Some UK crime-fiction statistics from The Bookseller

This week's Bookseller (28 May) has a page (40) devoted to crime-fiction statistics. Well, that sounds a bit grandiose – actually the page features two tables based on UK sales figures. Worth sharing, I thought. The first table is the "top 20 selected Scandinavian crime/thriller bestsellers (4 weeks ending 15/05/10)". There is a slight ambiguity here over the word "selected", but the bottom line is that Stieg Larsson takes 
250px-YrsaSigurðardóttir2009positions 1 to 4 for the Millennium Trilogy (3 and 4 are split between the "normal" and the film tie-in versions of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo).

Eight of the remaining slots are taken by Henning Mankell: The Italian Shoes (5) (not a crime novel, I've previously heard); Faceless Killers (9), The Dogs of Riga (10), The Pyramid (14), The Fifth Woman (17), Sidetracked (18) and Before the Frost (19), all Kurt Wallander novels, and The White Lioness (13). The remaining slots are taken by Jo Nesbo (The Snowman, 6; The Redeemer, 11; The Redbreast, 12; Nemesis, 16; and The Devil's Star 20); Yrsa Sigurdardottir (pictured, My Soul to Take, 7); Johan Theorin (The Darkest Room, 8) and Camilla Lackberg (The Preacher, 15).

The "units", Bookseller-speak for number sold in the 4-week time-period, vary from 123,384 for The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest at no 1, to 624 for The Devil's Star at no 20. In fact, the Stieg Larsson books account for something over 310,000 sales between them, then we plunge to 4,000 for the next on the list (Italian Shoes), and 1,500 for the next (The Snowman). So although the list is nice to see, more than half of the books on it each sold between 600 and 1,200 copies over 4 weeks, a tidy amount, although not exactly creating any millionaires.

The second list is attempting to uncover "modern classics" of the genre. The criteria are that original publication was more than 5 years ago, and the sales period analysed is the same, the 4 weeks ending 15 May 2010. On the list of 20, Lee Child features eight times, at nos 1-6, 9 and 10, selling more than 13,000 copies of these titles during the identified 4 weeks. The other authors are: Chris Ryan (7, Zero Option); Kathy Reichs (8, Fatal Voyage and 16, Deadly Decisions); Joseph Heller (11, Catch-22, not sure that I would have included that title in this genre); Martina Cole (12, The Ladykiller and 17, The 
Berne  Know); John Grisham (13, The Partner, 20, The Last Juror); Karin Slaughter (14, Kisscut); Suzanne Berne* (15, A Crime in the Neigbourhood); Alexander McCall Smith (18, The No 1. Ladies' Detective Agency); and Andy McNab (19, Dark Winter). Sales of each title varied from 570 to 1,200.

My verdict on these choices as a reader? The Scandinavian list is great and I'd recommend any of those (there are a couple I haven't read but shall be reading). The "modern classic" list, on the other hand, I would not recommend. According to the Bookseller, many of the titles there have had a boost by being on 3 for 2 offers and/or heavy discounting during the 4 weeks. If I were to think of all the crime novels I have read over the past 5 years, very few if any of these would be on my list of favourites. I'd recommend trying Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben, Val McDermid and others for a "bestselling commercial formula" if that's what you are after, rather than this mix of mainly sub-gangster/sub-forensic "thrillers". Lee Child and John Grisham (better on place than plot) are pretty solid, Karin Slaughter has been good up until her last couple or so, and Alexander McCall Smith is very good at a somewhat gentler level than the others on the list.

I would have preferred to see a longer timeframe than 4 weeks in May to look at the 5-year-old (and more) "keepers", because of the skew provided by special offers and re-releases. But, what you see is what we get (because the Nielsen book sales tracker that provides the data for the Bookseller's tables is a proprietary system that the likes of you and me cannot query).

*I don't recollect having heard of Suzanne Berne before, and her books look interesting, so another author to check out! See the Guardian's review of The Ghost at the Table, for example. A Crime in the Neighbourhood, the novel in the bestselling list, was her debut and won the Orange Prize for fiction in 1999. I have struggled somewhat with previous Orange Prize winners, but this one looks worth a go.

