The Missing (series 2), Stephen King’s 11.22.63, and the virtues of voting wisely

I’ve been catching up with lots of TV lately – Australian political thriller The Code (very good) and the new series of The Missing (BBC1), which also has me completely gripped.

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Series 1 of The Missing involved the disappearance of a young boy, Oliver Hughes, on a family holiday in France. The new series cleverly flips that ‘missing child’ scenario by opening with the unexpected reappearance of Alice Webster, a young woman abducted as a schoolgirl over a decade before. The main connection to series 1 is Julien Baptiste (Tchéky Karyo), the retired French police detective who investigated Oliver’s case, and who is now drawn to Alice by her possible link to a second abducted girl, Sophie Giroux. Aside from him, there’s a new set of characters featuring wonderful British actors such as Keeley Hawes, David Morrissey and Roger Allam. Hawes stands out for me in particular as Alice’s mother Gemma.

There were mutterings from some viewers after episode 1 about the difficulties of keeping track of three timelines (2003 when Alice was abducted, 2014 when she returns home, and the present day), but it’s very much worth persevering as those temporal layers create a wonderfully rich story. And while the drama feels very British in tone, its international settings and characters give it added depth: the Webster family live on a fictional military base in Eckhausen in Germany; we see British military police working together with German police and (with some reluctance) the French detective; the latter’s investigations even take him to Iraq for a while. And every single episode has had a twist that will make you drop your knitting – especially episode 4! I’m looking forward to the rest immensely.

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I’m a little late to this party – Stephen King’s 2011 time-travel epic 22.11.63, which sees English teacher Jake Epping step back into a 1958 America, five years before President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. The big question at the heart of the narrative – ‘would you change history if you had the chance?’ – is explored in an inventive and nuanced fashion.

Like some of King’s other novels, such as Dolores Claiborne (a favourite of mine), 22.11.63 draws on elements of the crime and thriller genres. Alongside the infamous murder of Kennedy, there’s a second murder case that takes up a significant part of the narrative. Both of these place Jake in the role of a detective tracking suspects, and in the role of a potential murderer, as he *could* stop the perpetrators from committing their crimes by killing them. But taking such action would obviously raise serious ethical questions, leaving Jake with some tough choices to make…

King does a brilliant job of depicting Jake’s incredible journey back to ‘the Land of Ago’, and recreates the America of the late 1950s and early 1960s in meticulous, loving detail. The mechanics of time travel are given interesting new twists, and the ending is extremely satisfying. Two minor reservations include the sheer length of the novel (I listened to the 30-HOUR audiobook version) and the odd bit of excessive sentimentality (but that could just be me). Hats off to audiobook narrator Craig Wasson, who does a wonderful job of bringing the characters to life, and I must admit that I’m now curious to see the 2016 TV adaptation with James Franco.

Stephen King, 11.22.63 (Hodder and Stoughton, 2011).

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Time to liberate this little chap!

All this talk of American presidents reminds me that there’s a certain US election next week. We’ll be watching the results with baited breath on this side of the pond, and hope that our American friends can learn from the Brexit Omnishambles here in the UK.

The EU Referendum taught us that:

  • not voting is not an option. VOTE!
  • protest votes are a luxury you can’t afford. VOTE WISELY!
  • talking to swing voters can make a difference. EVERY VOTE COUNTS!
  • and that there’s NO ROOM FOR COMPLACENCY (polls are fickle, so pretend your candidate’s 12 points down).

Good luck! And for anyone still undecided, I’ll just leave this here: The New York Times endorsement of Hillary Clinton. You might also want to check out this utterly inspiring and hopeful website: I’ve waited 96 years. It’s simply wonderful.

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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’.

Crime news: Gustawsson, Nesbo, Bier, Macrae Burnet and Eurocrime

A round-up of some recent news from the world of crime:

Orenda Books has signed Block 46, a debut thriller by French, London-based author Johana Gustawsson, which will be translated by Maxim Jakubowski.

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Karen Sullivan, publisher of Orenda Books, says: “Block 46 is an exceptional debut – a gritty yet nuanced thriller that swings between London and Sweden, before picking up a second narrative strand that takes place in a concentration camp in 1944 Germany. An unforgettable triumvirate of protagonists include Emily, a British profiler, Alexis, a French true crime writer, and maverick Inspector Bergstrom in Sweden. Beautifully written, with a sweeping narrative, evocative settings and a heart-thumping pace, this marks the beginning of a fabulous series and writing career for Johana, and ticks every box on the growing Orenda list.”

More info from The Bookseller here.

