SinC25: Karen Campbell, #5 post of expert challenge

Having completed the Sisters in Crime book bloggers’ moderate challenge, I am now embarking on the expert level:

write ten blog posts about works of crime fiction by women authors. For each, mention three similar women authors whose works you would recommend.

Karen Campbell is my fifth choice in the expert challenge. She’s written four novels set in Scotland, all featuring to a greater or lesser degree Anna Cameron, who progresses from a Glasgow lower-ranking detective in the first novel to a more senior role in the fourth. None of these books obeys a formula: the first highlights the general ghastliness of inner-city policing in a crime-ridden, poverty-stricken area; the second is a detailed account of the failings of the Scottish criminal justice system, in particular the failure of prison to act as a reforming influence; the third tackles police politics and various issues concerning care homes for the elderly; and the last is about policing big events and the influence of technology on privacy, against a background of a crime from the first novel that comes back to haunt Anna, who has been on a long journey to arrive at a very different place from where she was in that first book.

The four novels, with links to my reviews providing some more of my impressions and views about them, are here:

The Twilight Time

After the Fire


Proof of Life

Three authors who write in a similar vein? Well, I’ve read books by quite a few male authors writing about senior female police detectives, for example Martin Edwards, Mons Kallentoft and Kjell Eriksson, but I have read fewer women authors who choose to focus on the female DI (or thereabouts in rank).

Denise Mina is another Scottish author who writes big, muscular books. Until recently she had not focused on the police force, but in her two last novels (Still Midnight and The End of the Wasp Season) she has introduced Glasgow DS Alex Morrow, who has to act tough in a man’s world in order to progress. Alex, like Anna, has personal dilemmas to deal with as well as professional ones. And like Karen Campbell, Denise Mina attacks many issues of social and political injustice, but from a perspective that makes it more obvious what she, the author, wants the reader to think. Karen Campbell writes with more shades of grey, perhaps presenting a more rounded look at some of these issues.

Helene Tursten is a female author writing about a female detective inspector – Irene Huss of the Gothenburg police. I love the three books in this series that have so far been translated into English (another is due early next year). But although Irene is a tough, senior and clever cop, she does not have the same personal problems as Anna Cameron in Karen Campbell’s books. Irene does have some pretty grim cases to solve, though, and does so with focus and determination, along with the town’s team of detectives. (Reviews of these books can be accessed from this Euro Crime page.)

Aline Templeton is an author I’ve discovered this year who writes a series about DI Marjory Fleming of the Galloway police. Although set in Scotland, these books are rather different from Karen Campbell’s and the others mentioned in this post in their rural setting and their rather less edgy nature. But Marjory is a tough protagonist and even though she has a very settled marriage (so far!) she has a troubled relationship with a teenage daughter. I’ve read and enjoyed the first three of this series and intend to catch up with the rest soon. (My review of the first in the series, Cold in the Earth, is here; links to reviews of the rest, to date, can be found at this Euro Crime page.)

My previous posts in the SinC25 challenge.

The Sisters in Crime 25th anniversary challenge.

5 thoughts on “SinC25: Karen Campbell, #5 post of expert challenge

  1. Very interesting, especially the comparisons to Denise Mina, whose three series I have read. I liked the second Alex Morrow book more than the first. And also interesting are the similarities to Helene Tursten, whose three books translated into English and available in the States, I have read. I often like Irene Huss far better than the plots, but as long as Tursten is writing about her, I’ll keep reading the books.
    I’ve been interested in reading Karen Campbell’s books or sampling one. Do you think her writing has changed over the course of the four books? Has it developed?
    Also, wanted to wish you and your family the best of holidays, and on to a great new year of good books!

    • Thank you, Kathy. I think Karen Campbell’s writing has always been good and her characters well developed. It is hard to answer your question as each novel is so different in theme from the one before. Perhaps After the Fire is the most powerful (but quite depressing), Anna does not come into that one all that much, but it can be read without having read the first. As for Helene Tursten – she’s only been translated in US editions (Soho Press), those are the ones we have to buy over here, as we do with Arne Dahl and a few other authors.

  2. Maxine – Thanks so much for these recommendations – an excellent post. I agree completely with you about Helene Tursten – such a talent. I’m very much looking forward to her fourth. And although I haven’t read as much Denise Mina, I agree she tackles some very difficult issues and certainly doesn’t hold back, so to speak.

  3. Oh, these sound right up my alley. Or should I say “close” since an American publisher decided Fleshmarket Close should be Fleshmarket Alley? No, I think I do mean alley. Adding Karen Campbell to my TBR list.

  4. Four great writers in one post!

    When we were were in Scotland last year, a generous blog reader gave me a signed copy of Karen Campbell´s debut. I also enjoyed her style very much but forgot to add her to the Christmas wish list. Templeton is there, however 🙂

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