Crime in the summertime

I’m still busy writing, editing and researching, but am allowing myself the odd foray into international crime fiction as the summer sun works its magic. Here are some gems:

Happiness Is Easy

Happiness is Easy (published 17 July 2014 by Doubleday) is the second novel by Brazilian author Edney Silvestre. Its story is deceptively simple – the kidnapping of the wrong child from a rich man’s chauffeur-driven car – but is told with elegant brilliance, moving from past to present in such a way that we gain in-depth portraits of the characters involved while following the fall-out from the crime. Silvestre, who’s also a journalist, uses the genre to critique the corruption of Brazilian politics, the gulf between rich and poor, and the booming kidnap ‘industry’. It’s a bleak read in places, although not without hope. Nick Caistor does a great job translating from Brazilian Portuguese, and I’m now keen to read more from the country hosting the Football World Cup.

Jørn Lier Horst’s The Hunting Dogs (trans. by Anne Bruce, Sandstone Press, 2014) comes to us already garlanded with prizes – it won the 2012 Riverton/Golden Revolver Prize and the 2013 Scandinavian Glass Key. I’m not remotely surprised, as this eighth novel in the William Wisting series (the third to be published in English) is one of the best Scandinavian crime novels I’ve read. Much has been made of Horst’s extensive policing experience, but for me, it’s the fantastic writing, plotting and characterisation that stand out in this novel, which sees Wisting suspended due to irregularities in a past case. Forced to re-investigate the murder of Cecilia Linde from the outside, he is helped by journalist daughter Line to uncover the truth. A top-notch summer read.

American author Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones was published in 2002, but it’s one that I go back to every now and then, because it’s such an original crime novel. Set in the summer of 1973, it’s narrated by Susie Salmon, who’s murdered by a neighbour at the age of fourteen and witnesses the aftermath of the crime from her ‘heaven’. You’d be forgiven for thinking this all sounds horribly mawkish, but the concept is brilliantly pulled off for the most part, and offers a sensitive portrayal of the effects of a murder on the family and friends of the victim. Be warned: when I first read the novel one summer holiday I found it *highly* addictive. It was subsequently made into a film by Peter Jackson (2009), which received mixed reviews.

Meanwhile, on the research front…

I’m about to start a 1968 crime novel by French-Jewish writer Romain Gary, entitled The Dance of Genghis Cohn. I came across it by chance when reading a piece on German film* and was immediately intrigued. It tells the story of a post-war murder investigation led by a Bavarian police chief (so far, so conventional), who is haunted by a Jewish comedian he murdered while an SS officer under National Socialism. Quite a starting point, isn’t it? Blackly humorous, it’s also an uncompromising critique of post-war West Germany’s reluctance to engage with the Nazi past. Intriguingly, it was adapted for television by the BBC in 1994 (starring Anthony Sher and Robert Lindsay) – something to follow up after reading the book.

*Frank Stern, ‘Film in the 1950s: Passing Images of Guilt and Responsibility’, in Hanna Schissler (ed.), The Miracle Years: A Cultural History of West Germany 1949-1968, (Princeton University Press, 2001), pp. 266-80.

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22 thoughts on “Crime in the summertime

    • I was really pleased to read something from a country that was new to me, and was very impressed. Silvestre’s first novel has been published in translation here as well – it’s called If I Close My Eyes Now. Definitely one to keep an eye on (pardon the pun).

  1. Thanks, Mrs P. Some more for my reading list. I am in the middle of The Hunting Dogs. I liked the other two, Dregs and Closed for the Winter. He’s really very good and because he was a police officer himself the police work is absolutely convincing (far from always being the case).

    • I’m glad you enjoyed his other two, Chrissie. I’ve yet to read Dregs and everyone keeps telling me I must (staring at me from the shelf as we type). Yes, you can really see all that in-depth police knowledge shining through, and I also like how Lier shows the toll that years of policework have taken on Wisting. The novels are very honest about the cumulative pressures police face.

