Book review: The Flight by M. R. Hall

The Flight
by M. R. Hall
Jenny Cooper (Coroner) #4
Mantle, 2012

The mystery in this book concerns the crash of an airliner into the River Severn that marks the boundary between England and Wales. All on board are killed. Jenny Cooper, coroner for the district, is not in charge of the inquest as the crash occurred just outside her jurisdiction. However, she is concerned about two bodies that have been washed up on “her” side of the river at the same time, possibly crash victims, so begins to run an investigation into those deaths. At the same time, she has many routine matters to cover – the one we are told about is that of a photographer who died in a car crash at about the same time that the plane went down. The seasoned crime-novel reader will guess that this event might turn out to be related to the main inquiry.

As usual, Jenny runs into trouble with everyone. A huge operation to identify the crash victims is quickly set up by the police and the armed forces, with a blackout on all information. Jenny is suspicious of a cover-up, so pursues her own investigation with vigour, even after one of her two cases is removed from her and given to the official team. The relationship between Jenny and her assistant Alison is, if possible, even more adversarial and abrasive here than in previous books, but even so, Alison reluctantly obeys Jenny’s orders to convene an inquest on the remaining victim, in which Jenny plans to compel the owner of the airline to give evidence publicly. Soon, even higher echelons try to shut Jenny down – but each time they do so, she manages to find some new piece of evidence or a new witness that gives her room to push back, in her attempt to determine the cause of the crash and hence to help the relative of a victim to achieve closure. In the process, she certainly gives a whole new meaning to the word “unorthodox”, as she encourages various organisations’ employees, or in one case an improbably helpful Welsh policeman who hates the English, to go more than the extra mile to help her.

In this book, Jenny’s back-story is a minor component after the revelations in The Redeemed (#3 in the series), although here she does meet someone who attracts her during the course of her quest. Alison, too, comes to a crossroads in her life.

Although I enjoyed reading this book, the series has gone in a direction that does not interest me as much as the issues covered at first: a small-scale inquest with its own tension and drama, and a psychological portrait of Jenny as a woman in authority yet with many inner insecurities. The Flight is squarely a thriller, and will be enjoyed by those who are fascinated by aeroplanes and how they work – the reader is somewhat overwhelmed with technical information – and for those who like international conspiracy theories. It certainly isn’t a book for those nervous of flying. For my part, I would prefer the series to veer away from the big picture and to focus more on Jenny’s life as a district coroner, the typical cases she takes on, and the personal issues she has to confront. “Small is beautiful.”

I borrowed this book from the library.

My reviews of the previous books in this series: The Coroner (#1), The Disappeared (#2) and The Redeemed (#3).

Read other reviews of The Flight at: Euro Crime (Sarah Hilary), The Independent and The Express (by Barry Forshaw).

About the book at the publisher’s website.

Book review: An Honourable Man by Gillian Slovo

An Honourable Man
by Gillian Slovo
Virago, 2012

Gillian Slovo’s latest novel is set in 1885, when the British Army sent its first Camel Corps to attempt to rescue General Charles Gordon from Khartoum. Gordon’s story is very well known, so the author’s challenge is to create a suspenseful and engaging story around the historical record.

This she does by focusing on John Clarke, a young London doctor who volunteers to serve as an army surgeon for the campaign. John’s wife, Mary, sees him off at the station, exacting a promise from John that he will not go to the front, but stay in the “rear hospital”. There are underlying tensions in this departure scene. As the subsequent days, weeks and months go past, we read of John’s and Mary’s experiences from each one’s point of view, and the darkness under the veneer of a respectable marriage becomes clearer. Interspersed with these accounts are passages about Gordon, trapped in Khartoum with no food and only questionably loyal Egyptian troops between him and the Mahdi’s hordes. These sections are told from the point of view of Will, a young (purely fictional) boy who Gordon had previously rescued from the dockyard slums.

