October reading report and book of the month

At Euro Crime during October, three of my reviews appeared. One of them is of a non-fiction book, Andrea Camilleri: the Companion to the Mystery Fiction, by Lucia Rinaldi, which will fulfil anyone’s curiosity about the Montalbano oeuvre in book and screen form. The other two reviews are of novels: Too Close for Comfort by Niamh O’Connor and Babylon by Camilla Ceder, translated (from the Swedish) by Marlaine Delargy.

Other than that, I read a few other crime novels:

Gods and Beasts by Denise Mina
My First Murder by Leena Lehtolainen – review submitted to Euro Crime
The Cutting Season by Attica Locke
Autumn Killing by Mons Kallentoft – review submitted to Euro Crime, book courtesy of Sarah Ward
The Bat by Jo Nesbo

I read one non-crime novel, The Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling, a depressing and bleak account of modern social hypocrisy and the misery of families (some of them with the veneer of social respectability, some not).

Of the crime novels I read, two are Swedish, one Finnish, one Norwegian, one Irish, one Scottish and one from the USA.

My favourite of the crime novels in this collection is an easy one, Babylon by Camilla Ceder.

For other bloggers’ choices of books of the month for October, see Mysteries in Paradise.

September reading report and book of the month

Although I didn’t post any reviews here on Petrona during September, three of my pieces came out at Euro Crime: Vanishing Point by Val McDermid, “an excellent mixture of media-inspired, over-the-top drama and intense suspense as the hunt for Jimmy seems to be doomed to fail. A great holiday read.” [full review here]; The Murder of Halland by Pia Juul, tr Martin Aitken, “in many ways a perfect “literary” crime novella” [full review here]; and Deon Meyer’s 7 Days, translated by K L Seegers, “tense and exciting……a marvellous crime novel which must be a strong contender for best crime novel of 2012.” [full review here].

I read several other books during September, notably eight books in the Joanne Kilbourn series by Gail Bowen. I very much enjoyed these books, which are quick to read but which address serious themes. I didn’t think the most recent two, The Brutal Heart and The Nesting Dolls, were as good as the previous books in the series because they focus on Jo’s excessively lovey-dovey marriage at the expense of her roles as a lecturer of political science and TV panellist, as well as jettisoning the minor, semi-recurring characters and there not being much of a mystery to them. I am hoping that Jo will be back on form in Kaleidoscope, which is not yet possible to buy in the UK.

I also re-read Michael Connelly’s first Harry Bosch novel, The Black Echo, which was still a good read after 20 years. In a generous act of serendipity, a good fairy then sent me a proof of The Black Box, not published until November. It is a compelling read, though the last section, when Bosch leaves LA on the trail of his case, is a disappointment. Interestingly, the book opens 20 years ago at the scene of the riots in LA over the killing beating [post corrected] of Rodney King, harking back to the first book.

Finally, I read two non-crime novels in September: Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan, as ever a beautifully written book with many memories for me of what it was like to be a (very!) young woman in 1970s Britain. I was hoping the book was going to take a particular turn that it never did, but even though the male characters were a pretty grim lot, I enjoyed the book very much. The other novel I read was Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford (actually 4 novels, totalling more than 900 pages). I didn’t enjoy it that much, finding its existential fragmentation rather jerky and erratic. The TV series, adapted by Tom Stoppard, captured the essence of the books very well, though the main character was somewhat sanitised and idealised, and there was a strange debate between teachers about Marie Stopes’s ideas on sex (in marriage), which was not in the books.

In sum, on the crime front I read 13 books, 10 by women and 3 by men. The geographical distribution is: Canada, 8; USA, 2; Denmark, 1; South Africa, 1; and UK, 1. Two of these are translated. My book of the month? Almost a tie between The Black Box by Michael Connelly and 7 Days by Deon Meyer. No crime author writing today can top Bosch’s mesmeric intensity when he has the bit between his teeth, and I treasure Connelly’s occasional lurches into beautiful, yearning poetic prose – but for me, 7 Days pips The Black Box at the post for an equally compelling “cold case” plot, as well as having a more rounded, satisfying ending.