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Harry’s back! Jo Nesbo’s hard-boiled Oslo detective Harry Hole will return in his latest novel, THE THIRST, to be published by Harvill Secker in May 2017.

THE THIRST continues the story of POLICE, Harry Hole’s last outing in 2013, which saw the maverick cop protecting those closest to him from a killer wreaking revenge on the police. THE THIRST sees Harry drawn back to the Oslo police force when a serial killer begins targeting Tinder daters… It’s the 11th instalment in Jo Nesbo’s bestselling crime fiction series, which have sold over 30 million copies worldwide and are published in 50 languages.

Jo Nesbo says: I was always coming back to Harry; he’s my soul mate. But it’s a dark soul, so it is – as always – both a thrill and a chilling, emotionally exhausting experience. But Harry and the story make it worth the sleepless nights.’

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Director Susanne Bier

Danish director Susanne Bier has won an Emmy – Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series’ – for her work on the TV adaptation of John le Carré’s The Night Manager. She commented on BBC Breakfast: “This is such a traditional men’s world, and I hope the fact a woman director has won this prestigious prize is going to mean that more non-conventional series and movies are going to be directed by women.”

There’s a good interview with Susanne about her work on The Night Manager here.

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His Bloody Project, by Scottish writer Graeme Macrae Burnet, has been shortlisted for the Man Booker PrizeIt’s wonderful news for the author, the independent publisher Saraband, and fans of crime fiction in general – the more crime fiction we see on those ‘big’ literary prize shortlists the better!

The novel focuses on a triple murder in a crofting community in 1860s Scotland. Here’s the blurb from Saraband

“The year is 1869. A brutal triple murder in a remote community in the Scottish Highlands leads to the arrest of a young man by the name of Roderick Macrae.

A memoir written by the accused makes it clear that he is guilty, but it falls to the country’s finest legal and psychiatric minds to uncover what drove him to commit such merciless acts of violence. Was he mad? Only the persuasive powers of his advocate stand between Macrae and the gallows.

Graeme Macrae Burnet tells an irresistible and original story about the provisional nature of truth, even when the facts seem clear. His Bloody Project is a mesmerising literary thriller set in an unforgiving landscape where the exercise of power is arbitrary.”

And lastly…I’ve updated my list of 35 European crime novels with publisher and translator information. Quite a few of you have been tucking into this list, which is great to see. Needless to say, I’ll keep flying the flag for Eurocrime and Europe in future.

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Sums up Brexit perfectly

European Literature Festival – Kutscher & Raabe – CrimeFest is on its way!

There’s lots of highly criminal activity in the UK over the next couple of weeks.

Here are a few highlights.

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The European Literature Festival is currently under way, with a packed programme including a very special evening at the British Library on Friday 13 May – tomorrow! ‘Criminal Worlds: Detective Fiction in Europe‘ features three wonderful crime writers – Peter James (UK), Kati Hiekkapelto (Finland; shortlisted for the Petrona Award) and Volker Kutscher (Germany), and is chaired by the marvellous Barry Forshaw. They will be ‘casting their forensic eye on the celebrated and lesser-known investigators of European fiction’. 

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Volker Kutscher pops up again at the Goethe Institut London on Monday 16 May to talk about Babylon Berlin, the first in his ‘Gereon Rath’ series, which is published in English by Sandstone Press on 19 May. This bestselling series has sold over a million copies worldwide to date. Its five novels follow the fortunes of Berlin Detective Inspector Rath as he navigates the turbulent political waters of Weimar Berlin, and are both gripping and rich in historical detail. Together with translator Niall Sellar and Robert Davidson of Sandstone Press, Volker will discuss his books, the translation process, and the reception of German crime fiction in Great Britain (further info available here).

AND you can hear Volker talking about Babylon Berlin tonight at 10.00pm on BBC Radio 3’s ‘Free Thinking’ programme, together with the celebrated director Tom Tykwer (of Lola Rennt fame), who is adapting the crime series for television. As this Variety article explains, two eight-episode seasons are in the pipeline, scheduled for international release in 2017.

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Another interesting German author is published in English for the first time next week. Melanie Raabe grew up in the former East Germany and has worked as a journalist, magazine editor and playwright. The Trap, published by Mantle/Pan Macmillan, is her first novel and won the Stuttgarter Krimipreis (Stuttgart Crime Prize) for best crime debut. It has a wonderfully intriguing premise: reclusive best-selling writer Linda Conrads is convinced that a journalist she sees on TV is her sister Anna’s killer. She decides to set a trap: after writing a novel about the murder of a woman whose killer is never caught, she offers the journalist an exclusive interview… I’ve read the first couple of chapters and am already hooked.