UK paperback preview for September

Can you imagine the summer holidays over, going back to school and college, and (for those in the Northern Hemisphere) the nights drawing in? Hard to contemplate in May, when (apart from a couple of blistering days last weekend), summer hasn't even started yet. Nevertheless, the Bookseller (28 May) is urging its readers (booksellers in the main, I presume, as well as a few hangers-on like me) of the delights in store 
Rupturefor their stock in September. Here are a few of my picks that will either warm you up, chill you down, or otherwise distract you from the end of the vacation:

Rupture by Simon Lelic (Picador). This one is simply a must-read – I called it "a Lord of the Flies for a new generation" in my review. The Bookseller says: "It's been some time since I picked up a first novel and literally couldn't put it down …."brilliant". If you don't believe me or the Bookseller, you can check out reviews by Crime Fiction Reader (It's a Crime), Bernadette (Reactions to Reading) and Kim (Reading Matters). This book is also known as A Thousand Cuts in some regions.

American Devil by Oliver Stark (Headline) comes highly recommended by Ben (Material Witness) and Elaine (Random Jottings). The Bookseller says " a UK author with a US setting (think Lee Child) and begins a series with New York police detectives Harper and Levene. I have a copy on my shelf courtesy of the publisher, so must prioritise!

Other quick mentions: She Lover of Death by Boris Akunin (Phoenix) – eighth in a series in which Fandorin assumes the alias of a Japanese prince to penetrate a Moscow secret society (historical); A Game of Sorrows by Shona MacLean (Quercus) -" a deeply absorbing book illustrating the horror and injustice of British rule in Ulster bound round a rich tale of Fitzgerald and murder" (historical); The Dark End of the Street, ed Santiofer and Rozan (Bloomsbury) – new short fiction on sex and crime from McDermid, Child, Connelly and others; A Bouquet of Barbed Wire by Andrea Newman (Serpent's Tail) – a reissue of this steamy 1970s family secrets novel; This Perfect World by Suzanne Bulger (Pan) – a 
 bullied victim's mother calls on her tormentors to help her daughter following a mental breakdown; The Disappeared by M, J. Hall (Pan) –  second outing for coroner Jenny Cooper; Bloody Women by Helen Fitzgerald (Polygon) – highly recommended tale about a girl imprisoned for killing her four ex-boyfriends. (Having read two of this author's previous novels, I'm definitely going to give this one a go!). And, of course, very many others including Nine Dragons by Michael Connelly and 61 Hours by Lee Child among the predicted top sellers.

Started reading The Complaints by Ian Rankin

I am currently reading, and enjoying, The Complaints by Ian Rankin. About 50 pages in, we begin to get to know the protagonist, policeman Malcolm Fox, a little bit, as he returns home from visiting his father. Isn't this just a classic description, and doesn't it depict someone who is instantly recognisable and likeable in the crime fiction genre?:

The mail waiting for him on the hall carpet was the usual stuff: bills and junk and a bank statement. At least the Royal Bank of Scotland was still in business. There was nothing in the envelope with the statement, no letter of grovelling apology for getting above itself and letting down its customers. Lauder Lodge's monthly payment had gone out. The rest seemed to be petrol and groceries. He looked in the 
TComplaintsfridge, seeking inspiration for a quick dinner. Denied, he tried the cupboards and emerged with a tin of chilli and a small jar of jalapenos. There was long-grain rice in a jar on the worktop. The radio was tuned to classic FM, but he changed the channel to something he'd come across recently. The station was just called Birdsong and birdsong was precisely what it delivered. He went back to the fridge and pulled out a bottle of Appletiser, sat with his drink at the table and rubbed a hand across his face and forehead, kneading his temples and the bridge of his nose. He wondered how he would pay for his nursing home when the time came. He hoped there'd be someone like Mrs Sanderson waiting for him there.

When the food was ready, he took it through to the living room and switched on the TV. There was birdsong still audible from the kitchen; sometimes he left it on all night. He flicked through the Freeview channels until he found Dave. It was all repeats, but still watchable. Fifth Gear followed by Top Gear followed by another Top Gear.

I am currently on page 240 of 381, so it won't be too long (I hope) before I can write a review of the whole book.

A S Byatt on translated (crime) fiction

I enjoyed reading an article in last week's (21 May) Bookseller (apparently not online) about the Independent Foreign Fiction prize by A. S. Byatt, well-known novelist and director of literature of the English Arts Council. Although there is a big picture of this year's winner, Philippe Claudel (winning title; Brodeck's Report), the article was written before the announcement, print deadlines being what they are. Ironically, the Bookseller's announcement of the prize, and their picture caption in the printed article by A. S. Byatt, do not mention the translator, John Cullen!

