Merry Christmas! Mrs Peabody’s festive round-up

I’m behind on my Christmas preparations this year, which means that this festive round-up is a little later than usual. On the plus side, it may help a few of you out of a last-minute present conundrum, or lead you to a nice, independent bookshop because it’s too late for online orders. You might also be moved to buy yourself a little gift. Go on, you deserve it.

The following are just some of my favourite crime novels of the year. All, in my view, would make a delightful escape from the mayhem of Christmas or family, especially when curled up on the sofa with a nice glass of wine.

Anne Holt and Berit Reiss-Anderson, The Lion’s Mouth (NORWAY: trans. by Anne Bruce, Corvus, 2014). Anne Holt is often described as the queen of Norwegian crime, and has drawn expertly on her own career in the police, law and government in the creation of the ‘Hanne Wilhelmsen’ police series (she was even Norwegian Minister of Justice for a while). This fourth installment in the series, originally published in 1997, explores the suspicious death of the Norwegian Prime Minister, who is found dead in her office just six months following election. A fusion of locked-room mystery, Borgen and police procedural, it’s a quietly satisfying read that’s held up well.

Arnaldur Indridason, Reykjavik Nights (ICELAND: trans. by Victoria Cribb, Harvill Secker, 2014). This prequel to the ‘Murder in Reykjavik’ series is a wonderfully absorbing read, which traces the start of Erlendur’s journey from young policeman to detective as he investigates the death of a homeless man and the disappearance of a woman. Set in 1974, the year Iceland celebrated 1100 years of settlement, we are also shown how a traumatic childhood event begins to shape Erlendur’s personal life and investigative career. The novel is a great read for those who are new to the series and for long-established Erlendur fans alike.

Hannah Kent, Burial Rites (AUSTRALIA/ICELAND: Picador, 2013). This impressive debut novel by a young Australian author is not for those looking for ‘cosy’ Christmas crime. Kent spent some time in Iceland as an exchange student and describes the book as her ‘dark love letter’ to the country: set in northern Iceland in 1829, it explores the case of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last Icelandic woman to be executed for murder. The figure of ‘the murderess’ tells us a lot about the gender, class and power relations of the time, and the picture the author paints of every-day, rural Icelandic life is fascinating. The story, setting and their links to the Icelandic sagas stayed with me long after reading it.

Hans Olav Lahlum’s The Human Flies (NORWAY: trans. by Kari Dickson, Mantle, 2014, [2010]) sounds like a horror film that’s best avoided after a large meal. However, it turns out to be something quite different: a well-constructed and witty homage to the classic crime fiction of Agatha Christie, set in 1968 Oslo, which has some interesting historical depth. Featuring ambitious young police detective Kolbjørn Kristiansen on his first big case – the murder of a former resistance fighter – readers are treated to an apartment building of intriguing suspects and a page-turning investigation, as well as the considerable intellect of Kristiansen’s wheelchair-bound partner Patricia.

Laura Lippman, After I’m Gone (USA: Faber and Faber, 2014). Ignore the rather daft cover. After I’m Gone is a literary crime novel that dissects a murder case by means of a rich narrative with some wonderful characterisation (the latter is one of Lippman’s great strengths). Told on a number of different time levels, it traces the stories of five women left behind when white-collar criminal Felix Brewer disappears in July 1976 – his wife Bambi Gottschalk, his three daughters, and his mistress Julie – as well as the investigation into Julie’s murder by detective Sandy Sanchez in the present. An engrossing, quality read.

Anya Lipska, Death Can’t take a Joke (UK/POLAND: The Friday Project, 2014). This is the second in the ‘Kiszka and Kershaw’ series, featuring Polish ‘fixer’ Janusz Kiszka and London police detective Natalie Kershaw. While I enjoyed Lipska’s first novel, Where the Devil Can’t Go, the second is where the series really gets into its stride: the duo’s investigation into two deaths, including one of Kiszka’s closest friends, is a tightly constructed page-turner with an engaging, blackly comic tone. The novel also features one of the best first chapters I’ve read this year… For a more in-depth exploration, head over to Margot Kinberg’s marvellous Confessions of a Mystery Novelist blog.

Marco Malvaldi, Game for Five and Three Card Monte. 1 and 2 of the ‘Bar Lume Trilogy’ (ITALY: Europa Editions/World Noir 2013/14). These light-hearted crime novels feature amateur detective Massimo Viviani, the maverick owner of Bar Lume, investigating mysterious deaths in Pineta in Northern Italy. Massimo is ably assisted in his work by four cantankerous, octogenarian barflies, including his own extremely opinionated grandfather. Witty, entertaining and stylishly packaged.

