Book review: Three weeks to say goodbye, by C. J. Box

C J Box “A page-turner”, “unputdownable” and a blurb from Lee Child (“solid gold A-list must-read”) are all somewhat clichés of crime fiction, but in the case of Three Weeks to Say Goodbye by C. J. Cox (Corvus), more than justified. From the first paragraph of the novel, when Denver travel-development specialist and narrator Jack McGuane gets a horrible phone message at work from the agency from which he and his wife Melissa adopted their 9-month-old baby Angelina, I felt compelled to find out what was going on. It isn’t pleasant: owing to an administrative confusion, the baby’s natural father never actually signed the relevant legal documents, and now wants the baby back.
The initial chapters lurch from Jack’s initial belief that this can be easily sorted out, to his awful realisation that not only is he in a mess with no legal leg to stand on, but he can’t afford a lawyer and can’t rely on the support of colleagues or contacts because the baby’s natural grandfather is an ambitious federal judge with a large network of allies and people who owe him favours within the local public and political services. The book succeeds very well in these opening chapters because it focuses on the emotions of Jack and Melissa, truly devoted parents to Angelina, and the havoc caused by the actions of the creepy Garrett Moreland and his powerful father John.
Jack and Melissa try to counter the Morelands’ claim over their baby but fail. Judge Moreland gives the couple three weeks to say goodbye to Angelina and to organise her life so she is ready for the transfer, a Solomon-like dilemma. Jack and Melissa vow to spend this time in fighting the Morelands with everything they have – which isn’t much. The sum total of their weaponry consists of two of Jack’s old schoolfriends: Cody, now a police detective; and Brian, a well-connected player in the Denver local political scene. Brian offers to dig into Judge Moreland’s background to try to find some way to stop him. Cody, however, turns out to be more of a liability than an asset, as Jack discovers when he sees Cody torn to pieces in the judge’s courtroom, for tampering with evidence. Cody is then suspended from the force so is effectively ruined as a useful ally.
Although the pace of the novel is maintained all the way through, and the portrayal of Jack (mainly) and Melissa (less detailed) is empathetic and involving, I felt that the detection aspects were not as strong as they might have been. Brian, and subsequently Cody, spend much time absent, undertaking unknown activities, occasionally phoning Jack with cryptic updates. Most of what the reader experiences is Jack flailing around as disaster piles on disaster, particularly a trip to Berlin which Jack is forced by his boss to undertake, during the somewhat artificial "three weeks" framework. There is a good interlude when the little band of friends travel with Angelina to Montana to see Cody’s dangerous uncle Jed and stop in on Jack’s parents;  and a truly surreal, eventually horror-comic episode when Jed turns up in Denver.
Ultimately, however, the climax of the novel depends more on violence than it does cleverness or dissection of motives and methods, which for me was a slight disappointment. Only slight, though – the plot is a good one and Jack is certainly a very refreshing change from most protagonists. He’s got all the usual human shortcomings; he's the opposite of macho; his devotion to his wife and daughter is touching; and the way he feels and acts in the workplace is very convincing. I very much enjoyed this novel and, though I might not go back and read this author’s previous series, I am extremely well-disposed to any future politico-legal thrillers he might care to write.

I thank Karen of Euro Crime, and the publisher (Corvus), for my copy of this novel.

Author website.

Review of this novel at It's a Crime! blog.

Review of this novel at Shots Mag.

More reading in March

After being overwhelmed with the quality and quantity of paperback reading in store for UK readers in March, I now fear I have to bring some news of yet more joys of that month – in hardback. According to the 4 December issue of The Bookseller, we are due the pinnacle of the reading experience – a new novel by Ian McEwan. It's called Solar, and it tells the story of Michael Beard, "an overweight Nobel prize-winning nuclear physicist, whose career is fading and whose fifth marriage is on the rocks. He sees his chance to sort his life out, and just possibly save the world from environmental disaster." Can't wait.

Another piece of good news is that the excellent The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist, superbly translated by Marlaine Delargy, is due out (as a trade paperback) on 1 March at £10.99. I highly recommend this "futuristic tale set in a dystopian world".

