SinC25: Claudia Piñeiro, #7 post of expert challenge

Having completed the Sisters in Crime book bloggers’ moderate challenge, I am now embarking on the expert level. I managed to get half-way through this level in 2011, but still have four more posts to go before completion. 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.

Claudia Piñeiro achieves that very difficult balance between writing an involving novel and making you laugh. Her books are not overtly funny in terms of set-pieces, slapstick and so on, as is the case in much “comic” crime. Nor are they conventional crime novels as such, in that they don’t feature detectives or very linear narratives – though murders do happen! For me, these books work because they are satires on human nature as the protagonists desperately strive to maintain their fragile images of themselves in an excessively consumerist social context. The humour works at the level of a light-hearted treatment of serious, warped issues – most particularly about how our materialism forces us into situations that get ever more extreme.

Two novels by Claudia Piñeiro have been translated from Argentinian Spanish into English by Miranda France, and published by Bitter Lemon Press:

Thursday Night Widows, “written in 2005, when the Argentine currency inflation was out of control and the characters are terrified by the potential effects of the 9/11 atrocity. Not only is the book a fascinating harbinger of the financial crisis that hit so many other parts of the world a few years later, but also, according to the publisher’s blurb, it “eerily foreshadowed a criminal case that generated a scandal in the Argentine media.” Do yourself a favour, and read it.”

All Yours, a “perfectly pitched black comedy” about a woman desperate to maintain her view of her marriage as perfect, whatever the evidence to the contrary.

Three other authors who write similar books and whom I’d recommend?

Teresa Solana‘s two Barcelona-based novels, A Not so Perfect Crime and A Short Cut To Paradise, skewer the social, artistic and literary pretensions of the Catalonian scene, while introducing the oddest pair of brother-detectives in crime fiction.

Donna Moore, in Go to Helena Handbasket, whisks hilariously through every cliché in the many crime-fiction genres. This book does not so much focus on the social or political comment aspects, but there are plenty of gems to pick up if can manage to look while you are laughing yourself silly.

Leigh Redhead‘s Peepshow is about women trapped in the “hostess” industry in Australia – yet ‘trapped’ is the last thing they feel they are. One of them, Simone, has a PI license, and when a body is found in the sea, she decides to use this to investigate the crime and escape into a more appealing work life.

My previous posts in the SinC25 challenge.

The Sisters in Crime 25th anniversary challenge.

SinC25: Inger Frimansson, #6 post of expert challenge

Having completed the Sisters in Crime book bloggers’ moderate challenge, I am now embarking on the expert level. I managed to get half-way through this level in 2011, but unlike many other successfully completed challenges by other bloggers, still have five more posts to go on this one. So, without more ado, I have to:

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

Inger Frimansson is a Swedish author of suspenseful, psychologically dark crime fiction. Or, as the author herself puts it: “You look so nice and decent, how is it that you write such horrific novels? I’m often asked that kind of question. And the answer is, I didn’t exactly choose to, I more or less was compelled to. The characters I meet up with in my fictions, they just seem to take over.” And this sensation of compulsion is certainly experienced by the reader of the three novels so far (to my knowledge) translated (expertly) by Laura A. Wideburg into English. Here are links to my reviews of these books, together with a quotation from each review:

Good Night, My Darling. “This excellently translated, haunting novel weaves together all these elements, as the complete picture of Justine’s life and character comes into focus from all the previous hints and fragments, as she decides to take decisive action. The author deliberately does not allow the reader to sympathise with or condemn most of the characters, which gives this atmospheric and gripping book a satisfyingly unsettling air. The treatment of the police investigation into various incidents is also told with a dry humour and a rather different perspective from the way in which the police are usually portrayed in crime novels.”

The Shadow in the Water, “a very disturbing novel, clouded and obscured by perceptions and suspicions so that nothing is what it seems. I admire the translator, Laura Wideburg, for so ably conveying the many subtleties of atmosphere and character. Both this novel and its predecessor [Good Night My Darling] won the Best Swedish Crime Novel of the Year for the years in which they were first published (1998 and 2005), and I can see why. The Shadow in the Water is even less of a comfortable read than its predecessor, in showing the nasty things that go on under the surface of apparently ordinary, small-town lives.”

Island of the Naked Women. (Not connected to the previous two novels.) “I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which is a strong candidate for my “best of” list for this year. As well as the satisfying “on the surface” mystery, there is an allegorical aspect to the story, which gives it a haunting quality. The island of the naked women (Shame Island) is where legend has it that, in the olden days, wives from the village who had been unfaithful to their husbands were sent, naked, to fend for themselves. It is presumed they starved. The wives in the story told in the book live in more enlightened times, but is their fate any better than that of their historical counterparts?”

