Progress on reading books eligible for the 2010 International Dagger

It is a while (5 March, in fact) since I have posted about my attempt to read as many as possible of the 61 books eligible for this year's International Dagger award – the annual CWA prize for a novel originally written in another language and translated into English. My end-date is the announcement of the shortlist, which will happen at CrimeFest next month (May). 

In my 5 March post, I reported that I had read fifteen of the books, which are listed below, DMatterwith links to my reviews either at Euro Crime or at Petrona. 

Mikkel Birkegaard – The Library of Shadows (review t/c)
Andrea Camilleri – August Heat  
Leif Davidsen – The Woman from Bratislava (review t/c)
Karin Fossum – The Water's Edge
Petra Hammesfahr – The Lie
Anne Holt – Death in Oslo
Arnaldur Indridason – Hypothermia
Camilla Lackberg – The Stonecutter
Stieg Larsson – The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest
Deon Meyer – Thirteen Hours
Jo Nesbo – The Snowman (review t/c)
Claudia Pineiro – Thursday Night Widows
Markaris_greece Andrea Maria Schenkel – Ice Cold
Gunnar Staalesen – The Consorts of Death
Johan Theorin – The Darkest Room

Since then, I have read the following eligible books:

Tonino Benaquista – Badfellas
Eugenio Fuentes – At Close Quarters
Luigi Guicciardi – Inspector Cataldo's Criminal Summer
Henning Mankell – The Man from Beijing
Dominique Manotti- Affairs of State 
Petros Markaris – Che Committed Suicide (review t/c)
Juli Zeh – Dark Matter (review t/c) 

This takes my total to 22, that is, about one-third of the total eligible. As things stand, I think the judges have a real problem on their hands, because only three of these 22 are, in my opinion, not likely to make the shortlist. I would be happy to see any of the remaining 19 go forward to the next round! Maybe I have been lucky in the particular books I have read out of the 61 possibles. (Not all of these 61 will have been put forward for the competition by the publishers, I guess, so it is possible that the judges will have an easier task if some of them were not submitted!)

In the meantime, any recommendations from among the remaining 39 books would be much appreciated.

Alphabet in crime fiction: Juli Zeh

ZVariously entitled Dark Matter, The Theory of Everything, and Free Fall, Juli Zeh's novel is my contribution to the last letter in the half-year-long exercise that has been the crime-fiction alphabet. I read the book a couple of weeks ago as it is on the list of titles eligible for the International Dagger award this year.

Karen of Euro Crime recently wrote a post containing the UK and US covers and publisher blurbs of this novel, which are very different, and asked readers which they prefer. I prefer neither, not only because I find it intrinsically hard to agree with anything, but mainly because I felt neither blurb helps the book. The UK blurb gives away the first big plot development, never a good idea although ubiquitous in the industry. It is as if these blurb-writers think nobody will read or buy the book unless they give away something crucial, but in fact all it does to me is to induce tedium until I get to a point in the book that continues from where the blurb left off. The US blurb, on the other hand, makes the book sound intellectually challenging or even pretentious, which it isn't. Rather than quoting from either blurb here, therefore, I will provide the first paragraph of my review of the book, which is submitted to Euro Crime and will be out in full fairly soon: 

DARK MATTER is a detective story with a physics theme. The
basic story is an apparently simple one. A happy family consisting of
Sebastian, a professor of physics at Freiburg University; Maike, his impossibly
beautiful wife who helps to run an art gallery; and their ten-year old son
Liam, temporarily separate during the summer holidays – Maike on a cycling
tour, Liam to scout camp, and Sebastian to spend time in solitude working on
his latest theories about the nature of time. 
While Sebastian is driving Liam to the camp, however, a terrible event
occurs. Before he can properly react, Sebastian is sucked into a vortex of
terror and criminal activity, and the contented existence of the family is

The edition of the book I read is translated from the German superbly by Christine Lo.

The author studied international law and creative writing, worked with the United Nations in New York, and now lives in Brandenberg. She has won many awards for her writing.

Dark Matter was published in the UK in March, by Harvill Secker. Here are links to some reviews of the book (most of which contain more information than I would have wanted to know before I read it):

DMatter  The Times

Simon Clarke at Amazon

Crime Time

The Book Bag

The Guardian

Crime Fiction alphabet series at Petrona.