Turning to the crime fiction scene, there are just so many brilliant novels on offer it is hard to know where to start. Nicci French has a new book out, called  Complicit, which concerns a woman who discovers the body of her murdered lover and calls her best friend to help her get rid of the body. Or, how about The Snowman by Jo Nesbo? Harry Hole delves into the unsolved case files – and discovers that a worrying number of wives and mothers have gone missing over the years. The author is a Glass Key award winner and is translated by Don Bartlett, an admired favourite of mine and other Euro Crime readers/reviewers. Another exciting title is The Stone Cutter by Camilla Lackberg, translated by Steve Murray, who has done excellent work with favourite authors of mine Stieg Larsson, Karin Alvtegen and many others. In The Stone Cutter, Patrik Hedstrom has recently become a father, and is summoned to the wharf in the remote Fjallbacka where a young girl's body has been found, presumed drowned. But the post mortem reveals it was murder. Sophie Hannah, now billed as "the queen of psychological suspense" (!) has a new title out, A Room Swept White, in which Fliss Benson, working on a TV documentary about miscarriages of justice involving cot-death mothers, is sent a mysterious card with 16 numbers on it. Then one of the accused mothers is found dead, with a card in her pocket with 16 numbers on it. And so on. Hmm – how believable is this? But the Bookseller calls it "unputdownable".

More English-language originals will be tempting us. Robert Crais, with The First Rule, is the story of how armed men break into Frank Meyer's home and gun down everyone in sight. Joe Pike, his old friend and sidekick of PI Elvis Cole, swears revenge – no matter what. Lee Child (61 Hours), Alexander McCall Smith (the Double Comfort Safari Club, one of his Botswana series), Robert Harris (Lustrum), Jonathan Kellerman (Deception), Simon Brett (The Shooting in the Shop), Linda Fairstein (Hell Gate) and Robert B. Parker (Split Image) also have new titles coming out in March.

Other authors untried by me who have titles coming out in March are: Maggie Orford (Blood Rose), Jefferson Bass (The Bone Thief), Known to Evil (Walter Mosley), D. J. Taylor (At the Chime of the City Clock), Shona MacLean (A Game of Sorrows), S. J. Parris (Heresy), Andrew Williams (To Kill a Tsar), Carol Goodman (Arcadia Falls),  Barbara Cleverly (Strange Images of Death), Louise Welsh (Naming the Bones) and June Hampson (Jail Bait). Plus a few other historical-mystery-code-style adventures, and Robert B. Parker (again) with Appaloosa, a Western adventure/mystery which I mention here because Viggo Mortensen was in the film (which for some unknown reason I have not yet seen).

Finally, a debut that looks interesting, This Perfect World by Suzanne Bugler. "Laura Hamley's past comes back to haunt her after she receives a phone call from the mother of a girl she bullied at school. The woman is now in a psychiatric ward – as a consequence of Laura's cruelty?" I wonder if this author will treat the subject as well as Inger Frimnansson in Good Night My Darling? (Translated by Laura Wideburg.)

Happy about computer and blog

I'm very pleased with my new computer (PC), a Toshiba Satellite something or other. It was half the price of the computer I bought a couple of years ago, and does more. Such is the world of computers. It has Windows 7 installed, including IE8, and I love that compared with IE6 and IE7. (I have not quite worked out how to stop its security obsession which means I can't use bookmarklets very easily but I'll get there on deactivating all its many controls, eventually.) Mainly, it is so quick compared with IE7 (or something), and IE8 has nice features (nicked from Firefox) such as the favourites bar across the top of the screen so I can get to all my favourite places at one click.

