Book reviews by country: Iceland

For my series this summer, I am providing selections of book reviews by country. Either the author is from the country named in the post, or the book is set there.


Iceland is bound to feature quite a few reviews, given my interest in crime fiction. Of the seven books I've reviewed from that country, four are by Arnandur Indridason (Voices, The Draining Lake, Arctic Chill and Hypothermia). I read Jar City very early on in my blogging days, but though I noted it I did not review it as at that time I was not very confident at the prospect of reviewing books. I've also read, but did not review, the second novel in the series (going by translated – there are two before Jar City not yet translated), Silence of the Grave. All are brilliant: this is a great series to recommend to anyone thinking of trying crime fiction. The first several are translated by the late Bernard Scudder, and the recent ones by Victoria Cribb. Arnaldur Indridason wins many awards for his writing, and deservedly so. 

Of the remaining books, two are by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, another Icelandic author I highly recommend for her highly acute observational talents, her great plots and her biting sense of humour. My final title is set in Iceland but by an English author: Where the Shadows Lie by Michael Ridpath. It's a highly readable novel and a rather interesting perspective on the country if you have read the novels by the native authors Indridason and Sigurdardottir (which, in case you haven't noticed, I strongly recommend that you do!).

My Iceland reviews.

Book reviews by country: Germany

For my series this summer, I am providing selections of book reviews by country. Either the author is from the country named in the post, or the book is set there.

I've reviewed seven books from Germany, and of them all my favourite by far is The Sinner by Petra Hammesfahr (translator John Brownjohn), which I called "a brilliant portrait of the dark places of one woman's memory". I've reviewed another book by the same author, which I didn't like much, two by Andrea-Maria Schenkel (The Murder Farm and Ice Cold) and one by Julie Zeh (Dark Matter). The other two books I've reviewed aren't really "German", one is partly set there – Peter Temple's John Le Carre-style novel In the Evil Day, and the other is the older novel Thumbprint by Friedrich Glausner, an Austria-Germany-Switzerland mix. I really like Thumbprint, and shall be reading the other novels by this rather tragic author.

I've read other books by German authors of course, including many non-crime-fiction ones, some I haven't liked enough to review, and others I read before I started writing reviews – for example the very good novels by Ingrid Noll, with their black humour. I feel I haven't really cracked German crime fiction – I need to discover some more authors from the region.

My Germany reviews.

Book reviews by country: France

For my series this summer, I am providing selections of book reviews by country. Either the author is from the country named in the post, or the book is set there.

Chartres Cathedral, France
For today's country, France, I have seven reviews, among them assessments of two books by Dominique Manotti and three by Fred Vargas, so I haven't been very adventurous in this part of the world and must rectify that.

One novel that isn't by either of these authors is Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker, who is not French but has lived there part-time for many years. From my review: "Although in many respects this is a "feel-good" book, providing an idyllic and partisan depiction of the French country way of life which exists still despite the efforts of the relentless modern world to homogenize it, the author is not afraid to address difficult issues head-on, personal and political. The stories of the French resistance in the Nazi regime and the fate of the French North Africans during the DeGaulle years are sombre, told with authority and style, as one might expect from an author who has written distinguished histories (as well as a previous novel about the famous prehistoric art in the caves of the region) and covered many international conflicts during his journalistic career. I am glad that BRUNO, CHIEF OF POLICE is the first in a series, as I look forward to reading more about this charmingly self-deprecating man, his past (plenty of angles are hinted at) and his neighbours – not forgetting, of course, his next criminal case."

The author has now written and published two more novels in this series, The Dark Vineyard and Black Diamond –  the jackets have become sombre and moody rather than jolly and bright, perhaps indicating a shift of emphasis. They are both on my shelf waiting patiently to be read, so I hope soon to find out.

My France reviews.

Book reviews by country: England

For my series this summer, I am providing selections of book reviews by country. Either the author is from the country named in the post, or the book is set there.

, I am slightly ashamed to say, has a collection of 92 reviews. I suppose it is my own country, but it is a bit of a shameful number when I think about the very small quantity of books I've reviewed that are by authors from elsewhere. Or maybe it is a more crime-ridden place than some other regions? 