  2. I loved The Lovely Bones, but I never saw it as a crime novel. I was drawn to the novel after seeing the wonderful, ever-inspiring, also-English-lit-student-and-feminist Rachel Weisz on it and I decided to buy the book. I also found it very addictive, but it was one of the first books that make, not cry, but sob.

    I hope you’re busy but happy doing research. I am currently filling in forms for a scholarship. Please tell me it gets easier with time!

    • I take your point, Elena – it’s not *pure* crime. Perhaps an example of hybrid literary-crime? I have a notoriously elastic view of crime fiction, though, and would count this one in because the murder is the motor of the narrative, and because the novel is primarily concerned with the effects of the murder on the victim’s family and friends. As for the emotional impact: you’re not alone. I wept buckets.

      All good on the research front, though I need to power up a little to get a few things FINISHED. Good luck with the scholarship forms. Does it get easier with time? Yes in the sense that the more you do, the more you get used to the process. No in the sense that there’s always a lot of fiddly paperwork. A good tip is to read examples of successful bids/applications. That will help you see what ‘works’ in the eyes of the funders. And give referees plenty of time to write you a glowing reference! GOOD LUCK.

  3. The Silvestre sounds great and I’ll try to find it over here. The Hunting Dogs by Horst has been on my TBR list since I read a good review of it, but have to wait for its arrival in my library.
    The Sebold book I guess we have to agree to disagree. I couldn’t go more than two pages into it and I hated the movie. It was so gratuitously violent — and towards a child — that I had to look away. It was way too long and the sickness of the perpetrator was awful and other parts were very grustrating. I had to root for the victim’s father but to no avail. A totally exasperating book, I’d say.
    But, hey, we all have different taste and to quote an eminent blogger, “No one reads the same book.”

    • Hi Kathy and thanks for your really interesting response. I read the novel of The Lovely Bones first and absolutely loved it. I agree that the first chapter is the *hardest* of reads, but compared to many other crime novels, the descriptions of the violence are not physically detailed/graphic. They are, however, emotionally devastating, and I can see how that could have put you and other readers off.

      When the film came out, I could see that it was receiving mixed reviews, and decided not to watch it, because I didn’t want to damage how I felt about the book. My sense was that the film had not managed to pull off the ‘concept’ in the way that the book had, which didn’t surprise me, as there are so many ways that audacious premise (a victim narrating her family’s reactions to her murder) could go very, very wrong. So I still haven’t seen the film and don’t think I ever will!

      ‘No one reads the same book’ – I love it! So true.

  4. Hi Mrs P, the Jorn Leiv series sounds intriguing, will have to look that up, need another good Swedish author, not a fan of Mankel, & can’t abide Dahl, so it’ed be good to find another.
    Joy of joys managed to track down a copy of the Romain Gary @ Nottm central library, so looking forward to that! They had a second hand copy @ amazon for£40!
    Can’t recommend the Malvaldi ‘Game for Five’, disappointing. About to order that recommendation of yours Mallocks ‘cemetery of swallows’ looks reAlly interesting. Find ‘click & collect’ by Waterstones to be really good, & cheaper than amazons! Just needs to be in stock @ your local branch.
    About to read the last Charlie Resnick novel by John Harvey, always enjoyed his books, being set in Nottm makes it that more interesting. Have you read him? If not I do recommend him.

    • Hello Brian! Jorn Lier Horst is a fairly new discovery in the UK (although very well known in native Norway and has written 8 in the Wisting series so far). I’ve only read two so far, but did like them very much. Hope you do too and will be interested to hear how you get on.

      I’ve just started the Gary and it really is extraordinary. Lots of satirical black humour, with an understandably angry edge. Intrigued to see where it will go and am delighted that you’ve located a copy. It would be excellent to discuss it at some point to get your views.

      I haven’t read any Resnick yet. A big hole. Is it best to start at the beginning of the series?