Mysteries in Paradise, home of the crime fiction alphabet. Visit this link if you would like to participate (though you have only until the end of this week, and the only letter left is Z!)

Miss Marple and Kinsey Millhone are the winners

As the "male version" of the favourite detective competition nears its close, with the final two contestants being Philip Marlowe and Harry Bosch, I thought it would be a good time to reveal the choices made for the favourite female detective. On a straight count, giving each suggestion one vote, the winners, in a tie, are Miss Marple and Kinsey Millhone, closely followed by V I Washawski and Lisbeth Salander. Kathleen Mallory and Barbara Havers receive honourable mentions. The rest of the characters I have listed received one vote each, though I have disqualified Nancy Drew because the author is a pseudonym for many authors. 

Agatha Christie's Miss Jane Marple (5)Miss m  

Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone (5)

Sara Paretsky's V. I. Warshawski (4)

Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth Salander (3)

Carol O'Connell's Kathleen Mallory (2)

Elizabeth George's Barbara Havers (2)

Sue g

The following all received one vote:

Leah Giarratano's Jill Jackson 

Asa Larsson's Rebecka Martinsson

Arianna Franklin's Adelia Aguilar

Gladys Mitchell's Mrs Bradley

Rebecca Cantrell's Hannah Vogel

Sara pColin Cotterill's Nurse Dtui

Laura Lippman's Tess Monaghan

Imogen Robertson's Harriet Westerman

Ian Rankin's Siobhan Clarke

Alicia Gimenez Bartlett's Petra Delicado

Rosa Ribas's Cornelia Weber-Tejedor

LisbethVanda Symon's Sam Shephard

Ann Cleeves's Vera Stanhope

Alexander McCall Smith's Precious Ramotswe

Adrian Hyland's Emily Tempest

Dorothy L Sayers's Harriet Vane

Fanny Fiske

OconnellNancy Drew (disq.)

Stella Blomqvist

Helene Tursten's Irene Huss

Liza Cody's Anna Lee

Barbara Seranella's Munch Mancini

Liza Cody's Eva Wylie 

Marcia Muller's Sharon McCone

J. D. Robb's Eve Dallas

Over at Friend Feed, Mack wonders "how specific one could get in the "favorite" game. Favorite former alcoholic ex-cop now a private detective, Mathew Scudder vs Jack Taylor (Jack wins for me); favorite friend of the detective who could kill you instantly, Pike vs Ranger vs Hawk (my fav. is Pike). With the range of crime/mystery fiction there are lots of favorites possibilities." I must have a think about the possibilities!

Murdering Mansfield Park?

Fanny-and-mary-mansfield-park I have never been remotely interested in reading one of the "hilarious" (not, probably) mash-ups of well-known novel with horror (or other) genre. The irreverent Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was the first one I noticed, but I've regularly shuddered at the sight of imitators such as Queen Victoria – Demon Hunter, and flinch at the prospect of Android Karenina, Henry VIII- Wolf Man, or the Beatles-inspired Paul is Undead. Therefore it was amusing to read Alison Flood's piece in last week's (2 April) Bookseller in which she says the joke has worn thin, having been initially enthusiastic: 

"Enough, though. A clever independent publisher did something quirky and unique, which worked because it felt irreverent and original. Flooding the market with quick-turnaround copycats is none of those things. This particular seam has been mined: it's time for something new."

Quite. And I thought the same when an amusing post at Euro Crime blog flagged up three covers for three editions US, UK and Australian) of Murder in Mansfield Park in a post last week. The covers are interestingly different (worth a look), none of them the one I have reproduced here, but the book itself? As noted at Euro Crime blog, I said I'd never be tempted to read it. But…..Michelle Peckham's review, out yesterday at Euro Crime, has almost persuaded me. The review is particularly insightful as Michelle is clearly a (possibly quite unusual) person who is an enthusiast for Jane Austen and crime fiction. Hence, the review both appreciates the plays on the original novel, and enjoys the crime aspects. In fact, it seems as if the author, Lynn Shepherd, may have missed an opportunity, as Michelle writes that it is the prospect of married professional investigators of the time which is the strength of the book, rather than the Austen parody. I have to admit, on the basis of her review, I am a little bit tempted…. See what you think.

