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,

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…