I’ve finally got around to reading AD Miller’s Snowdrops. I bought it when the Man Booker shortlist was first announced but it has sat on my book pile ever since as I never quite fancied reading it. Proof of the purchasing power of Man Booker nominees I guess. With a 4 hour coach journey lying ahead of me, I packed the book and read most of it on my trip and finished it this morning. I’ve only had a quick look at some other reviews but I think I would concur with many of them – there are a lot better thrillers out there.
I know that some people have criticised the style of writing. This didn’t bother me too much once I had got into the book. I think it echoed some of the sparseness of the Moscow landscape and the bareness of expat existence. And it was this aspect of the novel that was most convincing. I too have lived as an expat in a foreign country where the only decent furniture can be found in Ikea and the culture of the country can isolate you from your moral framework. It’s just a shame that the plot didn’t give justice to the power of the writing.
Not wanting to spoil the book for those who haven’t read it, suffice to say you would have to be a complete idiot to fall for the scam of the central narrative. And once more the quotations on the back cover don’t help. “Graham Greene on steroids” it isn’t. It makes me want to hark back to the Russia of John Le Carre where a modicum of cunning was needed just to survive the Cold War machinations. That said, I’m off to see the new adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy tonight. I can’t wait.
One of the things I most love about blogging is linking to other crime fiction sites. There are a wealth of good blogs out there and when I get the chance I want to compile a list of my favourites. Something I came across recently is the Sisters in Crime Book Bloggers Challenge which aims to promote the contribution of women to crime fiction. Looking at my recent book purchases I notice that about 70% were by men and to redress the balance here is my stab at the ‘easy’ challenge – a review of Åsa Larsson’s new book Until thy Wrath be Past.
A girl’s body is found in the River Torne in the north of Sweden during the first spring thaw. Prosecutor Rebecka Martinsson, working in nearby Kiruna is drawn into the case after the dead girl visits her in the night. The investigation soon focuses on an isolated frozen lake where a plane carrying supplies for the Wehrmacht disappeared in 1943. It is a tale of memories which refuse to be buried and of violence which spills from inside a family into the wider community.
Larsson’s Savage Altar was a strong debut for the writer and I found her follow-up books to be of consistently good quality. This new book is an excellent although sometimes discomforting read. The main body of the murder investigation is interspersed with passages which take the point of view of the dead girl. This can be a difficult area for writers. They needs to be both convincing and yet open to the possibilities that this might not be everyone’s idea of being dead. I think Larsson deals with the issue very well and the final excerpt from the dead girl is very moving.
There is a lot of Scandinavian crime fiction out there at the moment and most of it of a high quality. What Larsson adds to the genre is a strong sense of place, setting her books in a rural Swedish community where the past strongly influences the present. Her books also have convincing female characters and it is therefore a worth inclusion in the Sisters of Crime challenge.
As part of the challenge I need to recommend five more women crime writers. My only problem is keeping the list to five so I’ve decided to go for a geographical spread:
1. Mari Jungstedt (books set on the Swedish island of Gotland)
2. Fred Vargas (pseudonym of French historian and archaeologist Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau. Features the detective Adamsberg).
3. Jennifer Egan (US author, books often have an element of crime/thriller)
4. Ann Cleeves (UK writer author of Vera Stanhope series recently televised with Brenda Blethyn)
5. Yrsa Sigurdardottir (author of well-written thrillers set in Iceland)