Arnaldur Indriðason’s The Shadow Killer: exclusive extract and giveaway!

I’m delighted to feature an exclusive extract from Arnaldur Indriðason’s The Shadow Killer on the blog today. Plus: to celebrate the publication of the novel, the good people at Harvill Secker have donated two copies to give away to UK readers! All you need to do is answer one simple question (see the bottom of the post for details).

Indriðason is one of my very favourite crime writers. He’s best known for the excellent long-running ‘Detective Erlendur’ series featuring Erlendur and his colleagues Elinborg and Sigurdur Oli (see Crime Fiction Lover’s wonderful guide here).

Happily, the author has now embarked on an absorbing new ‘Reykjavík wartime’ series, set in Iceland during the Second World War, a time that brought a huge number of changes to its little capital city, not least due to the presence of the British and American armies. As well as treating readers to an intriguing investigation, The Shadow Killer also provides some fascinating insights into the dramatic social changes in Iceland at the time.

Place: Reykjavíc

Time: August 1941

Detectives: Flóvent (Reykjavic’s only detective) and Thorson (an Icelandic-Canadian military policeman)

Case: A travelling salesman is found murdered in a basement flat, killed by a bullet from a Colt 45. Could a member of the Allied Occupation forces be involved?

View of Reykjavik (taken a few years ago during Iceland Noir)

EXTRACT from The Shadow Killer, translated by Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker, 2018), pp. 50-52 (reproduced with kind permission of the publisher).

US counter-intelligence had been given temporary quarters in one wing of the old Leper Hospital on Laugarnes Point. They shared it with their British colleagues who had requisitioned the hospital building shortly after the occupation. The few remaining patients had been sent to a sanatorium in Kópavogur, the settlement to the south of Reykjavík.

Although the United States was officially still neutral, within a few months American troops were scheduled to relieve the British garrison and take over responsibility for the defence of Iceland. First to arrive had been the Marine Corps and 5th Defense Battalion on 7 July with their anti-aircraft units, followed by the first land army contingent on 6 August, and more reinforcements were expected any day now to swell their ranks – thousands of armed men who had never even heard of Iceland before, let alone known where to find it on a map. In no time at all Reykjavík had become a seething mass of British troops preparing to withdraw, reinforcements from America, incomers from the Icelandic countryside – seeking a better life in the suddenly prosperous city – and the citizens of Reykjavík themselves, young and old, who had yet to come to terms with the transformation their town had undergone in the last year.

As Thorson drove up to the imposing edifice of the old Leper Hospital on the northern side of Laugarnes, he found himself thinking about prejudice and ostracism, thoughts which were no strangers to him. Naturally the location was no coincidence: the patients had been segregated, kept at a safe distance from the town, or rather, more importantly, the townspeople had been kept at a safe distance from them. A second hospital, the Kleppur Asylum, stood down by the sea a little to the east, even further removed from the town. The Leper Hospital was the most impressive wooden building in the country. It consisted of two floors and an attic, with rows of windows the length of the building and two gables projecting from the front, one at each end. As he admired it, Thorson thought about all the disruption the military occupation had brought to this sparsely populated island and its simple society. On a calm spring day in 1940, the war had come knocking on Reykjavík’s door, and transformed the lives of its inhabitants. Thorson, together with a handful of other Canadian volunteers, had been among the first to come ashore with the British invasion force, as a private in the Second Royal Marine Battalion. They had marched under arms to the country’s main government offices and witnessed first- hand the look of bewilderment on the faces of the townspeople, who must have feared that life in Iceland would never be the same again.

Thorson’s thoughts returned to the task in hand. Analysis of the cyanide capsule found in Felix Lunden’s flat had confirmed his suspicions: it was a so-called suicide pill, manufactured in Germany. If the user bit down on the capsule, or ampoule, the potassium cyanide it contained would theoretically kill him in a matter of seconds, though in practice it could take as long as fifteen minutes, causing indescribable suffering. It was the first time a capsule of this kind had turned up in Reykjavík, and the intelligence officer was demanding to know how it had come into the hands of the Icelandic police. He was a major, fiftyish, aggressive and gruff, with a pockmarked face and a black glove on one hand. It looked to Thorson as though he was missing two fingers. His name was Major Graham and he had served in the US Military Intelligence Division for many years. With him was his opposite number from British intelligence, who had been consulting the records for any mention of Rudolf Lunden in the period immediately after the invasion. He was somewhat younger than Major Graham and disfigured by a burn that extended from his neck up one side of his face, leaving only a stump of an ear. He had transferred to intelligence after sustaining serious injuries when his plane came down. His name was Ballantine – like the whisky, he said as he introduced himself, adding that he was no relation. The smile that accompanied this remark was more like a grimace. Thorson got the impression that the joke had grown
rather stale.

‘Why would an Icelander be carrying a suicide pill?’ asked
Major Graham. ‘Hidden in a suitcase, you said?’

Sailing out of Reykjavik harbour


We have two copies of The Shadow Killer to give away (UK readers only on this occasion…)

Just pick the correct answer to the question below and pop it in a comment below. The draw will close at midnight on Monday 19th March; I’ll contact you directly if you’re one of the lucky winners!

