Alphabet in crime fiction: Qiu Xiaolong

X As my version of the crime fiction alphabet series is to write about an author whose surname begins with each letter, X is an almost insurmountable challenge. I can resolve it only by moving outside the sphere of crime fiction (Xenophon or Malcolm X – both of whom I have read, incidentally) or by a combination of cheat/unoriginality. I’m going for the latter option, so have just read Death of a Red Heroine, the first novel by Qiu Xiaolong (written in English), winner of the Anthony award for best first crime novel. Both Norman of Crime Scraps and Craig of Crime Watch have previously featured the same author under the letter “Q”, so apologies to them for following in their footsteps. Needs must…my review follows:

Death of a Red Heroine is on the one hand a fairly standard police procedural novel, as Chief Inspector Chen and Detective Yu of the Shanghai Police Bureau investigate the case of a murdered young woman who is found in a body bag in the river, at a remote fishing spot. Although the cause of death is clear, there are very few clues about the identity of the woman. The police department is overwhelmed with cases, so nobody other than Chen seems interested in following up the case of the woman, but Chen feels compelled to continue. Eventually, she is identified as Guan Hongying, literally translated as “red heroine”,  a “national model worker” at the cosmetics stand in the First Department Store. Although written in 2000, the novel is set in 1990, not all that long after the end of Mao’s infamous repatriation programme where “educated scholars” were sent to become peasants and/or to labour camps. These are the days of Deng, in which these people had been largely “rehabilitated” and redeployed to the cities, in order to stimulate the ruined economy resulting from Mao’s policies. Guan is literally a poster child for the regime, selected as a “model” for her fellows and held up as the epitome of how a good communist worker and party-member should live her life. Her fame means that an outcome to the investigation of her death becomes a priority for Chen’s superiors. Chen and Yu are almost completely frustrated, however, as Guan seems QP_1 to have been excessively conscientious about her work and her party activities, and to have had no social life whatsoever. One of the main themes of the novel is how Chen and Yu, aided by an engaging small collection of friends and relations, persist in their determination to find out who killed Guan and to make that person face justice.

An equally important part of the novel is to make the reader experience life in China of the time as it was for the ordinary people. We see events through the eyes of several of the characters, mainly Chen and Yu, but also Yu’s wife and his father, “Old Hunter”, and Chen’s friends “Overseas Chinese” Lu and journalist Wang Feng. By witnessing the way these people live, we understand how much the social intervention of the government and the communist party deeply affects every aspect of their lives. Everyone lives in a tiny room (if they are lucky), whether single or a family. Beds and tables are folded up and put away as appropriate. A “kitchen” is a gas cylinder and a stove in a corridor where everyone in a block of flats has to cook. People have been assigned jobs on a political whim or because of their contacts, not because of talent.  The cost of goods is state-controlled, so everyone is poor (those whose money was taken by Mao had it returned when repatriated by Deng’s administration, but only at the new exchange rate of a fraction of its old worth). Nobody quite knows who has independent thought and who is reporting to the party. Chen himself is a translator of mystery novels (including Ruth Rendell) so earns a bit of money that way. He’s also a relatively well-known poet, and has achieved some fame owing to having his work published in the newspapers.  Throughout the book, Chen and others speak lines of poetry from the ancient world to the modern, beautiful lines that are open to subtle interpretations. This is really their only way to communicate about their emotions, because so many activities are forbidden or illegal. Finally, everybody is enthusiastic about food. People have dinner parties and go to the markets to buy the most amazing variety of zoological specimens, and eat delicacies from all parts of the bodies of these organisms. All through the novel, people communicate via eating and drinking, whether a basic cup of tea made by putting a jasmine flower from the hair into a cup of warm water, or a banquet in a private room in an exclusive restaurant, which costs several months’ salary.