Book review: Inspector Cataldo’s Criminal Summer by Luigi Guicciardi

Cataldo Inspector Cataldo’s Criminal Summer

By Luigi Guicciardi, translated by Iain Halliday

I don’t mean to start a review with a geography lesson, but as this novel is set in the small, fictitious town of Guiglia, Italy, I was curious to try to locate it, as it seems like a nice place for a holiday. I discover that it is in the north of the country, near Modena and the more famous town of Bologna, in the Appennine mountains. The titular Inspector Cataldo is from Sicily, though many cannot believe this as he is tall, fair and does not speak with an accent. He’s moved far from his southern roots because of his police career, leaving behind his elderly mother, an ex-girlfriend and the opportunity to eat fresh, rather than frozen, fish in his move to the north.
 Cataldo is an introspective and self-contained man, quiet and committed to his job. He is called in when the body of Giulio Zoboli is found in his study, shot through the temple. The assumption is that the death is suicide, but Cataldo and his team soon discover that, as his wife Miriam suspects, Zoboli did not die a natural death.

Zoboli was an academic, working on literary analysis and criticism at Bologna University.  He was frustrated because his mentor, Professor Luigi Ramondini, has taken his research findings to present at a conference, ostensibly on his behalf. Not only did Zoboli feel that Ramondini would take the credit that belongs to him, but also Zoboli did not have tenure. The Italian system of awarding university appointments via annual concorsi is famously corrupt and nepotistic. Zoboli was dependent on Ramondini for his chance at a permanent position, so did not insist on presenting the work himself, even though it would have greatly improved his chances of a professorship.
ModenaAs well as this festering argument, a pale stranger had appeared in town a few days before, asking a hotel manager where Zoboli lives. Calling himself Alberto Ferraro, he followed Zoboli for a while, eventually going to his house and revealing himself to be a fellow academic wanting help with his research.  Delighted at the prospect of discussing his work with a fellow-specialist, Zoboli agreed to meet Ferraro later that evening, half an hour before the fatal incident. When Miriam returned home from a couple of days away, she found her husband’s body in the study and called the police, in the shape of Inspector Cataldo.

 Although the death looks like a suicide, Cataldo has his suspicions as there seems to be no motive. Miriam says that her marriage was happy and that the couple had no money worries despite her husband’s lack of tenure, which for him was more a matter of pride than anything else, for he was a better academic than his mentor. When Cataldo’s suspicions are confirmed, he is not short of suspects. Not only does Ferraro turn out not to be who he seems, but a clue leads Cataldo to investigate a celebratory dinner that Zoboli, Ramondini, Miriam and several other friends attended 18 years before, which took place on the same night as a terrible, apparently unconnected, crime.

 I loved this novel, which was written in 1999 but is only just translated and published in England by the small, independent publisher Hersilia Press. I am so pleased that I’ve been able to read this book, which certainly has an element of a Father Brown story and a dash of Hercule Poirot, but is distinctive in its own right.  The author delivers on all counts: a tight plot which has a satisfying resolution despite a large number of motives and suspects – and indeed, additional murders; a lovely sense of place; and an appealing protagonist. Cataldo is a far cooler customer than his excitable fictional countryman Salvador Montalbano, but is intriguing in his philosophy of life and in his half-revealed past.  According to the publisher’s website, there are three more Inspector Cataldo novels yet to be translated, and I shall be first in the queue to read them when they are.  Iain Halliday has done a lovely job with this book, and I hope he will continue to interpret the rest of the series for English-language readers.

I thank the publisher, Hersilia Press, for kindly sending me a copy of this book. 

About the book at the publisher's website.

About the author at the publisher's website.

Read another review of this novel at International Noir Fiction (Glenn Harper).

(Photo: countryside near Modena.)

Booklovers’ holiday and bookgroup competition

Great news for booklovers who aren't wedded to home for the start of the new academic year in September. A booklovers' holiday has been announced for the week of 3-10 September 2010. Taking place in an old baronial hall in the countryside near Girona, northern Spain, the fully-catered week will feature daily book discussions with special guests Ann Cleeves, Clare Dudman, Charles Lambert and Adam Nevill. It sounds like a wonderful week for those lucky enough to have the time and money to attend. 