Obviously, A.S. Byatt's piece is not about crime fiction. But unlike many literary pieces, which are above such a lowbrow genre, she embraces this little corner of activity. She writes: "The prize has seen a range 
Brodeckof genres develop in translation. Crime fiction entries have always been numerous and the presence of a dedicated award for crime fiction in translation – the Crime Writers' Association International Dagger – first awarded in 2006, is welcome."

On the role of the translator: …"the prize has given the translator's art more profile. Often a translator's contribution is hidden – almost as if publishers don't want to advertise that the book is a translation. We ask that translators are credited in any publication we fund, and we also support organisations like the British Centre for Literary Translation which helps writers to work closely with translators developing their skills".

Translated novels that A. S. Byatt highlights as being worthy examples of contemporary literature include Carlos Ruiz Zafon's Shadow of the Wind, Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses. Finally, a word for the publishers. A.S. Byatt writes that the majority of fiction in translation is published in the independent sector, and singles out for special praise our favourites Bitter Lemon Press, Arcadia and Serpent's Tail among others. (All but one of this year's shortlist were published by independents; the winner was published by MacLehose Press, an imprint of Quercus – the same imprint that publishes the Millennium trilogy of Stieg Larsson).

Read reviews of Brodeck's Report at Euro Crime, The Guardian, The Times and Reading Matters.

News of the winning title at Crime Scraps.

Discussion of Brodeck's Report by the Not the TV Book Group.

Independent feature on the winning book.

Independent fiction prize: long list.

Book review: The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths

TJStoneThe Janus Stone is every bit as good as its predecessor, The Crossing Places, and in most ways even better. The protagonist, Dr Ruth Galloway, head of the forensic archaeology department at North Norfolk University (a fictional institution), is as instantly easy to like and to identify with as she was in the previous novel.  Here, she is involved in advising on a dig on the coastal salt marshes, in which Dr Max Grey of a university in Sussex is supervising the uncovering of Roman remains. In addition, Ruth is called to assist at a site in the local town, where an old mansion is being demolished in preparation for the building of a large number of “luxury” (i.e. poky) apartments on the same site. A few archaeologists have been allowed to spend some time digging for artefacts before the main construction work begins, but they discover bones that are a lot more recent than from any archaeological era.

We experience these events through Ruth’s eyes – she is a 40-year-old, slightly overweight, single woman, highly intelligent and individual, whose mind has the academic’s blessing and curse of cutting straight to the point of everything she experiences. This mental unvarnished yet quiet commentary on local events and people as well as on the wider world, is for me what lifts these novels into truly enjoyable, engaging experiences. Ruth’s lack of modern political correctness is a much-welcomed articulation of many of life’s modern irritations. In addition, perhaps because of her stifling childhood, Ruth is a tolerant and sympathetic person, and hence finds out a lot more about people and what they are up to than she might do otherwise.

At the end of The Crossing Places, Ruth made an unexpected and interesting discovery. That theme is continued in The Janus Stone, providing many amusing and warm touches throughout the novel, once again leaving a personal cliffhanger at the end which I can’t wait to see resolve itself! 

Personal considerations aside, The Janus Stone is a satisfying mystery novel, involving fascinating 
Elly ginformation about ancient gods and ritual practices, and a set of multilayered conundrums which have to be teased out in time as well as in place. In some ways, the plot is too similar to that of the first novel, and I hope that in future the author might develop some of the rather sketchy aspects outside of her archaeological dig scenes-of-crime-and-violence, in order to broaden her themes a bit – perhaps she could reveal more about Ruth’s daily university life, which is only vaguely sketched in the first two novels. There is also a dearth of suspects in The Janus Stone, although the crime plot is certainly well-thought-out, no complaints there, and the build-up of tension as well as the thriller climax are well done.

The two main protagonists of these novels, Ruth and DCI Harry Nelson, are well-rounded and engaging individuals, whose differences contribute to their friendship and collaboration, as well as to the readers interest in them. In The Janus Stone, we are introduced to some more of Nelson’s police colleagues, and a couple of Ruth’s associates from the first novel make further appearances. So there is plenty of opportunity for this gifted author (pictured) to broaden her canvas in future. I hope she will do so, because I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Janus Stone and would like to know more about Ruth’s world and what happens regarding Nelson, as this oddly matched pair encounter further crimes and trouble.