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CrimeFest takes place next week *excited face*. I’m hugely looking forward to attending and seeing a host of wonderful authors in action, including Anne Holt (Norway), Ian Rankin (Scotland), Claudia Piñeiro (Argentina) and Adam Sisman (biographer of John le Carre). And of course the Petrona Award winner will be announced at the gala dinner on Saturday evening :-).

The full CrimeFest programme is available here.

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Mrs. Peabody will also be in action at CrimeFest, with an ‘In the Spotlight’ session on all things Krimi (Friday 20 May at 11.20). There will be a giveaway of ten German-language crime novels, courtesy of the Goethe Institut London, Bitter Lemon Press, Penguin, Michael Joseph and Vintage. Two copies of the Crime Fiction in German volume will also be up for grabs thanks to the Goethe Institut and the University of Wales Press.

And a little reminder: you can download a completely FREE chapter from Crime Fiction in German here!

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Yes! Erich the Bavarian duck will be at CrimeFest!

‘Crime Fiction in German’ book launch and giant Krimi giveaway

The book launch for Crime Fiction in German takes place on Thursday 14th April in Swansea, Wales. To celebrate this event, we’re having a giant Krimi giveaway.

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Erich is very excited about the book launch

The giveaway includes two copies of Crime Fiction in German (University of Wales Press, 2016), which is the first volume in English to provide a comprehensive overview of German-language crime fiction from its origins in the early 19th century to the present day. *You can download a free chapter from the volume here*

We’re also giving away a wonderful selection of the Krimis featured in the volume, thereby showcasing the best of German-language crime in translation:

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A selection from the giant Krimi giveaway

Sascha Arango, The Truth and Other Lies (Simon and Schuster, trans Imogen Taylor). A darkly humorous tale following the fortunes of the outrageous Henry Hayden. A modern-day homage to Patricia Highsmith by one of the screenwriters for the renowned TV crime series Tatort (Crime Scene).

Friedrich Glauser, In Matto’s Realm (Bitter Lemon Press, trans Mike Mitchell). Originally published in 1936, In Matto’s Realm is the second in the groundbreaking ‘Sergeant Studer’ series. Studer is shown investigating the escape of a murderer from a psychiatric institution, a setting that holds a dark mirror up to Swiss society.

Hans Fallada, Alone in Berlin (Penguin, trans Michael Hofman). An extraordinary literary crime novel written in 1946, based on the genuine case of Elise and Otto Hampel, who were executed on charges of treason during the Nazi regime. Recently made into a film starring Emma Thompson, Brendan Gleeson and Daniel Brühl.

Auguste Groner, The Case of the Golden Bullet (Amazon, unknown trans). Groner was a pioneer of Austrian and women’s crime fiction, and created the first German-language police detective series. Joseph Müller investigates in this opening novella, originally published in 1892.

Petra Hammesfahr, The Sinner (Bitter Lemon Press, trans John Brownjohn). A gripping psychological thriller and Frauenkrimi, which excavates the reasons for an explosion of violence by young mother Cora Bender one sunny summer afternoon.

Paulus Hochgatterer, The Sweetness of Life (MacLehose, trans Jamie Bulloch). In this Austrian crime novel, Detective Ludwig Kovacs and psychiatrist Raffael Horn work on a murder case in which the only witness is a girl too traumatised to speak. Winner of the 2009 European Literature Prize.

Andrea Maria Schenkel, The Murder Farm (Quercus, trans Anthea Bell). A former resident returns to a village following a family massacre, and begins to piece together events via interviews with assorted villagers. A spare, chilling tale set in rural 1950s Germany. Winner of the German Crime Prize.

Ferdinand von Schirach, The Collini Case (Michael Joseph/Penguin, trans Anthea Bell). Barrister Caspar Leinen takes on a seemingly impossible case: his client, Fabrizio Collini, admits the murder of a rich German industrialist, but refuses to say why he committed the crime. A gripping courtroom drama that interrogates notions of justice.

Simon Urban, Plan D (Vintage, trans Katy Derbyshire). An ambitious novel that blends police procedural, detective novel and alternative history genres. Set in a 2011 in which the Berlin Wall still stands, it explores East-West tensions as the GDR teeters on brink of bankruptcy. A biting social satire.

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TO ENTER the giveaway and win one of the books above, write your name in the comment section along with the answer to this question –> What is the popular term for ‘crime novel’ in German?

A. Schwarzwaldkuchen

B. Krimi

C. Bratwurst

You can be anywhere in the world to enter – from Tenby or Tokyo to Tasmania. The closing date for entries is Sunday 17th April. THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED! See below for the winners!

