Review: Kwei Quartey – Gold of Our Fathers

Today’s review is courtesy of Tom Priestly, a regular reader of Crimepieces and a connoisseur of crime fiction. He’s reviewing an author I haven’t read before but, as usual, Tom’s review makes a compelling argument for me to read it!

Gold of Our Fathers is Kwei Quartey’s fourth crime novel; they all feature detective Darko Dawson and are set in Ghana. As a detective fiction aficionado and an African of sorts myself (with just the first six years of my life spent in Uganda and Kenya) I am always on the lookout for crime novels from Sub-Saharan Africa; but apart from excellent South African ones, they are few. So, finding the series by Quartey was a triumph, for all four of his Dawsons to date are very good, and they get better every time. The plots are well-constructed, the characters very real, and — one of the series’ best features — they present extremely interesting insights into modern life in Ghana. What is especially enlightening is the scope — each one so far has had a different setting: Wife of the Gods about traditional beliefs in a small village the Volta region in the South-East; Children of the Street, life in the slums and the very rich districts of the capital, Accra; Murder at Cape Three Points, at an oil rig off the South-West coast; and the book reviewed, about open-cast gold mining in the Western, Ashanti region. Every time, the traditions and beliefs, the buildings, the clothing, the food are all carefully described, and I now know more about Ghana than very many other countries.

Quartey writes about Ghanaians and foreigners with equal objectivity. His first two ‘Dawsons’ feature locals only, the next two show some of the exploitation by people from overseas. The oil rigs are the result of Western business intrusions; the gold mines are almost exclusively concerns of Chinese interests, and some of the suspects in this case are Chinese — legal and illegal residents. Other possibles on Dawson’s list this time are Ashanti villagers who sacrifice the ancestral farms for better earnings (life otherwise being hand-to-mouth), and decidedly shady if not corrupt members of the local police. Meanwhile, Dawson has to cope with moving his job and his family to this new centre and organizing an office which is in complete chaos. He is no saint but his honesty stands out, as does his methodical approach to sifting through the list of suspects and the many clues. Quartey can be faulted, in this novel as in previous ones, by providing his leading detective with a chance flash of insight from a remark, on this occasion by both his young sons; but this is a common fault among writers. Unusual among fictional detectives are his good relationships with his immediate family and his (almost) complete non-dependence on alcohol or other drugs.

According to a reviewer (of another author) in The New York Times Book Review, “Ever since the days of Agatha Christie, the great divide in the British detective story has been between plot and character,” implying that most or all British crime writers since Christie have not properly combined both. I disagree: she died 40 years ago, and given say five minutes I could produce a long list as a strong counterargument. My point here, however, is that Kwei Quartey does pay equal and suficient attention to both plot and character, and combines them with a third element, one that for me personally is almost essential: a strong sense of place. After reading — as a single example — two books by Jim Kelly, I feel almost at home in the part of Norfolk along the coast eastwards from King’s Lynn: if I ever go there I will recognize the sounds, the smells, the views. And this is true of Quartey’s Ghana also.

Readers who may be put off by too many strange names and phrases and foodstuffs in unknown languages can be reassured: Quartey provides what used to be traditional — a list of characters, at the front — and also a glossary of quoted words in three of the languages of Ghana. They will find a narrative which moves briskly along, a little excitement, and a well-devised set of clues. Kwei Quartey is a doctor in California: I very much look forward to his next, Death by His Grace, about religious (mal)practices in Accra, and hope he can find time away from the cares of his practice for more trips back home to Ghana and for writing!

 

Review: Donna Leon – Earthly Remains

I was always slightly embarrassed when I admitted that I’d never read a Donna Leon book. There are more crime fiction authors than I have time to read but when the publisher William Heinemann offered me Leon’s latest book Earthy Remains to review, my only question was: do I have to have read any others in the series? By my reckoning, this latest offering featuring Commissario Brunetti is the twenty sixth book in the series and there must be a fascinating backstory to the characters that I couldn’t possibly catch up on. I was, however, assured that Earthy Remains could be read as a standalone. And what a joy it was.

