Holiday Reading

I was hoping to publish this post in time for the 6th January, marking Epiphany by summarising four books I read over the holiday period. These are in addition to the Scandi novels which were the topic of my previous post. However life intervened so, a day late, here are some of my recommendations if you’re looking for a good read.

The Birdwatcher was rightly acclaimed on its publication in 2016 and I’m sorry it took me so long to read it (the curse of the TBR pile). Sergeant William South is a birdwatcher and policeman who avoids murder cases. However, when a fellow bird enthusiast is killed, his attempts to assist in the investigation reveal murderous secrets in the Kent landscape. I loved the mix of strong setting and unusual plot. No-one  is quite who they seem and South’s back story adds poignancy to the plot. It has an interesting ending (no spoilers) and the lead detective DS Alexandra Cupidi has her own series in Salt Lane coming this year. I also read this over Christmas and it’s a little early to review yet, but I promise you it’s a good one. For those who hadn’t read William Shaw before, he really is an excellent writer.

Readers of this blog will know that Fred Vargas is one of my favourite writers but I’ve been a little disappointed in her most recent books. The Accordionist features her three evangelist characters who play less of a role than in previous books in this series. At the centre is an accordionist, Clement, sought by police for a number of murders. Ex-special investigator, Louis Kehlweiler is asked to help prove Clement’s innocence but isn’t helped by the accused’s learning disabilities and dark secrets in his past. It was an easy story written in Vargas’s trademark style and full of Parisian menace.

Fatal Evidence is a biography of Professor Alfred Swaine Taylor, a surgeon and chemist at Guy’s Hospital who was a pioneer of forensic techniques in the nineteenth century. The book describes many of fascinating cases that Taylor investigated and the level of detail that Barrell gives us never threatens to overwhelm the portrayal of a complex individual. It’s a fascinating period. Poison was easily accessible and, until Taylor’s forensic work, its presence difficult to prove post-mortem. Poison is unfairly considered a woman’s weapon. As Fatal Evidence shows, all sections of society were using it: fathers, lovers, spouses, children, professionals. Barrell also describes the influence of Taylor on a succession of crime writers, from Dickens to Sayers. It’s  fascinating read and, if you read one non-fiction book this year, Fatal Evidence should be it.

That’s it. Happy new year agin to everyone and look out for some posts on more of my nordic noir reading and also books I’ve been devouring in advance of Granite Noir, Aberdeen’s festive of crime fiction coming in February,

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!

Four translated crime novels: Fred Vargas, Steinar Bragi, Yrsa Sigurdardottir and Agnes Ravatn

With the launch of A Deadly Thaw, I’m falling a little behind with my reviews and I’ve read some great books recently. So for my next few reviews, I’ll cluster the books into groups  – translated crime novels, British crime fiction and some more ghostly tales.

51dWXz1LAoL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_First up, is A Climate of Fear by one of my favourite crime writers, Fred Vargas. I absolutely love her detective Adamsberg and also the way in which Vargas looks at the world. I find her output variable but still always look forward to her latest offering. A Climate of Fear  is set both in France and Iceland and, if not her best, it’s an excellent read and a well-plotted mystery. There’s less emphasis on Adamsberg’s personal life and more on the series of gruesome murders centred around a modern day cult devoted to Robespierre. In both style and subject matter this is classic Vargas. The translation is by Sian Reynolds.

41wQKF6SYYL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_On contrast to Vargas, Steinar Bragi is a completely new writer to me. The Ice Lands isn’t out until the 20th October but I was sent a very early review copy in July. Set in the wilds of Iceland, it narrates the disorientation of four friends on a camping trip whose car breaks down and who are forced to seek shelter in a nearby farmhouse. Butchered animals, shadows seen at night and merciless weather combine to make a dark horror-style read. Perfect for fans of Stephen King. The translation is by Lorenza Garcia.

9781473605053Yrsa Sigurdardottir is a consistently good writer whose books have a tinge of the supernatural about them. Why Did You Lie has three storylines, revolving around punishment for a lie that different characters have committed in the past. A journalist investigating an old case attempts suicide, a couple returning from a house swap discover that their guests are missing and four strangers are trapped on windswept rocks. You can’t go wrong in Yrsa’s hands and it’s a compelling tale.The translation is by Victoria Cribb.

9781910633359The Bird Tribunal by Agnes Ravatn is set on an isolated fjord where a former TV person presenter, Allis, seeks refuge with a recently widowed man. Isolated from other villagers the book explores the dynamic of the relationship as secrets are gradually revealed. The writing reminds me of that of Karen Fossum and it’s a joy to read. The translation is by Rosie Hedger.

Review: OxCrimes

I like short stories. I remember reading a lot of them when I was a teenager, although those with a crime theme were less popular Oxcrimes-Bookthen. More recently there have been a number of good anthologies containing stories from across the crime fiction genre. In particular, I always enjoy Otto Penzler’s annual anthology of The Best American Mystery Stories. Last week, Oxfam published its own compilation containing 27 stories from an impressive list of crime writers. OxCrimes authors include Ian Rankin, Neil Gaiman, Anne Zouroudi, Ann Cleves and Peter Robinson.

There are a couple of stories in particular I’d like to recommend. I’ve read very little by Christopher Fowler but I loved his story, The Caterpillar Flag. Set in Spain, it has a brooding feel and relates a tragedy seen through innocent eyes. Another story set in Europe is Reflections in Unna by Louise Welsh. It’s an overtly menacing tale with a strong sense of impending doom and written in her trademark compelling style. Finally, OxCrimes features one of my favourite crime writers, Fred Vargas. Her story, Five Francs Each, has Commissaire Adamsberg trying to persuade a down-at-heel street seller to give up the identity of a murderer.

