Nordic Noir Round-Up

Karin Fossum has a unique voice although I don’t always share her bleak view of the world.  Her latest book The Whisperer, translated by Kari Dickson, focuses largely on the interplay between Inspector Konrad Sejer and a woman whose crime is only revealed to the reader towards the end of the book.  It’s a fascinating and creepy read. Is Ragna being persecuted and, if so, who would care enough to focus their attention on this elderly nondescript woman? I’m never entirely sure about Fossum’s endings and it’s true in this case too but I love her writing and am always excited to read her next book.

Jorn Lier Horst is a former Petrona winner and is one of the most consistent writers around. His Wisting books are elevated by excellent characterisation and strong plots. The Katharina Code is one of his best. An age-old crime where a set of numbers were left on a dining room table is reopened when police re-focus on the woman’s husband and his possible involvement in an earlier, apparently unconnected, case. Wisting, who has befriended Martin Haugen over the years, has harboured doubts about the man’s innocence and he becomes a sometimes unwilling participant in the surveillance operation. Horst has written a well-plotted thriller and it was great to escape into the Norwegian landscape. The translation is by Anne Bruce.

It’s odd to note that Hakan Nesser has never appeared on a Petrona shortlist as he’s one of my favourite writers. I love the Van Veeteren series and am gradually getting acquainted with his new protagonist Barbarotti. At 595 pages, The Root of Evil is a huge book and the plot is deceptively simple: a group of friends in the Swedish town of Kymlinge are being murdered and it looks to be connected to an event that happened in Brittany in 2002. Nothing is straightforward with Nesser though and we’re drawn into a sophisticated tale with some wonderful characters. Ultimately the length of the book just about works and it’s my favourite Nesser for a long while. The translation is by Sarah Death.

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Recent Reads

I always look forward to the latest Ruth Galloway novel from Elly Griffiths and in The Stone Circle, out on the 7th February, it’s great to see Ruth back in Norfolk. There’s an interesting link to Griffiths’s first book in the series,  Crossing Places. DCI  Nelson has been receiving letters similar in tone to those which tried to derail the investigation into missing children. The culprit’s son, Leif, has returned to look at a prehistoric stone circle where a twelve year old girl’s bones are discovered. The vulnerability of children and babies is explored in a sensitive manner. The bones are those of Margaret Lacey who disappeared thirty years earlier in a crime which the community has never forgotten. Griffiths is excellent at keeping up dramatic tension both in terms of the murder investigation and the Nelson/Ruth relationship.

The Boy who Lived with the Dead is the new novel by Kate Ellis featuring Scotland Yard detective, Albert Lincoln. Before the First World War, Lincoln led the investigation into the disappearance of Jimmy Rudyard, a young child in the Cheshire village of Mabley Ridge. Now, a woman has been killed, her small baby is missing and Lincoln is back to investigate the murder.  He discovers a town still reeling from war and families with plenty of secrets to hide. The book is an absorbing read and I loved the period detail.

Cuckoo by Sophie Draper is a psychological thriller set in my home county of Derbyshire. Caro inherits, along with her sister, their childhood home after the death of step-mother, Elizabeth. The villagers are unfriendly and the house brings back long forgotten memories for Caro. Cuckoo is an interesting psychological thriller, very well written, which cleverly exploits the closed confines of the story. Draper is excellent at  keeping the reader guessing until the denouement.

Thomas Mogford’s A Thousand Cuts had been on my shelf  for a while, a shameful admission given how much I love the author’s writing. The fifth book in the Spike Snguinetti series sees Spike’s fiancé about to give birth while he takes on a case that brings him into conflict with childhood friends. Spike is a fascinating character and it looks like he’s about to let his obsession with his case ruin another relationship. Mogford’s descriptions of the Gibraltar setting are wonderful but never allowed to overshadow the plot. It’s one of his best.

Books to Look Out For in 2019

Happy New Year to all Crimepieces readers. 2018 has been an excellent year for books and my selection of my six favourite crime novels of the year were published over at Crime Time with other reviewers’ choices. A really eclectic bunch and I was delighted to see Alex Reeve’s The House on Half Moon Street make it onto the Richard and Judy selection for their winter book club.

I’ve been lucky enough to have a sneak preview of some novels coming in 2019. I’ve already raved about the excellent Scrublands by Chris Hammer. I use the first chapter of this thriller with my students as an example of how to create tension early in the narrative. I’ve also got a couple of books sitting on my shelves that I can’t wait to read, notably William Shaw’s Deadland

Books are often advertised as containing a ‘killer twist you won’t see coming’ which is often untrue. The only book I can remember being genuinely shocked by the change in direction of the plot was Peter Swanson’s The Kind Worth KillingI’m now adding Alex Michaelides’ The Silent Patient to my list. Alicia, a well-known artist, shoots her husband dead and from then onwards refuses to speak. Psychotherapist Leo Faber becomes fascinated by Alicia’s case and obtains a job in her psychiatric hospital to try to unravel why Alicia refuses to talk about her crime. To say any more about the plot would be to give too much away but I found narrative utterly compelling. You can tell Michaelides has spent time working in a psychiatric unit given the level of detail involved and the ending took my breath away.

