My June Euro Crime and Petrona reviews

TPTree June was another good reading month for me, both in terms of quantity and (mostly) of quality. Books I reviewed for Euro Crime this month were:

The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly. "Very strongly reminiscent of Barbara Vine's A FATAL INVERSION, the main events of THE POISON TREE are set in a rambling old house in Highgate during the summer of 1997, when Tony Blair became Prime Minister of Britain for the first time, and, at summer's end, when Princess Diana died." Read on..

The Killer's Art by Mari Jungstedt, translated from the Swedish by Tiina Nunnally."The fourth, and in my opinion the best, Gotland novel by Mari Jungstedt takes place in a cold and dark February as the owner of a successful art gallery secretly congratulates himself while putting the final touches to his plan to start a new life, away from his stale marriage and routine existence on this small island off the coast of Stockholm. Before these plans can come to fruition, there will be one last exhibition at the gallery, to showcase a young, previously undiscovered Lithuanian artist. Of course, this being a crime novel, things go terribly wrong." Read on..

Dead Like You by Peter James.The sixth in the DS Roy Grace series follows the themes established in previous novels, but is written to enable new readers to start the series here without needing to read the previous titles. Grace is a senior officer in the Brighton and Hove CID, with special responsibility for cold cases. In the past five books (summed up briefly for new readers) he has not had much opportunity to fulfil this role given the numerous contemporary cases he's solved over the past year (an amazingly varied year!). Now, Grace looks through some of these neglected old cases as the year approaches its end, determined to make inroads. Read on...

Of these three, my favourite by a long way was The Killer's Art. I also liked The Poison Tree, but was not so keen on Dead Like You. (Is this author going the Patterson/Cornwell route?)

At Petrona, I reviewed quite a few novels (click on title to read review): 

The Past is a Foreign Country by Gianrico Carofiglio (Italian, translator Howard Curtis) *

The Demon of Dakar by Kjell Eriksson (Swedish, translator Ebba Segerberg) *

In the Wind by Barbara Fister *

The Neighbour by Lisa Gardner 

This Body of Death by Elizabeth George 

The Last Child by John Hart *

Far Cry by John Harvey *

Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland *

Almost Blue by Carlo Lucarelli (Italian, translator Oonagh Strasky) *

The Marx Sisters by Barry Maitland 

All She Was Worth by Miyuki Miyabe (Japanese, translator not named, given as a company) *

No-one Loves a Policeman by Guillermo Orsi (Spanish [Argentinian], translator Nick Caistor) *

The Complaints by Ian Rankin *

The Monster in the Box by Ruth Rendell *

These novels
are so varied in theme and range that it is impossible (as usual!) to pick out a book of the month from among them. I've marked the ones that I enjoyed the most of these with an asterisk, but I'd find it very hard to pick a clear winner. Perhaps Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland, if I really had to recommend only one of these, but you would be missing out on some excellent reading if you read only that one title from this list!

Books that win prizes, genres that don’t

TruthThe Guardian on Friday 25 June
: “Literary awards have been one of the last bastions of high culture, but in the week when the crime writer Peter Temple took Australia’s top literary prize, the Miles Franklin award, Alison Flood examines whether a detective novel could ever win the Booker.”

In the course of the article, John Sutherland, former chair of the Booker prize panel, is quoted making these arguments: 

“The twice I’ve been on the Booker panel they weren’t submitted,” he said. “There’s a feeling that it’s like putting a donkey into the Grand National.” According to Sutherland, the perception in the UK is that there are enough specialist awards for crime fiction. The barriers to genre writers are also higher. “They just don’t have quite the same class system in Australia, and perhaps they don’t have the same class distinctions in Australian letters,” he said. Sutherland also worries that awarding a mainstream literary prize to a work of genre fiction, particularly one which is part of a series, would devalue its reputation. “There is a dilution effect,” he said. “Series have tended to inhabit the lower reaches of literature.”

