A last (?) look at some overdone topics

On this last day of the year, I thought I'd ask myself (and you) which topics have cropped up on blogs and the internet just too much during 2009, and which you hope not to have to read about any more after tomorrow (2010)? My fervent wishes are for silence on the following overexposed subjects:

  • Dan Brown (any aspect).
  • E-books "versus" print books (they can coexist).
  • Disputes about whether there are serious problems that need to be faced concerning global climate. (There are serious problems, let's move on from arguing about that and look at how to address them.)
  • Moaning about Barack Obama's policies on health care, Iraq and the global financial crisis. Constructive comments are fine, moaning is just tedious and repetitive, especially on book blogs!
  • Articles about Swedish crime novels which assume the country's entire output is limited to Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell and Sjowall/Wahloo.
  • Assumptions that all or most Scandinavian crime fiction is "gloomy" and uneventful.
  • Directionless moaning about Google/Microsoft/Facebook/Twitter [insert company name] taking over the internet and invading everyone's personal privacy.
  • Finally, though I don't want total silence on the topic, I hope we don't have to read excessive debates about digital rights management/format for books, or too much about the Apple "tablet" (the all-singing, all-dancing device that will at a stroke render e-readers, portable computers, phones, music players, and every other mobile device redundant…..hmmmm).

It isn't that I exactly mind any of the above topics (except possibly any discussion involving Dan Brown), it is rather that I have seen/scanned/part-read just too many identical articles about them. I'm always open to reading anything by anybody if an original point is being made, but it just isn't interesting to see yet another derivative post or newspaper piece about an overhashed (is that a word?) matter.

More about Crime Time

In response to an earlier post I wrote about Crime Scene, the geographical-based Crime Time series on translated (or yet to be translated) crime, Bob Cornwell writes: "Italy will be the next up in the Crime Scene series, complied by Gian Franco Orsi, once a director of Il Giallo Mondadori, the crime imprint that has been the backbone of crime and noir fiction in Italy since 1929 (apart from the early 1940s when Mussolini shut them down). Orsi is also a regular judge of the Giorgio Scerbanenco Prize, the top prize for Italian writers of crime, now awarded annually at the Noir in Festival, in the Italian alpine resort of Courmayeur. There is a short piece on this festival now on the Crime Time site as a kind of a trailer for the later article (which, hopefully, will be ready early in the New Year). I’ve been dropping in the occasional article on the Crime Time site on matters European just lately, for example on Vienna’s Kriminacht (Crime Night), the Austrian crime writer’s annual effort to publicise their increasing presence in the German-speaking market. I invite your readers to drop in from time to time." Another of of Bob's Crime Time pieces is about Ragnar Jonasson, "an Icelandic Agatha Christie?".

Index of interviews on Crime Time, including Arnaldur Indridason, Hilary MacAskill on Agatha Christie, Paul Cleave, Thomas H. Cook, Mehmet Murat Somer, N. J. (Natasha) Cooper, Colin Cotterill, Feye Kellerman, 'Michael Stanley' and many others. Crime Time also features many other articles, for example Ann Cleeves on what it is like seeing "Vera" (series character Vera Stanhope of Hidden Depths and other books) filmed.

Book review: City of the Sun by David Levien

City of the Sun by David Levien (Bantam/Transworld UK; Random House US).

I wasn’t too sure about this book after reading the first two chapters, which describe in present tense the disappearance of a young teenage boy, Jamie, while on his early morning paper round in his neighbourhood suburb of Indianapolis. But from the moment I started chapter three, with the header “14 months later” I was hooked on this exciting yet thoughtful and well-plotted novel.
After 14 months, the police investigation into the boy’s disappearance has gone nowhere and Jamie’s parents, Mr and Mrs Average American suburban couple Carol and Paul, have City sun sunk into apathetic misery after spending day after week after month handing out buttons and photos of Jamie, joining support groups, surfing the internet and doing all they know to try to find their only son. They go to the police station in a routine follow-up visit and realise that the police have not done anything active for months to look for the boy. Carol is devastated, and as they leave the station a sympathetic cop gives Paul the card of an ex-colleague who is now a private investigator.
Paul is reluctant to go this route, not least because he isn’t rich, but out of curiosity he drives to the PI’s office to check him out. The man, Frank Behr, is not at all what Paul expected, so with nothing to lose, Paul and Carol decide to hire Frank. Frank is suffering himself, as his own young son has died a few years ago and his marriage broke up as a result. He identifies with the pain Paul and Carol are feeling, but warns the anguished parents that it is almost inevitable that by now Jamie is dead.
Frank starts his investigation, beginning with the boy’s movements on the day he disappeared. The reader joins Frank on a fascinating journey in which he follows up on every detail, however slight, as gradually he discovers exactly where Jamie disappeared, and then thinks of a plausible lead to follow that had (again plausibly) eluded the police. I was totally absorbed not only in the way in which the author paces out the slow uncovering of piece after piece of (initially thin, gradually strengthening) evidence as tough-guy Frank follows everything through, but also in the tender relationship between Frank and Paul, who form an initially uneasy partnership born of grief, yet gradually become genuine friends.
There is a lot to like about this book. It’s an intelligent detective story, as Frank digs around among seedy urban enterprises and petty criminals; it’s an action thriller, as Frank continually either welcomes trouble or stumbles into it; it’s strong and unflinching, yet never slips into gratuitousness; and it has a heart. The author genuinely likes his characters, not only his protagonist Frank but the sad family who were destroyed the day that Jamie disappeared. 
City of the Sun is a great read – it is in the mould of Linwood Barclay and C. J. Box, and comes with jacket endorsements from Robert Crais and Harlan Coben.  I definitely see similarities between this fast-paced debut novel and these two authors’ books – which is praise indeed. If David Levien develops the potential he shows in City of the Sun in his future books (the next in the series is called Where The Dead Lay), it won’t be too long before he is up there in that pantheon.

