Book review: Cold Wind by C J Box

Cold Wind
by C J Box (Joe Pickett #11)
Corvus, 2011

The Joe Pickett series keeps getting better and better. In this latest novel, which at the time of writing is the most recent title in the whole series, Joe is back in his old job as the game warden for the Saddlestring district of Wyoming. He loves spending time in the open air and mountain trails, though as ever he is conscious that he is not as materially successful as he’d like to be in order to provide for his family – who have just travelled to Laramie to drop the eldest daughter, Sheridan, off for her first semester at college. There is a lot of tension between the remaining daughters, April and Lucy; doubtless things will come to a head with April, who pushes way beyond any boundary going, pretty soon.

This domestic situation is abruptly ended by the shocking discovery of a body that is hanging from the rotors of one of the turbines at a new wind farm in the region. Joe is personally involved in that the victim is Earl Alden, husband of his awful mother-in-law, Missy. At first it was thought the death was a suicide, but before Joe can catch his breath after climbing up the inside of a windmill to view the body, Missy is accused of murder. It turns out that Earl was about to divorce Missy and hence his considerable wealth and ranch would revert to his family rather than to Missy. The case seems bizarre to Joe and his wife MaryBeth, however, because Missy’s partner in crime is alleged to be rancher Bud Longbrake, her previous husband and the man whose land Missy “stole” when she divorced Bud and traded up to marry Earl. Although MaryBeth is under no illusions about her mother, she believes her innocent of the crime and asks Joe to pursue an independent inquiry, given that the sheriff and prosecutor (previously a friend of MaryBeth’s) have made their minds up straight away that Missy is guilty as charged. Joe reluctantly agrees to help, within the constraints of his job.

Joe gets nowhere for a while, and wishes he could find Nate Romanowski, his old friend who lives the survivalist lifestyle in the Hole in the Wall Canyon in his avoidance of the law. Nate, however, is having dreadful problems of his own, as someone is seeking revenge for a deed of Nate’s described in an earlier book. Nate is homeless (or should I write caveless?) and terribly bereaved. The act of violence against him brings him and Joe together, but Nate is more concerned with sorting out his own life than in helping Missy, understandably enough. This journey of Nate’s ends up being a bit of a learning curve for him.

C J Box usually interweaves a scientific issue into his novels, and this one is no exception in its fascinating treatment of the wind turbine business, as the reader comes to see how the Washington trade-offs, the economics and the chancers all operate a massively disingenuous campaign to feather their own nests with empty promises of improving the environment and providing clean energy. From what I know about the technology, the author is spot-on in his dissection of the vested interests and cynical promises involved, and the subplot about the poor farmers who inadvertently ended up selling a tract of land and then having to live on top of a wind farm is moving.

Ultimately, though, this novel is an exiting, tense thriller leading up to the trial of Missy, at which the reader barely knows whether to hope Joe finds some evidence to get her off, or whether to hope that she gets convicted and imprisoned. In the end, there is a twist or two that explains the story and which leaves most of the characters interestingly placed for the next book in the series – which I for one hope will not involve a long wait!

I purchased the Kindle version of this book. The print version is not yet out in the UK but soon will be.

Other reviews of Cold Wind are at: Bookreporter, the Washington Post,and Kevin’s Corner,

About the book at the author’s website.

Read my reviews of all the Joe Pickett series.

Book review: The Last Lie by Stephen White

The Last Lie
by Stephen White (Alan Gregory series #16)
Signet, 2011

After the (pretty much) non-series novel The Siege, Stephen White returns to his popular character of Boulder, Co, psychologist Alan Gregory, who becomes involved in a very readable and exciting mystery. As well as Alan, these novels also feature as regular characters Lauren, Alan’s DA wife who has MS and (we have recently learnt) a chequered past, and their friend Sam, a police officer with not so much a chequered but a disastrous past, but recently somewhat rehabilitated career-wise even though his personal life is amazingly complicated. This choice of lead characters provides these novels with a unique interest, in that although the three are closely bound, their professions mean that they cannot tell each other what is going on. This theme is used to full effect in The Last Lie as personal and professional loyalties collide more than once.