More about the author and her excellent books can be found at her website. Unfortunately this site is not very up-to-date, but I hope we will be able to read more of her work soon.

Three other authors who write similar books and whom I’d recommend? Well, Frimansson’s style is similar in some ways to the queen (in my opinion) of Swedish suspense (!):

Karin Alvtegen, a wonderful author of psychological thrillers. My reviews of three of these, Missing, Betrayal and Shadow, are at Euro Crime. If you haven’t read her, all I can do is to urge you to do so! (But be warned, her books are very bleak.) About her latest book, A Probable Story (not yet translated): “Once again, Karin Alvtegen has proven her skills in telling a story with many depths. It is in many ways a display of human behavior, her characters struggling with their personal demons. It becomes obvious that the behavior we try to hide inside of us becomes instead the inner driving force of our lives. The compelling psychological drama keeps the reader captured to the end.” This passage summarises rather well the genre of “psychological suspense” which, when done well, I enjoy very much.

Camilla Ceder, who I’ve mentioned before in this series, is another Swedish author of psychological crime, though as yet has had only one book translated into English (Frozen Moment). From the author’s website: “With a background in social work and psychotherapy, Ceder brings new perspectives to the Swedish crime genre. She empathizes her characters more than the crimes that they commit (or investigate), and the social and mental mechanisms of the southwestern countryside have become her turf.”

Diane Janes is another author I’ve mentioned in this series. Her second novel, Why Don’t You Come For Me?, is a great little example of a psychological suspense novel in which the author, like Frimansson and Alvtegen, is not afraid to follow her premise to its logical conclusion, however bleak.

My previous posts in the SinC25 challenge.

The Sisters in Crime 25th anniversary challenge.

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

Shadowplay

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.

SinC25: Asa Larsson, #4 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.

Asa Larsson is my fourth choice in the expert challenge. I read a review of her first novel, Sun Storm, at Sarah Weinman’s now-retired blog, and was entranced when I read the US edition soon afterwards (the UK edition was not published until later), in a wonderful translation by Marlaine Delargy. The character of Rebecka Martnisson was the first aspect of the book that made an impression on me. She’s a financial lawyer in Uppsala, but grew up in the far north of Sweden, near Kiruna. She returns there when an old childhood friend is accused of murder. As the story progressed, I was won over by the atmosphere and location of the novel, as well as by its sympathetic descriptions of the old people still living in this remote region and Rebecka’s identity with them (in particular her dead grandmother and the old neighbour Sivving). There is a religious-mystical element to the novel, but this is not at the cost of a down-to-earth denoument. The author herself wrote to her potential readers about the book thus:

I hope you’ll like it. That you’ll like the biting cold of midwinter, the austerity of the people, the dogs that are so important in all my books. I hope you’ll like my police officers: pregnant Anna-Maria with her horse-face, her idle husband whom she loves in spite of everything, and all her children; her colleague Sven-Erik Stålnacke, a man of few words, with his moustache which resembles a squirrel that’s been run over. And I really hope you’ll like my main character, Rebecka Martinsson. I know she’s a little bit isolated from other people and a little bit difficult. The kind of person who works herself to death instead of asking herself how she’s feeling. But she does have her own story, a story she’s running away from.

Asa Larsson’s next two novels, The Blood Spilt and The Black Path, were translated into English, and continued the story of Rebecka’s conflicts between old and new, city and country life, the real world and the “spirit” world. These stories were wonderful, but sadly the rest of the series was not translated and some time elapsed before a new publisher took on the books. The fourth, Until Thy Wrath Be Past, was published in the UK this year in a translation by Laurie Thompson, and continues the themes of the earlier novels. There is one more novel in the series so far written but not translated; according to Larsson’s prologue to The Black Path, her intention is for the series to consist of seven novels.

I hope that anyone who has not yet read this author will try her books: they are listed below, with links to my reviews.

Sun Storm (UK title: The Savage Altar)

The Blood Spilt

The Black Path

Until Thy Wrath be Past

Three authors who write in a similar vein to Asa Larsson – this is quite a hard one. The author whose books I think are quite similar is Johan Theorin, with his stories of the old island legends and ageing populations, but he isn’t a woman author! So I shall choose:

Stef Penney, whose novels The Tenderness of Wolves and The Invisible Ones share themes of old mysteries, and of protagonists who are outside the society in which they live, and are conflicted about this. The two authors have a rather similar approach to wolves, in Penny’s first novel and in Larsson’s The Savage Altar, in which the life of a wild wolf is entangled with Rebecka’s fate. But the lupine aspect is not the only similarity that these authors share!