I’m going to break my reviewing habit of giving a precis of the novel and just extol its delights. Firstly it’s a gloriously nuanced read. In a crime fiction world of twisty plots and surprises ready to jump out of you at every corner, here we have a mystery presented evenly without fanfare and, yet, I was totally gripped. This was largely due to Leon’s gradual immersion of the reader into the crime. We care that Brunetti has been dispatched to one of the islands on the Venetian lagoon and follow the development of his friendship with Casati, his father’s former oarsman. Therefore, we care about Casati’s disappearance and the impending sense of  doom that shrouds the search.

Leon also gives a textbook example of how to integrate setting into a crime novel. Like the best of the Scandinavian crime writers, she presents a plot that couldn’t have happened anywhere else. We get insights into Venetian rowing, laguna biodiversity and the keeping of bees and it’s all interwoven into the mystery  with a light touch. The crime itself is realistically unspectacular and although all the seeds are sown years earlier, there are no trite conclusions or pat endings.

I’m sure there are readers of Crimepieces who are huge Donna Leon fans and don’t need telling how wonderful a writer she is. For those of you who haven’t tried Leon’s work, I can assure you that you can start with Earthly Remains. It was a wonderful read.

Giveaway: Five Maigret Novels

I’m doing a giveaway today because it’s Easter Monday, my birthday (although I’m trying to forget my age), and last night I enjoyed watching Rowan Atkinson in Maigret’s Night at the Crossroads.

I’m a huge Maigret fan and I have a lot of the green Penguin editions that I loved reading as a teenager. Although my favourite TV adaptations are the French ones featuring Bruno Cremer, I thought Atkinson did a decent job.

I have five books from the new Penguin translations to give away. They are:

Cecile is Dead 
The Shadow Puppet
The Saint-Fiacre Affair
The Hanged Man  of Saint-Pholien
The Dancer at Gai Moulin

To win, all you need to do is sign-up to my newsletter by clicking on the photo below.

You get four newsletters a year so you won’t be inundated with e-mails. The competition is open to everyone. If you’re already signed up to my newsletter, just let me know the title of your favourite Maigret book in the comments below.

The winner will be chosen, as usual, by a random number generator. The competition closes at 6pm on Thursday 20th April. I’ll announce the winner here and on my Facebook page.

Good luck!

*Congratulations to Margaret from Books Please who won the competition*

Review: Bryant and May – Wild Chamber

I was first introduced to the Bryant and May series by Chris Simmons from crimesquad.com. I’d recently moved to London from Liverpool where I used to live near the old Bryant and May match factory on the Speke Road. The first book in the series, Full Dark House, had just been published and I wanted to see the characters he had created using the iconic name pairing. In Fowler’s books, Arthur Bryant and John May  head the Peculiar Crimes Unit, a division of the Met police founded during the Second World War to investigate cases that could cause national scandal or public unrest. It’s a great premise for a series and the books have been of a consistently high quality.

In Wild Chamber, the death of a child has unforeseen consequences. A woman is found murdered in a locked private garden in London and her husband and nanny are missing as is the dog she was walking. A killer is on the loose and planning his next victim but Bryan and May become embroiled in a national scandal which hampers their investigations.

What I increasingly like in the crime novels I read, is a story beyond the mystery that is presented. Fowler’s books give insights into London’s history (here the private gardens or ‘wild chambers’), splashes of humour, intelligent prose and an otherworldly setting. This otherness usually comes from Arthur Bryant and his out of body experiences. If anything, the slight supernatural element was toned down in Wild Chamber but balanced by the wonderful insights into London’s private gardens that I used to look at enviously through railings  when I lived there.

This is the fourteenth book in series and, as ever, a joy to read. Its intelligent crime fiction that’s accessible to everyone.

The Petrona Award 2017 Shortlist

Today we’re announcing the outstanding crime novels from Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden which have been shortlisted for the 2017 Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year.

I’m attaching details from the press release below which gives further details of these great novels. The winning title will be announced at the Gala Dinner on 20 May during the annual international crime fiction event CrimeFest, held in Bristol 18-21 May 2017. I can’t wait!

