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!

Scandi Crime Fiction Round-Up

Reading continues apace for The Petrona Award which we’ll be awarding at Crimefest in May next year. The event in Bristol is one of my favourite crime fiction conferences and I always look forward to it. I see that they have a great Nordic line-up of authors and I’m particularly looking forward to meeting K O Dahl.

I’ve also booked for next years Bouchercon in the Toronto which is very exciting. I’ve been to Canada once before. It’s a beautiful country and I’ve long wanted to visit Toronto. So I’ll be combining crime fiction and sightseeing.

dying-detectiveLeif G W Persson won the Petrona Award in 2014 for Linda, As In The Linda Murder. His books are of consistently high quality and are complemented by Neil Smith’s excellent translations. The Dying Detective is possible my favourite to date. Retired Chief of the National Crime Police, Lars Martin Johansson suffers a stroke. While he is in hospital, his consultant confides that she believes her clergyman father may have been given a clue to the identity of a young girl’s murderer. Lars, from his bedside, rounds up former colleagues and family members to follow the trail of the cold case as his health deteriorates. Superbly plotted it has Persson’s characteristic grasp of the frailties of human nature. I don’t think there’s a writer like him.

9781785761973I’ve read a couple of books by Camilla Grebe which she wrote with her sister Asa Traff. The Ice Beneath Her is the first book as a solo author and is an interesting psychological thriller. Sales assistant Emma Bohman has been abruptly dropped by her wealthy lover, the boos of a famous clothing store. When a woman is found beheaded in his house, police search for the missing tycoon while the narrative rewinds two months and shows Emma’s increasing conviction that she is under threat. The split narrative, in terms of both voice and timeline works well and the readers is pulled in various directions before the final reveal. The translation was by Elizabeth Clark Wessel.

61zk7awsfdlLiza Marklund’s series featuring journalist Annika Bengtzon appears to come to an end with The Final Word. For me, it’s the end of an era; Marklund was one of the early Scandinavian writer’s I read and I’ve particularly loved the the drama of Annika’s private life. The Final Word is, like her other books, a good balance of investigation and personal story although there is a more wistful tone to the narrative. I hope it’s not the end for Annika as she’s one of my favourite Scandi characters. I’ll keep my fingers crossed. The translation was by Neil Smith.

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?

Review: Leif G W Persson – He Who Kills the Dragon

HWKtDragonAfter my rant about longer books I’m now unashamedly plugging one that runs to 400 pages. Earlier in the year I reviewed Linda, As in the Linda Murder featuring the wonderful creation, Evert Backstrom. Racist, sexist and work-shy, he is the policeman you don’t want on your team. Yet, in a pattern familiar with those of us who have worked in large organisations, he is shuffled around the Stockholm police and given glowing references by those desperate to get rid of him.

In He Who Kills the Dragon, Backstrom is initially in disgrace, languishing in the property-tracing department and his service weapon removed. However, Anna Holt, the new head of the Western District is asked to have Backstrom as a superintendent in her team to assuage the concerns of the police union who have taken up his grievances. His first case in the new team is to solve the murder of an alcoholic found dead in his flat by a delivery boy who subsequently disappears. Backstrom approaches the case with his usual attitude, a mixture of gung-ho optimism and sly manoeuvring, and astounds his bosses by occasionally hitting the mark. It is only when he is in danger of becoming a national hero do they feel compelled to act.

Given that I found one of Persson’s earlier books, Another Time, Another Life, so difficult to get through I was convinced that Linda, As in the Linda Murder was a one-off delight. However, He Who Kills the Dragon, is perhaps an even better book and it is certainly funnier. Backstrom is the same as ever, except he now has a world weariness about the state of the Swedish police and, in particular, the sexual proclivities of some of his colleagues. I found Backstrom in this book to be a more complex character and his motives are often difficult to discern. He surprises his bosses by his reticence in front of the national press and seems genuinely shocked by the corruption of one of his colleagues. The book must have been a delight to write with such an engaging anti-hero and I’m already looking forward to the next Backstrom instalment.

Thanks to Transworld for my copy. The translation, excellent as ever, was by Neil Smith.

The Best of March’s Reading

March photoWe all know March isn’t really spring but in the north of England we were surprised and dismayed by the poor weather this month. We got early crocus flowers, then drifting snow and we’re heading into April with cold temperatures.

