Nordic Noir round-up: Helen Tursten, Gunnar Staalesen & Katja Kettu

Apologies for the lack of reviews on Crimepieces in the last two weeks. As well as promoting  the publication of the paperback of A Deadly Thaw, I’ve also been proofreading the next book in the series, A Patient Fury,  which is out in September. This hasn’t stopped me reading, however, and I’m finally catching up with my reviews.

First up is a summary of the Nordic books I’ve read.

51l2hlts9l-_sy344_bo1204203200_Helene Tursten is a Swedish writer who isn’t as well known in the UK as she deserves to be. Her novels, featuring detective Irene Huss, are well plotted police procedurals that, in the finest Scandi tradition, also draw readers into the personal lives of the characters.

In her latest book,  Who Watchetha man is stalking his women victims and sending them gifts before strangling them. An early victim who survived the attacks remembers his unpleasant smell but nothing else. Huss is also being persecuted by a cyber stalker who is unhappy with Huss’s involvement in an earlier case. It’s been a while since I read Tursten and I think she’s one of the best Nordic writers around. The prurient nature of the killings is never overdone and Who Watcheth is enhanced by a finale that isn’t overly dramatic. The  translation is by Marlaine Delargy.

whererosesneverdie300Another favourite writer of mine is Gunnar Staalesen. His latest book, Where Roses Never Diefeatures the resurrection of an investigation into the disappearance of a missing girl and the social dynamics of a small housing estate in the 1970s. Staalesen’s detective, Varg Veum, is in a sorry state, drinking heavily and forced to take on cases he would normally reject.

As we expect from Staalesen, social issues are combined with a fine murder plot but the multi layers of the deception that’s revealed makes Where Roses Never Die his best book yet. The translation is by Don Bartlett.

51gues2nt2l-_sx331_bo1204203200_Finally, I read in January an unusual and thought-provoking novel by a Finnish writer, Katja Kettu. In The Midwife, a woman unflatteringly named Weird-Eye by the small community where she delivers babies meets Johannes, a war photographer working for the SS. She takes a job as a nurse in a nearby prison camp to be near him but gets drawn into the mechanics of the surroundings as the war’s end draws near.

It’s a difficult book to review as I was completely captivated by the language of the story which must have been a joy to translate. The prose is earthy and brutal, describing a period in time where survival is a result of stamina, circumstance and finding a place in the community and landscape. I knew little of the stationing of German troops in northern Finland and the Lapp setting is woven into the narrative. The timeline makes for some challenging reading with the occasional inclusion of superfluous official documents but the story of Weird Eye is unique and moving. The excellent translation is by David Hackston.

 

Paperback Publication Day

a-deadly-thaw-paperbackThe paperback of A Deadly Thaw is published today in the UK. It has a brand new cover by Faber Books and looks very chilling. I’ve already seen it on the shelf at two bookshops, the fabulous Simply Books in Bramhall and Pengwern Books in Shrewsbury. I’ll also see it tonight at Urmston Books in Manchester where I’m doing an event.

Thanks to everyone who has supported A Deadly Thaw and continues to visit Crimepieces for book reviews and news.

To say thank you, I’m giving away two prizes.

The first is a signed and dedicated copy of both In Bitter Chill and A Deadly Thaw. The second is a copy of the paperback and audio of A Deadly Thaw. To enter, simply fill in your name and e-mail address and the name of your favourite British crime writer. As usual, your e-mail addresses will only be used for this competition and to receive my quarterly newsletter. I’ll draw the winners on Sunday evening.

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** This competition is now closed. The winners are being notified and will be announced here soon! **

 

 

 

Review: Sheena Kamal – Eyes Like Mine

cover104801-smallI was sent Eyes Like Mine on Friday morning and was struck by its beautiful cover. By Friday night, I’d finished it. Regular readers of the blog will know how much I love translated crime fiction but I’m also a fan of the American PI genre. I read Sue Grafton, Marcia Muller and Sara Paretsky in my late teens and I absolutely loved them.  Eyes Like Mine is isn’t an American PI book. It’s written by a Canadian debut novelist, Sheena Kamal, and is set in and around Vancouver. Neither is the protagonist, Nora Watts, a private investigator. Rather she works for a PI company doing research and acting as a personal assistant. However, there’s a feel to this book of the early Paretskys and Graftons and I absolutely loved it.