As time goes by, each of the main characters changes their perspective on life. In John’s and Mary’s cases, this is to some extent a result of the length of time they have to spend apart, but for both of them it is mainly due to the presence of an unlikely friend – an echo of the dynamics between the trapped Gordon and Will.

I enjoyed reading this novel, which is a departure for me. It reminded me of the historical novels I devoured many years ago. This particular book can easily be appreciated by young readers as well as old ones like me, as it is written in a clear, direct style and describes lots of action in the desert. I particularly liked the correspondence in the Pall Mall Gazette between William Sneed, who was urging Gladstone to send a relief party to rescue Gordon, and A. Bartholomew, of the Huddersfield Anti-Slavery Society, whose view was rather different. I felt that the characters of John and Mary could have been awarded more depth, but overall this novel is a readable reminder of the contradictions of the British Empire, and the human costs of antiquated beliefs – and indeed, the meaning of the word “honourable” (it is deliberately left unclear as to who is the “honourable man” of the title).

I thank Sarah Ward, who very kindly gave me this book.

Other reviews of An Honourable Man: The Guardian, The Independent, and The Telegraph.

The Witness: interview with the author about this book.

BBC iPlayer: Open Book – Mariella Frostup talks to Gillian Slovo about General Gordon and Empire.

Gillian Slovo’s Wikipedia entry, for those who would like to know more about this fascinating and multi-talented author.

Book review: The Litigators by John Grisham

The Litigators
by John Grisham
Hodder & Stoughton, 2011

The Litigators is a book of contrasts. Young lawyer David Zinc has had enough of the corporate grindstone and literally runs away from his job at a prestigious Chicago law firm and by chance winds up at Finley & Figg, a two-bit (or “boutique” as its owners call it) ambulance-chasing outfit where advertising is done on bingo cards. David helps his new friends snag a client in a car wreck, whereupon they offer him a job even though he’s never seen the inside of a courtroom. David’s new life contains no money and a constant reminder of what he’s let himself in for when he sees how his new colleagues operate (lower than low). But his new employment is refreshing compared with the evils he’s left behind, and everything begins to go right for him in his personal life.

As well as many wickedly funny contrasts between corporate greed and simple survivalist greed, this tale is one of two law cases. Wally Figg, always looking for the megabucks, gets involved in a massive tort action against a drug company. David, on the other hand, meets a friend of his wife’s whose maid’s little boy is in a coma, possibly a result of poisoning from lead toys. The differences in approach of Wally and David are extreme, leading to perhaps rather predictable outcomes (in both cases, a bit of an anticlimax after great build-ups).

The Litigators is a very easy read, full of fascinating insider legal details, crafty strategies, and glimpses of the horrifyingly corrupt life at the top of America’s big businesses and their legal “minders” as well as all their surrounding sharks – exactly the sort of book one would expect from John Grisham. The contempt lawyers have for their clients as people, from the top to the bottom of the barrel, is shocking. (The behaviour of clients is often not much better once they see the dollar signs flashing.) Less effective throughout is the characterisation, David and his wife being particularly bland.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Read other reviews of The Litigators at: The Observer, The Washington Post, Bookreporter, and Mysteries and More from Saschatchewan (by Bill Selnes, a lawyer).

Plot summary or review?

I have been told by someone on Amazon* that my reviews are plot summaries, not reviews. Having read a few of my old reviews with this comment in mind, there is some merit in this view. Therefore, from this point on, I’ll try to make my reviews less like plot summaries and more like reviews.

Yet what makes a useful review? I define “useful” here as helping the reader to determine whether to read the book. I checked the reviews of the person who made this remark, and note that his reviews are largely opinion of various aspects of the book in question. To me, this means one learns more about the reviewer than the book – I find it hard to judge whether to read a book if “random reviewer” states a view on the writing quality, the plot, etc, rather than giving the reader some degree of objective information (which I do not think is found in the official “blurb” of the book, as in crime fiction these blurbs tend to summarise key, late plot points and so remove suspense and even in some cases any point in reading the book). The person who criticised my reviewing style has a far higher ranking as an Amazon reviewer than I do, though admittedly this ranking comes from other readers checking a box to indicate that the review was helpful.