The shortlisted books are:

THE EXILED by Kati Hiekkapelto tr. David Hackston (Orenda Books; Finland)

THE DYING DETECTIVE by Leif G.W. Persson tr. Neil Smith (Doubleday; Sweden)

THE BIRD TRIBUNAL by Agnes Ravatn tr. Rosie Hedger (Orenda Books, Norway)

WHY DID YOU LIE? by Yrsa Sigurđardóttir tr. Victoria Cribb (Hodder & Stoughton, Iceland)

WHERE ROSES NEVER DIE by Gunnar Staalesen tr. Don Bartlett (Orenda Books, Norway)

THE WEDNESDAY CLUB by Kjell Westö tr. Neil Smith (MacLehose Press, Finland)

The award is open to crime fiction in translation, either written by a Scandinavian author or set in Scandinavia and published in the UK in the previous calendar year. The Petrona team would like to thank our sponsor, David Hicks, for his generous support of the 2017 Petrona Award.

The judges’ comments on the shortlist and the shortlisted titles:

 “It was difficult to choose just six crime novels for the Petrona Award shortlist this year, given the number of truly excellent submissions from around the Scandinavian world. Our 2017 Petrona Award shortlist testifies to the extremely high quality of translated Scandi crime, with authors from Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden making expert use of police investigations, psychological thrillers, private eye novels and historical crime fiction both to entertain and to explore pertinent social, political and historical issues. We are extremely grateful to the translators for their skill and expertise in bringing us these outstanding examples of Scandinavian crime fiction.”

THE EXILED by Kati Hiekkapelto tr. David Hackston (Orenda Books; Finland)

Finnish police detective Anna Fekete returns to the Serbian village of her birth for a holiday, but is pulled into an investigation that throws up questions about her own father’s death decades earlier. As well as exploring the complexities of Fekete’s identity as a Hungarian Serb who has made her life in Finland, this accomplished novel looks with insight and compassion at the discrimination faced by Roma people, and the lot of refugees migrating through Europe.

THE DYING DETECTIVE by Leif G.W. Persson tr. Neil Smith (Doubleday; Sweden)

Lars Martin Johansson, a retired Swedish Police Chief, suffers a stroke after a lifetime of unhealthy excess. Frustrated by his physical limitations and slow recovery, he is drawn into investigating a cold case, the murder of nine-year-old Yasmine Ermegan in 1985. Expertly plotted and highly gripping, The Dying Detective features characters from a number of other crime novels by the author, but succeeds brilliantly as a standalone in its own right.

THE BIRD TRIBUNAL by Agnes Ravatn tr. Rosie Hedger (Orenda Books, Norway)

Former TV presenter Allis takes up the post of housekeeper and gardener at a house on a remote fjord. But her employer is not the old man she was expecting, and the whereabouts of his wife are tantalisingly unclear. Isolated from other villagers, Allis and Sigurd’s relationship becomes progressively more claustrophobic and tense. A haunting psychological thriller and study in obsession that is perfectly complemented by the author’s beautiful, spare prose.

WHY DID YOU LIE? by Yrsa Sigurđardóttir tr. Victoria Cribb (Hodder & Stoughton, Iceland)

Yrsa Sigurđardóttir is as adroit a manufacturer of suspense as any writer in the Nordic Noir genre, as this standalone thriller comprehensively proves. Why Did You Lie? skilfully interweaves the stories of a policewoman whose husband has committed suicide, a work group stranded by hostile weather on a remote lighthouse, and a family whose American guests go missing. A compelling exploration of guilt and retribution, which builds to a nerve-jangling finale.

WHERE ROSES NEVER DIE by Gunnar Staalesen tr. Don Bartlett (Orenda Books, Norway)

Grieving private detective Varg Veum is pushed to his limits when he takes on a cold case involving the disappearance of a small girl in 1977. As the legal expiry date for the crime draws near, Veum’s investigation uncovers intriguing suburban secrets. In what may well be the most accomplished novel in a remarkable series, the author continues to work in a traditional US-style genre, but with abrasive Scandi-crime social commentary very much in evidence.

