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’.

A salute to Harper Lee and Umberto Eco

We’ve lost two cultural giants this week: American author Harper Lee (1926-2016), and the Italian philosopher, cultural theorist and writer Umberto Eco (1932-2016). Here’s a salute to each with some links to further reading.

Harper Lee

“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience”

Harper Lee’s literary reputation rests almost completely on one novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, which was published in 1960 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. Set in mid-1930s Alabama, it uses a court case to illuminate the ingrained racism of the Deep South: black field-hand Tom Robinson is falsely accused of raping a white woman and is defended at trial by attorney Atticus Finch, the father of precocious child-narrator Scout. The novel can be viewed both as a coming-of-age story and a historical novel about the Great Depression, and explores the themes of crime, racism, morality and justice in a way that still feels challenging today. The 1962 film adaptation starring Gregory Peck is a classic.      

Lee was the daughter of a lawyer (on whom the character of Atticus was based), studied law herself, and had an interesting link to the world of crime writing. One of her childhood friends was Truman Capote, and she worked with him in conducting interviews and gathering materials for In Cold Blood (1966), his ground-breaking ‘true crime’ examination of the Clutter family murder case in Kansas.

Further reading:

Italian writer Umberto Eco listens to a question during the presentation of his latest novel "The Cemetery of Prague" in Madrid December 13, 2010. REUTERS/Andrea Comas

Umberto Eco in December 2010 (REUTERS/Andrea Comas)

“Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry”

In the world of crime fiction, Umberto Eco was most famous for his first novel, The Name of the Rose (1980), which is accurately described on the author’s website as ‘an intellectual mystery combining semiotics, biblical analysis, medieval studies and literary theory’. The novel’s 500 pages provide readers with a riveting murder mystery, a wonderful detective (Brother William of Baskerville), a rich portrait of 14th-century monastic life and medieval intellectual/religious conflict. The fiendishly clever solution remains one of the best in the crime fiction.

I love the possibly apocryphal stories that Eco wrote The Name of the Rose in response to a dare, or because “I felt like poisoning a monk”. It may therefore have been something of a surprise to him that the novel sold 10 million copies in over 30 languages.

Eco regarded himself primarily as an academic who wrote fiction on the side. His key areas of inquiry were philosophy and semiotics (the study of signs), and he wrote influential articles on literary theory and popular culture. His essay collection The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts (1979) has been useful in my own academic work on crime fiction, particularly the distinction he makes between ‘closed’ and ‘open’ texts (the latter offer the reader greater interpretive agency, rather than steering readers towards a predetermined narrative closure). Grazie, Professore.

Further reading:

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Eco’s original sketch for the labyrinthine abbey library in The Name of the Rose

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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Jingle bells! Mrs. Peabody’s 2015 Christmas recommendations

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Bookish Christmas cheer! Source: en.webfail.com

Wondering what to get the crime lover in your life for Christmas? Here are Mrs. Peabody’s 2015 recommendations to help you out. As ever, they’re based on my own top reading and viewing experiences throughout the year and are designed to appeal to readers with all manner of criminal tastes. Available from a wonderful independent bookshop near you!

The Truth and other lies

Sascha Arango, The Truth and Other Lies (GERMANY: trans. Imogen Taylor, Simon and Schuster 2015). For lovers of Patricia Highsmith with a contemporary twist. The central protagonist of this standalone crime novel is the novelist Henry Hayden, whose highly successful life begins to unravel when he makes a fatal error one night. Hayden is a darkly comic creation whose story – involving a talented wife, a demanding mistress and a floundering police team – is witty and entertaining. The author is a well-known screenwriter for the German crime series Tatort (Crime Scene) and you can read a bit more about his debut novel here.