Previously, in writing a review, I have:

- provided a taste of the story, usually the start of it, so as not to give anything significant away.
- highlighted any strengths, for example in the writing style; conveying of location, emotion and atmosphere; characterisation; distinctiveness (ie lack of formula); pace
- commented on the success of the plot in the context of crime novels in general
- said if I think the author has succeeded in what he/she has set out to do, if I think I know
- compared the book to the author’s previous work, if relevant
- provided a few links to other reviews and relevant information, for example specific background about the topic of the book.

Now, I’m not sure what to do. Presumably I need to reduce the amount of time spent on the first item in my list and spend a correspondingly greater time on the other points. Based on this person’s reviews, I also need to make mine much shorter.

——–
*Amazon UK, my review of The Lewis Man by Peter May.

Book review: Trial of Passion by William Deverell

Trial of Passion
by William Deverell
ECW Press, 2002. (First published in Canada 1998)

Trial of Passion is the first in a very successful series about lawyer Arthur Beauchamp. In this book, Arthur decides to retire from his lucrative practice in Vancouver and move to Garibaldi Island off the coast of British Columbia, perceived as a hippies’ hangout by the stuffed shirts surrounding him. Part of the reason for this move is that Arthur’s marriage is on the rocks. Arthur’s perception of why the marriage is failing, and his gradual realisation that the reason is not what he thought it was, forms part of the background of this novel.

Arthur, a courtly man, embraces his life on Garibaldi Island, where he’s bought a huge but somewhat decrepit mansion. He’s in his own paradise, pottering around the garden and grounds, getting to know the various idiosyncratic locals, and adjusting to life in the slow lane. Of course, his peace does not last, as his ex-colleagues are more than keen for him to take on one last case, that of law professor Jonathan O’Donnell, who has been accused of raping one of his students. Arthur is adamant that he won’t take the case but later on persuades himself to do so for a typically quixotic reason, recognising a fellow alcoholic (though Arthur himself has been on the wagon for many years, he did have a two-year “lost weekend” some time ago). Until this point, the narrative is interspersed with excerpts from the preliminary hearing in the case. And indeed, after this point, these extracts continue, as Arthur reads about the alleged crime from the point of view of both participants, and various witnesses. The reader is also privy to both participants’ psychoanalysis sessions.

Trial of Passion is a leisurely book. The slow pace is well-suited to the sections on Garibaldi Island, which are quite charming in their depictions of assorted characters and their interactions with Arthur. It is less suited to the story of the lead-up to the trial, as it is pretty obvious to the reader what is really going on between the plaintiff, her boyfriend and the defendant, but the author takes his time in revealing all the hidden elements of his tale and in explaining apparently bizarre behaviours. The pace picks up in the final section of the book, the trial itself, though there was a sense of repetition as various witnesses whose written testimony we’ve already read take the stand (though they don’t all stick to their scripts, of course). The trial scenes are sharply told, but I found it hard to believe that the climactic ending of the case could have happened in the way that it did.

Trial of Passion is a well-written, erudite book that features several well-portrayed, real-world characters and has plenty of pithy observations about human nature and what is truly important in life, compared with what we think is important. Arthur’s inner journey from self-doubt to a somewhat more confident persona is nicely done; I shall look forward to reading more of the series in future.

I purchased my copy of this book. It won the Arthur Ellis award for best novel, and the Dashiell Hammett prize. There are (according to Fantastic Fiction) four more books in the Arthur Beauchamp series.

Read other reviews of Trial of Passion: Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan, Quill & Quire, and some extracts from press reviews at the author’s website.

Author’s website, including background to the books, about Arthur Beauchamp and more.

Book review: Look Again by Lisa Scottoline

Look Again
by Lisa Scottoline
Macmillan, 2009.

