own identity.

The pace of this novel is cracking. As soon as Ishmael arrives in Kenya he and O rescue a schoolgirl from a vicious sexual attack and end up in a gun battle with the perpetrator’s gang. The two get into bar fights, visit crime lords, get kidnapped, endure a terrifying car chase and discover bodies as they (mainly Ishmael) discover a network of corruption – but still not the identity of the dead girl. Eventually Ishmael attempts to leave the country via Uganda, and it is while he is travelling through Rwanda to get there that the crucial breakthrough of his case – somewhat coincidentally – occurs. The final part of the book takes place in Madison, involving a couple of plot twists.

Nairobi Heat is a fast read and a fascinating one. The author conveys much of the depth and pain of countries that are mired in poverty, corruption, constant violence and a hostile climate. The main characters of Ishmael, O, Madeline and a journalist called Mo represent interesting and sometimes moving viewpoints, but also are pretty cliched (not least Ishmael’s relationships with women). The main downside of the novel is the rather unbelievable plot, in which people (mainly the bad guys) behave illogically and in unrealistically complex ways (I can’t give the details here without providing spoilers). Many of the ins and outs are glossed over, particularly at the end; some people’s actions are left unexplained and there are some gaping plot holes. One disturbing point the author makes emphatically is that it is fine for the “good guys” to take the law into their own hands and shoot to kill someone who is deemed to deserve it, not just in places like Nairobi and Rwanda where institutional law and order has broken down, but also in Madison, USA.

Despite these flaws, the book has a lot of power, most particularly in its treatment of the human side of the Rwandan genocide and its long-term effects on those who lived through it. It’s also an interesting treatment of racial politics in a city in the USA, and of the subject of national and personal identity, as Ishmael is torn between the country of his birth and the country of his ancestors.

I received this book free of charge via the Amazon Vine programme.

Read other reviews of Nairobi Heat at: The Mail and Guardian (South Africa), blogcritics.org, and Africa book club. These reviews are all extremely positive about the book and make several points that I have not addressed in detail in my review, so if you are thinking of reading this novel then I highly recommend reading these reviews.

About Nairobi Heat at the author’s very interesting website.

Book review: Lying Dead by Aline Templeton

Lying Dead
by Aline Templeton
Hodder & Stoughton 2007

DI Marjory Fleming, in her third outing, continues to establish successfully her niche as a senior female cop who is competent and professional as she heads up her Galloway (western Scotland) team in what is turning out to be its annual murder investigation. Marjory is also a farmer’s wife, a mother of two school-age children and daughter to a father recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The combination of detective story with domestic drama is expertly handled by Aline Templeton, the result being highly readable – though the crime investigations seem to me not as realistic as the slice-of-life aspects, on the whole.

In Lying Dead, a woman’s body is discovered in a forest glade by an ex-prisoner – a man convicted of robbery and assault, now released on licence and working on the land. Recognising the woman and scared that he’ll be accused of killing her, the man wraps the body in a tarpaulin and drags it to a more remote location.

Cut to the police team, whose members are bickering at a time of low caseload. The discovery of the body galvanises Marjory and co into action, but not for long because the victim turns out to come from Manchester and is assumed by that police force to have been killed there and transported to Scotland. Marjory is less convinced, but has to deal tactfully with her opposite number in Manchester, who regards the case as pretty cut-and-dried. At the same time, she’s unsettled by the jostling for position of two of her constables, both keen to become sergeants and not averse to sucking up to Marjory’s boss or cutting corners in order to look good. Not only that, but Marjory’s husband Bill has offered a job to Findlay Stevenson, who lost his farm to the foot and mouth epidemic two years ago. Stevenson is an OK guy and grateful for the work as well as the cottage that Bill offers with it. His wife Susan is a different proposition, however – she hates Marjory as she blames her for her family’s problems. Matters come to a head when Findlay is arrested for getting into a fight at a local sheepdog display, leading to Marjory becoming an even bigger target for Susan’s manipulative venom.

In parallel with these plots, we learn about the seaside community of Drumbreck. Two men have bought up land near the shore and built a marina in order to attract the rich and trendy second-homers and yachting types from Glasgow. To some extent this ploy has succeeded, but there is a lot of restentment among the locals because the village shop has closed (the visitors bring their own food from city supermarkets) and nobody can afford to live there because of high property prices, not to mention the constant parties and drunken scenes in the bar. The novel describes four or five separate stories about people who live in Drumbeck, each one a powder keg in its own right – so not only is the tension in each of these microplots ratcheted up, but each one of them increasingly seems to relate to the case that Marjory and co are investigating.