I have to admit to finding this novel rather hard going. The writing style does not flow easily and the book is long – 460 pages. The crime story is satisfactorily resolved, but at the outset it takes Chen about 200 pages to check out a couple of things that I thought he should have done right off the bat, both of which break the deadlock in the investigation. The third obvious thing I thought he should have done does not occur to him right until near the end of the novel, and leads directly to the solution. I can understand that the author needed to pace these discoveries in order to tell the rest of his story, but I didn’t find it convincing that these avenues did not occur to Chen, especially as he translates crime fiction of the calibre of Ruth Rendell, which should have given him some tips. The social saga is again rather repetitive and drawn-out as one reads it, with a very slow pace in the first half. The text comes more alive in the second half of the book, as Yu drops his suspicion of Chen and people’s true motivations are revealed.

Nevertheless, in retrospect I think this book will stick in my mind, if for no other reason than the vividly but subtly portrayed accounts of a society in microcosm: the terrible crimes against the people committed by the government, both in the repression of the workers and the corruption that allows the children of the higher officials to lead lives of pampered luxury next to the squalor of everyone else.  Yet the book is by no means an angry indictment: it is told from the point of view of people who have no other experience, and in many cases indulge in much humour about their predicament. In 1990, the international expansion of China to the West was only just beginning; mobile phones and the internet were not known. Although some of the characters resent their life-situation more than others, they all have their own ways of finding aspects of their lives to enjoy, perhaps a spouse or child, or a favourite recipe, or an appreciation of literary works.

Profile of the author at January Magazine.

Author's website.

Michelle Peckham reviews the most recent of Qiu Xiaolong's Chief Inspector Chen books, The Mao Case, at Euro Crime.

Crime Fiction alphabet series at Petrona.

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

Book review: What to do when someone dies, by Nicci French

French What to do when someone dies
By Nicci French (Penguin paperback)

The writing team of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French have come up with another “can’t put down” novel in their story about Ellie Faulkner, a mid-thirties furniture restorer, who answers her door one day to be told by the police that her husband has died in a car crash. Not only that, but he was with another woman, who has also died.

Ellie believes that her marriage to Greg was happy, and so refuses to accept that he was having an affair with Milena, the passenger in the car. All of her and Greg’s friends, relations and colleagues disbelieve her and thinks her denial is part of her reaction to the shock of his death, so Ellie decides to prove that Greg was faithful.  She begins to make a timeline of Greg’s last week, based on his appointment diary and what she knows of his movements. Her friends think she is mad, and that this is part of the grieving process. The police aren’t interested. Eventually, having got as far as she can with her project, Ellie begins to infiltrate the life of the dead passenger, to see if she can find anything out from her perspective. Naturally, events spiral out of control, and we are never sure if Ellie has in fact gone a bit mad, or if she’s the sane one and will in fact find the conclusive evidence she seeks.

Ellie is a typical Nicci French protagonist, living the North London lifestyle; thin, grungy but chic, a bit of a victim who everyone seeks to protect; and plenty of devoted (somewhat implausible) friends who constantly turn up on her doorstep with food, whisky and good advice. It is this somewhat annoying veneer, however, that makes Ellie a believable heroine, as her grief and her determination to prove that her experience of her relationship with Greg is a true one, and that he did not deceive her, drive her onwards whatever the embarrassment or danger.

The novel slips down in a couple of hours, and is (despite the cliché) one of those you just can’t put down. Unfortunately I guessed all the details of the plot pretty early on, but never mind – even though it is a predictable book, it is still very exciting, well-paced and involving. It has its Swedish crime fiction elements (the authors are frequent visitors to Sweden as Sean French, one half of the duo, is half-Swedish) and its women's magazine elements, and the fusion of the two is the ultimate comfort read so far as I am concerned. 

Nicci French website, including a video of the authors talking about this book. 

Read another review of this book at Kimbofo's blog Reading Matters.