I thank the UK publisher, Bantam/Transworld, for so kindly sending me a copy of this novel.

Other reviews of City of the Sun at:
Entertainment Weekly
EBR Parish library
USA Today

From Wikipedia: David Levien is an American screenwriter, novelist, director and producer. Best known as the co-writer of Ocean's Thirteen and Rounders, Levien has also produced films such as The Illusionist and The Lucky Ones.

Look out for Swedish Book Review 2010-1

If you are thinking of buying a translated crime novel from Amazon, there is a good chance it will have been reviewed there by Simon Clarke.  I find Simon's Amazon reviews an incredibly helpful guide to whether or not to buy the book – and it's amazing how he always seems to have read the latest, say, Scandinavian novel whenever I first hear of it and go to check it out on Amazon. Thanks to Simon for this greatly appreciated activity.

Swedish book review Simon emailed the other week with some welcome news: he says that the first edition of the Swedish Book Review will be a 'Crime' edition. The first edition of the year is usually out around April time, writes Simon. From the journal's website:  "Swedish Book Review was launched in 1983. It publishes two main issues and a supplement every year, normally in June and December (total number of pages per year: circa 200). The main aim of SBR is to present Swedish literature to the English-speaking world. It carries translated extracts from the works of Swedish writers, often together with an introductory article. Most contributors are based outside Sweden, but familiar with the Swedish scene: they can therefore reflect Swedish views on their literature, and also provide a valuable international perspective. As well as established writers, SBR introduces new or lesser-known writers (including Finland-Swedish authors and poets). At least one writer in this category is introduced in each issue, and the 1999 Supplement was devoted to new writing."

My reviews of 30 Swedish books.

Happy New Year

Apart from two or three pre-timed posts, I haven't written on this blog for about 10 days, owing to my right arm being incapacitated after an operation. As I managed to make the Christmas dinner more or less completely left-handed yesterday, I thought I could run to a blog post today to wish everyone a very happy, if belated, Christmas and a wonderful new year. I spend my blogless phase reading several books and drafting reviews of them in my head. I also decided to clean the Augean stables and embark on my "to be read" shelf – as a result of which I now have a pile of 20 books that I did not finish – I soldiered on to page 100 or beyond in each case, but decided that I would not continue after that point. My confidence wobbled a little (had I gone off reading?), but I did note from the Amazon slips in the books that they date back to 2004 in some cases. My reading choices have become much more refined (in one sense of the word, anyway) since I discovered RSS and blog book reviews 4 years ago.
However, by Christmas morning I had not finished a book for some days, so I was very pleased to receive not one but every book on my list. A kind daughter has taken a picture of my spoils so I can show them to you:

Xmas 09I'm not sure how easy it is to see these selections, but other than the Thesaurus and the book by Nicci Gerrard I have my blogger and internet friends to thank for these books. I have started one already, as the very eagle-eyed will be able to tell by spotting the bookmark.

I hope that you, too, received some good reading material, and indeed if necessary other gifts, for Christmas (or alternative celebration). I look forward to hearing about which books you received, if so, and what you think of them when you have read them.

I think that is all that I can manage to write for now, so farewell for the time being; I'll try to post again briefly tomorrow.

Alphabet in crime fiction: Larsson

L Asa Larsson is one of my very favourite authors. She's written most of a six-book series about a troubled Stockholm financial lawyer called Rebecka Martinsson. Three of the books have been translated into English, superbly, by Marlaine Delargy. As I understand it, the translation fate of some or all of the rest hangs in the balance. I truly hope that these excellent novels will be translated and will receive the wider audience they so well deserve.

