I was in two minds whether to review this book. It’s not a crime novel although it does have elements of a psychological or domestic thriller. What made up my mind was how strongly I want to recommend the book. It’s a very powerful and dark read and had a profound effect on me after I’d finished it.
Anna Benz is an American who now lives with her husband and three young children in Dietlikon, a suburb of Zurich. Although perhaps not as wealthy as some of the other inhabitants, Anna has what might be considered to be a perfect expat lifestyle. Except in the nine years that she has lived in Switzerland she hasn’t learnt German and feels isolated from the rest of the community. At her therapist’s suggestion she enrolls in a language class and embarks on an affair with Archie, one of her fellow students. As the story develops, we uncover Anna’s past indiscretions and how risks taken in the past and present can devastate a family.
Hausfrau is a powerful read. I found myself unable to put it down but was helped by the choppy narrative structure. This allows the reader some breathing space in what could be quite a grim read. The character of Anna is one of the reasons that the book is so powerful. She’s both passive in the infidelities that she follows and yet clearly has a strong self-contained personality. There’s a significant sexual element to the story. But this is no confessions of a bored housewife. There’s a sense of impending doom that makes for a compulsive read.
The book was recommended to me by a publicist who knows I review crime books. And I can see why. There are some complex characters and the story is a dark, harrowing tale. I’d highly recommend it to all readers.
Posted in Reviews | Tagged HAusfrau, Jill Alexander Essbaum | 9 Comments »
This book had been sitting on my shelf for a while. It’s a slight departure from my usual reading but the plot sounded fun. What prompted me to pick it up was that the author, Susan Wilkins, was appearing on the debut crime writers’ panel that I was moderating at Newcastle Noir. It’s a shame that I left it so long to read the book. The Informant is a pacy read with a charismatic protagonist and I found myself racing through the story.
Kaz Phelps has just been released from prison after serving time for a crime that her little brother, Joey, committed. She wants to distance herself from her Essex based criminal family and pursue her talent for drawing that she discovered while she was inside. However, she finds herself pursued by her past and in particular her violent brother won’t let her escape her familial responsibilities. She is also wrestling with a passion for her lawyer Helen who is trying to keep her on the straight and narrow while ensuring her own career isn’t damaged.
One of the first things that you notice about The Informant is the unusual narrative style. The point of view changes from paragraph to paragraph which is a departure from many other crime novels. There was an interesting discussion on this at Iceland Noir. Readers are more sophisticated than many publishers give them credit for and the switch in viewpoints in no way hindered my enjoyment of the book. The characters are well developed and, in particular, the sexual frisson between Kaz and her lawyer, Helen, was lacking the sentimentality you sometimes get in crime novels. It was very well portrayed.
It’s a difficult book to categorise as it’s part police procedural and part psychological thriller. If you like either of these genres then you’ll certainly enjoy this.
Thanks to Pan Macmillan for my review copy.
Posted in Reviews | 14 Comments »
Thomas Mogford is another of my favourite crime writers. Hollow Mountain was in my top five reads last year and he continues to write high quality crime fiction. For his latest book, Sleeping Dogs, he takes his Gibraltarian lawyer/detective to Corfu. It’s a nice change of scenery for the series and, given that I read it in Greece, a perfect holiday read.
Spike Sanguinetti is advised by a therapist to go on holiday to help eradicate some of the demons that have been tormenting him. He chooses to visit the house of his business partner on the wealthy north coast of Corfu. But his holiday is overshadowed by the death of the handsome Greek/Albanian Arben on the neighbouring estate owned by the wealthy Hoffman family. When the son of his hosts’s housekeeper is arrested for Arben’s murder, Spike reluctantly agrees to investigate the case. However lives are put at risk as domestic secrets and dynastic feuds ignite.
I’ve always been impressed by the evocation of the Gibraltar setting in Mogford’s books. It feels genuine even though I’ve never been to that part of the world. So it was interesting to read one of his narratives set somewhere I am familiar with: a Greek island. Mogford puts enough language and local flavour into descriptions of the place to bring alive the setting without it dominating the plot.
