A few new UK March hardbacks

After my recent cornucopia of April reading (here, and some more here), I was a bit nervous yesterday when three Booksellers and a Publishers’ Weekly appeared in the in-tray. One of the Booksellers was an old one, from 7 December (my April posts were based on later December issues). This one contained a list of some March new titles, but only three of them seem worth noting:

Ritual by Mo Hayder (Bantam, £14.99), welcome return for D I Jack Caffery, who featured in the first two books by this author. There is a new character, "female police diver Sergeant Flea Marley."

Blood From Stone by Frances Fyfield (Sphere, £19.99). Seems from the brief blurb to be a stand-alone, in which a successful female barrister kills herself and a colleague tries to find the reason. This author spoke eloquently at the recent Crimini launch, which made me want to revisit her books — I used to read them all a few years ago, but for some reason stopped.

Until It’s Over by Nicci French (Michael Joseph, £16.99). "Two people connected with a female courier cyclist are murdered". I don’t care what it is about, I am confident that this latest "psychological suspense" book by husband and wife Sean French and Nicci Gerard will be brilliant, as they all are.

Luckily, there were no titles in the other Booksellers that appealed to me, and I had already read online the couple of interesting articles in PW (as it calls itself nowadays).

Bring out your dead

At last! Via Annie Mole of London Underground blog, the pest level of London’s free "newspapers" is finally being realised. Nine and a half tons of the pesky things are left behind every day on the tube trains alone; add the amount that must be abandoned on the much more extensive suburban train lines and you begin to get the picture. Ever since the IRA bombs of 20 or so years ago, litter bins on stations or trains (tube or overground variety) are hard to come by, so passengers just leave these horrid parasitic publications wherever they finish with them, rather than taking them away and disposing of them in a responsible fashion. I find the sociology interesting in a repellent kind of way, because you hardly ever see paid-for papers left on the train or tube, only these awful travesties. Will the bins make a difference to behaviour patterns, I wonder?

To return to the news: according to Annie’s post, the publishers, under threat of council fines, are underwriting the installation of 35 recycling bins outside central London stations at a cost of £500 each. These papers even plague us in Kingston, at the outer reaches of zone 6 beyond even the reach of Oyster cards, but we’ve had a recycling bin outside our station for a while now – so although we are in the styx, we are ahead of our metropolitan neighbours in at least this sense.

I hope phase 2 of the paper clean-up project is to ban the distributors of the rag sheets jumping up and waving them in your face, times three, at every station entrance and exit on your journey to and from work. Otherwise, innovative uses of the recycling bins might begin to come to mind.

Shaken, stirred or on the rocks

Linda L. Richards at January Magazine reports on the Bookseller talking-up a publishing war this Autumn, as it turns out that both Sean Connery and Roger Moore are publishing their memoirs simultaneously. Already, the billing is "battle of the Bonds".

Can it really be a "battle", though? Not that I’m going anywhere near either book, but if I were the sort of person who liked celebrity memoirs, there is absolutely no difficulty in making a decision between whether I’d prefer to read the words of the darkly fascinating, ruggedly handsome, dangerous Sean Connery or those of the, er, suavely eyebrowed Roger Moore.

Describe yourself in one word

So writes Scott Adams (Dilbert). "Suppose you had to pick one word to describe yourself. Your first reaction, I assume, is that it is impossible. You are so many different things, in so many different contexts. No one word can capture more than a tiny slice. Now suppose I ask you to think of people you know, and see how many of them you can describe in one word. Suddenly it gets a lot easier. He’s a jerk, she’s hot, he’s a loser, she’s a nerd, etc."

Scott’s readers, and there are a lot of them, most commonly described themselves as: complicated, curious, eccentric, flexible, misunderstood, determined, inscrutable, fabulous, eclectic, oblivious, moist, provocateur, skeptical [sic], awesome, enigmatic or clever. Scott finds it "fascinating" that few if any of these adjectives are on a list of "positive personality attributes" that he found on the Internet. ("Fascinating" was another word his readers did not use to describe themselves.) He does not, however, reveal the word that was most commonly used by his readers to describe him: maybe that is for a future post, or maybe you have to dig around in his comments and find out for yourself. Me, I think I can resist the temptation to describe myself in one word, but don’t let me stop you.

New reviews at Euro Crime

The new book reviews are up at Euro Crime. I am billed as not enjoying my two very much, though in retrospect they both had plenty of strong points, even if the whole was a tad disappointing in each case. One is Die With Me by Elena Forbes, a south-west London police-procedural with a creepy but cardboard villain (a more positive review is here); and the other is The Dark Eye by Ingrid Black — Irish noir that would have been better if a bit leaner and shorter.

