New Year crime fiction treats from Denmark, England, Finland, France, Iceland, Norway and Sweden

Happy New Year to you all!

I hope that 2017 has started well and that you have lots of lovely crime fiction lined up as we move into a new reading year.

One of the truly splendid things about a crime blogger’s life is being sent lots of fantastic books. The picture below shows my postbag for the last month, which contains some mouth-watering delights.

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As these crime novels come from a variety of publishers, it’s interesting to see how the contents of individual parcels combine. Quite a number in this consignment are entries for the 2017 Petrona Award, which I help to judge along with Barry Forshaw, Sarah Ward and Karen Meek. This explains the high ratio of Scandi crime, including novels by Norwegian crime writing stars Anne Holt (special guest at last year’s CrimeFest) and Karin Fossum. The latter’s ‘Inspector Sejer’ novel The Drowned Boy (Harvill Secker, tr. Kari Dickson) was shortlisted for the 2016 Petrona Award.

Another Petrona entry that’s particularly caught my eye is Finnish author Kjell Westö’s The Wednesday Club (MacLehose, tr. Neil Smith). This novel originally appeared in Swedish (one of Finland’s official languages), is set in Helsinki in 1938, and explores the legacy of the Finnish Civil War. Two of the other novels are set around that time as well (both from Harvill Secker): Danish author Simon Pasternak’s Death Zones (tr. Martin Aitkin / Belorussia in 1943) and Arnaldur Indriðason’s The Shadow District (tr. Victoria Cribb / wartime Reykjavík). The latter is a proof copy and a very exciting bit of post, as it marks the beginning of a new series from this outstanding author (pub. April 2017).

Ragnar Jónasson’s Rupture (Orenda, tr. Quentin Bates), the latest in the ‘Dark Iceland’ series, is also one I’m very much looking forward to reading: it features a cold case from 1955, which sounds right up my street. Other delights include the latest Eva Dolan and Fred Vargas novels (Harvill Secker), Watch Her Disappear and A Climate of Fear (tr. Siân Reynolds). Both Dolan and Vargas are excellent writers, albeit with extremely different styles and authorial concerns.

Lastly, there’s been quite a lot of talk about Erik Axl Sund’s The Crow Girl (Harvill Secker, tr. Neil Smith). It features a highly unusual female protagonist and is definitely not going to be a boring read…

So, that lot’s going to keep me busy for a while.

Which crime novels are you particularly looking forward to reading in January? 

Here comes Santa Claus! Mrs Peabody’s 2016 Christmas recommendations

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Barter Books’ 2016 Christmas tree (photo @Argot101)

It’s snowing again on WordPress, which means it’s time for some eclectic Christmas recommendations. These might be useful when gift shopping for the crime lover in your life…or for yourself if you need a little treat. Many are new to the blog (I’ve linked back to existing reviews), and have been picked on the basis that 1. they would make lovely presents and 2. be a good read during the festive season. Enjoy!

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Lesley Thomson, The Detective’s Daughter (Head of Zeus, 2013)

Stella Darnell runs a London cleaning agency called Clean Slate. When her estranged father Detective Chief Superintendent Terry Darnell dies, she discovers files relating to an unsolved case – the murder of young mother Kate Rokesmith – in the attic of his house. Gradually, against her better judgement, Stella finds herself being drawn into the investigation.

This is an ambitious, gripping and atmospheric novel. Stella’s a great creation – a prickly and emotionally guarded figure, whose professional thoroughness and tenacity make her more like her policeman father than she would care to admit. The stories of Kate’s murder in 1981 and her son Jonathan’s subsequent life – told in flashback – are also very well delineated. I particularly enjoyed the author’s observational gifts and the way she captures the small, sometimes absurd details of everyday life (‘Terry had died fifteen minutes after the parking ticket expired’).

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Hans Olav Lahlum, Chameleon People (trans. from Norwegian by Kari Dickson, Mantle, 2016 [2013])

It’s 1972. Norway is preparing for a referendum on its membership of the EEC, when Centre Party politician, landlord and businessman Per Johan Fredriksen is murdered in Oslo. A youth is apprehended with a bloody knife, but did he really do it? Inspector Kolbjørn ‘K2’ Kristiansen and Patricia Borchmann are once more on the case in this witty, beautifully written homage to Agatha Christie. There’s a cast of intriguing suspects, including a number of tricky ‘chameleons’, and an earlier, unsolved murder that may or may not be linked… You can read an extract from this hugely entertaining page-turner here.