Books to be discussed:

Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves

A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees by Clare Dudman
Any Human Face by Charles Lambert

Apartment 16 by Adam Nevill

More details of this and other special interest holidays by 7day wonder can be found at the company's website.

 "Thomas Cromwell has been described as Alastair Campbell with an axe – and that is what makes this novel so intriguing: it is about the man who makes other men; whose machinations control the balance of power and who is adept at the backstage manoeuvres of a chief press officer. " Thomas Cromwell is the main character in Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantell's Booker-prizewinning novel, which is Book of the Month at this month. The site has an interview with the author , and there is a competition in which you can win one of ten copies of the book. I have not read the book yet, but Prof Petrona, who usually reads historical fact not fiction, is nearing the end and thinks it is brilliant. 

My Euro Crime review of Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves.

Euro Crime reviews of Ann Cleeves's other books.

Book review: Affairs of State by Dominique Manotti

Manotti 1
Manotti 2
Manotti 3
Manotti 4 Affairs of State by Dominique Manotti.
Translated by Ros Schwartz and Amanda Hopkinson.
(EuroCrime, Arcadia, 2009. First published in France, 2001.)

This superbly exciting political thriller, set in the 1980s, takes as its premise a saying of Francois Mitterrand, who appears once or twice in its pages: “Money corrupts, money buys, money crushes, money kills, money ruins, money rots men’s consciences.” The central character, or at least main influence in the novel, is Francois Bornand, who has no official position in government but, as a friend of the president and part of the elite French establishment, has the influence to do whatever he wants. He’s involved in all kinds of sleazy operations, not least international arms dealing. Much of what makes him such a horrifyingly fascinating creation is his amorality – just how far will he go to further his own interests or to protect himself when his plans go wrong, and how many people will suffer?
A more conventional part of the plot from the crime-fiction perspective concerns the cop Noria Ghozali, a young woman who has escaped from an abusive family background and who is now fighting to be recognised as a good detective (which she is), despite institutionalised racism, sexism and protectionism in the police force. Noria’s survival tactics to escape her past have taught her much about street life, so when a woman’s murdered body is found near a downmarket housing estate, she’s got a pretty good idea of how to go about tracing her last movements and hence to find her identity, the first step to solving the mystery of her death: a mystery whose solution seems to involve a very tangled mesh of people and circumstances.  

Affairs of State is a tense, exciting and masterly novel about the abuse of power and wealth by the French inner establishment. Businessmen, politicians, civil servants, lawyers and journalists are all tangled together in a network of class, contacts and favours owed. Corruption is everywhere, and those who are not tainted, such as the magistrate in charge of the murder investigation, are in grave danger of being silenced in other ways.

Dominique Manotti writes with muscular assurance – she seems to understand and convey the world as experienced by Bornard and other very senior men with effortless, instinctive ease. Doubtless this is much aided by the capable translators, but in addition to their talents,  I think Manotti’s style is like that of  no other female author I’ve come across in her “under the skin”, unflinching portrayal of the cruel male psyche, for whom sex is a means of power and used to humiliate, and for whom everything in life is just another deal with the devil.  I was also entranced by the character of Noria, who does not appear enough in my opinion, particularly in the second half of the book, and I hope very much to see her again. 
Those who have seen the French TV series Spiral will recognise similarities in the depictions of the French legal, political and police systems, and there are also several similarities of plot themes, although the book and the TV series veer in different directions as they reach their respective destinations. I wonder if France really is like this?!  Whether it is or not, Manotti has written a blistering book, skewering this particular form of evil in a compelling, sophisticated and exciting way. What a great read!

More about the book and the author at the publisher's website. It seems to have gone through several iterations of cover art; the version I read is the one with the map of Africa, on the far right.

Reviews of Dominique Manotti's books at Euro Crime.

Affairs of State reviewed at International Crime Fiction, Glenn Harper's blog, and by Daniel Kelleher at his blog.