Other Euro Crime reviews this week are much more positive, I am glad to report: Terry Halligan loved What Came before he Shot Her by Elizabeth George (I hated it, I’m afraid); Karen Meek enjoyed The Damned Season by Carlo Lucarelli; and Frank Tallis’s Fatal Lies got the thumbs up from Laura Root.

Also on Euro Crime, all the latest book reviews in the media are here; the authors’ pages (links to home pages of many European crime writers) now have 608 entries; the future releases pages have been updated (see what books are due for publication); and win a copy of Bad Traffic by Simon Lewis (UK and rest of Europe only).

Sunday Salon: discovering Denmark

Sunday_salon This past week I have read two excellent Danish books, The Serbian Dane by Lief Davidsen and The Exception by Christian Jungersen. I read these because they featured on Karen Meek of Euro Crime’s list of best reads of 2007, and as I have enjoyed various Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish fiction, I thought I’d give Denmark a whirl.

Both books are intelligently well-written, and both have sympathetic translations. The Serbian Dane is a very tense thriller about a visit to Denmark by an Iranian author under threat of a fatwa. The story concerns the local journalist who is covering the story, the policeman in charge of the security arrangements, and the putative assassin. Chapters switch between the viewpoints of these three characters: we learn about their domestic lives, pasts, and emotions, all of which cause sympathies to alternate and lead to an almost-unbearable level of excitement. It is really very good indeed: a book that threatens to make you to miss your stop if reading it on the bus or train.

The Exception is a strikingly original work about four women who work at the Danish Centre for Genocide Information, and their smarmy (male) boss. One of the women has previously been held hostage herself while visiting Kenya. As with The Serbian Dane, the story is told from the viewpoints of the women in turn, interspersed with articles about genocide that two of the women write — very powerful pieces that make one despair about the world we live in. The book itself is a clever parallel, between first the very broad one of the Centre’s mission of understanding what drives these regimes — what makes a person obey orders to kill and torture? — and second, in microcosm, an intensely claustrophobic story of the four women, one of whom is nastily oppressed by the others. But is she, or is it all in her mind? By switching viewpoints, the author has us wrong-footed right to the end as we learn perhaps more than we want to know about human cruelty on a global and a personal level, and about the intersection of the two, where political persuasions affect individuals’ lives.

Although these books have quite different plots, they share in common the elements of modern crime fiction that I find so fascinating: the struggle of a society to come to terms with its diversity, not only in terms of individual variation, but on a large and rapid scale, via immigration after the end of the Cold War and, more recently, via the expansion of the European Union. (Although both these books were published in English last year, they were written 10 years ago.) In particular, Scandinavian countries, with their relatively small populations, are traditionally seen as epitomising the success of the welfare state. The books from these regions that I’ve been reading for the past year or two are by authors looking at their cultures with an unflinching lens, making for compulsive reading.

See these links for reviews of The Exception and The Serbian Dane. I strongly recommend these books, both of which far transcend the "crime fiction" pigeonhole.

Nights on the town with Euro Crime

Karen_maxineWe have a rule where I work that if you attend a conference or visit a lab, you have to write up a report afterwards. Earlier this week I went to not just one, but two social events with a crime-fiction theme, yet I am spared the ordeal of "writing up" by Karen of Euro Crime (my delightful companion to both events), who has encapsulated the evenings beautifully in this post.

Briefly, the first event was the launch party for MacLehose press, the new imprint of Quercus. The first book to be published is Stieg Larsson’s haunting The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which I reviewed here. Today, the Times ran a review of the book, and enthusiastic accounts have appeared in several other publications, not least Ali Karim’s rave at The Rap Sheet. Ali was very much in evidence at the MacLehose launch, which he has written about in characteristically lively fashion, taking lots of photographs — including the one above, of Karen (Euro Crime, on the left) and me (on the right). It’s quite a nice picture but omits two unusual sightings, one of my lovely green silk skirt by Phase Eight, and the other of my "proper" black shoes with a heel (only an inch, but a heel nonetheless). I put them on just before going into the building, and took them off again on the way out, but for the party, they were definitely on my feet.

The second event, again as described at Euro Crime by Karen, was to celebrate the launch of Crimini, a book of short stories signifying the modern coming-of-age of Italian crime, collected by author Giancarlo De Cataldo (a short paragraph about the book is at the Times link above). De Cataldo had asked all his friends to contribute a chapter, he said, but none of them is a woman and none of them is the masterly Gianrico Carofiglio. Never mind, the book sounds good. I was there as the representative of Crime Scraps, as Norman (Italophile supremo) could not attend and so very kindly passed on to me his invitation. It was a most interesting and instructive evening, as Karen so well describes. As well as writing the short stories, Crimini’s authors also worked with Italian TV to present a series based on the book, which looked great from the clip we were shown — unfortunately it does not seem that there is much chance of seeing the whole thing in the UK.