Chameleon People is the fourth in the series, but works well as a standalone and would make a great-looking present (the hardback is lovely, with a bright orange flyleaf). Earlier installments, which I’d also recommend, include The Human Flies, Satellite People and The Catalyst Killing.

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Claudia Piñeiro, Betty Boo (trans. from Spanish by Miranda France, Bitter Lemon Press, 2016 [2011]

A Buenos Aires industrialist is found murdered at his expensive home in the gated community of Maravillosa. Author Nurit Iscar (nickname ‘Betty Boo’) is asked to cover the story by a national newspaper, and moves into the community to write a series of pieces from the scene. Before too long, she’s begun investigating the case, aided by a former colleague, the now rather jaded crime reporter Jaime Brena, and her friends.

Piñeiro is South America’s bestselling crime writer, and this novel is an excellent standalone with wonderfully realised characters. A scathing dissection of the fortress lives the rich build for themselves, Betty Boo is also a warm, humorous tribute to the importance of friendships in middle age.

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Leif G.W. Persson, The Dying Detective (trans. from Swedish by Neil Smith, Doubleday, 2016 [2010])

The opening of The Dying Detective shows Lars Martin Johansson, a retired Swedish Police Chief, suffer a stroke after a lifetime of unhealthy excess. Frustrated by his physical limitations and slow recovery, he’s drawn into investigating a cold case, the murder of nine-year-old Yasmine Ermegan in 1985. Before long, he’s assembled a team of old police contacts and lay-experts to help him crack the crime.

On the face of it, this novel doesn’t sound very festive, given the state of our poor lead investigator’s health. But the narrative is strangely uplifting, and the plotting and writing are sublime. It’s one of my favourite novels of the year, and you can read the full review here.

Like Chameleon People, The Dying Detective is part of a larger series, but can definitely be read as a standalone. Earlier novels featuring Johansson include Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End and Another Time, Another Life. These are also marvellous, but have the feel of intricate political thrillers.

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P.D. James, The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories (Faber & Faber, 2016)

P.D. James, queen of crime fiction, sadly died in 2014, but four of her Christmas stories – written between 1969 and 1996 – have now been gathered in this beautiful little hardback volume.

Not all writers are able to pull off the short story form, but P.D James does so with some style. Her deliciously dark morality tales involve a country-house Christmas gone wrong, an illicit affair, and two mysterious murders to test a young Adam Dalgliesh. The volume is a treat for all lovers of crime fiction, and has a forward by Val McDermid.

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Joe Flanagan, Lesser Evils (Europa Editions/World Noir, 2016)

Lesser Evils is one of those exceptional debuts that punches well above its weight. Set in the summer of 1957, in the quiet Cape Cod town of Hyannis, the novel uses its investigation into the murder of a young boy to provide an authentic portrait of a small coastal community. World War Two veteran and police chief Bill Warren is a likable, nuanced character, who does his best to deal with an extraordinary case while parenting a son with learning difficulties. This is noir with a heart; a beautifully written and highly absorbing tale.

Lesser Evils would make another good-looking present. Like all Europa Editions paperbacks, the novel has an attractive, sturdy cover and flyleaf.

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David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (Sceptre, 2010)

This historical novel opens in 1799 as young Dutchman Jacob de Zoet arrives at the Dejima trading post near Nagasaki to make his fortune with the Dutch East India Trading Company. While not explicitly a crime novel, a terrible crime does shape the narrative, and it also features an incredibly ingenious murder.

Mitchell spent four years writing the novel, and does a remarkable job of evoking life in Japan at a time when foreign contact was highly restricted and often deemed criminal. The depiction of the growing, sometimes illicit relationship between Europeans and the Japanese – mainly via translators and interpreters – is fascinating, and shows a gradual transfer of knowledge taking place (for example about midwifery techniques). The figure of Orito, a Japanese midwife constrained by the gender expectations of the time, is particularly well-drawn. A long, satisfying read with plenty of memorable characters, this novel will transport you to another time and place.

