Crime news: Gustawsson, Nesbo, Bier, Macrae Burnet and Eurocrime

A round-up of some recent news from the world of crime:

Orenda Books has signed Block 46, a debut thriller by French, London-based author Johana Gustawsson, which will be translated by Maxim Jakubowski.

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Karen Sullivan, publisher of Orenda Books, says: “Block 46 is an exceptional debut – a gritty yet nuanced thriller that swings between London and Sweden, before picking up a second narrative strand that takes place in a concentration camp in 1944 Germany. An unforgettable triumvirate of protagonists include Emily, a British profiler, Alexis, a French true crime writer, and maverick Inspector Bergstrom in Sweden. Beautifully written, with a sweeping narrative, evocative settings and a heart-thumping pace, this marks the beginning of a fabulous series and writing career for Johana, and ticks every box on the growing Orenda list.”

More info from The Bookseller here.

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Harry’s back! Jo Nesbo’s hard-boiled Oslo detective Harry Hole will return in his latest novel, THE THIRST, to be published by Harvill Secker in May 2017.

THE THIRST continues the story of POLICE, Harry Hole’s last outing in 2013, which saw the maverick cop protecting those closest to him from a killer wreaking revenge on the police. THE THIRST sees Harry drawn back to the Oslo police force when a serial killer begins targeting Tinder daters… It’s the 11th instalment in Jo Nesbo’s bestselling crime fiction series, which have sold over 30 million copies worldwide and are published in 50 languages.

Jo Nesbo says: I was always coming back to Harry; he’s my soul mate. But it’s a dark soul, so it is – as always – both a thrill and a chilling, emotionally exhausting experience. But Harry and the story make it worth the sleepless nights.’

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Director Susanne Bier

Danish director Susanne Bier has won an Emmy – Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series’ – for her work on the TV adaptation of John le Carré’s The Night Manager. She commented on BBC Breakfast: “This is such a traditional men’s world, and I hope the fact a woman director has won this prestigious prize is going to mean that more non-conventional series and movies are going to be directed by women.”

There’s a good interview with Susanne about her work on The Night Manager here.

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His Bloody Project, by Scottish writer Graeme Macrae Burnet, has been shortlisted for the Man Booker PrizeIt’s wonderful news for the author, the independent publisher Saraband, and fans of crime fiction in general – the more crime fiction we see on those ‘big’ literary prize shortlists the better!

The novel focuses on a triple murder in a crofting community in 1860s Scotland. Here’s the blurb from Saraband

“The year is 1869. A brutal triple murder in a remote community in the Scottish Highlands leads to the arrest of a young man by the name of Roderick Macrae.

A memoir written by the accused makes it clear that he is guilty, but it falls to the country’s finest legal and psychiatric minds to uncover what drove him to commit such merciless acts of violence. Was he mad? Only the persuasive powers of his advocate stand between Macrae and the gallows.

Graeme Macrae Burnet tells an irresistible and original story about the provisional nature of truth, even when the facts seem clear. His Bloody Project is a mesmerising literary thriller set in an unforgiving landscape where the exercise of power is arbitrary.”

And lastly…I’ve updated my list of 35 European crime novels with publisher and translator information. Quite a few of you have been tucking into this list, which is great to see. Needless to say, I’ll keep flying the flag for Eurocrime and Europe in future.

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Sums up Brexit perfectly

#50 Leif G.W. Persson, The Dying Detective

Leif G.W. Persson, The Dying Detective (Den döende detektiven), trans. from Swedish by Neil Smith (London: Doubleday, 2016 [2010]). 5 stars

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Opening line: Karlbergsvägen 66 in Stockholm is the location of Günter’s, the best hotdog kiosk in Sweden.

Leif G.W Persson is a writer at the absolute top of his game. The Dying Detective is the seventh of his novels to appear in English, and is a gripping, absorbing, beautifully plotted read. Not only does it succeed brilliantly on its own terms, but deftly extends the universe of his previous novels, and, like another of his novels, Linda, pays homage to a giant of the crime genre in a truly inventive way.

