Book review: Guilt by Association by Marcia Clark

Guilt by Association by Marcia Clark
Mulholland, 2011.
Rachel Knight of the DA’s office in LA is a hard-working, wisecracking lawyer, who drinks far too much and whose diet consists of egg-white omelettes and steamed vegetables as she’s always watching her weight. As the book opens, Rachel’s close colleague Jake is found dead in an apparent murder-suicide in a seedy dive. Shocked and upset, Rachel, her friend Toni and their other colleagues are assigned Jake’s caseload. One of the cases Rachel is given concerns the rape of Susan, the 16-year-old daughter of awesomely rich paediatrician and campaign contributor Frank Densmore.
The book follows Rachel’s investigation into these two cases, aided by police detective Bailey. Events proceed at a blistering pace, as Rachel bonds with Susan, refuses to accept Densmore’s insistence that a young man being tutored by Susan was responsible for the rape, and together with Bailey tracks down every possible lead among the nannies, house painters, security guards and gardeners of the exclusive gated community.
At the same time, Rachel refuses to keep out of the FBI investigation of her colleague Jake’s death. Realising that Jake is likely to be portrayed as a criminal, she tries to find out as much as she can about his life – which proves hard. Gradually, her belief in Jake begins to waver as the evidence stacks up.
Seasoned readers of crime fiction might wonder at the get-go whether the two cases will turn out to be related. I shan’t reveal the answer here, but will say that it is 300 pages in before you’ll find out for sure. In the meantime, Rachel, Bailey and Toni have been to numerous name-checked restaurants and bars; Rachel has been shot at and had her car trashed; and we learn of Rachel’s and Toni’s various romantic ups and downs. Rachel is a pleasant protagonist in her sympathy with the witnesses and suspects she visits who live in the dregs of the city or who are in prison. She’s also kind to Susan, and helps the girl to rediscover her strength after her ordeal, despite her overbearing father. The character of Rachel is not sufficiently rounded, though – there are a lot of parts but it might take another book or two for them to gel. The same goes for her friends Bailey and Toni.
Even so, I really enjoyed this novel, partly because of its apparently authentically depicted world of lawyers, gangbangers, police officers, barmen and lifestyles of the rich and poor alike; and partly because of its total absence of longueurs. The ending is somewhat hasty and slightly unsatisfying, but on the whole I can recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good investigative plot. Although Rachel is a lawyer and spends plenty of time working through her caseload, the book isn’t really a legal story (as I had assumed) – there are no courtroom scenes or legal minutiae for example – but it’s an energetic, realistic-seeming account of two crimes and the methods by which they are investigated and solved – as well as providing some hard-hitting depictions of the difference between the haves and have-nots (or have-negatives) in LA.

Since reading this book, which was a kind gift of Karen of Euro Crime, I realise that it is quite notorious as the debut novel by one of the prosecutors in an O J Simpson trial, and is the first title to be published by Mulholland Books, an imprint of Little, Brown. The large publicity budget no doubt accounts for the many Internet reviews of the novel, of which I shall link to a small selection: Hersilia Press; Roundtable reviews; Crime and Publishing; Jen’s Book Thoughts; Kittling:books; and The Independent (Ireland). You can read an interview with the author at Material Witness blog. You can read the prologue and the first two chapters via the publisher’s website.

International Dagger winner 2011

Via various blogs, including the source of all wisdom on such matters, Euro Crime, I see that Three Seconds by Roslund-Hellstrom (Sweden) has won the CWA International Dagger award for 2011. This book would not have been my choice from the shortlist, my preference was Ernesto Mallo’s Needle in a Haystack (Argentina). However, crime fiction is a very varied genre, and the winner is of the thriller variety rather than the introspective one, which just goes to show that these things usually boil down to a matter of taste on the part of the individual reader. In this vein, the 2011 shortlist itself did not contain some books that I thought very good out of the eligible titles (most notably Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olssen (Denmark) which for me was the overall winner of translated crime novels this year, and Frozen Moment by Camilla Ceder (Sweden), a very impressive debut novel, which would be my runner-up) — though the six titles out of the seven on the shortlist that I’ve read were all at least “OK”.