I'm also very pleased with SixApart/Typepad, suppliers of this blog for a very reasonable fee. (A few dollars a month.) All year Typepad have been upgrading their software in a big way, introducing many improvements and social features to their blogging platform. (One of these is a free microblogging service, which is fun – why not try it?) The other day the SixApart people wrote a post to ask users what they thought of the improvements and calling for suggestions. What the heck, I thought, and wrote a comment to thank them, saying that all I wanted now is a way to integrate my RSS reader into my blog sidebar so that my blogroll is dynamically updated as I add and drop subscriptions. I follow a lot of blogs and am a bit impatient about dropping them when they are tedious, so it is a bit of a drag keeping Petrona's blogroll vaguely up to date. Imagine my delight when two of the support people at SixApart emailed me to explain how to import Google Reader blogs into Typepad blog sidebar widgets. You can do it for the blog itself (as I've done) or as a real-time service in which the latest posts on the blogs show. I have so many blogs in my blogroll that the second option would take up far too much space. I am now very happy in that when a blog goes dead or dead boring and I remove it from the reader at a click, it vanishes from the blog at the same time. And equally, when I find a new, fascinating blog and add it, it appears on the blogroll!

Thank you Typepad for this great service – really, the customer service aspects of Typepad are beyond compare, I am consistently impressed with the helpfulness and patience of the SixApart support team. And I thank myself for finally dipping into my savings and buying this new computer. I had been telling myself I could not do it because the old one wasn't old enough – but the fact that the Norton antivirus ran out and wanted another ton of money from me for next year made me finally act. A nice person in John Lewis showed me this Toshiba (with a half price Microsoft Office thrown into the deal) and the rest is history, Internet style (ie the computer is now a week old).

Christmas crime: Sun and shadow by Ake Edwardson

Christmas_title This review was first posted on Euro Crime in June 2007.

Sun and Shadow by Ake Edwardson, translated by Laurie Thompson. Publisher: Vintage.

In its first few chapters, SUN AND SHADOW provides an evocative description of life in downtown Gothenburg: not the Sweden of Christmas cards, but the seedier side of drunks and petty crime. Patrik and Maria, two bored teens who hang out on the streets, rebellious and vulnerable, represent the problems of their generation, intersecting the police-procedural plot as the book develops, as a kind of benchmark for the values of the society they live in.

The author has the ability to convey with sympathy a range of characters and their problems: not only Patrik and Maria but the beat police, who have to deal with the casual violence of traffic accidents and after-effects of drug and alcohol abuse. World-weary detectives do their duty and live their tough lives against backgrounds of domestic stress: money troubles, relationship questions, commuter hell, bad weather and health worries.

Erik Winter is a young, successful detective inspector, about to marry his long-term pregnant girlfriend Angela, a doctor. While they are in the process of moving in together, Erik hears that his father, who has retired to Spain, has had a heart attack, so flies to the Costa del Sol to be with him and his mother. Erik's few days there, in the sun of the climate but the shadow of his father's life, take on an existential air, as he lives in and observes an alien, almost opposite world to his icy norm.

The haunting quality continues after Erik returns to Gothenburg. A couple living in one of the flats near Erik's is murdered, possibly to some hideous taped music which is playing in the apartment when the bodies are discovered. Erik and his colleagues struggle to find a motive for the gruesome crime; nothing was stolen and the couple seems to have had not only no enemies, but no close friends either.

Although this book was published in English translation in 2005, it was written in 1999. Part of the atmosphere and tension cleverly created by the author is provided by the advent of Christmas and the looming millennium: the city is gearing up for a huge party on New Year's Eve, and there is a degree of nervousness among the police about the crowds, whether computer systems will break down, and a general unease about the mystic significance of the date change. This lends the book a curiously but sweetly old-fashioned air: although the fears were real enough to many at the time, they now seem quaint only a few short years later.

In this MP3-less era, Erik sets off into the world of indie music to discover where the cassette tape came from, who recorded it and what the words mean. Unhinged biblical prophecies seem to be at the root of it, but are they relevant to the crime?

Characters and plots are interlocked: Angela discovers an unfortunate letter from Spain in Erik's briefcase while looking for some notes about her pregnancy. Patrik is the first to discover the bodies because he has a newspaper round in the apartment block: did he see the murderer leaving the scene? Has he heard this type of music before? Why is he injured? Maria’s mother is the police chaplain who tries to help Erik decipher the strange lyrics on the tape, and who may know more than anyone realises about the secret lives of some of the policemen who seek out her counsel.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The characters are deftly drawn and the writing is unforced and natural – the translator is the excellent Laurie Thompson, who also translates Henning Mankell's novels. I liked the policemen with their various foibles, and admired the way the author increases the suspense while the investigation reaches a climax.