I very much enjoyed reading this novel, even though it was a little incredible at times – for example the police don’t seem to have heard of mobile phones and the dead woman turns out to have known a great many people who live or have now ended up independently in this small corner of Scotland. One does not exactly have to suspend belief, but although the characters, background and location all strongly motivate the reader to continue the series, the core “mystery” has a slightly contrived air to it. I shall certainly continue reading these books as there is a great deal to like about them, not least the character of Marjory, but I hope that the slight “cosy, mystery formula” element to the investigations can fade out in future in favour of more challenging, realistic conundrums and denouements.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Read other reviews of Lying Dead at: Euro Crime (Karen Meek) and Reviewing the Evidence (Sharon Wheeler).

My reviews of the earlier books in the D I Marjory Fleming series: Cold in the Earth (#1) and The Darkness and the Deep (#2).

About Lying Dead at the author’s website.

Film review: London Boulevard

Said to be based on a book by Ken Bruen, I thought London Boulevard would be worth starting to watch when it cropped up a few times on TV in the UK last week. The plot is very simple: a man (Colin Farrell) is released from prison determined to go straight, but immediately accepts dodgy friend Billy’s offer of a free house to stay in, even though Colin knows that the house is owned by a doctor who has been struck off under suspicious circumstances and now seems to be a social centre for Billy’s gang. Colin also has a lock-up containing bundles of money, photos of (presumably) the wife and kids, and an unfeasibly large collection of clean, perfectly pressed suits, but we don’t know how he’s paid for it all these years or why he doesn’t stay there out of temptation’s way – even a lock-up is surely preferable to what is likely to transpire from kipping at the doctor’s place. (Colin is pretty dim for someone determined to go straight after a jail ordeal.)

There are a few welcome-home parties in various pubs, during which we learn that Colin is friendly with most of London’s gangland but not part of it – though possibly teetering on the brink. He ‘rescues’ his sister, superbly played by Anna Friel, who is addicted to sex, drink, pills, danger, drugs and anything else going. We move to the main plot, in which Colin is asked by a leading actress, Keira Knightley, to be her bodyguard and keep away the relentless paparazzi who camp outside her posh London home. Colin dithers, because he’s attracted to Keira and thinks that being one of the hired help would not be an appropriate position from which to start a relationship. (David Thewlis, another great acting turn, is a doped-up, effete, unemployed actor who lives with Keira and takes care of her, but he does not seem to be “bodyguard” material, unlike brooding Colin).

Colin is also getting more embroiled with Billy, tagging along while Billy shakes down various poor council-estate tenants for money. It turns out that Ray Winstone is the gang lord behind this operation – once Ray sees Colin’s class act he spends the rest of the film trying to persuade Colin to work for him so he can get rid of the unintelligent, incompetent Billy and increase the reach of his criminal empire.

For the first three-quarters, this film is pretty gripping and, despite the clichés, is distinctive. The script sparkles, the acting is great and the art direction fabulous (London is a major star of the movie). Keira turns in an excellent performance as a nervy superstar, isolated and abused, fragile and vulnerable. Colin seems finally to have decided to reform and to embark on a new life with her in Elysium (aka Los Angeles). Unfortunately, the film chickens out at this point, rapidly sinking into a mire of predictability in which everyone kills or tries to kill everyone else, at the same time behaving extremely stupidly (not locking doors when you know people are after you is a fault of almost every character, for example) however contradictory to the way in which their characters have previously been presented. What a pity that the issues that had been addressed earlier in the movie were abandoned in favour of a naff, predictable and boring ending.

London Boulevard at IMDb.

London Boulevard official trailer (YouTube).

Book review: White Sky, Black Ice by Stan Jones

White Sky, Black Ice
by Stan Jones
Soho Press, 1999

Nathan Active, an Alaskan state trooper, has been assigned to Chuckchi, a small, remote town in Alaska. Although he was born there to Inuquiat (native Alaskan) parents, he was bought up in Anchorage by a white adoptive couple as his birth mother, a young teenager, could not cope with looking after a baby. Nathan’s mother has long since grown up, become educated, remarried and settled into a local job as a teachers’ aide. She tries to reconnect with her son, but Nathan feels resentful for her long-ago abandonment. His main ambition is to stay single and to get promoted so he can be transferred to Anchorage as soon as possible.