The plot is driven by the arrival of new neighbours for Alan, Lauren, their adopted son Jonas and their daughter Grace. Jonas is a pre-teenage boy orphaned by events described in previous novels. He is the son of the people who previously owned the mountain home now being invaded by an unpleasant (to Alan) celebrity lawyer who makes a fortune out of the self-help business. There are a few territorial joustings, eg concerning Alan’s dogs, but this is nothing compared to Alan’s shocking realisation that the neighbour is none other than a man who is accused of a nasty “post-party rape”. The reason Alan knows about this case is because the victim’s psychotherapist is being supervised by Alan. Alan is immediately in a typically familiar Stephen White quandary – he is bound by patient confidentiality but he wants to protect his wife and young daughter from the possible consequences of living next door to a man who may be a rapist.

The author adds twist after twist to his theme, as Lauren (in the DA’s office) becomes familiar with the case but cannot tell Alan what is going on for her own reasons of professional confidentiality, and Sam is one of the police investigators of the alleged crime but is also unable to speak, possibly for legal reasons but possibly for others.

In parallel with the plot, Alan and his family face various personal issues – for example whether they should move into town (there are various pros and cons); how Jonas is managing to integrate into his new family; and various fascinating aspects of the supervisor-traniee role in therapy and where the boundaries are. All in all, this is a very exciting and interesting book, very sympathetic to some modern dilemmas, such as the role of private lawyers in controlling the police investigation of a crime. Frankly, a crime that occurs mid-way through the book (and a subsequent one) seemed a little far fetched to me, but that’s a minor flaw in what is otherwise a great read. One aspect I liked is that the author is particularly sympathetic to the dilemma of the woman who believes she has been raped – a clever achievement as this character does not appear directly in the novel apart from in a short prologue, so the reader is never very sure of her reliability, let alone how her case is going to turn out.

I purchased the Kindle edition of this book as the print version is not yet available in the UK, though it is in the USA.

Other reviews of this book are at: Bookreporter, the Denver Post and Spinetingler magazine.

About the book at the author’s website, including free excerpts, interviews, reviews and “bonus” features.

Book review: Rain by Stephen Gallagher

Rain
by Stephen Gallagher
Hodder & Stoughton 1991 (PB, HB published 1990)

Rain is a neat little British thriller about a Manchester girl, Lucy, whose sister was killed apparently by a hit-and-run truck driver, more than a year ago. Since then, Lucy has spent her time hanging around service stations on the motorways, hitching lifts with truckers and hanging out in the all-night cafes in a determined yet kind of crazily random attempt to find out what really happened, as she’s convinced that Catherine’s death was no accident.

Joe Lucas is a policeman who has agreed to a request from the girls’ father to find Lucy and persuade her to come home. Her father misses her and thinks she’s throwing her life away in her obsessive quest. (She has no job and has to live with her father or sleep rough.) Joe and Lucy meet each other for the first time in the opening part of the novel, at yet another service station. He persuades her to go home, via an odd meal in a Chinese restaurant, but Lucy is convinced she finally has a real lead. She goes to the shed in the garden where Catherine’s possessions are kept and finds some more clues. Don’t ask me why Lucy did not search these items a year ago.

Lucy’s search takes her to London, and this is where the book jumps the shark for me. Joe follows her, and the two become involved in a surreal chase that causes Lucy to land up in hospital. A porter helps her to escape from Joe and her father, whereupon Lucy follows up her leads – finding out where Catherine was living and working using VAT numbers on receipts found in Catherine’s possessions. How credible this is I have no idea. Eventually, Lucy finds out the details of Catherine’s life, and resolves the murder mystery — which is a crashing disappointment of obviousness, rendering a lot of the previous events of the novel incomprehensible. At nearly 250 pages, I felt the whole experience was a bit of a waste of time, which is a pity as the initial premise, and character of Lucy, seemed quite interesting.

I borrowed this book while on holiday as it had been donated by a previous visitor to the “library” of the place where I stayed.

Stephen Gallagher’s website. He is the author of various science fiction, horror, crime and fantasy novels, and a scriptwriter and director (see Wikipedia). There is an interview with him at The Zone. I can’t find any available reviews of Rain on the Internet (though from the quotations on the author’s website there were some published reviews at time of publication 20 years ago), but there is a round-up of some of Gallagher’s books, in which Rain is mentioned, at The Independent.