  5. I look forward to your review of the Romain Gary book. I again would be aggravated by a character who committed war crimes and that he wasn’t found guilty and jailed for the rest of his life at least. However, I know there is a lot more to it and await your analysis of the book.
    And as for The Lovely Bones, I disliked the entire concept of a dead character narrating. I dislike that plot device. So, off the bat it was irksome so that was that.
    I’d suggest anyone with children or who loves children should not see the movie. It got panned over here for many reasons, including the horrors against children. It tanked pretty quickly.

    • Hello Kathy. I do understand what you mean about The Lovely Bones. There are some novels that I can’t go near, because I know, just from reading the back cover, that they will be too painful/distasteful, either in terms of content or the narrative approach they take.

      I was just saying to Brian in the comment above that I’ve now started the Gary. It’s a satire, and so is very critical of the society it’s set in, and one of its main themes is the failure of the West German state to adequately punish Nazi war criminals. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like it before – a fantastically bold idea and I’ll be really interested to see if it comes off.

  6. Now, the Romain Gary book sounds promising. I guess for me it depends on how much Nazi horror it portrays, as I have limits on that. The Collini Case was about my limit, and the worst was not expressed.
    But the concept of Gary’s book is definitely a good one. Will await your review.

    • Hi Kathy, I’ve started the Gary, but have got a bit stuck. I’m wondering whether it’s one of those novels that has a great concept but doesn’t quite pull it off. I’ll persevere and report…

  7. As always some really interesting recommendations Mrs P! I’m going for the Brasilian and the Horst. I loathed the Lovely Bones, not so much because of the violence, but I just couldn’t go with the idea that she floated around in the ether observing her family etc – seemed too contrived to me. We’re all different in our reading likes and dislikes that’s for sure.
    I’m also a Resnick fan – whilst not entirely essential to start a the beginning of the series, you get a better picture of the man and the city if you do. In someways the books remind me of Rankin’s Rebus books as the city is one of the characters.

    • Hi Herschelian and sorry for the delay in responding. Lovely Bones really does seem to be a Marmite book – I hadn’t quite realised how much! – and I hope that the other two find more favour in your eyes. Let me know how you get on if you try them.

      I’m off on a little break at the end of July, so perhaps that’s a chance to start the Resnick series. I like novels in which the city’s a character in its own right, so am looking forward to giving it a go.

  8. Hi Mrs P, how did the Gary book go? It seems the library’s copy has gone missing! So won’t be able to read that one, unless it turns up somewhere else. Liked the sound of the Francis Iles book,
    will be downloading that one. Also see that Jason Webster has a new one out, ‘Blood Med’, definitely on my list.
    Have you started The Resnick series yet? It really appealed to me when I first started reading them, because he really got the feel of Nottingham in the 80s, & still has, like me Harvey was a newcomer from London, so that made it interesting. Also worked on a TV programme that he scripted for Central. I think it’s best to start with the first ‘ lonely Hearts’ , the series charts how the city has changed, for the better. One interesting fact, the coffee bar that constantly mentions in the
    Vic Centre, Aldo’s, well like Charlie Resnick he’s retired also!
    Umm it seems Indridason couldn’t let go of Erlendur, we have a prequel, ‘Reykjavik Nights’, out 18/09/14. I have ordered it, but must say I’m always dubious about such things!

    • Hello Brian – sorry for the tardy response (I was away on my hols).

      I got about a third of the way through with the Gary and then got a little stuck: although quite weird and wonderful, I’m not sure that the execution of the premise quite lives up to expectation. I’ll try to finish it shortly…

      Blood Med is on my list too (sitting on my bookshelf here) as is Lonely Hearts now – thanks for the recommendation. Looking forward to Reykjavik Nights – any Erlendur is a good thing in my book! Just reading Henning Mankell’s freshly translated An Event in Autumn – a Wallander novella first published around 2004. It’s nice to see the old grouch back in action.

  9. Pingback: Review: The Hunting Dogs by Jørn Lier Horst | The Game's Afoot

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