My Euro Crime book reviews for March

ARSWhite TMfBeijing TLTonguepb TLTSeconds TSCutter I did not read/review as many books in March as I did in February, because I didn't have a week off work in March. However, I did manage to consume quite a few, all of which I enjoyed though it has to be said, some more than others. Reviews published at Euro Crime (not all of books I actually read in March!) are:

A Room Swept White by Sophie Hannah. "In her new novel, Sophie Hannah addresses the complex and delicate issue of women who are accused, and sometimes convicted, of killing their own babies despite claiming that the deaths are natural. This subject is a very upsetting one, yet the author handles it with care and insight, weaving many perspectives into a vivid tapestry."Read on at Euro Crime.

The Last Ten Seconds by Simon Kernick, "an action-packed thriller which leaves no opportunity for reflection as the pages zoom past. The book opens as Sean Egan, the narrator, lies shot and seriously wounded in a room surrounded by dead men – the police burst in and more shots are fired, but we know no more than that. The action then shifts to 37 hours previously …."

The Stonecutter by Camilla Lackberg, translated by Steven T. Murray. "The third of Camilla Lackberg's series set in the small seaside town of Fjallbacka, Sweden, is every bit as good as the previous two novels."

The Man From Beijing by Henning Mankell, translated by Laurie Thompson,…."an ambitious approach and one which, with the aid of the as-ever superb translator, Laurie Thompson, the author pulls off superbly in a rounded novel that embraces themes of global insecurity and concern."

The Lying Tongue by Andrew Wilson. .."the author has a fresh, assured voice and writes superbly and with a great sense of pace. One of the many reasons I liked this book is that it is a well-written story that depends for its punches on plot, atmosphere, tension and character, rather than on gadgetry, cliche or action sequences."

My prize among these for "novel of the month" has to go to The Man From Beijing, which shall probably feature on my "best of the year" list. I highly recommend it, though it is quite long and because of its large range of themes and geography (it isn't "just" a crime novel), it isn't a pacy, exciting thriller such as the Simon Kernick novel I reviewed this month. One of the many pluses of The Man From Beijing is the three main women characters: the judge, the police inspector, and the senior civil servant from China. The Lying Tongue, however, is a great read and is much shorter: if you haven't read it yet you have a treat in store in the style of Patricia Highsmith but, possibly, even better.

At Petrona during March, my reviews were limited to authors with names that fall near the end of the alphabet: Snow Angels by James Thompson and The Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Liang. Although these promising debut novels are set in Finland and China, respectively, they were first written in the English language. I highly recommend them both.

Paperbacks to watch out for in July

Barclay Truth "Summer sizzlers", the Bookseller calls them. Paperbacks due to be published in the UK in July, that is. The "biggie" is a book with the initials TLS by the author DB, accompanied by the words "a lot of summer suitcases will be delighted". I wonder for how many more years we will be seeing that type of comment as part of news about an upcoming book, and when it will be automatically assumed that readers will just be downloading an e-version from somewhere?

Ah well, for the moment anyway, many of us still have covers and printed versions to look forward to, even though it will be a strain on the suitcase (in my case, certainly) compared with an iPad or an e-reader. And if you aren't tempted by TLS/DB, there's plenty of crime fiction to look forward to – perhaps top of the sales list will be Linwood Barclay's third novel to be published in the UK, Fear the Worst (Orion), "another terrific thriller", apparently. It shares at least one element with his second book, Too Close To Home – a picture of a fence on the cover.

As usual I am not going to mention all the paperbacks due out in July as there are so many of them. Among those that caught my interest is Pretty Little Things by Jilliane Hoffman. I enjoyed her debut but was disappointed by her second, so have not read more. This new title, however, marks a change of publisher from Penguin to HarperCollins and is a "horribly topical tale about teenage girls being enticed out through internet dating", a theme that also is central to Val McDermid's Fever of the Bone. The Bookseller highly recommends Hoffman's novel of "fast-paced, short chapters of the events seen through different eyes."

My pick of the month is definitely Truth by Peter Temple (Quercus). Featuring some of the same characters as those who were in the Dagger-winning The Broken Shore, Truth is "a harder, darker, more spare tale of corruption and deceit." It is certainly worth finding space in your luggage for this one. Another book I've read in hardback and coming up for paperback release is Nigel McCrery's Tooth and Claw (Quercus), about a synaesthesic detective. Apparently there is talk of a TV series (the author has written two already, Silent Witness and New Tricks).

