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!

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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

Eurotour Stop 7. Olsztyn, Poland: “He took a gentle curve onto Kościuszko Street”

Dzień dobry from Olsztyn! Today’s extract is from…

Zygmunt Miłoszewski, Rage (trans. from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones; AmazonCrossing, 2016), p. 11 and p. 13-14. Polish State Prosecutor  Szacki series #3

Historical note – Before becoming a Polish city in 1945, Olsztyn was called Allenstein and was part of East Prussia.

Just after moving to this city, he had read in the Olsztyn Gazette that the city’s traffic operations designer doesn’t believe in the “green wave” – because it makes people drive too fast and thus presents a danger for road traffic – and at first thought it quite a funny joke. But it wasn’t a joke. He soon discovered that in this not very large city, which you could walk across in half an hour, and where vehicles moved down wide streets, everyone was always getting stuck in traffic jams. […]

Finally he began moving again, drove past the hospital, the brothel and the old water tower, and then – after serving his time at the lights again – he took a gentle curve onto Kościuszko Street. Here there was finally something worth looking at, first and foremost the Administrative Court. A huge edifice that demanded respect, it had originally been built as the headquarters of the Allenstein regional administration in the days when the city was part of Germany. It was a wonderful building – a stately, majestic five-storey sea of redbrick rising from a ground floor made of stone blocks. If it had been up to Szacki, he’d have housed all three of Olsztyn’s prosecution services in this building. He thought it would mean something to witnesses to be escorted up the wide steps into a great big building like this one, rather than into the miserable little 1970s box where his own local office was situated. The public should know that the state meant dignity and strength built on a solid foundation, not penny-pinching, stopgaps, terrazzo tiles, and gloss paint on the walls.

The Germans had known what they were doing. Szacki was born in Warsaw, and at first he’d found the Olsztyn citizens’ deference toward the builders of their little homeland irritating. To him, the Germans had never done any building – on the contrary, they had reduced Warsaw to a heap of rubble, thanks to which his native town was a pitiful caricature of a capital city. He had never liked the Germans, but he had to give them credit: everything attractive in Olsztyn – everything that gave the city its character, or made it interesting with the not-so-obvious charm of a thick-skinned woman of the North – had been built by them. Everything else was bland at best, but usually hideous.

I chose this extract before heading off on our travels, and had to laugh when we found ourselves in a traffic jam five minutes after arriving in Olsztyn – the first of many over the next three days. But I found the author’s judgement of the more modern areas a little harsh. Olsztyn is a vibrant, energetic city on the up, and lies in an area of great geographical beauty.

So what’s with Olsztyn, you may ask. Why not a more major city like Gdansk? The answer is that this one has a bit of a personal connection – my mother’s family lived here and in the neighbouring town of Ostróda (Osterode), as well as a tiny village called Marwald (Marwalde). And aside from rediscovering the places where my great-grandparents, grandparents, mother and aunt hung out back in the day, it was nice to get off the beaten track and discover somewhere a little different and rather lovely.

Here’s Olsztyn’s High Gate, which leads the way into the old town.

Olsztyn’s main square. That building in the middle, the Old Town Hall, is now a LIBRARY. Cafes and restaurants abound…

…a very nice place to while away an hour or two on a warm September evening. Yes, it’s more fish soup, plus a delicious egg mayo and dill mixture to go on your bread – or in the soup?

Lovely little book-nook in the evangelical church off the square.

The imposing New Town Hall.

The big bookshop in the new town had a generously proportioned crime section.

Over in Ostróda, there’s a large and rather idyllic lake in the middle of town (one of many in the area – a kind of Polish Lake District).

And a number of beautiful churches.

And here’s the tower of the old church in Marwalde, where my mum remembers sneaking into weddings as a little girl with her sister.

And everywhere we went, the autumn leaves were turning – a beautiful sight.

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

Eurotour Stop 6. Riga, Latvia: “He left the hotel and went in search of the bookshop”

Sveiki from Riga! Today’s extract is from…

Henning Mankell, The Dogs of Riga (trans. from Swedish by Laurie Thompson, Vintage, 2004 [1992]). 

The extract is set in 1991, shortly after the collapse of Communism in eastern Europe. Wallander has travelled to Riga to investigate a case.