THE WEDNESDAY CLUB by Kjell Westö tr. Neil Smith (MacLehose Press, Finland)

This multilayered novel tells the story of how a crime is triggered following the chance meeting of two people in a lawyer’s office. While the narrative can be seen as a tragic individual story, it also takes on larger historical dimensions as it unfolds. Set in Helsinki in 1938, on the eve of the Second World War, The Wednesday Club offers an insightful exploration into the legacy of the Finnish Civil War, and the rise of German and Finnish fascism in the present.

The judges are:

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

Dr. Kat Hall – Editor of CRIME FICTION IN GERMAN: DER KRIMI for University of Wales Press; Honorary Research Associate at Swansea University; international crime fiction reviewer/blogger at MRS. PEABODY INVESTIGATES.

Sarah Ward – Crime novelist, author of IN BITTER CHILL and A DEADLY THAW (Faber and Faber), and crime fiction reviewer at CRIMEPIECES.

More information can be found on the Petrona Award website (http://www.petronaaward.co.uk).

The Petrona Award was established to celebrate the work of Maxine Clarke, one of the first online crime fiction reviewers and bloggers, who died in December 2012. Maxine, whose online persona and blog was called PETRONA, was passionate about translated crime fiction but in particular that from the Scandinavian countries.

The winning author will receive a full pass to and a guaranteed panel at the 2018 CrimeFest event.

Previous winners of the Petrona Award are Liza Marklund for LAST WILL, translated by Neil Smith, LINDA, AS IN THE LINDA MURDER by Leif G.W. Persson, also translated by Neil Smith, THE SILENCE OF THE SEA by Yrsa Sigurđardóttir, translated by Victoria Cribb, and THE CAVEMAN by Jørn Lier Horst, translated by Anne Bruce.

For further information, or for an interview with any of the judges, please contact the administrator Karen Meek (admin@petronaaward.co.uk).

Cover Reveal: A Patient Fury

Here’s the gorgeous cover for my new book, A Patient Fury, coming out on the 7th September.

Three bodies are discovered after a house fire, a family obliterated. Their deaths all seem to point to one conclusion: one mother, one murderer. But DC Childs, determined as ever to discover the truth behind the tragedy, realises it is the fourth body – the one they cannot find – that holds the key to the mystery at Cross Farm Lane.

A Patient Fury is available for pre-order at Amazon and, of course, your local bookshop. I’ve had a couple of lovely messages from booksellers who have very early proofs to say that they’ve enjoyed reading the latest Bampton book. I hope you enjoy it too!

Review: Paul Harrison – Revenge of the Malakim

Paul Harrison is a retired police officer who has worked on a number of high profile cases. His debut novel, Revenge of the Malakim, is the first in a series described as ‘The Grooming Parlour Trilogy.’ This title gives an insight into the horror that is to come. Set in Bridlington in East Yorkshire, DCI Will Scott is called to a murder scene where a man has been brutally tortured. It becomes clear that the victim was  responsible for horrendous child abuse cases and, as authorities close rank, Scott has to investigate a murder where sympathies are divided.

I’ve read an interview with the author who mentions that the serial killer within the pages of Revenge of the Malakim is based on real life murderers he has met in the course of his work. He uses his experience to pull the reader into the story and the subject is tackled with sensitivity to the victims. There’s a strong sense of evil in the book and the murders are described graphically. This might not be to everyone’s taste but is realistic given the author’s background and the revelation that the killer is likely to be a victim of the child abuser. There’s a fair amount of descriptive prose at the beginning of the book which sets out the background to the Will Scott the but once the narrative gets going, it’s an interesting story on how the legacy of abuse can explode into violence.

Malakim incidentally is part of the Judaic hierarchy of angels. Harrison describes his as employed by God to wreak destruction on mortals who intentionally harm children. It’s an interesting subject and I enjoyed doing some background reading on angels in Judaism.

Nordic Noir Giveaway

I’m travelling down to meet my fellow judges today to select the shortlist for the 2017 Petrona Award for Scandinavian Crime Fiction. To celebrate this exciting event, I’m giving away some Nordic Noir titles. To enter all you need to do is subscribe to my newsletter by clicking on the image below.

The newsletter is sent out quarterly and contains book news and giveaways. My spring newsletter will be coming at the end of the month and there will be more Scandi titles to be won. If you’ve already subscribed to the newsletter, it’s not a problem. Just leave a comment below telling me who your favourite Nordic writer is and I’ll enter you into the competition.