N. J. (Natasha) Cooper's second Karen Taylor novel, Lifeblood (Pocket), is out. I enjoyed the first, No Escape, set on the Isle of Wight, and this one is apparently set six months later. Another book I'm keen to read is Acts of Violence by Ryan David Jahn (Pan). I have a proof copy in my (long) queue. The novel is apparently about the sad lives of the occupants of a block of flats where a murder happens, and how their problems become entangled with the violence outside. "Highly recommended", again.

Just a few more that I haven't read but which look good: Cambridge Blue by Alison Bruce (Robinson); Loss by Tony Black (Arrow); The Death of a Mafia Don by Michele Giuttari (Abacus); Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan (Ebury); Black Water Rising by Attica Locke (Serpent's Tail). Other novels include The Taken by Inger Ash Wolfe (Corgi), sequel to The Calling; Death by Design by Barbara Nadel (Headline); Look Again by Lisa Scottoline (Pan), which seems like a bit of a departure from her usual themes; The Fourth Assassin by Matt Rees (Atlantic), the fourth of a series which I haven't yet started on but must; and lots more!

Swedish book review: Mankell’s The Troubled Man

Troubled man At the recent Swedish Embassy evening, Karen and I met the charming Sarah Death, editor of the Swedish Book Review. Sarah very generously gave each of us a copy of the magazine's second issue in 2009. Among the many interesting articles in the magazine is a review by translator Laurie Thompson of Henning Mankell's upcoming The Troubled ManDen orolige mannen, published in Sweden last August, and due for publication in the United Kingdom by Harvill Secker in February 2011.

In his review, Laurie Thompson writes that although it is about Wallander, the novel is not a police procedural - although plenty of skullduggery is going on, the investigation is the responsibility of the Stockholm police, so nothing to do with Wallander officially, as he works in Ystaad. However, Wallander is affected by the events because of a very personal relationship involving his daughter Linda. Thompson explains that the plot of the novel, though fascinating, is not really what it is about. It's about Wallander the man: interfering, breaking promises, lying and ignoring procedure, but, of course, getting results. Not only is the book about Wallander's coming to terms with his age, but there are confrontations with his divorced wife Mona and an encounter with Baiba, the woman with whom he has a relationship in The Dogs of Riga, a very early book in the series. "Throughout the book, he is preoccupied by a deep love for his daughter, and his admiration of her qualities….the real subject matter – the troubled man of the title – is Wallander as a person rather than as a police officer." This is a really lovely review by Laurie Thompson, a superb translator who empathises with his author. Reading the review made me remember how much more I enjoyed the Wallander novels, despite their imperfections, than either the Swedish or the English TV versions. The Swedish version is far superior to the English, but even so it veers into melodrama and soapishness too often to be on a par with the novels. (This probably will not stop me watching the upcoming new series while I do the ironing.) If I manage to live to an old age, I shall read all the Wallander novels again, in order this time 😉 .

From Wikipedia: Henning Mankell had originally planned to write no more Wallander stories after the publication of the short story collection The Pyramid in 1999. In 2002, he released Before the Frost, a novel that shifted the focus of the stories to Wallander's daughter Linda, who joins the police force. Mankell planned more novels focusing on Linda's police career but subsequently abandoned them after the death of Johanna Sällström, the actress who portrayed Linda. Several years passed before Mankell decided there was one more Kurt Wallander story to tell. The naval aspect of the Troubled Man plot was inspired by the submarine incursions into Swedish territorial waters that occurred from 1982–83. Mankell considered these to be the worst scandals in Swedish political history.

Reading report and Wings of the Sphinx preview

I finished The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell on Sunday, which means it took me a week to read. It is quite a long book which is rich in detail and broad in canvas, if that isn't a contradiction in terms. I enjoyed it very much as a good story and as an analysis of the Chinese and Swedish judicial and socio-political-economic systems, described in a fascinating (not at all boring) way. I found only one section (the historical one) relatively weak. My review is now written and submitted to Euro Crime.