There are a few signs that times are changing: the Guardian piece mentions some – Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44 was longlisted for the Booker in 2008; that year’s winner was Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger, which follows the story of a murderer; and Attica Locke’s Black Water Rising was shortlisted for this 
TToWyear’s Orange prize. Ion Trewin, another Booker insider, says that Sarah Waters, twice shortlisted in recent years, would have been dismissed as a genre writer a few years ago. I have also seen similar negative, “they’ve got their own prizes” arguments made about science fiction, another despised (among some) genre. Yet novelists such as H G Wells, Jules Verne, Angela Carter, John Wyndham, Kurt Vonnegut and Margaret Atwood have, rightly, endured.

For Morag Fraser, a Miles Franklin judge for the past six years, it is simply a question of quality. “Most crime novels that I have read (and I read one a week, often more) will never win the Miles Franklin or any other ‘literary’ prize because they do not work language hard enough, and they do not think originally and with sufficient depth and imagination,” she said. “They may gratify but they do not surprise the way great literature does.””In the case of Peter Temple’s Truth, the divide was so comprehensively crossed that we did not think much about the conventions of crime fiction except to note that Temple was able to observe them rather as a poet observes the 14-line convention of the sonnet or a musician the sonata form: as a useful disciplinary structure from which to expand, bend or depart.”

Other people quoted in the article who agree with the view that it is the quality of writing that counts, not the genre into which a novel is consigned, are Booker-winner John Banville (Benjamin Black), and Catharine Stimpson, a leading US academic and Pulitzer judge in the year when the winner was Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2007).

Today, would Crime and Punishment, Macbeth, Therese Raquin, Bleak House, The Woman in White, or Camus’s The Outsider, be considered ‘genre’ fiction because they are about crimes and their effects, or 
WWLwould they be considered to be about universal truths, and hence eligible for the Booker, Orange and Pulitzer prizes? I have read Booker and Pulitzer prize winners, and the odd Orange prize winner [this last category not my favourite!], that I have found tedious and plotless – and not always well-written. Is it the presence of a plot that makes a novel, in contemporary eyes, lowbrow? Many of these old prize-winners have been forgotten today, and do not stand up well. Some of my favourites of these “not formulaic” novels are The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (very Bronte); The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penny (which won both the main Costa (formerly Whitbread) prize and the Theakston Old Peculier crime novel of the year prize); The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon; and What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn. A recent delight is Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland. I am not saying that these books are “great literature”, who can know? But they are all well-written, thoughtful books – admittedly, each with a plot (which is what I call a beginning, middle and end, though not necessarily in that order). Much of crime fiction is not of a suitable standard for a literary prize. But this does not have to apply to all of “fiction in which a crime happens or may have done”.

The Guardian piece
ends with the observation that Quercus, Peter Temple’s UK publisher, will submit Truth for the Booker. I hope more publishers do the same with books that are, or are sold as, “crime” fiction, if for no other reason to break them out of their genre straightjacket and into the chance of a wider readership.

Book Review: Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland

Hyland Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland

This is simply a marvellous book. It is a crime story, and an
exciting one, but more importantly the book is a poem, full of emotion and
insight. Every sentence is beautiful, as the author depicts a harsh yet rich
landscape that is also a character in the story, seen through the unique
perspective of the most unusual and attractive detective I have come across in
a long while, Emily Tempest.  And as
icing on the cake, there are science jokes – technology and science figure
heavily in the plot, but more interestingly, are as much part of the words on
the page as any other subject addressed by this talented writer.

Emily was the protagonist of Adrian Hyland’s debut novel
Diamond Dove (a.k.a. Moonlight Downs). As in the earlier novel, Gunshot Road is
a story set among the interconnected imagery of “deaths and dreams,
watercourses, tracks and plains”. Emily is half Aborigine, and is half at home
with the nomadic “blackfellers” who live with spirits, songs and taboos, in
parallel with the “whitefeller” Australia of booze and drugs as well as an
alien law and order. She is also half white, courtesy of her father, the miner
Hyland ukgeologist Jack Tempest, and in her education and outlook is as much part of
the “white” world as she’s also part of the ancient, collective spirit of the
tribal culture in the Northern Territory of Australia. 