The 2012 International Dagger promises to be a much tougher fight already, and it’s only July. I’ve read two superb novels from the eligible list, Outrage by Arnaldur Indridason (Iceland) and The Quarry by Johan Theorin (Sweden) which will be very hard indeed to beat. A look at the Goodreads carousel at Euro Crime blog containing all the eligible titles published so far also contains other books I’ve read by Camilleri, Sigurdardottir, Mallo and J-C Wagner – it is shaping up to be an excellent year!

My previous posts about the International Dagger, for 2011 and previous years, are collected here.

Amazon Vine clarifies rules

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East African children in crisis

Dear Maxine,

Thank you for your generous donation of £xxxx to UNICEF’s East Africa Children’s Crisis Appeal.

Your support will make a real difference to the many children in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, who are struggling to survive without food, water and medical assistance.

The severe drought is endangering the lives of over 2 million children under five. UNICEF has been working in the region since the emergency began, but we desperately need to do more now.Without access to feeding programmes, medical supplies and clean water, many lives will be lost. Your generous donation will help us to provide the necessary aid these children desperately need.

It is essential that we reach as many people as possible with news of this crisis. If you would like to help us further, please ask your friends to donate at
On behalf of everyone at UNICEF and all those who will benefit from your gift, thank you.

A quiet week here if not there

I haven’t updated this blog much this week because I seem to have become permanently distracted. Not much to report, but I’ll just note that I’m overwhelmed (which is nice) with newly translated fiction to read. I have finished The Quarry by Johan Theorin which is a marvellous book, I really loved it. I’ve submitted a review to Euro Crime but if you want to read one now, then Bernadette has written her usual excellent analysis over at Reactions to Reading and Peter has written a fine review at Nordic bookblog.
I’ve just started on Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s latest, The Day is Dark, whose Icelandic title, literally translated as Veins of Ice, seems much more distinctive to me. Then I have novels by Camilla Lackberg, Karin Fossum, Anne Holt, Hakan Nesser, Marco Vichi and Jean-Francios Perot to read after that. (As well as some English-language originals by Ruth Dugdale, Aline Templeton, Dana Stabenow, Alan Carter, Jane Casey, Karen Campbell and Marcia Clark.)
Recent reviews or announcements have stimulated a virtual list in my mind of what to read when I have finished that lot: Burned by Thomas Enger, Misterioso by Arne Dahl and Lethal Investments by K O Dahl to name but three. And of course I’m eagerly awaiting the next Asa Larsson book Until Thy Wrath Be Passed (new UK publisher, Quercus/MacLehose). And I must find time to re-read the 9-volume Forsyte Saga which I recently purchased. To cap that, Euro Crime blog has just listed three more new titles that all look good, and I have activated a subscription to Audible, so am sporadically listening to a 20-hour Anthony Trollope marathon, The Bertrams.
It’s a nice, if a bit daunting, situation to be in, as I have totally failed in my January goal to have a reading backlog of one or two books this year.

Book review: Nowhere to Run by C J Box

Nowhere to Run (Joe Pickett #10)
C J Box
Berkley Prime Crime 2011, first published 2010.