Camilla Ceder is another Swedish author who so far has had one novel, Frozen Moment, translated into English. It shares with Asa Larsson a sense of people struggling in a remote community while the rest of the world is fixated on city dwelling and its associated “benefits”. There’s a police procedural element, in common with Larsson, and a tragic past back-story involving some of the themes addressed in Sun Storm. There isn’t an explicit religious or mystical aspect to the plot, however, although there is a great sense of location.

Kersten Ekman is more of a literary than a crime writer, and I’ve only read one of her books, Blackwater. This novel is longer and more convoluted than Asa Larsson’s books, but shares many of the same elements: remote communtity; tensions between rural and city life; value-systems of the old and the young; superstitions; and a sense of threat if any old secrets should be in danger of being revealed.

My previous posts in the SinC25 challenge.

The Sisters in Crime 25th anniversary challenge.

SinC25: Margot Kinberg, #3 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.

Margot Kinberg has written two delightful books in that enticing subgenre, “academic crime”. Her detective, Joel Williams, is both an ex-cop and a professor, bringing a calm sense of wisdom to the disturbing events that have happened previously. Margot herself is a professor, so she depicts university life with authenticity and insight, but never with a heavy hand.

Publish or Perish, I wrote in my review a couple of years ago, “is a literate, light yet engaging read. The account of life at Tilton University rings authentically true, as one might expect from the author’s credentials as an associate professor at a prestigious US university. The pace never flags as the investigation narrows down to a small group of suspects, and previous associations become clearer. I thoroughly enjoyed Publish or Perish, and can recommend it to anyone who wants to be taken out of themselves for a couple of hours, and who is curious about the backstabbing and doublespeak that can go on in the groves of academe.”

About her second novel, B-Very Flat, I wrote: “The author has a lovely light writing style while at the same time conveying the sadness of the story she’s telling. The pace of the book never falters, and in particular the author’s identification of the concerns and feelings of young adults is remarkable. I highly recommend this book, which I am sure will rank highly among my favourite reads of the year. I discovered Margot Kinberg’s books via her excellent blog Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, and I am very glad I did. I can’t wait for the next.”

Now I have to recommend three authors who write in a similar vein.

Carole Schmurak‘s Deadmistress is not set in a university but in a “posh private school”. The headmistress is killed and Susan Lombardi, a professor and educational consultant, sets out to solve the crime because a friend of hers has been accused of it. I enjoyed this novel, but have not yet read its two sequels, Death by Committee and Death at Hilliard High (all are available for a very reasonable price in Kindle format, I note!).

Elly Griffiths has written three very enjoyable novels about an academic, Ruth Galloway, who as a forensic archaeologist is a consultant to the local (Norfolk) police. In The Crossing Places, The Janus Stone and The House at Sea’s End, we follow not only Ruth’s detective skills but her somewhat chaotic private life.

Sisal-Jo Gazan‘s first novel, The Dinosaur Feather, is apparently based in part on her PhD thesis on the evolutionary relationship between dinosaurs and birds. This question is at the root of the crime in which PhD student and single parent Anna Bella Nor becomes tangled up. Although not as light in touch or as smooth to read as Margot’s novels, The Dinosaur Feather features a similarly authentic view of academic life, this time in a university in Denmark, and the tensions of academic success or failure.

My reviews of Publish or Perish and B-Very Flat, by Margot Kinberg.

My previous posts in the SinC25 challenge.

The Sisters in Crime 25th anniversary challenge.

SinC25: Joanna Hines, #2 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.

Joanna Hines is known to me as the author of The Murder Bird, a book I reviewed for Euro Crime, having first heard of it via a review at It’s a Crime! blog. I summed up the book as “a compelling little psychological thriller of dark family secrets” – it’s a story of the apparent suicide of a poet, and the efforts of her daughter to find out how she really died. The post at It’s A Crime provides the opening paragraph of the book, which is extremely “must-read-on-ish”, as well as some background information about the author.

I am not sure why I haven’t read any more novels by Joanna Hines since I read The Murder Bird, but I have decided to rectify this omission as soon as I have reduced my stack of recently acquired books to manageable proportions. I enjoy reading suspenseful novels, and this author seems to specialise in the genre, with Improvising Carla, about a death on a Greek island; Surface Tension, another novel about family secrets concerning a 20-year-old murder; and Angels of the Flood, set in Florence and again about an old mystery. The author has also written historical novels set in Cornwall, in the south-west of England, and some earlier books “about secrets” which are categorised separately from the titles mentioned above. More about the books and the author can be found at Joanna Hines’s website.