Emily’s intuition, independence and bravery (told in the
previous novel) have impressed Tom McGillivray, superintendant of the Bluebush
Police Station, so he has made Emily the Aboriginal Community Liaison Officer
for the region. As the novel opens, she sets off to take up her post, only to
find Tom is sidelined and his replacement is less than ideal. Almost immediately,
the squad is called in to the case of a murder – two old men have had a drunken
argument and, it is assumed, one has killed the other with a geologist’s pick
while under the influence. Emily knows both men (as she knows most people in
this small but dispersed community) and is not convinced. The main thrust of
what follows is the story of her determination to ignore her superiors as well
as everyone else, and uncover what’s really going on. This, naturally, leads to
all kinds of dangers on the way to full discovery and final resolution.

Gunshot Road is a superior novel to Diamond Dove in that
Emily is a more real, mature person with a clearer sense of where she is headed,
and the story is far more focused, which makes the fantastically portrayed background
and culture much easier to absorb along with the quite complicated plot – the first
half of the novel is packed with witticisms and delightfully pungent, astute
observations, which slacken off somewhat in the second half, where seriousness and
tragedy are more frequent.

Like its predecessor, what makes this book so wonderful is
its empathy and poetry. Emily, and the Aboriginal people, live by different
mores than white Australians, living through dreams, songs and strong 
Hyland us  unspoken taboos
about what may or may not be said. As she tries to do her job in the
“whitefeller” world, Emily is both enabled to discover facts known only to the “blackfellers”
as she understands their sensitivities and they trust her. On the down side, most
of the “whitefellers”, police and civilians, don’t understand, like or even
notice her, so she encounters hideous sexism, abuse, and worse.

This is a novel that must be read. It is superb. The reader
is immersed totally in Emily’s persona and world, so different from anything
that all but a few can have lived or know. The author’s achievement is simply
magnificent. I am lost in admiration for this wonderful piece of writing, in
effect a long prose poem; the author’s identification with his main character
and the very land itself; as well as his multidimensional portrayal of a
cultural group, with its contradictions and flaws, as it coexists with the “civilised”
world of governments, rules and structures, in a strange parallel-but-independent
way, as if the indigenous people are ghosts. The result is magic, in more than
one sense of the word.


I thank Anne Beilby of Text Publishing Australia, for giving me a proof copy of this book at this year's London Book Fair (Australian cover at the top of this post). The novel is published in the USA with the cover at the bottom of this post, by Soho Press (May 2010). It is published in the UK by Quercus on 1 July, with the cover in the middle of the post. The covers are all very different – I prefer the blue (UK) one and also like the Australian one. I really don't like the US cover (picture of person's back).

Read other reviews of this novel at: International Noir Fiction (Glenn compares and contrasts the language of Adrian Hyland with that of Peter Temple), Crime Space (Karen of AustCrime), Kittling: Books, Mysterious Reviews

New UK paperbacks for October

Hypothermia  Always ahead of real-time, the Bookseller of 25 June features paperbacks that will be in the UK shops in October. Most excitingly among these is Red Wolf by Liza Marklund (Corgi), the next Annika Bengzton novel, which follows a month after her Postcard Killers (with an American coauthor). We have had to wait a while for the next Annika book, after Bomber, Studio 69, Prime Time and Paradise, and I, for one, am looking forward very much to Red Wolf (which apparently will be followed by 10 or 12 others). If it is as good as Paradise, I'll be very happy.

Another translated novel due in October is Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indridason (Vintage), which will be accompanied by a reprinting of three of the earlier titles in this excellent series. Hypothermia is on the shortlist for this year's CWA International Dagger award, the winner to be announced next month.