Author website.

I thank the publisher, Quercus, for sending me a copy of this novel, which was published in the UK in February 2010. Other reviews of The Janus Stone (all positive!):

Euro Crime (Pat Austin)

Independent (Jane Jakeman) (review contains spoilers about Ruth's personal life)

Daisy's Book Journal

The Star (Canada)

Book Review: Water-blue Eyes by Domingo Villar


Water-blue Eyes by Domingo Villar

Translated from the Spanish by Martin Schifino.

First published in translation in the UK, 2008. First published, as Ojos de Agua, in 2006.

Water-blue Eyes is simply a perfect short crime novel, 176 pages long. It is a debut novel, but the character of Inspector Leo Caldas has lived a life before the book opens, and  I am sure continues to live outside its pages. When we first encounter him, however, he his fulfilling his weekly stint on the local radio station’s phone-in programme “Patrol in the Air” in which he answers questions from listeners between musical numbers. Caldas really does not like the programme or this part of the job, partly because most of the callers complain about noise and other matters for the city police, not relevant to homicide, the department in which he works. By the end of the introductory chapter, and this week’s edition of the programme, Caldas has noted in his book “City police, nine; crazies, two; Leo, nil”. 

The novel is set in the town of Vigo in the Galicia region of Spain, which sounds extremely beautiful. Galicia is in the north-west of the country, with Vigo in the south-western part. Along the Atlantic coast are archipelagos, little islands and rias (drowned valleys, pictured). Inevitably, progress and commercialism are eating into the distinguished, long history of the region, and Caldas’s case takes him to one such project – a huge apartment block on a tiny offshore island connected to the mainland by a bridge. It is in one of these apartments that a body has been found. 

One of the many joys of this book is the mismatched partnership of Caldas, imbued in the traditions, proud history, and rambling, leisured manner of the region; and Rafael Estavez, the huge, irate, sweaty sergeant who has been transferred under some kind of a cloud from his native Zaragoza and assigned to Caldas by his boss, Salo, to keep him out of trouble and out of his hair, as far as possible. One of the many running pleasures in the novel are the myriad ways in which Estavez is a fish out of water, blundering around crassly and threateningly, getting the pair into trouble or alienating witnesses via his lack of any form of patience or internal anger management.  

But to return to the plot. No sooner is the first chapter over and Caldas off the air, than he is plunged into the case. Estavez is waiting for him at the studio to tell him that a murder has occurred. He drives Caldas to the scene of the crime, where the detectives discover the savagely brutalised body of a saxophonist, tied to his bed.  Although the reader is not spared the (extremely) gruesome details, they are conveyed in a brisk, detached style in the manner of conveying necessary information rather than dwelling on them for their own sake. 

The rest of the novel tells the story of the investigation: how Caldas and Estavez initially develop some leads, how they follow them up, are led astray, and seem to get stuck between a dearth of suspects and 
Water blueno evidence. They are also attempting to avoid contact with Salo, their boss – on Caldas’s part, he fears being taken off the investigation because he’s questioned a rich benefactor who has plenty of political influence; and in Estavez’s case because of a legal complaint that he attacked a young man in a gay bar. (In fact, Estavez was resting his foot, which had been stung by a weaver fish, an act which is misinterpreted in a hilarious set-piece.) 

Another running gag in the novel  is Caldas’s despised radio programme. Although he hates it, it gains him entry into almost every situation, as people he wants to question have inevitably heard his show and treat him as a celebrity rather than as a police officer.  Estevez, low on tact to put it mildly, keeps on making the point that it is only the radio show that is opening doors, adding even further to Caldas’s annoyance.

Caldas is a fully rounded character, but we only see some aspects of his life in this novel. He’s the son of the owner of a vineyard, and has a complicated relationship with his father, who is critical of his choice to live in the city, possibly because he cannot admit he wants his son to live with him. Caldas has had a relationship with a woman called Alba which is currently on hold, possibly to do with whether or not they want children. He’s a man who loves his environment; his appreciation of food is almost on a par with Salvo Montalbano’s*, in particular the delicious (we are told!) little crustacea and molluscs of the sea. The meals throughout are described in truly mouth-watering fashion.

