Sunday Salon: reading Frimansson, Child and Bolton

TSSbadge3 Ah! I can post, now. I haven't been able to make a post so far today, but the very nice people at Typepad now seem to have fixed the problem.

This week has been a relatively slow reading week for me. I finished the excellent Island of the Naked Women by Inger Frimansson; I read Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child; and have just, today, started Sacrifice by S. J. Bolton.

Island of the Naked Women for me lived up to its early and mid-promise. I've submitted my review to Euro Crime so will not write much more here, other than to recommend Pleasure Boat Studio, the publisher. Pleasure Boat is publishing mystery books via its Caravel imprint, and so far has three of Inger Frimansson's on its list – all translated by Laura Wideburg. Good Night, My Darling has just been named Book of the Year for translations by ForeWord Magazine, so Pleasure Boat is very pleased about that. Here is an essay by Inger Frimansson on writing mysteries. There are some more links to information about and reviews of her books in my earlier post.

Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child is a typical Jack Reacher book, so you'll either love it or have given up on his particular formula by now. Enough said – my review is in draft and my full assessment can wait until that is out.

Spurred by an ecstatic review in the Times yesterday of S. J. Bolton's second novel, Awakening, I picked up Sacrifice from my shelf this morning, where it has been sitting for a while, my proof copy courtesy of Karen Meek (also the generous source of my proof copies of Island of the Naked Women and Gone Tomorrow). I had been slightly put off this book as I have the impression that the supernatural is going to come into it. But so far I am completely hooked, and all is down to earth. The book is set in a remote island in the Shetlands; the main character is (so far) a competent, professional woman who in one day has to cope with finding a dead, much loved horse on her farm; dig a grave for it; discover in the grave the body of a murdered young woman; attend an emergency caesarian operation; perform a second emergency operation on the same patient; attend the post-mortem of the buried body; and advise on various aspects of the corpse. And her day isn't over yet. There's lots of nice, edgy tension between the police and medical characters, and the mystery is deepening. I can't wait to get back to it!

April European bestsellers; planning for a UK September

The Bookseller this week (29 May 2009) brings news of the April bestseller lists in Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and France. Germany’s top ten fiction charts contain two crime novels, Simon Beckett’s Whispers of the Dead at no 4 and Scream for Me by Karen Rose at 9. Popular in Sweden are Elizabeth George’s Careless in Red (2) and The Private Patient by P. D. James (3). Strangely, Agnes Grey by Ann Bronte comes in at 6 – maybe there is an associated film or TV programme?
In the Netherlands, Saskia Noort tops the charts with The Transformation, with Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (4), John Grisham’s The Associate (5) and Anne Holt’s What Never Happens (9) also selling well.
Harlan Coben is at no 3 in France with Hold Tight (one of his books, Tell No-One, was made into an excellent French thriller). Scarpetta (Patricia Cornwell) is at no 6, The Preacher (Camilla Lackberg) 8, and Stieg Larsson is at 9 with “Dragon” but, intriguingly, the title at no 10 is The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, the third in the Millennium Trilogy, which won’t be out in the UK until October.
Just a quick note for those in the UK who like to plan their reading in advance. Out in paperback in September will be the aforementioned The Private Patient by P. D. James, as well as The Other Half Lives by Sophie Hannah; The Vows of Silence, Susan Hill’s latest Serrailler novel; M. R. Hall’s excellent The Coroner; The Surrogate, a debut by Tania Carver that looks intriguing; The Maze of Cadiz by Aly Monroe; New Zealander Paul Cleave’s first novel to be published in the UK, Cemetery Lake; The Slaughter Pavilion, an excellent novel by Catherine Sampson, set in China; A Perfect Death by Kate Ellis; Blood Safari by Deon Meyer; A Deadly Paradise by Grace Brophy; Queenpin by Megan Abbott; and A Bali Conspiracy Most Foul by Shamini Flint. That’s about half of the crime, mystery, thriller and suspense novels due out in paperback in the UK in September and listed in the Bookseller!

[Reviews of many of these books, if written by UK and European authors, can be found at Euro Crime.]

