Books up for the International Dagger 2013, first post

Now that the winner of the 2012 CWA International Dagger has been announced, we can turn to the titles that are eligible for consideration for the 2013 competition. Karen Meek of Euro Crime has created her usual essential post of the books that qualify, and has included a GoodReads feed of the titles, also. Both of these are updated as more titles are published or announced, so check back regularly to the Euro Crime post or sign up to the GoodReads RSS feed for alerts of new books as the year goes on.

The criteria for consideration are that the book must be translated into English for the first time, and published in the UK between June 2012 and May 2013. The award is shared between the author and the translator. There are, therefore, several eligible books already published, some of which I’ve even read (sometimes a few years ago, if the book was published in the US before the UK). These read and reviewed titles are:

Adler-Olson, J. Disgrace, tr Kyle Semmel (Denmark)
Dahl, A. The Blinded Man, tr Tiina Nunnally (reviewed as Misterioso, the US edition and title) (Sweden)
Enger, T. Pierced, tr Charlotte Barslund (Norway)
Eriksson, K. The Cruel Stars of the Night, tr Ebba Segerberg (review of the US edition) (Sweden)
Holt, A. The Blind Goddess, tr Tom Geddes (review submitted) (Norway)
Indridason, A. Black Skies, tr Victoria Cribb (Iceland)
Juul, P. The Murder of Halland, tr Martin Aitken (review submitted) (Denmark)
Larsson, A. The Black Path, tr Marlaine Delargy (review of US edition) (Sweden)
Marklund, L. Last Will, tr Neil Smith (review of US edition) (Sweden)
von Schirach, F. The Collini Case, tr Anthea Bell (Germany)

Most of these books have been most enjoyable to read, but for me so far there are two clear favourites, Last Will and Black Skies. A couple of the others are extremely strong candidates, but fall short of my definition of a “crime” novel in one or two ways. Karen, of course, has listed many more titles, either published or due to be published. I’ve prioritised these so hope to be reading next:

Fossum, K. In the Darkness (Norway)
Tegenfalk, S. Project Nirvana (on order) (Sweden)
Ceder, C. Babylon (Sweden)
Meyer, D. Seven Days (South Africa)
Miloszewski, Z. A Grain of Truth (Poland)
Theorin, J. The Asylum (Sweden)
Camilleri, A. The Age of Doubt (Italy)
Kaaberbol & Friis. The Invisible Murders (Denmark)
Marklund, L. Lifetime (Sweden)

There are several others that appeal to me (and some I shall not be reading), so I am sure I’ll be reading more than those listed above between now and March 2013.

All my posts on the International Dagger.
Petrona’s International Dagger page, which includes a list of all the past winners and a link to the lists of all the eligible titles from each year, with reviews of many of them.

Which books are (or were) automatic buys for you?

A post at Kittling:Books made me think about books that one buys automatically, without knowing anything about them other than the author’s name. Bernadette’s subsequent post at Reactions to Reading took the concept a little further, in asking which authors were once auto-buys but are no longer.

Auto-buys for me include J. K. Rowling and Ian McEwan, but I’ll limit myself here to crime fiction. Authors whose books I buy as soon as one is published include:

Michael Connelly
Karin Altvegen
Liza Marklund
Arnaldur Indridason
Adrian Hyland*
Asa Larsson
C J Box
Helene Tursten
Andrea Camilleri
Catherine O’Flynn*
Stef Penney*
Peter Temple
Johan Theorin
Deon Meyer

*Even though these authors have each only written two novels, they’re on my list.

These authors have one thing in common, they don’t simply reprise the structure of their last book. Each novel they write can be guaranteed to have some different perspective, or if it is a series, to vary the structure and content in some way to produce an original book.

