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’.

Mother knows best? Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects (USA) and Dolores Redondo’s The Invisible Guardian (Spain)

Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects (2006) and Dolores Redondo’s The Invisible Guardian (2013) are quite different in style, but have a number of features in common, not least their challenging depictions of mother-daughter relationships.

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Both crime novels begin with the murders of a series of young girls or teenagers. The killings take place in or around a small town or village, and are investigated by a young woman who grew up there, but who left as soon as she could. In Sharp Objects, Camille Preaker is a Chicago journalist whose mother, stepfather and half-sister live in the town of Wind Gap, Missouri. She returns there for the first time in eight years when her editor sends her to report on the killings of two young girls. In The Invisible GuardianInspector Amaia Salazar is ordered to lead the investigation into the murders of two teenagers, and returns from Pamplona to the village of Elizondo in the Basque country, where her mother and sisters are still based.

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In the course of their journalistic and criminal investigations, Camille and Amaia are forced into close proximity with their families and to confront repressed childhood traumas. In particular, the novels portray abusive mother-daughter relationships in ways that are both unflinching and disturbing. In one, we are shown how abusive mothering is transmitted from one generation to the next. In the other, no rational reason for the abuse is ever shown, which is perhaps even more unsettling. In both novels, the daughters have to accept and somehow deal with the corrosive effects of their mothers’ extreme behaviour.

While both of these crime novels are excellent, they won’t be to the taste of all readers. Gillian Flynn, as I’ve noted in previous posts, is one of our most daring contemporary crime writers, who repeatedly takes on uncomfortable or taboo subjects such as self-harm. She often writes in the first person – as we see with Camille in Sharp Objects – and her protagonists are prickly and unconventional, or even downright unlikable. In this novel, Flynn creates an atmosphere dripping with Gothic menace, and piles on vivid physical detail to unsettle her readers. In the process, she dissects the suffocating, conservative nature of Wind Gap’s small-town life and shows how girls are pressurized to conform to gender norms in order to be accepted by society. Her other crime novels, Dark Places and Gone Girlare equally challenging and rewarding reads.

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Redondo’s The Invisible Guardian can be categorised more straightforwardly as a police procedural and is written in the third-person. It creates a different kind of atmosphere, using the mists and forests of the Basque region along with the mythical figure of the basajaun to suggest that other-worldly forces are at work. (In this respect, the novel reminds me a little of Fred Vargas’ ‘Inspector Adamsberg’ crime novels, albeit without the quirky eccentricity that marks her narratives.) Like Sharp Objects, The Invisible Guardian is a hard-hitting novel whose depictions of gender and power relations will stay with you long after the story ends. It’s also the opening novel in the acclaimed Baztan Trilogy – the second novel, The Legacy of the Bones, is out now, and the Offering to the Storm is hopefully on its way.

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Book 2 in the Baztan Trilogy

Gillian Flynn, Sharp Objects (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2009 [2006]).

Dolores Redondo, The Invisible Guardian, trans. by Isabelle Kaufeler (Harper, 2016 [2013]).

Jingle bells! Mrs. Peabody’s 2015 Christmas recommendations

Xmas tree

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

Globetrotting crime: Auckland, Bangalore, Barcelona, Havana

Family Peabody is off on holiday in a cunning attempt to extend summer a little longer. As ever, my first priority has been choosing which books to take along. And by books, I mean actual books to read while lying by the pool/sipping a drink on the balcony/ enjoying a coffee in a cafe. Time to savour a break from the electronic world and wind down in seventies style.