As usual, for other bloggers’ choices of books of the month for September, please visit the round-up post at Mysteries in Paradise.

Previous reading reports at Petrona.

August reading report and book of the month

August was a busy month, reading-wise. I reviewed four books for Euro Crime, including one at the end of July which I forgot to include in that month’s round-up, and fifteen at Petrona, making 19 in total. Nine of these are by women (two of them by pairs) and ten by men (including one pair). The geographical spread is: Sweden 7; Canada, 3; UK, 3 (one set in Gibraltar, one Scotland and one Wales); Norway, 2; and one each for Austria, France, Iceland and the USA. Eleven of the total are by authors new to me.

I have very much enjoyed most of these books. I’m not going to be able to single out a “book of the month” but will have to provide three titles that I can’t choose between: The Eyes of Lira Kazan by Eva Joly and Judith Perrignon (French authors); In The Darkness by Karin Fossum (Norwegian); and Another Time, Another Life by Leif G W Persson (Swedish). Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg (Canada) and The Blind Goddess by Anne Holt (Norway) are a whisker behind.

Links to my September reviews:

Euro Crime:

The Blind Goddess by Anne Holt

Summertime Death by Mons Kallentoft

The Drowning by Camilla Lackberg

Shadow of the Rock by Thomas Mogford


Talking to the Dead by Harry Bingham

The Wandering Soul Murders by Gail Bowen

A Colder Kind of Death by Gail Bowen

Sail of Stone by Ake Edwardson

In The Darkness by Karin Fossum

The Camera Killer by Thomas Glavinic

Some Kind of Peace by Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff

Sebastian Bergman by Hjorth Rosenfeldt

Killer’s Island by Anna Jansson

The Eyes of Lira Kazan by Eva Joly and Judith Perrignon

Blood Tears by Michael J Malone

Another Time, Another Life by Leif G W Persson

Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End by Leif G W Persson

A Field of Darkness by Cornelia Read

Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg

Season of the Witch by Arni Thorarnisson

As usual, if you would like to see other bloggers’ choices of books of the month for August, see the round-up post at Mysteries in Paradise.

All my book reviews for 2012, with rankings.

July reading report and book of the month

July was a relatively quiet month for reading and reviews. Two reviews were published at Euro Crime and eight at Petrona. Of these ten, five are by women and five by men. The geographical spread is: USA 3; UK, 3, and one each for Canada, Germany, Norway and Sweden. Four are debut novels (to the best of my knowledge).

A smaller number of books means that, in principle, it is easier to select a book of the month. All the novels I read in July are good, and I can recommend any of them. So far as picking a “best” is concerned, I am not able to choose between two of the titles I read, so I’ll make one award for a debut author, and one for an author who has published novels before.

My non-debut award for July goes to Pierced, by Thomas Enger. From my review: “I urge you to read this novel (ideally after reading Burned), and hope you enjoy it as much as I did, even though it is written in the present tense. Its pleasures are enhanced by the excellent, colloquial translation by Charlotte Barslund.”

And my debut award goes to A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller, a wonderfully well-observed novel combining an evocative portrait of impoverished life in small-town West Virginia, with a crime investigation by a prosecuting attorney and her colleague, the sheriff. The author, a journalist, won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing for her account of the deadly tornado in Utica, Illinois.

The full list of books reviewed during July is below. Click on the book’s title for the review.