Authors who were in that category, but who have become disappointments and so I read no longer, include:

J. D. Robb (Eve Dallas series – good idea, rapidly became predictably formulaic)
Lindsey Davies (Falco series – original concept, not developed so became boring)
Elizabeth George (Lynley/Havers series – became far too long and content-free)
James Patterson (yes, I admit to enjoying his first half-dozen books, pre-franchise anathema!)
Richard North Patterson (I loved his early legal/political thrillers but he’s become too ponderous)
Karin Slaughter (quite gruesome, OK for the early books but the later ones focus on gruesomeness and are very slow)
Thomas Harris (Red Dragon is one of my favourite crime novels. Silence of the Lambs was OK-ish. Hannibal was thrown across the room, what a load of rubbish).
Patricia Cornwell (once a true original following on from Harris’s concepts in Red Dragon, now utterly tedious)
Jonathan Kellerman (I was addicted to the first half-dozen Alex Delaware books but then they lurched into monotony)
Janet Evanovitch (the first two books were funny and fresh, but rapidly became a stale re-working each time)
Lee Child (excellent first few books, now suffering from superman syndrome as well as flatness)
Denise Mina (I still read her but judiciously, but she has not matched her auto-buy days of the Garnethill trilogy or Sanctum)

One thing that strikes me about many of these ex-auto buy authors is that they have achieved “best-sellerdom” after I discovered them. And it is perhaps the pressures of “best-sellerdom” that requires someone simply to reprise a formula each time, than to risk something different, hence becoming non-reads for me. It is sad that this is what “mass market” readers seem to like. Not all the authors are like this: Elizabeth George varies her structure and subjects, but the problem with her books now is that they need editing to half the length (i.e. the same length as her first few).

From the “still auto-buying” list, Michael Connelly is a perfect example of an author who sells in shedloads, but who remains true to his readers – he simply does not take the lazy way out. That is, he has talent and, in his case, that’s what sells. Other authors on my auto-buy list are similarly varied in creating their compelling novels, but probably don’t sell in the same size of shedloads as Connelly 😉

There are many other favourite authors whose books I am very likely to read, but I would check out their latest title before automatically buying it. There are also some recent good candidates who may well go on my auto-buy list, for example Gail Bowen, Y. A. Erskine and Julia Spencer-Fleming, but the jury is still out. There are also a few who have been auto-buys but who are currently wobbling in the light of their most recent titles. Some authors I enjoyed in years gone by, but for unknown reasons have become bored with their books – eg P D James, Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine, Frances Fyfield.

Let me know what you think: do you like any of the authors on my lists? Who are your auto-buy (or ex-auto-buy) authors?

Search my book review archive by author name for reviews of books by authors in my auto-buy list.

The final straight and speculation on the 2012 International Dagger

It’s December since I last provided an update on my reading of books eligible for the CWA International Dagger award. Books published in translation in the UK for the first time between June 2011 and May 2012 are eligible, so long as the publisher submits them to the competition. (Only one book per author can be submitted.) Each year, I try to read a good proportion of these books and make my own predictions about the shortlist and eventual winner. (See here for all my posts on the topic.)