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Here are four novels that have made the cut. All happen to be published by Bitter Lemon Press, which champions top quality crime fiction from all over the world. I made my choices on the basis of the cover blurb (see below), the setting, and that tingly feeling that makes you think you’ll enjoy a book. As a result, some are from the middle or even the end of a series, but that’s fine…

AUCKLAND/NEW ZEALAND: Death on Demand by Paul Thomas (Bitter Lemon Press 2013 [2012])

Death on demand

Maori cop Tito Ihaka – ‘unkempt, overweight, intemperate, unruly, unorthodox and profane’ – is a cop unable to play the police politics necessary for promotion, but a man who has a way with women, and he’s a stubborn investigator with an uncanny instinct for the truth. Ihaka is in the wilderness, having fallen foul of the new regime at Auckland Central. Called back to follow up a strange twist in the unsolved case that got him into trouble in the first place, Ihaka finds himself hunting a shadowy hitman who could have several notches on his belt. His enemies want him off the case, but the bodies are piling up. Ihaka embarks on a quest to establish whether police corruption was behind the shooting of an undercover cop and – to complicate matters – he becomes involved with an enigmatic female suspect who could hold the key to everything.

An extract from Death on Demand is available on the Bitter Lemon website.

BANGALORE/INDIA: A Cut-like Wound by Anita Nair (Bitter Lemon Press, 2014 [2012]

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It’s the first day of Ramadan in heat-soaked Bangalore. A young man begins to dress: makeup, a sari and expensive pearl earrings. Before the mirror he is transformed into Bhuvana. She is a hijra, a transgender seeking love in the bazaars of the city. What Bhuvana wants, she nearly gets: a passing man is attracted to this elusive young woman. But someone points out that Bhuvana is no woman. For that, the interloper’s throat is cut. A case for Inspector Borei Gowda, going to seed and at odds with those around him including his wife, his colleagues, even the informers he must deal with. More corpses and Urmila, Gowda’s ex-flame, are added to this spicy concoction of a mystery novel.

Read an extract from A Cut-like Wound here.

BARCELONA/SPAIN: A Shortcut to Paradise by Teresa Solana (translated by Peter Bush, Bitter Lemon Press, 2011 [2007)

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The shady, accident-prone private detective twins Eduard Martinez and Borja ‘Pep’ Masdeu are back. Another murder beckons, and this time the victim is one of Barcelona’s literary glitterati.

Marina Dolç, media figure and writer of best-sellers, is murdered in the Ritz Hotel in Barcelona on the night she wins an important literary prize. The killer has battered her to death with the trophy she has just won, an end identical to that of the heroine in her prize-winning novel. The same night the Catalan police arrest their chief suspect, Amadeu Cabestany, runner-up for the prize. Borja and Eduard are hired to prove his innocence. The unlikely duo is plunged into the murky waters of the Barcelona publishing scene and need all their wit and skills of improvisation to solve this case of truncated literary lives.

Read an extract from A Shortcut to Paradise here.

HAVANA/CUBA: Leonardo Padura, Havana Fever (translated by Peter Bush, Bitter Lemon Press, 2009 [2005]

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Havana, 2003, fourteen years since Mario Conde retired from the police force and much has changed in Cuba. He now makes a living trading in antique books bought from families selling off their libraries in order to survive. In the house of Alcides de Montes de Oca, a rich Cuban who fled after the fall of Batista, Conde discovers an extraordinary book collection and, buried therein, a newspaper article about Violeta del Rio, a beautiful bolero singer of the 1950s, who disappeared mysteriously. Conde’s intuition sets him off on an investigation that leads him into a darker Cuba, now flooded with dollars, populated by pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers and other hunters of the night. But this novel also allows Padura to evoke the Havana of Batista, the city of a hundred night clubs where Marlon Brando and Josephine Baker listened to boleros, mambos and jazz. Probably Padura’s best book, Havana Fever is many things: a suspenseful crime novel, a cruel family saga and an ode to literature and his beloved, ravaged island.

An extract from Havana Fever is available here.

Happy reading! Mrs. Peabody will be back in a couple of weeks. 

CrimeFest 2015: The Petrona, CWA International Dagger and EuroNoir

I can’t believe it’s already a week since the end of CrimeFest 2015. Time for my second post on this marvellous event, and some key highlights:

The Petrona Award: Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s The Silence of the Sea, translated by Victoria Cribb, won the 2015 Petrona Award for the best Scandinavian crime novel of the year in translation. The award was presented by CrimeFest’s guest of honour Maj Sjöwall, which was very special for all concerned.

