My Top Reads of 2015

It’s been quite a year for me as my own debut novel was published in July. Its meant that I’ve had to carve out dedicated time and space for reading books that might otherwise have become lost in my gargantuan TBR pile. Bloggers have been publishing their ‘best of’ lists all December and I’ve enjoyed reading them to see how our thoughts compare. And In Bitter Chill has been lucky enough to feature on some of the choices. However, now is my turn and, although I tried to keep it to five as in previous years, I cheated and made it six top choices for 2015.

233570921. The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

Here’s a book that’s featured on a number of  highlights of 2015 and rightly so. There’s a Hitchcockian devilry in the plot’s construction and the book’s premise – two people who meet on a plane and hatch a murder plot – has lots of scope for mishap and criminality. A book I read in one sitting it was so good.

2. Satellite People by Han Olav Lahlumsatellite-people-978023076953301

We were treated to two books by Lahlum this year and I slightly preferred the plot of Satellite People. A clear homage to Agatha Christie (he dedicates the book to her), for us fans of the queen of crime it was enjoyable to spot the references to her books. But an enjoyable read in its own right too.

237030503. The Abrupt Physics of Dying by Paul Hardisty

An intriguing title that seemed to unsettle my fellow passenger on the plane to the States. But it is a great book that demonstrates how thrillers can be both well written and engrossing. Hardisty is a writer with a promising future ahead of him.

4. Sleeping Dogs by Thomas Mogford.sleepingdogs

Mogford made it into my top reads of 2014 and he’s done it again this year. His book featuring Gibraltar detective Spike Sanguinetti is written to a consistently high quality and Sleeping Dogs was set in a country I know well, Greece.

51KZmDXMg9L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_5. The Undesired by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Yrsa won the Petrona Award for translated Scandinavian crime fiction for her previous book, Silence of the Sea. The Undesired is a standalone thriller that managed to chill me to the denouement. Her endings, without giving any spoilers, can be brutal and she never flinches from exposing the worst of the human psyche.

6. Untouchable by Ava MarshUntouchable

A great debut by another writer who shows plenty of promise. Untouchable is the story of a London call girl who takes on the investigation of one of her fellow workers. A tightly written story that I’ve been telling all my friends to read.

So those are my highlights of 2015. I’ve got plenty to read over Christmas and New Year and I’m looking forward to bringing you more reviews in 2016. And if you want to find out which of these books was my outright favourite, sign up for my newsletter with the button on the right. All will be revealed next week.

Scandi Crime Fiction Round-Up

I’ve been on a big reading binge recently mainly due to long distance travel to Bouchercon, the US crime fiction convention. I’m going to do a series of round-ups of the next week or so as I have read some excellent books that I want to share with you.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m one of the judges for the Petrona Award for translated Scandinavian crime fiction. It’s usually around this time of year that I start to increase my Nordic Noir consumption to make sure I get my reading done in time for the judging in March.

51KZmDXMg9L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s The Undesired is a standalone novel that looks at the historic abuse in a juvenile detention centre. A single father, Odinn is in charge of the investigation following the unexplained death of a colleague. He finds a disturbing link to an accident that killed his former wife and is forced to look behind the official files to discover the reason for the children’s deaths. Yrsa is a master of ramping up the tension in her books and here is no exception. I particularly liked the claustrophobic nature of the setting and the gradual revealing of the horror at the heart of the killings.

Stallo by Stefan Spjut is a fantastical tale that chronicles the abduction of children my stallomysterious creatures. Susso runs a website dedicated to sightings of these beings and when she receives news of a creature that has been spotted outside an old woman’s house she installs a camera to see if she can finally confirm their existence. The book is a meaty tale that will delight fans of writers such as Justin Cronin. It’s a mixture of crime  and fantasy and I thought the translation to be excellent.

defenceless200Kati Hiekkapelto’s The Hummingbird was shortlisted for last year’s Petrona Award. Her follow-up The Defenceless is also a powerful read tackling illegal immigration and the role of gang members in exacerbating the desperation of migrant workers. Hiekkapelto is unflinching in her chilling descriptions and, once more, it is her police investigator protagonist, Anna Fekete, who dominates the narrative.

Thanks to Hodder, Faber and Orenda Books for my review copies.

 

Iceland Noir 2014 Round-Up

My last post gave an overview of the panels from the first full day of Iceland Noir. As I didn’t manage to make all of the discussions on Saturday I thought I’d use this post to round up the highlights of the rest of the event.

1959521_10152439616361625_7891572099963381108_nOne panel that I did manage to make was my own at 9am. Moderated by Quentin Bates it also featured debut authors David Swatling, originally from the US and now living in Amsterdam and Icelander, Sverrir Berg Steinarsson. We started off by reading extracts from our prose and then talking about how our books came into being. An interesting motif was that all three of us used personal experiences in our past to shape the course of our narratives. ‘What if this had happened to us?’, I suspect, is a common approach used by new writers but I wonder the extent to which it is jettisoned in later books. It was wonderful to appear on a panel in a capacity as an author and thanks to everyone who got up at the crack of dawn to make the event. I really appreciate everyone’s support.