SinC25: Catherine Sampson, #2 post of “moderate” challenge

Having completed the Sisters in Crime book bloggers’ easy challenge, I am now embarking on the next step, the:

Moderate challenge: write five blog posts about works of crime fiction by women authors. For each, mention another woman author who writes in a similar vein.

I shall take as my second author Catherine Sampson, who has written four books initially about a TV journalist, Robin Ballantyne and set in London, but increasingly “taken over” by a Chinese ex-policeman and now PI, Song. The author was herself a journalist with the BBC and now lives in China, so her novels have a natural air of authenticity as well as being very good reads. (Her website is here.) A quick summary of the four books to date:

Falling Off Air: Robin is on maternity leave from “the corporation” having given birth to twins but not getting much if any support from the babies’ father. She witnesses what she thinks may be a murder or a suicide. She becomes embroiled in the case as a witness and then a suspect, so has to struggle to clear her name as well as deal with two babies and various family issues. I thought this was a great debut novel, both for its crime plot and its realistic depiction of working in the media as well as what it is like for a woman to adjust from a responsibility-free professional life to cope with tiny babies, complete with society’s and colleagues’ judgements.

Out of Mind, the second book about Robin, was generally less well-received, but I enjoyed this account of her investigation of a missing woman in the context of backstabbing “office politics”, and her continuing struggles to juggle professionalism and domesticity. Strangely to me, women reviewers in particular seem to get quite exasperated with novels about women in this situation, but it is a real issue that I and many others have faced, in the realisation that (unlike many men who seem to have children and carry on regardless with their previous lives!) having children and a professional job is very, very challenging and you can’t just “have it all” as Shirley Conran and co once told us so blithely in their best-selling books.

I read Catherine Sampson’s first two novels before I began regular reviewing, so have not written up my impressions of those. I have, however, reviewed her subsequent books at Euro Crime.

The Pool of Unease. Robin is sent to Beijing to investigate the case of a missing (English) businessman who may have been involved in illegal or shady activities. A new character, Song, is introduced. He’s an ex-policeman who has fallen out of favour with his powerful father-in-law and is struggling to make a living as a PI. He discovers the body of a woman who has been burnt; part of him wants to investigate and part of him wants to flee in case he is implicated. He gradually becomes more important in the novel as his story eventually merges with Robin’s, with the help of Song’s friend Wolf and Robin’s interpreter, Blue. I really enjoyed this book for its perspective of China, as well as for its plot and the character of Song.

The Slaughter Pavilion is almost all set in China and Song is firmly the main character. Song, Wolf and Blue all have their struggles (including Song’s complicated domestic situation); Song becomes embroiled in a dangerous case; and I enjoyed very much the Chinese setting and the many issues raised about life and people’s concerns in various parts of that society. I think this is the strongest book of the four, and very much look forward to the next one, if there is one.

The author wrote a Guardian column in the run-up to the Beijing Olympic games and for a year or so afterwards, which makes interesting reading about social and political issues in China.

Now I have to mention “another woman author who writes in similar vein”. I can’t do this precisely, but will do it in two.

First, Liza Marklund‘s series about journalist Annika Bengtzon, a crime reporter (eventually) at a Swedish newspaper who has a challenging personal life, including (eventually!) having children and juggling the demands of her job with those of domesticity. Annika’s friend Anne works in TV, so the workplace issues that figure in the first two of Catherine Sampson’s books are very much a theme in Liza Marklund’s. (Annika is one of those fictional characters who seems to be disliked by (even women) reviewers for being very dedicated to her job as well as trying to be the best mother she can to her children in difficult personal circumstances and with little sympathy from home or work.) A listing of Marklund’s books, with reviews of some of them, is at Euro Crime. Here is the author’s website.

Second, I have not read very many other books by women set in China, but one is The Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Lang, about a young woman who quits a “safe” life and sets up a detective agency. Although the family and social issues are dealt with very well (and hence are an interesting counterpart to Catherine Sampson’s depiction), the crime plot is not very successful (in contrast with Sampson). Nevertheless, Eye of Jade is a good read and a short one. For more information, see Diane Wei Lang’s website.

The Sisters in Crime book bloggers’ challenge (SinC25) (At the blog of Barbara Fister, the originator).
All Barbara’s posts and round-ups of contributions to the SinC25 challenge.
All my contributions to this challenge.

Book review: Death in August by Marco Vichi

Death in August
by Marco Vichi
translated by Stephen Sartarelli
Hodder & Stoughton, 2011.