I’ll select the winner at 6pm on Sunday. The competition is open to Scandi fans worldwide. Good luck!

 ***This competition is now closed. Congratulations to the winner, Sian Dennis***

Three Psychological Thrillers – Emma Flint, Ali Land and CL Taylor

Psychological thrillers are hugely popular at the moment although regular readers of my reviews will spot that they don’t feature often on Crimepieces. It’s not that I don’t enjoy them, it’s just that they tend to get pushed to one side by all my other reading commitments. However, an event at Waterstones in Liverpool and an early proof of CL Taylor’s next book gave me the opportunity to indulge in this genre.

Little Deaths is Emma Flint’s debut and has recently been long listed for the Bailey’s Prize. It’s the story of Ruth Malone who comes under suspicion of killing her two children by authorities who disapprove of her lifestyle choices. Based on the true life story of Alice Crimmins who was imprisoned for a similar crime, Flint looks at collusion between newspapers and police, the attitude towards women who don’t fit into ideals of motherhood and how an injustice can result in a woman’s imprisonment. The book is beautifully written and perfectly balances the story of the crime and wider social issues.

Motherhood is also a feature of Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land. However, the mother is a serial killer whose daughter, Annie, shops to the police. Annie is fostered and becomes Milly, staying with her counsellor as she awaits her mother’s trial. The book is an exploration of how childhood abuse leaves its mark on a person and, as Milly’s court appearance approaches, the tension ramps up as the full extent of this damage is revealed. Good Me Bad Me is a compelling story that I read in almost one sitting. It was literally unputdownable.

The Escape is CL Taylor’s fourth book but my first read by this author. It’s a great example of how tension can be gradually ratched up to make an enthralling denouement. A stranger who asks Jo Blackmore for a lift in her car reveals she knows Jo’s husband, Max, and has a glove belonging to their daughter, Elise. What follows is a nightmarish scenario where Jo’s assessment of the danger she is in is ignored and she comes under suspicion of kidnaping her own daughter. Like with all the best thrillers, you’re rooting for the protagonist and desperate to know how the plot ends.

Three great examples of how alive and diverse the genre is and a refreshing change from my usual crime reads.

Review: Anthony Horowitz – Magpie Murders

51rcyrensjlIt’s not often I ask for a crime novel for Christmas. There are always plenty to read in this house but I had my eye on Anthony Horowitz’s new book Magpie Murders which I hadn’t yet managed to read. There’s a trend at the moment towards traditional ‘golden age’ style mysteries written in a contemporary style. Martin Edwards has written a very good piece on why golden age is popular again. He himself has played a huge part in resurrecting the genre and in a post-Brexit world it can be a great escape to immerse yourself in a very contained world.

Magpie Murders is a difficult plot to summarise as it’s effectively a book within a book structure. The novel opens with editor Susan Ryeland beginning to read the new novel by one of her authors, Alan Conway. Readers love his detective Atticus Pünd although it looks like ‘Magpie Murders’ will be his last outing as Conway has given his protagonist a fatal illness. Ryeland (and us readers) then read the manuscript of the book and realise that the last few chapters are missing. Susan attempts to track down the missing pages, a task looking increasingly unlikely.

It can be difficult to effectively integrate two distinct narratives within a book and Horowitz does this successfully by making the stories different in tone and style. At first reluctant to leave the London ouvre of Susan Ryland, I became engrossed in the mystery that Atticus Pünd sets out to solve in Saxby-on-Avon. In fact, Pünd is the most interesting character in the book and could easily hold a set of novels on his own merits.

Horowitz has great fun with the book within a book theme. There are fake quotes from writers such as Ian Rankin, Matthew Prichard, Agatha Christie’s grandson makes an appearance talking about the fictional writer and there’s an interview between Horowitz and his creation right at the end. For someone who shies away of books about writers and the publishing industry (it can feel quite incestuous given that I spend a significant amount of time interacting with this in real life) I thought the book was a fantastic read. Well done to Horowitz for doing something a bit different with the crime novel.