Aca11 Since then I've read two more books, both obviously a lot briefer than this one: Rupture (aka A Thousand Cuts – a better title) by Simon Lelic and The Wings of the Sphinx by Andrea Camilleri. Both these books are marvellous in very different ways. I thought I might share some extracts from this latest novel by the supreme Camilleri, aided and abetted by his magnificent translator, poet Stephen Sartarelli.

Ever since television had come into the home, everyone had become accustomed to eating bread and corpses. From noon to one o'clock, and from seven to eight-thirty in the evening – that is, when people were at table – there wasn't a single television station that wasn't broadcasting images of bodies torn apart, mangled, burnt, or tortured, men, women, old folks, and little children, imaginatively and ingeniously slaughtered in one part of the world or another.
Not a day went by without there being, in one part of the world or another, a war to broadcast to one and all. And so one saw people dying of hunger, who haven't got a cent to buy a loaf of bread, shooting at other people likewise dying of hunger, with bazookas, Kalashnikovs, missiles, bombs, all ultra-modern weapons costing far more than medicine and food for everyone would have cost.

I can't write the concluding paragraph to this passage, it is too distressing a form of black humour for me. But the passage is a good explanation of why I for one don't watch TV and haven't for years. Moth Here's another extract, funnier and no less true:

In the station's parking lot he pulled up alongside a Ferrari. Who did it belong to? Surely to a cretin, whatever the actual name written on the registration.
For only a cretin could tool around town in a car like that. Then there was the second category, the imbeciles, closely related to the cretins with Ferraris, made up of people who, to go shopping, needed to climb into an SUV with four-wheel drive, fourteen lamps between headlights, road lights and fog lights, shovels and pickaxes, emergency ladder, compass, and special windshield wipers for eventual sandstorms. And what about the latest maniacs, the ones with Hummers?
"Ahh Chief!" Catarella exclaimed. "There's summon 'ere waitin' for yiz since nine 'cause he wants a talk to ya poisonally in poisson."
"Does he have an appointment?"
"No sir. But 'e says iss important. 'Is name is…." He stopped and looked down at a scrap of paper. " 'E writ it down for me 'ere. 'Is name is De Dodo."
Was it possible? Like the extinct flightless bird?
Camilleri "You sure that's his name, Cat?"
"Cross my heart, Chief."

Naturally, the fortyish man who came into his office had a different name from the one written down and cited by Catarella: Francesco Di Noto. Decked out in Armani, top-of-the-line loafers worn without socks, Rolex, shirt open to a golden crucifix suffocating in a forest of unkempt, rampant black hair.
He was surely the idiot tooling around in the Ferrari. But the inspector wanted confirmation.
"My compliments on your beautiful car."
"Thanks. It's a 360 Modena. I've also got a Porshe Carrera."
Double cretin with fireworks.

Alphabet in crime fiction: Diane Wei Liang

W My contribution to the letter W in the crime fiction alphabet is a review of a debut novel, The Eye of Jade, by an author new to me, Diane Wei Liang.