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There was a fantastic response the Great Krimi Giveaway, with nearly 100 entries from all over the world – and amazingly everyone got the answer right ;-). Thanks to everyone who took part. The twelve lucky winners are listed below. Congratulations!

Winners – please email me your postal address and I will send your book out to you (mrspeabody68 at yahoo.co.uk). 

THE WINNERS ARE……..:

  • John Grant (realthog) – Arango’s The Truth and Other Lies
  • Roberta Marshall – Aykol’s Hotel Bosphorus
  • Bill Selnes – Glauser’s In Matto’s Realm
  • Lucy Dalton – Glauser’s Fever
  • Annegret Harms – Fallada’s Alone in Berlin
  • Sebastian Raggio – Groner’s The Case of the Golden Bullet and Schenkel’s The Murder Farm (two for one because the Groner is short!)
  • Robert J (Robie) – Hammesfahr’s The Sinner
  • Bett Mac – Hochgatterer’s The Sweetness of Life
  • Beatriz Simonetti – von Schirach’s The Collini Case
  • Ankush Saikia – Urban’s Plan D
  • Georgie Kelley – Crime Fiction in German volume
  • Sarah Pybus – Crime Fiction in German volume
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The faithful Krimi bag, from which the draw was made, with the pile of freshly won prizes

Mrs. Peabody gratefully acknowledges the generous support of the sponsors below, who have made this Krimi giveaway possible.

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‘Crime Fiction in German’ publication day! With a FREE CHAPTER!

Today sees the publication of Crime Fiction in German by the University of Wales Press. For all us involved in writing and producing the book, this is a hugely exciting moment, not least because Crime Fiction in German is a genuine first: the first volume in English to give a comprehensive overview of German-language crime fiction from its origins in the early nineteenth century to the present day. And it’s World Book Day here in the UK as well – what could be finer?

To celebrate there’s a FREE introductory chapter available to all readers!

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About the book

  • Crime Fiction in German explores crime fiction from Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the former East and West German states.
  • It investigates National Socialist crime fiction, Jewish-German crime fiction, Turkish-German crime fiction and the Afrika-Krimi (crime set predominantly in post-colonial Africa), expanding the notion of a German crime-writing tradition along the way.
  • It examines key areas such as the West German Soziokrimi (social crime novel), the Frauenkrimi (women’s crime writing), the Regionalkrimi (regional crime fiction), historical crime fiction and the Fernsehkrimi (TV crime drama). In the process, it highlights the genre’s distinctive features in German-language contexts. And yes, humour is one of them 🙂
  • It includes a map of German-speaking Europe, a chronology of crime publishing milestones, extracts from primary texts, and an annotated bibliography of print and online resources in English and German.
  • All quotes are given in English and German. No knowledge of German is required!
  • The contributors – Julia Augart (University of Namibia), Marieke Krajenbrink (University of Limerick), Katharina Hall (Swansea University), Martin Rosenstock (Gulf University, Kuwait), Faye Stewart (Georgia State University), Mary Tannert (editor and translator of Early German and Austrian Detective Fiction) – are all experts in the field of crime fiction studies.

Further details, including a table of contents, are available at the University of Wales Press website. The paperback is available from Amazon here.

Now read on for details of the FREE chapter!

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The Free Chapter

While Crime Fiction in German is an academic volume that hopes to be useful to scholars in the field, a key aim has been to make the book accessible to ALL readers with an interest in crime fiction. We’re aware that not everyone may be able to buy the volume (academic texts have smaller print runs and are mainly bought by university libraries, and therefore have a different pricing structure to mass-produced books). If not, one option is to ask the local library to order a copy. Another is to read on for a very special treat…

Anyone, anywhere in the world, can download Chapter One of Crime Fiction in German for FREE.

The chapter gives an overview of the volume and of the history of German-language crime fiction. It’s PACKED with criminal goodness, and thanks to the generous financial support of Swansea University, you can download from the university’s Cronfa research repository. And did I mention that it’s FREE?

❤ In return, we ask two tiny favours ❤

  • If you like the chapter and want to tell other people, please send them the link below rather than the actual PDF. Why? Because then we can track how many times the chapter has been downloaded. If there’s lots of activity, more ‘open access’ projects like this one may be funded in the future.
  • Secondly, if you download the chapter and have a moment, could you leave a comment below saying where you’re from? This will help us see how far the chapter has travelled. It could be rather fun – I’m looking forward to seeing if we can get ‘Leipzig, Germany’, ‘Moose Jaw, Canada’, and ‘Beijing, China’ all in a row.