Question: What’s the name of the dour Icelandic murder detective in Arnaldur Indriðason’s first series?

A) Gylfi Þór Sigurðsson

B) Katrín Jakobsdóttir

C) Erlendur Sveinsson

D) Halldór Kiljan Laxness

E) Yrsa Sigurðardóttir



A tribute to Bernadette in Oz

Crime bloggers around the world were shocked and saddened this week to hear that Australian blogger Bernadette Bean, also known as @BSquaredInOz, has passed away.

Bernadette was a literary powerhouse. She ran not just one, but two blogs – the wide-ranging literary blog Reactions to Reading, and, together with fellow blogger Kerrie, the Australian crime fiction blog Fair Dinkum Crime. I remember nearly falling off my chair the first time I read one of Bernadette’s end-of-year round-ups – the volume and range of her reading were truly phenomenal. Here’s her ‘goals update’ from 2017. And just check out those amazing charts!

I never had the pleasure of meeting Bernadette, but for many years enjoyed a virtual friendship across the waves, bound by a love of reading, an eclectic taste in crime fiction, and similar outlooks on life.

She was an absolutely brilliant blogger, who wrote consistently excellent reviews. I had enormous respect for her as a critic and writer, and always made an effort to keep up with her posts, because I knew I’d find an interesting new read or learn something new about a book I’d already read. She was never afraid to say what she thought about a book (good or bad), but either way, her views were always backed up with reasoned arguments and well-chosen examples. She also made me laugh.

Because Bernadette was based in Australia, her readers naturally learned a great deal about Australian crime fiction, and about Australian fiction by women writers (for many years she took part in The Australian Women Writers Challenge). I loved the different literary worlds she opened up for me and found her love of literature truly inspiring.

There’s a wonderful tribute to Bernadette by Kerrie over at Fair Dinkum Crime, together with a list of other tributes written this week. I know that I will continue to pop over to both of Bernadette’s blogs. I’d barely scratched the surface of her recommendations, and am looking forward to finding some gems to read in her memory. My starting point is this post from last August, ‘Musings on 2017’s Australian crime writing awards’.

Thanks so much for everything, B. Gonna miss you.

2017 Ned Kelly shortlist for best fiction


Interview with Simone Buchholz: Hamburg Noir and why everyone needs a ‘beer family’

It’s my pleasure to welcome German crime writer Simone Buchholz to the blog today. Simone is based in in the northern city of Hamburg and is the author of the highly acclaimed ‘Chastity Riley’ series, which draws on private-eye conventions to create stylish, urban noir with a German twist. Blue Night (Blaue Nacht) is her English-language debut, beautifully translated by Rachel Ward and published by Orenda Books.

German crime writer Simone Buchholz

At the beginning of Blue Night, we join Hamburg state prosecutor Chas Riley as she hits a career low. After an unfortunate incident involving a gun and a gangster’s crown jewels, she’s been shunted off to witness protection, a job she finds increasingly dull. But all that changes when she’s assigned the case of a badly beaten man with a missing finger, who is oddly reluctant to divulge his identity. Chas is up for the challenge, and so the investigation begins, with the help of her loyal group of St. Pauli friends.

First line: A kick in the right kidney brings you to your knees.

Mrs P: Simone, welcome to the blog and thanks for agreeing to be interviewed (in English to boot!). Your lead investigator, Chastity ‘Chas’ Riley, has an unusual family background. Why did you opt to give her a German mother and an American father who was a former GI?

Simone: I grew up in southern Germany near Frankfurt, and when I was a child there were still a lot of US Army soldiers in our little city. There was even a real American quarter in town, with bigger streets, bigger cars, basketball cages, the whole American lifestyle. And there were also the children of these GIs – but mostly without fathers because GIs normally returned to the US as soon as one of their German girls got pregnant, it was some kind of army policy. To me these children (who were at school with us) always seemed homeless and maybe this shaped a part of my soul.

So when I was looking for a main character for my crime novels I remembered these children and I always liked the American way of storytelling. Riley came to me really quickly and quite naturally.

Mrs P: What made you gravitate towards the noir form when writing the ‘Riley’ series and Blue Night?

Simone: I think at first it just was the noir sound I wanted to use. And then I thought: if I want to tell stories about our society I’ll have to look in the dark corners of life. Once you start doing this, you just can’t stop. It transforms the way you look at mankind. For me, it’s the most interesting way of telling the truth.

“Killer eyes. Killer legs. Killer instincts. A private detective with a name as tough as she is.”

Mrs P: Who are your literary inspirations? American authors of hard-boiled crime, like Chandler and Hammett? Sara Paretsky (author of the ‘V.I. Warshawski’ series) and Jakob Arjouni (author of the ‘Kayankaya’ series)? Or others?

Simone: The first real literature I read was Hemingway – I found his books on my father’s bookshelf, and I really loved the sound and the way Hemingway showed the inner world of his characters by just letting them compose their drinks. Then came Chandler. And then – yes! – a V.I. Warshawski movie with the fabulous Kathleen Turner. Finally Jakob Arjouni appeared. The way he transformed this classic American hard-boiled sound into a German city [Frankfurt] and red light district was hilarious. When I took my first steps in crime writing ten years ago I always had all of this stuff in mind. And I just tried to do something like that. I wish Arjouni was still alive. I would definitely try to talk to him about his work.

