Crime Fiction Round-Up

November is proving to be an interesting month for crime fiction and it would be a shame not share some of the events with readers of this blog. Sometimes, living in Derbyshire, it feels like all the interesting things take place in other parts of the country, particularly London. However, if you keep your eyes open and take advantage of the internet, you discover plenty of interest.

James Ellroy

The the self-styled demon dog of American crime fiction came to The Dancehouse,Perfidia-by-James-Ellroy Manchester in early November. The event was organised by Waterstones on Deansgate and was very well attended. For my money I would have preferred a more structured interview. It was left to Ellroy to read from his latest book, Perfidia, and then field questions from a very knowledgable audience. Manchester has plenty of fine journalists more than capable of facilitating a more structured event and I think we might have got some greater insights from Ellroy from more in-depth probing. He was, however, great to see and we were treated at the end to his recital of Dylan Thomas’s ‘In my Craft or Gentle Art’.

The Murder Squad.

The Murder SquadLast week, six of the best northern crime writers gathered at Linghams bookshop in Heswall for an evening of crime fiction talk. Cath Staincliffe, Ann Cleeves, Margaret Murphy, Martin Edwards, Kate Ellis and Chris Simms talked about their books and characters in an event of interest to both readers and writers of the genre. Again the evening had a fantastic turnout and is evidence of what a vibrant local bookshop can do to promote writers. The passion that these authors still have for their books is an inspiration and I particularly liked the discussion on which character from another author they’d most like to write about. A white haired old lady from St Mary Mead was a popular choice. Thanks to Dave Mack (via Margaret Murphy) for the photo.

Serial

Those on Twitter will notice the amount of chat taking place about a podcast coming out from the States. Serial is a week by week investigation into the culpability of Adnan Syed who was convicted of murdering, in 1999, his girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, in Baltimore, US. I’m not a huge fan of real life crime and certainly tend to avoid reading about it. But these podcasts are excellent and compulsive listening. The host, Sarah Koenig, has an impressive grasp of the minutiae of the case but it is the human element of the broadcasts that make them so fascinating. She oscillates between trusting and disbelieving Adnan’s innocence and we, as listeners, are right there with her. I don’t normally review books until I have finished them but for Serial, it is the real time unfolding of the drama that is one of its attractions. Highly recommended.

Iceland Noir

Next Thursday, Iceland Noir begins. I’ll give a full update in my return as there is a intensive programme ofIcelandnoirlogoSm events and panels. Those who want to follow the event can see live tweeting from @NordicNoirBuzz with the #IcelandNoir hashtag. Last year’s conference was a huge success and it’s fast becoming a ‘must attend’ event for readers, writers and fans of Scandinavian crime fiction. Watch this space.

While I’m in Iceland I’m hoping to catch up on my backlog of reading. If you’ve sent me a book for review, I will get there, I promise. I hope you’re all having a good reading month.

 

 

Iceland Noir #3

A final update on the crime fiction event that took place in Iceland last weekend.

Ann Cleeves

Ann Cleeves gave an interesting account of how her writing career had developed. What came across strongly was Ann’s love of storytelling and how success had come after many years of developing her craft. She revealed that she is hoping to arrange her own Shetland Noir event in the future which I’m sure will garner significant interest amongst crime fiction fans.

A panel on the future of publishing featured Penguin author James Oswald whose books were originally self- published, Quentin Bates and Icelandic writers Sigurjón Pálsson, Sólveig Pálsdóttir. Moderated by Zoe Sharp, the panel discussed the success of self published authors such as Oswald who have been successful in securing contracts with larger publishers. Oswald revealed that temporarily reducing the price of his books resulted in 50,000 people downloading his debut novel.

A fascinating interview with John Curran discussed the work that he had undertaken to edit Agatha Christie’s notebooks. John CurranDespite the deceptive simplicity of her writing, Christie planned her novels in great detail: Three Little Pigs, for example, had around 75 pages of notes. It sounded a gargantuan task that Curran had undertaken given Christie’s slightly chaotic way of thinking. Plot notes, for example, were followed by recipes and shopping lists. Curran revealed that Sophie Hannah’s new Poirot story won’t feature Miss Lemon or Inspector Japp.

Arnaldur Indridason

Finally, a panel entitled The Perils of Translation featured Anna Yates who translates from Icelandic into English and Tina Flecken who translates from Icelandic into German. Both have translated Arnaldur Indridason’s books who was also on the panel. He emphasised the influence of Icelandic sagas on his writing, with their emphasis on telling the story and moving on with the plot.

So that’s the last word on Iceland Noir 2013. Many of us there are already rubbing our hands at the thought of 2014’s event. I hope to see many more writers, reviewers and readers there next year. It really was a blast. Thanks again to Markús Már Efraím for the photographs.

Iceland Noir #1

IMG_0828Reykjavik is currently hosting its first festival of crime fiction, Iceland Noir, an idea conceived by the Icelandic brach of the Crime Writers Association at their inaugural meeting in June during Crimefest. To have pulled together an event of this scale in such a short period of time has been a huge achievement and the event had a great start yesterday with the opening session featuring Norweigian writer Jorn Lier Jorst.