The opening of The Dying Detective shows Lars Martin Johansson, a retired Swedish Police Chief, suffer a stroke after a lifetime of unhealthy excess. Readers of earlier Persson novels will remember Johansson as a brilliant investigator with an uncanny ability to ‘see around corners’. Now we find him frustrated by his physical limitations and slow recovery – a sobering depiction of the aftermath of a stroke – and drawn into the investigation of a cold case, the murder of nine-year-old Yasmine Ermegan in 1985. Before long, he has assembled a rag-tag team of old police contacts and lay-experts to help him crack the crime.

From the very beginning, the novel adds an extra level of complexity to the investigation of Yasmine’s case: the challenge for Johansson is not simply identifying the perpetrator, but figuring out what to do if he finds him, for a new statute of limitations means that the killer can’t legally be held to account for his crime. And this is where Persson’s literary homage comes in. Around two-thirds of the way through the novel, Johansson is shown praising Swiss writer Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s Der Richter und sein Henker (The Judge and his Hangman), originally published in 1950. He states that a good book ‘can give you something to think about, and if it’s really good then reading it can even make you a better person. I’ve read this one several times’.

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In The Judge and his Hangman, Inspector Bärlach, who is in poor health and at the end of his career, does battle with an old adversary, a man who delights in committing crimes in such a way that the legal system can’t touch him. Bärlach is desperate to bring him to justice, but knows that he’ll have to act unlawfully to do so – a terrible dilemma for a policeman who has upheld the rule of law all his life. The novel stresses the illegality of Old Testament justice, but also the terrible moral consequences of such action for the self-appointed ‘judge’ or ‘hangman’. And that’s not all. A later Dürrenmatt novel, Das Versprechen (The Pledge, 1958), features a policeman who becomes obsessed with the unsolved murder of a young girl, and whose desperate need for justice leads him to act unethically. This clever ‘intertextuality’ is carried off by Persson with a light, expert touch. It’s like watching a jazz musician improvising brilliantly with the main melody of a song.

What a smart and versatile writer Persson is. He pulls off the big ‘state of the nation’ novels (his ‘Story of a Crime’ series) or the more intimate police investigation (Linda, As in the Linda Murder) with ease, creating an expansive universe in which characters move freely from one novel to another. Regular readers will undoubtedly feel rewarded by the appearance of many old friends in The Dying Detective, from Bo Jarnebring and Lisa Mattei to the shortsighted pathologist who bids good morning to the yukka plant in reception. A special word of praise, too, for long-time Persson translator Neil Smith, who does such an excellent job of capturing the author’s voice, and in particular his wry, often black humour.

The Dying Detective has been submitted for the 2017 Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year. It sets a very high bar!

You can see a list of Petrona Award eligibles over at Euro Crime.

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TV crime drama (Deep Water & McMafia) and John le Carré’s The Pigeon Tunnel

Two TV crime dramas in the pipeline have recently caught my eye.

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Noah Taylor in Deep Water (photo Sean O’Reilly/SBS)

Deep Water (BBC Four)

From the BBC press release: ‘A gripping four-part crime drama set in contemporary Australia, the series is inspired by the unsolved gay-hate crime epidemic that swept through Sydney in the 80s and 90s, known as the Bondi Beach Murders.

The drama unfolds after detectives Tori Lustigman and Nick Manning are assigned a brutal murder case. They uncover evidence that suggests the killing is connected to a spate of unexplained deaths, ‘suicides’ and disappearances throughout the 80s and 90s. Is this the result of shoddy police work, indifference, or something far more sinister?’

The series stars Noah Taylor as detective Nick Manning; Yael Stone as detective Tori Lustigman; William McInnes as Inspector Peel; Daniel Spielman as Rhys; and Danielle Cormack as Brenda. It’s a Blackfella Films production for SBS Broadcasting Australia, Screen Australia & Screen New South Wales. Transmission date to be confirmed, but probably in the autumn.

There’s a bit more info in this Guardian article by Steph Harmon.

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McMafia (BBC One)

From the BBC press release: ‘Inspired by Misha Glenny’s bestselling book McMafia – a hard-hitting look at global crime – Hossein Amini and James Watkins have created a thrilling international crime drama that centres on one family in London.

James Norton (War & Peace, Happy Valley) will play the lead, Alex Godman, the English-raised son of Russian exiles with a mafia past. 

