Update on reading books eligible for the International Dagger 2012

June is the beginning of the International Dagger eligibility period, and I’ve never known anything like the past five months for a plethora of brilliant books being published. If it carries on like this until next May (when the publication window closes) it is going to be an impossible task to select a shortlist of even a dozen books!

Of the list of 55 eligible titles (so far known) this year listed by Karen of Euro Crime (also at Goodreads when a cover image is available), I’ve read 20 (click on title to see my review):

Kjell Eriksson – The Princess of Burundi, tr. Ebbe Segerberg (Sweden, my review from 2007 is of the US edition)
Andrea Camilleri – The Track of Sand, tr. Stephen Sartarelli (Italy)
Arnaldur Indridason – Outrage, tr. Anna Yates (Iceland)
Camilla Lackberg – The Hidden Child, tr. Tiina Nunnally (Sweden)
Ernesto Mallo – Sweet Money, tr. Katherine Silver (Argentina)
Johan Theorin – The Quarry, tr. Marlaine Delargy (Sweden)
Jan Costin Wagner – The Winter of the Lions, tr. Anthea Bell (German, Finland setting)
Karin Fossum – The Caller, tr. Kyle Semmel (Norway)
Mons Kallentoft – Midwinter Sacrifice, tr. Neil Smith (@neiltranslator) (Sweden, review submitted to Euro Crime)
Anne Holt – Fear Not, tr. Marlaine Delargy (Norway)
Yrsa Sigurdardottir – The Day is Dark, tr. Philip Roughton (Iceland)
Asa Larsson – Until Thy Wrath be Past, tr. Laurie Thompson (Sweden)
Deon Meyer – Trackers, tr. K L Seegers (South Africa, language Afrikaans)
Hakan Nesser – The Unlucky Lottery, tr. Laurie Thompson (Sweden, review submitted to Euro Crime)
Marco Vichi – Death in August, tr. Stephen Sartarelli (Italy)
Jorn Lier Horst -Dregs, tr. Anne Bruce (Norway)
Thomas Enger – Burned, tr. Charlotte Barslund (Norway)
Sergios Gakas – Ashes, tr. Anne-Marie Stanton-Ife (Greece)
Claudia Pineiro – All Yours, tr. Miranda France (Argentina)
Stefan Tegenfalk – Anger Mode, tr David Evans (Sweden)

On my shelf, to read:

Gianrico Carofiglio – Temporary Perfections (Italy)
K O Dahl – Lethal Investments, tr. Don Bartlett (Norway)
Jo Nesbo – Headhunters tr. Don Bartlett (Norway)

Waiting to be acquired or to be published:

Roslund-Hellstrom – Cell 8 (Sweden)
Friis & Kaaberbol – The Boy in the Suitcase (Denmark)
Kjell Eriksson – The Hand that Trembles (Sweden)
Bernhard Jaumann – The Hour of the Jackal (Germany)
Kristina Ohlsson – Unwanted (Sweden)
Petros Markaris – Basic Shareholder (Greece)
Valerio Varesi – The Dark Valley (Italy)
Camilla Lackberg – The Drowning (Sweden)
Charlotte Link – The Other Child (German, UK setting)
Liza Marklund – Last Will (Sweden)
Jo Nesbo – The Bat Man (Norway)
Mari Jungstedt – The Dark Angel (Sweden)
Lars Kepler – The Executioner (Sweden) (not as keen as all that to read this one)

The geographical distribution of these novels is: Sweden 14, Norway 7, Iceland 2, Denmark 1, Finland 1 (German author/language) – that makes 25 Nordic – Italy 4, Argentina 2, Greece 2, Germany 2, South Africa 1. If I get through all these books and nothing else more attractive is published in the interim, I may read The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino, which would add 1 for Japan. (By the way, on this sample size of 2 for Germany, it is odd that one is set in Finland and the other in England.)

The strong Nordic bias to this selection is partly because I have not included historical or (I hope) “slasher”-type novels on my “desperately want to read” list, and partly because the list reflects what is being published for the first time in English translation in the UK between 1 June 2011 and 31 May 2012 – that is, the market.

