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Deal Noir

10675689_593808147385667_3103059118683959549_nI attended a crime fiction event over the week-end which took me to a part of England that I hadn’t visited before. Deal in Kent is a charming small town on the south coast with what seems like a high proportion of crime writers. One of these, Susan Moody along with event organiser Mike Linane, put together an intensive programme of panels to entertain all us crime readers.

The day kicked off with a panel Those Were The Days featuring writers Richard Blake, David Donachie and Janet Laurence and was moderated by Stephen Bates. This was a session featuring writers that I hadn’t heard speak before. It reminded me how much I like historical fiction and need to read more of it. The panel was followed by Robert Goddard in conversation with Susan Moody. I’ve heard Goddard talk at CrimeFest and he’s always an entertaining speaker. The final event of the morning was A Woman’s Place In Crime Fiction Is …. which featured Helen Giltrow, Erin Kelly, Louise Miller and Laura Wilson and was moderated by M J McGrath. The writers have formed a new group called Killer Women to promote events and signings in the London area. This is a great idea and I look forward to hearing more from them.

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The afternoon began with Catherine Aird in conversation with Simon Brett. I’m a fan of Aird’s writing and it was fascinating to listen to someone with so much experience talk about her craft. The next panel was entitled Freezing To Death which was moderated by William Horwood and featured writers Quentin Bates and Michael Ridpath who set their books in Iceland and M J McGrath whose novels are based in Alaska. There was an interesting discussion on the inspiration for the protagonists in their books and the challenges of a cold setting. Another interesting panel was The Dark Side featuring Mark Billingham, Martyn Waites who writes as Tania Carver and Alex Marwood. An entertaining discussion centred round the limits of depictions of violence that readers are willing to tolerate.

The day concluded with a discussion on comedy in crime fiction with Ruth Dudley Edwards and Simon Brett and the announcement of the winner of the flash fiction competition.

A great day. It was lovely to meet up with some crime writing, blogging and reading friends and I’m already looking forward to next years event. Thanks to all the organisers.

Petrona Logo

Today the judges of the Petrona Award for translated Scandinavian crime fiction are delighted to announce the shortlist for the 2015 prize.

 Six high-quality crime novels from Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden have made the shortlist.

 

 

 

They are:

THE HUMMINGBIRD by Kati Hiekkapelto tr. David Hackston (Arcadia Books; Finland)

THE HUNTING DOGS by Jørn Lier Horst tr. Anne Bruce (Sandstone Press; Norway)

REYKJAVIK NIGHTS by Arnaldur Indriðason tr. Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker; Iceland)

THE HUMAN FLIES by Hans Olav Lahlum tr. Kari Dickson (Mantle; Norway)

FALLING FREELY, AS IF IN A DREAM by Leif G W Persson tr. Paul Norlen (Doubleday; Sweden)

THE SILENCE OF THE SEA by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir tr. Victoria Cribb (Hodder & Stoughton; Iceland)

 

The winning title will be announced at the annual international crime fiction event CrimeFest, held in Bristol 14-17 May 2015. The award will be presented by the Godmother of modern Scandinavian crime fiction, Maj Sjöwall, co-author with Per Wahlöö of the Martin Beck series.

 

I think we had a number of high quality books submitted this year which has meant an exceptionally strong shortlist. Below are our comments on the books selected.

 

THE HUMMINGBIRD: Kati Hiekkapelto’s accomplished debut introduces young police investigator Anna Fekete, whose family fled to Finland during the Yugoslavian wars. Paired with an intolerant colleague, she must solve a complex set of murders and the suspicious disappearance of a young Kurdish girl. Engrossing and confidently written, THE HUMMINGBIRD is a police procedural that explores contemporary themes in a nuanced and thought-provoking way.

THE HUNTING DOGS: The third of the William Wisting series to appear in English sees Chief Inspector Wisting suspended from duty when evidence from an old murder case is found to have been falsified. Hounded by the media, Wisting must now work under cover to solve the case and clear his name, with the help of journalist daughter Line. Expertly constructed and beautifully written, this police procedural showcases the talents of one of the most accomplished authors of contemporary Nordic Noir.

REYKJAVIK NIGHTS: A prequel to the series featuring detective Erlendur Sveinsson, REYKJAVIK NIGHTS gives a snapshot of 1970s Iceland, with traditional culture making way for American influences. Young police officer Erlendur takes on the ‘cold’ case of a dead vagrant, identifying with a man’s traumatic past. Indriðason’s legion of fans will be delighted to see the gestation of the mature Erlendur; the novel is also the perfect starting point for new readers of the series.

THE HUMAN FLIES: Hans Olav Lahlum successfully uses elements from Golden Age detective stories to provide a 1960s locked-room mystery that avoids feeling like a pastiche of the genre. The writing is crisp and the story intricately plotted. With a small cast of suspects, the reader delights in following the investigations of Lahlum’s ambitious detective Kolbjørn Kristiansen, who relies on the intellectual rigour of infirm teenager Patricia Borchmann.