Nora March was subjected to a brutal rape fifteen years earlier and gave up the child, Bonnie, for adoption. However Bonnie’s adopted parents track her down to say the girl had been looking for her real parents and has now gone missing. Drawn into the lives of the family, Nora discovers it’s not as simple as a teenager who has gone off the rails but some serious security employees are also searching for the girl for reasons which are unclear.

Written in the first person, the reader engages with Nora from the outset although her story is only revealed in increments. The sticker on the front of the book compares her to Lisbeth Salander which I can understand but I feel sells the character short. Kamal has come up with an unusual and engaging character that is uniquely her own. Nora carries a plot which could veer into unbelievably with panache and there’s a page-turning thrilling element to the narrative.

The pace ramps up considerably towards the latter part of the book but, for a debut writer, Kamal steers clear of neat or soppy endings. There’s plenty of mileage left in Nora and it’s good to hear that a sequel is in the offing. This could be my book of the year and it’s only January.

Eyes Like Mine  is out on the 9th February.

 

Nordic Noir Round-Up

My Nordic reading continues for both The Petrona Award and for Granite Noir where I’ll be interviewing three Scandi authors: Kristina Ohlsson, Kati Hiekkapelto and Gunnar Staalesen.

9781509809486chameleon-peopleChameleon People is the fourth book in the series featuring detective Kolbjorn ‘K2’ Kristiansen and his trusted advisor Patricia. As usual Lahlum mixes Golden Age writing style and plot structure  with political intrigue, in this case Norway’s 1972 vote on whether to join the EEC. It’s a substantial book and I enjoyed the fact that K2 has to investigate the case largely by himself due to Patricia’s antipathy towards his girlfriend, Miriam, and her own love life. Lahlum’s style is distinctive and I suspect you’re either a fan of this writer or you’re not. I always look forward to each new novel. The translation is by Kari Dickson.

41mxo4kt01l-_sx322_bo1204203200_Kati Heikkapelto writes books of a consistently high quality and The Exiled is no exception. Her protagonist, Anna Fekete, has returned to the Serbian village of her birth for a holiday but, after her bag is snatched and the perpetrator found drowned, she is dragged into an investigation that throws up questions about her own father’s death decades earlier. Probably Hiekkapelto’s best book to date, The Exiled  looks with insight and compassion at the lot of displaced people migrating through Europe and depressingly familiar attitudes to Roma. The translation is by David Hackston.

unwantedKristina Ohlsson is a security police analyst in Sweden and her books clearly reflect her in-depth knowledge of  criminal investigations. Unwanted  was her first book, published in English translation in 2011. A child is abducted on the Stockholm underground and initially the girl’s family comes under suspicion. In the finest tradition of Swedish crime fiction, the case is solved through meticulous team work, in this case by Investigative Analyst Fredrik Bergman and detectives Peder Rydh and Alex Recht. The subject matter makes it a shocking read which is balanced by the sobriety of police investigation. The translation is by Sarah Death.

I’m in the middle of two other Scandi books. The Midwife by Katja Kettu (on my kindle) and Who Watcheth by Helen Tursten. Reviews of these and more Nordic Noir coming soon…

Review: Maurizio de Giovanni – Viper

aa589d44bcbf750eb532944b45020caa-w2041xDaniela at Europa Editions has been kind enough to send me a few books by Maurizio de Giovanni to review which I’m finally getting around to. I’ve had my eye on the series for a while as the premise is fascinating. Commissario Ricciardi is a 1930s Naples detective with an unerring ability to see the last few moments before a victim’s death. Naturally his ‘gift’ isn’t sufficient to reveal the murderer but it does allow Riccardi to gain an insight into the victim’s state of mind before their death.

Viper is the sixth book in the series. In a high class brothel, a renowned prostitute is discovered, suffocated with a pillow. Some of her clients are well known Neapolitan residents and Ricciardo has to cut through the reticence of the brothel’s habitués as well as fellow sex workers to unearth the culprit.

As a murder story, the plot is straightforward and single stranded although it is well thought out. Suspects are tracked down and interviewed and the past of the dead girl, known as Viper, is disected. The straightforward plot allows de Giovanni to explore the characters of Ricciardo and his family and colleagues. Ricciardo is the subject of amorous attention from two women, the glamorous Livia who has relocated from Rome to Naples to be near him and Enrica who is learning Neapolitan cooking from Ricciardo’s grandmother, Rosa, as a means to gain Ricciardo’s attention. Unlike most literary love triangles this one has real bite and is clearly set to continue.