Which of these are my front-runners? That’s a very hard one. Indridason, Theorin, Larsson, Horst, Meyer certainly, with Gakas, Holt, Mallo and Enger a shade behind. Or maybe Fossum. Or Pineiro…..help! One thing is for sure, that of the 20 I’ve read, I would not say any of them is a dud. I’ve enjoyed the vast majority of them tremendously, and hope to continue feeling this way about the rest of the eligible titles as I read them.

Other recent posts speculating on the 2012 Dagger can be read at The Game’s Afoot and Crime Scraps.

See all my posts on the International Dagger.

Official CWA International Dagger page, containing synopses and articles about the 2011 winner and shortlisted books, as well as archives about past years’ awards.

Book review: Anger Mode by Stefan Tegenfalk

Anger Mode
Stefan Tegenfalk
Translated from Swedish by David Evans
Nordic Noir books, 2011 (originally published 2009)

Anger Mode, one of the welcome batch of books from Sweden being published in the UK this year, is certainly packed with themes and incident. The novel begins along traditional lines – a car accident is described in the first chapter on a road near Uppsala. The action then shifts to Stockholm and to the jaded, 30-year veteran police detective Walter Grohn – a cop who breaks all the rules of procedure and political correctness to get his man (or woman), and who gets away with it because his boss is pretty lazy and knows that, by protecting Grohn from censure, he will keep his department looking good, statistics-wise. In addition, Grohn is in mourning for Martine (presumably his wife) and is prone to constant headaches.

There are many apparently disparate elements in the first half of the book. A liberal judge is incensed by an hour-long delay to his train and attacks the taxi-driver who is driving him home from the station. A couple of hoods break into a journalist’s apartment to try to find an incriminating video. A teenage girl infuriates her frayed mother by skipping school – instead the girl goes with a friend to someone’s house to smoke dope – but is injected with an unknown cocktail, leading to bizarre and tragic consequences. Grohn attempts to investigate these crimes but they seem curiously motiveless – a rookie profiler-cop, Jonna de Brugge, is assigned to him as a partner but despite some sharp repartee and small advances, they are getting nowhere when another judge phones the police to say he’s murdered his wife in a jealous rage.

SAPO, the state secret police infamous to readers of crime fiction from Sweden*, steps in to take over the investigation of these crimes. Grohn is unable to prevent this from happening because he’s under investigation for cutting corners on a (successful) drug bust he’s just undertaken – the success being due to his unauthorised access to the drug squad’s list of informers. Grohn collapses in pain and is carted off to hospital for an operation. Undeterred by his suspension and his illness, he begins to put several pieces together when he discovers (by an amazing coincidence!) that the burgled journalist is in the bed next to him. He’s convinced that the SAPO theory of the crimes is completely wrong, and sets out to solve the case by any means he can, aided and abetted by his couple of reluctant accomplices and, later, an equally reluctant computer-hacker who happens to “owe” him (he even admits to himself that he’s “read his Lisbeth Salander”).

Despite the stop-start nature of the narrative – in which many characters are sketched, then disappear – the author gradually exerts quite a grip on the reader, as he cleverly brings together two entirely distinct plots and weaves them inextricably together. It’s simple to guess the motivation for the crimes, but by his constant switching of chapters describing what his core half-dozen characters are doing, the author keeps up the pace and suspense effectively. He is particularly strong in his implicit condemnation of SAPO, whose chief investigator Martin Borg enters the case determined to pin the crimes on Islamic fundamentalists. Borg constructs a theory entirely based on his own preconceptions and by playing on the concerns of his superiors and the prosecutors ostensibly directing the investigation, goes to increasingly desperate extremes to deliver post-hoc evidence that will support his edifice. What then happens is a cataclysmic event that forces the two main stories in the book together and adds in more variants and twists to the mix. There is also a fascinating contrast between the high-tech, well-resourced SAPO approach and the illegal, shoestring operation run by Grohn from hospital.