Sixty seconds with Dominique Manotti at Reviewing the Evidence.

The cover of the edition I purchased states "Now a major film", but I've found no evidence of it. If anyone knows about a film of this book, please let me know! Thank you.

Dominique Manotti teaches nineteenth-century Economic History. Rough Trade, her first novel, was awarded the top prize for the best thriller of the year by the French Crime Writers Association. Lorraine Connection has won the 2008 CWA Duncan Lawrie International Dagger Award and was nominated for the 2008 ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards. Her other titles include Dead Horsemeat.

Four translations and lots of others for July

More "summer sizzlers" from The Bookseller – they really should think up some different headlines! This time, it is new titles for July, and there are some that look very exciting. One is The News Where You Are by Catherine O'Flynn (Viking), "eagerly awaited follow-up" to her debut What Was Lost. The new book does not look like a sequel, though, being about Frank Allcroft, a regional TV news presenter, who becomes "increasingly preoccupied with Fossum  disappearances – of his architect father's post-war buildings, old people who die alone and specifically the mysterious death of a former colleague." The Bookseller calls it affecting and very funny.

Another exciting title is Bad Intentions by Norwegian author Karin Fossum (Harvill Secker), an Inspector Sejer mystery. "Three friends row across a lake in the middle of the night…but only two return to their remote cabin…." 

Another treat in store for fans of translated fiction is Ashes to Dust, third novel by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, a very talented Icelandic author. I reviewed the first of these Thora Gudmundsdottir novels, Last Rituals, and am keen to read the second, My Soul to Take, which is just about out in paperback now. The new novel concerns bodies found at Nesser  the "volcanic tourist attraction known as The Pompeii of the North", and the suspicion that falls on a man who was a teenager when the volcano last erupted.

Then there is a new Hakan Nesser! This one is called The Inspector and Silence (Macmillan), in which Van Veeteren investigates a mysterious religious sect after the body of a girl is found in the woods in Sweden. I've loved the previous four books in this ten-part series that have so far been translated – I only wish the remainder could be published more quickly given that they were written some time ago now, and the author has moved on to another character (who sounds equally as interesting as Van Veeteren).

The fourth translated book to feature is A Death in Calabria (Little Brown) by MicheleYrsa  Giuttari, former head of the Florence police force. I haven't read any of this series yet, but they look good. In this one, the FBI call on Superintendent Michele Ferrara when an execution in a Madison Avenue apartment is believed to be linked to the notorious Calabrian Mafia. 

There are plenty of non-translated new books due in July as well, of course. Notable among them are  Blue Heaven by C. J. Box (Corvus); Broken by Karin Slaughter (Century); Long Time Dead by Tony Black (Preface); Low Life by Ryan David Jahn (Macmillan); Two for Sorrow by Nicola Upson (Faber); Kimberly's Song by Alison Bruce (Constable); The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill (Harper Collins) – this one is a standalone; a debut thriller called The Network by Jason Elliott (Bloomsbury); The Assassin's Prayer by Ariana Franklin (Bantam) and lots of others including new titles by Lisas Scottoline and Jackson, Jeffreys Deaver and Lindsay, Joseph Finder, David Baldacci and Stephen Leather.

Alphabet in crime fiction: A Certain Malice by Felicity Young

Y  My contribution to the crime-fiction alphabet this week is a review of A Certain Malice, by Felicity Young, which I read last week. 

Sergeant Cam Fraser and his teenage daughter Ruby have moved from Sydney to start a new life in Western Australia after a disaster devastated their family. Cam is in charge of a small-town police station consisting of the previous senior cop, Vince, who is not only unpleasant but possibly corrupt, and three relatively inexperienced staff, including one, Leanne, only a few weeks out of police academy.  The team has to cover a large area where the risk of bush fires is always present and the nearest town is a day’s drive away.

As the book opens, Cam is called out to a fire in the scrub grounds of an expensive girls’ school. Two teachers have reported a fire, so Vince and the local fire fighters have attended the scene. After they’ve put the fire out, one of the teachers discovers a charred body behind a tree stump. Despite Vince’s sneers, Cam calls out the scene of crimes officers. Soon, his suspicions are confirmed: the death was not caused by fire, but by drowning.