“I’d like to go back to the hotel now,” Wallander said when Zids appeared in the doorway. “I have quite a lot of notes to write up in my room this evening. You can come and collect me at 8 a.m. tomorrow.”

When the sergeant had left him at his hotel, Wallander bought some postcards and stamps in reception. He also asked for a map of the city, but as the map the hotel had was not detailed enough, he was directed to a bookshop not far away.

Wallander looked around in the foyer, but couldn’t see anyone drinking tea or reading a newspaper. That means they’re still here, he thought. One day they’ll be obvious, the next they’ll be invisible. I’m supposed to doubt whether the shadows exist.

He left the hotel and went in search of the bookshop. It was already dark and the pavement was wet from sleet. There were a lot of people about, and Wallander stopped now and then to look in shop windows. The goods on display were limited, and much of a muchness. When he got to the bookshop, he glanced back over his shoulder: there was no sign of anybody hesitating mid-stride.

An elderly gentleman who didn’t speak a word of English sold him a map of Riga. He went on and on in Latvian, as if he took it for granted that Wallander could understand every word. He returned to his hotel. Somewhere in front of him was a shadow he couldn’t see. He made up his mind to ask one of the colonels the next day why he was being watched. He thought he’d broach the subject in a friendly fashion, without sarcasm or aggression.

He asked at reception if anybody had tried to contact him. “No calls, Mr Wallander, no calls at all,” was the answer.

He went to his room and sat down to write his postcards, moving the desk away from the window, to avoid the draught. He chose a card with a picture of Riga Cathedral to send to Björk.

It’s over twenty-five years since Wallander visited Riga. Latvia is now an EU member state with a fully functioning democracy and, while signs of the communist era are still visible (neglected old buildings waiting to be rescued), there is a sense of a society and an economy on the up. We’ve really enjoyed our time here.

Riga is full to the brim of beautiful Art Nouveau buildings built in the 1910s. Everywhere you look, there’s another gem.

But there are some stunning modern buildings as well, such as the Latvian National Library (or Glass Mountain, named after an important Latvian fairy tale).

There’s an enormous market down by the river too (four giant hangers), selling everything from mushrooms and pork to eel and pickles.

Riga’s old town feels much less twee than Tallinn’s. Here’s a bit of Riga Cathedral, as featured on Wallander’s postcard.

This is the imposing Freedom Monument (erected in 1935 to commemorate those who died in the War of Latvian Independence, 1918-20).

And the lovely park by it, where you can have a coffee and a pastry.

The orthodox Russian cathedral has some beautiful detail.

Lastly, here’s a view over the river Daugava, with a little remnant of Communism on one of the panels of the railing… which takes us back to Wallander in 1991.

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

Eurotour Stop 5. Tallinn, Estonia: “She kept walking, looking for new evidence of peace”

Tere from Tallinn! Today’s extract is from a novel that is also a crime story…

When the Doves Disappeared by Finnish-Estonian author Sofi Oksanen (trans from Finnish by Lola M. Rogers; Atlantic Books, 2015), p. 33. 

The extract is set in 1941. The Red Army has just been driven out of Tallinn by the German National Socialists. As David Smith notes in Estonia: Independence and European Integration, ‘the experiences of the previous year led many Estonians to greet the Germans as liberators, an illusion that was swiftly dispelled during the early months of the Nazi Occupation’ (Routledge, 2001, p. 35).