This background becomes clear in the first chapter or two of the novel, in which a young Inuquiat man has been found shot and Nathan is sent to investigate. Everyone is convinced the death is a suicide, partly because suicide is prevalent among the young at this time of year in such a dark, cold and remote region; and partly because George Clinton, the victim, is a member of a family said to have a curse on them. Nathan is not convinced as he’s never heard of a suicide who is shot in the throat, and a confused old woman claims to have seen someone shooting the boy. Although Nathan is pretty easy-going, giving the locals lifts in his police vehicle (with the ‘flashers’ on if required), he’s both conflicted about his mixed past, and stubborn. He feels he does not belong as an Inuquiat – in fact he does not even speak the language – and this discomfort is mirrored in his own attitude to his work, as he’s unable to accept the authority of his superiors unquestioningly.

Hence, when the husband of a friend of Nathan’s mother goes missing and there’s no budget for a search party, Nathan does some freelance investigating in the guise of chartering a plane to attend a course. He finds the body of the man, shot in the same way as George Clinton. Even more convinced that the deaths were not accidents, Nathan begins to investigate the Grey Wolf mine, the main source of labour in the region, where both men worked. The plot widens into broader issues: alcoholism is rife in the little community and is responsible not only for many crimes but also for the high suicide rate; and some unusual shifts in the water level and some diseased fish could, Nathan thinks, be connected both to the mine and to the men’s deaths.

Part of the charm of this novel is due to the typical dogged, loner investigator typified by Nathan – in this case made distinctive by his inner conflicts about his racial identity. Much of it is due to the window on life in the snowy wastes of Alaska, where communication is intermittent and possessions have to be flown in by small charter planes, so everything is kept, reused and recycled for years. People spend their time either hunting or drinking, but the constant challenge of living in winter darkness, in a place where the water is always frozen (sanitation being a major problem) and anything you might want has to be expensively ordered and waited-for, takes a long-term toll on the residents. This background, together with several telling character sketches among the residents, colleagues and later, people associated with the mine and state politics, provide a satisfying roundness. To my mind, the plot itself is slightly simplistic and naively resolved (it was written in 1999, and the world has changed since then, not least in the price of copper), but nevertheless I enjoyed this engaging novel, and hope to read more in the series (of which this book is the first).

I purchased my copy of this book.

Read other reviews at: Reactions to Reading (this review is what made me buy the book), Mysteries in Paradise, The View from the Blue House and Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan.

Author’s website (includes the Nathan Active series in reading order).

Another author from the region is Dana Stabenow. I’ve reviewed two of her books, A Cold Day for Murder and Fire and Ice. Both have similar settings to this one by Stan Jones.

Book review: The Hand That Trembles by Kjell Eriksson

The Hand That Trembles
by Kjell Eriksson
translated by Ebba Segerberg
Allison & Busby 2011, first published in Sweden 2007.

The first few chapters of this engrossing novel concern Sven-Arne Persson, following his life as a young peasant boy in the 1950s to his position, in 1993, as an influential politician in Uppsala. Overwhelmed by boredom in one of the interminable council meetings that he has to attend, and depressed by the shift in emphasis in his party’s membership from the working to the professional class, he walks out and vanishes. The account of what he does and how he lives is quite entrancing until twelve years later, when a Swedish trade delegation is the mechanism of delivering a great shock to Sven-Arne, who has to decide what to do next.

In the meantime, the Uppsala police are under-staffed and there are tensions within the team, whose leader Berglund is in hospital recovering from an operation. A severed foot has been found near Oregrund, on the coast. Somewhat reluctantly, Inspector Ann Lindell agrees to go and help investigate the crime. Bosse Marksson, the local cop in charge of the case, has done a thorough job but has run out of leads because nobody has been reported missing and none of the local residents in a wide area around the coast have seen anything. Ann spends quite a bit of time driving back and forth to Oregrund, gradually becoming keener as the case exerts a grip on her. She’s uncomfortable because her former lover Edvard lives on the nearby island of Graso (this book really cries out for a map!), and also has to do some childcare juggling as her son Erik is still at nursery (or preschool as the US translation has it). Ann is lonely and at that stage of life when she’s wondering if Erik and her work will continue to fill all her time, or if she’ll ever find a partner (she seems to have written off Edvard even though she seems also to hope he’ll return to her life).