FALLING FREELY, AS IF IN A DREAM:

It’s 2007 and the chair of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Lars Martin Johansson, has reopened the investigation into the murder of Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme. But can he and his dedicated team really solve this baffling case? The final part of Persson’s ‘The Story of a Crime’ trilogy presents the broadest national perspective using a variety of different techniques – from detailed, gritty police narrative to cool documentary perspective – to create a novel that is both idiosyncratic and highly compelling.

THE SILENCE OF THE SEA: Yrsa Sigurðardóttir has said ‘I really love making people’s flesh creep!’, and she is the supreme practitioner when it comes to drawing on the heritage of Icelandic literature, and channelling ancient folk tales and ghost stories into a vision of modern Icelandic society. In SILENCE OF THE SEA, an empty yacht crashes into Reykjavik’s harbour wall: its Icelandic crew and passengers have vanished. Thóra Gudmundsdóttir investigates this puzzling and deeply unsettling case, in a narrative that skilfully orchestrates fear and tension in the reader.

 

The judges are:

 

Barry Forshaw – Writer and journalist specialising in crime fiction and film; author of four books covering Scandinavian crime fiction: NORDIC NOIR, DEATH IN A COLD CLIMATE, EURO NOIR and the first biography of Stieg Larsson.

 

Dr. Katharina Hall – Associate Professor of German at Swansea University; editor of CRIME FICTION IN GERMAN: DER KRIMI for University of Wales Press; international crime fiction reviewer/blogger at MRS. PEABODY INVESTIGATES.

 

Sarah Ward – Crime novelist, author of the forthcoming IN BITTER CHILL (Faber and Faber), and crime fiction blogger at CRIMEPIECES.

 

3853Childhood trauma is powerful theme in crime novels. Children are, of course, the victims of violence and the impact of crimes committed against them can last well into adulthood. It’s a theme explored in my own novel In Bitter Chill and I was interested to see how Black Wood by Susi Holliday would approach what looked like a similar premise. However, what writers put down on paper is influenced by their upbringing and own experiences. Holliday has produced a book set in a small Scottish town that is uniquely hers.

Claire and Jo were involved in an act of violence in Black Wood that left Claire paralysed and Jo with a ambivalent attitude towards the world. When a man walks into a bookshop where Jo works she recognises him as one of the people involved in the childhood event. People are reluctant to believe her memories and even Claire urges her to move on. But a balaclava-clad man is attacking women on a nearby railway track which Jo is convinced is connected to the man’s reappearance.

Holliday is excellent at characterisation. Jo’s personality extends beyond the cliché ‘feisty’. She’s obnoxious in parts and hangs on to friendships with a dismaying neediness. But friends are also attracted to her energy and remain loyal to a certain extent. There are multiple points of view but these are well demarked and the narrative easy to follow.

I grew up in a small town and can always identify with the claustrophobia of relationships in a closed circle of friends. Holliday is a very good writer and I particularly enjoyed the long descriptive passages. Not all debut writers have the courage to write these and books can be dialogue heavy. Not so here.

SJI Holliday is a writer to look out for. Black Wood is a standalone so it will be interesting what direction her writing takes her. Thanks to Black and White publishing for my review copy.

9780857052773One of the most anticipated books this year, I was delighted when a review copy of Camille by Pierre LeMaitre dropped through my letterbox. It completes the trilogy featuring diminutive detective Commandant Camille Verhoeven. The series has been translated from the French out of order so we began with the second book, Alex, before starting the tragedy of Camille’s personal life with Irene. This is an excellent series. Any of the books can be read as standalones but with Camille, we do get a sense of the detective’s story coming full circle.

It is a series of seemingly random events that leads Anne Forestier to be shot three times in a bungled raid on a jewellers. She is taken to hospital but an attempt is soon made on her life there. For Commandant Verhoeven, it is an echo of a past tragedy when his wife, Irene, was murdered by a killer exacting revenge on Camille. He is determined to protect Anne at all costs but is hampered by the fact that he fails to tell his superiors of his relationship with the victim.

Camille is a dark tale with the detective once more at its heart. It’s the personality of Camille who, as with earlier books, dominates the narrative. It’s a clever ploy to make him physically small because he is a lion at heart and life’s vicissitudes appear to have only made him more determined. It is a difficult book to review because it invites comparisons to the wonderful Alex. I don’t think the story is was ingenious as the previous book but I did prefer it to Irene. I think this was partly the plot. It’s tightly contained and barely gives the reader a chance to consider what is happening.

Fans of the two earlier books will want to read Camille to complete Verhoeven’s tale. I think it’s a greater book than that as it shows how love, mistrust and acceptance aren’t mutually exclusive. And LeMaitre is a beautiful writer. The excellent translation was by Frank Wynne.