The end, as is so often the case, is a bit of a let-down. Erik seems a bit too dense at realising what the murdered couple were up to, and fails to follow some obvious leads. The identity of the murderer makes logical sense, but could have been any of several characters. Not only that, but the motivation does not hang true – there is no sense of "ah, yes, that explains it", and the murderer suddenly turns out to have abilities that we weren't told about previously. Most of the subplots end in mid-air, which is a pity as many of the characters had come to grow on me. I'll definitely continue to read this series, though, because the characters are so involving, and I have the feeling the author will be building on his initial talent in future books.

Edwardson's books in reading order, plus reviews of each, at Euro Crime.

Join the "suggest a Christmas title" meme at Mysteries in Paradise.

UK booksellers’ books of the decade

For the next three weeks (starting last week, 4 December) the Bookseller is looking back at the UK book trade over the past decade. The first feature provided the 100 bestselling authors of 2000-2009 "drawn exclusively from Nielsen BookScan data". *

Hearteningly, the top author by far is J. K. Rowling, who this decade has sold a phenomenal 27,556,478 novels about schoolboy and eventual young adult wizard Harry Potter, at a value of about £216 million. That is presumably just for the books, the merchandising must add tremendously more than that. She's doing better than a country! Seriously, I am so pleased that this brilliant series of (seven) books, with such a strong message about the values of personal integrity and enduring love in a treacherous world, has been enjoyed by so many people and has had such a broad reach. It gives you hope.

Second is Dan Brown (just over 13 million sales of five religious and symbolic thrillers), third is Roger Hargreaves of the children's Mr Men and Little Miss series (11 and a half million sales of these distinctive small-format cartoonish books) and fourth Jacqueline Wilson (just under 11 and a half million), author of contemporary children's and teenage novels. Completing the top 10 are Richard Parsons (don't know him), Terry Pratchett (fantasy), John Grisham (legal supremo), Danielle Steel (romance sagas), James Patterson (increasingly bland thrillers) and, at tenth, Jamie Oliver (a celeb chef). I think this is a pretty good selection of authors – a couple of duffers maybe, but on the whole, it gives you a bit of hope for the human race, or at least that part of it that buys books in the UK! [Crime and thriller authors are in bold.]

Out of interest, how do crime-fiction authors fare in this list?

13 Alexander McCall Smith (6.5 million) Ladies' No 1 Detective Agency (Botswana); short, charming yet unflinching. Also other series one set in Scotland.
14 Ian Rankin (6.3 million) Inspector John Rebus (Edinburgh) and others. Police procedurals; alcoholic, smoking, loner protagonist.
17 Patricia Cornwell (6.1 million) Forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta (Virginia, USA). Gruesome and, latterly, slow-paced and boring.
19 Martina Cole (5.6 million) East End of London gangster sagas. Plucky heroines.
35 Andy McNab (3.6 million) not read, but safe to say, military SAS type of stuff.
37 Michael Connelly (3.5 million) Harry Bosch, LAPD. Classic masterpieces of the genre.
41 Kathy Reichs (3.3 million) Forensic archaeologist Tempe Brennan. Quebec. Gruesome. slow-paced and boring.
44  Lee Child (3.2 million). Ex-army MP Jack Reacher roams round USA finding adventures.
53 Jeffrey Deaver (2.7 million) Lincoln Rhyme, paraplegic detective. USA somewhere. I've only read one, serial killer genre if that is anything to go by.
56 Harlan Coben (2.6 million). Myron Bolitar, sports agent detective, and several standalones. The author for whom the phrase "nail biting suspense" was coined. Exciting.
74 Karin Slaughter (2.2 million) Georgia coroner Sarah Linton. Good start to series, showing danger of becoming infected with 17 and 41 disease (gruesome and boring).
91 Peter Robinson (1.9 million). Alan Banks, Yorkshire. Good, classic police procedurals.
96 John Le Carre (1.8 million) Classic spy novels, latterly international conspiracies.
100   P D James (1.7 million). Adam Dalgliesh, senior cop. Was in London last time I read one but I think he's now on the East coast in retirement. Modern "golden age" novels.