Of the list of 79 eligible titles (up from 55 from last year) for this year listed by Karen of Euro Crime (also at Goodreads when a cover image is available), I’ve read and reviewed 42 (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)
Asa Larsson – The Black Path, tr. Marlaine Delargy (Sweden, my review from 2008 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)
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)
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)
Gianrico Carofiglio – Temporary Perfections, tr Anthony Shugaar (Italy)
K O Dahl – Lethal Investments, tr. Don Bartlett (Norway)
Jo Nesbo – Headhunters, tr. Don Bartlett (Norway)
Sissel-Jo Gazan – The Dinosaur Feather, tr Charlotte Barslund (Denmark)
Roslund and Hellstrom – Cell 8, tr Kari Dickson (Sweden)
Kjell Eriksson – The Hand that Trembles, tr Ebbe Segerberg (Sweden)
Lene Kaaberbol & Agnete Friis – The Boy in the Suitcase, tr Lene Kaaberbol (Denmark)
Kristina Ohlsson – Unwanted, tr Sarah Death (Sweden)
George Arion – Attack in the Library, tr Ramona Mitrica, Mike Phillips & Mihai Risnoveanu (Romania) (Kindle edition)
Paulus Hochgatterer – The Mattress House tr. Jamie Bulloch (Austria)
Charlotte Link – The Other Child, tr Stefan Tobler (German, UK setting)
Mari Jungstedt – Dark Angel, tr Tiina Nunnally (Sweden)
Jo Nesbo – Phantom, tr Don Bartlett (Norway)
Hakan Nesser – Hour of the Wolf, tr Laurie Thompson (Sweden)
Andrea Camilleri – The Potter’s Field, tr Stephen Sartarelli (Italy) (review pending)
Keigo Higashino – The Devotion of Suspect X, tr Alexander O Smith with Elye Alexander (Japan)
Harri Nykanen – Nights of Awe tr. Kristian London (Finland) (review pending)
Maurizio De Giovanni – I Will Have Vengeance tr. Anne Milano Appel (Italy)
Antonio Hill – The Summer of Dead Toys tr. Laura McGloughlin (Spain) (review pending)
Jens Lapidus – Easy Money, tr. Astri von Arbin Ahlander (Sweden)
Kjell Eriksson – The Demon of Dakar, tr Ebba Segerberg (Sweden, my 2010 review is of the US edition)

I shall try to read a few more titles before the shortlist is announced on 25 May at Crime Fest, but several of them are not yet available in the UK. There will be some that I shan’t read, for reasons of time or taste.

So what would make up my personal shortlist? Assuming one is only allowed seven novels, I will plump for:

Karin Fossum – The Caller (Norway)
Antonio Hill – The Summer of Dead Toys (Spain)
Jorn Lier Horst – Dregs (Norway)
Arnaldur Indridason – Outrage (Iceland)
Asa Larsson – Until Thy Wrath Be Past (Sweden)
Deon Meyer – Trackers (South Africa)
Johan Theorin – The Quarry (Sweden)

Unfortunately, there is something of a Scandinavian bias, but that’s my honest opinion. It also reflects the proportion of books published in the UK during this year’s eligibility period. If I were allowed another couple, I’d choose Hour of the Wolf by Hakan Nesser (Sweden) and The Potter’s Field by Andrea Camilleri (Italy).

I have chosen these because they all work well as crime novels: several of the eligible books are not what I’d call “crime novels” but are “fiction with a crime in”. I have also excluded a few which I enjoyed reading very much but which I thought were let down by their plot resolutions. But it is a very strong year; I’ve really enjoyed reading almost all of these books – it’s a pity not to be able to include Anger Mode, Burned, All Yours or Ashes……or Sweet Money, Phantom or Dark Angel….tough choices!

See all my posts on the International Dagger.

The definitive post on the eligible titles at Euro Crime blog.

Other recent posts about this year’s eligible books are at The Game’s Afoot and Reactions to Reading.

Bookgeeks: Defending Jacob by William Landay

I recently received a very kind invitation from the website Bookgeeks (@bookgeeks) to review books for them. I’ve agreed to contribute occasional reviews, beginning with Defending Jacob by William Landay, “a compelling contribution to the legal crime-fiction genre” as I summarised it. My review begins:

Newtown, Connecticut, is a showcase for post-suburban USA, combining a small-town rural atmosphere with cultural and social gentility. It is full of professionals who, when it comes to starting a family, have fled from Boston or New York for a slightly more affordable dream of space, safety and prosperity. But what lurks beneath the surface?

To read the entire review, please visit Bookgeeks. I’d be delighted if you’d like to leave a comment about the review, either here or at Bookgeeks.

I’m showing two covers of the book here: above is the UK edition (which I read); below is the US edition. I prefer the US cover by a long way.