Petrona group

The Petrona judging team with Yrsa and Maj (centre). Photo: Andy Lawrence

The Petrona shortlist this year was wonderfully strong, with novels by Kati Hiekkapelto (Finland), Jørn Lier Horst (Norway), Arnaldur Indriðason (Iceland), Hans Olav Lahlum (Norway) and Leif G W Persson (Sweden). Fuller information about the shortlisted novels is available here and further details can also be found at the Petrona Award website.

The CWA’s 2015 International Dagger shortlist was announced at CrimeFest on the Friday night. The six shortlisted novels are:

  • Lief G.W. Persson, Falling Freely, as in a Dream (trans. Paul Norlen/Transworld/ SWEDEN)
  • Pierre LeMaitre, Camille (trans. Frank Wynne/Maclehose Press/FRANCE)
  • Deon Meyer, Cobra (trans. K.L.Seegers/Hodder and Stoughton/SOUTH AFRICA)
  • Karim Miské, Arab Jazz (trans. Sam Gordon/MacLehose Press/FRANCE)
  • Dolores Redondo, The Invisible Garden (trans. Isabelle Kaufeler/HarperCollins/ SPAIN)
  • Andreas Norman, Into a Raging Blaze (trans. Ian Giles/Quercus/SWEDEN)

Further details can be found on the CWA website, with the award being presented at the end of June. I’ve read a grand total of two, so need to do some catching up.

Euro Noir

Euro Noir panel with Barry Forshaw, Roberto Costantini, Gunnar Staalesen, Michael Ridpath and Jørn Lier Horst

Two CrimeFest panels I particularly enjoyed were the Nordic Noir and Euro Noir panels, moderated by Quentin Bates and Barry Forshaw respectively, and featuring Kati Hiekkapelto (Finland), Gunnar Staalesen (Norway), Clare Carson (UK/Orkney), Craig Robertson (UK/Faroes), Roberto Costantini (Italy), Michael Ridpath (UK/Iceland) and Jørn Lier Horst (Norway). Interesting observations abounded:

HummingbirdHiekkapelto’s The Hummingbird is set in fictional, northern Finnish town. It shows a darker side of Finland: alcoholism, loneliness and some poverty. She tries to write about Finland with the eyes of an outsider, like her investigator Anna Fekete, and sees Finland as being not very welcoming of immigrants. She’s rare in choosing to write about migration issues.

Staalesen describes the Norwegian town of Bergen as very film noir – it rains 250 days a year and so is an excellent setting for crime (the latest in his famous ‘Varg Veum’ P.I. series, We Shall Inherit the Wind, is about to be published by Orenda Press). For him, crime fiction is a way of telling stories about society and how we live our lives today. In contrast to many other countries, the status of crime fiction in Norway is high: it’s viewed as respectable literature due to its quality and its use as a form of social critique (e.g. Karin Fossum).

In her novel Orkney Twilight, Carson writes about Orkney from memories of childhood, which is apt because novel is about memory. Carson’s father was an undercover cop, and she’s drawn on the experience of being a young woman figuring out her father’s secret life. Orkney is a mysterious place with continuous light in summer; Carsen weaves Norse mythology throughout the narrative, which fits with the idea of undercover police/spies as master storytellers. She feels folklore is a way of talking about things that can’t be solved in life and that crime fiction is a modern version of that form, in that it gets to grips with unresolvable issues like death.

Ironically, given amount of murders committed in Nordic novels, Scandinavia and the Faroe Islands are probably safest places in world. There were no murders in Faroes for 26 years … until Robertson started writing his novel The Last Refuge. He feels a bit guilty about that.