Maybe next decade we may even see a translated author in this list – most likely Stieg Larsson (Sweden), though he only wrote three books so is at a disadvantage in a decade list. Other possibilities are Henning Mankell (Sweden), thanks to the recent TV films starring Kenneth Branagh as well as the Swedish TV versions being shown on UK TV. Outside chances are Arnaldur Indridason (Iceland) and Fred Vargas (France), who keep winning awards, or the sublime yet easy-to-read and short novels of Andrea Camilleri (Italy). All credit to the various translators, respectively Reg Keeland, Laurie Thompson and others, Bernard Scudder and Victoria Cribb, Sian Reynolds and Stephen Sartarelli (an award-winning poet in his own right).

As an addendum, three "classic" authors make it onto the list, J.R.R. Tolkien at 23 (sales of 5 million), William Shakespeare at 57 (2.6 million) and Charles Dickens at 93 (1.8 million). The last two of these will have had their sales helped by school syllabuses and the Royal Shakespeare Company et al., as well as the odd TV or film adaptation ;-) Enid Blyton is another high scorer, at 12 (6.8 million). My own favourite author, Ian McEwan, comes in at 36 (3.6 million). Just under Andy McNab! (But just above Michael Connelly.)

*Authors in this list are only counted as sole authors. So, for example, James Patterson is included only for his sole-authored novels, not his collaborations. Nora Roberts (not on the top 100 list) is counted as separate from her J.D. Robb persona, combined she would have made 88th place.

Christmas crime: The Bomber by Liza Marklund

Christmas_title "Journalist Annika Bengstrom is asleep next to her husband when the call comes in at 3.22 a.m. on a frozen December night. It's the weekend; she's busy with two children and she still has Christmas shopping to do. But within minutes, all thoughts of seasonal goodwill are left behind. Annika is looking at a nightmare scene of police tape and rubble, trying to get the best possible picture for tomorrow's edition of her newspaper.
A bomb has not only destroyed Stockholm's new Olympic arena just months before the Summer Games, it has blown someone to pieces. Putting a city on edge with fears of a terrorist on the loose, the Bomber will become Annika's biggest story – and maybe her last.

Set against the breathtaking landscape of the Swedish winter, Liza Marklund's extraordinary writing, bone chilling plot and irresistible heroine have created an international phenomenon as explosive as the Bomber's devastating blasts."

More to follow, in due course 😉

Euro Crime review of The Bomber, by Karen Meek.

Scandinavian Books reviews The Bomber and other books by Liza Marklund.

Join the "suggest a Christmas title" meme at Mysteries in Paradise.

Alphabet in crime fiction: Jungstedt

J  Mari_Jungstedt
Mari Jungstedt
 is a Swedish journalist and popular crime fiction author. Her first three novels have so far been translated into English by the superb Tiina Nunnally, and I hope the next three will follow soon. The books are set on the island of Gotland, which is near the Oland of Johan Theorin's novels, and feature Detective Superintendent Anders Knutas and journalist Johan Berg. I enjoy Mari Jungstedt's books for three reasons: they are well-plotted crime stories with the accent on police procedural; they provide insight into life on Gotland and the characters of people who live there; and the main characters have domestic lives and problems that develop throughout the series. Knutas is fairly unusual among many current policemen in that he has a good, longstanding marriage, whereas the cosmopolitan Stockholmite Berg is fatally attracted to a local married teacher, Emma, who has two small children, leading to many complications.

I have reviewed for Euro Crime all three of the novels that have been translated into English. Here's a taste of each.

Unseen opens with a description of a dinner party at the house of a young professional couple, Helena and Per, where things get a bit out of hand. The next morning, Helena goes for a walk on the misty beach and is later found murdered, together with her faithful dog. The subsequent police investigation is headed by Inspector Anders Knutas, a sensitive, middle-aged man who is irritated by the intrusion of the media into the case, who have discovered and want to reveal salacious details. Reminiscent of the Kurt Wallander series by Henning Mankell, Knutas and his close-knit team solidly look into all leads, investigating the dead woman's friends and family, in the process revealing much about the lifestyles and history of Gotlanders.