Other crime novels to look forward to in October are Love Songs from a Shallow Grave by Colin Cotterill (Quercus). The Bookseller says "Siri, the elderly coroner, is a wonderful character and the colour and strangeness of the country really shine through in these strange little stories. Think Mma Ramotswe, and then some." We can also look forward to Blood Vines by Erica Spindler (Sphere), Dead Like You by Peter James (Pan), Silent Scream by Karen Rose (Headline), Dead Man's List by Mike Lawson (Harper), Among Thieves by David Hosp (Pan), Self's Murder by Bernhard Schlink (Phoenix) and Broken Silence by Danielle Ramsey (Avon), this last title shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger (2009), featuring detective Jack Brady of Whitely Bay.

Book Review: Almost Blue by Carlo Lucarelli

Lucarelli Almost Blue by Carlo Lucarelli, translated from the Italian by Oonagh Strasky

First published in Italy, 1997; first published in translation in the UK, 2003 (Harvill Press/Vintage)

When you’ve just finished reading a 700-page large-format novel, the perfect antidote is a 169-page pocket paperback. Upon recommendation by Norman of Crime Scraps, I therefore embarked on Almost Blue, with the added incentive that it features a female detective – a rare breed in translated Italian crime fiction.

Almost Blue is told from the perspective of three characters. One is a young blind man, Simone, who spends his time alone in his room full of scanners, listening to snatches of conversation across the city of Bologna. Ispettore Grazia Negro is the only woman member of the Unit for the Analysis of Serial Crimes, an Italian equivalent to that staple of crime fiction, the FBI unit VICAP. Grazia and her boss Vittorio are trying to persuade the Questora (police) and judiciary that several murders committed over a period of years are the work of one person, and hence gain their cooperation in their investigation. The third viewpoint is that of a person who suffers intolerably from hearing imaginary bells, hence wears headphones to block out their deafening sound – and who, we come to realise, has many other bizarrely disgusting personal habits.

Grazia is a competent detective who has put together a convincing case that the murders are connected, her breakthrough coming when she realised the precise and strange signature to each slaying. The judge prefers not to believe her, though, mostly because he doesn’t want the population to panic or to assign resources to tracking down the perpetrator. Grazia and two colleagues are therefore left on their own, as Vittorio returns to Rome on unexplained other business.

Much as I wanted to like Grazia, I found it a bit hard at first. She seems more concerned about her period pains than in presenting her serial-killer case, and she is passive about the awful sexism all around her – every male policeman treats her as if she’s a sex object, and her boss persists in constantly calling her “bambina” which is very irritating to read, never mind being actually called. However, once Vittorio has decamped to HQ in Rome and Grazia can pursue her investigation pretty much on her own, she becomes much more likeable as she unearths one witness who can, she thinks, help her identify the killer before he (?) strikes again. Without wishing to give anything away, her character develops in interesting ways during the story to the extent that I was rooting for her by the end.

I really liked this book. Although it’s a violent story, the author has a brisk style so that the reader is not treated with kid gloves nor unnecessarily made to dwell on visceral gore (a book of this length leaves little room for long, descriptive passages). The plot is exciting, and the style of telling the story through the eyes of three characters provides an edgy, unnerving perspective which works very well indeed. I am not surprised that the book received such ecstatic reviews (from the various cover quotes) or that it was shortlisted for the CWA dagger. I shall definitely be reading more by this author.


I thank Kathy and Norman for pointing me to this book: Kathy by asking in a comment to this post whether there are any female Italian detectives yet translated into English; and Norman for providing the answer!

Norman has reviewed Almost Blue and its sequel, Day After Day, at his blog Crime Scraps.

The Complete Review – review of Almost Blue and links to other reviews of it, including two in English at The Telegraph and The Times (both grade the book A).

Other reviews of the novel are at Reviewing the Evidence and Fleur Fisher reads (a typically individual and interesting review).