Euro Crime:

Meltwater by Michael Ridpath (UK author, set in Iceland – Fire and Ice #3). “….those looking for an exhilarating yet light read with a difference – provided by the Icelandic setting – will be well satisfied by this book.” 3/5

Border Run by Simon Lewis (UK author, set in the China/Myanmar borderlands). “Perhaps this book is best suited to a teenage readership because of its “coming of age” themes, or for those who prefer to read a simple adventure story without much else to it.” 2/5


Murder at the Mendel by Gail Bowen (Canada) 3.5/5

Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain (USA) 4/5

Gone in Seconds by A. J. Cross (England) 2.5/5

Pierced by Thomas Enger (Norway) 4.5/5

Playing Dead by Julia Haeberlin (USA) 2.5/5

A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller (USA) 4.5/5

The Collini Case by Ferdinand von Schirach (Germany) 3/5

Death of a Carpet Dealer by Karin Wahlberg (Sweden) 3/5

For other bloggers’ choices of their books of the month, see the round-up post at Mysteries in Paradise.

June reading report and book of the month

June was not as productive for me as May, but I did manage to read and review 14 books, two for Euro Crime and twelve for Petrona. Eleven are by women and three by men, but unfortunately only three are translated. Geographically, the books range from England (7) to the USA (3), Sweden (1), Iceland (1), France (1) and Canada (1) – with one of the England-set books by an Australian author (Annie Hauxwell), and another by an Irish author (Jane Casey). Six of the books are debut novels, hence are by authors new to me – one other novel is not a debut but by an author new to me (Ridley Pearson).

When I read Black Skies by Arnaldur Indridason I was convinced that it had to be my book of the month this month. It is just such a good crime novel, and I highly recommend it. Even so, a book I read later in June is, without a doubt, my top tip – Lorraine Connection by Dominique Manotti. It’s an original novel, and depicts so well how a small crime can extend into a complicated mesh involving corporations, countries, and the cosy way everyone helps each other out in return for present or future favours. Cynical does not begin to describe it, but how refreshing to read an intelligent, hard-hitting crime novel that gets to the roots of the political and economic mess of present-day Europe. (This is also one of the themes of Black Skies.)

You cannot do much better, in terms of crime fiction, than reading either of these books. Most of the others that I read this month also come highly recommended. There are appealing female protagonists in some of these novels (Catherine Berlin, Annie Hauxwell’s protagonist, the most original in a debut novel), and the police procedural thriller is alive and strong in the hands of Ridley Pearson. Julia Spencer-Fleming, N J Cooper and Jane Casey provide solid, readable entries in their series, and Carin Gerhardson produces an accessible slice of Swedish crime.

The full details are below, with links to my reviews. The score is out of 5, but should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Euro Crime:

Black Skies by Arnaldur Indridason, tr Victoria Cribb 4

A Willing Victim by Laura Wilson 3


Track of the Cat by Nevada Barr 2.5

Amuse Bouche by Anthony Bidulka 2.5

The Last Girl by Jane Casey 3

Vengeance in Mind by N J Cooper 3.5

The Gingerbread House by Carin Gerhardsen, tr Paul Norlén 3

Missing Persons by Nicci Gerrard 2.5

In Her Blood by Annie Hauxwell 3

Lorraine Connection by Dominique Manotti, tr Ros Schwartz & Amanda Hopkinson 5

The Pied Piper by Ridley Pearson 3.5

Broken Silence by Danielle Ramsay 2

Crossbones Yard by Kate Rhodes 3

A Fountain Filled With Blood by Julia Spencer-Fleming 3.5

The scoring system is explained in my 2012 reviews page.

Previous months’ reading reports and books of the month.

As ever, Kerrie has a round-up post of bloggers’ book choices for the month, so for more recommendations, please head on over to Mysteries in Paradise.

May reading report and book of the month

During May, the English weather made a late run to redeem itself and I reviewed 18 books: four for Euro Crime, one for Bookgeeks and the rest for Petrona. Nine are by women, eight by men, and one by a woman/man pair. Four are by authors new to me, all of which are debut novels. (I haven’t counted Per Wahloo, because though I haven’t read any books solely by him, I have read the Martin Beck series written by him and his wife Maj Sjowall.) Eight of the books are translated, slightly better than the past couple of months’ averages in this regard, I’m glad to say. The geographical spread is: USA 4; England and Sweden 3 each; Canada 2; and 1 each for New Zealand, Denmark, South Africa, Finland, Italy and Ireland.