In Sleeping Dogs, as well as investigating the killing of Arben, there’s a focus on Spike’s domestic arrangements. This is first seen through his relationship with Charlie, the child he rescued in the previous book, Hollow Mountain, and then in Corfu as he attempts to resurrect his relationship with his childhood girlfriend Jessica.
The quality of Mogford’s writing once more shines through and he makes storytelling look effortless. Which I’m pretty sure isn’t the case. Once more Bloomsbury have produced a writer of quality crime fiction.
Thanks to Bloomsbury for my review copy.
Posted in Reviews | Tagged British crime fiction, Hollow Mountain, Sleeping Dogs, Thomas Mogford | 11 Comments »
It’s been a while since I reviewed a classic crime novel. It’s not that I haven’t been reading them. They’re a very enjoyable distraction especially when I want to read a book over an afternoon. However, I often neglect to review them which is a shame as there are some very good books by authors who are now sadly neglected. One such writer is Pamela Branch whose Murder Every Monday I read recently.
Clifford Flush hasn’t murdered anyone for a long time until one day he pushes a friend into the path of an oncoming bus. The man survives but insists Clifford leaves town. He takes an entourage, all of whom have been acquitted of at least one murder, into the countryside to become homicide consultants, helping people who want to commit murder. All goes well until one of the students is killed in the middle of the course. And there are plenty of suspects to choose from.
The edition that I read was a vintage penguin. The biography of Pamela Branch on the back cover reveals a fascinating life although I can see that she later died in her forties. It’s a shame she isn’t more well-known. Murder Every Monday falls into the humorous crime category but it’s so much more than that. Clifford Flush is a Ripley style figure who is part cold calculated murderer but also keeps a reign on the more extreme members of his team. The victim isn’t given much character development until his death. The focus is on first the motley bunch that constitute the criminals and then on the guests who come to learn how to kill people. Both groups are subtly portrayed. There are degrees of ‘badness’ although no-one is completely without stain.
The humour comes from the watching the characters interact with each other. There are romances, fallings out and murders committed in others’ names. It adds up to a rich melee of murderous fun and I’m definitely going to be reading more of Branch.
Posted in Reviews | Tagged classic crime, Murder Every Monday, Pamela Branch, Vintage Penguin | 38 Comments »
I’m a big fan of Jo Nesbo’s books. I know he’s not to everyone’s taste but I love the sheer readability of what he produces and, if I’m to be honest, the bloody nature of his narratives. He’s best known, in translation at least, for his series featuring the Oslo detective Harry Hole although I also enjoyed his two standalone books, The Son and Headhunters. Now, with the publication of Blood on Snow, we have a new series to enjoy and a new translator of Nesbo’s writing into English.
Olav is a ‘fixer’ employed by Daniel Hoffman to eliminate extraneous people from his life. When he is tasked with killing Hoffman’s wife, Olav’s only worry is whether he will be allowed to live afterwards, given the amount of dirt he now has on his employer. But when he catches sight of the beautiful Corina all thoughts of killing her disappear. He instead murders the man with whom she has been having a violent affair and sets off a chain of events that leaves him in the sights of two rival gangs.
Blood on Snow is an interesting book in that it provides many of the things we as readers demand from Nesbo. There’s often a lack of demarcation between the hunter and hunted and Olav finds himself in the position of needing to kill before he is killed. Nesbo has been criticised for his excessive use of violence and there’s plenty of gore here. It’s a difficult one because it feels an essential part of Nesbo’s style of prose and therefore not gratuitous. In fact, it was the sex scenes that were slightly awkward although these were partly explained in the plot’s conclusion.
Blood on Snow is a short book at 198 pages of quite large print. But it packs in plenty of action and, unlike some of Nesbo’s more recent books, feels resolutely set in Oslo. The translation was by Neil Smith who, as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, is my favourite translator of Swedish and Norwegian crime fiction. He’s done an excellent job with this new Nesbo and is busy translating the next book in the series. This, based on the blurb, promises to be an even more appealing read.