The rest of the day’s panels that I attended were excellent and I particularly enjoyed Making it spooky – supernatural in crime fiction. I’m a big fan of ghost stores and the panelists James Oswald, Johan Theorin, Michael Sears and Alexandra Sokoloff did a good job of making their books sound suitably creepy. I hope to catch up reading all of these novelists soon.

For lunch, some of us fans of the Icelandic TV series The Night Shift were given a treat when its director, 10372141_10152440305741625_7631086047442752839_nRagnar Bragason, joined us for lunch along with actress and writer Sólveig Pálsdóttir who appears in series two. It was wonderful to meet the creator of such an excellent TV series and he was later interviewed by Andy Lawrence whose write-up of the discussion will shortly appear on his website, Euro But Not Trash. The series is set in a petrol station on the outskirts of Reykjavik and some of us fans later managed a trip to the location in an homage to the series.

icepicksmallSaturday evening involved dinner at the excellent Iðnó restaurant. The IcePick Award was given to The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker for the best crime novel translated into Icelandic. The book has divided critics. I enjoyed it and think it must have been a difficult choice to make in a very strong shortlist. More details of the award can be found at Mrs Peabody Investigates.

On Sunday, a group of us took a coach with Yrsa Sigurðardóttir to locations featuDSC_4280red in her novels, in particular, My Soul to Take. It was a fascinating day, good to get out of Reykjavik and we paid an unexpected visit to a lava tube cave. The picture to the right contains lots of well-known writers. See if you can spot anyone.

So, the end of an excellent event. Thanks to Quentin Bates, Ragnar Jónasson, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Lilja Sigurðardóttir for all their had work to make it such a successful event. Next year will be Shetland Noir, followed by a return to Iceland in 2016. I can hardly wait.

 

The 2014 Petrona Award for the Best of Scandinavian Crime Fiction – Shortlist

The shortlist for the 2014 award is as follows:petronaaward2

CLOSED FOR WINTER by Jørn Lier Horst tr. Anne Bruce (Sandstone Press)

STRANGE SHORES by Arnaldur Indriðason tr. Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker)

THE WEEPING GIRL by Håkan Nesser tr. Laurie Thompson (Mantle)

LINDA, AS IN THE LINDA MURDER by Leif G W Persson tr. Neil Smith (Doubleday)

SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir tr. Philip Roughton (Hodder & Stoughton)

LIGHT IN A DARK HOUSE by Jan Costin Wagner tr. Anthea Bell (Harvill Secker)

There were a number of strong contenders for the 2014 award and deciding on with the shortlist provoked plenty of lively debate amongst us judges. The winner will be announced in Crimefest in May. More details of the award can be found at the Petrona Award website.

The judges’ comments on the shortlist are as follows:

CLOSED FOR WINTER: This highly atmospheric novel sees Chief Inspector Wisting investigate an off-season burglary and a disturbing case of murder on the Norwegian coast of Vestfold. As ever, author Jørn Lier Horst’s police background lends the novel a striking authenticity, with readers treated to the outstanding plotting and characterisation that typify this quality series.

 

STRANGE SHORES: Drawn back to his childhood home by the unresolved disappearance of his brother, Inspector Erlendur takes on the most personal and difficult case of his career. Exploring the series’ enduring themes of loss and the impact of Iceland’s twentieth-century social transformation, this remarkable valedictory novel is one of the finest by a truly incisive writer, the undisputed king of Icelandic crime fiction.

 

THE WEEPING GIRL: While supposedly on holiday, Detective Inspector Ewa Moreno is pulled into the case of a missing teenage girl and the much earlier murder of a woman. This quietly compelling novel from Swedish author Håkan Nesser, with its distinctive European feel, is full of the assurance readers have come to expect from the Van Veeteren series. There is not a single misstep as the grim implications of the narrative are teased out.

 

LINDA, AS IN THE LINDA MURDER:  Leif G W Persson’s sprawling, state-of-the-nation novels make deft use of crime fiction conventions to expose the faultlines of Swedish society. This more closely focused novel is a brilliant exploration of a young woman’s murder, press sensationalism, and the inner workings of a police investigation, with readers introduced to the blackly humorous and truly unforgettable police detective Evert Bäckström for the first time.

 

SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME: When a young man with Down’s Syndrome is convicted of arson and murder, lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir is hired by one of his fellow inmates to investigate a possible miscarriage of justice. This ambitious Icelandic crime novel, which skilfully weaves multiple narrative strands together with elements of the supernatural, is another gripping and highly entertaining read from author Yrsa Sigurðardóttir.

 

LIGHT IN A DARK HOUSE: Still mourning the loss of his wife, Finnish detective Kimmo Joentaa is called to investigate the strange murder of a comatose woman in hospital. German author Jan Costin Wagner delivers another wonderfully written and tightly constructed instalment in the Joentaa series, notable for its moving portrayal of a grief-stricken policeman and its in-depth exploration of victim and perpetrator psychology.