Cost

Roberto Costantini, The Deliverance of Evil (ITALY: trans. N. S. Thompson, Quercus, 2014). For lovers of complex crime fiction with strong historical, political and social themes. The first in the Balistreri Trilogy will keep its lucky recipient quiet for hours: a six-hundred page epic that spans twenty-five years of Italian history and tackles weighty issues such as religion, class and the legacy of Italian fascism, this novel is also a gripping murder mystery with an intriguing, morally flawed investigator – Commissario Michele Balistreri. Mrs. Peabody’s full review is available here.

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Eva Dolan, A Long Way Home (UK: Vintage, 2014). For lovers of fabulously well-written social crime novels. This police procedural explores migrant experiences in the UK in a timely and sobering way. Its main investigative protagonists, Detectives Zigic and Ferreira of the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit – with Serbian and Portuguese heritage respectively – are both extremely well drawn, and the story, which starts with the discovery of a body in a burned-out garden shed, is gripping and believable. The second in the series, Tell No Tales, has also just been published…

Horst

Jørn Lier Horst, The Caveman (NORWAY: trans. Anne Bruce, Sandstone Press 2015). For lovers of top quality Scandinavian police procedurals. The fourth in the Norwegian ‘William Wisting’ series begins with the discovery of a four-month-old corpse in an armchair just down the road from the policeman’s own home. While Wisting investigates, his journalist daughter Line uses the case to ask some serious questions about society. Neither, however, are remotely prepared for where the case will eventually lead them. Elegantly written and completely gripping, this is Scandi crime at its best (and in my view it doesn’t matter where readers dive into the series). Mrs. Peabody’s interview with the author, a former police chief, is available here.

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Val McDermid, Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime (UK: Profile Books, 2015). For those interested in the grittier, scientific side of criminal investigations. Not to be read directly before or after Christmas dinner. This fascinating book, written by crime author Val McDermid, accompanied the Wellcome Trust’s exhibition of the same name earlier this year. Taking us from the crime scene to the courtroom, chapters explore entomology (maggots), toxicology (arsenic most foul), fingerprinting, blood splatter/DNA, facial reconstruction and digital forensics. Grim, but genuinely illuminating, the book also pays homage to the investigators who use science to track down criminals and bring them to justice. Every contact leaves a trace!

Where the Shadows Lie

Michael Ridpath, Where the Shadows Lie (UK/ICELAND: Corvus, 2011). For lovers of Icelandic crime and The Lord of the Rings. I’m late to the party as far as the ‘Fire and Ice’ series is concerned. In this opening novel, readers are introduced to Icelandic-born, Boston-raised homicide detective Magnus Jonson, who is seconded to the Reykjavik Police after getting on the wrong side of a drugs cartel in the States. Soon, he’s busy investigating the rather nasty murder of an Icelandic academic, while getting reacquainted with Icelandic culture and society. A highly enjoyable read that doubles as a great introduction to the land of ‘fire and ice’.

Death on demand

Paul Thomas, Death on Demand (NEW ZEALAND: Bitter Lemon Press 2013 [2012]) For lovers of maverick detectives and astute social commentary. Thomas wrote three novels in the ‘Ihaka’ series back in the 1990s. This later installment was published in 2012 and is often described as one of his best (it works well as a standalone, so having read the previous novels is not a requirement in my view). Highlights include the depiction of Maori policeman Tito Ihaka (‘unkempt, overweight, intemperate, unruly, unorthodox and profane’), an absorbing narrative and an insightful dissection of Auckland society. An extract from the opening is available here.

in bitter chill cover

Sarah Ward, In Bitter Chill (UK: Faber, 2015). For lovers of absorbing, quality British crime fiction. This tremendously polished debut is set in Derbyshire and focuses on an unsolved case from January 1978 – the disappearance of two young girls on their way to school. Only one, Rachel, is found and she has no memory of what happened to her friend. Thirty years on, a suicide triggers a review of the case by the local police team and Rachel finds herself being drawn unwillingly back into the past. With a narrative that moves deftly between past and present, this novel is a compelling read with a great sense of place. A full Mrs. Peabody review is available here.

