Vintage Crime Box

Kate from the classic crime fiction site, Cross Examining Crime, sent me one of her vintage boxes in the post a week or so ago. She sells them on her Etsy site either as a one off gift or as part of a subscription.

It was very exciting book post filled with crime fiction goodies and gorgeous coffee. The picture to the left is the box as it arrived. On the right is a shot of the box after I opened the packaging to see what mystery books I’d been sent which I couldn’t wait to read.

Skeleton in the Closet by A B Cunningham is set in a Kentucky valley where a skeleton is unearthed by two young boys. Sheriff Jess Roden investigates the killing, using his knowledge of the land and its flood patterns to calculate that the woman had been in the ground for five years. He quickly establishes the identity of the victim, who wrote a note to her mother to say she was going leaving and wouldn’t be in touch for a long time. The book was published later in Cunningham’s career and is adeptly written. By far its greatest asset is the character of the sheriff whose humanity and tenacity ensure that the killer, who comes as no surprise to the reader, is brought to account.

A more substantial read was the unfortunately titled Slay the Loose Ladies. I can see that the title was changed from Puzzle for Wantons which is no better, which is a shame as it’s a very good read. Admittedly the premise  is grim, women who are intending to divorce their husbands gather at the house of rich Lorraine Playgel who invites along their errant husbands and the women begin to die. The book is humorous and dark, and the wealthy Nevada setting works perfectly.

Patrick Quentin was the pen name under which four authors wrote books featuring detective Peter Duluth. Duluth and his wife are wonderful creations and in the best tradition of husband and wife detective teams. Duluth gets more jaded in later books but here, on leave from his navy posting at the end of the Second World War, he’s a delight.

I’d never have picked up a book from either of these authors unprompted which goes to show the benefits of Kate’s excellent gift box. Do check out her Etsy site!

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Nordic Noir Round-Up

Reading continues for the 2018 Petrona Award judging session which is taking place in April. Here’s a summary of some of the contenders.

The Dying Game by Asa Avdic is an unusual read. Set in 2037, the Protectorate of Sweden is a dictatorship whose status isn’t recognised by the US or Western bloc countries. Anna Francis is a government official, intelligent and capable, who is sent to the remote island of Isola. Her mission is to pretend to have been murdered in front of a group of invited guests who will then be observed to see how they react. With shades of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, The Dying Game has an interesting premise but a confusing plot which nevertheless keeps the reader interested until the end. The translation is by Rachel Wilson-Broyles.

Peter Hoeg’s The Susan Effect is also set in the near future, here a paranoid Denmark. Susan Svendsen is gifted with an unusual talent:  people are compelled to confide their secrets to her. This talent is magnified when she’s with her husband, the renowned composer Laban, who has a similar effect on people. After a trip to India, all of her family, including  their twin children, are facing prison sentences. Susan is given the opportunity of an amnesty for their crimes, if she uses her talents to find out details of the secretive Future Committee. The Susan Effect is a very well written thriller which highlights what it feels like to be on the outside of ordinary society. The near future setting just about allows some of the slightly stranger plot points to work and this book is well worth a read. The translation is by Martin Aitken.

Antti Tuomainen’s The Man Who Died is a departure for this author whose previous books have been dark thrillers. Jack Kaunismaa is a mushroom industry entrepreneur who discovers he is dying due to prolonged exposure to toxins. He decides to investigate his wife and associates to uncover who has poisoned him, without revealing his diagnosis and comes under a barrage of assaults from those who wish him dead. The Man Who Died is a darkly humorous book which requires the reader to suspend reality for a moment, which is no bad thing.The translation is by David Hackston.

Finally, a Finnish offering with a twist on a couple of classic crime motifs. In Cruel is the Nighttwo couples meet in an expensive London apartment. Robert and Mikko have been friends for years but, as the plot unfolds, it becomes clear that their lives and that of their wives are intertwined and beset by long-held grudges. By the end of the evening, three are dead. In a clever, contemporary take on Christie’s  And Then There Were None with a dash of a locked room mystery, Karo Hämäläinen paints a portrait of wealthy lives and murderous intent. The translation is by Owen Witesman.

 

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My latest reads: The Feed, An Anatomy of a Scandal and A Fatal Drug

I love dystopian thrillers and have done ever since I read Nevil Shute’s On the Beach. The Feed of Nick Clark Windo’s debut refers to the virtual reality network which governs society in the near future. People have stopped talking to each other and communicate via a feed which allows family and friends long distances from each other to chat as if in the same room. One day, the feed is destroyed and Tom and Kate are forced, with their young daughter, to live in a society where no-one is able to fall asleep unwatched in case they are ‘taken’, their bodies invaded by an alien force.