I am always happy to try any novel that has been translated by Stephen Sartarelli or Don Bartlett. Even though Death in August did not seem to me to be a book I’d usually pick up, the translator and the lovely cover conspired to make me try it. And it is quite good, though not nearly as good as the cream of Italian crime fiction epitomised by, for example, Andrea Camilleri or Gianrico Carofiglio.

The plot is both simple and slightly strange. Set in the mid-1960s, the book is about Inspector Bordelli of the Florence police. He’s at work during August, when the city is blistering hot and almost everyone is on holiday. At the start of the book he has two encounters which are rather clunky: one is a set-to with his boss (who is absent for the rest of the book) about Bordelli’s habit of letting poor thieves get away with their crimes because they only steal out of need; and the other is with a young recruit from Sicily, whom Bordelli soon identifies as the son of an old comrade in arms from World War Two. Bordelli becomes a mentor to the young man, and when a puzzling crime crosses his desk (or rather, wakes him in a late-night/early morning phone call), Bordelli asks him to assist.

The case is that of an old, wealthy woman who has stopped answering her door. Her companion is very worried about her, so contacts the police. Bordelli goes to her grand house in the hills above the city to investigate, and finds her dead body lying in bed. At first it seems as if she has died of a severe asthma attack, but soon it is apparent that the death could not have been natural. Bordelli has to address this puzzling mystery to try to work out how anyone could have killed the old lady without keys or access to the house. In the process he meets her eccentric brother and her two nephews and their wives.

Much of the book is not about the actual investigation, but concerns Bordelli’s reflections on his past. He recalls a maid of his family who initiated him into sex (rather yukky!), and thinks a lot about his experiences fighting the Nazis in the war. Here I parted company with the book somewhat, for although the war dominates a lot of Bordelli’s thinking (as is natural for a novel about a veteran of that conflict set in the 1960s), the Italian army is simplistically portrayed as a principled, brave fighter of Nazism. The truth, of course, is that Italy was on the other side (under Mussolini) until the liberation of Rome in 1944, and given that the war ended in 1945 I did not like the way this history was brushed under the carpet*. (At least the author did not make Bordelli an ex-Navy officer, an Italian war hero of that service would have been stretching it a tad too far 😉 .)

The crime itself is firmly in the Agatha Christie mould. There are a small number of suspects, and Bordelli’s main task is to work out how one (or more) of them could have done it. When he has a flash of inspiration after a very drunken meal involving his friends, relations and a few friendly petty criminals, it is simply a question of working on the suspects until one of them caves in.

The book is not bad, but it was not one that I could really take to, partly for the reasons mentioned above and partly because there is a lack of the charm in Bordelli’s character that is so evident in the irascible Salvo Montalbano (Camilleri) or the introspective Guido Guerrieri in Carofiglio’s books. Nevertheless, if you like a short read (of 200 pages) and a slightly formulaic crime novel set in a well-portrayed foreign land, this could well be a book for you. Death in August is first of a series which is very popular in its native Italy, so it is quite possible that the characters mature slightly (and become less stereotypical) in future installments, and that the memories of WW2 either become more realistic or fade out of the plots.

I thank Karen of Euro Crime for my copy of this book.

Other reviews of this novel are at: Euro Crime (Karen Meek), Random Jottings, and Italian Mysteries (website).

Unfortunately, this is another occasion on which the translator of the book is not named on the Amazon listings by the publisher. Shame!

* UPDATE!! Norman has kindly pointed out in the comments that the Italians changed sides in 1943. I don’t think this affects the basic point, though. Thanks, Norman, for the correction, much appreciated.

SinC25: Diane Setterfield, #1 post of “moderate” challenge

Having completed the Sisters in Crime book bloggers’ easy challenge, I am now about to embark on the:

Moderate challenge: write five blog posts about works of crime fiction by women authors. For each, mention another woman author who writes in a similar vein.

I shall take as my first author in this pentangled quest Diane Setterfield. So far, this author has published one book, The Thirteenth Tale, first published in 2006, which I reviewed in February 2008.