Maj Sjowall interviewed by the WSJ

Maj I very much enjoyed reading Tom Nolan's WSJ interview (by email) with the 73-year-old Maj Sjowall, who "hasn't published any crime fiction since the death of her husband 34 years ago. But all around her she sees the fictional progeny of Martin Beck, including Kurt Wallander. "Yes," she writes, "we seem to have created a model for the Swedish police procedural, and most of the authors that write them call themselves social critics as well. . . . That, I think, is something to be proud of."  "
Although (for me) the start of the WSJ piece is a tedious lead-in, focusing on the Branagh/Wallender TV films based on the books by Henning Mankell currently airing in the USA, the main part of the article is fascinating.
Maj Sjowall reveals that the series of 10 Martin Beck novels, which she wrote with her husband Per Wahloo in part to analyse criminality in a changing society from a Marxist perspective, were published at a time when Swedish crime stories were "Agatha Christie-like", rarely featuring police detectives. Sjowall and Wahloo aimed to create a "credible, trustworthy, Swedish civil servant with empathy and real concern." Having so far read eight of the ten books in the Martin Beck series, I believe they succeeded.
Sjowall also scotches the story that the Martin Beck series was modelled on or inspired by Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels. She tells Nolan that she and Wahloo had never heard of McBain, but that a review of their second or third Beck novel compared it to McBain and Hillary Waugh. The Swedish authors then read these books and as a result urged their publisher to buy the rights. He did, and asked them to translate them. Sjowall and Wahloo translated a dozen of the 87th Precinct novels and so became cast as McBain's followers and imitators.
The WSJ piece goes on to accord Sjowall and Wahloo their (already undisputed) place as the parents of the Swedish police procedural with a perspective of social criticism. Sjowall comments on the lack of financial rewards for authors, saying that she and her husband could quit their jobs as journalists only when their novels were translated into German. She also comments on the various films and TV series made of the books, but connects to only one of these, Bo Widerberg's The Man on the Roof, which was adapted from the book The Man on the Balcony.

Euro Crime reviews of Sjowall and Wahloo's books.

Petrona posts about Sjowall and Wahloo.

Harper Perennial editions of the Martin Beck novels.

Photo of Maj Sjowall: (2005).

A bit of book chat: Badsville, Hammett, Australia, Twitter and cliffhangers

From the Jonathan Ross’ new Twitter book club showed only a small effect on print sales in its first week, prior to the online discussion on Sunday (24th May). The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson, Ross' first pick, sold 166 copies last week through Nielsen BookScan. This represents a rise on the previous week, when the backlist title sold just 11 copies.

Kim of Reading Matters rounds up some Australian book blogs and links to an impressively wide-ranging list of her reviews of books by Australian authors (including Peter Temple). She welcomes recommendations for other Australian novels and novelists, "particularly if you live in Oz and keep up with "the scene" as it were!"

Sean French (or maybe Nicci Gerrard) challenges readers to come up with their best-ever chapter endings in a thriller. Here is his (or her) example: " 'Jacob's been arrested, doctor!' she said. 'In connection with the murder of Frances Raye! They found her dead in her apartment, and him, outside, drunk, ringing her doorbell, trying to get in! Oh, doctor, they think he killed her!' All I could think to ask her was: 'What did he do with the horse?' " (See link for the name of the author and the book, if you haven't guessed it.)

Welcome to the Big Beat from Badsville, a new blog to celebrate all things Scottish, crime-fiction-wise. What makes this blog a bit special is that it is run by the Queen (a.k.a. scullery maid) of Twitter, Donna Moore, author of Go To Helena Handbasket, shoe fanatic and scourge of Alaskan bears. Definitely a must-read blog.