A sad theme of both evenings concerned the publishing economics leading to very little translation of European crime fiction into English. Both Christopher MacLehose and Giancarlo De Cataldo spoke eloquently on this topic at the two events. The arts councils of some European countries do fund translations into English, but I understand that the just-announced cutbacks to the UK Arts Council will particularly affect translations. This is such a pity, as the books I am currently reading that are translated from their original Italian, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Spanish and so on are just superb. Many of these books have not been translated for about 10 years since original publication, while they have gained a reputation, and perhaps prizes or awards, in their native countries. One example of a book for which there is no sign of a translation deal because of its 600-page length, is De Cataldo’s own novel Romanzo Criminali – a best seller in Italy and made into a film there, but unknown outside unless you can read the language. We were treated to clip of this film as well, which (although without subtitles) looks fantastic.

Isn’t she just so sweet?

Congratulations to Sue Grafton: SHOTSMAG CONFIDENTIAL: CWA Announces 2008 Cartier Diamond Dagger Winner. Often overlooked, or under-rated, this award is well-deserved for an A to T of consistently entertaining and good reads.

From Shotsmag: "On hearing of the award, Ms Grafton said: "News of my being named the 2008 recipient of the CWA’s Cartier Diamond Dagger so astonished me that I thought at first it was a practical joke. The note from my British publisher, Macmillan, was typically understated: ‘I have some good news from the Crime Writers’ Association. They would very much like to award you the 2008 Cartier Diamond Dagger at a ceremony in London on 7th May in Kensington.’ Good news !?! I read the message three times and then checked the e-mail address just to verify that it had been intended for me. The publicity director was gently inquiring if I might attend the ceremony. I am absolutely delighted to respond that I’ll be there with bells on, as they say over here. I’m thrilled with the news and honored at the prospect. I confess I’m still slightly worried there’s an error in the works, but I’ll be there nonetheless." "

See also this post on Lying for a Living, the amusing blog of author Meg Gardiner.

Simultaneous games of pairs

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Reading Karen’s post about the importance of being consistent brought to mind an experience of earlier today. While on a necessary but unpleasant journey, I popped into a bookstore to kill ten minutes, and browsed the "new in paperback" table. On it: "Die for me" by Karen Rose and "Die with me" by Elena Forbes. Also, "The Ressurectionist" by James McGee near to "The Reincarnationist" by M. J. Rose. Finally, "Silent at the Grave" by Deanna Raybourn, which reminded me of a fairly recent (very good, by the way) book not on this display, "Silence of the Grave" by Arnaldur Indridason.

I understand that publishers cannot coordinate their titles in advance, but perhaps a little more originality is called for, somewhere along the line. I am glad that the table top wasn’t any bigger, as I was confused enough already.

Did Borges invent the Web?

Via Dave Lull, a link to a strange article in the New York Times Dot Com: Borges and the Foreseeable Future, in which it is suggested, in all apparent seriousness, that Jorge Luis Borges "uniquely, bizarrely, prefigured the World Wide Web". The "evidence" provided in the article consists of three excerpts from Borges’ writings, one of which suggests an infinite encyclopaedia (aka Wikipedia):

It is conjectured that this ‘brave new world’ is the work of a secret society of astronomers, biologists, engineers, metaphysicians, poets, chemists, algebrists, moralists, painters, geometers, … guided and directed by some shadowy man of genius. There are many men adept in those diverse disciplines, but few capable of imagination — fewer still capable of subordinating imagination to a rigorous and systematic plan. The plan is so vast that the contribution of each writer is infinitesimal.” “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” (1940).

A second is supposed to predict blogs: “Two or three times he had reconstructed an entire day; he had never once erred or faltered, but each reconstruction had itself taken an entire day. ‘I, myself, alone, have more memories than all mankind since the world began,’ he said to me. … And again, toward dawn: My memory, sir, is like a garbage heap.” “Funes” (1942)"

And a third, digitisation of libraries: “From those incontrovertible premises, the librarian deduced that the Library is ‘total’ … that is, all that is able to be expressed, in every language. … When it was announced that the Library contained all books, the first reaction was unbounded joy. All men felt themselves the possessors of an intact and secret treasure. There was no personal problem, no world problem, whose eloquent solution did not exist.” “The Library of Babel” (1941)

And this final extract is supposed to prefigure the online horror that nothing can be forgotten once you’ve sent it out there: “I was struck by the thought that every word I spoke, every expression of my face or motion of my hand would endure in his implacable memory; I was rendered clumsy by the fear of making pointless gestures.” “Funes” (1942)"

This unique honour is conveyed upon Borges by various scholars who are referenced in the NYT piece, the best-known of whom is a gentleman called Umberto Eco. I think next week we will be reading that it wasn’t Borges after all, but a combination of J. G. Ballard and Salvador Dali.