[For an overview of Arjouni’s work, see my earlier blog post here.]

Mrs P: Hamburg, and in particular the famous St. Pauli district, is vividly depicted in Blue Night – which I loved, having spent a happy year living there back in the 1980s. Can you tell us a little about these locations and the role they play in your series?

Simone: The district of St. Pauli, as it comes to life in my novels, is a romantic, very personal version of the real St. Pauli. Some kind of secure place where souls can recover from what’s going on outside the bars and clubs. It’s the place where my characters hide from the world and try to heal their wounds with alcohol, music and cigarettes.

And not forgetting the big harbour we have here, which is very special. It’s the open, wild side of the city. A perfect place for everything to take place in a crime novel.

Map of Hamburg, with the district of St Pauli on the left-hand side, near the city’s port and the River Elbe.

Mrs P: A theme that really shines through in the novel is that of friendship. Are friends the new family in a fragmented, globalized world?

Simone: Before I met my husband, before our son arrived, I often felt a great loneliness – though it didn’t cause me too much suffering. It was OK. But with my parents 500 kilometers away, I had to build some kind of family around me in the big city with the big harbour. I found this family in the bars and it still exists. I meet my beer family at least once a week; it helps me with everything and I’d recommend this to everyone, especially today in these speedy times. If you sit at a bar, having a long deep talk with somebody (with rain outside) – it makes you quiet and calm.

Mrs P: Do you have any favourite German-language crime writers that you’d recommend to UK readers?

Simone: Jakob Arjouni, for sure. And my good friend Friedrich Ani. Bittersweet sound, stories from hell.

Thanks, Simone! There are further reviews and features on Blue Night blog tour.

An extract from the novel is available over at Reading for Pleasure.

Rachel Ward has also written a very interesting post on her experience of translating Blue Night. She illustrates the crucial role that translators can play in championing international literature and bringing novels to UK publishers’ attention.

Friday afternoon treats: Friis’ What My Body Remembers (DEN), Ramqvist’s The White City (SWE), Verdan’s The Greek Wall (SWI), BBC 2’s Collateral (UK)

I’m in the thick of my 2018 Petrona Award reading at the moment, and have chanced on two quite unusual submissions. While different books in many respects, both are gripping explorations of what it’s like to be a mother in traumatic circumstances.

Agnete Friis, What My Body Remembers (trans from Danish by Lindy Falk van Rooyen; Soho Crime, 2017). First line: “Can’t you get him to shut up at night?”

This standalone novel takes us into the world of Ella Nygaard, a 27-year-old single mother who’s struggling to make ends meet while dealing with the fallout of her own traumatic past – she was made a ward of state at the age of seven after her father murdered her mother. Ella suffers from PTSD panic attacks and strange physical symptoms that she can’t quite decode. When the state threatens to place her son Alex in care, she takes decisive action. But the price of keeping Alex with her is a return to the seaside town in northern Denmark where she was brought up, and a confrontation with the traumatic events of the past.

I really liked this novel. Ella is a great character – traumatised but tough – and the book gives a sobering insight into the strains of living on the edges of poverty and under the constant gaze of a state that can take your child away from you. Ella’s physical symptoms are used very effectively to show the severity of her trauma, but are cleverly also clues to the mystery of what happened the night her mother died twenty years before. While some aspects of the novel’s ending might make you raise an eyebrow, this is a very well-written, gripping thriller that stays with the reader thanks to Ella’s characterisation (shades here of Gillian Flynn’s resilient heroine in Dark Places).

Karolina Ramqvist, The White City (trans from Swedish by Saskia Vogel; Grove Press, 2017). First line: ‘It was the end of winter’.

This novella tells a tale normally lost in the margins of gangster stories: the fate of women who are left behind by their gangster husbands when things go wrong. Here, the woman in question is Karin, whom we meet a few months after the disappearance of her husband John. Gone is the high-flying life she used to enjoy on the proceeds of her husband’s criminal activities. All that’s left now is a once-grand house, serious financial difficulties, and government agencies closing in. Oh, and a baby that Karin never actually wanted to have.

The White City is a raw, but utterly compelling portrait of a woman at rock bottom, and her efforts to heave herself out of a state of despair. As in What My Body Remembers, Karin’s body becomes a symbol of a life that’s out of control. I’ve rarely seen the physical realities of motherhood described in such unvarnished, powerful terms in a literary work.

Nicolas Verdan, The Greek Wall (trans from French by W Donald Wilson; Bitter Lemon Press, 2018). First line: ‘In normal circumstances he’d have gone on his way’.

Nicolas Verdan’s debut, The Greek Wall, is a truly European novel. Its author is a French-speaking Swiss journalist who divides his time between Switzerland and Greece. It’s set partly in Athens – the symbolic heart of the Greek political and economic crisis – and partly on the Greek-Turkish border, where the river Evros is a favoured crossing point for immigrants trying to enter the Schengen Area. Its characters are Greek, Turkish, German, Finnish and Russian.