Watch+Me+final+front+coverJames Carol’s books remind me of the few novels I’ve read by Stephen King. They’re examples of how books can be both readable and well written. As crime fiction readers I think we’ve come to expect this and yet, so often, I put a book down after a couple of chapters unable to engage in either the prose or the narrative. Not so with this series.

Carol’s main protagonist is a former FBI profiler, Jefferson Winter, who travels the world identifying and tracking down serial killers.The first book in the series, Broken Dolls, had Jefferson in London, a neat twist on the FBI profiler genre. In Watch Me, he is in now in Louisiana trying to find a devious killer who filmed himself burning a local businessman to death. But Winter is forced to recognise that he is dealing with a complex personality who isn’t necessarily fitting a classic serial killer profile.

Like Broken Dolls, Watch Me is immensely readable. The storytelling is addictive and I raced through to the end. There are some interesting threads interweaved through the narrative. Jefferson chooses a rookie cop to be his assistant and there is a lot of banter around trying to guess his first name. Similarly, Hannah, the guest house owner where Jefferson pitches up, is often one step ahead of him when it comes to town secrets.

Those who have visited the States will be transported to small town Louisiana in the book. The minor details, such as describing the local dishes eaten in the town’s diner, bring the deep South to life. Watch Me is different to the type of book I usually read but perfect when you want to be drawn into a compelling narrative.

Thanks to Faber for my review copy.

 

23703050Orenda Books is a brand new publisher launched by Karen Sullivan. It’s great that new presses are emerging in this changing literary climate and Karen has pledged to publish six books this year. She’s going to have an eclectic list and I’m particularly looking forward to reading her Scandinavian crime authors Ragnar Jonasson and Gunnar Staalesen. Paul Hardisty is a new writer who has used his experiences of working in the Middle East to write a thriller about corruption in the oil industry. It’s not a subject matter that would normally appeal but it turned out to be an excellent read.

Claymore Straker is an engineer working in Yemen who is kidnapped at gunpoint along with Abdulkader, the driver who once saved his life. Clay is informed of instances of children near oil wells who are dying of a mysterious illness that appears to affect only the young. He is released but his driver kept as hostage. Straker must investigate the sickness or Abdulkader will be killed. But, as he digs deeper, his life is threatened by those seeking to protect their financial and commercial interests.

The quote on the front cover of The Abrupt Physics of Dying describes the book as ‘gripping’ and I think this sums up the narrative. Right from the beginning there’s a sense of menace and helplessness at the situation that Clay finds himself in. Given the political situation in the Yemen at the moment it could be hard to believe that the kidnappers would trust a western businessman to investigate what is happening to the children in their villages. However, Hardisty does well to convince us of the desperation and pragmatism of the men holding Abdulkader hostage.

I was a big fan, in 2013, of Terry Hayes’s I Am Pilgrim  and I hadn’t up to now read a conspiracy thriller which came close to it in terms of quality. But Hardisty’s book was an excellent read with a similar sweep across the politics of international money-making.

Thanks to Ordenda Books for my review copy.

Arne-DahlArne Dahl has rightly gained a reputation for producing taut thrillers with a strong political slant. We’ve had two of them translated into English, The Blinded Man and Bad Blood and are, therefore, a long way behind the series in its original Swedish language. To the Top of the Mountain picks up the threads of the now disbanded Intercrime team following the tragic end to its last case. The detectives are spread around the city in different departments and the unit’s leader, Jan-Olov Hultin has retired to his country cottage.

An explosion in a high security prison is closely followed by an attack on a well-known drugs baron and a shocking massacre. The events may be connected but it needs the skills of the Intercrime to pull together the strands of what appear to be random attacks. But a complex child pornography case is occupying Gunnar Nyberg and he is given permission to continue with this investigation. A couple on the run with a suitcase containing the keys to a security box may hold the answers to the violence unfolding in the city.

Dahl’s skill as a writer is evident in how the narrative of To The Top of the Mountain is structured. He holds back from reassembling the team too early in the story and instead we get vignettes of how each former member of the elite unit is now functioning. This is as interesting as the main crime story for readers of this series. In fact, it isn’t until the middle of the book that Hultin finally makes his entrance.

Once the investigation is underway, the story cracks along briskly, a style we have come to associate with Dahl’s books. I found this one to be less violent than his previous ones, in particular Bad Blood.  However, more than the crime story, it was the relationships portrayed that I most enjoyed. Chazez, the Swedish-Chilean policeman, finally meets his match in love and Kerstin Holm and Paul Hjelm’s relationship shifts once more. And, on a personal note, I love the fact that two of the central characters are choristers.

This is my favourite book so far from this solid series. It’s always gratifying to read an author who gets better with each book.

Thanks to Harvill Secker for my review copy. The translation was by Alice Menzies.

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