I found the description of thirties Naples as fascinating as the mystery. The killing takes place a week before Easter and we’re treated to descriptions of Italian Holy Week customs and food preparations. De Giovanni is a fantastic discovery and I’m looking forward to reading the series from the start as there’s plenty here to enthral the reader.

Exciting Crime Novels Coming in 2017

I’ve already been lucky enough to read some of the great UK releases coming this Spring. Given that some of them I’ve read six months or so before publication, rather than waiting to review them, I want to offer a taster of what’s coming soon.

61dzfbxypblKate Hamer is the author of the Costa shortlisted book The Girl in the Red CoatI haven’t yet read this but her new novel The Doll Funeral which is coming in February is a wonderfully eerie read. A young girl discovers she is adopted and fantasises about escaping from her dire home life and finding her real parents. The line between reality and imagination is blurred in this book set in the Forest of Dean and I loved how unsettled the story made me feel.

51eqavdnwl-_sx325_bo1204203200_Brad Parks is a debut author whose book, Say Nothing, opens with an intriguing premise. Scott Sampson receives a text message from his wife telling him he doesn’t need to collect their children from swimming lessons. When she arrives home hours later with no knowledge of the message the intrigue begins. Say Nothing grips the reader from the start and doesn’t let up. I read the book in virtually one sitting which is unknown for me these days.

411s5pldhcl-_sx323_bo1204203200_Yrsa Sigrudardottir’s books make a regular appearance on Crimepieces. I’ve enjoyed both her standalone and her series featuring Thora Gudmundsdottir. In The Legacy, Yrsa has taken a new, darker direction. A woman is horrifically murdered and the only witness is her young daughter. Police work with an organisation used to dealing with traumatised children to uncover the dark secret behind the deaths. The killings in the book are horrific but Yrsa never loses her grip on the reader. She has the fantastic ability to draw you into the story and I think the book’s darker turn will garner her new fans.

31426837-207x300Stav Sherez is one of my favourite crime writers and he produces books which are of a consistently high standard. His series featuring detectives Cardigan and Miller are set in London and the plots are always up-to-the-minute reflections of society’s preoccupations. The Intrusions is beautifully written and his best book to date.

51lhr-t6dtl-_sx333_bo1204203200_I read Where I Lost Her by T Greenwood over Christmas and the story had me enthralled. Tess, a woman grieving a failed adoption and experiencing the disintegration of her marriage sees a girl run into the woods. After alerting the police who fail to find any trace of the girl or anyone who has reported a missing child, Tess herself comes under suspicion. I found the book both moving and absorbing.

Some exciting books for 2017. Wishing all readers of Crimepieces a Happy New Year!

My Top Ten Crime Books of 2016

Top ten books of the year have been appearing since the beginning of December but I’ve held off posting mine just in case of a last minute brilliant read. However, I’ve spent most of the festive period reading classic crime, a review of which I’ll post later.

2016 has been a bit of a mixed bag in terms of reading. I have found the submissions for this year’s Petrona to be uneven. Some long running series are feeling a bit tired and Scandi tropes which once felt fresh are increasingly being recycled to the extent that I feel I’ve already read the book. Having said that, the Nordic Noir books that do make it onto the list were a joy to read.

So, here are my top ten books of 2016 in no particular order. If you want to know which one was my favourite, I’ll reveal all in my new year newsletter.

dying-detectiveLeif G W Persson – The Dying Detective (translated by Neil Smith)

Persson is a writer with a sure touch but in this standalone he excels in both plotting and characterisation. It’s a substantial read with plenty to think about and written with Persson’s sly humour.

27152-books-origjpgPD James – The Mistletoe Murder and other stories

There will be no more Dalgliesh novels from James but Faber have provided us fans of the erudite detective with two short stories in this collection. Although they have previously appeared in publications, every story was new to me and the sumptuous cover made the book a  delight to read.

51dWXz1LAoL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_Fred Vargas – A Climate of Fear (translated by Sian Reynolds)

Another writer who delights in wry humour, this is Vargas back on form. Adamsberg is without doubt my favourite detective at the moment and the Icelandic setting for part of the story was an added bonus.