Eduardo Sacheri, The Secret in Their Eyes (ARGENTINA: trans. by John Cullen, Other Press, 2011 [2005]). I was given this novel last Christmas and it became one of my first and favourite reads of the year. Benjamin Miguel Chaparro, a newly retired Deputy Clerk in Buenos Aires, begins to write a novel about a case that has haunted him since 1968 – the murder of a young wife, Liliana Colotto, in her own home one summer’s morning. Oscillating between the past and the present, and spanning twenty-five years of Argentine history, the narrative tells the story of the murder and its repercussions for those left behind: husband Ricardo Morales, investigator Benjamin, and the murderer himself. The 2010 film adaptation was also a cracker. A full review is available here.

Olivier Truc, Forty Days without Shadow (FRANCE/LAPLAND: trans. by Louise Rogers LaLaurie, Trapdoor, 2014). This novel uses its criminal investigation as a means of exploring the history, culture and climate of Lapland. It also features the reindeer police! The novel opens with Sámi-Norwegian reindeer policeman Klemet Nango and partner Nina Nansen investigating the theft of a priceless Sámi drum from a museum. Shortly afterwards, Sámi herder Mattis is found dead, and ‘Patrol P9′ finds itself grappling with two crimes that could well be interlinked. A gripping novel that shines a spotlight on a fascinating part of the world. A full review is available here.

If the crime lover in your life is into TV drama, then my two top picks are as follows:

The Australian series The Code, which aired on BBC4 a few weeks ago and I reviewed enthusiastically here. This six-part political thriller opens with the mysterious death of Aboriginal teenager Sheyna Smith in Lindara, a remote New South Wales township. The circumstances of her death are hushed up, so when Ned Banks (a journalist for an internet newspaper) and his brother Jesse (an internet hacker on the autistic spectrum) start to investigate, you just know there’s going to be trouble. An utterly gripping, intelligent drama.

British police drama Happy Valley, a hard-hitting, six-part series that traces the fall-out from a kidnapping in the West Yorkshire valleys, while exploring its protagonists’ complex personal lives. Sarah Lancashire gives an absolutely outstanding performance as policewoman Catherine Cawood, together with an excellent supporting cast. Be warned that there is some very graphic (though in my view not gratuitous) violence. I think that 18 would be a more accurate rating than the 15 on the box. An addictive and top quality crime series.

And my own indulgence this Christmas? That would be the American drama True Detective, which I’m very much looking forward to watching. Have you indulged yourself as well? Do share if so!

Wishing all the readers of this blog a very happy and relaxing Christmas.

See you all in 2015!

German Zimtsternchen (little cinnamon star).    Quite addictive.

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38 thoughts on “Merry Christmas! Mrs Peabody’s festive round-up

    • Thanks for totting up the countries, Mel. I was hoping to get a good spread there, but hadn’t done the maths!

      I was sent the Lippman by the publisher and would have been put off by the cover too if I hadn’t previously read some of this author’s work. As I indicated in the post, she tends to write novels that are a literary-crime hybrid. So perhaps not one for crime purists, but I love the depth of her characterisation and in this case, the detailed focus on the lives of the five women.

  1. What a cracking post Mrs P! “Best of” lists come two a penny at this time of year but yours is a list I really trust and value. Am emailing this asap to a friend who was asking me for some crime read recommendations. Also really like the sound of The Code, wondering if I can sneak in a quick Amazon order for Mr B for Christmas. And glad Happy Valley is one of your picks, I bought it blind for my mum for her birthday back in the summer – hoping she will “lend” it to me😉

    Happy Christmas Mrs P🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲

    • Thanks and Happy Christmas, Blighty! I hope you have a lovely, festive time.

      It’s quite an eclectic list this time, so hopefully there’s something there for everyone. I loved The Code – and it’s great to see some quality crime drama from Australia. I will always love the Scandi stuff, but variety is always good. Hope your mum enjoyed Happy Valley; ‘borrowing’ it sounds like an excellent plan x

      • Got The Code for Mr B for Christmas, we are now watching it and are GRIPPED! Thanks so much for the recommendation, have mentioned your post on my blog and emailed it to friends xxx

  2. Starting on my ‘crime adventure 2015’ thanks to your inspirational blog! Watched ‘Remember me’ (3 part series) with M. Palin, It was a trail of seashells ominous music and annoying dream scenes. The writer forgot something: engaging plot. Thumbs↓. Next up: series ‘Happy Valley’ . Book/film review selection will be “The Secret in Their Eyes’. This film came to my attentiion due to Oscar win 2010 for Best Foreign Film. I willl have to start a blogpost about my ‘journey into crime’!

  3. Have very happy holidays and new year, Mrs. P.
    And thanks for all of the book recommendations, or in some cases, reminders of series.
    I will put The Code and Happy Valley on my own “wish” lists. I could just tune out any weekend with a good detective series. Last weekend, I watched six hours of Vera’s second season and loved it.

    • I love Vera too, kathy. She’s a wonderful character and the books make for perfect weekend reading as well.

      I shall look forward to hearing your views on The Code and Happy Valley. It’s been a very good year for crime drama – I was able to catch up on Broadchurch as well, which I loved.