THE THIRTEENTH TALE is a magnificent, beautifully written and involving story, a modern version of a Victorian novel. Vida Winter is the most respected and widely read living writer, now coming to the end of her life. Throughout her career, she’s been interviewed many times but has always given different and fantastical stories about her life, so that she’s preserved an aura of mystery.
Margaret Lea is a young, repressed woman who lives in a bare room above her father’s antiquarian bookshop. All her life she has loved reading, but has never attempted a contemporary novel. She’s written a few articles on her non-fiction research, one of them having been published in an academic journal. Out of the blue, Margaret receives a letter in terrible handwriting, which she deciphers as being an invitation from Vida Winter, who wants Margaret to write her biography. Curious as to how she has been selected for this honour, and unable to sleep because of her sadness about her life, Margaret begins to read an early book of stories by Vida, entitled “The Thirteenth Tale”. After a paragraph, she is hooked, quickly devours the rest of the author’s output, and accepts the commission.
“The Thirteenth Tale” in itself is a mystery, as there are only twelve tales in the book – haunting and original takes on old fairy stories. Margaret has been reading a rare first edition from her father’s special locked case, but all subsequent editions of the book were given a different title; the fate of the missing tale has remained an enduring puzzle.
(continued here).

Even without having read the comprehensive Wikipedia entry about this novel (which I had not done at the time of writing my review but I have now), I likened the book to Charlotte Bronte‘s Jane Eyre. The Thirteenth Tale is, I think, a modern reworking of the gothic Victorian novel epitomised by the Bronte sisters, and Jane Eyre is probably the book that it most resembles. This is part of what Wikipedia has to say about the comparison:

Jane Eyre is the first title to creep into the book, and once having found its place, never left. Only when the girl in the mist comes to be, is the connection between Miss Winter’s story and that of Jane’s- the outsider in the family. Jane Eyre moves from the beginning as a book that is often discussed, to an important part of the story; the inner furniture of Margaret’s and Miss Winter’s minds. Most conversations between Vida Winter and Margaret centre-point Jane Eyre. Miss Winter’s example with the burning books focuses Jane Eyre as the “only hope” and the last one to burn. Aurelius is found with a torn page from Jane Eyre. The significance of the book in the novel is vital and is a leitmotif; often recurring. It is obvious that Diane Setterfield is paying homage to Jane Eyre and its sisterhood of novels.

The Thirteenth Tale was Diane Setterfield’s first novel and, to date, she has not published a second although there is an Amazon UK entry for “untitled Setterfield” so one might be on its way soonish. I almost did not read her book because of its massive publicity budget, the sort of thing I find off-putting. But I read several good reviews so I changed my mind, and I’m glad I did. Perhaps the best account I have found of the author’s story about the book is this interview at The Guardian (from 2006). To give you an idea of the hype, the standfirst reads: “Until this week, she was a former teacher who lived in Harrogate. Now she has become America’s bestselling writer. Oliver Burkeman meets debut novelist Diane Setterfield.”

The Sisters in Crime book bloggers’ challenge (SinC25) (At the blog of Barbara Fister, the originator).
All Barbara’s posts and round-ups of contributions to the SinC25 challenge.
All my contributions to this challenge.

Book review: Trackers by Deon Meyer

Trackers
by Deon Meyer
Translated by Laura Seegers (from Afrikaans)
Hodder & Stoughton, 2011

Deon Meyer just goes from strength to strength. I think this book may be the best thriller I’ve ever read. His great, loose set of novels about modern South Africa are a perfect mix of thrills, entertainment, emotional grip, and socio-political analsyis.

In previous books, Meyer has used the transformation of the police force from a hierarchical, all-white body into a multi-cultural, politically correct organisation, to confront different perspectives and assumptions people make about modern South Africa (for example its widely reported high crime rate). In other novels, he’s used a “PI” style device to similar effect, highlighting for example the gated communities in which people with money live set apart from most of the population (perpetuating the white/black divide) and the wild-animal/safari business with its associated tensions between preservation of natural resources and recreational sports such as hunting.

In Trackers, superbly translated from the Afrikaans as ever by Laura Seegers, Meyer combines these elements in a novel of several distinct sections. Each section concerns an apparently different story, linked by various interpretations of “tracking” from ancient to modern. We as readers know these stories are going to be related, but not how – and this is part of the constant tension of this marvellous novel. I won’t reveal the plot here as I don’t want to spoil anyone’s enjoyment of the book and its various shocks of discovery, but part of it involves a government surveillance unit, with a moving story about a 40-something housewife desperate for liberation from her ghastly husband and son. Other parts re-introduce us to previous characters (Lemmer from Blood Safari and Matt Joubert from several previous novels, now retired from the police force and starting a new job in security) – but not having read earlier books does not detract from one’s enjoyment of this one, which has the reader desperate to know the outcomes of the various stories, and what happens to the characters.

