Summer smörgåsbord of international crime

Somehow it’s been five months since I last blogged, but thankfully I’ve still found time to read some quality crime – a very welcome oasis amidst the grind of daily life. Here’s a round-up: an eclectic assortment of international crime fiction to suit various reading moods.

Karin Slaughter, Cop Town, Century 2014 (USA)
First line: Dawn broke over Peachtree Street.

This standalone by Karin Slaughter was featured on Margot Kinberg’s excellent crime blog and immediately piqued my interest.

Atlanta, 1974: Kate Murphy’s first day as a policewoman gets off to a rough start when she runs into a wall of sexism at the precinct. On top of that, a policeman has just been killed and tensions are high. Paired with reluctant but street-savvy patrolwoman Maggie Lawson, Kate has to learn the job fast while navigating a highly dangerous case.

Cop Town provided an illuminating and enjoyable glimpse into the everyday life of pioneering policewomen. I couldn’t help but imagine the lead characters as a young Cagney & Lacey – two characters from very different backgrounds who somehow form a great team. The novel is also a good ‘sequel’ to Thomas Mullen’s Darktown, which focuses on the difficulties faced by black policemen in the Atlanta force during the late 1940s.

Håkan Nesser, The Secret Life of Mr Roos, tr. by Sarah Death, Mantle 2020 (Sweden)

First line: The day before everything changed, Ante Valdemar Roos had a vision.

The Secret Life of Mr Roos is the third in Nesser’s ‘Inspector Barbarotti’ series and the most satisfying installment yet.

Middle-aged, unhappily married accountant Valdemar Roos wins the lottery and secretly buys himself a hut in the remote Swedish countryside. Anna Gambowska, a twenty-one-year-old former drug addict fleeing from a domineering partner, is forced to seek refuge there one night. Before long, a crime takes place that will transform both their lives.

This was a wonderfully absorbing 500-page read. The characterisation of the two main protagonists is excellent, as is the story of their relationship, which is told with both compassion and humour. Barbarotti only makes his entrance half-way through the novel, ensuring that Valdemar and Anna remain firmly centre stage and that we genuinely care about their fates. Scandi crime at its best.

Agnes Ravatn, The Seven Doors, tr. by Rosie Hedger, Orenda Books 2021 (Norway)

First line: Berg slinks along the walls, just as the two surveyors did the week before.

The Seven Doors is a deliciously dark psychological thriller that skewers middle-class hypocrisies and the individual’s capacity for self-deception when unpalatable truths threaten a comfortable life.

Ingeborg, the pregnant daughter of university professor Nina and consultant Mads, unwittingly sets off a chain of events when she insists on viewing the house her parents rent out as a prospective new home. Within days, tenant Mari has gone missing, and bit by bit, things spiral out of control. This is a novel about gender, class entitlement and wilful blindness, expertly spiced with some Freud and Bluebeard, and has a cracking ending – I had to re-read it twice for the sheer thrill of it!

Adania Shibli, Minor Detail, tr. from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette, Fitzcarraldo Editions 2020 (Palestine)

First line: Nothing moved except the mirage.

This is a novel to save for when you are feeling emotionally robust. I think it’s one of the most devastating reading experiences I’ve ever had.

Shibli is a Palestinian writer based in Berlin, who uses elements of the crime genre to create a story with two distinct halves. The first is a crime committed in 1949 just after the War of Independence or Nakba: an Israeli officer and his platoon rape, murder and bury a young Palestinian woman in the Negev desert. The second follows a woman from present-day Ramallah who becomes obsessed with this ‘minor detail’ of history, and decides to investigate and memorialise the young woman’s death. However, doing so means travelling to areas that are strictly off-limits to her as a Palestinian, a nerve-wracking journey that subverts any conventional narrative expectations we might have.

The novel was longlisted for the 2021 International Man Booker Prize, and reminded me how crucial translation is for illuminating under-represented viewpoints and for giving a voice to authors who write in less frequently translated languages.

It’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove.

I also recently watched an outstanding Danish crime series –The Investigation (dir. Tobias Lindholm) – which explored the extraordinary Kim Wall murder case.

The way the drama approached its subject matter blew me away. It completely sidelined the attention-seeking murderer – to the point where his name wasn’t even mentioned – and focused instead on the investigative process that convicted him, on the relationship between lead investigator Jens Moller Jensen and Kim’s parents – and crucially on Kim and her journalism. The acting is fantastic throughout (fans of Wallander, The Killing and Borgen will recognise a number of faces), and the details of how the investigation unfolded to the point where they could successfully prosecute are riveting. A grown-up crime drama that makes conventional serial-killer narratives look tired and formulaic.