30840877-_uy200_David Mitchell – Slade House

I appear to have neglected to review this book. I think I was saving the post for a round-up of supernatural stories that I read over the year. It’s a great mix of crime and spooky events and I greatly enjoyed the way it unsettled the reader.

9781843446408Barry Forshaw – Brit Noir

This is a useful guide to British crime fiction divided by geographic region. The reviews of the merits of each writers books are perceptive and includes lesser known authors for aficionados to discover.

9781784292379Elly Griffiths – The Woman in Blue

One of my favourite crime series, I love the characters and the romantic tension between Nelson and Ruth. Here, the atmospheric setting of Walsingham provided the backdrop to a great plot.

 

9781910633359Agnes Ravatn – The Bird Tribunal (translated by Rosie Hedger)

Fans of Karin Fossum will love this story where the tension is slowly ratched up. It’s an example of how crime fiction can also be literary without the writing interfering with the story.

 

The-Crow-Girl-by-Erik-Axl-Sund-665x1024Erik Axl Sund – The Crow Girl

Violent and uncompromising, I loved how it pushes the reader to confront their prejudices in relation to perpetrators of brutality. It’s long but never dull.

 

A-Dying-Breed-lightPeter Hanington – A Dying Breed

A crime novel with a difference. The Afghanistan setting works equally as well as the world of news reporting in London. It gives an insight into the clashes between old and new style journalism. Peter Hannington is a writer to watch.

 

9781509809486chameleon-peopleHans Olav Lahlum – Chameleon People (translated by Kari Dickson)

The review for this excellent book will  be coming in my next Scandi round-up. It has all of Lahlum’s usual themes but his writing never tires. I found the character of the wheelchair-bound Patricia much more sympathetic in this book and there is clearly plenty of mileage left in the series.

So that’s my top ten. Next week I’ll be posting a list of books to watch for Spring 2017. I’ve already read some excellent novels and there’s plenty to look forward to.

Wishing all readers of Crimepieces a happy new year!

Music to Write Books By – Adrian Burrows

9781911266280-424x600This is the  final post in this series where writers have been sharing the music they write to. Today I have Adrian Burrows who has written a  history book for people who don’t like history – yet. In Escapades in Bizarrchaeology you can discover why bats were used as bombs, how an emu can defeat a tank, the reason why guns were installed in cemetries … and how you can get shot with an arrow … and survive.

Hi Adrian do you have particular pieces of music you write to?

My favoured way of listening to music is by being surprised. Now by this I’m not suggesting that my undersized man servant (who is trained in martials arts of course) leaps out of my fridge freezer to karate chop me in the back of the neck whilst I listen to some Beethoven. Instead I mean that I find a mood list on Spotify, set it to play and just see what happens. On one particular afternoon (possibly a Tuesday … or a Wednesday … or a Thursday … or a Friday … erm … it was definitely a day of the week anyway) I found a rather enjoyable album of piano jazz. It was very plinky plonky (I’m pretty sure that’s a way to describe piano music), with some delightfully complex compositions and a flowing melody that was certainly aiding me brain in doing that whole writing thing. It was with some surprise when I discovered the person who wrote and performed this 9 track album was only 11 years old! His name is Joey Alexander and in a third of my life he learnt to play the piano, compose music, and then went on and wrote, performed and recorded a best selling album. Which didn’t make me feel inadequate at all. Honest.

 

 Has a particular piece of music ever inspired you to write something?
No.
Wait, I should probably expand on that answer …
Yes and No.
I haven’t written something that has been inspired by a piece of music … yet, however, a piece of music has given me the idea for a short story that will become my first piece of fiction. The song is torn apart – the Joe Ford remix and it’s a track with two very different personalities. Which gives a little hint about theme of the short story!