The Best of July’s Reading

CalverFor crime fiction readers and writers the month of July is dominated by the Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. The weather was perfect and I had a wonderful time catching up with old and new friends. A summary of the days can be found here and here.

My reading slowed down a little because of work commitments but at least there wasn’t a bad book amongst the ones that I did read. I’m trying to alternate between Scandinavian crime fiction for the Petrona Award and everything else I want to read. My book of the month is one of the submissions for the Petrona. Cold Courage by Pekka Hiltunen was an unusual and creepy read and it was fascinating to read about London through the eyes of an expat.

The five books I read for crimepieces were:

1.  Scafell by Matthew Pink

2. Someone to Watch over Me by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

3. Redemption by Jussi Adler-Olsen

4. Cold Courage by Pekka Hiltunen

5. The Innocence Game by Michael Harvey

To view the pick of the month from other crime fiction readers, head over to Mysteries in Paradise which has a useful round up reviewers choices.

Review: Yrsa Sigurðardóttir – Someone to Watch Over Me

Yrsa Sigurðardóttir is one of my ‘must read’ writers. Her series featuring lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir has been consistently strong YSwith solid plots that provide a clear-eyed view of modern Iceland. The last book I reviewed was a departure for Yrsa. I Remember You was a supernatural thriller that, while enjoyable, didn’t feel quite as innovative as her crime books. However her latest offering, Someone to Watch Over Me, is a return to form and another Scandinavian book that deals with the devastating effect of fire.

Jakob, a young man with Down’s syndrome is convicted of starting a fire that burned down his care home, killing five people. He is sent to a psychiatric unit where one of his fellow inmates is convinced of his innocence. However, Josteinn is psychopath who repulses those he comes into contact with. Thora is reluctant to take on the case but soon becomes convinced that a cover-up has taken place and that the murderer is still at large. However, a key witness is suffering from locked-in syndrome and struggles to communicate the true version of events of the fateful fire.

Part of the charm of this series is the way in which the personality of Thóra Gudmundsdóttir is allowed to direct the narrative. We get a strong sense of Thora’s personal struggle with the official version of events, the way in which the police investigation is handled and the problems associated in dealing with a client who is a multiple murderer. All of this shapes the course of events as Thora digs deeper into the past. I was initially concerned about yet another portrayal of a victim with locked-in syndrome. It is such a rare illness and yet is seems to pop up with relative ease in crime novels. However, here it was handled well and there are no easy solutions for the victim.

The book gives a fairly damning portrait of social service care in Iceland. Patients with multiple and differing needs are lumped together in institutions that fail to adequately care for patients. It is left to families to try to unlock solutions to their children’s conditions and in this atmosphere poor judgements are made.

The book is an excellent read in a series that goes from strength to strength.

Review: Yrsa Sigurðardóttir – I Remember You

YS bookI’ve got a penchant for ghost stories although I can’t read too many of them in one go. There are some excellent writers out there producing good quality supernatural thrillers and one of my current favourites is  F G Cottam who writes genuinely scary stories. I was interested to see that Icelandic crime writer Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s latest book was a supernatural thriller set in a remove fjord community, and with the wind howling at my Peak District door, I set aside an evening to read I Remember You.

Three friends, Gardar, Katrin and Lif, buy a house in remote Icelandic community that is inhabited only in the summer. They arrive in the village to do some renovations on the house, but the boatman, concerned for their welfare urges them to keep their mobile phones charged. The friends soon begin to see a young boy who disappears when they try to follow him. Meanwhile, in a town across the fjord, Freyr, a psychiatric doctor is rebuilding his life following the disappearance of his young son and his subsequent divorce from the child’s mother. When an elderly woman dies in the town, he discovers that she was obsessed with his son’s disappearance and his ex-wife is convinced that their son is dead and trying to communicate with them.

The two strands of this novel remain separate for a long time and both have a strong supernatural element. The book is written very much in the conventions of the genre. In the remote village we have an old house with a dubious history and rumours of strange goings on, there are three friends whose apparent affability hide some underlying tensions. And most importantly we have the unexplained occurrences so intrinsic to a ghost story – fleeting figures seen, unexplained accidents and breakdown of modern technology that would allow the three friends to communicate with the outside world.

Sigurðardóttir’s crime fiction background is more apparent in the narrative of Freyr. It is clear that he feels the weight of guilt in relation to the disappearance of his son and the reasons for this are gradually revealed. We are also drawn into the police investigation that still continues into the boy’s disappearance. It is always clear that something catastrophic has happened so the resolution when it comes isn’t too much of a shock.

The ending of the book is done very well, with no sense of a let-down that you sometimes get with a novel of this length. It’s not perhaps at the cutting edge of supernatural stories; it reminded me a little of the books I read as a teenager, such as Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black but it was an enjoyable, substantial read. And perfect for a winter’s evening.

I received my copy of the book from the publishers. Another review can be found at Eurocrime,