Horst

Lier Horst used to get up at 5am every day to write while still working as a policeman. You have to set goal and put in the work – ‘it’s a hard job’. His first novel was based on a real murder. He saw the crime scene on the first day of his job and it stayed with him (the murderer was never caught). Writing about murders has ‘taught me a little about death, but a lot about life’, especially people’s emotions.

Barry Forshaw has coined the term ‘Scandi Brit’ for Brits like Michael Ridpath and Quentin Bates who set their novels in northern climes. Ridpath says it’s a challenge to write about other countries, but invigorating one. He regularly consults Icelanders on points of accuracy, which is a big help.

Cost

Costantini uses his engineering background to construct his plots. His acclaimed ‘Commissario Balistreri’ trilogy explores thirty years of Italian history from the 1960s to the 1990s, as well as developments in the Middle East. (I have bought the first and am looking forward to reading it.) He created a policeman with a compromised right-wing past as a deliberate challenge to readers.

There was praise for translators and their huge contribution to international crime fiction. Staalesen and Lier Horst are grateful to have the services of top translators Don Bartlett and Anne Bruce. Both are excellent, managing the most difficult of tasks like translating humour effectively.

Other highlights during CrimeFest included seeing Ragnar Jónasson hit the top of the Kindle bestseller list with his debut novel Snowblind late on Saturday night, chatting to authors like William Ryan and remembering how much good crime fiction I still need to read (e.g. the rest of his Captain Korolev series), and meeting friends old and new, like the lovely Elena Avanzas (@ms_adler, who blogs at Murder, she read), Maura and Karen from the Swansea Sleuths bookgroup, and Anya Lipska, who’s part of the newly formed and utterly marvellous Killer Women organisation. So much murderous creativity in one place and time! Roll on next year.

CrimeFest 2014 / International Dagger / Petrona Award

I’m just back from CrimeFest in Bristol and am floating on a fluffy cloud of contentment after three days of great panels, excellent company and awards bling. Here are some highlights (more will follow).

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Euro Noir panel (left to right): Barry Forshaw, Lars Kepler (Alexander Ahndoril and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril), Jørn Lier Horst, Paul Johnston, Dominique Manotti and Ros Schwarz

The Euro Noir panel on Saturday was probably my favourite of the weekend. In a wide-ranging discussion, the authors explored the nineteenth-century origins of European crime fiction during the rise of capitalism (Dominique Manotti), the role of the translator as the voice of the foreign author (Ros Schwarz), the use of Euro Noir to probe the uses and misuses of power (Paul Johnston, Manotti, Jørn Lier Horst), crime writing and journalism (Manotti), the influence of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö (the Lars Keplers), the low status of crime writing in France (Manotti), the influence of crime dramas such as The Wire on crime fiction (Johnston), and, prompted by an audience question, the relative lack of black European crime writers and protagonists.

What I liked in particular was Manotti’s unapologetic view that crime writing should be used to ‘tell the truth’ about political and social issues – ‘otherwise what’s the point?’. This contrasted with lots of British authors during the weekend, who, when asked about the place of ‘issues’ in their work, took the more or less default position that entertainment came first and the serious stuff second (because the latter ‘puts readers off’). Johnston wondered whether the UK is more conservative when it comes to writing socio-political crime than other European nations, and that’s got me wondering too (although obvious exceptions spring to mind like David Peace’s excellent Red Riding/ Yorkshire Noir quartet. I’m sure there are also others).

Manotti is a crime-writing star in her native France, and if you haven’t yet read her work I would thoroughly recommend it. You can read my review of Affairs of State here.

The panel coincided with the launch of Barry Forshaw’s new book Euro Noir, which provides an excellent road-map to European crime fiction and lots of great reading suggestions, even for those who have already read quite a bit. With my Germanic hat on, I can say that the section on ‘murder in the German-speaking territories’ is impressive – the man really has done his homework.

German crime fiction was predicted to be one of the next big things by the Euro Noir panel. And lo, the shortlist for the CWA International Dagger, announced at CrimeFest on Friday, features a German novel, Simon Urban’s Plan D. Here’s the full list, with further details on the CWA website.