McMafia charts Alex’s journey through a terrifying labyrinth of international criminals, money launderers, corrupt politicians and ruthless intelligence agencies. He finds himself embroiled in an underworld that stretches from London to Moscow, Dubai to Mumbai, Africa to the Americas; a battleground where Mexican cocaine cartels compete with Pakistani drug lords, Balkan smugglers and the Russian Mafia itself. What starts out as a story of survival and revenge becomes an epic tale of a man’s struggle against the lures of corruption in the modern world and in himself.

This fast-paced thriller is epic and intimate, glamorous and gritty, global in scale and forensic in detail. It delves into how, with the rise of globalization, the corporate has become criminal and the criminal corporate and how, driven by the global demand for cheap products, everyone is complicit in some way.

The writing team includes David Farr (The Night Manager, Spooks, Troy – Fall Of A City), Peter Harness (Doctor Who, Wallander, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell) and Laurence Coriat (Wonderland, Me Without You).’ Cuba Pictures. Transmission date tbc.

The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life - John le Carré (CNW Group/Penguin Random House Canada Limited)

The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life – John le Carré (Penguin)

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a huge John le Carré fan (see my post ‘In praise of John le Carré‘), so I’m delighted that his autobiography The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from my Life is now out with Penguin. Stacks of fabulous content has been released to promote the book, including an extract, readings from le Carré’s works by actors such as Rachel Weisz, and fantastic TV interview snippets. My favourite insight from the author so far: conflict makes for a good story (thus ‘the cat sat on the mat’ is not a promising start, whereas ‘the cat sat on the dog’s mat’ is).

le Carré will be reading extracts from The Pigeon Tunnel on BBC Radio 4 from Monday 12 September in the ‘Book of the Week’ slot.

Review of Sarah Ward’s A Deadly Thaw (UK)

Writing second novels is often difficult, but Sarah Ward makes it look easy. A Deadly Thaw, which was published by Faber & Faber on 1. September, is the sequel to In Bitter Chill, and sees Detective Inspector Francis Sadler and his team investigating another disturbing and fascinating case…

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Here’s the cover blurb to whet your appetite:

‘2004: In Bampton, Derbyshire, Lena Fisher is arrested for suffocating her husband, Andrew.

Spring 2016: A year after Lena’s release from prison, Andrew is found murdered in a disused mortuary.

Who was the man Lena killed twelve years ago and why did she lie about his identity? When Lena disappears, her sister Kat follows a trail of clues….’

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I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of A Deadly Thaw, and had a very similar reading experience to In Bitter Chill:  I found the novel nearly impossible to put down and devoured the whole thing in two sittings. I was also struck again by the distinctiveness of Sarah’s authorial voice and her approach to crime writing. I’ve tried to dissect this a little and think it’s the following elements, in combination, that set her works apart for me:

A police procedural with a twist. While strong elements of the police procedural are visible in A Deadly Thaw, a significant portion of the narrative explores events from the perspective of individuals caught up in the case – especially sisters Lena and Kat. I really like this varied focus and the 360-degree view of the case it provides.

Strong, complex female characters. Lena (recently released from prison) and Kat (a therapist) are both extremely well drawn. Like In Bitter Chill’s Rachel, they are complicated individuals shaped by past experiences, and (like most of us) are sometimes flawed and make mistakes. I find myself liking these characters a lot, even when they don’t behave in an obviously likeable way. Policewoman Connie Childs is also given further depth and it’ll be interesting to see where her story goes.

A truly beguiling narrative. I think I’ve figured out why Sarah’s books are so hard to put down: it’s a combination of relatively short chapters with tantalising endings (hat-tip to Dickens) and alternating narrative strands that make the reader desperate to know more. At the same time, A Deadly Thaw is so much more than a simple page-turner. The novel explores substantial themes, such as gender, power and cultures of policing. It’s a stylishly plotted crime novel that’s gripping and thought-provoking in equal measure, and I’m already looking forward to number 3.

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#49 K.T. Medina, White Crocodile (UK/Cambodia)

K.T. Medina, White Crocodile (Faber & Faber, 2014). An impressive debut that explores the dangerous world of landmine clearance in Cambodia 4 stars

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Opening line: Tian was woken by a noise.

