Quentin Bates is one of the organisers of Iceland Noir, an excellent event that I’ve attended since it first started. He translates Ragnar Jonasson’s books from Icelandic into English but is also a very good writer himself. He recently published a novella, Summerchill, featuring his protagonist Gunnhildur (Gunna) Gisladottir which was a lovely read for the July sunshine we had here.
At the end of a warm summer, a man goes missing from his home in the Reykjavik suburbs. Gunna and her partner Helgi investigate his disappearance but discover that he has been keeping some unsavoury company. The challenge is to follow both the missing man and his nemesis before murder is committed.
Novellas are a great way to try new writers and Summerchill certainly gives readers a flavour of Bates’s style of writing. Its title is a clue to the atmosphere of the book. You get an insight into Iceland in the summer with its long hours of daylight and an empty-ish Reykjavik. The pace of the narrative is perfectly suited to a novella form. The action is fast with a regular influx of new characters. Unlike many crime stories, you don’t necessarily sympathise with the alleged victim but become engrossed in the chase for a resolution to the mystery.
A great, short read to take away on your kindle this summer.
Posted in Reviews | Tagged Iceland Noir, Quentin Bates, Ragnar Jonasson, Summerchill | 2 Comments »
As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, Håkan Nesser is one of my favourite authors from Scandinavia. He’s an interesting writer because, although he hails from Sweden, his Van Veeteren books are set in the fictional city of Maardam which I’ve always felt has a Dutch feel to the place. The actual country where the city is located is never revealed to the reader. With his last book to be translated into English, The G File, the series came to an end. This year, however, fans of Nesser have two standalone books of his to enjoy: The Summer of Kim Novak which I’ll be reviewing next week and The Living and Dead in Winsford. They are very different but excellent reads.
In the village of Winsford on Exmoor, a woman arrives to take up residency of an isolated cottage. She tells locals that she is a Swedish author who is writing her next book. However, Maria’s intention is simply to outlive her dog. Maria is escaping the recent traumas where we know that she and her husband, Martin, had to flee Stockholm because of a scandal. Martin is portrayed as a blustery liar who may have raped a maid at a hotel. Her children are keeping their distance and Maria has long since stopped loving her husband. However, why Maria is now on her own in a foreign country is only gradually revealed.
Håkan Nesser generality writes substantial books and The Living and Dead in Winsford is no exception. The atmosphere of Exmoor, its isolated location and bleak weather is well portrayed and Maria appears to revel in the landscape, taking long walks in an attempt to exorcise the past. What her personal history is, however, is only gradually revealed to the reader. When it becomes clear what Maria is escaping from, the reader becomes engrossed in how Maria’s story will be concluded. This is partly due to the fact that she clearly settles into the community, forming a relationship with a local man. It’s hard to say any more without giving too much of the plot away.
The book is part thriller but also reads like literary fiction. This is no surprise as Nesser is an excellent writer. The tone is less humorous than his Van Veetern series but was perfectly suited to the narrative. A great read.
Thanks to Pan Macmillan for my review copy. The translation was by Laurie Thompson.
Posted in Reviews | Tagged Hakan Nesser, The G File, The Living and the Dead in Winsford, The Petrona Award for Scandinavian Crime Fiction, The Summer of Kim Novak | 10 Comments »
Occasionally you read a book that takes you completely out of your comfort zone. Untouchable was one such read. It tells the story of Stella, an escort, who operates at the high end of London’s sex trade industry. She’s matter of fact about her job. She does it for the money although, from the very beginning, hints are given about a trauma in her past. When, Elisa, a fellow call girl is murdered, Stella’s initial response is simply to meet with the girl’s partner, give her condolences and not get involved any further. But there are a number of strange factors leading up to Elisa’s death that suggests her murder wasn’t by one of her clients. Stella gradually becomes drawn into the Elisa’s dark secrets and puts her own life in danger.