 

 

Could you recommend any particular pieces of music for a specific mood? I use Holst’s ‘Mars the Bringer of War’ for example to write angry passages.
I wasn’t familiar with Holst’s ‘Mars the Bringer of War’ so I decided to listen to it, then I realised that I was very familiar with the piece of music I just didn’t know the title of the piece or the composer. I don’t know if that makes me uncultured or forgetful … definitely one or the other but I can’t remember which. For my own recommendation, it has to be ‘How do you like me now? – The Heavy’. When writing history and trying to make it both fun and funny you need music that is funky and upbeat. This track provides all that and is so darn catchy that you’ll be tapping your keyboard to the music!
 Are there any longer pieces you can recommend? If you need to write for an hour, for example, is there a particular composer/artist you’d chose?
I certainly can. Don’t let me be Understood / Esmerelda Suite by Santa Esmerelda and Leroy Gomez. It’s an album that consists of only one song (unsurprisingly, considering the name of the album, that’s the song Don’t let me be Understood, the 1977 disco remix of the Nina Simone original) remixed 7 times for a total of 1 hours and 10 minutes of the most toe tapping enjoyable music you’ve ever heard. Although you should use great caution in choosing to listen to this album whilst writing, as I challenge you not to spend most of the 1 hour and 10 minutes clapping your hands together to the chorus rather than actually typing. Which is why it took me so long to write my first book. If only I could write by clapping I’d have already written 5 bestsellers.

 

 What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve just finished putting the finishing touches to ‘Escapades in Bizarrchaeology: The Journals of Captain Max Virtus’ its a history book for people who don’t like history … yet.

The book is intended as a history book for people who are traditionally not interested in history. I’ve researched eras as diverse as Ancient Greece, World War 2, Pirates, and Rome, then gone through all the boring bits, got rid of them and hopefully what I’m left with are the parts of history that are weird, bizarre, fun, shocking, moving and most importantly of all; fascinating.

The book is written in first person under the pseudonym and in the character of Max Virtus. He’s a Captain of Bizarrchaeology, an ancient form of archaeology that focuses on unearthing the unusual and excavating the extraordinary. He’s been compiling all of his discoveries and placing them in a giant warehouse, creatively titled ‘The Warehouse of Bizarrchaeology’ and the book will take the reader on a tour of this fascinating place.

 The reader will discover why bats were used as bombs, how an emu can defeat a tank, the reason why guns were installed in cemeteries … and how you can get shot with an arrow … and survive. All that … and then things get really weird!
Thanks Adrian for taking part in this series. The book sounds fascinating. Good luck with your writing.

Christmas Giveaway from Crimepieces 🎁🎄❄️

Christmas is fast approaching which means it’s time for my annual Scandi crime giveaway. I’ve been reading lots of Nordic Noir in readiness for March’s judging session of the Petrona Award. I’ll also be moderating some great Scandi panels at the forthcoming Granite Noir in Aberdeen.

I have a selection of this year’s Petrona eligible books to give away this festive season. To enter, all you need to do is sign up to my newsletter by clicking on the snowy image of the books below. The newsletter is sent out quarterly so you won’t get bombarded with e-mails but it includes updates on the Petrona Award and other exclusive book news.

If you already receive my newsletter, simply share my Facebook post or retweet the post. The competition is open to everyone, regardless of where you are geographically. I’ll be selecting the winner at 7pm on Sunday 18th December.

Good luck!

** The competition is now closed. Congratulations to Andrew in Essex, UK**

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Review: Rachel Amphlett – Scared to Death

scared-to-death-cover-ebook-largeRachel Amphlett is the author of a series of espionage novels featuring her protagonist Dan Taylor. When I met her at Crimefest, the author told me she was working on a new detective series and Scared to Death is the result. The book opens with the kidnapping of a teenage girl and the desperate attempts by her parents to ensure her safety by paying the ransom demanded. Detective Kay Hunter of the Kent police is called in to deal with the ensuing tragedy and attempts to prevent the killer striking again.

As I follow Rachel on Twitter I can she see she writes in intense bursts and this is strongly reflected in the tone of writing and narrative structure. It makes for a thrilling read. Although I hadn’t read any of her previous books I think this series has great promise. I found myself drawn into the story despite finding the crimes quite grim (this isn’t a criticism!). You get passages with the killer’s point of view. I think they work with this kind of crime novel and it certainly made a creepy read even creepier.

scared-to-death-blog-tour3-12-18-decLike other great crime novels, she balances the rather gruesome crime story with glimpses of the personal life of her lead detective. Tension at work with her boss as the result of a previous case are set against her stable home life which is good to see with a female detective.

There’s plenty of mileage left with the character of Kay Hunter and hopefully Scared to Death is the start of a successful new crime series.