Bookgeeks is a comprehensive website for readers of all types of books. The reviews themselves are divided into categories, each with its own RSS feed: crime & thrillers; contemporary fiction; non-fiction; fantasy, SF & horror; historical fiction & classics; comic & graphic novels; and poetry & literary criticism. As well as reviews, the site features regular interviews, columns and competitions. Bookgeeks is part of something called the Bookswarm network, which among other things has a crime writing website called Bookdagger, providing news and features about crime fiction, as well as more competitions. The well-known crime-fiction author Martin Edwards writes Bookdagger’s monthly crime column, which is always worth reading.

Bookgeeks: my review of Defending Jacob by William Landay.

Best new-to-me authors in 2012 #1

Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise has started a meme in which bloggers are asked to write about their favourite “new to them” authors whose books they have read in the first three months of 2012.

So far this year I have reviewed 18 books by such authors: George Arion (Romania), David Belbin (UK), Reed Farrel Coleman (USA), Maurizio di Giovanni (Italy), William Deverell (Canada), Y A Erskine (Australia), Keigo Higashino (Japan), Ewart Hutton (UK), Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson (Iceland), Anya Lipska (UK), Jassy Mackenzie (South Africa), Peter May (UK), Claire McGowan (UK), Ron McMillan (UK), Jenny Roberts (UK), Gillian Slovo (South Africa), S J Watson (UK) and Betty Webb (USA). Of these 18 books, I think that 11 are debuts and the remaining 7 are by authors who have written other books previously that I hadn’t read. My 2012 book review listing is one click away from my reviews of books by each of these authors.

My “new to me” authors award for the first quarter of 2102 is a tie: Y A (Yvette) Erskine for The Brotherhood and Anya Lipska for Where the Devil Can’t Go. Both of these are in one sense police procedurals, but both add a distinctive twist to the genre and both provide a great sense of place and atmosphere. Both these authors are debut novelists: of the books I read by established authors who are new to me, I’d choose Peter May for The Blackhouse and The Lewis Man, both of which I read this quarter. Honourable mentions to The Flatey Enigma by Ingolfsson, Bone and Cane by Belbin, Desert Wives by Webb, Good People by Hutton and Trial of Passion by Deverell. Among the rest, there are only a couple I really didn’t like, so I’m encouraged to keep trying new (to me) authors’ books.

See my post on new-to-me authors read in 2011.

See Mysteries in Paradise for other book bloggers’ choices.

Plot summary or review?

I have been told by someone on Amazon* that my reviews are plot summaries, not reviews. Having read a few of my old reviews with this comment in mind, there is some merit in this view. Therefore, from this point on, I’ll try to make my reviews less like plot summaries and more like reviews.

Yet what makes a useful review? I define “useful” here as helping the reader to determine whether to read the book. I checked the reviews of the person who made this remark, and note that his reviews are largely opinion of various aspects of the book in question. To me, this means one learns more about the reviewer than the book – I find it hard to judge whether to read a book if “random reviewer” states a view on the writing quality, the plot, etc, rather than giving the reader some degree of objective information (which I do not think is found in the official “blurb” of the book, as in crime fiction these blurbs tend to summarise key, late plot points and so remove suspense and even in some cases any point in reading the book). The person who criticised my reviewing style has a far higher ranking as an Amazon reviewer than I do, though admittedly this ranking comes from other readers checking a box to indicate that the review was helpful.

Previously, in writing a review, I have:

– provided a taste of the story, usually the start of it, so as not to give anything significant away.
– highlighted any strengths, for example in the writing style; conveying of location, emotion and atmosphere; characterisation; distinctiveness (ie lack of formula); pace
– commented on the success of the plot in the context of crime novels in general
– said if I think the author has succeeded in what he/she has set out to do, if I think I know
– compared the book to the author’s previous work, if relevant
– provided a few links to other reviews and relevant information, for example specific background about the topic of the book.

Now, I’m not sure what to do. Presumably I need to reduce the amount of time spent on the first item in my list and spend a correspondingly greater time on the other points. Based on this person’s reviews, I also need to make mine much shorter.

*Amazon UK, my review of The Lewis Man by Peter May.