Untouchable is a fascinating read. The first third of the book which introduces Stella, the world within which she operates and the men who use the services of prostitutes is absolutely fascinating. Stella’s clinical approach to what she does allows the read to step outside the narrative and take an overview of the build up of tension. There are fascinate vignettes. The girls use false names and when their private and professional lives occasionally interact there’s confusion over which identity to use. Marsh could have gone down the road of using Stella’s past trauma as an excuse/easy explanation as to why she enters prostitution. It’s to the writer’s credit that it feels far more subtle than that.
Untouchable is an engrossing read and a bit different from the usual crime fiction on offer. I highly recommend it.
Posted in Reviews | Tagged Ava Marsh, Untouchable | 4 Comments »
Yesterday, my debut novel In Bitter Chill was published in the UK. It’s been a special time and I’ve only just drawn breath to write this post.
On Wednesday I was in London signing copies of my novel for the excellent Goldsboro Books. In the evening we celebrated publication at a launch party at the Faber and Faber offices in Bloomsbury. People from across the crime fiction community came to celebrate the book’s launch. I had guests from Switzerland and Greece as well as across the UK. A regular haunt for us crime fiction aficionados is Maison Bertaux in Soho. The day kicked off there with cakes and tea before moving on to the launch. There, we had more cake made by Karen Sullivan, publisher at Orenda Books. For those of us who wanted something to eat on the hottest night of the year we then moved on for a curry. Many thanks to everyone who attended: bloggers, readers, writers, translators, journalists and all crime fiction lovers. Special thanks to Katherine Armstrong, my editor at Faber and Kirsty Mclachlan, my agent, at DGA for helping bring In Bitter Chill into being.
I started Crimepieces before I became an author and I intend to keep posting my reviews here. There’s some great crime fiction out there to discuss. For those interested in the progress of my book, I have an events page and am posting quotes from reviews. All are accessible from the tabs at the top of the website. I also have a Facebook page and Twitter account that can be accessed from the links on the right.
At Maison Bertaux with friends
In the meantime, I want to thank all the regular readers of Crimepieces for their support.
Posted in Reviews | Tagged In Bitter Chill | 20 Comments »
I’m a big Lee Child fan. His books might be similar in style but I like the fact you know what to expect when you open a Jack Reacher novel. That said, some of the books are better than others which is hardly surprising in a long running series that totals nineteen novels. I picked up his latest paperback, Personal, one afternoon and read it in a day. It’s the mixture of accessible storytelling and fast pacing that makes his books so unputdownable. And I think, with this latest book, he’s back on top form.
Someone takes a long-range shot of the French president. International security services identify only four hit men in the world with the necessary skills to have carried out the attempted assassination. The US suspect is an old enemy of Jack Reacher’s and he is given the assignment of tracking the man down who is believed to have made his way to London. But protected by an Essex gang, the hit man creates a web of violent protection to prevent his whereabouts being discovered.
This isn’t the first Reacher to have been set in the UK. The Hard Way ended in the Norfolk countryside but the best Reacher books have been the ones set resolutely within the US heartlands. However, in this instance, I thought Personal’s London and Essex setting perfect for the plot. Connecting the narrative to the US is done through Reacher’s assistant, Casey, who unlike other CIA operatives has a raft of private neuroses that she keeps at bay through medication.
The plot is classic Lee Child and the execution is as professional as we have come to expect from him. All his existing fans will, I’m sure, love it.
Thanks to Transworld for my review copy.
Posted in Reviews | Tagged British crime fiction, Lee Child, Personal, The Hard Way | 5 Comments »
I’ve attended a lot of excellent events over the month of June and I’m finally doing a round-up of everything that’s happened. A lot of my time has been spent working on the sequel to In Bitter Chill and also preparing articles in advance of IBC’s publication. I’m keeping Crimepieces as my reviewing website but there are lots of updates to be found about the publication of In Bitter Chill either on the dedicated page which can be found on the tab above plus my events page. I have a backlog of reviews to complete and I have read some excellent books recently. I’ll be spending much of August catching up on my reviews.