When a severed head is discovered on the Greek-Turkish border by a Frontex patrol, Agent Evangelos of Greek Intelligence is sent to investigate, and finds himself embroiled in a politically sensitive case that exposes the realities of power, corruption and illegal immigration. Verdan draws heavily on the true story of the wall (actually a 12.5 kilometer barbed-wire fence) erected by Greece along the Evros in 2012 (an interesting article on it here by EU Observer, with a handy map).

I particularly liked the character of Evangelos, who’s a veteran of turbulent Greek politics and has his own murky past, and the novel’s lyrical style, which is at times dreamy and looping, like the thoughts of its investigator, and at times brutally frank about Fortress Europe, and the way that nationality and wealth so often dictate people’s life chances. The ending is neat too.

A bit of exciting telly news for those in the UK. Next Monday, 12th February, sees the start of a new four-part series on BBC 2 that looks very promising indeed.

Political thriller Collateral is scripted by playwright David Hare (the David Hare) and features an absolutely stellar cast. Along with the fabulous Carey Mulligan, who plays Detective Inspector Kip Glaspie, there’s an ensemble cast including John Simm, Nicola Walker and Billie Piper. I know!!!

Set over four days in London, Collateral explores the consequences of the fatal shooting of a pizza delivery man.

David Hare says of the series: 

‘At its start, Collateral may seem to be familiar. After all, it does involve a police investigation. But I hope you will notice the absence of any of the usual apparatus of police procedurals. […] After an illegal immigrant is shot in the opening moments, I am much more interested in exploring how the death of one individual, who has lived out of the sight of respectable society, resonates and reaches into various interconnecting lives.’

Carey Mulligan adds:

‘There is such a scarcity of great writing for women and this drama has so much. It is happening much more in TV than in film, but it is still rare to have this many well rounded female characters in one drama, and what I love is that they are not all likeable – they are flawed, three-dimensional, real people. Often women are encouraged to be amenable, likeable characters and these women are much more than that, they have so much going on which is really exciting.’

Read the full interview with David Hare here, the full interview with Carey Mulligan here, and an overview of the series at the BBC’s Media Centre here.

El Guardián Invisible (film), Mindhunter (TV) and three Must Reads for 2018

Happy 2018, everyone! After a little hiatus, I’ve started getting back into some crime TV and film. I watched two gems over the festive break, each of which (oddly) featured serial killers and FBI inspectors, but were very different to one another in mood and tone.

The first was El Guardián Invisible, the 2017 Spanish film adaptation of Dolores Redondo’s novel of the same name, published as The Invisible Guardian here in 2015 (translated by Isabelle Kaufeler, HarperCollins). I loved the book and thought this was an excellent adaptation – faithful to the original while adding a stunning extra dimension through the visuals of Navarre’s atmospheric landscapes and weather. The rain seems to be torrential in pretty much every scene, which must have been fun for the actors… I particularly liked Marta Etura’s portrayal of lead investigator Amaia Salazar, an outstanding FBI-trained investigator, who returns to her home town to track a serial killer, and has to face up to her toxic relationship with her mother. It’s a hard-hitting, but satisfying watch.

The second was the Netflix Original series Mindhunter, which I resisted for a while due to its tough subject matter. But I kept hearing good things, and a recommendation from Brian, a regular reader of this blog, eventually led me to give it a go. And I’m glad I did, because it turns out to be a fascinating portrait of how the FBI developed a methodical approach to understanding and identifying serial killers in the 1970s. Based on the book by FBI agent John E. Douglas, the series shows two FBI agents, Holden Ford and Bill Tench (Jonathan Groff/Holt McCallney), becoming increasingly aware of the rise of the serial killer in modern American society, and attempting to gain insights into the phenomenon by interviewing serial killers and helping police forces with their investigations. They are joined by Boston psychology professor Dr. Wendy Carr (Anna Torv), who helps them work more systematically in building up their database and deepens their knowledge of how serial killers are formed and how they think. It’s all fascinating stuff, and I’m definitely going to stick with it, although it’s a very difficult watch in places (no gratuitous violence, but the details of the crimes are given verbally and sometimes shown in the photos used in the investigations). I tend to watch one episode at a time and then switch to something lighter!

I always get a bit of fresh reading energy around the New Year. Having read and enjoyed some Japanese crime fiction just before Christmas, I’m keen to read a little more widely – either by choosing novels set in unusual places or in different historical eras or both. Here are three Must Reads currently on my list:

  • Attica Locke’s Bluebird, Bluebird (Serpent’s Tail 2017), exploring race relations in East Texas
  • Joe Thomas’ Paradise City (Arcadia 2017), set in Sao Paulo, Brazil
  • Nicolas Verdan’s The Greek Wall (trans. by W. Donald Wilson, Bitter Lemon Press 2018), set on the border of Turkey and Greece

Which crime novels are on your Must Read list for 2018?


Have yourself a merry little Christmas… Mrs Peabody’s 2017 recommendations

Here are Mrs. Peabody’s Christmas recommendations for 2017. Drawing on my top reads of the year, this list should contain something to suit even the most well-read crime fiction lover in your life. And don’t forget to treat yourself while you’re at it!