This powerful debut novel draws on K.T. Medina’s experience of working as a consultant for mine-clearance agencies in Cambodia. Its lead protagonist, Tess Hardy, arrives in the country following the suspicious death of her ex-husband while defusing a mine. The disappearance of several local women and mounting fear of the ‘White Crocodile’ myth soon confirm that there’s a clear and present danger – one that Tess must handle carefully if she wishes to survive.

There are several aspects of this novel that I really like. The first is its depiction of mine-clearance expert Tess, who faces complex personal and professional challenges throughout the narrative. The second is the insight into life in Battambang Province in north-west Cambodia, a highly fertile rice-producing region, but one ravaged by political conflict and the infamous Khmer Rouge regime, which have left the countryside studded with lethal mines. The novel also shows how UN peace keeping forces and aid agencies can sometimes worsen the situation of countries they’re supposed to be helping – for example by bringing HIV into local communities.

Two slight reservations: there was perhaps one plot-strand too many near the end of the novel, and a surfeit of scenes told from the perspective of terrified victims-to-be. But White Crocodile remains a highly impressive debut and is very much worth reading for its depiction of Cambodia, and for its nuanced and honest exploration of a number of important issues.

You can read a sobering essay by Jay Tindall called ‘Cambodia: Land Mine Nation’ here – http://jaytindall.asia/land-mine-nation/ – and about the work of the remarkable Halo Trust in Cambodia here – https://www.halotrust.org/where-we-work/south-asia/cambodia/.

Cambodian landmine sign

Photograph: Jay Tindall

Women in Translation Month: Claudia Piñeiro’s A Crack in the Wall (Argentina)

August is Women in Translation Month. To celebrate, here’s a bit about Claudia Piñeiro, a giant of South American crime fiction, who was in the UK earlier this summer and appeared at CrimeFest 2016.

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Claudia Piñeiro

Piñeiro is a prestigious journalist and best-selling crime author in her home country of Argentina. Bitter Lemon Press has published four of her novels in English thus far – All Yours, Thursday Night WidowsA Crack in the Wall and Betty Boo. I’ve read the latter two, which are both excellent, but very different from one another in subject-matter and tone – showcasing Piñeiro’s authorial versatility. This is a writer of tremendous range, who’s a keen observer of the world around her, and is particularly good at depicting the highs and lows of middle-age (!).

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A Crack in the Wall (2013 [2009]), expertly translated from Spanish by Miranda France, is a beautifully written crime novel that doubles as a study of troubled masculinity. It’s told from the perspective of architect Pablo Simó, who’s in the grip of a classic mid-life crisis: his marriage is stale, his teenage daughter is being difficult, and he’s reached a professional dead-end designing soulless office buildings. As if that wasn’t enough, he’s plagued by memories of his involvement in a crime, which began innocuously with a complaint about a crack in a wall.

Piñeiro offers us a wry look at Simó’s inner life (when you start calculating how many thousands of days you’ve been married, you know you’re in trouble) – one that doubles as a thoughtful critique of capitalism. An aspect of the novel I particularly liked was that it surprised me: I thought I knew exactly where the story was heading, but the last quarter of the narrative took a stylish turn that led to a rather unexpected conclusion. Architecture buffs are also bound to enjoy a tour of some of Buenos Aires’ Art Nouveau treasures in the novel’s middle section.

You can read an extract from A Crack in the Wall courtesy of Bitter Lemon Press here.

There’s also a lovely interview with the author over at Crime Watch.

There’s more info about ‘Women in Translation Month’ and its aims over at the Biblibio blog. For those of you on Twitter, the hashtag is #WITMonth. Happy reading!

Barter Books and Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series

While on holiday we visited an incredible second-hand bookshop in Alnwick, Northumberland, called Barter Books. My friend Harriet had recommended it to me, and I’m so glad she did, as it’s the closest to book heaven I’ve been in years.

Barter Books was set up in 1991 by Mary and Stuart Manley and is housed in Alnwick’s lovely former railway station. It’s a vast, but beautifully personalised space, with hand-painted signs, murals, inspirational quotes and a model railway running on a track above the bookshelves. There are plenty of comfy places to sink down and read, as well as a lovely cafe in the old station buffet. It’s also where the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ phenomenon began.