Based on The Murder Bird, I’d recommend the following three authors who write in a similar vein:

Barbara Vine (a.k.a. Ruth Rendell), whose books are on “themes of human misunderstandings and the unintended consequences of family secrets and hidden crimes.” A listing of Barbara Vine’s books, with a synopsis of each, is available at Wikipedia. I’ve read seven of the thirteen listed.

Diane Janes has written two suspenseful novels of family secrets: The Pull of the Moon and the superior Why Don’t You Come For Me? Both these novels are in the same vein as Hines and Vine in tapping into the tensions bubbling below the surface of apparently normal domestic life.

Morag Joss has written a book called Half-Broken Things which is about an odd collection of people living in a country house – how they got there and the consequences of the secrets that they all keep. Joss has written several other standalone books and a series about a musician in Bath (England), none of which I’ve (yet?) read. But on the evidence of Half-Broken Things, Joss’s books can be said to fall into this suspenseful “domestic secrets” genre, where the tensions between a small cast of characters are the focus of the book as opposed to police-procedural investigations, private detectives, or “thrills and spills”.

I don’t think I am familiar with books from the USA in this subgenre, so any recommendations would be gratefully received.

My Euro Crime review of The Murder Bird.

Crime fiction reader’s review of The Murder Bird (at It’s a Crime!).

My previous posts in the SinC25 challenge.

The Sisters in Crime 25th anniversary challenge.

SinC25: Denise Hamilton, #1 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.

Denise Hamilton is the female author who most nearly made it onto David Montgomery’s “top ten” detective novels list. I enjoyed her first novel, The Jasmine Trade, upon its initial UK publication as part of an Orion “new authors” promotion. Eve Diamond, an investigative journalist with the LA Times, struggles to make and keep a career in a city hypersensitive to ethnic and ethical tensions, and is as determined as hell to get to the bottom of things. The plot and outcome of The Jasmine Trade was original and moving– all in all a great debut.

Although I enjoyed subsequent Eva Diamond novels (Sugar Skull and Last Lullaby), by the fourth, Savage Garden, I felt the series was becoming a bit formulaic and have not read any more of the author’s books since then (2006). Checking out the author’s website to see what she’s published since Savage Garden, she has written another Eve Diamond novel, Prisoner of Memory; edited two short-story collections (LA Noir and LA Noir 2); written another standalone novel, The Last Embrace, set in Los Angeles again but in 1949; and, most recently, written a novel called Damage Control, “murder and scandal in a wealthy political family” in southern California.

I’m quite keen to try Damage Control, but in nominating the required three other authors writing similar novels, I’m going to stick to the journalism theme because I’ve only read the Eve Diamond (journalism) novels by Denise Hamilton so can’t compare any of the others to anyone.

Mari Jungstedt: Swedish novels set on the island of Gotland, TV journalist Johan Berg investigates crimes in parallel to the police and usually collaborates with them to share knowledge and hence find the solution. He has an on-off-on relationship with Emma, a local schoolteacher.

Elaine Viets wrote four novels about New Orleans journalist Francesca Vierling between 1997 and 2000. As well as being witty investigations of crimes, they offer clever insights into the ethics and management of newspaper publishing, as well as a window into the world of the “rehabbers” of pre-Katrina New Orleans. Highly recommended if you like brisk, humorous books with a bite. (Viets has more recently focused on her Mystery Shopper and Dead End Job series, which are very “pink”.)

Liza Marklund is author of one of my top favourite series, about Swedish newspaper journalist Annika Bengztrom. Annika exposes a range of crimes including conspiracies among the political elite and the trafficking of young women, as well as dealing with a complicated personal life.

My previous posts in the SinC25 challenge.

The Sisters in Crime 25th anniversary challenge.

SinC25: Progress so far and preparing for the ascent

Pretty soon after starting it, I realise I messed up on this Sisters in Crime 25th anniversary challenge – probably because I don’t really understand these challenges! I’ve completed the easy and the moderate levels, so have the expert challenge left to do:

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 realise that what I should have done was to have started out on the expert challenge, because by completing the easy challenge (one post about one woman author, recommend 5 others) and the moderate challenge (five posts each about a woman author, recommend 1 other in each), I’ve used up a large number of authors already, and it’s a lot to come up with 10 more to post about and 30 others to recommend! But I’ll give it a go.

Before I attempt this Everest, I’ll just recap on my previous SinC25 posts (which are collected here).