Book Review: This Body of Death by Elizabeth George

George  This Body of Death by Elizabeth George (HarperCollins, May 2010)

Elizabeth George is back on form with This Body of Death, the sixteenth outing for Inspector Thomas Lynley of Scotland Yard. Thankfully back from his sojourn in Cornwall, Lynley decides to return to work for a trial period, and is plunged right into a murder enquiry when the body of a young woman is found in a north London cemetery. Lynley’s old boss has retired and has been replaced by Superintendent Isabelle Ardery, superbly neurotic, alcoholic, failed mother on the permanent verge of losing control. (Exaggerated characters are a trademark of this author, and this one is suitably Joan Crawford-like.) Isabelle is also on temporary secondment, and whether she gets the permanent role as boss of the squad depends on the odious Sir David Hillier, a smooth political type more interested in the Met’s public image than in supporting his detectives.

Interleaved with the investigation is the story of a group of people who live in the New Forest in Hampshire. One, Gordon, is a thatcher;  another, Robbie, is an agister (responsible for the welfare of the ponies that roam freely in that region); and a third, Meredith, is a single mother and aspiring fabric designer. The three are linked by Jemima Hastings, Robbie’s sister and Gordon’s girlfriend. As the book opens, Meredith regrets having fallen out with Jemima, her best friend, a year or so previously and so goes to Gordon’s common-land house to make amends. She finds Jemima has abandoned her business and has disappeared. Gordon has a new girlfriend, Gina, who seems less than truthful. Robbie and Meredith are worried about Jemima, especially when it transpires that her car is still in Gordon’s garage and her clothes boxed up in his attic.

Meanwhile, the Scotland Yard investigation continues in typical Elizabeth George style, which I happen to find rather engaging as I see London through a rather different perspective than my own – peopled by lovable cockneys, tobacconists and psychics, who spend their time doing eccentric things like teaching ice-skating but doubling up as a gigolo in an expensive hotel. There are lots of diverting “not quite right” details: people who have lived in London all their lives drive to go shopping in Oxford Street, that kind of thing. And of course, Lynley, Deborah and Simon St James are living their eighteenth-century lives with their butlers and silver salvers in the middle of it all, another source of reader amusement.

Pretty soon, the victim is identified and Isabelle uncovers a great lead – the paranoid schizophrenic brother of an internationally renowned Japanese cellist (yes, it’s that kind of book!). The reader can guess that this poor man is probably not the criminal as his role is revealed pretty early on in the book, but his presence provides an excuse for a fictionalised take on the de Menezes shooting of 2008. Similarly, at intervals during the narrative, the author provides a retrospective account of a fictionalised James Bulger-like case in the form of a psychiatric report, which we assume is going to become relevant to the main plot eventually.

Sergeants Barbara Havers and Winston Nkata, other series regulars, are investigating the Hampshire angle to the murder when the schizophrenic suspect crops up in London, so Isabelle recalls them, much to Barbara’s disgust as she is enjoying following up the leads she has unearthed.  Suspicious events continue to happen in Hampshire unmonitored, thereafter, while the police continue their investigation in London . 

This book is absolutely packed full (it is 700 pages long). The story itself is very slow to unfold, replete with many small details about characters’ reactions to each other, their assumptions and feelings. Everything is overblown, but in an engaging way – especially when the possibility of buried treasure is added to an already rich-enough mix of red herrings and abandoned directions. There are lots of holes in the plot and various gaps in the police investigation that are rather hard to ignore.  Barbara Havers in particular puts herself in a stupid position by not calling for back-up in a situation that obviously called for it for no clear reason at all, and Gina's many illogical actions left me dumbfounded. Typical of the author, there are plenty of loose ends even in a book of this great length. But, despite the flaws, the book is absorbing and carries the reader along. Thankfully, the strange, meandering directions of the previous two books in the series (Careless in Red and What Came Before he Shot Her) have been abandoned – and the author returns to her previous formula of police procedural plus a dash of romanticised English life with over-colourful characters. If you enjoyed the earlier books in the series, you’ll probably enjoy this one, in particular witnessing the next steps in the internally convoluted lives of Lynley and Havers.