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

John le Carré, The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life (Penguin, 2016)

This is the one I wish I’d read, but that got away, so I hope I’ll find under the Christmas tree *hint hint*. Here’s the tantalising blurb:

From his years serving in British Intelligence during the Cold War, to a career as a writer that took him from war-torn Cambodia, to Beirut on the cusp of the 1982 Israeli invasion, and to Russia before and after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, John le Carré has always written from the heart of modern times. In this, his first memoir, le Carré is as funny as he is incisive – reading into the events he witnesses the same moral ambiguity with which he imbues his novels. Whether he’s writing about the parrot at a Beirut hotel that could perfectly mimic machine gun fire, or visiting Rwanda’s museums of the unburied dead in the aftermath of the genocide, or celebrating New Year’s Eve with Yasser Arafat, or interviewing a German terrorist in her desert prison in the Negev, or watching Alec Guinness preparing for his role as George Smiley, or describing the female aid worker who inspired the main character in The Constant Gardener, le Carré endows each happening with vividness and humour, now making us laugh out loud, now inviting us to think anew about events and people we believed we understood. Best of all, le Carré gives us a glimpse of a writer’s journey over more than six decades, and his own hunt for the human spark that has given so much life and heart to his fictional characters.

You’ll find an extract and lots of related content here.

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Deutschland 83 (Universal Pictures UK, 2016; German with English subtitles)

This Cold War spy drama was one of my stand-out viewing experiences of 2016, and went down extremely well with UK audiences (better than in Germany, in fact).

Jonas Nay stars as young East German border-guard Martin Rausch, who is blackmailed by the Stasi into spying for West German military secrets. How will he fare, and will he manage to resist the seductions of a capitalist lifestyle? Written by Anna and Jörg Winger, a talented German/American husband-and-wife team, D83 is a genuinely thrilling ride that provides a brilliant portrait of Cold War tensions in 1983. It’s also very funny, with a killer 80s soundtrack.

See my review of the entire series here (warning – spoilers!)

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The Library Suicides [Y Llyfrgell] (Soda Pictures, 2016; Welsh with English subtitles; based on the novel by Fflur Dafydd)

The Library Suicides stars Catrin Stewart (Jenny in Doctor Who) as twin sister librarians Nan and Ana. Following the apparent suicide of their mother, famous author Elena Wdig, they become convinced that she was murdered by her biographer Eben. The film plays out over a long and bloody night in the National Library of Wales as they seek their revenge.

This clever, stylish thriller would make perfect Christmas viewing. The film moves seamlessly from high tension, as the twins track Eben through dark corridors, to laugh-out-loud black comedy, and makes ingenious use of the library’s secret spaces as a setting. As well as exploring the effects of grief and loss, the film examines the ways in which we remember, create and tell stories about ourselves, and the effects these stories have on others.

You can read a fuller review of the film and a Q&A with Fflur here.

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If you’re looking for further ideas or inspiration, then I can heartily recommend the following publisher websites. All have lots of excellent international crime fiction on offer.

Bitter Lemon Press

No Exit Press 

Orenda Books

Europa Editions

Wishing you all a very happy festive season!

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Source: littlescandinavian.com

Eva Dolan’s After You Die (UK), Val McDermid’s Out of Bounds (UK) and Iceland Noir 2016

My reading mojo has been largely restored courtesy of two fine British authors, Eva Dolan and Val McDermid.

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Eva Dolan After You Die (Vintage 2016)

After You Die is the third novel in Dolan’s ‘DI Zigic and DS Ferreira’ series. Like its predecessors, it’s a skilfully crafted police procedural set in Peterborough, and features a hard-hitting crime: the murder of a woman, Dawn Prentice, and the possible murder of her severely disabled daughter, Holly. Dolan uses the investigation to explore a number of weighty issues, such as hate crimes, internet abuse and right-to-die debates, but does so with a deft touch, so that readers never feel like they’re being lectured. The characterisation of the Hate Crimes team and its suspects is also excellent – there’s lots of beautifully observed, authentic detail that grounds these figures in a recognisable reality. The development of DS Ferreira’s character after the events of the previous novel, Tell No Tales, is particularly good.

If you’re new to this series, you might like to start with the opening novel, Long Way Home, which is a very accomplished debut.

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Val McDermid, Out of Bounds (Little Brown, 2016; Whole Story audiobook narrated by Cathleen McCarron)

Out of Bounds is the fourth book in the ‘DCI Karen Pirie’ series, set in Edinburgh and Fife. I haven’t read the others yet, having dived in to this one by chance, but am now very keen to do so (the first is The Distant Echo).

Detective Chief Inspector Pirie, who heads up Police Scotland’s Historic Crimes Unit, is tenacious, resourceful and prepared to bend the rules in the service of justice. Her job is to review cold cases when new evidence comes to light – such as when a teenage joyrider’s DNA profile links to DNA from a young hairdresser’s murder two decades earlier. In a parallel investigation, an odd-looking suicide leads Karen to examine an old murder that was presumed – possibly erroneously – to have been caused by an IRA bomb.