You simply can’t beat this book for plot, character, atmosphere, a sense of place and poetry, and sheer readability. Although one does not feel one is reading an excessively detailed book – far from it – it is full of lovely touches, such as the book found by the victim’s bedside, and the conversation about it that Caldas holds with some university dons in the bar while waiting for their luras (small marine cephalopods) to be cooked. And most of these observations, even when apparently irrelevant, turn out to be part of the plot. All in all, the author is a naturally talented writer, who constantly brings a smile to the lips by his engaging asides and observations of human nature, yet who knows his craft – he never loses his control over the direction of this lean novel.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough as crime fiction of the best kind, and hope so much that the author, as is stated in the short biographical preface, is writing a second book. Martin Schifino, who also translates Carlos Fuentes, does a great job in this novel, so well portraying the different mores and cultures of the Spanish regions and the many humorous aspects of mutual misunderstandings. Don’t think this book is a comedy, though; it’s a morality tale with a sharp sting, much sharper than that of a weaver fish.

*Inspector Salvo Montalbano is the protagonist in a superb series of books by Andrea Camilleri, set in Sicily.

Why did I decide to read this book? Well, I had enjoyed so much reading all the books on Arcadia's Eurocrime current list  (Consorts of  Death/Staalesen, Che Committed Suicide/Markaris, Affairs of State/Manotti, At Close Quarters/Fuentes, etc) that I thought I should try this one! Then, Jose Ignacio of the blog The Game's Afoot reviewed it, so I just had to prioritise it. And I am so glad I did. I also see that Glenn has reviewed the book at International Noir Fiction.

I thank the publisher, Eurocrime/Arcadia, for sending me a copy of the book.

Longlist for Theakstons Old Peculier crime novel of the year

I wrote the other day about the shortlist for the CWA's International Dagger prize, which is for a novel first published in another language and then translated into English, during the eligibility period. Another list, this time a longlist, was announced at about the same time for the Theakstons Old Peculier crime novel of the year, the winner to be announced at this year's Harrogate crime writing festival in July. The winner is chosen by readers, rather than by judges; if you want to vote for your favourite, you can do so by visiting this link. Of the 20 novels selected, I have read 10 and reviewed 9 – the links to my reviews are below. Most of the others have been reviewed at Euro Crime. (I didn't review one of the books I read as I did not like it one bit.) 

  1. Crossing places  In The Dark
     – Mark Billingham
  2. If It Bleeds – Duncan Campbell
  3. The Surrogate – Tania Carver
  4. The Business – Martina Cole
  5. A Simple Act Of Violence – RJ Ellory
  6. Until It’s Over – Nicci French
  7. The Crossing Places – Elly Griffiths
  8. Cold In Hand – John Harvey
  9. Skin – Mo Hayder
  10. The Vows Of Silence – Susan Hill
  11. The Dying Breed – Declan Hughes
  12. Dead Tomorrow – Peter James
  13. Target – Simon Kernick

  14. CiHand  A Darker Domain
     – Val McDermid
  15. Gallows Lane – Brian McGilloway
  16. Geezer Girls – Dreda Say Mitchell
  17. Singing To The Dead – Caro Ramsay
  18. Doors Open – Ian Rankin
  19. All The Colours of Darkness – Peter Robinson
  20. Child 44 – Tom Rob Smith

Of the 10 books I have read, I would find it hard to recommend a winner. My own shortlist of these would be Cold in Hand, The Vows of Silence, A Darker DomainDead Tomorrow and, my choice as winner, The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths (with Cold in Hand an extremely close second). Cold in Hand is a better crime novel and full of emotion, but The Crossing Places has a protagonist with whom I instantly fell in love. Also, I like the idea of a debut novel winning the prize rather than one of the "usual suspects", as happened the only year I attended the Harrogate festival, when the winner was Stef Penney for The Tenderness of Wolves, a wonderful first (and so far, only, novel).

I have read so many excellent reviews of Child 44 and A Simple Act of Violence, neither of which I have yet read though I have them both gathering dust on my shelves, that it would not surprise me in the least if one of those is the eventual winner. Many of the novels on the list that I haven't read have also received very positive reviews, so there is all to play for. On balance, though, my own preference at the moment is for translated fiction, so if you haven't read many of these or many of the International Dagger shortlist, I would recommend trying the International Dagger selections first!