I read CJ Tudor’s The Taking of Annie Thorne just before Christmas and it’s an excellent creepy read. Joe Thorne has arrived back in his Nottinghamshire home town with a dodgy CV and an uncertain commitment to his teaching post. With a family tragedy in the past, he’s been sent an anonymous note saying that a horror he thought long forgotten has returned. I loved the regional setting and Tudor’s take on the familiar ‘pit’ theme in horror literature.

It can be hard to create a genuinely original character in a crime novel but  Ilaria Tuti has managed it with Inspector Teresa Battaglia in Flowers Over the Inferno. Despite inspiring awe in her team, Battaglia is suffering from occasional bouts of memory loss. In a village in the Italian Alps the body of a naked man is found with his eyes gouged out. It becomes clear that there are more victims and the children of the village may know more than they’re letting on. I’m delighted that this well-written crime novel is going to be the first book in a trilogy because I loved Teresa Battaglia who makes a compelling but vulnerable protagonist. The translation is by Ekin Oklap.

Those are my reads to look out for in early 2019. Are there any books you’re eagerly awaiting?

 

Nordic Noir Round Up

I’ve been reading some interesting Scandinavian crime novels over the last few months, saving my reviews for a round-up post. There’s a feeling of nordic noir going through a readjustment at the moment. Long running series are coming to an end and, of the new authors being published, there’s an emphasis on psychological thrillers over the traditional police procedural. I’m sorry to see that some of my favourite authors haven’t got a book out this year – Leif GW Persson and Hans Olav Lahlum for example.

Caroline Eriksson has only recently been translated into English. The Watcher, the first book of hers I’ve read, has a Rear Window feel to the plot. A newly separated author takes a rented apartment and obsesses over the family living opposite her, becoming convinced that the woman intends to kill her husband. As she starts to write a new book, her own life and that of the woman opposite become entwined. I read The Watcher in virtually one sitting and it made for compulsive reading. The relationships were satisfyingly complex and, despite spotting the twist fairly soon in the narrative, it was a compelling read. The translation is by Tara F Chace.

Killed is the final book in Thomas Enger’s Henning Juul series where Juul finally uncovers the events leading up to the fire which left him scarred and which killed his young son. There’s a large cast of characters, hugely satisfying to fans of Enger’s series although which might prove difficult for someone picking this up as a standalone. Killed is, however, a poignant end to the Juul books which have proved to be intelligent and satisfying thrillers. The translation is by Kari Dickson.

Quentin Bates is a writer who spent a decade in Iceland and knows the country well. His series featuring Officer Gunnhildur is always a delight to read. Rather than relying on descriptive passages of the Icelandic landscape, his books are interesting thrillers with a political edge. In Cold Breath, Gunna is in a safe house with the high-profile guest of a prominent politician and her loyalties are torn when details of his life emerge. Bates is excellent at creating tension in a modern-day Reykjavik setting.

Gunnar Staalesen is one of my favourite Norwegian writers and Big Sister doesn’t disappoint. His private investigator, Varg Veum, is asked by a woman who reveals herself to be his half-sister, to discover the whereabouts of a relative, Emma. Veum discovers that the girl has been contact with her estranged father and an act of violence in Emma’s past may hold a clue to her disappearance. Excellently plotted and very well translated by Don Bartlett, this is up with Staalesen’s best.

Recent Reads

Apologies for the lack of posts over the last month. I’ve been reading lots of books but haven’t had time to catch up with my reviews. Every Saturday we have a discussion over on my Facebook author page on what we are reading at the moment. Do come over and take a look. My TBR pile gets bigger and bigger.

However, I’m on the train to London in unexpected sunshine as it’s the CWA Dagger Award dinner this evening and I’m looking forward to catching up with some fellow crime writers and reviewers. It’s also given me a chance to sum up a few of my favourite reads over the last couple of months.

The Conviction of Cora Burns is the debut novel by Carolyn Kirby featuring an interesting protagonist, Cora Burns who was raised in a workhouse and enters the house of scientist Thomas Sherwood as a servant. Sherwood appears to be taking part in a living experiment and Cora becomes sucked into his work. It’s an absorbing read, packed full of period detail and it’s great to read such an assured debut. The book isn’t published until Spring next year but I’m sure Kirby will garner lots of fans.