It’s so good to see places like this thriving. Food for the soul! Here are a few photos I took surreptitiously while wandering around (it was a lot busier than it looks, as I didn’t want readers to feel they were being papped):

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A happy find was an entire section of vintage Penguin crime, including some novels from Ed McBain’s hugely influential ’87th Precinct’ series. I have a real soft spot for these 50+ police procedurals, which were written between 1956 and 2005, and feature a characterful group of detectives solving crimes in Isola (loosely based on Manhatten in New York). I purchased two – Like Love (1962), in which the team suspects a suicide pact is not all it seems, and Ten Plus One (1963), which focuses on a series of sniper murders.

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The novels are wonderfully detailed police procedurals, and well ahead of their time in depicting an ethnically diverse set of detectives operating in an often racist society. American-Italian police detective Steve Carella is frequently shown using his Italian language skills when carrying out investigations and is regularly partnered with American-Jewish detective Meyer Meyer. The novels also contain brilliant, hard-hitting subplots or vignettes – such as the fallout from a young woman’s suicide or the brutal police treatment of an innocent suspect.

In a complete change of scene, I’m off to Berlin with Peabody Jnr tomorrow. We’re looking forward to tracking down some film locations, paying homage to Bowie, and visiting some great independent crime bookshops (well me not him…). Bis bald!

Holiday reading and Price’s Other Paths to Glory

One advantage of an enormous TBR pile is that it provides you with plenty of fodder for holiday reading. We’re off in the VW shortly, and I’m in the process of creating a miniature crime library to take on the road.

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Mwnt in Wales – one of our stops in the VW last year. A very nice spot for a cuppa and a good book.

The following have already made the cut:

K.T. Medina’s White Crocodile (Faber & Faber, 2014). Cover text: ‘When emotionally damaged mine-clearer Tess Hardy arrives in Cambodia to investigate the truth behind her ex-husband’s death, she finds that local girls are going missing. Caught in a web of lies that stretches from Cambodia to England, Tess must unravel the truth, and quickly – before she becomes the next victim’. The novel has received some really glowing reviews and has been on my list to read for ages.

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Roberto Costantini’s The Root of All Evil (translated from Italian by N.S. Thompson, Quercus, 2014 [2012]). This is the second novel in the ‘Commissario Balistreri’ trilogy, which moves back in time from Italy of the 1980s/modern day to Libya in the late 1960s. I loved Deliverance of Evil (review here), and am looking forward entering this author’s complex world again. At 676 pages, The Root of All Evil is also handy insurance against rainy days when holidaying in the north of England.

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Eva Dolan’s Tell No Tales (Vintage, 2015). I expect the second in Dolan’s ‘DI Zigic and DS Ferreira’ series to be a particularly resonant and disturbing post-Brexit read. Cover text: ‘Two men are kicked to death in brutal attacks. Caught on CCTV, the murderer hides his face – but raises a Nazi salute. In a town riddled with racial tension, Detectives Zigic and Ferreira from the Hate Crimes Unit are under pressure to find the killer. Riots break out, the leader of right-wing party steps into the spotlight, and Zigic and Ferreira must act fast before more violence erupts’. I reviewed Long Way Home, the first in the series, here.

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When catching up with the lovely Ms Adler in Cardiff last week, I picked up Anthony Price’s Other Paths to Glory in Oxfam Books. Because it was part of the ‘crime masterworks’ series – one of my favourites – I didn’t even bother to read the back cover, but soon realised it was going to be very topical given the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July.

The novel was the winner of the CWA Gold Dagger Award in 1974, and shows World War One historian Paul Mitchell being pulled into undercover work for the MoD following the murder of a colleague. A map fragment from the Battle of Hameau Ridge on the Somme in 1916 appears to be the cause, but why?

Other Paths to Glory was an absorbing read that provided sobering insights into the history of World War One and the experiences of ordinary soldiers, many of whom died senseless deaths at a tragically young age. Part of the plot explores the mystery of regiments that simply disappeared from the battlefield, and the novel offers an ingenious and plausible solution to that enigma.