I thank the US publisher, Harper Collins, who generously provided me with a proof copy of this novel.

Read other reviews of this book at: Euro Crime (positive), Rhapsody in Books (positive), Washington Post (negative), Random Jottings (negative).

Peter Temple’s Truth wins the Miles Franklin award

Truth  Thanks to Kim of Reading Matters and Lucy Ramsey of Quercus for letting me know today that Peter Temple has won the Miles Franklin Award, the Australian Booker, for Truth. Quercus publishes the novel in the UK and Text in Australia. I reviewed it in January of this year and called it: 

"a fantastic book: it has a strong, satisfying plot; yet in its brutal, sad poetry it is a telling account of the myriad tragedies and ruined lives in our shallow, materialistic and unedifying age, dominated by our fascination with the power of technology and wealth, but lacking principle, depth or kindness."  

I provided some links in that review, particularly to an interview with the author in The Age, in which he discusses this book. From that interview: 

So what is it about truth? It's what a writer does, Temple says, ''create the illusion of truth. If you're looking for truth then it's going to be truth of another kind. If there's going to be truth in it, it's about the emotional response, it's not about the accuracy of the detail. It's about the fact that it spoke to you.'' 

There is a more recent interview with the author in tomorrow's (24 June) Sydney Morning Herald

On Tuesday night Temple followed in the footsteps of more conventionally literary writers such as Tim Winton, Thea Astley and Patrick White by winning Australia's pre-eminent prize for fiction…….Temple has always taken the view that a writer can do anything with crime. In Truth he is interested in power and its exercise. ''What I see as the disintegration of things, the way every step forward carries with it its own slide backwards, that all the things we try to do even with the best of intentions are doomed.'' And the bleak political world he unmasks in the book? Simply the way he sees it. ''It is the perception of reality. What is the reality itself? People don't really know.''

My review of Truth.

Truth at the Quercus website.

Book Review: The Monster in the Box by Ruth Rendell

Monster  The Monster in the Box by Ruth Rendell (publisher Hutchinson, 2009)

Ruth Rendell is such a great crime novelist, particularly her Chief Inspector Wexford series, started in 1964. Monster in the Box is the 22nd, and is a thoroughly good read. All the books are solid police procedurals, though the earlier novels tended to cover the family and personal issues of the two main characters, Wexford and Burden, whereas the later instalments, now that their children are adults, tend to focus on wider social issues and the effects of globalisation on a small, traditional community.

The Monster in the Box follows the usual theme, but has an added retrospective element. It begins when Wexford notices a man on the street – the man is Eric Targo. Wexford remembers when he was a young policeman on one of his first cases, in which a woman was killed one evening while her husband was out. In that case, the husband was convicted of the crime, but Wexford, then a humble PC, was convinced on an instinctive level that Targo, a neighbour, was responsible. Since then, he’s seen Targo on several occasions over the years- the two men never acknowledging each other but, in their different ways, keeping an eye on what the other is doing.

Wexford’s memories are also tied up with his relationships with women – he recalls Alison, who was his fiancée when he first encountered Targo, and subsequent girlfriends, leading up to his meeting Dora, the woman who was to become his wife and to whom he is still married after very many years. This is a really involving story for anyone who has read this series, with several of the investigations in previous novels neatly but lightly provided as context to Wexford’s memories of his personal life at the time.

None of this holds up the pace and plotting of The Monster in the Box, however.  The first part of the novel introduces an Asian family, in particular the sixteen-year-old daughter Tamima, who is very bright but who suddenly decides to leave school and work in a corner store. Both Jenny Burden, her teacher and wife of Wexford’s colleague; and Hannah Goldsmith, the politically correct police liaison officer with various immigrant populations, suspect that the girl is being forced by her family to enter an arranged marriage. The author uses these suspicions to examine attitudes and behaviours to those of other cultures (in several directions), tied into an increasingly tense plot about the girl’s fate.