Cam’s investigation is a whirlwind of confusion, as both of the teachers who reported the fire seem to go out of their way to tease him and obscure the truth. The headmistress Certain malice  of the school seems nervous and unstable, and her husband definitely has something to hide. As far as the community is concerned, Cam is very much an outsider in the local hard-drinking, macho world he’s now joined– not only this but he has to cope with his very rebellious and resentful daughter.

I really like the way that the strands of evidence get more and more varied as Cam discovers more facts about everyone – facts that seem to him to add to the confusion rather than to narrow down who was responsible for the fire and the murder.  Cam’s past and his troubled relationship with Ruby add an interesting level of emotion to the narrative, as well as his possible interest in one of the teachers at the school. The author has a confident writing style, and ties together all the various aspects of her plot in a convincing, if slightly melodramatic way, at the end. 

This novel was first written in 2005, published by the independent house Creme de la Crime. Since then,  Felicity Young has written three novels featuring Detective Sergeant Stevie Hooper, so A Certain Malice may be her only novel so far to feature Cam Fraser. The author was born in Germany, went to school in the UK, and has lived in Western Australia since 1976.

Author website  

Read another review of A Certain Malice at Reviewing the Evidence (review by Denise Pickles) 

Bernadette’s review of An Easeful Death, the first Stevie Hooper novel, at Reactions to Reading.   

Kerrie Smith’s Euro Crime review of Harum Scarum, the second Stevie Hooper novel.

Kerrie has written about Felicity Young as her contribution to Y in the crime-fiction alphabet (coincidentally).

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 news, bits and bobs

Scandinaviamap  A bit of book news from the blogosphere and the real world.

The Black Sheep Dances has begun a Scandinavian reading challenge. "This challenge starts now and runs through December 31, 2010.Don't know where to start?  Scandinavian authors are hot right now (even if the temperatures might be chilly). Stieg Larsson, Per Petterson, Dag Solstad, Hakan Nesser, Henning Mankell, Linda Olsson, Arnaldur Indridason and Knut Hamsun all have great books to get you started. Once a month I'll throw out some titles and some interesting trivia." The challenge is to read six books by the end of the year, so not too taxing. There are plenty of suggestions at Euro Crime's Scandinavian crime fiction database (though the challenge is by no means limited to crime), covering Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland and Finland. (Thanks to Mystery Bookshelf, where I spotted this information.) 

Not a week goes past without some outrage or other in the book publishing industry. This past week it was the turn of Amazon again (a frequent butt of everyone's ire). Booksellers and others are upset with Amazon's insistence that its marketplace sellers do not sell the same book for a lower price elsewhere. I just don't get what there is to get upset about (but then I am a reader not a bookseller!). There are lots of price-comparison websites that direct you to the cheapest price for an item, and it seems to me that Amazon's rule is consistent with that. If you want to sell a book and use Amazon marketplace, you have a huge market compared with trying to sell it on your own website (of course, Amazon takes a cut). If you buy a book and then find it cheaper somewhere else, it is very annoying. So I think it is fine, for all these reasons, for Amazon to require that if someone wants to sell a book on its marketplace, they don't also sell it more cheaply somewhere else. If this logic is incorrect, I'd like to know how.

Shadow Finally for this post, and somewhat related to book pricing, I actually managed to take advantage of a 3 for 2 offer in Waterstones today. I found two new paperbacks I want to read (by John Harvey and Denise Mina). As usual, I was stuck for a third – several books I'd quite like were not in the offer, and others that I had already read were in the offer. But I was lucky as I had a companion with me who found a book she wanted, which was in the 3 for 2 offer. Phew! While perusing the new-in-paperback tables, though, I was dead chuffed to find two books that quoted my Euro Crime reviews! One is Karin Alvtegen's Shadow, which quotes from my review on the cover:  "I was on the edge of my seat, my heart was pounding"; and the other is Esther Verhoef's Close-Up, with a quote from my review in the inside front pages. Impressively, in both cases, the review accurately provides the Euro Crime website address ;-). By the way, I think the cover of the mass-market paperback of Shadow is a vast improvement on the cover of the previous, more expensive, version. Either way, I think it is a very good book indeed.