Anger Mode is first of a trilogy, so there are a few ends left hanging in the air which the author presumably picks up in future volumes: time will tell. (A couple of these are rather clumsily introduced in the final few pages). It’s an exciting and satisfying read, though the staccato style and the regular introducing and then dropping of characters needs a bit of acclimatization. I also find it rather weak when a plot depends on mystery drugs with such 100 per cent accuracy in their actions – not only that but also hackers who use “magic”, albeit well-described, to be able to get into inaccessible databases. But this is definitely a book with something to say about our society, with plenty of humorous and telling asides: I enjoyed it very much, particularly Grohn’s ability to stay one step ahead of all the games, not least in running rings round bureaucrats and other important non-entities. I’ll certainly be reading the next two books when they are translated.

*For equally unflattering depictions of SAPO, see The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson, Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End by Leif G. W. Persson, Misterioso by Arne Dahl, Three Seconds by Roslund-Hellstrom, and (tangentially), The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell.

Other reviews of Anger Mode: International Noir Fiction, the Crime Segments and The Crime House.

Nordic Noir books, the publisher, provides a website address on the cover of the book (www.nordicnoirbooks.com) which is not (yet?) active. It is an imprint of the Swedish publisher Massolit, whose blog provides a bit more detail about Nordic Noir books and Anger Mode.

Anger Mode’s Facebook page (if you are into Facebook pages, which I’m not as I don’t like “closed” websites).

Anger Mode at Amazon UK, with several, mainly positive, customer reviews.

Olof Palme at Wikipedia.

I purchased my copy of this book.

SinC25: Miyuke Miyabe, #5 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.

For my final post in this part of the challenge, I’ve chosen Miyuke Miyabe, a Japanese author. One of the pleasures of reading crime fiction is its window it provides into countries I’ve never visited and may never visit. The two books I’ve read by Miyabe show the frustrations and desperation of ordinary people, whose dilemmas are the same yet different from those in a similar vein experienced in the UK, and where society has rather different strictures and freedoms compared with those with which I’m familiar.

All She Was Worth concerns a missing young woman, and the search for her conducted by a retired detective and widower. I wrote in my review that the book is “strongly critical social comment of the personal and family devastation caused by the uncontrolled rise in consumer spending and credit of the 1960s, when regulations in Japan were relaxed. For me, this book ticks all the boxes – I learned a lot about attitudes and the ways of life of people in Japan, and about the country, as well as thoroughly enjoying the strong if tragic plot, the social commentary (occasionally digressive but I didn’t mind), and the combination of toughness and humanity that characterise the best crime novels. The title is also apt, as becomes apparent.”

Shadow Family is the other book by this author that I’ve read. On the surface it’s the story of a murder investigation, but a clue to its real subject matter is given by its original title, R.P.G. (role-playing game). First published in 2001, it is an early-ish fable (but far from a sentimental one!) about the depths to which “games” can allow people to plunge. Such games have been more popular in Japan than in most or all other places, and the author here explores, in a metaphorical way, the reasons why – the events described in the novel being as illusory as the game some of the characters are playing. I wrote in my review that the author wants her readers “to experience the psychological stresses of living in a rule-bound, stratified society that makes very high academic demands of its children and that allows little room for the individual to control his or her own life, so some rather awful directions are taken (by one character in particular) in an attempt to break out. Shadow Family is an intriguing and thought-provoking novel – not a warm book or one that fits into any clear definition, but one that leaves an uneasy impression in the mind after its edgy, hallucinatory account is over.”

I haven’t yet read any more novels by this author – she has written a very large number of them (a list is at Wikipedia), but it seems that only seven (including the two mentioned here) have been translated into English. One of the best known of these is Crossfire, about a young woman with psychokinetic powers which has both been made into a film and a mobile-phone manga animation (anime) – I’m not sure if I’ll read it. As well as writing crime novels, Miyabe writes science fiction, historical fiction and books for young adults and children. There is more about the English-language translations of her books at the Simon&Schuster website.

Now I have to think of another woman author who writes similar books! Well, that’s a tall order but I’m going to go a bit left-field and suggest that Dominique Manotti is relatively similar, in her hard-hitting novels that seem to be set in a parallel France where the rules are different to those most people live by or say they live by (Rough Trade and Affairs of State). There are many obvious differences between the two authors, of course, but I think they are both in the same place when it comes to exposing a structured society’s hypocrisies by sometimes rather extreme allegories and actions.