In the first novel of the series, Sun Storm (UK title The Savage Altar), Rebecka returns to Kiruna, the small town she left in disgrace many years before, because her old schoolfriend Sanna is suspected of murder. Sanna's brother was killed in the revivalist church that he led. To help Sanna, Rebecka has to face the dark past of her childhood. Not only does the novel have an excellent plot, it also provides a rich background of the ways of life in this remote village, especially that of Rebecka's grandfather, and an unusual police detective, Anna-Maria Mella. Sun Storm won Sweden's best first crime novel award (2003) and was shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger (2007), very deservedly so. It has also been filmed (in Sweden), with the title Solstorm.

The second novel, The Blood Spilt, is set in midsummer, and opens with another murder in a church, again in the Kiruna region. Despite these superficial similarities, the two books are very different, as The Blood Spilt explores the shadows within the local community that fell over Mildred, the dead woman, and tells the story of Yellow Legs, a lone wolf living in the forests. This book won Sweden's best crime novel award in 2004.

The Black Path, the third in the series, opens with the discovery of a dead woman in a fisherman's ark on a frozen lake. Anna-Maria needs a lawyer to explain part of the case – so she calls on Rebecka, who is desperate to get back to work. The preface:
"Do you remember what happened?
Rebecka Martinsson saw her dead friend lying there on the gravel in Poikkijarvi. And the world shattered. And they had to hold on to her to stop her walking into the river.
This is the third book."

Links in the book titles above take you to my reviews of the novels at Euro Crime.

Asa Larsson at Wikipedia.

Asa Larsson at Scandinavian Books.

Crime Fiction alphabet series at Petrona.

Mysteries in Paradise, home of the crime fiction alphabet. Visit this link if you would like to participate.

Euro Crime and Petrona reviews posted during November

Even later than Donna, I haven't yet collected up my November book reviews at Euro Crime. In haste, before we run out of December, here they are:

My favourite of my November batch: The Consorts of Death by Gunnar Staalesen (translated by Don Bartlett). "In my opinion, this series stands alongside Connelly, Crais, Temple, Camilleri and others, who are among the very best modern exponents of the poetic yet tough detective story with strong, classic plots; a social conscience; and perfect pitch in terms of a sense of place."

True Murder by Yaba Badoe, "a first novel which is enjoyable and holds a great deal of promise. If you enjoy Ruth Rendell or Morag Joss you will find much to like in TRUE MURDER".

Core of Evil by Nigel McCrery, "a book that slips down a treat. It's easy to read over a couple of hours, mashing up the traditional British detective novel (think Agatha Christie) with the modern police procedural." 

No Escape by N. J. Cooper. "As well as being a satisfying mystery novel, I liked the way in which Karen develops from being rather weedy at the start of the book, to capable self-assurance as she's increasingly threatened by unknown forces."

The Shadow in the Water by Inger Frimansson (translated by Laura A. Wideburg), "a very disturbing novel, clouded and obscured by perceptions and suspicions so that nothing is what it seems".

To Steal her Love by Matti Joensuu (translated by David Hackston). "My favourite parts of the story involved the police and how the lower ranks try to get the job done despite all the politics and rivalries from above and from other departments, and the broader observations of an overstretched societal system teetering on the brink and full of cynical opportunists, in the manner so ably conveyed by Sjowall and Wahloo in their Martin Beck series."

Also during November I posted some new reviews on Petrona:

Wicked Prey by John Sandford.
The Southern Seas by Manuel Vazquez Montalban (translated by Patrick Camiller).
Brief review of Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy (translated by Reg Keeland).
The Darkest Hour by Katherine Howell.
Thumbprint by Friedrich Glauser (translated by Mike Martin).
Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo.

Quite a productive month! All my book reviews are archived here, categorised by country of author as well as by genre.

Christmas crime: Blood Safari by Deon Meyer (translated by K L Seegers)

Christmas_title I've been finding it a bit hard to come up with entries for Kerrie's "suggest a Christmas title" collection because I don't read books with an explicitly Christmas theme, rather I find that I am (occasionally) reading a book which turns out to be set in part at Christmas. I read one of these recently, Blood Safari by Deon Meyer, and fortuitously my review of this book was published earlier this week at Euro Crime. My review starts:

"BLOOD SAFARI, originally written in Afrikaans, is an excellent thriller which held me completely entranced from the moment I opened it and read the first page. I'm a sucker for many of its themes, not least the damaged loner protagonist Lemmer, an ex-con now working as a bodyguard for a company called Body Armour, owned and run by Jeanette Louw, one of the most original owners of a security company I've come across in my reading travels.
Lemmer is renovating his house in a small, neighbourly town of Loxton, South Africa. He's knocking down a wall on Christmas day when Jeanette phones him to offer him a job as bodyguard to rich “brand consultant” Emma le Roux. Emma's house was broken into and she was attacked by three armed, masked men a few days previously, barely escaping with her life…."