In the tenth novel in the series about Joe Pickett, Wyoming game warden, Joe is finishing his year’s secondment in Baggs. His last task before he returns to MaryBeth and his daughters is to check out some disturbing reports of vandalism from the mountain wilderness. In the first section of the book, Joe scouts the countryside with his two horses, eventually coming across two brothers who are living wild off the land. Their encounter is not a friendly one, but Joe escapes to a remote cabin whose inhabitant, a woman, provides him with brief protection. Seriously wounded, Joe eventually makes it back to civilisation and hospital, where he soon finds that his accounts of what he found are not believed by the various law-enforcement agencies concerned. Once again, Joe is treated with a degree of scepticism bordering in some cases on contempt.
He has MaryBeth, however, and the second section of the book focuses on the family’s life in Saddlestring. There are many teenage tensions between the girls; as well as being out of his depth in this area, Joe focuses on doing domestic chores in preparation for a hoped-for move back into the countryside now that MaryBeth’s business has been sold for a reasonable profit. During this period, Joe becomes reacquainted with an old friend as well as encountering a desperate couple who have reasons to want Joe to return to the scene of his mountain adventure – hence setting up the third and final part of the novel.
Nowhere to Run is more small-scale than the previous, somewhat over-the-top book, Below Zero. It’s all the better for that. With its mix of lyrical description of the woods and mountains of this natural wilderness, and its examination of a range of attitudes to property, freedom and the rights of the individual vs the State, Nowhere to Run delivers a thought-provoking yet entertaining read that does not oversimplify the moral dilemmas faced by Joe or his friends.
I’m now almost up to date with this series, as the latest installment, Cold Wind (# 11), is only just published in hardback. Reading these books has been a very absorbing and interesting experience; one which I’m sure I shall continue as new titles are published. The novels hark back to the times of the classic American cowboy Shane, when life was tough but values were simpler and simply resolved. These solutions cannot always apply nowadays, and C J Box nicely brings out the tension of traditional against modern values, while never forgetting that he’s writing mystery books, and writing about a family facing the same emotional and practical issues as many of us, as children grow up and money becomes in ever-more short supply.

I purchased my copy of this book.

Read my reviews of the entire Joe Pickett series here.
About the author and his books at his UK publisher, Corvus.
About Nowhere to Run at the author’s website.
Nowhere to Run has been reviewed at: Spinetingler, Kirkus reviews and Bookreporter.

July book bonanza

At the turn of this year I attempted a resolution to cut right back on my unread books, so that I more or less read any new titles as I acquired them. I was doing pretty well on this goal, including ruthlessly restricting myself to one e-book download at a time, not allowing another one until I had read the first. However, something has happened recently as evidenced by this picture taken with my “smart” phone with much advice by smart people I live with (ie not me). You can click on the image if you want to inspect the titles. Karen of Euro Crime is certainly responsible for some of these books, and the recent mini-influx of newly published translated crime fiction is responsible for others. I’ve also requested one or two from publishers, and purchased one or two more.
On the Kindle front, I have recently downloaded Fear Not by Anne Holt and Witness by Cath Staincliffe, both costing pennies thanks to a Kindle “promotion”, and Prime Cut by Alan Carter thanks to excellent reviews by Kerrie of Mysteries in Paradise and Bernadette of Reactions to Reading (reviews at Fair Dinkum Crime). I confess that I already have two unread books on my Kindle, Fire and Ice by Dana Stabenow and The Chatelet Apprentice by J-F Parot.
As I am taking my time over the excellent The Quarry by Johan Theorin, I’m a bit stumped to know how I’m going to make inroads on these novels on a reasonable timescale. Perhaps I should not allow myself to buy any more books until all these are finished – but I’ll have to make one exception if so, the long- and eagerly awaited Until Thy Wrath be Past by Asa Larsson, due out in the UK on 4 August.

Started reading The Quarry by Johan Theorin

I started reading The Quarry by Johan Theorin (translated by Marlaine Delargy) a couple of days ago and so far, 50 pages in, it is just marvellous. Every page is a delight. I’m posting this picture for two reasons: first because it is the first example I’ve seen in a long while of an appropriate sticker! (“Winner of the International Crime Novel for 2010 for The Darkest Room.”) The blurb on the back carries a quote from the Observer: “If you like Stieg Larsson, try a much better Swedish writer”.
Second, this is the first time I have taken a picture (now that I have a device, as I have learned it is called – I thought I was buying a phone!) and uploaded it to this blog. It has taken some days in total to get this far which for someone who was once an expert photographer is a bit galling, but it is done despite the challenges of too many bits of clever technology.
Peter at Nordic Bookblog has already reviewed The Quarry – I haven’t read his thoughts yet as I want to read the book first, but will do so after I have finished it and written my own review.