Mid-way through the novel, a crime is committed, and Wexford has every reason to suspect Targo. It’s a really sad crime: although we know very little about the victim, the author’s economy of style makes the reader truly mourn the loss of a decent person who will be missed by family and friends. Wexford cannot find Targo, so he interviews the man's past and current wives and partners in an attempt to track him down, providing many small insights on modern mores and relationships. Although Wexford has little sympathy with Hannah and Jenny in their conviction that something untoward is going on in the case of Tamima, in a mirroring of the women’s fears, his own old convictions close his mind and blinker him as to what is really going on in his own murder investigation.

The main part of the book is set a few years ago, just before the ban on smoking in public places, a prospect much dreaded by Wexford and Burden as they eat their daily lunch of Indian food in a local pub. After the two cases are resolved, there is a coda set in the present, where we see what happened to some of the characters. The Targo plot is, to my mind, less satisfying than the Tamima plot, partly because we don’t know what makes Targo tick and partly because it is rather obvious to the reader what is going on once Wexford starts his investigation in earnest.  But the strength of this author’s writing is such that it does not matter if some elements of the novel are a bit predictable, because it is so full of rich (but lightly presented) detail, with so many very astute observations about the changes in society over the past 50 years during which this series has been written, that one is simply held to the pages, until the last one is turned.

Other reviews of this novel: Random Jottings, The Independent, The Spectator. (Many more available on the Internet.)

A rant and some new crime fiction reviewed

TPTree Considering that blogs are widely held to be suitable forums for ranting, I thought I'd continue the "rant" elements of my yesterday's post about Hans Fallada (mainly to do with high pricing of books by a dead author but also the Independent's awful "50 summer reads" online feature received a justifiable blast for being both feeble editorially and hopeless functionally). 

This time, the rant is directed at The Times Saturday "Review" section (I don't recommend going to the link as the paper is preparing to charge for online content so you have to register, etc, to read any of it and it isn't that good on this occasion.)  On the paper's relaunch a few months ago, the dedicated Books supplement was subsumed into a broadsheet "Saturday Review" section, with the Books coverage taking up the last two or three pages of it. Ever since then, readers have been subjected to vast, tedious articles on a small range of "loved by the Times" "arty, cultural, celebrity types" endlessly recycled — nothing wrong with any of these people now and again, but it is boring to read about them too often, as they are a bit shallow. (An example of what we poor readers have to put up with is last Saturday's edition, with a huge photo of Tracy Emin, one of their regulars, on the cover with the giant-font caption "I've got my sex drive back". Please! I do not care and I am sure that most readers do not either.)

At the same time, the book reviews are reduced in number. I am mainly interested in crime fiction but I do like to read half a dozen reviews a week of newly published fiction books across the board, to keep current and to dip into the odd one. Not much chance of that any more, given the acres of space given to "celebrities" who have some vague intersection with "culture" – pop music and celebrity photography seeming to be most popular with the Times Review editors. Last Saturday, for example, had a double-page spread about celebrities writing about nature, with an enormous picture of a man I've never heard of (but a pop musician, according to the caption) in a river holding a fish and most of the rest being a photo gallery of minor TV celebs and pictures of wildlife species. Words – a poor second best. Also there is a one page feature on Philip Larkin – nothing wrong with him but The Times is always running features on Philip Larkin. The next one-page feature is a review of a cricket book.

None of this leaves much space for fiction. On Saturday, there were "main" reviews of just three books: a new edition of an old favourite of mine, A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway (the "review" being a pathetic rehash of gossip about Hemingway's wives rather than much of a review); a book by Megan Stack who is apparently an American journalist; and a scathing (long) review of Bret Easton Ellis's latest book by Lionel Shriver (another Times regular) – which I don't need to read as I shall never read anything by this author.