In the end, the denouement is based on a slightly dated punchline – through no fault of the author, but a victim of the delays in the publication process. Even so, it packs a wallop, not in itself but in the outcome for some of the characters. Just enough details are tied up to provide a satisfactory finale, yet there are sufficient loose ends to make the reader extremely keen to read Deon Meyer’s next book (though for sure it will not be a linear sequel to this one – this author is too clever for that). And that, of course, is the tracker’s lot – not to know the full story even if the trail being followed does lead to what is being sought in the narrow sense.

I obtained this (print) book free of charge via the Amazon Vine programme.

Deon Meyer’s very good website, including synopses of all his books and some interesting background information.

Trackers has been reviewed by Glenn Harper at International Noir Fiction, and by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.

[The picture of the book here is almost but not exactly of the copy I was sent, which was marred by a sticker with the slogan “South Africa’s answer to Stieg Larsson”. How ridiculous!]

My life as a book, 2011 style

Pop Culture Nerd has revived the “my life as a book” meme for 2011. If you follow the link at that blog to find out where the meme started, you go to Reactions to Reading, Petrona, Book Dilettante and Books and Bards. Books and Bards has moved house since last year, so that’s as far back as I tracked the meme’s origin.

Returning to this year, Margot at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist and Norman at Crime Scraps Reviews have both undertaken the 2011 version, so I’ll have a go here. The idea is to answer the questions about yourself, using only book titles that you’ve read this year.

One time at band/summer camp, I: [followed] The Track of Sand (Andrea Camilleri)

Weekends at my house are: Open Season (C J Box)

My neighbour is: [the opposite of] Silent Voices (Ann Cleeves)

My boss is: Drawing Conclusions (Donna Leon)

My ex was: The Caller (Karin Fossum)

My superhero secret identity is: The Leopard (Jo Nesbo)

You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry because: [it’s] A Cold Day for Murder (Dana Stabenow)

I’d win a gold medal in: Body Surfing (Anita Shreve)

I’d pay good money for: Proof of Life (Karen Campbell)

If I were president, I would: Fear Not (Anne Holt)

When I don’t have good books, I: [feel] Outrage (Arnaldur Indridason)

Loud talkers at the movies should be: Frozen Out (Quentin Bates)

*UPDATE!* Bernadette of Reactions to Reading has posted on this meme, pretty much simultaneously with this post of mine.

Book review: Against the Wall by Jarkko Sipila

Against the Wall
(Helsinki Homicide #1 in English translation, #8 in series)
by Jarkko Sipila
Translated by Peter Ylitalo Leppa
Ice Cold Crime, 2009 (originally published in 2008)

When I read this novel I was under the impression that it was the first in the Helsinki Homicide series, but during my research for writing this review I discover that it is in fact the eighth installment. This explains a lot, as the characters, while laconically sketched, seem to have a certain established rapport and personalities that would seem odd if they were being introduced for the first time. I presume it was decided to translate this particular title first as it won the 2009 Finnish crime novel of the year award, but I am sure readers would prefer to be able to consume the books in the order they were written!

This is a novel that does not hang about. The action begins when an undercover cop, Suhonen, accidentally gets caught out while searching a “model’s” house by her returning boyfriend, a career criminal. Suhonen manages to talk himself out of this dilemma by a clever ruse, but soon finds himself with another dangerous assignment, that of tracking down the perpetrators of the murder of a man left in a garage that seems to be a professional hit. Suhonen’s boss is Lt Kari Takamaki, head of the violent crimes unit, who seems kind of iconic and world-weary, but who is only briefly sketched in this novel. For similar reasons, I found it quite hard to distinguish the various cops, though one is a woman so easier to follow – she’s keener on doing things by the book than most of her colleagues.