Regular readers of this blog will know I’m a fan of Horst’s writing and my only regret is that his books have been translated from mid-series onwards so we’re missing a huge amount of backstory in relation to his main protagonist, William Wisting. Yeserday, the writer was interviewed by his Icelandic translator, Sigurdur Helgason, who questioned him about both his crime IMG_0833fiction and children’s books. Like other crime writers I’ve seen interviewed, he cites the influence of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö on his work and had originally intended to write ten books in his own series. However, having just written his ninth book, he now intends to continue with William Wisting. Until a few months ago, Horst was a serving police investigator and the in-depth knowledge he has accumulated over the course of his career was touched upon. According to the writer, he has seen an increase in both violent and organised crime with less people employed to investigate cases.

What I thought fascinating was that despite his police background, Horst cited his love of crime fiction as one of the reasons he started writing in the genre. It’d always a relief to hear a writer say he loves to read crime novels and interestingly, like me, he came to the genre via the books of Enid Blyton and those featuring Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.

In the evening, I attended a reading featuring writers Quentin Bates, Ann Cleeves and Jorn Lier Horst, along with other IMG_0838Icelandic authors such as Ragnar Jonasson who are yet to be translated into English. It was an enjoyable event and it was wonderful to hear the rhythm of readings in a language I can’t understand. Special mention goes to Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson who I met earlier in the day. I read and reviewed his excellent Flatey Enigma last year on the recommendation of  the late Maxine Clarke at Petrona. Meeting him has reminded me that I need to catch up with the rest of the series. Good to catch up too with fellow blogger Sue G from Novel Heights and her husband Jim.

Thanks to everyone for all their hard work in making Day 1 such as success.

Iceland Noir

Poster Iceland NoirThere are a raft of crime fiction events that take place around the UK and we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to deciding what to attend. However, I often cast envious eyes towards other crime writing events around the world, especially Bouchercon in the US and The Body in the Garden in Australia as they often include writers who don’t make it over here. For once, I’ve found it impossible to resist an event: Iceland Noir which is taking place in Reykjavik between the 21st and 24th November.

The king of Icelandic crime fiction is, of course, Arnaldur Indridason and he is the special guest of honour at the festival. Also appearing are some of the best of Iceland’s writers including Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Ragnar Jonasson and Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson. All of these authors have had their novels reviewed on this blog with the exception of Ragnar Jonasson whose books are yet to be translated into English. I was lucky enough to read the first six chapters of his novel ‘Snowblind’ which is currently only available in Icelandic or German. Fingers crossed that he gets a British publisher soon.

Other writers attending the event include Ann Cleeves, Jorn Lier Horst and Willian Ryan. The full itinerary can be found here. There are limited places available so if you’re tempted now’s the time to book. I have already booked mine. It promises to be a special event.

Review: Ann Cleeves – The Glass Room

The books by Ann Cleeves featuring the Northumberland detective Vera Stanhope are a favourite of mine, with their evocative settings and the marvellously ‘lardy’ female protagonist. I’ve recently started to read her Shetland series which I am enjoying but the temptation of a new Vera book was impossible to resist.

The Glass Room features a group of aspiring and established writers who are gathered at ‘The Writer’s House’ a country retreat offering residential courses. Vera has been asked by Jack, her hippie neighbour to find his missing girlfriend Joanna, and Vera soon tracks her down to the retreat. However, when Vera arrives at the house she finds a dead body in the glass room and Joanna identified as the prime suspect. To investigate the killing, Vera begins to unpick the backgrounds of both the writers and students, in addition to the strange mother and son who run the retreat. Soon hidden pasts are revealed and former relationships emerge.

This is the first book featuring Vera Stanhope that I’ve read since the television series aired. I thought Brenda Blethyn was excellent as Vera although she was different to how I had envisaged the character. It was interesting that as I read The Glass Room, I could hear the voice of Bethyn as Vera. I’m not sure if this is just me or whether the actor’s interpretation of the character has influenced Cleeves writing.

I thought setting the book on a writers’ retreat was a good plot device. Buried amongst the murder investigation were some interesting details about how books are plotted and then written, and also about the publishing industry. Most of this was done through the character of Nina, a writer with a small local publisher who is inspired to write a crime story in the midst of the mayhem. It was nice to hear Nina’s voice throughout the book and she provided a contrast to the more strident tones of Vera.

The setting reminded me slightly of The Crow Trap and I enjoyed reading a book with a fairly narrow list of suspects where the crime is first discovered, then investigated and finally explained in a tightly plotted way. In this sense it reminded me of some of the Agatha Christie plots, particularly those featuring Hercule Poirot.

As usual I enjoyed the characterisation and it was nice to see the long suffering sidekick of Vera, Joe Ashworth get a meatier role. It was, as I would expect from Ann Cleeves, an enjoyable read.

The Glass Room has been reviewed by Eurocrime, Books and Writers and at crimesquad.com. Interestingly all three reviews pick up the Agatha Christie plotting style.

SinC25: Åsa Larsson – Until Thy Wrath be Past

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)