Read on at Euro Crime for the rest of my review, and do let me highly recommend this superb thriller/detective story. Although the main events take place over the holiday period, you won't find many, if any, Christmas trees, and not a leg of turkey or sprig of mistletoe in sight.

Deon Meyer website.

Karen Meek's review of Devil's Peak(audiobook) by Deon Meyer (tr. K L Seegers).

Bernadette's review of Devil's Peak.

Euro Crime – reviews and news about European (including British) crime fiction. 

Contribute to Kerrie's suggest a Christmas title collection.

Crime-fiction websites for readers

For those interested in international crime writing, Crime Scene is a Crime Time series edited by Bob Cornwell, which looks at "the very best of the international crime writing scene", country by country. Each country profile collects key facts, relevant figures, publishing trends, notable writers, crime fiction festivals and prizes. And each issue is compiled by writers, bibliographers, or other experts active on the Crime Scene in question. Each profile is available to download in PDF format and more will be added as the series develops. So far, countries profiled are France, The Netherlands and Switzerland, characterised by cover images of a mean street, a pair of legs wearing pink high heels, and a pile of sausages, respectively. These PDFs look like excellent resources, and just as soon as I can get my new(ish) computer to talk to the printer, I shall be downloading them to plan some reading. I'll also be checking the Crime Scene index page now and again to see which country will be added next.

Another crime-fiction website, CrimeSquad, among other riches is running an interview with Camilla Noli, who has written a highly controversial debut, The Mother's Tale, about the extraordinary pressures on a new mother and her desire to kill her own child. According to CrimeSquad, the book was deemed so controversial that it was delayed a year in publication in deference to public outrage at the Baby P case. (I can't find the interview with the author at the CrimeSquad site, but maybe others have better detective skills than me.)

Other crime-fiction resources include:

Mystery Readers Journal

Shots Ezine

Reviewing the Evidence, whose home page is currently featuring Sharon and Yvonne's top-ten reading lists for the year – with only one overlapping title.

Euro Crime  (my favourite! but they are all great sites.)

Alphabet in crime fiction: Kerrigan

K Gene Kerrigan is an award-winning political journalist who has turned his hand to writing crime fiction. According to Wikipedia, "Mr. Kerrigan's journalism is hard-boiled and revealing, and he observes the goings-on and pretensions of those who wield political and financial power with a caustic eye, often with a weary and mordant humour." I think the same description can be applied to his three published novels, all of which I have enjoyed tremendously and reviewed for Euro Crime. From my reviews:

Little Criminals. "I was not sure I'd want to read a book about an Irish gang who kidnap a businessman's wife and demand a huge ransom. But, persuaded by great reviews by the authors of some of the blogs I regularly read, I decided to try it. And I am glad I did: it is excellent. The book opens in a small southern Irish village called Harte's Cross, where Frankie Crowe and his sidekick Martin Paxton unsuccessfully try to steal the takings of the local pub. The actions of that day don't feature again until the very end of the book, when their reverberations contribute to a climax that is like a Greek tragedy in its elements of history, fate and hubris."

The Midnight Choir. "I loved everything about this book. THE MIDNIGHT CHOIR is truly bleak, at times violent and disturbing, but always brilliant. The way in which the plots overlap and sometimes merge in a horridly inevitable cause and effect is masterly. Although I applaud the lack of sentimentality, I was glad that the reader is left with a spark of optimism in the shape of at least two police officers who know how to do the right thing."

Dark Times in the City. "Right from the first page, the reader is grabbed by the author's distinguishing mix of bleak noir, perfect attention to detail, atmosphere and lyricism – no hint of wordiness or sentimentality, but engaging one's emotions and attention right from the first page of poetic description, to the shattered illusions of the last."

Dark Times in the City was arguably the first book to describe the collapse of the "Irish tiger" economy (because of the delay between writing a novel and its publication, the author must have been remarkably prescient, as one might expect from an award-winning political journalist!). This book was also deservedly nominated for the CWA Golden Dagger in 2009, though personally I think it not quite as good as the first two novels. Still pretty spectacular, though.

Reviews of Little Criminals, Midnight Choir and  Dark Times in the City at the excellent blog of Glenn Harper, International Noir Fiction.

Gene Kerrigan's columns in the Irish Independent


Crime Fiction alphabet series at Petrona.

Mysteries in Paradise, home of the crime fiction alphabet. Visit this link if you would like to participate.