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: All Yours by Claudia Piñeiro

All Yours
by Claudia Piñeiro
translated by Miranda France
Bitter Lemon Press, 2011 (first published in Argentina 2006)

In a perfectly pitched black comedy, Claudia Piñeiro confirms the promise of Thursday Night Widows, her first novel to be translated into English. All Yours is a short book, but one that packs a real punch despite its deceptively light-hearted tone throughout. Most of the novel is a direct window into the stream of consciousness of Ines, who has been married to Ernesto for more than 20 years. At first we see them as having the perfect marriage that Ines would like to believe is real, but we find ourselves constantly reassessing reality as Ines is forced to suspect Ernesto of being unfaithful to her, and as we come to learn via witnessing her “in passing” thoughts, how they came to meet and marry.

Unlike the blurbs on the cover and at the publisher’s (and retailer) websites, I’m not going to provide plot details here, because knowing them in advance would simply deflate this souffle of a novel, which is light, short, funny and as nasty as it gets. (This is one of those books where even a bare plot summary is the same as providing spoilers.) On the one hand, one can’t stop smiling at Ines’s thought-processes and actions as she makes new discoveries about her marriage and what she assumes her husband is capable of – especially when she goes through all the possible interpretations (filtered through rose-tinted glasses while thinking about the dry-cleaning and other domestic trivia) of each piece of evidence she finds in the house or encounters on her trips out – yet on the other, one is horrified and saddened by the trap that she and Ernesto are in. Just who is deceiving who, and how far will either one of them go? These are questions that the author puts in several different guises, and answers in no uncertain fashion.

The most tragic part of the novel is the interwoven story of Laura, Ines’s and Ernesto’s teenage daughter. Obsessed with her husband, Ines has no time for the girl while Ernesto, though adoring her, is unable to relate to her in any useful way. The two parents are totally locked into their own concerns, and fail to see what’s happening to their daughter, let alone help her. Laura’s story is told in tiny little phrases, underlining her irrelevance to her mother and her lack of presence in her family home. We gradually come to realise how the story of Laura exactly mirrors that of Ines and Ernesto when they were her age – but will she act, or turn out, the same?

The author does not waver from the engaging, chatty tone of this book, which makes the reader a confidant of Ines and hence automatically on her side before realising how far we have been drawn down the path of collusion. Ernesto, a shadowy figure seen only through the eyes of the four female characters in the novel, is someone who is very easy to dislike. Ines is a vivid, opinionated and sharply drawn character. She carries the novel, and whether she will manage to juggle all her complex balls in the air or whether they will all come crashing to the ground in an apocalypse, one cannot help but have a degree of sympathy for her, not least because of what we know about her mother and her background.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, with its constant challenges to the reader’s loyalties and its regular shifts of perspective while maintaining an airy tone whatever the nightmares being described. I highly recommend that you read it (but put on a blindfold when it comes to reading any blurbs or synopses, as it really would spoil the book’s impact to know too much, or even anything, before you start).

Other reviews of All Yours (all of which provide more details about the plot than I’ve done here, so you’ve been warned!): It’s a Crime!, The Bookbag, Crime Time, International Crime Fiction (where Glenn has a different view from mine about the Laura aspects of the plot), and Crime Scraps (where Norman explains why he did not like the book as much as some other reviewers. I felt the translation was smooth and colloquial, but I agree that the use of the term “Mum” in the earlier Laura sections jars and is a bit confusing).

About the book at the publisher’s website.

I purchased my copy of this novel.

What is the future of the Crime Writers’ Association?

The CWA (crime writers’ association) is open for consultation about its future, according to an article in its own magazine, Red Herrings (available only to members!). The organisation has put the text of this article up at its Facebook page, for anyone to read. The CWA is mainly known to the reading public for its various Dagger awards, which are announced at different times over a year in various PR-style ways.

As a keen reader of crime fiction, I was pleased to see this initiative, as it is pretty expensive to join the CWA for a reader given that there are very few benefits, if any, associated with membership, which is geared up for authors to promote their books and receive tax advice, as well as to socialise.