Book of the month?! Although it has been a very strong reading month to the extent that two books won a very rare 5/5 marks from me and three books won 4/5, which by my scheme is very good indeed, there is no doubt in my mind as to the winner! First, apart from a couple, I very much enjoyed almost all the books I read this month – anything with a score of 3 or above from the list below is highly recommended. Of these, honourable mentions go to the excellent books by Allison Leotta, Julia Spencer-Fleming and Cath Staincliffe, all of which scored four. Deon Meyer’s Trackers scored 5, and is deservedly on this year’s shortlist for the International Dagger award. For me, though, the winner is most definitely Last Will by Liza Marklund, tr Neil Smith – a brilliant thriller that combines all the elements I love in a book.

Here are the details of the books I read in May, with direct links to my reviews in each case:

Euro Crime:

Murder on the Thirty-First Floor by Per Wahloo, tr Sarah Death (Sweden) 3/5
Historical futuristic novel about a terrorist threat to a corporation in a totalitarian state.
Split Second by Cath Staincliffe (England) 4/5
Moving account of the aftermath of a crime in Manchester, told from several viewpoints.
Nights of Awe by Harri Nykänen, tr Kristian London (Finland) 3/5
Murder and mayhem on the streets of Helsinki as police detective Ariel Kafka chases the criminals.
Trackers by Deon Meyer, tr K L Seegers (republished review) (South Africa) 5/5
Scorching, emotion-drenched thriller of several linked instalments, about modern and ancient tracking amid South Africa’s political tensions.


Taken by Robert Crais
PI Elvis Cole is kidnapped while tracing a missing woman in the California desert; Joe Pike must find him. (USA) 3/5


Disgrace by Jussi Adler-Olsen, tr Kyle Semmel (Denmark) 3/5
Department Q takes on the case of an old and apparently solved murder, while a crucial witness is a fugitive in Copenhagen’s streets.
Deadly Appearances by Gail Bowen (Canada) 3.5/5
First of a series in which political speech-writer Joanne Kilbourn investigates the death of the Saskatchewan politician she worked for.
Face of the Devil by N. J. Cooper (England) 3/5
Southampton-based forensic psychologist Karen Taylor becomes involved in the case of a mentally ill teenager who may have committed murder.
Tuesday’s Gone by Nicci French (England) 4/5
London is atmospherically drawn in this exciting story about the identity of a dead man and the mystery of why he died.
Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane (USA) 2.5/5
Reprise of a missing persons case when a Boston teenager vanishes many years after being abducted as a young child.
Law of Attraction by Allison Leotta (USA) 4/5
Excellent debut legal thriller set in Washington, DC, featuring passions of the present as well as shadows of the past.
Last Will by Liza Marklund, tr Neil Smith (Sweden) 5/5
Brilliant scientific-based thriller as Annika Bengtzon juggles journalism with family while trying to solve a Nobel-prize-related crime in Stockholm. My book of the year?
The Nameless Dead by Brian McGilloway (Ireland) 3.5/5
Reconciliation is the theme of this sure-footed police procedural set in the borderlands of Ireland.
In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming (USA) 4/5
Award-winning opener to series featuring ex-military helicopter-pilot priest Clare Ferguson, now based in New York state.
Containment by Vanda Symon (New Zealand) 3/5
Sam Shepherd of the Dunedin police investigates a drowning that is more complicated than it seems at first.
Night Rounds by Helene Tursten, tr Laura A. Wideburg (Sweden) 3/5
Irene Huss solves a mystery among nurses at a decaying private hospital in Goteborg.
The Dark Valley by Valerio Varesi, tr Joseph Farrell (Italy) 2.5/5
The past haunts the gloomy Tuscan village where Soneri takes a holiday – in more ways than one.
The Suspect by L. R. Wright (Canada) 3.5/5
The Sunshine Coast of Canada is the setting for this psychological study of guilt.