There’s a lovely review of Price’s The Labyrinth Makers over at CrimeFictionLover, which also gives some background on this very interesting author and his works.

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35 European crime novels

Here’s a random list of 35 European crime novels I love.

There are gaps (not all European countries are represented), but these are the ones particularly close to my heart because they’ve opened my mind and brought me joy.

Euro 4

Jakob Arjouni, Happy Birthday, Turk! (trans. from German by Anselm Hollo, Melville House, 2011 [1987])

Pieke Biermann, Violetta (trans. from German by Ines Rieder and Jill Hannum, Serpent’s Tail, 1996 [1991])

Ioanna Bourazopoulou, What Lot’s Wife Saw (trans. from Greek by Yiannis Panas, Black & White Publishing, 2013 [2007])

Roberto Costantini, The Deliverance of Evil (trans. from Italian by N.S. Thompson, Quercus, 2013 [2011])

Jan Costin Wagner, Silence (set in Finland; trans. from German by Anthea Bell, Harvill Secker, 2010 [2007])

Didier Daeninckx, Murder in Memoriam (trans. from French by Liz Heron, Serpent’s Tail, 1991 [1984]; republished by Melville House in 2012)

Euro 2

Friedrich Dürrenmatt, The Pledge (Swiss crime novel; trans. from German by Joel Agee, University of Chicago Press, 2006 [1958])

Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose (trans. from Italian by William Weaver, Vintage, 2004 [1980])

Hans Fallada, Alone in Berlin (trans. from German by Michael Hofmann, Penguin, 2009 [1947])

Eugenio Fuentes, At Close Quarters (trans. from Spanish by Martin Schifino, Arcadia, 2009 [2007])

Friedrich Glauser, In Matto’s Realm (Swiss crime novel; trans. from German by Mike Mitchell, Bitter Lemon Press, 2006 [1936])

Euro 6

Petra Hammesfahr, The Sinner (trans. from German by John Brownjohn, Bitter Lemon Press, 2007 [1999])

Kati Hiekkapelto, The Defenceless (trans. from Finnish by David Hackston, Orenda Books, 2015 [2014])

Paulus Hochgatterer, The Sweetness of Life (Austrian crime novel; trans. from German by Jamie Bulloch, MacLehose, 2012 [2006])

Peter Høeg, Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow (trans. from Danish by Felicity David, Vintage, 2014 [1992])

Jean-Claude Izzo, Total Chaos (trans. from French by Howard Curtis, Europa Editions, 2005 [1995])

Euro 1

Hans Hellmut Kirst, The Night of the Generals (trans. from German by J. Maxwell Brownjohn, Cassell, 2002 [1962])

Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (trans. from Swedish by Reg Keeland, MacLehose Press, 2008 [2005])

Carlo Lucarelli, Carte Blanche (trans. from Italian by Michael Reynolds, Europa Editions, 2006 [1990])

Henning Mankell, The Dogs of Riga (trans. from Swedish by Laurie Taylor, Vintage, 2012 [1992])

Dominique Manotti, Affairs of State (trans. from French by Ros Schwarz and Amanda Hopkinson, Arcadia Books, 2009 [2001])

Euro 5

Petros Markaris, Che Committed Suicide (trans. from Greek by David Connolly, Arcadia Books, 2009)

Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Buenos Aires Quintet (trans. from Spanish by Nick Calstor, Serpent’s Tail, 2005)

Harry Mulisch, The Assault (trans. from Dutch by Clare Nicolas White, Random House, 1985 [1982])

Håkan Nesser, Bjorkman’s Point (trans. from Swedish by Laurie Thompson, Pan, 2007 [1994])

Europe 7

Ingrid Noll, The Pharmacist (trans. from German by Ian Mitchell, HarperCollins, 1999 [1994])

Lief G.W. Persson, Linda, as in the Linda Murder (trans. from Swedish by Neil Smith, Vintage, 2013)

Dolores Redondo, The Invisible Guardian (trans. from Spanish by Isabelle Kaufeler, HarperCollins, 2015 [2013])

Georges Simenon, Pietr the Latvian (Belgian crime novel, trans from French by David Bellos, Penguin, 2013 [1930])