Lovely Way to Burn

Louise Welsh, A Lovely Way to Burn (UK: John Murray, 2014)For lovers of dystopian or apocalyptic crime fiction. The first in the ‘Plague Times’ trilogy depicts a London engulfed by ‘the Sweats’, a pandemic that’s claiming millions of lives. But when Stephanie (Stevie) Flint discovers the body of her boyfriend, Dr. Simon Sharkey, it looks like a case of foul play. Stevie sets out to find out the truth behind Simon’s death and to survive – not necessarily in that order. An enthralling novel with a great heroine (and travelling by Tube will never be the same again). The second novel in the trilogy, Death is a Welcome Guest, is already out and is another fab read.

River DVD

River (UK: BBC/Arrow Films, 2015). For lovers of quirky TV crime series like Life on Mars. This crime drama, which was written by Abi Morgan and recently aired on BBC One, was an absolute standout for me. It seems to have divided audiences a little – not everyone liked or ‘got’ the concept – but those who did were glued to the screen as police detective John River tried to solve the murder of his partner, Jackie ‘Stevie’ Stevenson, while being helped (or hindered) by a number of ‘manifests’ or visions of the dead. This crime series did something truly original: it explored the effects of a serious mental health crisis with compassion, intelligence and wit. The acting by Stellan Skarsgärd, Nicola Walker and the supporting cast was also top class. For a fuller appreciation, see here. And there’s a great interview with Abi Morgan about the experience of writing River here.

And lastly, on my own personal wishlist from Santa:

La isla minima

The film La Isla Minima or Marshland (SPAIN: Altitude, 2015), which has been called a Spanish True Detective and was the winner of ten Goya awards, including Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Film. Here’s the blurb:

‘Spain’s deep-south, 1980. In a small village a serial killer has caused the disappearance of several adolescents. But when two young sisters vanish during an annual festival, their mother forces an investigation that brings two homicide detectives from Madrid to try to solve the mystery. The detectives are ensnared in a web of intrigue fed by the apathy and introverted nature of the locals. Nothing is what it seems in this isolated region and both men realize they must put aside their professional differences if they are to stop the person responsible.’

There’s a Guardian review of the film here.

Wishing you all a very happy festive season!

Scandi Xmas

Source: littlescandinavian.com

Roberto Costantini’s Italian/Libyan Balistreri Trilogy

I picked up the first novel in Roberto Costantini’s Balistreri TrilogyThe Deliverance of Evil (trans. N. S. Thompson, Quercus, 2014 [2011]), at this year’s CrimeFest after seeing the author on a couple of panels. Costantini was extremely articulate about how his personal links to Tripoli and Rome shaped the trilogy and how his writing style is influenced by his work as an engineer. My interest was also piqued by the description of his main protagonist, Commissario Michele Balistreri, as a morally flawed individual with a complex political past.

Cost

Coming in at just over 600 pages, The Deliverance of Evil is a novel for readers who enjoy complex, multi-layered crime narratives. Framed by Italy’s two Football World Cup victories in 1982 and 2006, it spans twenty-five years of Italian history, but also explores the legacy of Mussolini’s right-wing dictatorship and of the so-called ‘strategy of tension’ – a series of right-wing terrorist attacks in the 1960s and 1970s (possibly encouraged by the military and intelligence services), which were blamed on communists to provoke a political shift to the right. Balistreri, the narrative’s main investigator, acts as a kind of repository for this complex history: as a young man, he was drawn to the ultra right-wing Ordine Nuovo, but when it became involved in terrorist acts, worked undercover for the state in an attempt to stop them. When the narrative opens in 1982, he has supposedly left that past behind him, after being transferred to a quiet police post in Rome.