Right, here we go! The link to the Crime Fiction in German Chapter One is

https://cronfa.swan.ac.uk/Record/cronfa25191

Enjoy and please spread the word!

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Deutschland 83 series review: my take as a Germanist and fan

For the past seven weeks, Channel 4/Walter Presents viewers have been gripped by the German Cold War spy drama Deutschland 83, created by Anna and Jörg Winger, a talented German/American husband and wife team. Following tonight’s feature-length finale, here are my thoughts on the show as a Germanist who teaches/writes on German history and as a fan. The post contains spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the series, DON’T read on…watch the series instead!

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I watched the first episode of Deutschland 83 with slight trepidation. As a Germanist trying to persuade Brits of the merits of German culture, I wanted it to be good and to overturn some of the persistent UK tabloid stereotypes about Germans (earnest, humourless, Nazi). It was and it did. We were introduced to a host of intriguing characters and saw 24-year-old East German border guard Martin Rauch (Jonas Nay) bundled off to West Germany as secret agent Kolibri. Posing as Moritz Stamm, an aide to General Wolfgang Edel, he begins to gather classified military secrets in Bonn and to pass them back to the GDR, as Cold War tensions between East and West rise.

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Getting into the swing of this spying thing

One big question the first episode raised was that of historical veracity. A friend of mine, an academic expert on East Germany, described the depiction of Martin’s recruitment by the Stasi (the East German secret police) as ‘baloney’. I totally understood this reaction, as I’ve had similar responses to dramas set in Nazi Germany (e.g. one where a Jewish-German protagonist calls out a cheery ‘Shalom!’ to his friends on a busy Nazi-era street). But allowances should be made: writers of historical dramas need to communicate complex information to viewers very quickly, which sometimes means taking what I think of as ‘symbolic shortcuts’. In this case, the use of the spy thriller genre also demanded exciting action and a brisk narrative pace: we obviously couldn’t spend six episodes with Martin while he was being methodically trained in spycraft, so some suspension of disbelief was required.

On the other hand, the first episode managed to convey some fundamental truths: the Stasi‘s ruthless use of people’s personal circumstances to secure cooperation; the politicised nature of everyday East German life; the ideological hypocrisy of Western coffee and perfume making their way East via a border guard or a highly placed Stasi official; the very real military tensions of the time. And it was stylish. Beautifully shot, with a classy 80s soundtrack, its nuanced direction was serious or light as the action required. By the end of the episode I was hooked: how was young Martin/Moritz going to negotiate the tricky double identity that is the basis of a spy’s existence?

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Here are just some of the things I loved about Deutschland 83:

  • The episode titles originate from NATO military exercises. Quantum Jump, Brave Guy, Atlantic Lion, Northern Wedding, Cold Fire, Brandy Station, Bold Guard and Able Archer all took place in 1983. The latter is of particular significance throughout the series.
  • Tremendous historical and cultural breadth. The series successfully shows viewers the global scale of the Cold War in 1983 (from President Reagan’s ‘Evil Empire’ speech to the Russian downing of Korean Air Lines Flight 007); the profound legacy of the student/68 movement (from Alex’s interest in the Green Party and Yvonne’s life in a Rajneesh commune to Tischbier’s faux political activism at the University of Bonn); and the devastating rise of AIDS.
  • The ‘coming-of-age’ theme. We see a number of characters having to grow up very quickly in the course of the series, such as Martin, Alex, Yvonne and Annett. The moral challenges they face in the process are effectively drawn, particularly in Martin’s case.
  • Politically subversive libraries. Martin’s mother Ingrid may be the sister of a Stasi apparatchik and gratefully receive bottles of Chanel/privileged medical attention, but she also has a stash of illicit literature such as George Orwell’s 1984 in a secret room in her basement. She’s in cahoots with Thomas, helping him to distribute banned books from the boot of her car (a subversive mobile library!). The scenes in which Martin’s girlfriend Annett discovers Ingrid’s library and then denounces Thomas to the Stasi made me incredibly thankful to live in a society that values free speech.
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What have we here…?