Unspoken is a great read, particularly strong in conveying the frailties of human emotion and in the juxtapositions of the police investigation with the media's reporting as well as the domestic lives of the characters.

Unknown (a.k.a. The Inner Circle). The author has a knack for conveying the apparently trivial yet all-important domestic problems of her characters, as well as a touching sympathy with the victims of the crimes she describes.

Even though I felt Unknown was not quite as good as the previous two novels in terms of the plot, I shall definitely return to these books when more are translated, partly because the police-procedural aspects, with the interplay between the detectives, is pretty much on a par (and similar to) Mankell's Wallendar books; and partly because of the excellent way in which TV media politics and the family upheavals of Emma and Johan are portrayed.

Publisher website.

Crime Fiction alphabet series at Petrona.

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

Round the world of series, for the holidays

A holiday break is a good chance to catch up on one's reading, of course, but it is also a good time to start on a series. As many of us will soon be taking some well-deserved time off work and other duties for the Christmas and/or end-of-year celebrations, I thought I might do a round-the-world whistle-stop tour of some series that I like, at a time when there is more of an opportunity than usual to devour a run of connected novels.

Starting with Australia, who better than (South African born) Peter Temple, and what better series than his Jack Irish novels? Readers in the author's own country can probably read all four titles, but those elsewhere can at least enjoy the first three novels about ex-lawyer turned kind-of private-eye Jack, cabinet maker and horse-race fixer. These novels are not as dark as the other series by this author, Broken Shore and the upcoming Truth; they are more lyrical and poetic as Jack stumbles around in a modern land of cynical opportunism, grieving for a lost past and his own emotional failures. Don't get the wrong impression, though, there is plenty that is funny and upbeat about these wonderful books.

Running up through Laos, we have the marvellous Coroner series by the deeply funny Colin Cotterill, whose word play is beyond compare and whose tiny band of ragged philanthropists bear the weight of this terrible 1970s social experiment with stoicism, good and in some cases slightly wicked humour, and not a little touch of mysticism. Although funny, these books aptly convey the horrors of living in a ghastly regime where an entire country was impoverished and ruined, and the very basis of what makes people individual humans was attempted to be removed en masse by the state. Start with the first, The Coroner's Lunch, and make your way through this effervescent set of tragi-comedies. Author bibliography and reviews at Euro Crime. The author's website is currently down but you can sample his wonderful blogging at International Crime Authors Reality Check.

Moving on to South Africa, a find for me this year has been Deon Meyer, whose Blood Safari (my review to come) is an excellent standalone novel in the tradition of Raymond Chandler, a comparison often made but well earned on this occasion. I haven't read any other novels by this author, who writes in Afrikaans, but based on this one and on reviews I've read of his others, I'm eagerly anticipating reading his first novel, Dead Before Dying, and the rest of his output, which apparently make up a "loose" series in the sense that some of the same characters appear in some of the books. Deon Meyer website.

Travelling north to Europe, I am planning to continue with not one but two series by Ann Cleeves, and if you haven't tried this author before, now is a very good time to do so. First, her Shetland Quartet series is nearing completion, with the imminent publication of the fourth component, Blue Lightning. Until that comes out, you can read Raven Black, White Nights and Red Bones, and get acquainted with Jimmy Perez and the island communities far north of Scotland. Another series by Ann Cleeves is set in north-east England and features police detective Vera Stanhope, who first appeared in a standalone called The Crow Trap, which I enjoyed very much earlier this year. Vera was too full of life to leave to one book, however, so she has since appeared in Telling Tales and Hidden Depths, both of which I look forward to reading, ideally before the UK TV series of the novels begins next year.  

There's so much to choose from in the USA, and indeed everywhere else I haven't mentioned, but I wanted to highlight here Peter Spiegelman, who has (to my knowledge) written three excellent novels: Black Maps, No Way Home (US title Death's Little Helpers) and Red Cat, about a rich Manhattanite, John March, who works as a private investigator to the consternation of most of his wealthy, banking family. The first novel, in particular, is a very strong book about grief and its after-effects, one of the very best I've read on this topic against the background of a strong mystery plot.