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The original Italian cover

The crime at the heart of the narrative is the murder of Elisa Sordi, a young woman who works for a religious housing organisation. The detective, keen to enjoy the 1982 World Cup final, is distracted during the initial investigation. This and a number of other factors result in the case remaining unsolved until 2006, when another woman is murdered in apparently similar circumstances. Wracked with remorse and guilt for his earlier failures, Balistreri vows to solve both cases and uncover the truth.

The Deliverance of Evil is a hugely absorbing, accomplished piece of work. While the denouement, which resembles an intricate origami creation, had me raising an eyebrow a little at times, the figure of Balistreri, together with the clever construction of the narrative and its dissection of Italian privilege, politics and racism made for a highly gripping read. I’ll definitely be seeking out the second in the trilogy, which moves back in time to the 1960s to explore Balistreri’s troubled past in Libya.

I have a bit of a thing about crime trilogies or quartets. They’re often quite special, which I think is due to two factors. Firstly, they give authors the chance to explore multiple facets of an overarching story in a group of novels, allowing them to create extended and complex literary worlds. Conversely, the limit of having a set number of novels (as opposed to an on-going series), encourages authors to take more risks, especially in terms of the characterisation of their protagonists and the overall denouement. Standalones and trilogies/quartets are thus usually more hard-hitting than a series, not least because they don’t need to safeguard the investigator or main protagonist indefinitely. They also often undertake a wide-ranging social and/or political critique, which I like.

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Here are few of my favourite crime trilogies and quartets:

David Peace’s Yorkshire Noir/Red Riding Quartet (1974197719801984), which is set against the backdrop of the Yorkshire Ripper case and provides a brilliant depiction of corrupt policing cultures.

Andrew Taylor’s Roth/Requiem for an Angel Trilogy (The Four Last ThingsThe Judgement of Strangers, The Office of the Dead) which skillfully excavates the history of a female serial killer, beginning in the present day and moving back to the 1970s and the 1950s.

Ben Winter’s Last Policeman Trilogy (The Last Policeman, Countdown City, World of Trouble), set in a superbly realised world on the brink of destruction (I still need to read the final novel, and am looking forward to it very much).

Winter last policeman

Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire, The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest), featuring the remarkable, indefatigable Lisbeth Salander.

Leif G.W. Persson’s Story of a Crime Trilogy (Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End, Another Time, Another Life and Free Falling, As in a Dream), which probes the unsolved assassination of Olof Palme in an absorbing and darkly sardonic manner.

Philip Kerr’s Berlin Noir Trilogy (March Violets, The Pale Criminal, A German Requiem), which explores Nazi Germany in 1936 and 1938 and Allied Occupation in 1947 through the eyes of former Berlin policeman Bernie Gunther. The author later extended the trilogy into a series, but the original three novels remain the best in my view.

Perhaps you have others we could add to this list? 

Update: Well, what a brilliant response. Thanks to MarinaSofia, Margot, Rebecca, Bernadette, David, Tracey and Angela for their suggestions (see also their comments and those of others below), and to Barbara, Jose Ignacio and Craig Sisterson via Twitter for trilogies/quartets by women authors. All listed below…

Further great crime fiction trilogies and quartets: 

Lisa Brackman’s China Trilogy (Rock, Paper, Tiger; Dragon Day; Hour of the Rat)

James Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet (The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, White Jazz)

Lyndsay Faye’s New York Trilogy (The Gods of Gotham, Seven for a Secret, The Fatal Flame)

Gordon Ferris’ Glasgow Quartet (The Hanging Shed, Bitter Water, Pilgrim Soul, Gallowglass)

Alan Glynn’s Land Trilogy (Winterland, Bloodland, Graveland – set in Ireland)

Jean-Claude Izzo’s Marseille Trilogy (Total Chaos, Chourmo, Solea)

Peter May’s Lewis Trilogy (The Blackhouse, The Lewis Man, The Chessmen)

William McIllvaney’s Laidlaw Trilogy (Laidlaw, The Papers of Tony Veitch, Walking Wounded – set in Glasgow)