  • Ursula Edel and the fish (episode 5). One of the many darkly humorous moments from the series.
  • The soundtrack is a delight, featuring 80s hits from East and West Germany, and the English-speaking world. There’s a full Spotify playlist here. My favourites include the German version of Peter Schilling’s theme tune ‘Major Tom (völlig losgelöst)’, Nena’s ’99 Luftballons’ and David Bowie’s ‘Modern Love’.
  • Last but not least…Lenora Rauch. Martin’s ruthless Stasi aunt, who forces her nephew into the life of a spy, is beautifully played by Maria Schrader (whom you may remember from the film Aimée & Jaguar). Her ideological conviction is tempered by a world-weary, I’ve-seen-it-all-before vibe: the collapse of an operation just elicits a sigh and an extra-long drag on her cigarette. Oh, and she’s also a total 80s style icon, complete with perm, killer silk shirts and red lippy/nails.
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Things are about to go pear-shaped…again

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Cutting edge technology: the floppy disk

There may have been times where things threatened to get a bit silly, such as Episode 2’s entertaining but implausible attack on Martin/Moritz by the ninja-assassin-waitress. But the series always managed to pull itself back from the brink of parody and delivered some truly powerful moments.

  • Linda Seiler’s death halfway through the series in episode 4 was a game-changer. When Martin fails to shake the NATO secretary’s loyalty to the West, she is run over and killed by Tischbier in a truly traumatic scene. This event shows us that Martin’s spying assignment is grown-up and deadly. Even though he resisted letting Linda drown in the lake earlier in the episode, he must still bear some responsibility for her death, which was necessary to protect his cover. It’s a le-Carré-style moral low in which innocent individuals are shown becoming pawns in much larger political games. To add insult to injury, brave Linda is left in an unmarked grave in the forest (a German fairytale gone badly wrong) and it’s suggested that she defected to the East.
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Alas, poor Linda!

  • Linda’s apparent betrayal has consequences. It leads her boss, moderate NATO analyst Henrik Mayer to commit suicide, which allows hawks in the East and West to escalate military tensions. A special mention in this respect must go to Stasi official Walter Schweppenstette, whose ideological adherence is particularly dangerous. Told by a Russian superior that a decoded report must fit Moscow’s view of a predatory US, he dutifully edits and distorts its findings. In a chilling scene at the end of episode 6, the Russian is shown receiving the doctored report and accepting its contents as genuine, thereby turning fiction into fact, and taking the two sides perilously close to nuclear war.
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Was it something I said?

  • Tonight’s finale… took the world to the brink of nuclear destruction and back again. A number of characters had their morality tested, none more so than Martin, whose decisive action made key figures such as General Edel and Lenora begin to doubt Schweppenstette’s wilful insistence that NATO forces were about to launch an attack. One sobering aspect of this storyline was its emphasis on how the actions of just a few individuals have the power to trigger catastrophic destruction or perhaps…in a thriller at least, to stop it, allowing nuclear rockets to reverse back into their firing systems before our eyes. Phew.
  • Alex and Martin are revealed to have been ‘twins’ all along, both the sons of powerful fathers on the opposite sides of the Berlin Wall. The knowledge of that fact will definitely enrich a second viewing of the series.
  • Never has a border crossing – from WEST to EAST – been more thrilling. Didn’t the little fairy godmother in the car do well?
  • Comic highlight: Schweppenstette’s inept dad-dancing to Udo Lindenberg.
  • The series left a number of questions deliberately open. What of Martin and Annett’s future? If Martin passed his moral test, Annett failed hers spectacularly. Where will Lenora’s big adventure take her? And what of the Edels? Both father and son cut quite tragic figures at the end. Thomas is saved by Ingrid’s actions, but what awaits him in the West? To be continued….?

One of the best things about Deutschland 83 is that it’s made Germany and the German language cool. I’ve been made inordinately happy by tweets such as these: @jazzywoop ‘#Deutschland83 writing, directing, production, casting, acting, location, music and design is magic. Elevated further by being in German’; @Yasmin_Gooner ‘German is the sexiest language in the whole world. #Deutschland83’; @julzenthe1st ‘German students & graduates are giving each other high fives all over Britain’. Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Winger, thanks Walter!

Further reading: 

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Trapped: New Icelandic crime drama airs Saturday 13 February on BBC4

BBC4’s weekend crime slot moves from Montalbano’s sunny Sicily to a chilly northern Iceland on Saturday 13 February. Trapped, the channel’s first Icelandic crime drama, begins with two back-to-back episodes at 9.00pm (there are 10 episodes in total). This RVK Studios series will give many British viewers their first taste of the Icelandic language (subtitles also at the ready, of course).