Maybe you would like to recommend a or some series to read over the holiday season?

UK paperbacks for March

I've been unable to write any posts for the past few days owing to other priorities – one of which is that I've bought a new computer which is very nice, but is taking a bit of learning/setting up. Here is a rather boring post, I'm afraid: some books that are due out in paperback in the UK in March 2010 (quotes are from The Bookseller). There are just so many of them it is all a bit daunting, but I've highlighted the ones that look most interesting to me, or that have been discussed a bit in the papers and on the Internet, with links to reviews so readers can find out more, and just listed the titles of the rest in a paragraph at the end. I'm currently reading the Donna Leon book and will write a review soon. The book I'm most looking forward to of the list below is the Nicci French title, though The Crossroads by Niccolo Ammaniti looks intriguing.

About Face by Donna Leon
"another subtle and evocative tale. They just get better with each one."

Assassin by Tom Cain
A Sam Carver (Accident Man) series novel. This time, he has to "save the new American president."

What to do When Someone Dies by Nicci French
Link up with Alibi, "a TV channel dedicated to crime".

Bloodline by Mark Billingham
A DI Tom Thorne series novel.

If the Dead Rise Not by Philip Kerr
Quercus say this is Kerr's breakthrough book. It won the 2009 Ellis Peters award for historical crime fiction.

The Neighbour by Lisa Gardner
"Orion is going big on this excellent thriller, her best for some time" according to The Bookseller.

The Last Child by John Hart
Recent winner of the CWA Steel Dagger. His previous novel, Down River, was a Richard & Judy pick. This one is "a complex tale with masses of plot, emotional, violent and compelling, all from a 12-year-old boy's point of view. It is compelling."

Evidence by Jonathan Kellerman
"Alex Delaware back on top form – but this really stars Milo Sturgis. FX TV campaign". Hmmm, although The Bookseller says "my reader was up half the night with it".

Where the Dead Lay by David Levien
Second from the author of City of the Sun, "Frank Behr again, I'd back it."

The Edge by Chris Simms
"features Manchester DI Jon Spicer. He is definitely a talent to watch, a rising star."

The Poisoning in the Pub by Simon Brett
"Lovely cosy English crime with Fethering amateur sleuths Jude and Carole in their 100th mystery."

Judgement and Wrath by Matt Hilton
"Second adventure for Joe Hunter, the British vigilante fighting Amercian criminals."

Relics of the Dead by Ariana Franklin
"….the author is ace and she just gets better. This is set in medieval Glastonbury, terrific stuff."

The Coronation by Boris Akunin
"abduction during the build-up to the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II."

A Visible Darkness by Michael Gregorio
Third in series, in this one "a serial killer attacks women on the gem-rich Baltic coast."

Cold Blood by James Fleming
"Sounds perfect for those missing Alistair MacLean."

The Crossroads by Niccolo Ammaniti
"Renowned Italian prizewinning author with a dark literary thriller, vividly written in a jerky cinematic style and featuring damaged hopeless characters in a violent tale where things go horribly wrong. It's a good read."

Trust Me by Peter Leonard.
"noir thriller full of shady men, double-crosses, car chases and shoot-outs."

Like Clockwork by Margie Orford
"A female South African "Cracker" is introduced in this gritty, Cape Town underworld serial killer novel."

Chez Max by Jakob Arjouni
"A futuristic urban thriller in the style of Chandler, a standalone by the creator of Turkish Frankfurt-based Detective Kayankaya". Sounds intriguing!

Others: 8th Confession by James Patterson; The Brotherhood of Five by Clio Gray; The Crucifix Killer by Chris Carter; Fatal Last Words by Quintin Jardine; Bones of Betrayal by Jefferson Bass; Land of Ghosts by E. V. Seymour; Book of Lies by Brad Meltzer; Tutankhamun by Nick Drake; The Brotherhood of Five by Clio Gray; The Betrayer by Kimberley Chambers; A Day and a Night and a Day by Glen Duncan; Beg to Die by Beverly Barton; Reckless by Andrew Gross (James Patterson's former co-author); Girl in the Woods by Jennifer McMahon; The Book of Love by Kathleen McGowan; The Book of Lies by Brad Meltzer; The Spy Game by Georgia Harding.