There were two aspects of this novel that I particularly enjoyed. The first was the depiction of a strong Scottish policewoman leading multiple investigations with aplomb – a nice counterpoint to Ian Rankin’s Rebus. While facing plenty of personal and professional challenges, Karen is kept going by a combination of her own determination and the support of close friends. (The emphasis on the importance of friendship reminded me a little of Claudia Piñeiro’s Argentinian crime novel Betty Boo). The second was the plotting masterclass McDermid provided as she moved effortlessly between the developments in the individual cases while maintaining a clear, unified narrative. I remember hearing the author argue, in a debate on crime fiction vs ‘high literature’, that plotting is a skill that is often underestimated and overlooked, and think her point is beautifully made in this novel.

One extra thought: I listened to the audiobook version, expertly narrated by Cathleen McCarron. I think that this added to my enjoyment of the book, because it allowed me to hear and appreciate the novel’s Scottish inflections and turns of phrase.

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As it happens, Val McDermid is one of the headliners at Iceland Noir 2016, which is taking place right now in Reykjavík (hope you’re all having a great time!). Val gave the convention’s opening address on Thursday evening – as reported here by CrimeFictionLover – in which she rightly asserted that ‘there ain’t no cure for loving crime fiction’. 

You can check out Iceland Noir’s programme here and its featured authors here. It’s a great convention and I would thoroughly recommend going. Hope to make it in 2018!

If you’re new to Icelandic crime, here are some earlier Mrs Peabody posts on the subject:

Indriđason’s The Draining Lake

Sigurðardóttir’s Why Did You Lie?

Icelandic TV drama Trapped

Quentin Bates interview about his ‘Gunnhildur (Gunna) Gísladóttir’ series

Ragnar Jónasson’s ‘Dark Iceland’ series – translation special

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Heading out to sea from Reykjavík harbour, 2014

The Library Suicides (Wales) & 2016 CWA Dagger Awards

One great plus of this decade’s Scandi crime-drama boom has been getting Brits into subtitled international crime drama from Europe and beyond. In recent years, this trend has also fuelled the success of Welsh-language crime drama Y Gwyll (Hinterland), which has been deftly exported back to a number of European countries.

Welsh-language thriller The Library Suicides (Soda Pictures, 2016) is enjoying similar success. Adapted from Fflur Dafydd’s bestselling novel Y Llyfrgell (The Library) and directed by Euros Lyn (Doctor Who, Sherlock, Broadchurch, Happy Valley), it received the prize for ‘Best Performance’ at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and was nominated in the ‘Best Film’ category at the Oldenburg International Film Festival in Germany. I watched it on the big screen at Swansea’s The Taliesin this week and loved it. 

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The Library Suicides stars Catrin Stewart (Jenny in Doctor Who) as twin sister librarians Nan and Ana. Following the apparent suicide of their mother, famous author Elena Wdig, they become convinced that she was murdered by her biographer Eben. The film plays out over a long and bloody night in the National Library of Wales as they seek their revenge.

This stylish, clever thriller had me gripped from the outset. The twins are superbly played by Catrin Stewart, with a fantastic supporting cast – especially spliff-smoking night porter Dan (Dyfan Dwyfor). The film’s tone moves seamlessly from high tension, as the twins track Eben through dark corridors, to laugh-out-loud black comedy, and makes ingenious use of the library’s secret spaces as a setting. As well as exploring the effects of grief and loss, the film examines the ways in which we remember, create and tell stories about ourselves, and the effects these stories can have on others.

Click here to see a clip.

After the film, there was an illuminating Q&A with writer Fflur Dafydd, who is also a lecturer in creative writing at Swansea University. She talked about the six-year process of getting the adaptation made with various partners including BBC Films, and the kinds of compromises that are required of the writer along the way. For example, while the film is clearly based on the book, some core elements were changed (the film is set in the present rather than the future), and the experience of the director and production team sometimes guided decisions – such as cutting certain scenes in order to maintain the pace of the film.

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Writer Fflur Dafydd and director Euros Lyn

Fflur also spoke about the reception of the film in different places. In Edinburgh, audiences had viewed it primarily as a thriller rather than as a Welsh-language film, while in Germany, there was a positive response to hearing Welsh for what was probably the first time. The English title was extended in translation from The Library to The Library Suicides for commercial reasons – and as a nod to the novel The Virgin Suicides.