Trapped

Trapped seems to be set in the east-coast port of Seyðisfjörður (although some of it was filmed in the northern port of Siglufjörður, which features in Ragnar Jónasson’s ‘Dark Iceland’ crime series). The opening episodes show three events happening almost simultaneously: a ferry with three hundred passengers arriving from Denmark, the discovery of a corpse in the water, and the onset of a violent snowstorm. The storm prevents the ferry from leaving and blocks roads in and out of town, trapping the passengers and townsfolk with the killer. Step forward Police Inspector Andri, who is tasked with investigating this high pressure case…

Here’s a trailer, which looks quite brooding and scary (may need to hide behind the sofa for bits of this one):

The BBC’s Sue Deeks had this to say about Trapped following its acquisition for BBC4: “A truly gripping storyline, stunning Icelandic setting and renowned feature film director Baltasar Kormákur (Everest) was a combination impossible to resist. Trapped will be our first Icelandic drama series and I am certain that BBC Four viewers are in for an absolute treat.”

Trapped stars Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, True Detective) in the lead role and is joined by Bjarne Henriksen (Borgen, The Killing), Ingvar E Sigurðsson (Everest, K19 The Widowmaker), Ilmur Kristjánsdóttir (Virgin Mountain, White Night Wedding), Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir (The Sea) and Björn Hlynur Haraldsson (Borgias, Fortitude). The series is written by Sigurjón Kjartansson and Clive Bradley, and is produced by Baltasar Kormákur and Magnus Vidar Sigurdsson.

UPDATE – SPOILER FREE REVIEW OF EPISODES 1 AND 2

Well, that was a brilliant start. This is a high quality crime drama that has the potential to develop into a really great series. The first episode set up the different strands of the narrative very nicely: a mysterious fire, the ferry’s arrival, the discovery of the body and the complex personal life of police chief Andri. The actors are great, the writing is crisp with occasional wry humour, and the cinematography is excellent, making the most of the dramatic Icelandic landscape and weather. Wrap up warm when watching, because it’s almost impossible not to feel chilly with that blizzard swirling around.

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Andri and his police team

It was lovely to hear Icelandic, mingled in with some English and Danish (the captain of the Danish ferry will be immediately recognizable to fans of The Killing I and Borgen). I liked Andri and his down-to-earth female police colleague Hinrike very much, and was amused to see the Reykjavik police investigators depicted as arrogant city slickers (there’s some friction here that will hopefully be explored in later episodes).

Update: Just watched episodes 7 and 8, which were both excellent. The plot continues to thicken, and the quality of the screenwriting and acting remains extremely high. Andri and Hinrike make a brilliant team. Can’t wait for the finale next week.

One last tidbit: the Icelandic title of the series is Ófærð, which means ‘impassable’ – the word on the sign signalling road closure due to bad weather. Looking forward to more immensely.

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In other TV news, Sunday 14 February brings us the feature-length finale of Deutschland 83. This East/West German spy thriller has been an absolute gem, and has elicited an incredibly enthusiastic response from British viewers. I’ll blog my thoughts on the series as a Germanist and fan once the roller-coaster ride is complete!

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Smörgåsbord: Bartram’s Headline Murder, Lauppe-Dunbar’s Dark Mermaids and Ellin’s Speciality of the House

My reading since New Year has been very eclectic. As a result, there’s no neat way for me to link the following novels: they’re a tasty smörgåsbord of different crime writing styles, subjects and approaches.

Bartram

First up is Peter Bartram’s delightful Brighton cosy Headline Murder (Roundfire Books, 2015). Set in 1962, it follows journalist-sleuth Colin Crampton as he investigates the sudden disappearance of Krazy Kat miniature-golf-course owner Arnold Trumper. As one would expect from this pre-internet setting, the investigation involves lots of hands-on detective work, which simultaneously provides an intriguing insight into a 1960s journalist’s life (complete with amusing rivalry between the Brighton Evening Chronicle and the Brighton Evening Argus). While it took a couple of chapters to get into its stride, I found the novel a highly enjoyable and well-crafted read, with a host of engaging characters. It’s a very good choice if you need a break from the darker recesses of noir or the modern world. Favourite line: ‘Ten minutes later I was in the Evening Chronicle‘s morgue with a large bag of jam doughnuts’.

The novel is the first in the ‘Crampton of the Chronicle’ series, and there are some free short stories available too. ‘Colin’ has a nice website that’s worth a visit (and hats off to author Peter Bartram – who has a background in journalism – for this very neat bit of marketing).Laupe Dunbar

Anne Lauppe-Dunbar’s Dark Mermaids (Seren, 2015) is an absorbing debut that’s tricky to categorise: a literary-historical crime novel, perhaps. Set at an intriguing moment in German history – 1990, just a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall – it shows national and individual identities in flux, and the full extent of Stasi (East German secret police) activity beginning to emerge. However, its central focus is the GDR’s shameful use of steroids on young swimmers and the after-effects of that state-sanctioned abuse (here’s a BBC article with a good overview of the scandal). I very much liked the novel’s sensitive depiction of emotionally damaged police officer Sophia Künstler, and how it explores the political complexities of East German everyday life.