Yesterday (27 May) would have been the 105th birthday of Dashiell Hammett, a superb author and one of my enduring favourites. Having enjoyed Conan Doyle (and, yes, before that Enid Blyton's mysteries and adventures, I have to admit) as a child, I think it was my late-teenage discovery of Dashiell Hammett that made me realise that detective novels (as I then thought of them) are a genre for adults, also. After reading Hammett I scoured the library shelves and devoured Chandler, Hadley Chase, et al, as well as their English counterparts such as Ruth Rendell, P. D. James, J. I. M. Stewart and Celia Fremlin. Janet Rudolph's post at Mystery Fanfare is typically informative and interesting, summarising Hammett's output and providing some links for further investigation.

The Scarecrow, by Michael Connelly

The Scarecrow opens as Jack McEvoy, a solid reporter for the LA Times, is given two weeks’ notice – he’s a victim of the death-by-internet of the US newspaper industry and of the decline of the global economy. Rather than go quietly, he decides the best way to show his corporate bosses that they were wrong to dismiss him is to write a fantastic story. And, as luck would have it, the one he has just finished—an apparently routine case in which a black teenager has confessed to killing a white, drug-addicted stripper and leaving her body abandoned in the trunk of a car — has a little sting in its tail. The boy’s grandmother calls Jack, telling him that the police have fixed up the conviction, and that the boy never confessed to the killing.
Jack decides to investigate, and soon becomes convinced that the woman is right. At the same time, his glamorous young partner and to-be-replacement, the multitasking and over-ambitious Angela, does some Internet searching and comes up not only with a previous case with an identical modus operandi, but also makes some dark online discoveries of her own.
Before he knows it, Jack is facing what starts out as a puzzling inconvenience, rapidly escalating into danger. He calls an old friend, FBI agent Rachel Walling, in the hope that he can convince her to help. Soon, Rachel is caught up in events, cast off by the FBI and struggling to discern what’s behind Jack’s sudden plunge of fortune. Then, the two of them make a chilling discovery.
I won’t reveal any more of the plot here: the book just goes on and on at a confident and inventive pace, never slackening off into predictability, never stepping over the mark into unnecessary contrivance; always bang-up-to-the-minute and laden with constant tension as Jack and Rachel try to stay one step ahead by out-thinking their unknown enemy. At the same time, the book is full of details of journalistic procedures, inter-colleague dynamics, internet technology, FBI protocols – never slowing the pace but cumulatively creating an atmosphere of complete believability. The ending is less interesting than the rest of the book, but that didn't bother me too much, although I smiled at the fact that Jack's professionalism comes through for him. What I also like is the way the author has set things up so that any of his four main characters (Jack and Rachel, together with Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller, who are both alluded to in The Scarecrow although not (if memory serves) by name) could participate in a future novel in one of several ways. Intriguing!
If you haven’t read a Michael Connelly novel before, you could start with this one, or you could start with The Poet, the only previous book in which Jack is the main character (Rachel has appeared in several other novels, though). But perhaps the best thing to do is to begin with the first, The Black Echo, and make your way through the whole catalogue. I don't think you would regret it.
If you are a keen Connelly fan, you might like to keep a note of the websites mentioned in The Scarecrow. I haven’t tried this myself, but the author told us at the recent CrimeFest meeting that he has registered these domain names and has included some content on these sites relevant to the novel. There is also a three-part video, Conflict of Interest, on the author’s website which apparently tells the story of what Rachel is doing up to the point where she makes her first appearance in the novel – in response to a phone call from Jack. (Apparently the video story ends with this same phone call.) There are also video clips of scenes in and surrounding some of the author's other novels at the same web page.
Watch a video of Michael Connelly discussing The Scarecrow.

Reviews of the book:

Maureen Corrigan at The Washington Post.
Thom Geier in Entertainment Weekly.
Michael Carlson at Irresistible Targets.

In the middle of reading…Island of the Naked Women by Inger Frimansson

So far I am loving Island of the Naked Women by Inger Frimansson, excellently translated (into American English) by Laura A. Wideburg. About two-thirds of the way through the novel, Tobias travels by train to a small village to give a talk about the books he writes.