The Quarry is the third in Johan Theorin’s Oland quartet. I’ve reviewed the brilliant first two novels: Echoes from the Dead and The Darkest Room.
Author’s website (UK version).

Book Review: Sweet Money by Ernesto Mallo

Sweet Money by Ernesto Mallo
translated by Katherine Silver
Bitter Lemon Press, 2011

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the second in the “Inspector Lascano trilogy”, as after the first (Needle in a Haystack) I was agog to discover how there could be such a trilogy. It takes a chapter before Sweet Money reveals what happened to Lascano after the end of the first book – and I am sure it is not providing any spoilers if I write that he did not die, but has spent some considerable time in a secret location, recovering.
Chapter 1 is about someone else who has spent some time removed from society, but for a different reason. Miranda (Mole) is a criminal just about to be released from prison. He’s survived the experience on his wits, but has a few immediate priorities – whether he has AIDS, where his stashed money is, and whether he can return to live with “the Duchess”.
Hence, both Miranda and Lascano emerge into a transformed world compared with the previous novel. Then, Argentina was under control of the military junta, in which people were abused, killed and their children kidnapped in a regime of terror. Now, there is a democracy, but those who benefited from the previous rule have in many cases managed to protect themselves and even flourish in the newly but superficially carefree and materialistic land.
As well as following Lascano and Miranda’s lives and thoughts during the first days of their “freedoms”, the first half of the book provides much back-story from the first, as well as re-acquainting us with the odious Giribaldi, who has been dismissed from the military in the new reforms, with his strange wife Maisabe and distanced son Anibal. These are desperate people living apparently normal lives, in common with almost all the characters in this novel. Everybody is on the edge, and one waits for something to blow.
The action truly takes off in the second half of the book, when the rather meandering recaps of the first part, with descriptions of Miranda’s planned “final” heist so he can live together again with the Duchess and their son; and Lascano’s mourning for his lost Eva, gives way to a burst of plot involving layers of corruption and small glints of possible honesty among police, the military, the judiciary, and various sets of criminals. Lascano and Miranda circle each other, recognising that they are on different sides of the fence yet hold to a common code more honourable than many of those in authority. Both of them have the goal of seeking peace and fulfilment with the women they love, but can either of them possibly achieve it given the dangers they are both in, and the precarious hold they both have on life in the political-criminal maelstrom of Buenos Aires?
I liked this book very much, particularly the plotting in the second half, and its sense, conveyed with sharp yet occasionally poetic prose, of a volatile society on the edge. As with the first novel, the dialogue is mostly in the form of italic text, perhaps to emphasise the stark differences in what people say, and what they do or think. One also has to pay attention throughout as most of the characters are known by two or three names, interchangeably, many of them beginning with M which does not help! The subplot about Eva’s family is moving, and though there is little to be cheerful about in this cruel and violent era, at least there is a hope in the twists of fate that weave through the novel that one person’s life will be changed for the better by Lascano’s actions.

I purchased my copy of this book. The publisher, Bitter Lemon, is excellent in bringing us much translated fiction, but as a specialist in this area but I do think they should name the translator of the books listed on their website and on Amazon.

About Sweet Money at the publisher’s website. Read other reviews of Sweet Money at The Bookbag and The Game’s Afoot.
Read reviews of Needle in a Haystack, the first in the series, here at Petrona and at: Euro Crime, Reactions to Reading, International Noir Fiction, Crime Scraps and The Quarterly Conversation. Needle in a Haystack is on the shortlist for the 2011 CWA International Dagger award, winner to be announced at Harrogate crime writing festival later this month.

The good, the bad and the Twitter

I have long had an ambivalent relationship with Twitter – I can write that because I joined it on day 1 of its existence, but did not use my account for a year or two because I did not see the point. Two things happened: Twitter began to attract more people/accounts of interest to me; and applications such as Thwirl and Tweetdeck were developed that made it nice to use instead of constantly crashing and being clunky. But using Twitter regularly bought up another problem that I am always experiencing on the Internet – dual work/non-work personae. I don’t feel the need to keep the two identities secret from each other, but I do want them to be separate and the Internet is making this harder and harder with every device you use seeming to be obsessed with hooking you up with all your “friends” by default, whether they are an actual friend or someone from whom you once bought a second-hand book via Amazon six years ago (or worse, your online bank). Hence this need for separation was not a point that seemed an uncontrollable issue* in the early days of Twitter, as this social media glue mania was not as fully realised as today. So I deleted my account.