Tallinn was blooming with Estonian and German flags tangling in the wind. The Palace Theatre was being quickly rebuilt, a crowd of kids already gathered to marvel at the movie posters, even the adults stopping to look at them as they passed, and Juudit got a glimpse of the little red smile of a German actress and Mari Möldre’s long eyelashes. The merriness of the crowd played around Juudit’s ankles and she felt like she’d stepped into a movie herself. It wasn’t real. Still, she would have liked to join in, keep walking with no destination and never go home. Why not? Why couldn’t she? Why couldn’t she participate in the joy? You couldn’t smell the smoke from the fires anymore – at least not here; it was still coming in the windows of her apartment – and she sniffed the air, which carried a smell like freshly baked buns, until she was dizzy. The town wasn’t destroyed after all. The Russians must have been so busy burning the warehouses and factories and blowing up the Kopli armoured train that they didn’t get around to the homes. She kept walking, looking for new evidence of peace, and passed the Soldatenheim, where young soldiers stood casually chatting, and their eyes fastened on her lips, and she sped up, averting her eyes from a woman putting up a big poster of “Hitler, the Liberator” in the window of the button shop. Juudit looked around for something more, greedy to see more people who seemed to have forgotten the last several years. Tallinn was suddenly flooded with young men. It annoyed her. There were too many men. She wished she were home, had a sudden, pressing desire to get back there. She quickly bought a newspaper and also snapped up a copy of Otepää Teataja that someone had used as a lunch wrapper, and she stared for a moment into a café where she had once known the buffet girl by name. Had they already gone back to work or did the café have a new owner and new employees? She had sometimes gone there in the past to enjoy a pastry, meet her friends, but now her wedding ring was tight around the finger under her glove. Near the hospital, Wehrmacht soldiers were snaring pigeons.

We approached Tallinn from the water (on the ferry from Helsinki), so this was our first view of the city.

Our last visit was 2001, sixteen years ago. The old town was still more or less as we knew it (beautiful but quite touristy), and celebrates the city’s medieval, Hanseatic heyday. Below is the famous Old Market Square, which is truly lovely.

The Aleksander Nevski orthodox Russian cathedral is impressively bling (especially inside, where no cameras are allowed).

We enjoyed a coffee in Tallinn’s oldest cafe, Maiasmokk…

…and a very tasty, spicy goulash garnished with thyme.

But we also noticed that there are now lots of sparkling modern buildings and hotels, evidence of Tallinn’s new prosperity following the fall of Communism and joining the EU. New buildings jostle with older ones from earlier eras. While the ghost of Tallinn’s eastern bloc past is definitely present, there was no obvious reference to the 1941-44 Nazi occupation (that I could see), and I suspect that Oksanen’s novel dares to go places that many Estonians would rather not – especially on the question of collaboration. There is a Museum of Occupations that I plan to visit next time…

Here’s a view of the countryside outside Tallinn. Flat and beautiful with big skies.

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

Eurotour Stop 4. Helsinki, Finland: “The tram made Siiri’s beloved curve at Kamppi”

Hei from Helsinki! Today’s extract is from…

Minna Lindgren, Death in Sunset Grove (trans. from Finnish by Lola Rogers; Pan, 2016 [2013]), 128-130.

Siiri sat in her usual seat on the tram and tried to see behind Eira hospital. That was where Villa Johanna was, a whimsical work by her favourite architect, Selim A. Lindquist, which you could see from the number 3 as it turned onto Tehtaankatu. She had a habit of concentrating on one building and trying to think of as many other buildings in Helsinki by the same architect as she could. Selim A. Lindqvist was easy: there were two buildings of his, side by side, on Aleksanterinkatu – numbers 11 and 13.

The number 3B tram changed to the number 3T at Olympia Terminal, and Siiri decided to take it as far as the new opera house. Then she could get on the number 4 to get back to Sunset Grove. She had already ridden around for more than two hours, using any favourite tram route or building she could think of as an excuse to put off going back home, because the mere thought of Sunset Grove gave her a very unpleasant feeling. She didn’t want to see Virpi Hiukkanen, she didn’t want to think about Irma’s confusion and growing suspiciousness, and she didn’t know how to bring up all these worries with Anna-Liisa […]

A talkative little girl was sitting with her mother next to the ticket dispenser, wearing a funny looking hat with bear ears on it. […]

‘Mama, why doesn’t everyone have kids? Why doesn’t grandma have kids? Why, Mama?’

‘Your grandma does have kids. Otherwise she couldn’t be your grandma,’ said a wino across the aisle. The little girl took an interest in this new acquaintance and got up to stand in the aisle, but her mother continued to stare at the rain hitting the window.

‘My grandma is Grandpa’s girlfriend and she’s much younger than my mother, so she could have kids any time she wanted, but Mama wouldn’t want her to. What are your children’s names? Do you have a job? Why not? What do you do, then?’

‘I sit in the park and ride on the tram.’

‘Fun! I want to do that when I’m big!’