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, The Laughing Policeman (trans. from Swedish by Alan Blair, Harper Perennial, 2007 [1968])

Euro 3

Josef Skvorecky, The Mournful Demeanour of Lieutenant Boruvka (trans. from Czech by Rosemary Kavan, Kaca Polackova and George Theiner, Norton, 1991 [1966])

Olivier Truc, Forty Days without Shadow (set in Lapland; trans. from French by Louise Rogers LaLaurie, Trapdoor, 2014)

Antti Tuomainen, The Healer (trans. from Finnish by Lola Rogers, Harvill Secker, 2013 [2010])

Simon Urban, Plan D (trans. from German by Katy Derbyshire, Harvill Secker, 2013 [2011])

Fred Vargas, Have Mercy on us All (trans. from French by David Bellos, Vintage, 2004 [2001])

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As many of you will know, the UK voted to leave the European Union via a national referendum on 23rd June, with 52% voting ‘leave’ and 48% ‘remain’ (overall turnout of 72%). This isn’t a political blog, but given the seismic nature of what’s happened, here’s a brief personal comment.

I was one of the 48% who voted to remain and, as a British European and languages lecturer, I’m heartbroken at the result. As a nation, we’ve probably caused ourselves irreparable economic and political damage. We’ve also become a more divided and less tolerant place. Every aspect of our future is now uncertain, and the younger generation, who voted overwhelmingly to remain, will have to bear the consequences of the ‘Brexit’ for decades to come. It’s a monumental, catastrophic mistake that could well lead to the break up of the UK and destabilize Europe.

Those of you in Europe looking on in disbelief, please know that 48% of us did not wish to leave the EU. Many of us regard ourselves as European and are horrified by what’s happened. We don’t yet know how, but we will try to find our way back to you. And if you’re a European living in the UK, please know that millions of us appreciate you for your contribution to British society and the cultural enrichment you bring.

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Surreal: some UK papers on my kitchen table this morning

 

Summer musings on Walters (UK), Hykänen (Finland), and the visibility of women in crime fiction awards

After a busy few months, I’m looking forward to 1. writing up reviews of some excellent crime novels and 2. getting down to some quality summer reading.

A fairly random start: two very different novels I’ve recently enjoyed, and some musings on the visibility of women on crime fiction award longlists/shortlists.

Minette Walters

Minette Walters, Disordered Minds (Pan Macmillan 2003). I picked up this plump psychological crime novel at Oxfam Books, and it turned out to be a perfect summer read. Two amateur detectives – Jonathan Hughes, a social anthropologist with a chip on his shoulder, and George Gardener, a middle-aged local councillor, find themselves drawn into investigating a contested old case, the murder of Grace Jeffries in 1970. Her grandson Harold was convicted of the crime, but new evidence suggests that the original investigation may have been botched.

I’ve not read anything by Walters before – a bit of an omission on my part – and am now keen to read more. Her approach to dissecting criminality reminded me of PD James and Ruth Rendell, particularly in its focus on British attitudes to race and class. A satisfying read with some lovely characterisation and interesting socio-political commentary (it’s set against the backdrop of the Iraq war in 2003), but with a slightly over-convoluted ending.

Nykanen

Harri Nykänen, Behind God’s Back, trans. from Finnish by Kristian London (Bitter Lemon Press, 2015 [2009]). This novel is the second in the ‘Ariel Kafka’ series (I reviewed the first here back in 2012). Aside from its Finnish setting, the most distinctive aspect of this series is its lead investigator, who is one of only two Jewish policemen in Helsinki. He views the world with a typically wry Jewish humour and allows readers to gain an insight into Helsinki’s small Jewish community, with which he has a slightly strained relationship as he’s not exactly a ‘model Jewish citizen’ – non-observant and stubbornly single.

The novel opens with the murder of a Jewish businessman. Kafka is tasked with figuring out whether the murder is racially motivated, a business deal gone wrong, or something altogether more complex… As was the case with the first novel, the plot got a bit complicated towards the end, but I thoroughly enjoyed Kafka’s irreverent, blokey company, and was very happy to go along for the ride. A superior police procedural.

And so to the subject of crime fiction longlists and shortlists.