Adrian McKinty’s Troubles Quartet (The Cold Cold Ground, I Hear the Sirens in the Street, In the Morning I’ll Be Gone and Gun Street Girl – set in Ireland)

Denise Mina’s Garnethill Trilogy (Garnethill, Exile, Resolution – set in Glasgow, Scotland)

Denise Mina’s Paddy Meehan Trilogy (The Field of Blood, The Dead Hour, The Final Breath – set in Glasgow, Scotland)

Leonardo Padura’s Havana Quartet (Havana Blue, Havana Gold, Havana Red, Havana Black)

George Pelecanos’ D.C. Quartet (The Big Blowdown, King Suckerman, The Sweet Forever, Shame the Devil)

Dolores Redondo’s Baztan Trilogy. The first, The Invisible Guardian is available in translation and is set in Spain’s Basque country. The other two are entitled Legado en los huesos (Legacy in the Bones) and Ofrenda a la tormenta (Offering to the Storm).

John Williams Cardiff Trilogy (Five Pubs, Two Bars And A Nightclub; Cardiff Dead; The Prince of Wales)

Robert Wilson’s Falcon Quartet (The Blind Man of Seville; The Silent and the Damned; The Hidden Assassins; The Ignorance of Blood – set in Spain)

Berlinale 2015 showcases international crime dramas and thrillers from Germany, Israel, Denmark, Sweden and Italy

The 2015 Berlinale – one of the world’s top international film festivals – closes today in Berlin. As ever, a host of wonderful films have been shown during the packed ten-day programme, with the Iranian film Taxi, directed by dissident filmmaker Jafar Panahi, awarded the coveted Golden Bear.

While reading coverage of the festival, I was interested to see that some international TV dramas were premiered as part of the programme, and that a number of these had a pronounced crime/thriller/spying dimension. Alessandra Stanley’s excellent article in the New York Times provides a good overview, and also discusses how such series are beginning to be picked up in the States (and not always to be remade in English either), which is a very good sign.

Here are a few of the series in question:

Deutschland 83. There’s quite a lot of buzz about this spying drama in Germany and beyond, and it has now also been picked up by an American network (in the original German!). The central protagonist is East German border guard Martin Rauch, who is sent across the border as an undercover agent by the Stasi (the East German secret police); his task is to pose as an aid to a West German general working with NATO. Stanley describes the series as ‘an ingenious, counter-intuitive look at the Cold War’ and a recent Guardian article sees it as indicative of rising interest in the divided Germany of 1949 to 1990.

Deutschland 83

Shkufim (False Flag). According to Stanley, this Israeli political drama was inspired by the assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai in 2010. That scenario has been reworked for the series, which shows five Israeli citizens waking up one day to find they are prime suspects in the kidnapping of a Iranian official in Moscow. The drama is produced by Tender Productions, which also has links with Homeland (which was itself based on the Israeli series Hatufim).

The five suspects in False Flag

Follow the Money is a Danish crime thriller series by DR Drama (the makers of The Killing and Borgen) due to air later this year. It focuses on corruption in big business, with a lovely twist: the business in question is a wind-power company called Energreen, with supposedly impeccable ecological and moral credentials. Insider dealings and dodgy deaths indicate that all is not as it should be.

Follow the Money. Photo credit Christian Geisnæs

1992 is an Italian drama that was picked up in Berlin by the UK, according to Stanley (though no specific channel is named). This time, the corruption of political life by big business is the focus: the drama explores the Italian bribery scandals of the 1990s, and the attempts of Milan magistrate Antonio Di Pietro to clean up politics through Operation Clean Hands (Mani Pulite).

Italian crime series 1992

Last but not least, Blå ögon (Blue Eyes) is a Swedish-German crime series that explores racism, discrimination and immigration issues. Stanley describes it as having an anti-racist message, but also wanting to ‘upend expectations’ by giving characters on all sides of the debate a voice. One of the murder victims is a female, right-wing politician, who is assassinated while out in public.