The tram made Siiri’s beloved curve at Kamppi and the passengers pricked up their ears to hear the wino’s reaction to the little girl’s future plans.

‘What park do you go to?’ the girl asked. ‘I usually go to the one on Lapinlahdenkatu, but it’s pretty small.’

‘Me too, it’s a nice park.’

‘And Väiski, but only in the winter.’

‘I sometimes go and sit on the rocks at Temppeliaukio. There’s a nice view from there.’

Helsinki gallery

I’m cheating a little, as this is the entrance to Turku station (designed by Väinö Vähäkallio and Martti Välikangas). We caught the train to Helsinki from here after a lovely breakfast in the city’s market place. Finland has some amazing railway architecture…

This is the ticket hall in Helsinki Central station (designed by Eliel Saarinen). It’s a wonderfully beautiful, tranquil space.

Here’s Senaatintori (Senate Square) in the centre of town…

…and one of Siiri’s trams. We’ve been hopping on and off these with our travel cards – a fantastic way to see the city. And I swear I saw Siiri on the 3T…

Twice (in Stockholm and now in Helsinki), we’ve had the most delicious fish stew from indoor food markets for about 10 Euros. They’re hugely generous with the fish, mussels and prawns, and the rich, heady base has a hint of aniseed. The yellow blob is aioli. One of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Oh, and there’s unlimited bread.

Muumin (moomintroll) notebooks from my favourite bookshop in Helsinki.

Sunflowers are sold at all the outdoor markets at the moment. These were bought in Turku and travelled safely to our Helsinki base, where they sit in a beautiful Iittala vase.

Cinnamon and cardamom buns – divine!

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

Eurotour Stop 3. Stockholm, Sweden: “So he took a quick detour to the best hotdog kiosk in Sweden”

Hej from Stockholm! Today’s extract is from…

Leif G. W. Persson, The Dying Detective (trans. from Swedish by Neil Smith, Black Swan, 2017 [2010], 11-12).

Karlbergsvägen 66 in Stockholm is the location of Günter’s, the best hotdog kiosk in Sweden. It’s surrounded by sturdy stone buildings many storeys high, all constructed at the start of last century. Solid brickwork, carefully laid, brick upon brick, with lime-mortar rendering, bow windows and old-fashioned glass. There are generous lawns in front of the properties and – at this time of year – leafy trees lining the street. When you enter the buildings there is usually red marble in both the lobbies and stairwells, friezes on the ceilings, ornate plasterwork, even dado panelling in places. The skirting boards and doors are made of oak. It is an area that gives a bourgeois, affluent impression.

Günter’s is also located within the old city boundaries of the most beautiful capital in the world. Just a few hundred meters south of Karlberg Palace and Karolinska University Hospital, and close to two of the major roads leading away from the north of the city centre.

The former head of the National Criminal Police, Lars Martin Johansson, really ought to have been at his summerhouse up in Roslagen today, but that morning he had been obliged to come into the city for a meeting with his bank, to conclude a deal about a patch of forest that he and his eldest brother had an interest in. […]

Just a few hundred meters before he would be passing the old tollgate at Roslagstull on his drive north, his hunger got the better of him. There was no way he was going to spend an hour driving when his stomach was already screaming at him. So he took a quick detour to the best hotdog kiosk in Sweden for a well-spiced Yugoslavian bratwurst with salt-pickled Åland gherkins, sauerkraut and Dijon mustard. Or maybe a Zigeuner sausage with its taste of freshly ground pepper, paprika and onion? Or should he stay true to his Norrland roots and partake of a lightly smoked elk sausage with Günter’s homemade mash of salad potatoes?

Stockholm gallery

One of my first destinations in Stockholm was of course Günter’s, the best hotdog kiosk in Sweden. What can I say? The hotdogs are indeed divine (I had a Thüringer with salt-pickled Åland gherkins) and it’s clear from the queues that the place has genuine cult status. Pleasingly, part of the extract above was pinned on the kiosk’s noticeboard: they are rightly very proud of their Persson connection.

We’re both rather in love with Stockholm. The city is filled with architectural beauty and its location on the water is stunning. We’re getting around a lot by ferry.

Then there are the buns…

And last, but by no means least…THE ABBA MUSEUM. A lifetime’s ambition fulfilled!

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