Gold

My last post included the CWA International Dagger longlist, which I was disappointed to see included no works by women authors. Here it is again:

Title Author Translated by Publisher
The Truth and Other Lies Sascha Arango Imogen Taylor Simon & Schuster
The Great Swindle Pierre Lemaître Frank Wynne MacLehose Press
Icarus Deon Meyer K L Seegers Hodder & Stoughton
The Sword of Justice Leif G.W. Persson Neil Smith Doubleday
The Murderer in Ruins Cay Rademacher Peter Millar Arcadia
The Father Anton Svensson Elizabeth Clark Wessel Sphere
The Voices Beyond Johan Theorin Marlaine Delargy Transworld
Six Four Hideo Yokoyama Jonathan Lloyd-Davis Quercus

I started thinking about how this all-male longlist might have come about. Here are some possibilities, some of which are valid, some not. The answer probably comprises a few of these factors in combination.

  • No works by women authors were submitted for the award. Not the case: the list of novels submitted for this year’s International Dagger is available at http://cwadaggers.co.uk/cwa-international-dagger/. It shows that there were 45 works submitted, of which 13 were authored or co-authored by a woman. If my maths is right, that’s nearly 30%.
  • Fewer works by women were submitted, so the chances of these reaching the longlist were accordingly smaller. That’s definitely the case, given the 70% (male), 30% (female) split. And this kind of ratio seems to be typical. Translator Katy Derbyshire, writing in The Guardian, recently identified a twofold negative trend in relation to international fiction. Firstly, fewer women authors are published in their home markets; secondly, fewer still are selected by English-language publishers for translation. This means that works by international women authors in English are ‘a minority in a minority’. Their chances of winning prestigious literary prizes are thus pretty low.
  • However, even given those factors, the law of averages would still suggest 2 or 3 works by women could have made the International Dagger longlist. There were certainly some strong contenders on the submission list, such as Karin Fossum’s The Drowned Boy (Harvill Secker), Kati Hiekkapelto’s The Defenceless (Orenda) and Claudia Pinero’s Betty Boo (Bitter Lemon Press). Why didn’t they make the cut?
  • At this point we have to acknowledge that judging is a subjective process involving a number of factors and evaluations. So it may simply be coincidence that the longlist ended up being male-dominated (their novels happened to be the best this time round). Equally, however, there may be unconscious biases that drew the judges towards that particular set of novels. These *may* include a gender bias, but could also include others, such as a preference for a particular type of crime fiction (psychological, police procedural, thriller, whatever), or for crime set in a particular country (Sweden, Japan, South Africa)…

A swift look at some other recent longlists/shortlists shows the following: 

  • The 2016 CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger features three women authors on its longlist of eight (37%).
  • The 2016 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel (announced today!) features three women authors on its longlist of nine (33%).
  • The 2016 Petrona Award (for which I’m a judge) featured two women authors on its shortlist of six (33%). Our submission list had a worse male/female ratio to the International Dagger this year – 8 works by women authors on a submission list of 42 (19%).
  • The 2016 Man Booker International featured two female authors on its shortlist of six (33%). It was won by Han Kang – a woman author – for The Vegetarian.
  • A significant exception is the 2016 Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, which features eleven women authors on its longlist of eighteen (61%). This award has also been won by women for the last four years (Denise Mina twice, Belinda Bauer and Sarah Hilary).

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

All the above has made me scrutinise my own reading practices and biases (not always a comfortable process). I’m keeping a list to check my own reading/gender ratio, which I know some other bloggers do as well. It’ll be interesting to compare notes.

Some thought-provoking articles on and around the subject

Katy Derbyshire, ‘Translated fiction by women must stop being a minority in a minority’The Guardian, 10 March 2016

Hannah Ellis Peterson, ‘Male writers continue to dominate literary criticism, Vida study finds’, The Guardian, 7 April 2015 (particularly interesting contribution by Rob Spillman on tackling systemic problems)

VIDA, ‘The 2015 VIDA Count’, 30 March 2016. VIDA (Women in Literary Arts) is a US-based organisation that scrutinizes the representation of women in the sector (looking at interesting stats like the proportion of women reviewers on magazines).

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Renoir’s The Reader