STV’s Blue Eyes

Stanley ends her piece by noting that none of these series feature the disappearance or death of a child, as seen in earlier crime series such as The Killing and Broadchurch. Or to put this another way: these dramas are moving from highly personal cases whose investigations focus on the family and small communities, to cases that address larger historical, political and social issues. Interesting times. As ever, I’m hoping that a good number will make it on to our UK and US screens.

Merry Christmas! Mrs Peabody’s festive round-up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you all in 2015!

German Zimtsternchen (little cinnamon star).    Quite addictive.

Crime Scene: European crime fiction guides

I was having a stroll around the Crime Time website the other day, and ended up in an excellent section called Crime Scene, which profiles crime fiction on a country by country basis.

At the moment there are four Crime Scene guides – for France, Italy, The Netherlands and Switzerland (the latter includes info on Germany too) – and more will be added in future. They can be viewed online or downloaded as a PDF, and provide a really useful overview of the respective countries’ crime scenes.

Simone van der Vlugt is one of the writers featured in The Netherlands guide

Each is written by an expert on the crime of the country in question, but all look at similar areas, under the guidance of series editor Bob Cornwell:

– a history of the country’s crime fiction

– recent publishing trends

– notable writers (often by category, e.g. police procedural, historical crime fiction)

– major crime prizes

– key publishers

– key suppliers, festivals and websites

– key reference works

I’m extremely impressed with these guides, which pack a lot of information into a relatively small space. Produced in conjunction with the International Association of Crime Writers, they provide a great resource for beginners and more advanced crime readers alike, and I look forward to seeing more in due course.

The Young Montalbano is on his way…Saturday 7 September 2013 on BBC4

I know many UK viewers have been keen to find out when The Young Montalbano starts on BBC4. The answer is this Saturday, 7 September, from 9.00 to 11.00pm.

[For information about Series 2, airing in January 2016, see here]

The six-part prequel to the much-loved Montalbano TV series is set in the 1990s, with Michele Riondino in the role of the younger detective. In it we will see some of the early cases that forged Montalbano’s investigative skills … and apparently led to the loss of those luscious locks (now you see them, now you don’t).

 

The Young Montalbano has already successfully aired in Italy (RAI channel), and in the States (MHz network). The blurb to accompany the series on the latter’s webpage reads as follows:

>> Before Detective Salvo Montalbano became the seasoned and mature chief detective we already know, he was just Salvo, new to Vigata and new to being a police chief.  He didn’t always live in that glorious house by the sea, or have Deputy Chief Mimi Augello as a best friend, or Fazio as a loyal assistant. He didn’t always go out with the beautiful Genoese architect, Livia Burlando. Perhaps the only constants have been his unbridled quest for good food and the inability of his overly enthusiastic deputy, Catarella, to pronounce anyone’s name correctly. In this prequel series to Detective Montalbano, watch the genesis of the friendships, the rivalries and the romance as the players arrive to take their places in the beautiful Sicilian town of Vigata. Savour these stories that set the stage for the group’s transformation from rookie cops to the experienced crime-solving ensemble we’ve come to know and love.<<

The Young Montalbano actors with Montalbano author Andrea Camilleri (centre)

The first episode sees Montalbano arrive in Vigata and investigate an attempted murder.  A certain Andrea Camilleri is listed as one of its writers.

Further details are available in The Radio Times online.

VERDICT (avoiding spoilers): Well, I really enjoyed that! I’ve only seen a few episodes from the ‘later’ Montalbano series, and think this relatively limited exposure allowed me to go with the flow of the prequel without having to compare and contrast too much. I know many viewers are highly attached to Luca Zingaretti’s Montalbano, and that it must be quite strange to see someone else in his shoes, but I thought Riondino was very assured in the central role, and that there were some strong performances throughout. The tone also felt true to the later series. A good, confident start and I’ll definitely be watching again. Catch it on iPlayer over the next two weeks if you missed it!