Perhaps best known for her loose series about the all-female Philadelphia law firm Rosato and associates, Look Again is a standalone novel by this very popular author. Ellen Gleeson is a feature reporter for a newspaper not unlike the Philadelphia Inquirer (for which the author writes a weekly column entitled Chick Wit, incidentally). In a terrible economic climate for the industry, the question hanging over everyone’s heads is who will be the next person to be “let go”. Ellen’s features are very successful so she hopes her job is safe for the moment, though some of her colleagues are not so lucky.

A few years ago, Ellen wrote a story about a baby with a serious heart defect. Ellen was drawn to the child because he seemed to have been abandoned, having no toys near his hospital crib and accepting his treatment listlessly. Ellen and the little boy bonded, leading to Ellen’s successful adoption of Will, who as the novel opens is about 4 years old. All seems to be going fine – although Ellen is a single parent she has an impossibly perfect babysitter. One day, Ellen’s life is turned upside down when she receives one of those “missing children” flyers in the mail: the picture is of a boy who is the exact likeness of Will.

The pace of the first half of the book is fast, as Ellen’s story is interspersed with her interviews of people for her features, and the nerviness she and her colleagues feel at work. The picture of the little boy preys on Ellen’s mind, particularly when she cannot find out anything from her adoption lawyer about Will’s history. Gradually, Ellen’s life becomes a nightmare, as she jettisons her work commitments and a potential office romance in order to discover the truth about Will and the boy in the picture. The tension is ratcheted up as Ellen goes to one extreme after another in her obsessive quest.

This novel is a great “comfort read” in the style of Linwood Barclay or Harlan Coben. The first two-thirds of the book really carried me along, though the final section was less exciting as it was correspondingly more predictable, as well as ditching most of the journalism aspects in favour of a mushy romance. After finishing the final page and thinking about the outcome, I realised there were some gaping holes in the plot, but at the time I was blissfully unaware of these and raced through the book, desperate to see where Ellen’s researches led to – certainly, for her, a path with no known destination.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Other reviews of Look Again: Book Maven, S Krishna’s books, The Mystery Reader and The Washington Post.

About the book at the author’s website.

Book review: Bone and Cane by David Belbin

Bone and Cane
by David Belbin
Tindal Street Press, 2012 (pb)

Sarah Bone is a Labour MP, having won a by-election in a previously Tory Nottingham seat. It is 1997 and a general election is looming. Sarah is certain she’ll lose, as no MP who has won a by-election seat previously held by another party has won it again in the subsequent general election. Sarah is a committed parliamentarian, working hard to obtain better conditions for prisoners. One case she’s taken up is that of a constituent, Ed Clark, who has been convicted of killing a police officer and his wife, on the flimsiest of evidence. Sarah has been pushing for an appeal and, via the campaign for Ed, has been instrumental in getting his conviction quashed. As the book opens, Sarah is at a party in London to celebrate Ed’s release. There, she finds herself in a dangerous and unpleasant situation, and learns something that she wishes she had never known.

Returning to her constituency to begin the election campaign, Sarah is pretty lonely, having recently split up from her boyfriend Dan. Once in Nottingham, she sees a man driving a taxi whom she is convinced is her old flame, Nick Cane. The two were lovers at university and heavily involved in the political scene, but soon after graduating, Sarah briefly joined the police force and Nick became a teacher: the two drifted apart and have not been in touch since.

The story is told from the points of view of Sarah and of Nick, so the reader is aware that Nick has been in prison for five years for an offence involving drugs. He’s been released on parole but cannot teach or do any job of interest because of his criminal record. He therefore takes an illegal role as a cab driver in his amenable brother Joe’s successful company. He’s aware that Sarah is back in town, but assumes she won’t want to have anything to do with him now she’s a successful politician and he’s an ex-con.

By a double coincidence, Nick becomes involved in the Ed Clark case. First, he becomes attracted to a woman called Polly and begins an affair with her. Polly is the sister of the dead policeman and is now bringing up her two nephews as well as her own children (her husband apparently walked out as a result of her generosity). Second, Nick discovers that Ed is a quasi-colleague as he also drives a taxi for his brother’s firm — but legally, as he’s been acquitted of his crime.