Scandinavian crime fiction: the book

I am always pleased to see that the two “most viewed” posts here at Petrona each week continue to be the two short reviews I wrote last year about Norwegian and Swedish crime fiction. I am so glad that people are interested in books from these regions and, it is to be hoped, go on to read some of them. My posts, of course, are brief, so potential readers are only getting a small snapshot from them.

Help for them is now at hand. Barry Forshaw, the UK’s main expert on crime fiction, has written a book called Death in a Cold Climate: a guide to Scandinavian crime fiction (Palgrave, 2012). I was very kindly sent a copy by the publisher, Palgrave, and have recently reviewed the book at Euro Crime . From my review:

DEATH IN A COLD CLIMATE is the perfect book for those who have sampled and enjoyed a little Scandinavian crime in fictional form – Stieg Larsson, perhaps, or Jo Nesbo – and who want to find out what more the region has to offer. Barry Forshaw is the best-known “talking head” in the UK on crime fiction, and here he provides a short monograph which takes the reader on a whistle-stop tour round Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Finland, showcasing mostly authors who are writing today, but mentioning a few older names in the process.

Many excellent authors are discussed in this book, not only by Barry Forshaw but in informative, substantial excerpts by the book’s authors and translators. It is truly fascinating to read Sarah Death, Don Bartlett, Marlaine Delargy, Laurie Thompson and others in their own words, on how they go about their work and how they make the end product read as authentically as possible.

I highly recommend this book as a good summary of the output of some of the main authors writing today in the Nordic countries. The contents provide an effective introduction to many authors, so will probably be enjoyed more by those who have not read many of their books, rather than by those who are already very familiar with them.

For comprehensive bibliographies, in written order (rather than translated order, which is often very different, unfortunately), I recommend the Euro Crime database. Links to the Nordic countries are here: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

More details about the book at the publisher’s website.

Crime Scraps Review on the reasons for the success of Nordic crime fiction.

Other reviews of Death in a Cold Climate: The Independent (by translator Anna Paterson), Financial Times (by author Mons Kallentoft), Bookgeeks (Mike Stafford), and Martin Edwards. There are two knowledgeable reviews on Amazon that I enjoyed, by Brian J. Cox and Simon Clarke.

Shotsmag Confidential: Barry Forshaw on “becoming an authority” on Scandinavian crime fiction.

SinC25: Erin Kelly, #10 (and final) post of expert challenge

Having completed the Sisters in Crime book bloggers’ easy and moderate challenges, I have with this post reached the end of the expert challenge! The task:

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

I’m choosing Erin Kelly for my last post. Her second book The Sick Rose is a suspense novel told from the point of view of two characters, in two different time frames. Yet unlike many books that use the “switching time” device, Kelly writes with discipline and focus. Hence there is a strong framework for the story she tells to be revealed gradually to the reader. Kelly’s first book, The Poison Tree, was mainly set in London and concerned some young people who spent a lethal summer living in a big house owned by the father of two of them. The Sick Rose* is set in two contrasting areas of London for its earlier time frame, but in the present the action occurs in Warwickshire – at a castle not unlike Kenilworth, and in the town of Leamington Spa. Rather than recommend three authors who write similar novels to Kelly (who could be Ruth Rendell as Barbara Vine, Morag Joss and Tara French), I am going to highlight three authors from, and who write about, the same midlands region of the UK, which is somewhat unfashionable in international, and even national, terms.

(*The Sick Rose is retitled as The Dark Rose in the USA, which is incomprehensible as the author explains the meaning of “the sick rose” during the book.)

Catherine O’Flynn has written two wonderful novels set in Birmingham. The first, What Was Lost, is a very different kind of detective story, a very sad one, featuring England’s first (real-life) enormous shopping mall and its effect on the lives of the characters. Her second book, The News Where You Are, has a detective story element (again very “different”), and conveys the same sense of sadness in human relationships. One of its themes is of the architecture of Birmingham, widely derided nowadays as a soul-less “concrete jungle” but in the eyes of its architect a marvellous vision of the future. The architect is loosely based on the visionary but misunderstood John Madin, who died earlier this year. Here is a Guardian profile of the author, written just before this novel was published.