Book Review: Twisted Wing by Ruth Newman

Twisted wingTwisted Wing by Ruth Newman

Have you ever read the first 100 pages of a book and given up? That is what I nearly did with this one. But I persevered, and I am glad I did. The remaining 250 pages more than make up for the weak start.

The plot is a staple one, that of a serial killer in a Cambridge University college (this one called Ariel). As the book opens, a female undergraduate has been horribly murdered. It turns out that she is the third person to have been killed in less than 3 years. DCI Withers is now assigned to the case, having previously been sidelined for trying to convince his boss that the previous two deaths at the same college were related. Now that a third woman has been killed, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that one person, dubbed by the unimaginative media “the Cambridge Butcher”, is responsible. As well as the Withers back-story, we also get to know the group of undergraduates at Ariel who were in the victims’ circle. They are a disparate group, rather too Evelyn Waugh for my taste. A third aspect to the narrative is Matthew Denison, a forensic psychiatrist who is an old university friend of Withers and who is called in not only to examine the victims’ bodies but also to help investigate the crimes from the perspective of the mind and motivation of the killer(s). He has a very bland domestic set up with an always-understanding woman called Cass, which I could certainly have done without.

After about 100 pages of this I was getting quite bored and finding it hard to fix (or care about) the half-dozen or so examples of privileged youth who are presumably intended to be the chief suspects for the murders. However, when one of them becomes traumatised and hospitalised by having witnessed the third murder, as well as being a suspected perpetrator, the book begins to grip. And the grip continues to tighten, as we travel through a case of multiple personality disorder while Matthew tries to disentangle objective truth from present and past traumas. Suddenly, the story of the events surrounding all three murders is told chronologically, which brings the whole book into focus as the characters shift into three dimensions, and their reactions gel. I became more and more absorbed, as the temperature dropped lower and lower (figuratively and literally), and twist after twist caught me on the hop. In the end, I would say this novel is almost Scandinavian in quality as a piece of crime fiction, and that is praise indeed.

Twisted Wing was first published by Long Barn Books (warning: spoilers in blurb at the link) in the days when they published first novels that won their competition.  It was then published in paperback by Simon and Schuster (blurb is brief but fairly spoilerish), which is the edition I purchased and read.

Other reviews of this book:

Reviewing the Evidence (Sharon Wheeler, excellent review, as usual)

Fleur Fisher (a very perceptive review)

The Spectator 

Merging internet personae, and the importance of relevance

As more and more of the internet gets hooked up, it becomes harder and harder to hide ;-). I now regularly (instead of occasionally) feel apologetic to colleagues and people I know through work for receiving my crime-fiction-related output, and to those I know through our shared reading tastes to be receiving scientific updates and commentary. It is all down to this "behind the scenes joining up" that is going on everywhere. 

I have been experiencing with interest all the ways in which Typepad, the platform that hosts Petrona, has been interconnecting me with Facebook, Twitter, Friend Feed, OpenID, the shortener, et al. Most of the time I ignore this as to me, blogging is just something I do because I like it, I am not interested in going out there looking for lots of readers, "optimizing", wanting money or ads, etc. If people want to read what I write here, that is great, and even better if they want to interact about it,  but I take the line that they can find me easily enough if we share interests, the internet being what it is. Nevertheless, because it was easy to do, I did succumb to one of these offers last week and created a Facebook page for this blog. I have no idea what that is or what it is supposed to do, particularly as posts I write here are automatically exported to my Facebook account anyway (which saves me actually having to go there), but I was delighted [?] to receive an email from Facebook yesterday morning:

Share good news
"Hi Maxine,

Here is this week's summary for the Facebook Page: PETRONA

0 fans this week (2 total fans)
0 Wall posts, comments and likes this week (0 last week)
0 visits to your page this week (0 visits last week)".

Oh well, either I am doing something very wrong or something very right. (One, or maybe two, of those ''fans'  is me, I am sure. I suppose I should go and double-check to make sure I have not enmeshed an innocent Facebooker, one of these days.)

To date, I am with John Tierney, who wrote in the New York Times fairly recently that in effect people set up their own online "niche networks" by sharing articles that they have read and liked with each other. Facebook et al. do it one (closed) way, but I prefer the open, Friend Feed-style "personal" approach (an example is our crime and mystery fiction readers' group, in which 133 (as of today) people chat about a bunch of self-selected RSS feeds, basically). 