All available from a wonderful independent bookshop near you…

Masako Togawa, The Master Key, trans Simon Cove (Pushkin Vertigo 2017, JAPAN)

Masako Togawa was born in Tokyo and led a rich life as a writer, cabaret performer, nightclub owner and gay icon. The Master Key, her debut, was first published in 1962 and won the Edogawa Rampo Prize. Set in the K Apartments for Ladies (an apartment block similar to the one where the author herself was raised), this off-beat crime novel features an intriguing set of characters – mainly single women hiding secrets, some benign and some criminal. The theft of the master key to all the apartments sets off a sequence of events that disturbs everyone’s equilibrium and risks triggering further crimes. Rich character studies, a 1950s Japanese setting and an original, twist-laden plot deliver high levels of reader satisfaction. Hats off to Pushkin Vertigo for republishing this vintage gem, and to translator Simon Cove for his polished handling of the text. Another Togawa novel, The Lady Killer, is due out next year.

Gunnar Staalesen, Where Roses Never Die, trans. Don Bartlett (Orenda Books 2016, NORWAY)

Where Roses Never Die is the winner of the 2017 Petrona Award. It’s the sixth novel of the famous ‘Varg Veum’ P.I. series to be out in English (set in Bergen on the west coast of Norway), but can easily be read as a standalone. We join private investigator Veum at rock bottom, wallowing in grief and drink, and about to take on a case that will push him to his limits – a cold case whose legal expiry date is drawing near, and which involves the unsolved disappearance of a small girl in 1977. The novel is an elegant fusion of American P.I. conventions and Scandinavian social analysis, but what I really liked was the way the narrative took the reader in an unexpected direction towards the end, delivering an original and convincing denouement.

Thomas Mullen, Darktown (Little, Brown 2016, USA)

Set in Atlanta, Georgia in 1948, Darktown is a murder mystery that also explores a key moment in the city’s history – the first ever induction of eight African American police officers into the Atlanta Police Department. The murder of a young black woman sees two sets of policemen come into uneasy contact with one another: black policemen Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith, and white policemen Lionel Dunlow and Denny Rakestraw. Each of their characters is superbly delineated, and adeptly used to unsettle racial stereotypes and easy assumptions. The novel is also a stunning portrait of post-war Atlanta, and opens the reader’s eyes to the dangerous and wearing realities of living in a society where racism is deeply ingrained in all areas of life. An excellent, satisfying read (full Mrs P review here). The second novel in the series Lightning Men, is just out.

Kati Hiekkapelto, The Exiled,  trans David Hackston (Orenda Books 2016, FINLAND)

The Exiled, shortlisted for the 2017 Petrona Award, is the third in the ‘Fekete’ series to be published in English, but makes a good standalone due to its atypical setting – Serbia rather than Finland. We join Finnish police detective Anna Fekete as she visits the Serbian village of her birth to see family and take a holiday. But the discovery of a body pulls her into an investigation that raises a number of questions about her own father’s death decades earlier. As well as exploring the complexities of Fekete’s identity as a Hungarian Serb who has made her life in Finland, this accomplished novel looks with insight and compassion at the discrimination faced by Roma people, and the lot of refugees migrating through Europe.

John le Carré, A Legacy of Spies (Penguin 2017, UK)

As a die-hard le Carré fan, I savoured every word of A Legacy of Spies. The novel opens in the present day, and shows Peter Guillam, George Smiley’s loyal right-hand man, being pulled out of retirement to justify his own and other British Secret Service agents’ actions during the Cold War. Of particular interest are the events surrounding the death of an agent and an innocent civilian – events that will immediately be familiar to readers of The Spy who Came in from the Cold. Not only does le Carré pull off the elegant closing of a literary circle – The Spy was his first major success in 1963 – but he also stays true to his core themes: the moral price and human cost of (maybe) safeguarding the nation. A must for any le Carré fan who hasn’t yet read it. And if your reader has not yet had the pleasure of entering le Carré’s world, then why not treat him or her to The Spy who Came in from the Cold and Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy as well (to be read in that order before Legacy).

Jane Harper, The Dry (Little, Brown/Abacus 2017, UK/AUSTRALIA)

The Dry is set in Kiewarra, a small farming community a few hours from Melbourne in south-eastern Australia, which for the past two years has experienced a horrendous drought and sustained financial pressure. Even so, the town’s residents are stunned when Luke Hadler, a respected local farmer, kills his wife and six-year-old son before turning the shotgun on himself. Luke’s childhood friend, Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk, returns to Kiewarra for the funerals, and reluctantly begins to look into the case…and to confront his own troubled relationship with the town. This novel was one of my absolute top reads of the year. The characterization is excellent, the plot is outstanding, and the landscapes and searing heat are brought vividly to life. A gripping police procedural and the first in a series. See the full Mrs P. review here.