However, since the CWA article was posted at Facebook, only two people have commented – me and another person – and neither of us has received the courtesy of a response (I also emailed my comment, as suggested in the article). I do hope that the CWA is serious in its intent to change – some of the reasons for my hope are outlined in the response I sent them, which I am copying here:

I’m glad the CWA is open for feedback. I am not a writer but a reader and reviewer of crime fiction. I read most of the books eligible for the International Dagger award each year as well as many other crime novels. I have not joined the CWA to date because membership is expensive and the benefits not significant (to a reader). I would certainly join the CWA if you had a special “readers’ ” membership tailored to us, which could include online discussions, book promotions, reading events and so on. I think the CWA would benefit from this input, there is a lot of discussion going on all over the internet about crime fiction, either via sites like Shots, Euro Crime et al, or blogs, or smaller forums, and you would do well as an organisation to tap into that better than you do now. Authors tend in the main to be interested only in promoting themselves and their books, whereas readers are broader and can bring intelligent debate and analysis. CWA could be a hub for all that.

If you like crime fiction, and think that the CWA could offer something more than it does at present that you’d find useful, please do reply to them, either at their Facebook post or via email to info@thecwa.co.uk for those allergic to Facebook. I do hope that comments and feedback will be answered at some point, as I think the CWA is very well placed to be a hub for the crime fiction community, so long as “community” involves readers as well as authors.

UPDATE 6 October: I’ve just received a response from the CWA. Here it is (!):
Hi Maxine
Many thanks for taking the time to write back. At the moment the CWA is only open to published writers, so readers can’t join. Our proposal is to set up a readers membership as you suggest, which would be free, and draw together online content as you say. We hope to launch this over the next few months.
Best wishes
Claire (Director)
[Note, I have been asked to join previously by other members of the CWA (at least two of them from memory), even though they know I’m a reader not an author. Confused? I am.]

September reading and reviews

The number of books I read during September plummeted compared with August, though some of the reviews I posted in September are of books I read in August. As usual, it is impossible to pick out a ‘book of the month’ because so many of them are so good. There is also a huge variety – I can list some favourites from this month’s reviews (no special order) based on genre: domestic, psychological suspense (Elizabeth Haynes, Diane Janes); police procedural (Jorn Lier Horst); thriller (Deon Meyer); journalism-based (Thomas Enger); noir (Sergios Gakas); psychologist-based (Stephen White); police-political (Arne Dahl); political-historical (Sofi Oksanen); domestic (Camilla Lackberg); outdoorsy (C J Box); social comment (Shuichi Yoshida). All these books share in common the essential elements of crime fiction, of course – a solid plot, direction, pace, characterisation, drama and atmosphere.

Two of my reviews came out at Euro Crime during September:

The Hidden Child by Camilla Lackberg, translated from Swedish by Tiina Nunnally. “Camilla Lackberg knows how to tell a good story, and THE HIDDEN CHILD is to my mind the best book in this series since the first, THE ICE PRINCESS.” The full review is here.****

Proof of Life by Karen Campbell (Scotland). “Each book the author has written is very different from the previous one, so I am intrigued about where Karen Campbell will be going next.” The full review is here.***

At Petrona I posted reviews of a wide international range of books:

Cold Wind by C J Box (Wyoming, USA)****

Misterioso by Arne Dahl (Sweden)****

Burned by Thomas Enger (Norway)*****

Ashes by Sergios Gakas (Greece)****

Rain by Stephen Gallagher (England)*

Dregs by Jorn Lier Horst (Norway)*****

Why Don’t You Come For Me? by Diane Janes (England)****

Trackers by Deon Meyer (South Africa)*****

Purge by Sofi Oksanen (Estonia)*****

Against the Wall by Jarkko Sipila (Finland)**

Death in August by Marco Vichi (Italy)**

Up Jumped the Devil by Blair S. Walker (Maryland, USA)**

The Last Lie by Stephen White (Colorado, USA)****

Villain by Shuichi Yoshida (Japan)*****

Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes (England, inadvertently missed from August post)****

My reviews are now caught up with my reading here at Petrona. Over at Euro Crime, I’ve reviews pending of books by Asa Larsson, Maj Sjowall/Per Wahloo, Ruth Dugdall, Mons Kallentoft, Hakan Nesser and Val McDermid.