Some time later, owing to a request from my employer, I invented two new accounts. In one I tweet in one of my work roles; in the other I tweet as myself (@Petrona_) – which is the account you can follow and read as a mini-blog on the right here. (I wasn’t asked to tweet as myself by my employer! But I took advantage of setting up the work account to also set up a ‘home’ one.)

All this preamble is getting around to me saying that I’ve been on Twitter for as long as it is possible to have been on it, albeit intermittently, and I have some ideas about what makes someone an interesting person or organisation I think worth following, and what does not. (The learning process never ends. I have recently “unfollowed” two accounts and my Twitter experience is immeasurably more relaxed and less irritating as a result). And this is why I decided to write this post (rant?) about my own Twitter likes and dislikes. I find that the only way Twitter is bearable or even pleasant is to be ruthless about filtering! So here is what I like/dislike, and hence who I follow/unfollow.

– I like a neat, personalised summary tweet (with a link to a full article if tweeting about an article) – not a link with no information about what it is or why it is of interest.
– I like tweets about something your readers might be interested in – not a stream of consciousness of each minute of your day. I don’t want to read about your every cup of tea, etc, however much I may like you otherwise.
– I don’t like very frequent tweeting (I prefer reading someone’s ten tweets a day to reading a hundred).
– Promoting yourself is fine if done in moderation, especially if you are funny about it; constant self promotion is boring.
– Promoting your product is fine – if done in moderation and not exclusively, and your affiliation openly stated.
– I like humour and jokes, but not frequent swearing and use of obscenities.
– Tweeting the same post two or three times to catch different time zones is fine, constant repeats are not.
– If you join in “me too” waves of Twitter-hate against a person/organisation, or other momentary hysteria, I’m unfollowing you however justified your cause.
– If you are tweeting on behalf of an employer or organisation, I like it if you inject a bit of personality and don’t come over as too “party line”.
– Tweeting about events you’ve attended in a way that excludes followers reads like boasting, I prefer either not to know or to know something that shares the experience.
– If you want to moan about your hard life, fine, but not too often and vary your complaints with other material – it’s tough for everyone!
– I don’t like “follow Fridays” and other clogging-up activities (eg 20 simultaneous tweets about the page you are on on 20 different books, via GoodReads wonky RSS export!). I have never yet clicked on a link in someone’s FF list and I don’t know why I’d want to read a tweet about what page of a book someone is on.
– On the other hand I’m happy for you to tweet your blog posts, so long as that’s not all you do on Twitter (because if so I won’t follow you on Twitter but will use my RSS reader where they are all saved up for when I want to read them).
– I quite like it when someone decides to do a live-tweet of an event and warns followers in advance so that one can temporarily unfollow until the hashtag-fest is over!

Twittering is like a conversation as many have said – it is a two-way street. So the twitterers I like best are those who behave like human beings – who vary their links to their blogs or books they are publishing (say) with other material, and who interact rather than broadcast. Take all the above with a pinch of salt, though, it’s just my view and I’m probably not a typical Twitter user. Each to his/her own.

Lots of people write books, Storifys and all kinds of things about Twitter of course and this post is but a minidrop in the ocean. However, it is worth drawing attention to Nicola Morgan’s blog and associated upcoming e-book Tweet Right – aimed at authors but I am sure will apply to anyone.

[* Which is it is now. I’ve recently been given a smartphone but it is too smart. I haven’t been able to work out how to use it as a phone, but it automatically has merged everyone I’ve ever interacted with on email and every social media site out there and gives me all their updates, “likes”, etc… aargh! – and I am definitely not “smart” enough to find the delete option – yet.]