Antti Tuomainen, The Man Who Died, trans David Hackston (Orenda Books 2017, FINLAND)

The Man Who Died is a joy from start to finish. It opens with a doctor telling a man he has been systematically poisoned, and that the end is just a matter of time. That man is Jaakko Kaunismaa, a 37-year-old from the small Finnish town of Hamina, who together with his wife Taina exports pine or matsutake mushrooms to the Japanese. Placed in a truly grave situation, Jaakko has to figure out what to do very quickly. The easiest course of action would be for him to give up, but instead he decides to investigate his forthcoming murder with admirable pluck and determination. Comparisons have rightly been drawn between the novel and Fargo: this is a stylish crime caper with lashings of black humour and a lot of heart. A special word of praise too for David Hackston, who also translated The Exile (above). He captures the off-beat humour of the novel perfectly.

Denise Mina, The Long Drop (Harvill Secker 2017, SCOTLAND)

Mina’s The Long Drop, based on the true case of Scottish rapist and murderer Peter Manuel, is a highly original re-telling of the circumstances leading up to his trial in a grimy, rough 1950s Glasgow. What makes the novel stand out is the originality of its storytelling, which expertly weaves together two narrative strands – a long night of drinking by Manuel and William Watt (the husband, father and brother-in-law of three of Manuel’s victims), and Manuel’s trial, which aroused lots of public interest. I found the book unexpectedly gripping, and the quality of the writing and characterization are sublime. Mina doesn’t shy away from describing Manuel’s horrific crimes, but her approach is never salacious, and she provides razor-sharp dissections of masculinity and class along the way.

Elisabeth Herrmann, The Cleaner, trans Bradley Schmidt (Manilla 2017, GERMANY) 

Elisabeth Herrmann’s The Cleaner is a polished, quirky German crime novel that features an outstanding protagonist, Judith Kepler. Judith is a prickly, awkward character who is extremely good at her job, which happens to be cleaning crime scenes for a specialist company in Berlin. As she cleans a flat following a particularly nasty murder, Judith unexpectedly comes across a clue to a mystery in her own East German childhood, and gets entangled in a potentially life-threatening situation. A hybrid detective novel, historical crime novel and thriller, The Cleaner is a gripping and highly engaging read with a wonderfully memorable lead. You may learn some handy cleaning tips along the way as well.

Arnaldur Indriðason, The Shadow District, trans Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker 2017, ICELAND)

I’ve been a big fan of Indriðason’s ‘Erlendur’ series over the years, and so was delighted to hear that the first of his new ‘Reykjavik Wartime Mysteries’ is out in English. The Shadow District interweaves two stories, one from the wartime past and the other from the present. In the first, a young woman is found strangled in Reykjavik’s ‘shadow district’, a rough area of the city. Icelandic detective Flovent investigates the case together with Thorson, a member of the American military police. In the present, retired police detective Konrad gets sucked into the odd case of a 90-year-old man who has been found dead in his apartment. In the course of the narrative, the two timelines begin to overlap in various ways… An absorbing page-turner that doesn’t hesitate to break some genre conventions.

Wishing you all a very happy festive season!

Variety is the spice of life… Nesser’s The Darkest Day (Sweden), Viskic’s Resurrection Bay (Australia), Tuomainen’s The Man Who Died (Finland), Alias Grace & The Sinner (Canada/Germany/US)

I’m going through a phase where I want lots of variety in my crime reading and viewing. This is when having scandalously large piles of unread crime fiction and a huge backlog of TV crime drama comes in rather handy…

Håkan Nesser, The Darkest Day, translated from Swedish by Sarah Death (Mantle, 2017).

First line: When Rosemary Wunderlich Hermansson awoke on Sunday 18 December, it was a few minutes to six and she had a very vivid image in her head.

Håkan Nesser is best known for his Inspector van Veeteren series, but his second series, featuring Inspector Gunnar Barbarotti, has also enjoyed significant success, selling over 4 million copies worldwide. The Darkest Day is the first of the five Barbarotti novels to be translated into English, a happy development for all lovers of Swedish crime fiction.

The Darkest Day is a long, satisfying read, the kind of crime novel that’s a slow-burner and rewards the unhurried reader. The first 185 pages feel a bit like a Scandinavian version of The Corrections: we’re introduced to the Hermansson family, who have come together for a double birthday celebration at Karl-Erik and Rosemary’s house in Kymlinge on the darkest day of the year, and through the eyes of family members from three generations, form a wry picture of the complex dynamics between them. By the end of the weekend, two of the family have disappeared without trace, and Inspector Barbarotti and his team have very little to help them figure out what’s been going on. The resolutions to both cases are original and, thanks to the skills of the author, remain on just the right side of melodrama.

The existentialist Inspector Barbarotti also proves to be an interesting character. The product of a fleeting Swedish-Italian union, he attempts to navigate his post-divorce mid-life crisis by opening a dialogue with God (who is invited to prove his existence in various ways to the disillusioned policeman). All of this is handled with humour and a light touch, and adds wit and depth to the novel.

Emma Viskic, Resurrection Bay (Pushkin Vertigo, 2017 [2015]).

First line: Caleb was still holding him when the paramedics arrived.

Jane Harper’s The Dry recently woke me up to the quality of crime writing in Australia. Like The Dry, Viskic’s Resurrection Bay has won a host of awards and (remarkably) is the author’s debut novel. It’s extremely accomplished, and features a highly unusual investigative figure, Caleb Zelic, who for much of his life has been profoundly deaf. The novel opens with the aftermath of a murder – Caleb’s childhood friend, policeman Gary Marsden, has just been found dead – and we are immediately shown some of the difficulties Caleb faces when communicating with others, as well as his extra powers of perception in relation to details like facial and body language. Caleb, who is a private investigator, starts to look into Gary’s death. Suspecting that it may be linked to an insurance case he was working on, he follows a trail that eventually leads him back to his childhood town of Resurrection Bay.