Book review: The Vault by Ruth Rendell

The Vault
by Ruth Rendell
Hutchinson, 2011.

The twenty-fourth novel in the Wexford series is, as ever, a pleasurable and absorbing read. We now have to call the series simply “Wexford” as the chief inspector has finally retired from the Kingsmarkham police force, and as The Vault opens he and his wife Dora are living in the converted coach house in the grounds of his actress daughter Sheila’s expensive Hampstead (north London) home for a change of scenery. Wexford spends much time walking around London in a (successful) attempt to lose weight, but inevitably is a little bored and hence is pleased when he bumps into an old acquaintance from the force, Tom Ede. Ede is now a senior policeman and has become stuck on an investigation, so asks Wexford to be an unofficial advisor.

The case concerns an upmarket “cottage” in St John’s Wood, in central north London. Orcadia Cottage is the subject of a well-known painting which was commissioned by the house’s owner some years ago, and which featured his to-be wife. Subsequently, the two divorced and the house was bought and sold twice, all three sets of owners being pretty rich people prone to extensive holidays abroad. The present owner, Martin Rokeby, decided to create an underground room (as is so common nowadays in London where property prices are astronomical, moving is expensive in itself and space at a premium). During this process, he made the horrific discovery of four bodies in the cellar – it is the attempt to identify these bodies, and hence find out how they got there and who was responsible, that has run into the ground so to speak. Wexford, accompanied by Ede or one of his junior colleagues, carries out the kind of classic investigation familiar to readers of crime fiction, and here told by one of the best living exponents of this genre. Woven in with the plot are Wexford’s inner thoughts, often about London as he walks its streets, but also his views on the people he encounters and on society at large.

Another plot soon intrudes – Wexford’s other daughter, Sylvia, who lives near Kingsmarkham, is attacked and stabbed in her car while driving her young daughter home. Not only is this event deeply shocking to the family, but it soon turns out (as revealed to Wexford by his friend Burden, who now has Wexford’s old job) that the attacker was no stranger to Sylvia. Wexford’s concerns about his daughter distract him from the Orcadia Cottage case, but eventually he returns to it and, largely by the time-honoured device of repeatedly interviewing neighbours and anyone else who may have had a connection to the property, in the hope that one of them will remember or reveal previously undisclosed information, comes up with a crucial clue that eventually allows the case to be solved.

Although in some ways this novel provides a traditional, old-fashioned plot for readers (albeit with some very nice character sketches, in particular of a cleaning woman from the Ukraine), in another it is a refreshing take on the way the world is changing as seen through the eyes of someone who is trained to be highly observant, has lived for a long time, and whose introspections are certainly stimulating to the reader. Wexford is an extremely well-established character in the author’s mind, and what is more a character whom the author likes very much (this affection infuses the book and gives it a real heart). He provides a roundness to the book which in other hands would be a simple puzzle, but here is something more than that. In summary, this is a lovely read – one does not even have to have read the previous books to enjoy it, which is quite a tribute for the 24th book in a series – but it’s probably best enjoyed if you already have some prior knowledge of Wexford and his family, in particular his daughter Sylvia and her rather up and down relationship with her father.

I do have a gripe about this book, which is that it is poorly edited. There are times when Wexford asks a question about something he hasn’t been told about yet. We are twice introduced to Ede’s tie, and we are given two different residents’ names as the person who chopped down the creeper growing up the wall of Orcadia cottage. For a bestselling-level novel from a major publisher, this is indefensible.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Other reviews of The Vault are at: The Independent (another editing error, the definite article in the book’s title is missing from the review), The Evening Standard (a nice review that picks up the origin of this plot from one of Rendell’s earlier books – which I have either forgotten or not read), the Bookbag and Mostly Fiction book reviews.

The Telegraph has a nice interview with the author, discussing The Vault and more.

Wikipedia on the author and her books.