An idle remark from one of her colleagues gives Ann an idea about the source of origin of the foot, leading her and Marksson to Bultudden point, a remote part of the archipelago where six or seven people live, and which has (so far) remained free of the second homes that are common in an area so close to Stockholm and Uppsala. Ann gets to know several of the elderly and/or solitary residents, convinced that the answer lies in this cold and challenging environment.

The Uppsala police are also involved in two other cases. One of them concerns the disappearance of Sven-Arne, which they have eventually come to hear about. The other is another “cold” case, that of the killing of an old man in his home some years before. This is a case that had always bothered Berglund, who put much efforts over the years into finding the perpetrator(s). Now he’s in hospital, he becomes interested in reinvestigating it.

For most of the book, these three themes are kept separate even though the same police team is investigating them all. This is crime fiction, however, so there is a reasonable bet that some relationships between them will emerge. The stories are all well-told, and there is enough depth in each of them for there to be a number of possible outcomes that keep the police as well as the reader motivated to learn more. As they reach their respective conclusions, I was pleased by the way in which the author delivers his plot twists and revelations without resorting to gore/violence, cheats or to other standard clichés of the genre, but instead relies on character, a strong sense of location, and narrative.

The by-play between the police characters was less satisfying to me, though probably no fault of the author’s, as it is a while since I read the earlier three novels in the series; and because the first few novels have not yet been translated, there is probably quite a bit of missing back-story for English-language readers. This same problem lies with the personal concerns of Ann Lindell, as English-language readers are not sufficiently familiar with her past (despite one or two brief summaries of previous cases that occasionally crop up here). However, these points do not detract from one’s overall enjoyment of The Hand That Trembles, which fulfils the promise of Henning Mankell’s cover words: “Eriksson’s crime novels are among the very best.”

Map showing Uppsala and the coastal locations described in the book. Oregrund is marked ‘A’.

I purchased my copy of this book.

Read other reviews at: The Bookbag, Murder by Type and International Noir Fiction.

Some background information. Inspector Ann Lindell of the Uppsala police is one of my favourite detectives, even though she suffers from the very common TOOO syndrome (TOOO = translated out of order). This book is the eighth in the series about her and her colleagues; so far translated into English are the fourth (The Princess of Burundi), the sixth (The Cruel Stars of the Night) and seventh (The Demon of Dakar). The Princess of Burundi and The Hand That Trembles are this year published in England (in their original US translations) by Allison and Busby; the others are available in their US editions, published by Minotaur. There are ten novels in this series, the first of which, The Illuminated Path, won the Swedish crime academy’s 1999 prize for best first novel, and the last of which, Open Grave, was published in Sweden in 2009. Several of the novels have either been shortlisted for or won other awards. So it beats me why poor Ann Lindell suffers so badly from TOOO syndrome, but I trust the cure will be effected soon.

My reviews of: The Princess of Burundi, The Cruel Stars of the Night and The Demon of Dakar.

Author’s website (in Swedish).

SinC25: Margot Kinberg, #3 post of expert challenge

Having completed the Sisters in Crime book bloggers’ moderate challenge, I am now embarking on the expert level:

write ten blog posts about works of crime fiction by women authors. For each, mention three similar women authors whose works you would recommend.

Margot Kinberg has written two delightful books in that enticing subgenre, “academic crime”. Her detective, Joel Williams, is both an ex-cop and a professor, bringing a calm sense of wisdom to the disturbing events that have happened previously. Margot herself is a professor, so she depicts university life with authenticity and insight, but never with a heavy hand.

Publish or Perish, I wrote in my review a couple of years ago, “is a literate, light yet engaging read. The account of life at Tilton University rings authentically true, as one might expect from the author’s credentials as an associate professor at a prestigious US university. The pace never flags as the investigation narrows down to a small group of suspects, and previous associations become clearer. I thoroughly enjoyed Publish or Perish, and can recommend it to anyone who wants to be taken out of themselves for a couple of hours, and who is curious about the backstabbing and doublespeak that can go on in the groves of academe.”