For me, one of the major strengths of this novel was its characterization. Aside from Caleb, we’re introduced to a number of other complex and well-drawn characters such as Frankie (his work partner), Kat (his ex-wife) and Anton (his brother), as well as contacts within the worlds of policing and crime in Melbourne. The dialogue feels gritty and authentic, and if there’s the odd touch of melodrama, this is a minor drawback. Overall, Resurrection Bay is an absorbing and thrilling read.

Antti Tuomainen, The Man Who Died, translated from Finnish by David Hackston (Orenda Books, 2017)

First line‘It’s a good job you provided a urine sample too’.

Antti Tuomainen is one of the most versatile crime writers around. I was first introduced to him via the novel The Healer – a dark, post-apocalyptic crime novel written in a beautifully poetic style. Since then he’s written a number of novels, each of which has a beguiling premise, but feels stylistically very different to the last. The Man Who Died is no exception: here we have a grimly brilliant starting point – a man whose doctor tells him he has been systematically poisoned, and that the end is a question of when rather than if – which is developed into black, comedic crime of the highest order. The man in question is Jaakko Kaunismaa, a 37-year-old entrepreneur from the small Finnish town of Hamina, who together with his wife Taina exports pine or matsutake mushrooms to the Japanese. He sets about investigating his own murder, and quickly discovers that there’s a worryingly long list of suspects.

The narrative is related in the first-person, which is always tricky to pull off, but Tuomainen does a great job. Jaakko is a great character: placed in a truly grave situation, he very quickly has to decide how to react. The easiest course of action would be to give up, but instead he decides to get to the bottom of the matter with admirable pluck, determination and resourcefulness. Comparisons have been made between the novel and Fargo, which is spot on – the heroes and anti-heroes are all engagingly imperfect and human, and there are a couple of set pieces that perfectly capture Fargo‘s cartoonish black humour. It feels like it was great fun to write, and I can’t wait for it to be made into a film.

I remember George Peleconos – scriptwriter for the HBO series The Wire – explaining to a Harrogate audience one year why crime writers like him were increasingly drawn to writing for TV rather than film. Aside from greater job security, the main lure was the chance to develop characters and story-lines with much greater nuance and detail than a film would allow.

I do think we’re living in a golden age of TV crime drama (e.g. Happy Valley, Top of the Lake, The Code). ‘Netflex Originals’ are also helping to lead the way, with superb adaptations of literary crime and psychological crime fiction by outstanding women authors.

Alias Grace, based on Margaret Atwood’s 1996 historical novel of the same name, tells the story of a young serving woman, Grace Marks, imprisoned for her role in two notorious 1843 murders, and a doctor, Simon Jordan, who is commissioned to write a psychological report on her, but finds himself becoming inappropriately drawn to her as well. The series provides a superb but also extremely sobering insight into the class and gender politics of the period, and Sarah Gadon is outstanding in the lead role.

The Sinner is adapted from German writer Petra Hammesfahr’s 1999 novel of the same name. I’ve seen the first four episodes and have been hugely impressed by the quality of the adaptation and its leading actors. The first (pretty harrowing) episode shows young housewife Cora Tannetti (Jessica Biel) stab a man to death while on a family outing to a lake. While it’s absolutely clear that she committed the deed, neither she nor anyone else has any inkling why. Rather than locking her up and throwing away the key, as would probably happen in real life, Detective Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) is determined to understand what motivated Cora’s actions, and starts to dig around in her shadowy early life. The characterization is outstanding, and the after-effects of the crime – particularly on Cora and her husband Mason (Christopher Abbott) – are explored in a way that’s reminiscent of the first series of The Killing.

The Sinner is a top-quality, stylish crime drama that brilliantly questions the extent to which Cora can be labelled a perpetrator. If you haven’t yet read the novel, then do grab a copy of The Sinner, translated by John Brownjohn, from Bitter Lemon Press – it’s still one of my all-time top German crime novels nearly 20 years on. Perhaps one of the best psychological thrillers ever written?

Let’s party like it’s 1929… German TV crime series Babylon Berlin airs Sunday 5 November

After a long, tantalising wait, the 16-part TV adaptation of Volker Kutscher’s crime novel Babylon Berlin is finally here. Directed by renowned director Tom Tykwer, this lavish £33 million German TV series – the most expensive ever made – airs in the UK this Sunday 5. November on Sky Atlantic.

Time to paaaartay!

I’ve been lucky enough to see a preview of the first episode, and thoroughly recommend taking a look. This is ambitious, thrilling, grown-up TV, which brilliantly recreates the politically turbulent Berlin of 1929, and brings the decadence of Weimar society vividly (and I do mean vividly) to life.