Suggest a Christmas Title: Voices by Arnaldur Indridason

Suggest_a_christmas_title If I read novels set at Christmas time, I don't seem to mention this fact in my reviews. Therefore, I'm going to be quite derivative and repost a review of Voices, by Arnaldur Indridason, as part of Kerrie's Mysteries in Paradise "suggest a Christmas title" feature.

Review first published at Euro Crime, in March 2007.

VOICES, the third book by Arnaldur Indridason to be translated into English, is even better than the first two, and that's saying something, as SILENCE OF THE GRAVE, the previous outing for Inspector Erlendur, deservedly won last year's CWA Gold Dagger. Each book covers a narrower canvas than the previous one, but reveals and explores more of Erlendur's psyche. This increasing depth and focus is, for me, what makes this crime-fiction series among the most excellent I have read.

The doorman at a Reykjavik hotel is murdered in his basement room on-site, wearing his "part-time Santa Claus" outfit, just before Christmas. Erlendur and his team investigate the death of this long-term employee, whom his colleagues neither noticed nor liked, against the disapproval and even hostility of the hotel staff. Erlendur suffers a kind of seasonal paralysis, and rather than return to his empty, dingy flat at the end of the first day of the investigation, impulsively takes a room at the hotel – more to spite the manager than anything else. It isn't a nice room and the heating doesn't work, but it forms the nucleus for the story over the few days that follow, as Erlendur observes and absorbs the "voices" and rhythms of the hotel, and has to try to explain to various colleagues and his daughter why he isn't "home for Christmas", even though he is not fully aware of his reasons.

As Erlendur discovers more about the victim and the sad life he led, the title of the book becomes apparent. The "voice" of the victim, all-powerful as a child, has gradually diminished over the years until nobody knew or cared about the man he had become; his voice has, literally, disappeared. Simultaneously, Erlendur sinks into an introspective mood, triggered by the long-ago events and family dynamics he uncovers in the murder investigation. Driven by a hopeless urge to find a way to relate to Eva Lind, his tragic daughter, to prevent her falling back into her old life, he struggles to connect with the voices of his own past. Both for his daughter and for his hopes of a new relationship after his disastrous marriage and subsequent years of solitude, Erlendur is forced to relive a childhood tragedy, and acknowledge its effects on himself and his parents.

Another "voice" is that of a badly beaten boy, whose mother is in a mental hospital and whose short-fuse father is about to go bankrupt. Erlendur's colleague Elinborg is convinced that the boy's father is to blame for the attack, rather than the alleged perpetrators (some schoolboys), and has been trying to coax the silent child to speak out from his hospital bed. Will the boy find his voice and testify, or will the police team find his voice on his behalf, to protect him from the perpetrator, before the case collapses due to lack of evidence or witnesses?

None of the underlying themes and tensions in the book impede the pace. The story of the two crimes and their investigation are deftly handled, being believable and sad, rather than lurid and/or ultimately stretching credibility, like so many genre examples. Indridason is masterly in the way he makes the story of each crime suspenseful yet at the same time an elegy for sad and lonely lives of most of those involved. Part of the book's strength lies in the investigation of past emotional landscapes, which adds insight and emotion to what could otherwise, in terms of basic plot structure, be as shallowly exciting as Agatha Christie. The author (and his translator, who seems to have served him well) has written a spare, direct text, with dashes of grim humour and neat character observations, that slips by so that you have finished the book before you've noticed. But the voices will echo on, and you’ll be waiting keenly for the next instalment.

Read other reviews of Voices at:

Euro Crime (Karen Meek)

Euro Crime (Norman Price, a.k.a. Crime Scraps)

Mysteries in Paradise

January Magazine (Ali Karim)

Brothers Judd (A+ ranking)

The Complete Review (Literary Saloon)

The Independent (Jane Jakeman)

Nordic Bookblog

Reading Matters