The Library Suicides is available to pre-order on DVD (in Welsh with English subtitles)

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The CWA (Crime Writers’ Association) Dagger Awards were held last night at a swanky gala dinner in London. Here are the winners – many congratulations to them all!

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Goldsboro Gold Dagger for the best crime novel of the year – Bill Beverly, Dodgers (USA, No Exit Press). The story of a young LA gang member named East, who is sent by his uncle, along with some other teenage boys, to kill a key witness hiding out in Wisconsin.

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Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for the best crime thriller of the year – Don Winslow, The Cartel (USA, William Heinemann). A powerful account of the drug wars in early 2000s Mexico. 

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John Creasey New Blood Dagger for the best debut crime novel – Bill Beverly, Dodgers (USA, No Exit Press). A double winner! See above.

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International Dagger for crime fiction translated and published in the UK – Pierre Lemaître, The Great Swindle, trans by Frank Wynne (France, MacLehose Press). This novel opens with murder in the last days of the Great War and continues in peace-time with profiteering, criminal negligence, cooked books and a spectacular fraud.

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Non-Fiction Dagger – Andrew Hankinson, You Could Do Something Amazing With Your Life (You Are Raoul Moat) (Scribe)

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Dagger in the Library to the author of the most enjoyed collection of work in libraries – Elly Griffiths, author of the ‘Dr Ruth Galloway’ series of forensic archaeology mysteries and the ‘Stephens & Mephisto’ series. (Quercus)

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Author Elly Griffiths

Short Story Dagger for a short crime story published in the UK – John Connolly, On the Anatomization of an Unknown Man (1637) by Frans Mier from Nocturnes 2: Night Music (Hodder and Stoughton)

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Debut Dagger for unpublished writers – Mark Brandi, Wimmera (Australia). Fab is haunted by a terrible secret. A chance discovery threatens to uncover his past, and expose the dark underbelly of Australian rural life.

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Endeavour Historical Dagger for the best historical crime novel – David Young, Stasi Child (Twenty7Books), which is set in East Germany in the 1970s. Oberleutnant Karin Müller is summoned to the Berlin Wall to investigate the death of a girl who has apparently been shot trying to cross the wall… from the West.

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Diamond Dagger for outstanding achievement – Peter James, the author of the much loved ‘Roy Grace’ series.

Further information about the shortlisted books and winners is available at the CWA website.

Extensive re-run of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Foreign Bodies’ crime fiction series on now!

Thanks to Andy Lawrence for spotting that BBC Radio 4 is re-running episodes from Mark Lawson’s excellent ‘Foreign Bodies’ crime fiction series on BBC Radio Four extra and BBC iPlayer Radio. Most episodes will be available online for a month following broadcast, and offer 15-minute opportunities to delve into the work of key crime writers and traditions from around the world.

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The ‘Foreign Bodies’ series are close to my heart for their celebration of international crime fiction, their focus on some of our most interesting detective figures, and their analysis of how crime fiction is used to explore important political and social issues. I was also lucky enough to contribute to two episodes in Series 1 – on the works of Friedrich Dürrenmatt and Jakob Arjouni respectively.

Here’s a list of the ‘Foreign Bodies’ programmes you can listen to via BBC Radio iPlayer, either now or in the coming days. If you’re looking for some gems to add to your reading list, then these programmes are definitely for you.

Series 1, Episode 1  Belgium: Hercule Poirot and Jules Maigret (Agatha Christie and Georges Simenon)

Series 1, Episode 2  Switzerland/Germany: Inspector Bärlach (Friedrich Dürrenmatt… with a contribution from Mrs Peabody)

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Series 1, Episode 3  Czechoslovakia: Lieutenant Boruvka (Josef Skvorecky)

Series 1, Episode 4  The Netherlands: Commissaris Van Der Valk (Nicolas Freeling)

Series 1, Episode 5  Sweden: Inspector Martin Beck (Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö)

Series 1, Episode 6  UK: Commander Dalgliesh/Chief Inspector Wexford (P.D. James and Ruth Rendell)

Series 1, Episode 7  Sicily: Inspector Rogas (Leonardo Sciascia)

Series 1, Episode 8  Spain: PI Pepe Carvalho (Manuel Vázquez Montalbán)

Series 1, Episode 9  UK: DCI Jane Tennison (Linda La Plante)

Episodes 10 to 15 are not yet listed as available, but they may well be soon – I’ll update if so (these include Montalbano/Italy, Kayankaya/Germany, Rebus/Scotland, Wallander and Salander/Sweden, Harry Hole/Norway and Fandorin/Russia).