Posted in Reviews | Tagged Blood on Snow, Jo Nesbo, Neil Smith translation, Norweigian Crime Fiction, The Petrona Award for Scandinavian Crime Fiction | 15 Comments »
Parker Bilal’s The Ghost Runner was in my top five reads of 2014. It was an evocative tale of despair and revenge set in the Egyptian desert. For The Burning Gates, Bilal brings his investigator, Makana, back to Cairo to track down a painting that was stolen from Baghdad during the US invasion. But soon his employer is dead and Makana finds himself the subject of competing attentions from various businessmen whose interests extend beyond the art world.
Bilal’s greatest strength is the quality of his writing. All the Makana books have been very well written and The Burning Gates is no exception. You get a feel of the writer’s craft that has gone into both plotting the book and executing the narrative. Bilal doesn’t shy away from violence and there’s always strong sense of menace in his books. This is particularly so in The Burning Gates where towards the end, it becomes quite a bloodbath.
Parker is excellent at depicting a Sudanese exile mourning his former country and the sense of loss permeates the novel. A recurring thread in the Makana books is the loss of his wife and daughter. It’s revisited again here and it would be nice to see it resolved at some point.
Bilal’s writing is something different to a lot of the crime fiction out there. Once again I recommend reading his novels. He’s proof that crime fiction can be written to the highest standard.
Thanks to Bloomsbury for my review copy.
Posted in Reviews | Tagged Parker Bilal, The Burning Gates, The Ghost Runner | 12 Comments »
I was a big fan of Lahlum’s first book to be translated into English. The Human Flies is a crime novel set in the late sixties which provides an interesting takes on the locked room mystery. It’s on the shortlist for the 2015 Petrona Award and was one of my top five reads of last year. I was sent a copy of Lahlum’s second book Satellite People in January but I’d been saving it until we’d finished judging the Petrona. It was worth the wait. If anything, Satellite People is an even better book. It’s a perfect blend of classic crime motifs and modern narrative structure.
In Oslo, in 1968, a wealthy businessman dies during a dinner party. He had only the day before contacted Inspector Kolbjorn Kristiansen claiming his life was in danger. Kristiansen, known as K2, takes charge of the case and discovers that only one of the ten dinner guests could have carried out the murder. But when other family members begin to die, K2 seeks the help of the brilliant Patricia who, from her wheelchair, guides the course of the investigation.
Lahlum dedicates Satellite People to Agatha Christie, ‘the queen of classic crime’. It’s a nice touch, especially given the plot influences contained within the book. I won’t go into detail which of Christie’s novels or their plots are referenced here. Suffice to say that fans will see echoes of Cards on the Table, And Then There were None and Three Act Tragedy and plenty more besides. But while Christie’s devious narratives are mined, Lahlum provides a substance to his characters that are sometimes missing from the crime queen’s books. Kristiansen is once more portrayed as a diligent and enthusiastic detective with a strong sense of justice. His sexual attraction to a possible suspect gives him a more human dimension than in the previous novel. Patricia is the pivotal figure in solving the case and we see her developing from a brilliant child to a perceptive and driven woman.
The effects of the Second World War are examined again in the book. As it is the late sixties, events are in the near past and provide plenty of possibilities for instances of secrets and betrayal. There are lots of twists and turns until we reach the conclusion and Lahlum, for one final time, uses a plot device from Christie for the denouement.
Lahlum has delivered an excellent book and it is easily the best crime novel I’ve read this year so far. We’re being tempted by the news that the third book in the series is currently being translated by the excellent Kari Dickson. I can’t wait.
Thanks to Pan Macmillan for my review copy.
Posted in Reviews | Tagged Hans Olav Lahlum, Norwegian crime fiction, Satellite People, The Petrona Award for Scandinavian Crime Fiction | 9 Comments »