About her second novel, B-Very Flat, I wrote: “The author has a lovely light writing style while at the same time conveying the sadness of the story she’s telling. The pace of the book never falters, and in particular the author’s identification of the concerns and feelings of young adults is remarkable. I highly recommend this book, which I am sure will rank highly among my favourite reads of the year. I discovered Margot Kinberg’s books via her excellent blog Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, and I am very glad I did. I can’t wait for the next.”

Now I have to recommend three authors who write in a similar vein.

Carole Schmurak‘s Deadmistress is not set in a university but in a “posh private school”. The headmistress is killed and Susan Lombardi, a professor and educational consultant, sets out to solve the crime because a friend of hers has been accused of it. I enjoyed this novel, but have not yet read its two sequels, Death by Committee and Death at Hilliard High (all are available for a very reasonable price in Kindle format, I note!).

Elly Griffiths has written three very enjoyable novels about an academic, Ruth Galloway, who as a forensic archaeologist is a consultant to the local (Norfolk) police. In The Crossing Places, The Janus Stone and The House at Sea’s End, we follow not only Ruth’s detective skills but her somewhat chaotic private life.

Sisal-Jo Gazan‘s first novel, The Dinosaur Feather, is apparently based in part on her PhD thesis on the evolutionary relationship between dinosaurs and birds. This question is at the root of the crime in which PhD student and single parent Anna Bella Nor becomes tangled up. Although not as light in touch or as smooth to read as Margot’s novels, The Dinosaur Feather features a similarly authentic view of academic life, this time in a university in Denmark, and the tensions of academic success or failure.

My reviews of Publish or Perish and B-Very Flat, by Margot Kinberg.

My previous posts in the SinC25 challenge.

The Sisters in Crime 25th anniversary challenge.

Making life difficult

We live in uncertain times as currencies topple, banks seem uncontrollable, and politicians have lost our respect for being unable to deal with these admittedly complex situations. Some problems, however, are less difficult to solve – not that this stops people from producing them, for no apparent motive other than to create a controversy where none is, in fact, to be found.

The UK booksellers’ association, for example, is upset with a charity bookshop “for offering titles by best-selling authors and…approaching publishers directly for stock”. An un-named charity (presumably Oxfam) is attacked for having more branches than the UK’s “largest speciality bookshop”. Booksellers are having a tough time, but attacking the trireme of charity shops is quite laughable, given battleship Amazon. The vast majority of books sold in charity shops comes from the same place as the rest of their stock – from donations of goods by people who have previously paid for them. If a few publishers are using charity shops as an outlet for remaindered stock or for discounted “best-selling” books that (shock, horror) are not really “best selling”, readers are not complaining. And of course, struggling booksellers could have done what Amazon did, had they seen the necessity at the time, made a similar level of investment in online selling and come up with an Amazon-marketplace-like concept. A classic case of innovation not coming from within. The association says that it is going to explore alternatives to pulping unsold books – but what is better than a charity shop or a library for books that don’t sell? I look forward to finding out what they come up with.

In another piece of madness, a self-published author is suing a reviewer, Amazon and Richard Dawkins after unfavourable comments were posted about his book, a snip at £52.68, The Attempted Murder of God: Hidden Science you really need to know, by “Scrooby” (who has since revealed his real name – surprise, surprise, the same as the name of the publisher on the book’s Amazon page). The offending reviews have been removed for legal reasons, but of the eight remaining (at time of writing), six award the book one star and are very negative, unsurprisingly to me. The text of the one five-star review reads:

Read the first two chapters online of this and immediately thought that I would bulk buy a shipload and send them as joke Xmas presents. How anybody can waste their time and energy trying to decipher any of the meaningless crud contained within the said written dirge is well beyond me. I give this a five star rating for any person that can understand any of the waffle contained between the front and back cover deserves the Victoria Cross, let alone five stars!

It does seem somewhat bonkers that someone can inflict their self-published (probable) drivel on the world, and then sue the world if the world does not like what it reads. Not to mention the importance of allowing reviewers to express their opinion – particularly in this case of a book that sounds as if it has no scientific basis but is claiming to have some – rather than this situation: “Mr Jones, 28, a father of three from the West Midlands, cannot afford representation and is having to defend himself alongside barristers acting on behalf of co-defendants Amazon and Richard Dawkins”. (I hope I don’t get sued now.)