Diane Janes set her first novel, The Pull of the Moon, in the countryside round Birmingham and Hereford. The main character, Kate, grew up in the city, went to college there, and as the novel opens is enjoying early retirement. The novel tells of a traumatic experience one summer in Kate’s youth. Janes’s second novel, Why Don’t You Come For Me?, is an excellent suspense novel in the Karin Altvegen mould, set a little further north in the Lake District.

Judith Cutler lived and worked in Birmingham for many years. Her first series of novels featured Sophie Rivers, a teacher at a college in the city. She has also written several other series, some of which are set in the region.

My previous posts in the SinC25 challenge.

The Sisters in Crime 25th anniversary challenge was started by Barbara Fister. Thank you, Barbara, for the fascinating journey – even though I completed it after the end of the official 25th anniversary year!

SinC25: Simone van der Vlugt, #9 post of expert challenge

Having completed the Sisters in Crime book bloggers’ moderate challenge, I am now working hard on the expert level and believe the end is almost in sight! The challenge:

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

Reading Rich Westwood‘s recent Euro Crime review of Shadow Sister reminded me of the Dutch author Simone van der Vlugt, whose two novels that have been translated into English are both very enjoyable, in a dark, suspenseful way. Shadow Sister (translated by Michele Hutchinson, my review at link) is about twins, one a schoolteacher and the other a photographer. Their different attitudes to materialism, men and the job market first strike one about these young women, but gradually we come to see how their past life when children has affected them. One of the nice things about this book is the unreliable perception of reality, depending on which twin is narrating the story.

The Reunion is the other book by this author that has been translated (again by Michele Hutchinson) and published in English. Again, there is an unreliable, possibly unstable, narrator, Sabine, recently returned to work after a bout of depression. Gradually, we come to learn more about Sabine’s life and past, and it is not pleasant.

Rich’s Euro Crime review of Shadow Sister touched upon the ordinary lives of the characters. He writes: “Its setting in suburban Rotterdam may as well be suburban Slough, and its Further Education college, shopping mall, and nightclubs could be situated in Leicester, Hull or Stoke. The characters are teachers, photographers, software engineers and teenagers, all people that you might find in your local town centre next Saturday lunchtime.” This made me wonder, in the context of this challenge, what other books by women authors use the ordinariness of setting to cover up distinctly non-ordinary secrets, secrets that gradually are revealed? I have to think of three such authors….

Jessica Mann‘s The Mystery Writer is in one respect about an ordinary character (“Jessica Mann”) who is in Cornwall researching a book about a (true-life) disaster of World War 2 – the sinking of the ship City of Bernares as it was carrying evacuees from the UK to Canada. She witnesses the attempted suicide of a woman, which is the start of the gradual revealing of many family secrets and previously hidden crimes, in a very clever set of plots.

Esther Verhoef, another Dutch author, tells the story of Margot Laine in her novel Close-Up. Margot is an ordinary salesperson who has to cope with being dumped by her husband after seven years of marriage, including being looked down on by her own parents and being stood up by a girlfriend when she attempts to take a holiday to cheer herself up. Soon, the insecure Margot is being wooed by a very handsome man, a celebrity artist — but what does he see in her, and what happened to his first wife? Margot is increasingly sucked into a maelstrom that is very far from ordinary.

School is a place that is much the same the world over, one might think. In Yaba Badoe‘s debut novel True Murder, young Ajuba is trying to get over her mother’s death. She lived in Ghana but has been placed by her father in an English school in an attempt to provide her with a “normal” life. There, Ajuba is befriended by Polly Venus and hence gets to meet the Venus family in the school holidays. Another situation that becomes distinctly abnormal as the pages turn!

My previous posts in the SinC25 challenge.