See the round-up post at Mysteries in Paradise for other bloggers’ choices of book of the month for May – and add your favourite May read to the collection.

April reading report

In April, while the country endured continuous heavy rain as illustrated, I reviewed 16 books: three for Euro Crime; two for Bookgeeks and eleven here at Petrona. Only four of these are translated books, to my shame. Six are from England; one is set in England but written (originally) in German; three are from the USA; and one each is from Italy, Sweden, Norway, Canada, Ireland and Australia. Of the 16, six are by authors who are new to me. And of the 16, seven are by women and nine by men. I think four of the total are debuts.

Which of these to nominate for my book of the month? My favourites according to the ranking scale are Hour of the Wolf, The Mistake, Phantom, Broken Harbour, The Potter’s Field and Defending Jacob. It is very hard to choose a winner out of these very different and highly enjoyable novels, so if you have time and haven’t read them all, I recommend that you do! Defending Jacob and The Mistake show grippingly the personal costs involved when the law tramples over apparently happy families. Broken Harbour is an excellent police procedural set in Ireland, depicting the desperation of a ruined economy. Phantom is the usual edge-of-the seat ride for former Oslo detective Harry Hole. The Potter’s Field is one of the strongest entries in the marvellous Sicilian series about Inspector Montalbano, and Hour of the Wolf is again, one of the best books in the classic Scandinavian series featuring the irritable yet very funny retired Inspector Van Veeteren and his erstwhile colleagues. Both of these final two books are darker than some of their predecessors. I am sorry, but I just can’t choose one “best read” from these! And many of the rest of my April reading were good, solid and engaging crime novels.

April’s reading list, with links to my reviews:

Euro Crime:
Hour of the Wolf by Hakan Nesser, tr Laurie Thompson (Sweden) 4/5
The Other Child by Charlotte Link, tr Stefan Tobler (Germany, UK setting) 3/5
The Potter’s Field by Andrea Camilleri, tr Stephen Sartarelli (Italy) 4/5

Defending Jacob by William Landay (USA) 4/5
Stay Close by Harlan Coben (USA) 2.5/5

Force of Nature by C J Box (USA) 3.5/5
Lifeblood by N J Cooper (England) 3/5
Broken Harbour by Tana French (Ireland) 4/5
Kind of Cruel by Sophie Hannah (England) 3/5
Revenge of the Tide by Elizabeth Haynes (England) 2/5
The Loyal Servant by Eva Hudson (England) 2.5/5
The Mistake by Wendy James (Australia) 4/5
White Heat by M J McGrath (Canada – Ellesmere Island/high Arctic) 2.5/5
Phantom by Jo Nesbo, tr Don Bartlett (Norway) 4/5
Killer Instinct by Zoe Sharp (England) 3/5
A Dark Redemption by Stav Sherez (England) 3/5

As usual, check out Mysteries in Paradise for other bloggers’ “book of the month” selections.

March reading report

In March I reviewed 15 books, four at Euro Crime and the rest at Petrona – the list is below with a ranking out of 5 for each. I continue not to do well with translated books, as there are only three in this batch (Iceland, 1; Italy, 1; Sweden, 1). Gender balance is a little more even, with seven male authors and eight female – of the 15, nine authors are new to me*.

It’s a tie for book of the month for March. Against expectations, I found Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson’s The Flatey Enigma, tr Brian Fitzgibbon, an absorbing and memorable read; and I loved Anya Lipska’s debut novel set in London and Poland, Where The Devil Can’t Go. These authors are both new to me. In third place is Dark Angel by Mari Jungstedt, tr Tiina Nunnally, probably best enjoyed if you have read the previous five books in this series set on the Swedish island of Gotland. The ending lets the book down a bit, but the rest of it is full of fascinating character sketches and glimpses into family and social dynamics.

Euro Crime:
Blood Falls by Tom Bale 2
“…those who like Lee Child’s novels will find much to like here, as Joe is a similar sort of character to the nomadic Jack Reacher, being forced to operate under society’s radar as well as representing the fight of good against apparently impregnable evil.”