      Happy holidays, kathy, and wishing you a fabulous 2015 x

  4. Happy Christmas, Mrs P. I hope you recovered from you bug. Thanks for your reading/ viewing advice, but I must dissent on Serial- I was bored stiff after 4 episodes, and tired of the narrative style, of the the repetitiveness of the details, of the reiteative motion of the narrative. An incontrovertible sign that I should perhaps occupy my time with something else was the fact that I did not care to “discover” (whether Adnan was in fact the murderer or – more interestingly- what method Koenig used to uncover elements that the original investigators had overlooked).
    I know, however, that I am the odd one out. Only this morning the series was flagged on BBC radio 4 as compulsive listening.
    Take care and enjoy the Christmas reading.

    • Hello Nicoletta and a very Happy Christmas to you too!

      Serial does not seem to have been for everybody, which is fair enough, and I’ve noticed that a few articles critical of the podcast have been appearing – a bit of a mini-backlash. I didn’t mind the repetition – I think it was necessary to keep going back over the evidence because the case was a conundrum, and sometimes things needed to be looked at several times from different angles. Ultimately, though, it was the insights into the investigative and judicial processes that fascinated me the most (as outlined in my post), rather that the question of whodunit. And I liked the way the podcast made me think – e.g. about the power of narrative in real life trial situations.

      Hope to be in touch with you properly in 2015. Look forward to hearing all about Mimesis… All the very best, Mrs P.

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  6. Thank you, Mrs. P., for the very kind mention. Also thanks for these great suggestions for books. They’re just marvellous! Wishing you and those you love a wonderful holiday and a great 2015!

    • Thanks, Margot. So many great books and series out there – it’s been a very good year.

      Warmest wishes to you and yours for a festive holiday and a wonderful 2015.

  7. Thanks, Mrs P, a really super list, with lots of books, specifically, new to me…I ALWAYS read Laura Pullman (Tess and the others) but that one, I wasn’t sure of. I shall be rectifying that. I’ll also be tackling the Anya Lipska books, which I’ve had waiting for me on my Kindle for ages. Also Arnaldur Indridason – I’ve read one of his, and loved it (Silence Of The Grave) but will be sure to seek more of them out. I do hope you have a wonderful Christmas and New Year, and I hope you enjoy True Detective! Hmmm, now I fancy some of these cookies…

    • Those cookies keep looking at me. Dreadful.

      I hope you have a lovely Christmas and enjoy lots of reading time with a selection of authors. Look forward to hearing about what you think of them in 2015 🙂

      • I meant Laura Lippman, of course, damn predictive text! Well After I’m Gone was (and probably still is) 99p in the Kindle sale, just to let anyone who, like me, hasn’t read it know. And I do need to get back to Burial Rites…I started it, but it got pushed aside by more immediate books, if you know what I mean. I’m also looking forward to hearing your thoughts on True Detective – love that Deep South atmosphere!

      • I knew what you meant! Thanks for the heads up about the Kindle sale and will keep you posted on True Detective. I know what you mean about Burial Rites – it’s one you need some peace and quiet to appreciate, I think.

  8. Ahh, a list promising much more. Indridason has certainly tempted me to more with his intriguing structure. But have just finished another of your recommendations, m.j.mcgrath’s ‘White Heat’, and am amazed it is not on your list. Jeez, these others must be good; that McGrath was excellent – on many fronts.

  9. Great list. Gives me some ideas when I start buying more books. I do have The Secret in Their Eyes and I am looking forward to reading it. I have seen the movie and liked it a lot.

    • It’s always good to have a wishlist in reserve for future book-buying opportunities… I hope you enjoy The Secret in Their Eyes – I’ll be interested to see how you think it compared to the film. Happy Christmas!

  10. If only I could figure out how to get The Code and Happy Valley over here. I keep checking the library’s catalogue. They’ll get here eventually. If anyone has any suggestions, please let us in the State know. I’ve checked MHZ Networks, not there.
    The Secret in their Eyes is quite a movie, I agree.

  11. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on True Detective, Mrs. Peabody! Maybe we should stay up late one night over a glass of hot milk to discuss it? 😉

    I’m glad you loved Burial Rites as well. I did, but there were quite a few people who hated it. Anyway, it reminded me so much of Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood!

    And I love the After I’m Gone cover and your mini-review.

    • Hello, Elena. I haven’t got round to watching True Detective yet, but feel all warm and tingly at the prospect. Look forward to discussing!

      I hadn’t realised that Burial Rites had had a mixed reception, though I can see it wouldn’t be for everyone. It was all over Iceland when we visited in November, in the original English (I’m guessing aimed both at Icelanders and tourists).

  12. I don’t want to read Burial Rites, even though I’ve read rave reviews. It’s just too sad to me to
    read about a real travesty of justice and the victimization of women. Not my cup of tea.
    I do appreciate your “best of” list and am just now sending this post to a friend who was
    in Copenhagen and Greenland this summer on archaeological projects.

    • I understand, Kathy. Burial Rites is not for everyone, I know. Thanks very much for passing the post on to your archaeological friend, and wishing you a very happy New Year!

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