The Sisters in Crime 25th anniversary challenge.

SinC25: Laura Wilson, #8 post of expert challenge

Having completed the Sisters in Crime book bloggers’ moderate challenge, I am now working hard on the expert level. The challenge:

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

Laura Wilson is well-known in the UK both as an author of crime fiction and as a reviewer of crime novels for The Guardian. She wrote half a dozen suspense novels, mostly historical, between 1999 and 2006, but here I want to mention her series about London policeman Ted Stratton, as an example of a historical series that, in examining social and political trends over a period of time (the Blitz to the 1960s), does not get bogged-down in the past in the way that many historical novels can tend, rather self-consciously, to do.

Stratton’s War (2007): “The plotting is excellent, dovetailing perfectly with the excitingly tense World War Two background. The constant personal frustrations of Stratton and Diana, as the truths they separately uncover are suppressed for the “greater good” or for the war effort, or for the retrospectively quaint (but no doubt accurate) imperative to preserve the status quo of the class structure, make the book far deeper than a genre novel.
Part of the pleasure and poignancy of this book is the objectivity and frankness that this talented author can bring to bear on events of nearly 70 years ago. For 30 years or so after the war, novels of this type were still, on the whole, covered with a veneer of propaganda and, although exciting, were often too black-and-white to seem realistic or involving. Laura Wilson examines all the issues: social, sexual and political, with a clear-sightedness that provides real insight to the modern reader. This is an admirable novel, both as a good piece of historical crime fiction, but also as a social and emotionally telling commentary on the snapshot of time in which it is set.”

An Empty Death (2009): ” I enjoyed this novel as much, or perhaps even more than, Stratton’s War. The earlier novel focused on events that could only have taken place in the context of the war, whereas An Empty Death is a timeless mystery that is given added interest and excitement by taking place during such unusual times. I am not usually a fan of historical novels, nor of books set in World War Two, but the apparent authenticity of the many domestic, professional* and general details in this novel, as well as its triple plot, soon had me absorbed. The characters seem so genuine: so often when one reads a contemporary novel set in the past, the characters seem to act knowingly about the future, or to have attitudes that anticipate the modern era. There is none of that here, the author simply presents her characters as of their times, which is very effective.”
(*I have since been corrected on an aspect of this point by Norman of Crime Scraps.)

A Capital Crime (2010): “Laura Wilson has written an excellent novel in A Capital Crime. Her invented characters, whether central or tangential, are completely realistic and of their time yet with a subtle overtone of present-day perspective. Her observations of the social mores of the day are acute, and her cast-list (with the exception of the criminal) sympathetic yet unsentimental. Her settings are beautifully detailed and convincing throughout. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and so much hope that it will not be too long before the next episode in the life of DI Ted Stratton.”

I now have to name three women authors who write in a similar vein. This is quite a challenge to me as I don’t read much historical fiction (I read a great deal of it in my teens and then had enough, rather like science fiction), but I’ll try:

Aly Monroe has so far written three books about Peter Cotton, The Maze of Cadiz (which I’ve read), Washington Shadow and Icelight (which I haven’t yet). Like Laura Wilson’s, these novels begin in the Second World War and continue after it, but the protagonist is a military intelligence agent.

Jacqueline Winspear set the main part of her first Maisie Dobbs novel in 1929. There are nine books to date about this psychology-oriented, ex-nurse investigator with her own business, but I’m afraid I have read only the first of these. In that novel, the themes of the effects of war (in this case, the First Word War) on civilian society and on those involved in it, were very much to the fore.

Andrea Maria Schenkel‘s first two novels, The Murder Farm and Ice Cold (both translated by Anthea Bell), are much grimmer affairs about the myths of war and the brutal crimes committed by those caught up in the maelstrom. They are also relentless depictions of claustrophobic German societies and attitudes, in which in each brief novel the reader can only surmise the war’s cause and effect.

My previous posts in the SinC25 challenge.

The Sisters in Crime 25th anniversary challenge.