After a while, he noticed the woman sitting next to him was looking at him.
"Excuse me," she said. "Aren't you that author?"
"This one?" he lifted it and pointed to his name on the cover. She peered at the cover nearsightedly, and then held out her hand to introduce herself.
"Asa Svedsson. I'm a teacher of Swedish. But we haven't…uh..used any of your books in our classes."
"Well, I haven't written that many."
"True. And that genre…well, I saw you on TV, which is why I recognized you. Do you write short stories any longer? I liked your short stories."
"Well, you can't survive on those. Nor from poetry."
She looked at him over her glasses.
"What? I though that writers wrote because of an inner drive, because they had to."
"You're one hundred per cent correct there."
"I didn't mean it quite like that."
"So what did you mean?"
"It's really not my business, but you seem to have sold out."
"Sold out?"
"That's right."
"You make me sound like a prostitute! Is the mystery genre worse than others? Is that what you're really saying?"
"You will hardly win a Nobel Prize writing that stuff."
Tobias began to get angry. "I don't care about the Nobel Prize! I'm trying to make a living by writing! Give the readers a good story they'll enjoy! Why are mysteries seen as less than real literature? Some works are asl good as Singer or Marquez. It's old-fashioned to look down on mystery novels. Times have changed. In your field, you ought to know that."
She took off her glasses and began to clean them carefully.
"I haven't read your latest book," she admitted. "I remember when it came out. I thought, 'too bad, another good author is falling into the crime novel pit.' I thought it was a great pity."

Thanks to Karen of Euro Crime for my copy of this book.
Inger Frimansson's books reviewed at Euro Crime.
Review of Island of the Naked Women at International Noir Fiction.
Read another extract from the book at the author's website (especially if you would like the title explained!).
Inger Frimansson's website.

Ann Cleeves hosts murder mystery event

If you are near Masham, in North Yorkshire this week, you might like to know that the Reader-In-Residence of the Harrogate Crime-Writing Festival, award-winning author Ann Cleeves, will be holding a murder mystery event called 'Brought to Book' at the White Bear Hotel on Thursday (28 May) at 7.30 p.m. From the festival literature:

"Brought to Book is an interactive murder mystery in which the audience turn detective to track down the killer from four possible suspects. Thursday's event will also feature performances from actors from the Masham Players. 
Get together with friends and family to form a super sleuthing team and enjoy an evening of criminally good entertainment, food and drink."

There does not seem to be an online booking system, but you can book tickets by calling
the White Bear Hotel on 01765 689319 or the Theakston Brewery Visitor Centre on 01765 680 000.

Read Euro Crime's reviews of Ann Cleeves's books here.

Harrogate Crime-Writing Festival website. The festival takes place from Friday 24 to Sunday 26 July 2009. To book or for information on accommodation options, call: 01423 562303 or email: The organisers have also announced "creative Thursday", on 23 July, a day in which aspiring writers can pitch to an agent and editors.

Sunday Salon: Starting The Scarecrow

TSSbadge3 I am 38 pages in to The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly, and as expected, am enjoying it tremendously. Here is a passage from page 12, just after verteran reporter Jack McEvoy has been given two weeks' notice, a grace period in order to train up his replacement:

There was no newspaper out there in the market for an over-40 cop-shop reporter. Not when they had an endless supply of cheap labor – baby reporters like Angela Cook minted fresh every year at USC and Medill and Columbia, all of them technologically savvy and willing to work for next to nothing. Like the paper and ink newspaper itself, my time was over. It was about the Internet now. It was about hourly uploads to online editions and blogs. It was about television tie-ins and Twitter updates. It was about filing stories on your phone instead of using it to call rewrite. The morning paper might as well be called the Daily Afterthought. Everything in it was posted on the web the night before.

and here's an extract from page 18:

I turned from my reverie to look up at the lovely face of Angela Cook. I didn't know her but I knew her: a fresh hire from a top-flight school. She was what they call a mojo – a mobile journalist nimbly able to file from the filed via any electronic means. She could file text and photos for the website or paper, or video and audio for television and radio partners. She was trained to do it all but in practice she was still as green as can be. She was probably being paid $500 a week less than me, and in today's newspaper economy that made her a greater value to the company. Never mind the stories that would be missed because she had no sources. Never mind how many times she would be set up and manipulated by the police brass, who knew an opportunity when they saw it.
She was probably a short-timer anyway. She'd get a few years' experience, get some decent bylines, and move on to bigger things, law school or politics, maybe a job in TV. But Larry Bernard was right. She was a beauty, with blond hair over green eyes and full lips. The cops were going to love seeing her around headquarters. It would take no more than a week before they forgot about me.