I can't really summarise 92 books in this post (!) but here are one or two snippets from my reviews:

"Jack rises to every challenge with wit, insight and vulgarity, often sleeping at his desk fully clothed for a couple of hours before facing the next crisis – as well as failing to stem the usual flood of urgent admin from the ghastly Superintendent Mullett." (A Killing Frost by R. D. Wingfield)

"The plot is both solid and satisfying: sharp without being cynical, funny without drifting into pastiche, and serious without being stodgy. Most readers will probably be surprised by the final twist, owing to some crafty red herrings." (The Arsenic Labyrinth by Martin Edwards)

"The plotting is excellent, dovetailing perfectly with the excitingly tense World War Two background. The constant personal frustrations of Stratton and Diana, as the truths they separately uncover are suppressed for the "greater good" or for the war effort, or for the retrospectively quaint (but no doubt accurate) imperative to preserve the status quo of the class structure, make the book far deeper than a genre novel.(Stratton's War by Laura Wilson)."

My England reviews.

Book reviews by country: Denmark

For my series this summer, I am providing selections of book reviews by country. Either the author is from the country named in the post, or the book is set there.


It is the turn of Denmark, but to my shame I have only two book reviews from that region. One is The Woman from Bratislava, by Leif Davidsen (translator Barbara J Haviland), an excellent if a bit sprawling political and historical thriller about post-war Europe, the Balkans and more. I had previously read and very much enjoyed the same author's The Serbian Dane, a shorter and more focused thriller. Some of the characters from the former book are also present in the latter.

The other Danish book I've reviewed is The Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard (translator Tiina Nunnally) which despite a very good start I did not enjoy all that much but that's more to do with the type of book it is than anything else. If you enjoy magical history as well as your crime plot, then it might be worth checking out. 

My Denmark reviews.

Book reviews by country: Canada

For my series this summer, I am providing selections of book reviews by country. Either the author is from the country named in the post, or the book is set there.

Next I turn to Canada, with five book reviews. One of them is Stef Penney's The Tenderness of Wolves, about which I wrote: "This phrase, "the sickness of long thinking", is the key to this wonderful book. The story turns into a book of journeys by most of the characters, and by these journeys we come to know their true natures. Several, but not all, of the mysteries, old and new, are eventually solved, and several of the characters come to know themselves and their families more deeply." 

Other authors whose books I cover include Fred Vargas, who is French of course, but who set Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand partly in Canada; Linwood Barclay, master of the irresistibly readable domestic thriller; and Kitty Sewell, whose Ice Trap qualifies for Wales as well as for Canada.

My Canada reviews.

Book reviews by country: Australia

For my series this summer, I am providing selections of book reviews by country. Either the author is from the country named in the post, or the book is set there.

Today it is the turn of Australia. I've reviewed fourteen books from this region. Some, such as those by Adrian Hyland and Peter Temple, are set there and are replete with "placeism". Others, such as those by Barry Maitland and Helen Fitzgerald, are set elsewhere (England and Scotland, respectively).

A few samples:

Black Tide by Peter Temple: "All the usual Peter Temple ingredients are here: the writing is fabulous, so evocative of Melbourne life as Jack knows it,  poetic and spare in its mourning for the old ways that are fast being swept away by the pseudo-sophisticated and flashy, bland “multiculturalism”. Yet the book isn’t sentimental in its nostalgia – we see how the past wasn’t that great either."

The Darkest Hour by Katherine Howell: "The police investigation is compelling, with several different divisions coordinating various lines of enquiry as it becomes clearer that certain events must be connected. The question is, how? I really enjoyed the way in which witnesses were interviewed, phone records checked, and evidence gradually put together to build up a complete picture."

My Australia reviews.

Book reviews by country: Argentina

For my series this summer, I am providing selections of book reviews by country. Either the author is from the country named in the post, or the book is set there. 

First up is Argentina. I've reviewed two books from this region, No-one Loves a Policeman by Guillermo Orsi (translator Nick Caistor) and Thursday Night Widows by Claudia Pinerio (translator Miranda France).

"Thursday Night Widows is written with deceptive lightness, creating a closed world in which I was fascinated, as it is so different from anything I’ve ever experienced. Because the author refuses to judge any of her characters, however unsympathetic, the reader is almost unaware of the grossly distorted morality of these ludicrously pampered women, with their wasted, empty lives bought at the expense of other people."

From No-one Loves a Policeman: “Argentina was like some huge, sleeping beast, a mythical elephant like those the ancients believed held up the world. It had just shaken off a president and all its ministers. It got rid of them because they did not know how to steer it, could only torment it with their absurd decisions on a journey to nowhere.  Today the beast was resting, digesting, occasionally regurgitating its favourite, its only nourishment:madness."