There are many more readable stories and it is a tribute to the excellent work that Oxfam undertakes that it has managed to get so many high quality crime writers to contribute to it.

My anthology was from Oxfam bookshop in Ashbourne, Derbyshire. Run by Lynsey and the team, I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you’re in Derbyshire you should definitely pay it a visit.

With previous books ‘OxTravels’ and ‘OxTales’ having raised over a quarter of a million pounds since their 2009 publication, Oxfam is hoping ‘OxCrimes’ will raise even more, helping to tackle poverty and suffering around the world. Visit Oxfam’s emergency Response pages to find out more about how you can help.

The Best of April’s Reading

April was a quiet reading month but May promises to be much busier with Crimefest taking place in two weeks time. It’s always a IMG_1012great opportunity to catch up with writers, reviewers, bloggers and readers and there will be plenty of updates on this blog.

My book of the month for April is a surprise. I was looking forward to reading Fred Vargas’s Dog Will Have His Day but, while I found it an enjoyable read, it wasn’t one of her best. Instead, a book by an’new to me’ writer, Massimo Carlotto, was by far my favourite read this month. At the End of a Dull Day has sly humour and dark violence in equal measure and it was good to be taken out of my comfort zone.

The four books I read for Crimepieces were:

The Outcast Dead by Elly Griffiths

At the End of a Dull Day by Massimo Carlotto

The Ghost Runner by Parker Bilal

Dog Will Have His Day by Fred Vargas

 

Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise is bringing together other bloggers’ recommendations from their April reading. Do head over there to see what everyone else has been reading.

 

 

Fred Vargas – Dog Will Have His Day

w489405-2Readers of this blog will know that Fred Vargas is one of my favourite writers and I always look forward to new translations of her books. Her latest to be published in the UK doesn’t feature Vargas’s wonderful detective, Adamsberg, but rather one the ‘three evangelists’ who appeared in an earlier novel of the same title.

The principal narrator in Dog Will Have His Day is Marc, or St Mark as he is referred to by his housemates. He is helping a former special investigator, Louis Kehlweiler, put his records in order. When Louis discovers the fragment of a bone in a local park, he persuades Marc to help him keep watch on regular dog walkers in the area. Convinced that a murder has taken place, Louis and then Marc decamp to Port-Nicolas in Brittany and shake up the local population in their hunt for the killer.

All of Vargas’s books are characterised by her sly humour and slanted view of the world. Dog Will Have His Day is no exception and the highlight of the book is a typewriter in Port-Nicolas that churns out ‘advice’ to those who ask it questions. There is also the ever watchful presence of Louis’s pet toad and a cast of colourful characters including Marthe, the former prostitute who knows everything about men.

The murder plot itself is quite slight. We’ve become used to getting lengthy books from Vargas and this one seemed less substantial than her earlier novels. Originally written in 1996, the absence of modern technology also slightly dates the book although, to be fair, there is a timelessness about Vargas’s writing anyway.

The novel reminded me how much I enjoyed The Three Evangelists and it is always good to read a Vargas book. While not her best, it was still enjoyable although it would have been nice to see more of the other two ‘evangelists’ in the narrative.

Thanks to Harvill Secker for my review copy. The translation was by Sian Reynolds.

 

My Top Five Crime Reads of 2013

It’s that time again when we reflect on what we’ve read over the past year. I’ve been looking at some other bloggers’ lists and it’s impressive how much diversity there is in the recommendations. Crime fiction is clearly still a vibrant force with plenty for everyone.

That said, my overriding feeling is that, with a few notable exceptions, out of the 74 books that I reviewed on crime pieces, it wasn’t as successful a reading year as my previous one. There are a lot of good crime novels out there and these are a pleasure to read. But occasionally you want to read something that blows you away. It’s this feeling that makes us passionate about books and reading in general and we all need to be wowed sometimes. So, below are the exceptions. Five books that I would unhesitatingly recommend to anyone. If you didn’t like them then that’s fair enough. I loved them all.

5. Leif G W Persson – Linda, As in the Linda Murder

Linda

This is a book with a great title whose meaning only becomes clear on the final pages. I’d struggled through Persson’s previous book, Another Time, Another Life so I was surprised how much I loved this one. Part of the credit is due to Neil Smith’s excellent translation. I suspect you either love or hate the tone of this tongue-in-cheek look at a misogynist cop.

4. Mark Oldfield – The Sentinel

TSentinel

Another memorable protagonist has been created in the form of Commandante Guzman, an amoral and brutal member of Franco’s secret police. I preferred the 1950s narrative to the present day parallel story but the book was a memorable read for me and I’m already looking forward to the next installment.

3. Fred Vargas – The Ghost Riders of Ordebec

Ghost Riders

I’m huge Vargas fan and new translations of her books are a must-read for me. She’s another writer whose books divide readers; her slightly off-beat view of the world isn’t for everyone. But, in my opinion, her cast of characters are unrivalled in their eccentricities. The Ghost Riders.. is particularly good as it delves once more into France profonde.

2.  Terry Hayes – I Am Pilgrim

I am pilgrim

Anyone who read my review of this book can’t have helped noticing how enthusiastic I was about it. It helped that it was a spy novel: Le Carre is one of my favourite writers and this is one of the best modern spy stories that I’ve read. It’s a long book, around 700 pages, which may put some readers off which is a shame because once you get into the narrative it’s completely addictive.

1. Leif G W Persson – He Who Kills the Dragon

HWKtDragon

Ok, this is my second inclusion of a Backstrom book but I can’t help the fact that two great novels from the same author were published this year. This is as good a book as Linda…, and also funnier. I do look at other bloggers’ reviews of this book and I find Backstrom fans in the unlikeliest quarters.

So those are my top five recommendation of this year. What books were your outstanding reads?