Fantastic, perceptive stuff. This book is shaping up to be a perfect read.

The Road, Appaloosa and Perceval Press

51O8Swnf5GL__SL500_AA240_ 51INCt-LQpL__SL160_AA115_ After hearing the wonderful remarks by Michael Connelly at CrimeFest, I just had to buy The Scarecrow, which is just out in the UK and on sale at £9.49 at my ever-reliable (if troubled) Sussex Stationers. (It's £12.99 in W.H. Smith, and £18.99 at full price.) While I was there, I saw a haunting object (right). Not purchased yet, but I suspect it will not be long. I also have to confess to buying a reduced-price DVD (left) while in HMV to purchase City of Ember (based on the popular (at Petrona Towers) book and subsequent sequel and prequel by Jeanne DuPrau) and some sorority flick of instantly forgettable title for certain family members. Returning to my illustrations: spot the connection. Here is the beautiful Perceval Press, and here is its Wikipedia entry, which links to some newspaper articles about the company. Even in such difficult times, a site and enterprise like this gives one hope for the world.

Long Lost, by Harlan Coben

Harlan Coben’s latest novel returns to his original character, Myron Bolitar the sports agent, and his associates Win, Esperanza (a.k.a. Little Pochahontas) and Big Cyndi. However, in Long Lost any association with sports, a standard feature of the earlier novels, is dropped, and instead the story is a trendy thriller covering international, post-9/11 terrorism, stem cells, lost loves and water-boarding torture, with a quick tour of Paris and London from a decidedly American perspective.
The reviews to date of Long Lost have not been kind, and I can understand why. One has to admit it is a bit of a lazy book. However, Harlan Coben is nothing if not a great story-teller, and anyone who wants an undemanding but exciting aeroplane or beach read will not be disappointed by spending an afternoon reading this novel. The author is bang up to the minute with his BlackBerries, Google maps and blogs, even if his knowledge of science is a bit sketchy – John Wyndham could certainly give him a run for his money in that regard.
The plot of Long Lost is a bit of a see-saw. In a classic Coben hook, Myron is contacted at the start of the book by his ex-lover Terese Collins, whom he has not seen for some years since running away with her to a tropical island and then splitting, begging him to come to Paris to meet her. Myron has found happiness in a previous novel with “9/11 widow” (as she is called) Ali, but that relationship is now on the rocks so Myron obligingly takes a flight to France and meets Terese. Before she can tell him much more than the bare fact that her ex-husband Rick, an investigative journalist, has been murdered, Myron is on the run from an assortment of French police, Mossad agents and Arab terrorists.
I won’t summarise more of the plot here. Suffice to say that it’s a full inventory of contemporary themes and anxieties, but even if one is being generous, an illogical mish-mash. (The scene in a London (Camberwell) pub is particularly risible.) This is one of those books where the reader just has to decide whether to go along for the ride, or whether to close the covers in disgust and move on to something more believable. I opted to read the whole thing, and enjoyed it, particularly the ending – which I found quite surprising, as in most Harlan Coben novels the ending is weaker than the lead-up.
If you’ve read all the Coben novels up to now, you’ll know what to expect and you’ll probably enjoy this one, though it certainly isn’t one of his best. If you haven’t read him, I suggest either reading one of his classic standalones (Tell No One, for example, which has been made into an excellent French film) or the first Myron Bolitar book, in which the author takes a bit more care with his characters and works a bit harder to keep the reader on board.

Thanks to the ever-generous Karen of Euro Crime for my copy of Long Lost, which whiled away a very happy couple of hours on a sunny Saturday afternoon. It certainly beats doing the ironing and weeding the garden.