My Argentina reviews.

The Darkest Room is winner of this year’s International Dagger

TDRoom  I am so pleased to read on Euro Crime blog that Johan Theorin's The Darkest Room, superbly translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy,  has won the International Dagger award for 2010. 

I think this book is wonderful, far more than a standard crime book. The author is extremely talented and combines a good plot with a sensitive observation of character, time and place. Although I read the book some time ago, it haunts me still.

The other books on the shortlist are all excellent, I recommend them all. For me, Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indridason came next-closest to winning, but on balance I felt The Darkest Room was a more rounded book – though my own emotional identification with the protagonist in Hypothermia is stronger.

My Euro Crime review begins…."THE DARKEST ROOM is a wonderful book, framed as the story of a wooden house, Eel Point, on the coast of the small island of Oland, Sweden – an island where the population is small and the old traditions continue. The house has a long, tragic history associated with the building of the two lighthouses on the nearby rocks, shipwrecks and various residents. The brief stories of these old tragedies are told in short sections interleaving the book's chapters, showing how Eel Point has become regarded today as haunted. The reader is never sure whether the ghosts are real, or to what extent the house's sad, cruel past is influencing current events." Read on here.

I think the judges did a great job in a year when the competition was intense – not only Hypothermia and The Darkest Room, but The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, the superb climax to Siteg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, and 13 Hours, Deon Meyer's adrenalin-packed thriller. Badfellas (Tony Benacquista) and August Heat (Andrea Camilleri) are also noble contenders. 

Now, our next task is to read the novels eligible for the 2011 award, a delightful prospect. Or, if you have not yet done so, you can read the winner and the five other titles that made up the 2010 shortlist. My reviews of all six can be accessed from this post.

Euro Crime list of titles eligible for the 2011 award, which will be updated as new titles are published.

Johan Theorin's English-language website.

Book review: Vodka Doesn’t Freeze by Leah Giarratano

Vodka  Vodka Doesn’t Freeze by Leah Giarratano (Bantam)

A novel bought to me by the slow boat from Australia, sent
on its way by the generous Bernadette Inoz (;-) ), whose blog Reactions to
is essential for anyone addicted to excellent book reviews.

Leah Giarrantano’s debut novel is a very readable novel on a
harrowing topic – paedophilia. Jill Jackson of the homicide department of the
Sydney police force is a driven woman ever since she was kidnapped and sexually
abused as a young girl. She exercises and washes obsessively, and can’t eat a
meal, hence she’s very thin. She does not like men at all, and has previously
fallen foul of a sexist senior cop by busting a biker drug-dealing gang – because
the cop’s brother was one of the criminals. She is attracted to her partner
Scott, though, which causes her quite a bit of confusion.

Jill finds herself investigating the murder of a man whose
body is discovered near a children’s swimming area. It soon transpires that the
victim was a paedophile. Although few of Jill’s fellow-detectives have any
sympathy for the victim, Jill, representing the archetypal “pure” cop common to
detective fiction, is determined to catch the perpetrator. Matters become
complicated when Jill herself finds herself in danger as a direct result of her
investigation – more than once.

As well as the crime plot, the book also covers many issues
concerning child abuse and its effect on those not only who experienced it but
on those who treat or help the victims. The bleak message seems to be that
there is no way out, and that the dark side of human nature is everywhere
(there are very few characters or incidents in this book that don’t reveal some
unsavoury fact about someone).  Yet, without
wishing to reveal too much about the details, the classic themes of degradation
and redemption figure for one of the characters, leaving the door wide open for various future directions.

As a first novel, Vodka Doesn’t Freeze is confident and full of energy, setting the scene for themes to be explored in more detail – the sexist,
possibly corrupt police team; Jill’s family dynamics; and the relationship
between Jill and her partner.  It is also
admirable in the way that it does not shirk from addressing quite horrible
issues, in a way that is not salacious in the least. Where it does not work
quite so well is in the prosaic writing style that renders most of the characters as sketches rather than as people with whom the reader can feel an emotional connection. The author has written a pacy,
cracking and very dark book, and has provided herself with plenty of room for
development of her characters and their situations. All in all, an assured and fascinating first novel, with heaps of future potential.

Read other reviews of this novel at: Reactions to Reading; View from the Blue House; Mysteries in Paradise; Crime Down Under.

Publisher website.