The House on Half Moon Street by Alex Reeve also has an interesting central character. Leo Stanhope works as an assistant to a London coroner but was born Charlotte, the daughter of a respectable middle class family. Leo suffers physical pain from the bandages he uses to hide his breasts to live as a man and from the anguish of being estranged from his family. One of the people he has trusted with his secret is Maria, a prostitute whom he loves. When she’s found dead, he comes under suspicion of her murder and must find the killer without revealing his secret. It’s an absorbing and well written debut which manages to bypass any cliches.

I picked up my copy of The Martian Girl at Goldsboro books, a great bookshop which always has something to tempt. It’s the first book I’ve read by Andrew Martin and I found it fascinating. Jean, a journalist, is writing a one-woman play about Kate, a Victorian mind-reader which she hopes to stage at a London venue. She is having an affair with a seedy ex-barrister who is known by his surname Coates who’s both impulsive and paranoid. As Jean researches further into Kate’s past, she sees echoes of her own situation. The Martian Girl is an unusual and interesting read and in Coates, Martin has created a compelling figure.

I’ve been reading Australian crime fiction for years, mainly on the recommendation of the late blogger Bernadette at Reactions to Readings. The Dry by Jane Harper has done much to increase interest in crime fiction from Oz and it’s great to see more Antipodean writers appearing in the UK. Scrublands by Chris Hammer is set in a small town which journalist Martin Scarsden visits to do a follow up story on the murder by a priest of five of the town’s inhabitants. It’s a substantial book and absolutely riveting. Hammer excels at characterisation and his depiction of small town relationships is something close to my own heart. I can’t wait to read what comes next. Scrublands is published in January.

A Poem for National Poetry Day

It’s National Poetry Day today. I used to post a poem every year on Crimepieces but got out of the habit. This year I’m doing it again, not least because I recently bought a wonderful collection of poems, Forever, Now by Helen Cadbury. Unfortunately, despite trying, I haven’t been able to contact Helen’s publishers and can’t reproduce one of her poems here without permission. However, I do recommend you buy the book.

Another crime writer who is also an excellent poet is Michael Malone. I’ve shared one of his poems before but here’s another from his collection In The Raw. The theme of this year’s day is ‘change’ and I think this is perfect.

Jekyll And Hide

Stress, what stress? These people
need to get a grip.

Sweat streams through my pores
glueing cloth to the line of my spine

Panic attacks, anxiety attacks,
chemical imbalance in the brain – my arse!

Eyes pulled wide over my skull’s edge
and I still can’t see the beast that strolls

Lot of wasters if you ask me
just want an excuse to laze about

along the fence that rings my vision
waiting to rip into the marrow

and watch satellite TV all fucking day.
I blame these reality “Confessional” programs

of my caged ribs, straining to string
the length of my entrails through hungry claws

and their presenters with only one name,
bastards spreading their crap to improve ratings

I’m on the rim of a daymare
I never sleep, for that is the door it will enter

Stress, what stress?

and never leave.

Malone, Michael. In The Raw. Makar Press.

Books for Autumn: Mikita Brottman and Syd Moore

Autumn always brings a new crop of crime fiction that I’m keen to read and it’s always great to discover new authors. I discovered these two books through slightly different means and it’s interesting how authors come to your attention through recommendations or marketing material. 

An Unexplained Death was given to me as a proof by Richard Fortey, the Independent Alliance rep as he thought I’d like it. I don’t read huge amounts of true crime but it’s always wonderful to discover a well written, personal response to a particular incident. An Unexpected Death is a discursive account of the death of Rey Rivera. The author, Mikita Brottman, first hears of Rey when she sees posters reporting him missing. His body is discovered after a week or so in the apartment block where she lives. The Belvedere was once a famous hotel and, when Rey’s death is deemed a suicide, it prompts Brottman to consider all the deaths the building has seen in its history.

The book is a compelling read. Part memoir, part investigation it gives an insight on how a sudden death can impact on those on the periphery of a tragedy. I don’t want to give too much away about the ending but, with the best books, it’s the journey that’s as interesting as the conclusion. An Unexplained Death is out on the 8th November.

I was sent by Syd Moore’s publisher a sampler of her forthcoming book. I almost never read samplers as I find them frustratingly short. For the same reason, I never read the taster chapters at the end of a novel for the author’s next book. However, The Strange Casebook is a collection of short stories and reading the one provided in the sampler was a perfect introduction into this author’s writing.

Short stories collections are always hard to review as it’s difficult to summarise them without giving too much away. This collection consists of both ghost stories and tales verging on horror. I think it’s fair to say there’s a touch of Daphne Du Maurier’s influence and I found them absolutely fascinating. I read the stories in one sitting, late at night and they were a perfect autumnal read. The Strange Casebook is out on 31st October.