Anne is a lecturer in creative writing at Swansea University, and was partly inspired to write the novel by her German family roots.

Ellin

Stanley Ellin’s The Speciality of the House (Orion, 2002), is part of Orion’s wonderful ‘crime masterworks’ series. A collection of the renowned New York author’s mystery tales from 1948 to 1978, it presents a deliciously dark vision of society. I’m not always a fan of the short story form, but Ellin is a brilliant writer with a gift for criminal invention. His murderers are often outwardly respectable citizens trying to solve financial problems or to climb the social ladder, and there’s a wicked sense of humour at play.

The subject of marriage also gets wry treatment, as this wonderful opening from ‘The Orderly World of Mr Appleby’ (1950) demonstrates: ‘Mr Appleby was a small prim man who wore rimless spectacles, parted his graying hair in the middle, and took sober pleasure in pointing out that there was no room in the properly organized life for the operations of Chance. Consequently, when he decided that the time had come to investigate the most efficient methods for disposing of his wife, he knew where to look’.

I found Speciality by chance while browsing in Swansea’s Oxfam Books – testimony to the pleasures of browsing and finding something completely unexpected, as opposed to being steered towards a predictable set of books by an online retailer’s algorithm…

New Year goodies: The Young Montalbano (BBC4) and Deutschland 83 (Channel 4/Walter Presents)

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you’ve had a wonderful festive season and are heading into 2016 with a spring in your step.

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We kick off the year with two fabulous series from Italy and Germany – the second season of The Young Montalbano on BBC4 and spy drama Deutschland 83 on Channel 4. The latter also marks the launch of the new on-demand service Walter Presents, which looks like a must for fans of international crime.

The new six-part series of The Young Montalbano begins on Saturday 2nd January at 9.00pm, with the episode ‘The Man who Followed Funerals’. Montalbano investigates the brutal murder of Pasqualino Cutufa’, a Vigata inhabitant who made a habit of showing up at people’s funerals to mourn their deaths. Livia has also come to stay, but is acting rather strangely…

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Young Montalbano (Michele Riondino) looking rather pensive

I thoroughly enjoyed the first series of The Young Montalbano, which did a stylish job of depicting the Italian policeman’s early years in 1990s Vigata, when he still had an unruly mop of hair. If you’re looking to escape from a wet and windy Blighty to sunnier shores, then this one could be for you. I blogged some background to the first series in this 2013 post. And here’s a link to Olivia Sellerio singing ‘Vuci mia cantannu vai’, which closed the series 1 episodes. Divine!

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The eight-part spy thriller Deutschland 83 (Germany 83) begins on Channel 4 on Sunday 3rd January at 9pm (in German with English subtitles). I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to seeing some quality German drama on our screens.

Here’s an overview from Channel 4:

‘It’s 1983. The Cold War is heating up. Russian SS20 Missiles in East Germany are pointed West, while American Pershing II Missiles in West Germany will soon be pointing East. Against this perilous political backdrop, DEUTSCHLAND 83, a gripping coming-of-age story and a suspenseful, fast-paced thriller, follows Martin Rauch (Jonas Nay), a 24-year-old East German, who is sent to the West as an undercover spy for the Stasi. Hiding in plain sight in the West German army, he must gather NATO military secrets while trying to resist the pleasures that the West has to offer. Everything is new to him, nothing is quite what it seems and everyone he encounters is harbouring secrets.

Stylish, fast-paced and utterly gripping, the series, created by German-American husband and wife team Anna and Joerg Winger, reveals the experiences of Germans from both sides of the Berlin Wall during a pivotal period of Cold War tensions.

The series was the first German-language drama ever to air in the US, proving a hit on Sundance TV channel this summer where it has was hailed as “engrossing” (Time Magazine), “slick” (The Hollywood Reporter) and “fresh and enjoyable” (The New York Times).’

Here’s the Sundance trailer of Deutschland 83 to give you a taster – with a storming 80s soundtrack:

The series premieres on the same day as Walter Presents, a new, FREE digital service showcasing ‘the best in world drama’ and available exclusively on All 4. The creation of this service testifies to the progress British TV has made in relation to foreign-language drama in recent years. Subtitled films/dramas, once the preserve of indie cinemas and international film nuts, are now positively mainstream, which is splendid. Judging by the website, there will be lots of international crime goodies available on Walter Presents, including the marvellous ‘Cenk Batu’ episodes from the German series Tatort. This Independent article has further details about the line up.

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