Mei Wang is a determined young woman in modern China. Not wishing to be part of the conventional system of kickbacks and privilege, she quits her safe Ministry job and sets up as a private investigator. Because detective agencies are illegal, she calls herself an information consultant, and hires a young man from the provinces to be her secretary and to make sure her clients pay up.
The Eye of Jade is a delightfully appealing little book, which is really two stories. One is the story of Mei and her family – her widowed mother, her spoilt, rich sister Lu, and a range of “aunties” and “uncles”, only some of whom are related. Through the family’s trials and tribulations, the reader is treated to a wonderful account of life in China – how state intervention affects the rebels as much as the opportunists, the peasants who are looked down on by the city dwellers, the gambling and gaming addictions, the poor “cities” of tents and tenements. Mei’s family story is a great way to learn about this strange country and its many cultural norms that are so different from those with which we are familiar in the West.
The other aspect of the story concerns the investigation. Mei is hired by her “uncle” Chen, in Eye of jade reality an old friend of her mother’s, to find a stolen, ancient artefact. To do this, she has to follow up various leads in the less savoury parts of Beijing, providing us with a richly varied tour of gambling dens, struggling restaurants, market traders and more.
As a detective story, the book does not really work. The plot is weak and not resolved in any serious manner. But as an account of a family’s travails, as Mei unravels what happened to her father and tries to be a good daughter to her unloving mother, and a good sister to the patronising, materialistic Lu, we are treated to a fascinating glimpse of the lives of Beijingers. Mei is involved in a reunion with her old university friends, and with her old boyfriend who has moved to the USA, as well as digging into the past of the Cultural Revolution and various other dubious population-control initiatives.
I give this book ten out of ten for atmosphere and the character of Mei. It is far less strong on plot, but the author has bags of talent and I am sure will develop it in future novels.

Karen Meek's review of this novel at Euro Crime.

Sunnie Gill's review of the second novel in this series, Paper Butterfly, at Euro Crime.

Author's 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.

Stieg Larsson and Swedish crime fiction

TGWKTHN TGWPWF TGWTDT The other day, the Swedish Ambassador, Mr Staffan Carlsson, was kind and generous enough to invite Karen of Euro Crime and me to an evening panel discussion about Stieg Larsson's books. It was a convivial occasion – as well as an ever-enjoyable talk over a pre-Embassy salad with Karen, we met some old and new friends at the event itself. The panel discussion, though, to my mind, was a mixed experience. I was impressed (of course) by the wit and intelligence of author Hakan Nesser (if you haven't read his books, please do, they are very good, and short), and also by Eva Gedin of Nordstedt, Larsson's Swedish publisher and the person who first recognised his talent. Lynda la Plante was also on the panel and was very forthright and amusing.  Barry Forshaw has written a biography of Larsson, called The Man Who Left Too Soon, and as a result had formed some views of the author and his books, which were also promoted by the panel chair, journalist Mark Lawson.

Although I don't doubt that Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy is an exceptionally good set of novels, in particular Lisbeth Salander being a great fictional character, I am not so sure that I agree that this author is head and shoulders above other crime novelists, whether Swedish or not. The panel also fell into the usual trap of considering only Henning Mankell and Larsson as the extent of Swedish crime fiction output until some of the audience reminded them of the existence of Sjowall and Wahloo and others.  (Considering Sweden alone, I have read and enjoyed many authors to the same extent as Larsson: Karin Alvtegen, Johan Theorin, Liza Marklund, Helene Tursten and Asa Larsson to name but four, and find others very promising and "as good" in different ways: Camilla Lackberg, Kjell Ericksson, Ake Edwardson, Inger Frimansson, etc.)

I would recommend anyone who liked The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo to try Johan Theorin's The Darkest Room, for example; and for those who liked The Girl Who Played with Fire, try Karin Alvtegen's (perhaps superior and certainly shorter) Missing; and the Le-Carre like The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest is matched by Henning Mankell's latest, The Man From Beijing. In terms of one author's body of work, try Asa Larsson, whose first three novels are translated into English.  I am not playing a game of "who is best" but pointing out that there are plenty of excellent Swedish crime books out there not written by Stieg Larsson.

Without a doubt the Millennium trilogy is an exhilerating read, and I highly recommend the novels. Last week, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was the best-selling book in the UK, and I see people all the time reading it on the train or tube. It's a real cross-over novel, with men and women, young and old, all seemingly finding things to like about it. I also highly recommend the film version, currently on general release in the UK and elsewhere.