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Series 3, Episode 1  Cuba: an exploration of fictional investigations of Cuba after the Castro revolution with Leonardo Padura, author of The Havana Quartet, and Caroline Garcia-Aquilera, a Cuban-American writing from exile in Miami.

Series 3, Episode 2  USA: Laura Lippman and Walter Mosley, the creators of private eyes Tess Monaghan and Easy Rawlins, discuss how they introduced the experience of women and black Americans into crime fiction dominated by men and a McCarthyite fear of outsiders.

Series 3, Episode 3  Poland: Zygmunt Miloszewski and Joanna Jodelka reflect on how Polish crime fiction depicts the country’s occupation by Nazis and Communists, the transition to democracy through the Solidarity movement and lingering accusations of racism and anti-Semitism.

Series 3 Episode 4  Australia: Australia’s leading crime novelist, South African-born Peter Temple, discusses depicting a society shaped by both British colonialism and American power, and why Australian crime fiction should contain as few words as possible.

Series 3 Episode 5  Nigeria: Writers Helon Habila and C.M. Okonkwo discuss how a flourishing new tradition of Nigerian crime fiction explores British legacy, tribal tradition and the new “corporate colonialism” as global companies exploit the country’s mineral reserves.

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Mark Lawson’s article on the first ‘Foreign Bodies’ series is also available via The Guardian: ‘Crime’s Grand Tour: European Detective Fiction’.

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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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!

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.

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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.

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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

THIN ICE extract & Quentin Bates interview: Gunna, Iceland and Trapped

I’m delighted to welcome crime author Quentin Bates to the blog. Thin Ice, his latest novel, has just been published by Constable and features one of my all-time favourite investigators, Icelandic police officer Gunnhildur ‘Gunna’ Gísladóttir. Below, Quentin answers questions about writing the character of Gunna, the kind of Iceland he tries to depict, and the recent Icelandic crime drama Trapped. But first, here’s an exclusive extract from Thin Ice

Thin Ice

The little boy’s eyes were wide with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. He swung his legs under the chair that was too high for him while his mother fussed making coffee.

‘Tell the lady what you saw, Nonni,’ she said. ‘It’s all right. You’re not in trouble.’

‘Are you really a policeman?’ he asked and corrected himself. ‘A police lady, I mean?’

‘I am,’ Gunna assured him. ‘I’m a real-life detective.’ 
‘Who solves crimes and catches bad people?’ 
‘Sort of. That’s only part of what I have to do, and most of it isn’t all that exciting.’ 
‘Do you have a gun?’ Nonni asked, eyes wide. 
‘No, we don’t carry guns,’ Gunna said, and his disappointment was immediately visible.
 ‘So what do you do if you meet someone bad who has a gun?’ 
‘I don’t know. It hasn’t happened yet. So I don’t know what I’d do,’ Gunna said and picked up the mug of coffee that had appeared in front of her, while Nonni got a glass of squash and a slice of cake, which he bit into.

‘What would you have done if you had seen the man I saw today?’ he asked in a serious voice. ‘He had a gun and I saw him shoot it. Would you have been frightened?’

‘I expect so,’ Gunna said. ‘Guns are very dangerous things. Were you frightened, Nonni?’

He thought as he chewed his cake and washed it down with squash.

‘I wasn’t at the time, but I was afterwards,’ he decided. ‘But he didn’t see us, so we were all right.’

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Mrs P: Quentin, you’re in the unusual position as a British author of having lived in Iceland for many years. How has that experience – together with your ongoing links to the country – shaped your ‘Icelandic Murder Mystery’ series and Thin Ice?

Quentin: To begin with I shied away from the idea of using Iceland as a backdrop when I started toying with the idea of fiction. There were a few false starts, until it dawned on me that it would be plain daft not to use all that knowledge, insight and experience, so that’s when Frozen Out started to take shape. Being familiar with the language gives you a huge advantage in being able to understand the intricacies of Iceland’s internecine politics and much of the subtext to what goes on that an outsider simply wouldn’t be aware of, as well as being able to laugh at all the otherwise incomprehensible jokes.