I’ve been luckier with my reading, however. Lots of books by old favourites were published this month including offerings from Fred Vargas, Jonathan Kellerman and Shona (now S G) MacLean. I don’t think there was a dud amongst them but my hands-down favourite was by Leif G W Persson. Linda, As in the Linda Murder was unusual and funny and must have been a guilty joy to translate from its original Swedish.

The eight books I read for crimepieces were:

1. Linda, As in the Linda Murder by Leif G W Persson

2. The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas

3. The Locked Room by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

4. Guilt by Jonathan Kellerman

5. The Healer by Antti Tuomainen

6. The Devil’s Recruit by S G MacLean

7. The Andalucian Friend by Alexander Soderberg

8. Dandy Gilver and a Bothersome Number of Corpses by Catriona McPherson

I also reviewed Johan Theorin’s Asylum for Eurocrime.  Do head over there and have a look what I thought of it.

Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise is putting together a list of reviewers’ favourite books for March.

The Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year

I’m delighted to be one of the judges for the 2014 Petrona Award for Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year. The award will celebrate the work of Maxine Clarke, one of the first online crime fiction reviewers, who died in December.

The press release can be found here: http://eurocrime.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/the-petrona-award-for-scandinavian.html

Scandinavian crime fiction is experiencing a boom both here in the UK and abroad and there are a vast range of translated titles to choose from. There’s some exciting reading ahead.

The 2013 shortlist, which is based on Maxine’s reviews and ratings, has some great books on it too. They are:

PIERCED by Thomas Enger, tr. Charlotte Barslund (Faber and Faber)
BLACK SKIES by Arnaldur Indridason, tr. Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker)
LAST WILL by Liza Marklund, tr. Neil Smith (Corgi)
ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER LIFE by Leif GW Persson tr. Paul Norlen (Doubleday)
another time another life
Pierced
LWillBlack Skies
Who would you most like to win out of these?

Review: Leif G W Persson – Linda, As in the Linda Murder

LindaWith an intriguing title, the meaning of which only comes apparent towards the end of the book, Linda, As in the Linda Murder is an unusual read from the outset. Persson has had two previous titles translated into English  but in this latest book, Evert Bäckström, a subsidiary but unforgettable character from Another Time, Another Life is elevated to central protagonist.

Linda is a trainee at the Vaxjo Police Academy who is found raped and murdered in her mother’s flat after returning from a nightclub. Evert Bäckström is sent from Stockholm to head up the investigation, an odd choice given that  Bäckström’s work ethic involves him avoiding as much mental and physical effort as possible. Given Linda’s occupation there are a number of serving and trainee police officers who are potential suspects. As the team sift through the evidence, and try to understand why a wary young woman might have voluntarily let a murderer into the apartment, Bäckström does his best to take credit for the successes and distance himself from any real work.

Linda, As in the Linda Murder is a difficult book to review as its merits all revolve around the most obnoxious of characters, the force of nature that is Evert Bäckström. To try to do him justice in a review is difficult as he is both compelling and abhorrent. Sexist, racist, homophobic, facetious, work-shy, dismissive of his team – these are all the characteristics that should make him a repulsive read. But here’s the rub. He is very very funny. I read some of the scenes with a smirk on my face when really I should have been appalled. It is a compelling mix of Persson’s excellent characterisation and Neil Smith’s spot-on translation that you start laughing at Bäckström’s thoughts and actions and then immediately feel guilty.

We get glimpses of other members of the team who will be familiar from earlier books, including Anna Holt and Lars Martin Johansson, but really it is the passages featuring Bäckström that are the most interesting. There is an almost haphazard logic to some of Bäckström’s actions and his cop’s instincts serve him correctly on a number of occasions.

The murder investigation itself is slow paced, reminding me a little of the books of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö where the painstaking police work (not by Bäckström obviously) in the heat of the summer eventually yields results. It was interesting to read of an investigation set in a part of Sweden I know nothing about. Vaxjo in the Smaland region came across as both picturesque and provincial.

I suspect that this is a novel that people will either like or loathe depending on their ability to stomach the central character. It was an unusual read, it could have done with being a little shorter in my opinion but I’m definitely up for more of Evert Bäckström.

Thanks to Transworld for the copy of my book which has also been reviewed at Eurocrime.