A final point – Eva Gedin, S. Larsson's original publisher, was asked whether Larsson wrote any more novels or part-novels (the author envisaged writing a series of ten about Millennium). She thought not, but said that in her view the trilogy has a completeness about it, so has come to a natural end. One of the panellists, I cannot remember which, thought that Lisbeth's story should not continue as it would have to return her to "more of the same". I disagree. I think the first three novels, while forming a trilogy, tell the story of Lisbeth's "second birth". By the end of the third, she is ready to embark on her life's real journey, having been able to unshackle herself from the events described in the preceding three books. We know that the author left various avenues unexplored, most particularly the relationship between Lisbeth and her twin sister. I, for one, am convinced that Stieg Larsson had many original and imaginative plans in store for Lisbeth, but died before he could write about them. What a tragedy.

My review of The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson.

Petrona posts about Stieg Larsson's books.

Stieg Larsson at Euro Crime.

Euro Crime database of Swedish crime fiction (including reviews).

My reviews of 35 (at time of posting) Swedish crime novels.

Author's website.

Articles on the web about Stieg Larsson.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: film website.

This is getting out of control

First rule Markaris_greece Solar_272 Down river

I am not quite sure how this happened, but I have four new books to read, acquired in the past two days. First, Karen of Euro Crime has kindly given me a publisher's copy of Down River by John Hart. I had told Karen I was quite interested in this author when we were last in Waterstones Piccadilly and were looking at Last Child on the shelves. A day or so after that, Last Child was "book of the week" at W H Smiths, which means you can get a copy for £2.99 if you by The Times, which is good for me as I buy The Times every day anyway. So, I bought my copy in WHS one day, but the branch I was in was very small and did not stock books. I therefore went to another, bigger branch that night with my copy of the paper and asked if I could buy the book. "No!" said the lady behind the till, rather shocked. "That would count as a separate transaction." She was pretty abrupt, so I decided I would not give WHS the satisfaction of any of my hard-earned cash for a while, to punish them. Karen, however, had a copy of the earlier book, Down River, so I've now got that instead. Thanks, Karen!

Also thanks to Karen, I have a publisher copy of Che Committed Suicide by Petros Markaris, "an Inspector Haritos mystery". I've had my eye on this book for a while, not least because it is on the list of books eligible for this year's CWA International Dagger  award, as many as possible of which I am trying to read before the shortlist is announced at CrimeFest in May. After reading Norman's review at Crime Scraps, I was even keener. The publisher, Arcadia books, have kindly sent me a copy which arrived two days ago. I don't think I have read any Greek crime fiction before (apart from the ancients), so this one will be a refreshing change of geography.

Finally, I admit I cracked. Amazon sent me an email to tell me that if I wanted Solar by Ian McEwan for £7.59 and The First Rule by Robert Crais for £5.84, I'd better get on with it as the price will go up after Sunday (the "offer of the week" changeover day). As I want to read these books anyway, and the price is brilliant, in each case, for a newly published hardback, I weakened to the point of clicking. This morning, the books arrived.

In the meantime, I am still reading the same book I have been reading all week, The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell. I've nearly finished it now, though – well I am on page 283 of 360 – so the next book is definitely beckoning.

An impression is worth 100 words

Short is sweet when it comes to fiction, according to Robert Collins at the Guardian blog a couple of days ago. "Novels don't have to be long to say something — just look at A Clockwork Orange, The Great Gatsby and The Outsider, all of which barely break the 100-page barrier and fit nicely in your back pocket." I agree on these examples, which I have read, and also with One Day in the Life of Ivan Desinovich, The Old Man of the Sea, Of Mice and Men, On Chesil Beach and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, all other titles that Mr Collins provides and which I've read. "When they're this good, short novels come close to perfection in a manner for which longer novels are simply not equipped."

I thought I might try to identify some very short crime(ish) novels I have read and that made sufficient impact on me (in one way or another) that I remember them well, sometimes years later: 

TR Therese Raquin by Emile Zola

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

The Time Machine by H G Wells

The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

BridgeSLR Cop Hater by Ed McBain

Thumbprint by Friedrich Glauser

The Murder Farm by Andrea Maria Schenkel

The Memoirs of a Survivor by Doris Lessing

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

CR Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger

Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner.

Any other suggestions of 100-ish page novels that made an impression (does not have to be a positive one)?