*I Will Have Vengeance by Maurizio de Giovanni 2.5
“… a welcome addition to the pantheon of Italian crime fiction. The book is written with great assurance, beautifully translated by Anne Milano Appel.”

Dark Angel by Mari Jungstedt 3.5
“This Gotland-set series has really hit its stride; the sixth outing for Inspector Anders Knutas and his colleagues is a riveting read.”

*Random Violence by Jassy Mackenzie 2.5
“The book continues with these dual themes of Jade’s investigation and quest for revenge, but its main strength is its depiction of the violent, heaving, overcrowded, booming Johannesburg.”

*Bone and Cane by David Belbin 3
Labour MP and ex-con separately investigate Nottingham-based possible double miscarriage of justice, as an old love affair re-ignites.

*Trial of Passion by William Deverell 3
First in series about lawyer Arthur Beauchamp, who retires to Garibaldi Island (Canada) and takes on what he thinks to be his last case, in which a female law student has accused her mentor of rape.

The Litigators by John Grisham 3
From small-scale to large-scale, lawyers behave with varying degrees of integrity in two very different cases.

The Flight by M. R. Hall 2.5
Coroner Jenny Cooper gets to the bottom of why a commercial airliner crashed into the River Severn.

*The Flatey Enigma by Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson 4
An unidentified body found on a beach starts a tale of academic intrigue and past crimes, set mainly on the Icelandic island of Flatey in the 1960s, where a mediaeval book of myths contains a yet-to-be-solved conundrum.

*Where the Devil Can’t Go by Anya Lipska 4
Excellent debut novel set in London’s Polish community and in Poland itself, as a detective tries to solve a crime, and a fixer searches for a missing girl. Assured and well-written.

*The Fall by Claire McGowan 2.5
Two women witness a crime and become friends while the boyfriend of one of them stands accused. More romantic-domestic drama than crime novel.

Look Again by Lisa Scottoline 3
Journalist tries to discover why the photo of a missing boy looks identical to her adopted son.

*An Honourable Man by Gillian Slovo 2.5
Dissection of a marriage set against the fall of Khartoum in the 1860s.

Cradle to Grave by Aline Templeton 2.5
DI Marjory Fleming investigates multi-crimes in Galloway, Scotland, as tempests rage and past events come back to haunt several characters.

*Desert Wives by Betty Webb 3
Searing indictment of Mormon marriage practices in Arizona/Utah, as young girls are indoctrinated and worse. Excellent campaigning novel whose serious themes somewhat overwhelm the crime plot.

For more March reading choices from book bloggers, see the round-up “book of the month” post at Mysteries in Paradise.

Scoring system: 5: excellent; 4: very good; 3.5: better than good; 3: good; 2.5: not quite as good as good; 2: average or not distinctive; 1: not recommended (usually not reviewed). This scoring system isn’t perfect as I seem to find it very difficult to award books a 5 or a 1. I am also never sure what rank to give books that are ripping reads but which would not win anything in the “literary merit” stakes!

February reading report

In February I reviewed 4 books for Euro Crime and 11 at Petrona. The geographical spread was fairly broad, but only one title is translated, so I must rectify that when possible: England 5 (1 set in Holland; 1 non-fiction); Wales 1; Ireland 2; Scotland 2; Japan 1; Australia 1; Canada 1 (set in USA); USA 2. The gender balance between authors is 7 female: 8 male.

Several of these books were highly rewarding, but it isn’t too difficult to award my book of the month for February to THE BROTHERHOOD by Y A ERSKINE. Set in Tasmania, the novel is a police procedural with a 360-degree perspective, set over the course of one day, with hard-hitting social comment and shifting in mood from straightforward to dark, darker and darkest. Great stuff.