I decided that I’d try to write a post about an author from a different country each time. For the easy post, I chose Unity Dow, from Botswana. For the 5 moderate posts, I chose:

Diane Setterfield, US author, setting England.
Similar author/book: Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.
Catherine Sampson, English author living in China, setting England (first two novels) and China (second two novels).
Similar authors: Liza Marklund (Sweden) and Diane Wei Lang (China).
Saskia Noort, Dutch author (and setting).
Similar authors: Claudia Pineiro (Argentina) and Simone van der Vlugt (Holland).
Katherine Howell, Australian author (and setting).
Similar author: Sue Grafton (USA).
Miyuke Miyabe, Japanese author (and setting).
Similar author: Dominique Manotti (France).

I’d like to clarify that “similar” author does not mean “always writes the same type of book”; rather it means that there are elements of the books I’ve highlighted in these posts that are also present in some books by the “similar author” chosen. In other aspects, the paired (or tripled) authors are very different.

I wonder how I’ll get on with this 10 plus 30 part of the challenge? I’ll have to drop the concept of writing about an author from a different country each time, as I’m not that well read. Do you think I’ll make it? (Suggestions that might help are very welcome!).

My previous posts in the SinC25 challenge.

The Sisters in Crime 25th anniversary challenge.

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.

SinC25: Katherine Howell, #4 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.

Katherine Howell is my fourth choice because she’s (so far) published four books in her excellent series about Sydney police and paramedics. I’ve only read two of these books, but assume the interesting “formula” in those applies to all four. In one sense, the books are police procedurals, as Detective Ella Marconi and her colleagues investigate the crime that forms the basic plot of the book. In another sense, the books are “slice of life” dramas about the city’s paramedics, given great authenticity by the fact that the author was a paramedic before she became a full-time writer. The paramedics are different in each of the two books I’ve read, though there are cross-references. Ella binds the novels together.

What is so enjoyable about Katherine Howell’s books is not just the realism of the paramedics’ jobs as they are called out to many kinds of bizarre, dangerous, sad, repetitive or funny incidents that test the full range of their ingenuity and survival skills, but also the sheer pace and muscle of the stories, which are more common (in my experience) in crime novels by male authors. The author combines well her tough plots, often about personal dilemmas and ethics as well as straight murder mysteries, with the life-situation of Ella, her colleagues and the politics she faces at work. In common with some other cops in crime fiction, Ella has to cope with an intrusive mother who is always trying to get her to settle down, get married and have children rather than single-mindedly pursue a career, which is more to Ella’s own taste.

The first novel in the series is Frantic, which I have not read but which (appropriately) won the 2008 Sisters in Crime Davitt award and was longlisted for the Ned Kelly award. The book introduces Ella, who has to deal with a case in which a police colleague is shot, his daughter abducted, and whose wife (a paramedic) decides to investigate the case herself as she realises her husband is being accused of having been corrupt.

I’ve read the second and third novels, The Darkest Hour and Cold Justice (links go to my reviews), both of which cover similar ground as Ella investigates crimes in which paramedics are involved. Violent Exposure, the fourth book, is not yet out in the UK but was published this year in Australia. You can read a review of it at Fair Dinkum Crime, as well as other articles and reviews of the author’s books.

A fifth book, Silent Fear, will be published in Australia in early 2012.

Another woman author who writes in the same vein? This is quite a hard one, as many “medical” thriller authors, such as Karin Slaughter, Kathy Reichs, Patricia Cornwell, Tess Gerritsen and so on, tend to focus more on medical procedures than does Katherine Howell, whose books are more similar to classic police/PI novels that happen to have a medical setting. Similarly, I’d say that psychological crime authors with women protagonists, such as Nicci French (only half a woman, admittedly!) are not like Katherine Howell who is more interested in social and ethical dilemmas than excessive introspection.

I’d therefore suggest that Sue Grafton, despite the lack of a paramedic angle, is the author among those I’ve read who comes to mind as writing books with a similar-ish tough, professional female protagonist who is somewhat (but not overly) concerned with pressures to conform domestically but essentially happy to exist according to her own mores. In addition, the plots both authors write are brisk and strong, with an emphasis on professionalism rather than mysticism, over-analysing or other psychological aspects. Yet, finally, both authors are interested in addressing social mores and assumptions, with their protagonists having to confront head-on issues of trying to be ethical in a society where many people aren’t, often on an institutionalised scale.

Katherine Howell’s website. Articles by Katherine, and reviews of her books and more, can be found at It’s a Crime! blog – whose author, CrimeFictionReader, first suggested to me that I try a book by Katherine Howell.

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.