The series is still available to view on BBC 2 iPlayer.

And finally…. I’m currently reading Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 Trilogy, translated from the Japanese by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel. The whole thing comes to a whopping 1318 pages, so should keep me out of mischief for a while.

The reason I include it here is because it turns out to have a strong crime element, as I discovered to my amusement about 50 pages in, when one of the lead characters was revealed not to be a smart young businesswoman after all, but something rather more murderous. You can always rely on the wildly unexpected when you read Murakami. Bananas, but in a very marvellous way.

I hope you’re all keeping well and enjoying some quality crime reading. Do let me know your top reads below. And is anyone watching Mare of Easttown with Kate Winslet? Is it as good as everyone says?!

13 thoughts on “Summer smörgåsbord of international crime

  1. Thanks so much for the kind link and kind words, Mrs. P.! I’m very glad you enjoyed Cop Town. Like you, I thought it was a really effective portrayal of what it was like to be a female police officer during that time. I might like to know what happened to those two, actually. Their characters interested me a lot.

    • You’re very welcome, Margot – and agreed! It would be great to meet them again in a second novel. Will you tell Karin or shall I?! x

  2. So lovely to have you back and tempting me with everything again! I haven’t read Seven Doors yet, but really loved Agnes Ravatn’s previous novel. I’ve never even heard of ‘The Secret Life of Mr Roos’ but it sounds just up my street. Last, but not least, I agree with you about The Investigation – shows just how painstaking (and often dull and repetitive) police work really is, but above all it showed the effect of the crime on the parents and everyone else. Recent ‘crimey’ books I’ve read and enjoyed include: The Other Black Girl (although the suspense element is less interesting than the discrimination and publishing world aspect of it); Follow Her Home by Steph Cha pays homage to noir novels of Raymond Chandler but with a fiery Korean American female protagonist as the private eye; The Memory Police captivated (and disturbed) me.

    • Haha! Lovely to be back! Thanks for your recommendations – a very intriguing list. I’ve picked The Memory Police up a few times in bookshops – sounds like it’s time to take the plunge. I like the look of The Other Black Girl as well. And Follow Her Home!!! Ta xxx

  3. Thank you so much for this really interesting list of noveks, Mrs P . I love the way you often highlight under represented writers in translation. I am reading a Norwegian novel Scatter Her Ashes by Geine Bakkeid …quirky, dark, funny, sad and interesting.

    • You’re welcome, NR! And yes, I’m very keen to highlight writers who show us new and important perspectives. Hooray for the publishers and translators who work so hard to get such novels to us.

      Scatter Her Ashes sounds like a good one – and I may even have a copy in my TBR pile somewhere. Thanks for the nudge 🙂

  4. Having translated as an exercise a Finnish police procedural (unpublished) but usually an author of nonfiction essays, reading these reviews inspires me to order them all! Thank you muchly Mrs. Peabody, my summer recreational reading plans are now in place for when I finish the Proust that has sustained me throughout the pandemic.)
    Jaime Smith (karhunluola.wordpress.com)

    • Thanks, Jaime – and happy ordering! Good to hear that Proust has been a sturdy support throughout these trying times.

      And hello to a fellow crime translator. It’s a lot harder than it looks, isn’t it? Especially when it comes to translating clues for the reader with just the right amount of nuance! I hope your Finnish police procedural makes its way to publication at some point in the future.

  5. I watched The Investigation when it was first shown and thought it was a very interesting way to approach a real life story. The Secret Life of Mr Roos is on my list.
    I looked at Margot’s blog and she mentions Gary Disher’s Paul Hirschhausen. I am waiting for the third book to drop onto my Kindle in the next few weeks, it is a brilliant series. I have read a lot of Disher’s books but couldn’t get into the Wyatt series.
    I am reading Eva Bjorg Aegisdottir’s “Girls Who Lie” at the moment. Dark and I think about to get darker!

    • Hi Jan – yes, the makers of The Investigation had clearly thought very carefully about how to approach the subject, and did a very good job of countering the media’s approach to the case (which was also critiqued as part of the drama). It was really extremely impressive.

      Thanks for the tip: I’ve not read any of Disher’s ‘Hirschhausen’ series. I’ll put Bitter Wash Road on the list 🙂

  6. So glad you’re back, I’ve been missing your recommendations! Have just finished reading “Fatal Isles” by Maria Adolffson on Kindle, set on a fictional set of islands on the Dogger Bank mid-way between Denmark and England, so Scandi noir without being any one specific nation. Breaks one of the Detection Club’s key rules so the ending was mildly annoying.

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