If any of you are wondering who sang the two wonderful theme tunes at the beginning and end of the episode – it was Olivia Sellerio and you can listen to both on YouTube:

Opening track – ‘Curri curri’

Closing track – ‘Vuci mia canntanu vai’ (loved this in particular)

Dispatches from Bristol: CrimeFest 2013

I’ve just returned from four days in sunny Bristol at CrimeFest 2013, which was a grand adventure from start to finish. It’s impossible to do justice to the richness of the event in one post, but here’s a glimpse of some of the panels and highlights. I’ll also build a list of links to other CrimeFest reports at the end of this post.

I attended a number of mainly international panels (see below), but could have done with cloning myself to get to a few more. Those on Twitter can search for the hashtag #crimefest13 for my live tweets and those of other delegates.

Death Overseas: Valerio Varesi (Italy), Yrsa Sigurdardottir (Iceland), K.O. Dahl (Norway), Thomas Enger (Norway), Stav Sherez moderating. Showcase of international crime writing from three countries.

Native and Outsider: Different Perspectives I: Pierre Lemaitre (France), M.J. McGrath (UK/Arctic), Adrian Magson (UK/France), Dana Stabenow (Arctic), Jake Kerridge moderating. Exploring the advantages/disadvantages of writing crime set in Norway and the Arctic from an ‘insider’ or ‘outsider’ perspective.

Native and Outsider: Different Perspectives II: Roberto Costantini (Italy), David Hewson (UK/Italy/Sweden), Thomas Enger (Norway), Derek B. Miller (U.S./Norway), Barry Forshaw moderating. As above, but with a focus on Italy and Norway.

The Tourist Board

The Tourist Board Never Said Anything About This! Quentin Bates (Iceland), Stanley Trollip (Botswana), Xavier-Marie Bonnot (France), Jeffrey Siger (Greece), Martin Edwards moderating. The sensitivities of depicting positive and negative elements of a particular national setting or identity.

Cold War: An Infiltrating Chill: Tom Harper, John Lawton, Aly Monroe, William Ryan, Martin Walker moderating. A wide-ranging discussion of the Cold War and crime fiction set before, during and aft…actually, it seems that it’s not over yet.

Fresh Blood: Debut Authors: Alex Blackmore, J.C. Martin, Fergus McNeill, Tom Vowler, Rhian Davies moderating. Exciting new crime authors discussing their work.

How Does (English) Crime Translate? Ann Cleeves (author), Charlotte Werner (Swedish publisher), Erik de Vries (translator), Daniel Hahn of the British Centre for Literary Translation moderating. The mechanics of selecting crime for or from other national markets, and the processes involved in translation.

The Translation panel

Interesting observations from the panels and beyond

A number of writers view crime novels as a ‘social novel’ engaged in an exploration or critique of society, or of pressing social issues (Dahl, Varesi, Trollip, Stabenow). In contrast, Enger says he has no political or social agenda: telling a good story is the thing.

Settings are often viewed by writers as characters in their own right (Bonnot, Stabenow, McGrath, Trollip). Cities are sometimes better for depicting isolation than the countryside (Dahl). Marseilles is more Italian than French (Bonnot).

Some authors need to write in the place where their novels are set (McNeill/Bristol). Others feel that they write better elsewhere, because they can ‘see better from a distance’ (Miller/Oslo).

Lemaitre thinks it’s perfectly possible for a British ‘outsider’ to depict a France that is more ‘real’ than his own.

Icelandic crime writers face a challenge in terms of reflecting reality, as there’s an average of one murder a year in Iceland (Sigurdardottir). By contrast, the Arctic has the same per capita murder rate as South Africa or Mexico (McGrath).