I agree also with the NYT point that much of the news and comment spread and discussed in this way, as well as much better targeted and trustworthy than what you stumble across on Facebook, is positive or constructive. It's a very good, efficient way to filter out not just what doesn't interest you, but a lot of negative stupidity and rubbish (if you don't like stupidity or rubbish). And filtering is the key to getting the most out of all the wonders the internet has to offer you, the individual, whether you are in solitary or sharing mode. It is certainly much more important to me than how many visits to my blog's Facebook page I get (which is just as well!).

International Dagger shortlist, announced and reviewed

Awards are the name of the game at the moment, with two of the main crime-fiction prizes achieving escape velocity on Friday by announcement of their respective short and long lists. In this post, I focus on one of these awards.

The shortlist for the International Dagger award of the Crime Writers' Association was announced at Crime Fest. The list is available at Euro Crime blog, which contains links to Euro Crime reviews of all six 
Hypothermiatitles. Inevitably there has been quite a bit of buzz about the selections, for example at Friend Feed (please let us know your opinion there!).

Although I did not do a great job at predicting the shortlist (I got two out of six), I think the CWA list is a good one because it is geographically varied (2 novels from Sweden (one mainland, one island!), with one each from Italy, South Africa, France and Iceland), and thematically varied. My mistake on my predicted shortlist was to limit it to "traditional" crime novels. The selections on the actual list all provide a terrific atmosphere and sense of place. They all seem to be translated very ably and with insight into the author's intentions. Here's the list, with an attempted brief summary of each novel:

Tonino Benacquista – Badfellas (translator: Emily Read)
Black comedy and culture shocks as a Sopranos-style family in the US witness protection program settle in to French small-town life.
Andrea Camilleri – August Heat (translator: Stephen Sartarelli)
Inspector Montalbano investigates shady property deals and worse in the last remnants of traditional Sicily in a bitter comedy of life's tragedies.
Arnaldur Indridason – Hypothermia (translator: Victoria Cribb)
Erlendur investigates an apparent suicide, and old and new missing-persons cases, while reflecting on his own past actions and mistakes.
Stieg Larsson – The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest (translator: Reg Keeland)
Climax of the Millennium Trilogy as Lisbeth and Michael face down their respective nemeses, culminating in courtroom scenes and subsequent thrills.
Deon Meyer – Thirteen Hours (translator: K. L. Seegers)
Frantic pace as police and criminals pursue an American student through Cape Town over the course of a long day, while other crimes are committed and resources are stretched.
Johan Theorin – The Darkest Room (translator: Marlaine Delargy)

TDRoomShadows of the distant and recent past (maybe even ghosts) infect a young family while a policewoman investigates a series of burglaries on the island of Oland.


Which one do I think will win? Well, obviously I am not very good at predictions! Even so, the two choices of mine made previously that are on the actual shortlist are the two books that I think most likely to win, The Darkest Room and Hypothermia, both of which look at changes in a relatively small, isolated (island) community over a period of many years, and the adaptations people and society have made over this time. The device for this survey, in both books, is to look at old, more recent, and new crimes (for crimes, read crises, as none of these events is sensationally described as if it were the point in itself, which I appreciate – rather the crimes are the stimulus to set in motion chains of events which give the authors freedom to reflect). 

I'd be more than happy if either won (or any of the others), but I'd slightly be in favour of The Darkest Room because it covers more themes than Hypothermia, and because it conveys such a terrific sense of atmosphere, menace and a range of perspectives on life and living, by its various characters. Hypothermia's appeal, to me, is mainly the dark and long journey Erlendur is taking into his own soul, which is fascinating to me as I strongly identify with it, but which is perhaps too mono-dimensional in this particular book in the series to fully justify a win. But, that having been said, I think it is an excellent novel in its own right, and along with any of the other 5 novels, would be a worthy champion.

Some other early speculation on the shortlist can be found at Euro Crime blog (lots of suggestions in the comments), International Noir Fiction (where Glenn got three out of six right) and Crime Scraps (plus Norman's reaction to the shortlist).

The full shortlist. with judges' comments (not read by me before writing this post) and other information about the awards are at the CWA website.