The Feed is a complex but entertaining book. The ‘reality’ of the alternative world that Windo has created takes a while to get your head around but once you immerse yourself in the narrative, it’s a very rich read.

An Anatomy of A Scandal is a stylish thriller from Sarah Vaughan. Married government minister, James, admits to having an affair with a much younger colleague who accuses him of a sexual assault. His wife Sophie, who has known him since their student days at Oxford, is convinced of his innocence but the prosecuting barrister, Kate, is certain he is guilty and determined to bring him to justice. As the trial approaches, the women are forced to confront their respective pasts and the actions of a charismatic man who appears to be protected by the prime minister.

An Anatomy of a Scandal is a thoughtful, well-written thriller which explores the nature of relationships and how closely we’re prepared to look at personality of those around us . As a reader who doesn’t read many courtroom based crime novels, I thought these scenes were among the best and a fascinating glimpse into the world of prosecuting sex crimes. Given the quality of the prose, I’m unsurprised that the book is riding high in the book charts.

Tony R Cox is a former journalist and he uses his experience of working on local news to great effect in A Fatal DrugSet in 1971, ambitious Derby reporter Simon Jardine reports on a mutilated body found in a hotel. Sensing a story, he digs deeper and uncovers a drugs network that extends from the Midlands to Spain. Cox’s depiction of seventies journalism is fascinating and it makes you long for the days of strong local news. You forget that, underneath the ‘peace and love’ portrayal of seventies hallucinogens there was a vicious side to drug supply and addiction. Cox provides an authentic portrayal of a cat and mouse chase around the brothels and drug houses in the city and I can’t wait to read the next book, Vinyl Junkie.

This post is dedicated to an Australian blogging friend of mine, Bernadette from Reactions to Reading, who sadly died recently. Bernadette was hugely supportive of both my writing and blogging and her own reviews were honest and uncompromising. I’ll miss reading her thoughts on both bestselling novels and those of crime writers who don’t receive the attention they deserve.

Granite Noir Reading Part Two

It’s Granite Noir this weekend. Last week I reviewed the books I’ve been reading for the first two panels I’m moderating. This post rounds up the rest of the books: it’s been fascinating to read the novels of four diverse crime writers.

On Saturday afternoon, I’ll be moderating the Page and Screen panel with MJ Arlidge and Stefan Ahnhem. Both writers combine successful screenwriting careers with writing bestselling crime novels. Eighteen Below is Ahnhem’s latest thriller featuring his detective Fabian Risk. A car crashes off a quay in Helsingborg but the autopsy reveals that the victim, Peter Brise, was already dead when he hit the water. Below Eighteen is a substantial read and, in the best Scandi style, Ahnhem moves the narrative beyond the confines of the immediate investigation to incorporate Risk’s family life and the politics of the wider investigative team. A real treat for Nordic Noir fans.

Love Me Not is the seventh book in MJ Arlidge’s series featuring DI Helen Grace. A woman is killed in a hit and run accident closely followed by the shooting of a shopkeeper. Helen Grace struggles to find the common thread between the murders as a killing spree spreads through Southampton. Love Me Not cleverly takes place over the course of a single day adding high tension to this fast-paced and compelling thriller.

At my final panel on Sunday morning, I’ll be talking to Louise Voss and Torkil Damhaug about Psychological Noir.  Louise’s latest book, The Old You, isn’t out until May but there’ll be early copies available at the festival.  It’s a fascinating thriller about memory loss and deception within a marriage. Ed Naismith is diagnosed with early-onset dementia which devastates his wife of ten years, Lynn. He becomes fixated on a possible cure for his illness while his condition deteriorates and Lynn begins to wonder if her own mental health isn’t begging to suffer. The Old You is a fascinating read and full of twists and turns.

Certain Signs That You Are Dead is the fourth book in Torkil Damhaug’s Oslo Crime Files series. A patient disappears at a university hospital and retired forensic pathologist Jennifer Plåterud is called in to examine the dead man. Her son, Sigurd Woods, believes his girlfriend, Katya is having an affair and begins to follow her about the city. It’s a complex, modern story with various threads weaving through the narrative. Damhaug is excellent at keeping up the tension.

That’s it! See some of you at Granite Noir.