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Author Quentin Bates aka Graskeggur (grey beard)

Quentin: I was in Iceland a lot in 2008. First in January and it was business as usual, then two visits in the spring and summer when it was becoming clear that something was up. Nobody wanted to say much out loud, but everyone knew something was seriously wrong. It was common knowledge that the banks’ coffers were empty, but this wasn’t reported anywhere. Everyone knew something momentous was about to happen, but nobody had a real idea of when or how hard it would hit. Then I was there in that week in the autumn when the first of the three banks went belly-up. It was painful and fascinating. People were genuinely frightened, and also deeply confused with no idea what was going to happen to their jobs, homes, etc. The aftermath hurt and it was painful to see friends and relatives lose jobs and homes.

I couldn’t not use it. I was working on Frozen Out at the time and re-wrote a lot of it so it coincided with that truly unnerving couple of weeks when all the cards had been thrown in the air and nobody knew anything.

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One of the three Icelandic banks that collapsed in 2008

Mrs P: Which particular aspects of Icelandic society have you been keen to share with English-language readers via your crime writing?

Quentin: Let’s say I prefer to avoid the clichés, the stuff the tourists see. Very little of my stuff seems to be set in Reykjavík 101, the central district where all the hotels, bars and whatnot are, which is hipster central these days, lots of manbuns and frothy coffee. I’m happier with the outlying parts of the city and the surrounding towns that are so different to what many visitors see. I can’t avoid mentioning some of the bizarre foodstuffs… all of which I prefer to keep well clear of.

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Salted fish (we have chosen not to show fermented shark or sheep’s head on this occasion)

Quentin: What I really like to try and work in there is the quiet, subtle humour of the older generation of Icelanders that has its roots in a time when Iceland was a very different place. It’s a humour so bone-dry that it’s easy to miss it, and it can fly right over your head if you’re not watching out for it.

Mrs P: Icelandic police series by authors such as Arnaldur Indriðason and Ragnar Jónasson feature male detectives. What made you decide to create a female police investigator?

Quentin: I didn’t set out to create a female investigator. She just appeared. Originally Gunnhildur was the sidekick to a fairly dull male main character who just didn’t click. He was so forgettable that I can’t even remember what name I gave that ill-thought out character back in that very first draft of Frozen Out. He was quite quickly jettisoned once it had occurred to me that the sidekick was the more interesting character, and she did demand attention.

To my surprise, I didn’t find it especially difficult to write a female character. People seem to like her and say she’s realistic, but I think I’m too close to her to be able to judge. I’m sure it would have been much harder to get to grips with a much younger prominent character of either sex – I feel the gender gap was easier to bridge than a significant age gap would have been.

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This wonderful drawing by @redscharlach is of Hinrika in Trapped, but she really reminds Mrs P of Gunna as well

Mrs P: Tell us a little about the way you depict Officer Gunnhildur in the series.

Quentin: Initially she was supposed to be older, in her mid-forties in Frozen Out and about five years older than that today. But the publisher wasn’t happy and wanted a character with a career ahead of her rather than someone with an eye on retirement – preferably much younger. Eventually we compromised and she was transformed into a more youthful but still mature character, which meant reorganising her family circumstances, making her children younger etc. – essentially re-working the entire back story.

Gunnhildur is a character who is definitely not from Reykjavík, and she was deliberately given roots in a coastal region in the west so she can have something of an outsider’s point of view. That’s why she and Helgi connect so well, as he’s also from a rural background in the north and they share a similar background as immigrants to Reykjavík, while Eiríkur is a city boy with little in common with his two middle-aged (or ancient, as he would see them) colleagues.

Gunnhildur’s boyfriend (if I can call him that) was a late addition. It was made clear with the original draft of Frozen Out that a little love interest would be desirable, so I introduced Steini, not expecting him to stay for long. But he’s still there and has become a surprisingly important character, even though he doesn’t appear all that frequently. Maybe it’s time to involve him in some nefarious crime…

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Gunna hails from the west of Iceland

Mrs P: Have your crime novels appeared in Iceland (either in Icelandic or in English)? If yes, what kind of reception did they have?

Quentin: The books have been for sale in English in bookshops in Iceland, although I don’t know how many have been sold there and I’m not aware of any feedback from Iceland. They haven’t been translated into Icelandic and I don’t seriously expect they will be.

The problem is that so many Icelanders speak English that they tend to snap up stuff in English. I know of several big sellers in English whose Icelandic publishers gave up on them for just that reason – people wouldn’t wait six months for an translation to appear. It’s almost the opposite of the situation 20-30 years ago when Nordic languages were more prevalent. In that distant age before cable TV and the internet, fewer people spoke English readily and there were more books translated from English and fewer from Nordic languages, presumably because more people would read those in the original. Now only guaranteed top-sellers make it into translation from English and there seem to be more Danish, Swedish and Norwegian books translated into Icelandic.