Highly commended in a very strong crop are two novels by Peter May (The Blackhouse and The Lewis Man), a series set in the Outer Hebrides conveying a wonderful sense of “place” as well as telling stories of past misdeeds hidden by traditions and codes of conduct ; and Bloodland by Alan Glynn, an exciting, original global thriller. A shade behind these novels are V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton, Kinsey Milhone’s latest outing is into the murky world of organised shoplifting; The Cold Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty, a police investigation into a crime committed in the chaos of 1981 Belfast; and Dead Scared by S J Bolton, about mysterious suicides in the groves of academe, with a gothic and suspenseful touch. However, I’d recommend any of the books in the list, particularly those that score 3 or more out of 5. Click on the titles below for my reviews.

Euro Crime:

The Glass Room by Ann Cleeves 3

Death in a Cold Climate: a guide to Scandinavian crime fiction by Barry Forshaw 3 (non-fiction)

Good People by Ewart Hutton 3

The Sick Rose* by Erin Kelly 3.5


The Accident by Linwood Barclay 3

Dead Scared by S J Bolton 3.5

Long Gone by Alafair Burke 2

The Brotherhood by Y A Erskine 4

Bloodland by Alan Glynn 4

V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton 3.5

The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino, translated by Alexander O Smith with Elye Alexander 2

The Blackhouse by Peter May 4

The Lewis Man by Peter May 4

The Cold Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty 3.5

Needlepoint by Jenny Roberts 3

For more February reading choices from book bloggers, see the round-up post at Mysteries in Paradise.

*US title, The Dark Rose, which makes no sense given the author’s explanation of “the sick rose” during the novel.

January reading report

The year has started well, reading-wise. In January I’ve reviewed four books for Euro Crime and ten at Petrona, ranging from Scotland (2), Australia (1), United States (3), Romania (1), Austria (1), Korea (1), Finland (1) and England (4) – though only two of these are translated. This year, I am using a new scoring system* to replace the stars I used previously, as I found that too many books were three-star reads when they are a bit more granular than that (not stellar, not formula). Going a bit wild, I’ve therefore introduced the 2.5 and 3.5 rankings for those books I’ve found not quite as good as, or a bit better than, “good”.

What are my books of the month? Well, as usual I am spoilt for choice, but have selected three:

Third: The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin: a well-written and constructed crime novel that is enhanced by a political story reaching back into the 1980s and affecting public life at all levels today. This novel pulls off a very difficult trick – it is a political thriller without being daft or with “boys’ toys” elements.

Second: The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst. In any other month this would easily be my top pick, and indeed it is as far as crime fiction is concerned. It’s an inventive, beautifully written story about the meaning of reality and perception, structured as a crime plot, as a book about writing, and as a literal reinterpretation of significant events in the characters’ lives. Simply the most original novel I’ve read for a very long time.

First: Kinglake-350 by Adrian Hyland. It isn’t fiction, it isn’t crime – but this account of the bush fires that swept parts of Australia in February 2009 is everything a book should be – gripping, measured, fair, intelligent, thorough, emotional, informative and influential.

The books I’ve reviewed in January, with links to my reviews:

Euro Crime:

The Mattress House by Paulus Hochgatterer, translated by Jamie Bulloch 3.5

A Room Full of Bones by Elly Griffiths 3

Good Bait by John Harvey 3

Finders Keepers by Belinda Bauer 2.5


Kinglake-350 by Adrian Hyland 5

The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst 5

The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin 4

Attack in the Library by George Arion, translated by Mike Phillips et al. 3

Dead in the Water by Aline Templeton 3

Lucifer’s Tears by James Thompson 2.5

Lost and Found by Carolyn Parkhurst 2.5

Hurt Machine by Reed Farrel Coleman 2

Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson 2

Yin Yang Tattoo by Ron McMillan 2

*Scoring system:
5: excellent; 4: very good; 3.5: a bit better than good; 3: good; 2.5: not quite as good as good; 2: average or not distinctive; 1: not recommended. Points are awarded for a range of factors: good writing style, plot, character, atmosphere, sense of place, emotional engagement, excitement and originality being the main ones.