Back to the events I’ve attend. In early June Nordicana took place at the Troxy Theatre in London’s Limehouse. Readers of Crimepieces will be aware that I’m a judge on the Petrona Award for translated Scandinavian Crime Fiction. It was in this capacity that I appeared on a panel discussing the origins of Nordic Noir with expert author Barry Forshaw along with Quentin Bates (author of Frozen Out) and Dr Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen (UCL Scandinavian Studies). The event also gave me the opportunity to sign my very first copies of In Bitter Chill. A special moment. It was an excellent event and hopefully will take place again in 2016.
The following week-end was an event hosted by PFD Literary Agents to celebrate the work of writer Georges Simenon. We met the author’s son, John Simenon, who spoke movingly about his father. We were also treated to a short interview with Rowan Atkinson who will be playing Maigret in a future TV series. It should be excellent. The Maigret books are being re-released by Penguin Books with fresh translations. I managed to pick up a few copies at the event and am looking forward to reading them.
Last week-end I continued the classic crime theme with a visit to the Bodies from the Library conference. I’m also a big fan of golden age crime fiction and was an avid reader of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers as a teenager. The panels I saw were fascinating and I particularly enjoyed the presentation on locked-room mysteries. It’s a sub-genre that I’ve never really investigated and I’m determined to read more. Thanks to the organisers for an excellent event. Again, I hope to attend this event next year.
Next week, a special occasion will be taking place. My own launch of In Bitter Chill. I’ll post something on the day but thanks to all readers of Crimepieces for their support over the last few weeks. Reviewing will be back to normal by mid-July, I promise.
Posted in Reviews | Tagged Bodies from the Library, classic crime, Georges Simenon, Golden Age crime, In Bitter Chill, John Simenon, Maigret, Nordicana, PFD Literary Agents, The Petrona Award for Scandinavian Crime Fiction | 8 Comments »
Gunnar Staalesen is a Norwegian author whose books haven’t had the attention that they deserve in the UK. Only a few have been translated into English leaving us with a tantalising glimpse into what looks like an excellent series. Now, however, Staalesen has a brand new English publisher, Orenda Books, and his first translation in a number of years, We Shall Inherit the Wind. It’s been worth the wait.
It’s 1998 and private investigator, Varg Veum, is at the bedside of Karin, his seriously injured girlfriend, in a Bergen hospital. Blaming himself for the attack, he takes the reader to the beginning of the story and his investigation into the disappearance of Mons Maeland. Maeland is reported missing by his wife who believes his disappearance may be connected to his desire to build a wind farm on his island. But there is already a mystery connected to the place. Maeland’s first wife disappeared in the 1980s and is believed to have drowned although no body was ever discovered. The two strands of the case come together when a body is discovered and the realities of environmental activism are revealed.
Staalesen’s greatest strength is the quality of his writing. The incidental asides and observations are wonderful and elevate the book from a straightforward murder investigation into something more substantial. It’s soberly written but compelling story of passion and revenge.
Varg Veum is rightly revered in Bergen and he fits into the classic lone investigator role. It is his personality that carries the narrative and his relationship with Karin, which is gradually recalled in loving detail as she lies mortally wounded, is a moving part of the plot.
We Shall Inherit the Wind fits well with the other books by Staalesen that have been translated into English. Despite gaps in the series, there is a sense of continuity and I can’t wait to read more of this excellent writer’s work.
Thanks to Orenda for my review copy. The translation was by Don Bartlett.
Posted in Reviews | Tagged Gunnar Staalesen, Norweigian Crime Fiction, Scandinavian Crime Fiction, The Petrona Award for Scandinavian Crime Fiction, We Shall Inherit the Wind | 7 Comments »