What I’d really like to see is one of the Gunna novels filmed in an Icelandic production, but that’s an even longer shot than getting a translation.

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Reykjavik is packed with funky bookshops

Mrs P: You’re the translator of Ragnar Jónasson’s crime series (Orenda Books). Has the process of translating his works had any impact – positive or negative – on your own crime writing or the way that you approach writing your own novels?

Quentin: Ragnar’s stuff is very different from mine, so I’m not aware of any particular influence there. One of the keys to being able to translate competently is familiarity with the culture and background as much as the language itself, so I guess that having written my own crime fiction also means that I have something of a criminal vocabulary ready to use. But writing and translation are very different. Translation calls for some of the same skills as writing fiction – a different set of tools from the same toolbox – as well as the discipline not to be tempted to tinker with the original, albeit within some rather elastic limits.

The negative impact is that I’m so busy now with translation, with three of Ragnar’s books to deliver this year, that I’m struggling to find time for Gunnhildur and the other things at the back of my mind that I’m itching to get to grips with but daren’t start.

Trapped

Mrs P: Trapped, a gripping Icelandic crime drama, has just finished airing in the prestigious BBC4 Saturday-night crime slot. Do you think it will significantly help to raise the profile of crime fiction set in Iceland? And how was it received in Iceland itself?

Quentin: I would imagine that Trapped should lift the profile of Icelandic crime fiction tremendously and can only hope it does for Iceland what The Killing and The Bridge have done for Sweden and Denmark – not just raising the profile of crime fiction but awareness about those countries and their cultures in a more general way. It’s something that ought to give us all a boost.

I’m not entirely sure how Trapped was received in Iceland, as I’ve been getting some mixed messages. On the other hand, it got good viewing figures with something like 60% of households watching it (also good ratings in France and Norway) and I’d hazard a guess that a lot of people who said they weren’t all that bothered about it actually spent those evenings glued to the box.

There have been a few disparaging comments about it being unrealistic. But come on – this is a crime drama. Of course it’s never going to be entirely realistic and there’s no getting away from a certain suspension of belief that has to take place to make the story work.
 But the snow scenes were very reminiscent of the winters I spent in the north of Iceland, not all that far from where some of Trapped was filmed. My feeling is that Trapped is a far more accurate representation of coastal Iceland than Midsomer Murders is of rural Hampshire, but I get the feeling that Icelanders watched it in much the same way that we watch Inspector Barnaby at work.

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Mrs. Peabody attended Iceland Noir in 2014 and can thoroughly recommend

Mrs P: You’re one of the founder members of Iceland Noir. How has the convention developed since it started in 2013? And are there new directions that you’d like to take it in future?

Quentin: Iceland Noir started in 2013 on a wing and a prayer as a one-day free event as we pulled in favours here and there to get it off the ground. That was fine for a one-off, but we quickly realised we couldn’t keep it free, so now we charge the lowest festival pass fee that we can.

The second Iceland Noir was bigger and better, and stretched to two days. The third one is planned to be two and a half days, mostly because of the level of interest in it, but that also means more organisation. So the original trio has been added to, with Lilja Sigurðardóttir joining us in ’14 and Grant Nicol this year. So now we have five pairs of hands instead of just three.

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A panel from Iceland Noir 2014

My feeling is that we should keep it at two to three days. Any longer than that is likely to be too much of a good thing. I’m also very much in favour of keeping it as a fairly informal, low-cost, non-profit enterprise. So far we’ve been satisfied if we’ve all had a good time with a bunch of criminally-minded people and not lost any money, so I’ll be happy if it stays that way. But the amount of time and effort involved means that holding it every year is possibly going to be too much, so like last year (when we lent the November date to Shetland for their excellent festival), we’d like to continue with Iceland Noir every second year and to lend the slot to some other suitable location in the off years. Shetland was 2015, and it looks very much like Hull will be 2017, as that’s a European City of Culture that year, and that will fit nicely for us to be back in Reykjavík in 2018.

This year we have an outstanding line-up of female crime writers as headliners. But I’d really like Iceland Noir to be the place where you can also see tomorrow’s interesting and exciting talent, not least because it’s so damn hard as a debut novelist to get any attention and there’s so much good stuff that deserves it. This year we have some truly excellent new writers taking part. Reykjavík was where you saw them first and that’s something I’d like to continue.

Many thanks, Quentin! 

Catch some other stops on the Thin Ice blog tour here:

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