The other dozen or so books mentioned are covered by brief paragraphs. At least this week there are some crime books reviewed – three of them in a composite review of about 500 words, by Peter Millar. One book is Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer (no mention that it's a translation, by K Seegers, or that it is on the shortlist for this year's International Dagger prize) – five brief paragraphs of praise. (My Euro Crime review of the same novel is here.)  The second is The Whisperers by John Connelly, which I have not read and shan't read as it is, writes Millar in his positive but short take, a fusion of horror, the effects of modern warfare, the supernatural, museum looting and an ancient Sumerian legend. No thanks. The third review (five paragraphs again but a bit longer this time) is a very positive one of The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly, which Millar describes as "a beautifully crafted, evocative psychological thriller that oozes Englishness and is all the better for it". (I think the author is Irish though, but never mind.) He also calls it "an elegy for the blighted summer of hope that was 1997". I liked the book but not quite as much as Millar. My Euro Crime review of it is here.

Novels by ‘Hans Fallada’ in English translation

Fallada  A little piece in this week's Bookseller (18 June, p. 15) charts the UK success of Hans Fallada (real name Rudolf Ditzen)'s 1947 novel Alone in Berlin. The novel was translated into English by Michael Hofmann and pubilshed just over a year ago in this country; now, thanks to support from Waterstones and independent bookshops, as well as "word of mouth" (for example, on that excellent blog Crime Scraps), this anti-Nazi novel has sold bout 75,000 copies in the UK. In the last week of May, its week-on-week sales increased by 325 %, from about 2,000 to about 7,900 copies. (In the Bookseller column is a graph depicting sales since January 2009 to June 2010.)

None other than Primo Levi has written that Alone in Berlin is "the greatest book ever written about the German resistance to the Nazis"; the novel was discussed recently on the TV programme Newsnight by Anthony Beevor and Jeremy Paxman; and reviewers such as Ben Macniture and Philip Henschler have called it "beautiful". The book has been widely reviewed, for example in newspapers by The Times, The Telegraph and The Guardianon websites, for example Euro Crimeand on many blogs including Reading Matters and The View from the Blue House.  I do not really want to link to the just-released Independent's 2010 guide to "50 great summer reads" because of its awful layout – one has to click through clunkily 50 times, once each book by its order in some obscure Independent order (i.e. not alphabetical), with no listing or search – and when you get there all you get is the cover of the book and a brief phrase about it. Shocking – talk about advertising-led. However, Alone in Berlin is there, at number 13 - which will also help sales if anyone can be bothered to laboriously click through. 

One thing I don't appreciate about the novel is that the paperback is priced at £9.99. At the moment, it is available on a "buy two get one free" offer at Waterstones, and a "buy one get one at half price" at W H Smiths. On Amazon, you don't have to bundle it with anything else and can get it for £4.96, a bit more like it for a paperback. What is Penguin, the publisher, playing at, though, charging a penny short of £10 for a standard-format paperback (admittedly with 600 pages)? Ridiculous, especially as the author himself isn't making anything out of the deal.

In related news, another novel by Fallada, Wolf Among Wolves, is published in the UK this week (Melville House), according to Saturday's Times (brief on p. 11). First published in Germany in 1937, this "enormous saga" (also paperback –  justifying its price of £13.99 given its 816 pages, no doubt) looks back to the rampant inflation of the early 1920s. The German economy is in ruins and the streets are full of unemployed soldiers. One former soldier tries to support himself and his girlfriend by playing roulette, while "prices climb and  the day's food depends on how far the mark has fallen." The Times's Kate Saunders calls it "an unmissably brilliant portrait of Berlin before the Nazis" – the translation is by Thorsten Carstensen and Nicholas Jacobs, based on an incomplete 1930s translation by Philip Owens.