A number of authors are engaged in explorations of historical legacies, such as World War II or the Algerian War (Magson, Varenne, Hewson, Ridpath). 60 years is nothing in terms of dealing with the legacy of the past (Costantini, citing Italy as an example).

Britain was not occupied during World War II (with the notable exception of the Channel Islands) and therefore didn’t experience the war in the same way as other countries such as France or Norway (Hewson).

Crime authors who write on twentieth century history have a variety of motivations: a desire to understand the previous generation and its role in making our world (Monroe on the Cold War); the challenge of writing about a society in which truth and justice are flexible concepts (Ryan on Stalin’s Russia).

British Cold War spies were often not uncovered due to the class system and upper-class loyalties: a public school boy who is a member of a posh club has perfect cover (Monroe). All on Cold War panel agreed that the Cold War is not over (citing the current situation in Syria).

Swedish cover of Blue Lightning

Crime fiction provides the biggest market for literary translation in the UK (Hahn). Speed is the key element when translating, especially in Europe where readers may otherwise buy the English original (de Vries). It’s a struggle to introduce translated authors in Sweden due to the dominance of Scandi crime, but it helps if their novels are set in the Shetlands… (Werner).

Describing violence is less interesting than exploring a character’s reaction to violence (James Oswald).

Buzz

There was lots of buzz about Pierre Lemaitre’s Alex, and this blogger did her very best to spread the word about Derek B. Miller’s exceptional debut novel Norwegian by Night. James Oswald’s Natural Causes was also frequently mentioned both as a must-read and a significant self-publishing success story. The series has been picked up by Penguin, whose advance the author rather unusually spent on buying a tractor for his farm.

Highlights

Seeing Barry Forshaw present the inaugural Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year, set up in memory of Maxine Clarke. The very deserving winner was Liza Marklund with Last Will, translated by Neil Smith (Corgi/Transworld 2012). Barry also won the prestigious HRF Keating Award for his editorship of British Crime Writing: An Encyclopaedia. Congratulations!

The Petrona Award, now on its way to Liza Marklund in Sweden

Hearing the International Dagger shortlist being announced, which includes German crime writer Ferdinand von Schirach’s The Collini Case. Full details are available over at Euro Crime.

Attending the Sherlock panel, which featured Mark Gatiss, Stephen Moffat and Sue Virtue in fine form. We learned and laughed a lot.

Eating lunch in a graveyard. Bristol Cathedral is a stone’s throw from the CrimeFest hotel, and features a lovely little cafe and landscaped garden/graveyard, where you can enjoy a peaceful cuppa.

Attending the second meeting of the Icelandic Chapter of the Crime Writers’ Association. I’m not quite sure how I ended up there, but it was very convivial and the Icelandic chocolates (Noi Sirius Konfekt) were delicious. Many thanks to Ragnar Jonasson and Quentin Bates for their hospitality!

l to r: Ann Cleeves, Ragnar Jonasson, Susan Moody, Barry Forshaw, Michael Ridpath, Quentin Bates (Icelandic chocolates on the table and empty seat reserved for Yrsa Sigurdardottir).

Last but not least, meeting old friends, making new ones, and seeing the faces behind the Twitter avatars of a number of writers and bloggers for the first time… It was all hugely enjoyable, and I’m already looking forward to next year.

CrimeFest blog-links

Crimepieces – CrimeFest Day 1CrimeFest Part 2

Detectives Beyond Borders – CrimeFest 1, CrimeFest 2, CrimeFest 3, CrimeFest 4

Do You Write Under Your Own Name – CrimeFest 2013 – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Graskeggur (aka author Quentin Bates) – CrimeFest Report: All Over Bar the Tweeting

Mystery Fanfare – CrimeFest 2013 Award Winners (all except The Petrona)

Sherlockology – Highlights from CrimeFest – Creating Sherlock

Vicky Newham – My Experience of CrimeFest 2013

For tweets on the event, see the hashtag #crimefest13