Both Nick and Sarah separately become suspicious of the boorish Ed, who is an obnoxious, chauvinistic fantasist. Uneasy with what she now thinks she knows about the case, Sarah begins her own enquiries to find out how the victims died, and learns about some evidence that the police never used in the original prosecution. Later on in the book, Nick and Sarah meet and realise that their attraction to each other has not dimmed. But there seem to be too many obstacles to their renewal of their relationship: Nick’s criminal record, Sarah’s work commitments, whether Nick can support himself independently, and so on. Both Ed and Polly also threaten the path of true love. Everything comes to a climax on the eve and immediate aftermath of the 1997 general election in which Labour won a famous landslide victory. Sarah finds out part of the true answer to the Ed case, but it is only Nick who knows the full picture by the end.

I enjoyed reading Bone and Cane, not least for its depiction of Britain in 1997, on the cusp of an idealistic future after 13 years of continuous Tory government, and for its details of Nottingham life. Sarah’s world as a Westminster politician and constituency MP is also fascinating, as she has to decide whether to go for the option of contesting an unsafe seat, and what to do if she loses (she gets a range of rather different employment offers during the novel). However, there were elements I did not like, mainly the constant drug-taking and the fact that Nick is depicted as a decent man whose crime (of supplying industrial-scale drugs to dealers) is presented as victimless and almost even justified. The several mysteries set up: for example who if anyone shopped Nick to the police; whether Ed committed the crime he was convicted for; and what he’s really up to now, are all resolved in a rather perfunctory fashion. Sarah Bone is the strongest and most likeable character in the book, with her combination of intelligence, drive and integrity, and I shall certainly look forward to reading more about her. (The next novel in the series, The Drugs Don’t Work, is due out in May.)

I bought my copy of this book, and thank Sharon Wheeler (@Lartonmedia) for recommending it to me.

Other reviews of Bone and Cane: Cadaverene magazine, The Guardian (brief), and from many readers at UK Amazon (where the book was apparently the top UK Kindle seller for many weeks).

About the book at the publisher’s website.

About the author at Wikipiedia – he has written a great deal of young adult fiction and teaches creative writing at Nottingham Trent University.

Book review: The Flatey Enigma by Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson

The Flatey Enigma
by Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson
translated by Brian Fitzgibbon
Amazon Crossing, 2012 (first published in Iceland 2002)

I very much enjoyed The Flatey Enigma. Set in 1960, some islanders from Flatey, off the west coast of Iceland (maps are helpfully included), find the decomposing body of a man on the islet of Ketilsey during a seal-hunting trip. Kjartan, a magistrate’s assistant, is sent over from the mainland to supervise the collection of the body and to find the identity of the corpse. Although the first part of the assignment is easy enough, it proves harder to complete the second — which, it is hoped, will indicate why the man was on the islet and how he died there.

The first chapters of the book are slow-paced, describing life on the small, impoverished island of Flatey (1.2 miles long and 1/3 of a mile across). Scraping a living is hard, and through the eyes of Kjartan the reader is given a full account of the ways of life of the islanders, complete with the awful sounding meals they eat. At the end of each chapter is a short paragraph about the ancient Book of Flatey, the earliest written history of the region – “Vinland”, Norway, Denmark, England and other countries all feature. A copy of the book is kept on the island but the original is in Reykjavik. There is a famous riddle associated with the book, which many have tried and failed to solve – the titular Flatey enigma. (The Flatey Book is real, but the enigma is a creation of the author.)