The plot itself is fairly typical of a good police procedural of the Ed McBain type. There’s a smuggling component, a junkie informant, a prison subplot, villains shifting allegiances, and an unexpected personal connection between the victim and the criminals that is vital to the police in solving the case. It is all perfectly readable and solid, but I found it slightly on the superficial side, I suspect because coming to an ensemble-style book this late on in a series, it is hard to identify with the various characters. The novel is not as good as the Sjowall-Wahloo/McBain style which it sort of emulates (for example in providing glimpses of the characters’ personal lives as well as detailing the investigation) though in a more hard-boiled way, but it is enjoyable enough to make me want to pursue more in the series at some point. Two other titles are translated into US editions and all three are available to UK readers in e-form though not print.

I purchased the Kindle edition of this novel.

Other reviews of Against the Wall are at: International Noir Fiction, Scandinavian crime fiction (Barbara Fister), Mystery*File, Northern Light and Finnish & Scandinavian review.
About the book at the Ice Cold Crime website (PDF).

Author’s website (English language version).

August reading and reviews – 20 books, 10 reviews (so far!)

August was quite a good reading month for me as I had a short break which allowed me to reduce my backlog (now creeping up again owing to various temptations and weaknesses for the “buy” buttons on Amazon every time a good translated novel moves from “not yet” into the “published” category).

At Euro Crime, I reviewed:

The Hanging Wood by Martin Edwards, fourth in the Lake District mystery series featuring DI Hannah Scarlett of the cold case crime squad and historian Daniel Kind. It’s a good, traditional mystery story – you don’t have to have read the previous novels in the series but I think readers who have done so will enjoy this one more.

Fear Not by Anne Holt (tr Marlaine Delargy) is another fourth, this time in the author’s Vik/Stubo series. (Vik is a psychological profiler and her partner Stubo head of Norway’s national police service). This novel is both an excellent mystery and an intelligent treatment of “hate” crimes from political and psychological perspectives. Again, one does not have to have read the earlier novels to enjoy this one but I think it helps, as Vik in particular has a back-story that, while not explicitly stated here very much, is relevant to her reactions and actions.

The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler (tr Ann Long) starts well as a medical thriller but soon degenerates into unrealistic shock and “thrills”. It’s a pity as the book has a good premise, but one feels that commercial considerations outweighed other factors. The book did very well in its native Sweden partly (but not entirely) because its authors (a husband and wife team) are well-known there – and a massive publicity campaign did no harm to sales, either.

The Quarry by Johan Theorin (tr Marlaine Delargy). Third in the loose series making up the Oland quartet, this is simply a superb psychological mystery novel. It is a novel of many strands and themes, so all I can do is urge you to read it! (See my review, linked here, for more details.) This is peak quality crime fiction.

And reviewed at Petrona:

Prime Cut by Alan Carter. An impressive debut – a police procedural with a difference set in a small mining town in Western Australia. It has just won the Ned Kelly award (best first fiction category).
The Caller by Karin Fossum (tr Kyle Semmel). A series of petty pranks escalate into disaster. Great sense of foreboding evoked by descriptions of small details.
The Chatelet Apprentice by Jean-Francois Parot (tr Michael Glencross). Agatha Christie-style mystery set in 1760s France. Not my cup of tea, but fine for those who like this type of book.
Fire and Ice by Dana Stabenow. First of an alternative series by the same author set in Alaska. Brisk, over-romance-fuelled plot but too similar in formula to the first series.
Witness by Cath Staincliffe Excellent account of a crime from the point of view of four witnesses, from the perpetration through the police investigation to the trial. Very good at the resultant personal and social dilemmas.
Cold in the Earth by Aline Templeton. First in series set in Galloway, Scotland about DI Marjory Fleming, the UK foot and mouth disease outbreak, and a mystery involving a long-ago missing girl. Atmospheric and involving, particularly concerning the farming community, though the plot outcome is a bit predictable and stretches credibility.

I read more books than this during August (according to Good Reads the total is 20); reviews of the rest will be out in due course either here or at Euro Crime.

My book of the month? Without a doubt, The Quarry by Johan Theorin. In any other month I would have been hard pressed to choose between Fear Not (Anne Holt), Prime Cut (Alan Carter), Witness (Cath Staincliffe) and The Caller (Karin Fossum). Tough competition but I can highly recommend these and in fact most of the others. (See my actual reviews of each via the provided links for further information.)

As an aside, this batch of books is by authors from: England (2), Norway (2), Sweden (2), Australia (1), Scotland (1), USA (1) and France (1).