Volker Bruch (Generation War) is a good choice for troubled police inspector Gereon Rath, recently arrived in the capital from Cologne, but for me the stand-out character is Charlotte (Lotte) Ritter, played by actress Liv Lisa Fries – the working-class girl fighting her way out of poverty by temping as a police stenographer, whose respectable exterior belies a very complex life. The first meeting between the two is a classic ‘unromantic-yet-oddly-romantic’ encounter involving some dropped photographs, which also made me laugh.

Lotte Ritter

And then there’s Berlin. The creators have managed to bring an extinct dinosaur back to life – the impressive ‘Rote Burg’ or ‘Red Castle’ – aka the Berlin Police Headquarters near Alexanderplatz (there’s a shopping centre there now), and the depictions of the Vice and Homicide departments’ activities there are gritty and uncompromising. The aerial shots of the Berlin Mitte district and Alex are breathtaking, and I loved the stylish cinematographic touches, such the angled shot of a pair of ladies’ stockings floating from a window to Lotte in a courtyard below.

A shot of the Alexanderplatz from the series

If you’d like to read more about the series, then this Guardian article by Kate Connolly gives a good overview: ‘Babylon Berlin: lavish German crime drama tipped to be a global hit’.

If you’d like to get your hands on the original novels by Volker Kutscher, then head over to Sandstone Press, which has published the first two in English, translated by Niall Sellar: Babylon Berlin and The Silent Death.

And last but not least, here’s the trailer to whet your appetite.

Babylon Berlin, in German with English subtitles, airs on Sky Atlantic on Sunday 5 November. It should also be coming to Netflix at some point as well!

The 2017 Crime Writers’ Association Daggers – a golden year!

It’s one of the biggest crime events of the year. And 2017 has been a particularly golden year for the CWA Daggers, with a number of awards going to outstanding and pleasingly varied works.

No less than three CWA winners – set in Australia, India and Sweden – have been championed on Mrs. Peabody Investigates:

Huge congratulations also to Ann Cleeves and Mari Hannah on their richly deserved awards!

If you’re looking for new crime reads or present ideas, then I would thoroughly recommend having a browse on the individual Dagger webpages, each of which lists the winning, shortlisted and longlisted titles. Here’s a link to the Historical Dagger page so you can see – it’s quite a treasure trove. Links to the other Daggers are on the left-hand side.

Eurotour Stop 8. Berlin, Germany: “Mauerpark. Judith wrote it on her list.”

Guten Tag from Berlin! Our final extract is from…

Elisabeth Herrmann, The Cleaner (trans. from German by Bradley Schmidt, Manilla, 2017 [2011], pp. 107-110).

Judith didn’t have any friends, much less any on Facebook. For the last two hours she had been occupied with nothing but searching the internet for articles by and about Kaiserley. […] Kaiserley’s office address: Hausvogteiplatz in Mitte. But she needed his private address. For that, she needed to find as many points of reference as possible to fix him in her crosshairs. […]

She scrolled down to the end of the interview because that was where the personal questions usually came in.

I like the area around Mauerpark, although I always have to park my car somewhere else the night before May Day, so it doesn’t end up a burned-out wreck after the inevitable riots…

Mauerpark. Judith wrote it on her list. She had collected more than twenty pieces of information that made reference to his routes or his neighbourhood. Kaiserley went to the market on Kollwitzplatz on Saturdays, liked the bars around the water tower, liked to take the tram and loved to watch the sunset. Not bad. She might have made it as an old-school spy.

She went to her laptop and entered the positions into Google maps. The result was Kaiserley’s personal corner of Berlin. If she added the fact that his apartment was west-facing and included his mention of ‘climbing stairs’ as a sport, then he lived in the fourth of fifth storey of an old house without an elevator. It was likely near to a tram stop, and a wine shop that supplied him with his beloved Fendant du Valais.

Bingo. Marienburgerstrasse, Prenzlauer Berg.

She went into the hall and grabbed the van keys. It was four thirty in the morning. The time when people slept most deeply.

We’ve finished up our Eurotour with three very lovely days in Berlin, a city I’ve been visiting since 1988, just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. It’s laden with history from numerous eras and is constantly transforming itself in some way. No matter how many times I come here, there’s something new to see or do.

Our base wasn’t too far from Kaiserley’s haunts. Here’s a corner of Marienburgerstrasse…

And this is the park at Kollwitzplatz, named after the famous Berlin artist Käthe Kollwitz. Her statue sits rather mournfully in its middle. The water tower mentioned in the passage is visible in the third photo.

Other delights included a Bratwurst in the Alexanderplatz (where the Oktoberfest was already in full swing), with a grand view of the Fernsehturm…

…and a fabulous first with Berlin friend Katy D: watching an episode of the iconic German crime series Tatort in a bar on Sunday evening, which has been a long-held ambition of mine. This is a ritual all over Germany (it would be like us having a weekly screening of a series like Inspector Morse down at the Three Pigeons pub), and was a really convivial experience, with beer, lit candles and good company.

I’ll finish off with a photo of the Fernsehturm at dusk, taken on a lovely, warm evening that felt like the last day of summer.

Well, we’re back off home tomorrow. Thanks so much for accompanying me on this European adventure. It’s been the greatest of fun 😀

Click here for an overview of Mrs. Peabody’s Eurotour