The investigation broadens to include the Reykjavik police, in the persona of a lazy but likeable detective Dagbjartur Arnason. Even though described as not the smartest investigator in the force, Arnason soon discovers not only the identity of the corpse but also a story of academic intrigue. The book develops an absorbing rhythm, as chapters tell the story of the investigation from two places, the island and the city, with each chapter ending with one of the 40 questions that make up the enigma, together with its possible answer(s). Towards the end of the book, the very different cultures meet head-on as two city detectives (considered more reliable than Arnason) visit the island to, they think, sort the matter out promptly. The chapter endings, the reader realises, themselves make up a story within the story told in the main novel, as it becomes clearer who is reading the excerpts from the book, and who is listening. And in themselves, they are relevant to the present-day events.

As a crime novel, the plot is well-constructed. The ending depends somewhat on the reader not having been told certain pieces of information, and perhaps one coincidence too many, but that did not spoil the book for me. It is also an unusual, unexpected solution. The historical-cultural story of the Flatey book and associated enigma is both fascinating to read about, and provides a strong motivation to read on to see if, and if so how, the puzzle is solved. The main enjoyment of the book comes from the descriptions of a lost way of life in the harsh environments of these islands 50 years ago, and in the mists of time where mythic stories of sagas, battles and bravery were handed down from generation to generation.

The translation is into US English, but the text has not been Americanised. The book itself was nominated for the Glass Key (Nordic Crime Award) in 2004; two more by Ingolfsson, House of Evidence and Day Break, are said to be forthcoming in this imprint.

I received this book free in the Amazon Vine programme.

More about the island of Flatey and the Flatey Book can be found at Wikipedia.

There are not very many reviews yet of this book (published in February) that I could find (that are sufficiently well written for me to provide a link here, at any rate), but there are some reader reviews at UK Amazon (there are also some at US Amazon but they seem pretty, er, informal).

A word about Amazon Crossing: apparently this imprint uses customer feedback “and other data” to identify and translate books into English. Recommendations are invited to: crossing-pr@amazon.com.

Book review: Cradle to Grave by Aline Templeton

Cradle to Grave
by Aline Templeton
Hodder, 2010 (PB 2011)
DI Marjory Fleming #6

Cradle to Grave, set in Galloway, Scotland, features a cast of characters whose past and present deeds will play out as the novel progresses. There’s a huge estate on the headland, Roscarron, owned by Gillis Crozier who lives there with his drug-dependent daughter, her sarcastic husband and their unpleasant young son. Crozier is organising a rock festival, hence there are assorted people around helping to get the site ready, among them Joss Hepburn, a middle-aged but still immensely popular superstar who will be the chief draw. The permanently disgruntled foreman, Alik Buchan, lives in one of the small cottages bordering the estate with his wife Maidie, baby and mother. A young woman called Beth Brown is staying in another cottage with her boyfriend: the house belonged to her deceased grandmother who was a friend of Crozier’s.

The elements are to the fore as the novel opens, as storms rage around the coast. Not only are power and telephone lines down, but a serious landslide affects houses and cottages in the area, and the promontory is cut off when the bridge connecting it to the mainland collapses as the river beneath floods. DI Marjory Fleming and DS Tam McNee, who have arrived to check out the festival arrangements, are trapped at the height of the tempest: injured and unable to return to their homes, they have to seek shelter at the estate house. Beth is not so lucky, her cottage is semi-demolished by a fall of earth, and she only just escapes. She takes shelter with the Buchans, who live nearby, and helps to look after their baby, despite Alik’s hostility.

Eventually the area is evacuated by helicopter and a Bailey bridge is put in place, allowing people to come and go. Marjory and Tam are suspicious of Crozier and his set-up – and by coincidence it turns out that Joss is an old flame of Marjory’s, compounding her sense of unease, as he is not a pleasant man. Soon it is clear that the police officers’ instincts are correct: the collapsed bridge was sabotaged, and as rescue teams arrive, a dead man is found in Beth’s cottage – who, it turns out, was murdered.

There are many comings and goings between Roscarron and Kircluce, the small town where the police team is based. As well as the complex case under investigation (bodies are discovered thick and fast), there are significant tensions within the police team. Tam has taken against a new female DC, Kim Kershaw, not realising the true reason why Kim’s daughter is at “boarding school”. Tam himself is under great pressure at home but is not telling anyone about it. Marjory is thrown by the reappearance in her life of Joss, and manages to alienate her saintly husband Bill by the way she tells him that Joss is around. Worse still, as Marjory’s investigation continues, Joss threatens her, telling her he’ll reveal her “youthful misdemeanours” (direct quote!) to The Sun newspaper unless she drops it.

I did enjoy Cradle to Grave, though some of the themes in it are becoming a motif of the series. The author focuses on the troubled character of Beth, who was acquitted of a crime some years ago, but who is still haunted by it. It turns out that these past actions are the driver for the main plot, which is much more successful than the subsidiary plot of shady businesses and hitmen from Glasgow. Despite a few oddities (would a rock legend really be travelling entirely on his own with no entourage?), the story is solid and enjoyable, though the ending is contrived, with not one, but two, “in peril” clichés. The author is at her strongest in the dynamics between the police officers and her character sketches of the locals and their concerns. Perhaps there are slightly too many of these characters in this particular book, which is rather long and in some places unfocused. By the end I was left slightly puzzled as to the motivation for the murders in the first place (particularly that of the first victim to be found), which seems overly complex, not least when the hitmen are anticipated and, later, appear.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Other reviews of Cradle to Grave: Euro Crime (Lizzie Hayes), Euro Crime (Michelle Peckham), and Reviewing the Evidence (Linda Wilson).

About the book at the author’s website.

My reviews of the previous novels in this series (Cradle to Grave is the most recent, so I am now up to date): Cold in the Earth (1), The Darkness and the Deep (2), Lying Dead (3), Lamb to the Slaughter (4) and Dead in the Water (5).

Scandinavian crime fiction: the book

I am always pleased to see that the two “most viewed” posts here at Petrona each week continue to be the two short reviews I wrote last year about Norwegian and Swedish crime fiction. I am so glad that people are interested in books from these regions and, it is to be hoped, go on to read some of them. My posts, of course, are brief, so potential readers are only getting a small snapshot from them.

Help for them is now at hand. Barry Forshaw, the UK’s main expert on crime fiction, has written a book called Death in a Cold Climate: a guide to Scandinavian crime fiction (Palgrave, 2012). I was very kindly sent a copy by the publisher, Palgrave, and have recently reviewed the book at Euro Crime . From my review:

DEATH IN A COLD CLIMATE is the perfect book for those who have sampled and enjoyed a little Scandinavian crime in fictional form – Stieg Larsson, perhaps, or Jo Nesbo – and who want to find out what more the region has to offer. Barry Forshaw is the best-known “talking head” in the UK on crime fiction, and here he provides a short monograph which takes the reader on a whistle-stop tour round Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Finland, showcasing mostly authors who are writing today, but mentioning a few older names in the process.

Many excellent authors are discussed in this book, not only by Barry Forshaw but in informative, substantial excerpts by the book’s authors and translators. It is truly fascinating to read Sarah Death, Don Bartlett, Marlaine Delargy, Laurie Thompson and others in their own words, on how they go about their work and how they make the end product read as authentically as possible.

I highly recommend this book as a good summary of the output of some of the main authors writing today in the Nordic countries. The contents provide an effective introduction to many authors, so will probably be enjoyed more by those who have not read many of their books, rather than by those who are already very familiar with them.

For comprehensive bibliographies, in written order (rather than translated order, which is often very different, unfortunately), I recommend the Euro Crime database. Links to the Nordic countries are here: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

More details about the book at the publisher’s website.

Crime Scraps Review on the reasons for the success of Nordic crime fiction.

Other reviews of Death in a Cold Climate: The Independent (by translator Anna Paterson), Financial Times (by author Mons Kallentoft), Bookgeeks (Mike Stafford), and Martin Edwards. There are two knowledgeable reviews on Amazon that I enjoyed, by Brian J. Cox and Simon Clarke.

Shotsmag Confidential: Barry Forshaw on “becoming an authority” on Scandinavian crime fiction.