Arnaldur IndridasonStrange Shores, tr. Victoria Cribb (Iceland)
Pierre LemaitreIrene, tr. Frank Wynne (France)
Arturo Perez-ReverteThe Siege, tr. Frank Wynne (Spain)
Olivier TrucForty Days without Shadow, tr. Louise Rogers LaLaurie (French author, but set in Lapland)
Simon UrbanPlan D, tr. Katy Derbyshire (Germany)
Fred VargasDog Will Have His Day, tr. Siân Reynolds (France)

Last, but most definitely not least, the 2014 Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel  of the Year was awarded on Saturday to Leif G.W. Persson’s Linda, as in the Linda Murder, translated by Neil Smith. 

In his acceptance speech, read out by Barry Forshaw on his behalf, Leif said:

My character Superintendent Evert Bäckström is actually not a nice person. He embodies pretty much every human prejudice – and then some – and he does so proudly and wholeheartedly. He feels that he is not only God’s gift to humanity but also the object of every woman’s secret fantasies. I myself, am a fully normal person – but there is a joy that he brings me when I tell the story of his life and times.

Now he and I have received an award. A very fine English award, which makes me especially happy as a large part of my family lives in England. There is one person with whom I most profoundly want to share this honour and that is my excellent translator Neil Smith who has succeeded in making this Swede, with his spiritual and physical roots in the Stone Age, at least intelligible for an educated Anglo-Saxon public. Thank you!

Shortlisted authors Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Jørn Lier Horst attended the CrimeFest Gala dinner and were highly commended for their crime novels. It was a brilliant field and we judges had a very tough choice to make!

One of my favourite photos from the weekend: Sarah Ward (Petrona judge) with shortlisted author Jørn Lier Horst – in traditional Norwegian dress.

 

The ultimate Christmas gift: an international crime novel!

For what could be finer than giving or receiving a crime novel set in foreign climes? Especially handy for those whose families are driving them bonkers by Boxing Day: just channel those murderous desires into crime fiction!

Here are some present ideas, which happen to be ten of my favourites from this year, ranging from police procedurals and detective fiction to historical and hybrid crime. Some I’ve reviewed (just click on the link), others I haven’t (so many books, so little time). All are undoubtedly available from your local, friendly, independent bookseller!

Ioanna Bourazopoulou, What Lot’s Wife Saw, translated from Greek by Yannis Panas (Black and White Publishing, 2013 [2007]). Winner of the 2008 Athens Prize for Literature, this is a dazzling, hybrid crime novel that takes readers on an extraordinary journey of the imagination. Set in the future after a devastating tsunami, its reluctant investigator is Phileas Book, who works for The Times compiling Epistlewords, a three-dimensional crosswordA brilliant, freewheeling narrative for those who like puzzles and substantial reads. Full review here.

Gillian Flynn, Dark Places (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2009). For my money, Flynn is one of the most original and daring crime writers out there, but her novels have polarized readers, so handle with care! Dark Places tells the story of a family massacre and its aftermath from the perspective of survivor Libby Day and other family members. It’s by turns harrowing, moving, blackly humorous and redemptive. My favourite of Flynn’s novels so far. Full review here.

Eugenio Fuentes, At Close Quarters, translated from Spanish by Martin Schifino (Euro Crime/Arcadia, 2009 [2007]). Captain Olmedo, a high-ranking army colonel, is found dead at his home. The authorities say it’s suicide, but daughter Marina has her doubts and hires P.I. Ricardo Cupido to investigate. This is the first novel I’ve read by Fuentes (the 5th in the series), and I was impressed both by its depth of characterisation and by its illumination of different political attitudes/mindsets in Spain.

The original Spanish cover for At Close Quarters

Arnaldur Indriðason’s Strange Shores, translated from Icelandic by Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker, 2013). The ninth in the Reykjavik series and by all accounts the last (*sob*). Detective Erlendur returns to his childhood home to face the trauma that shaped his life – the disappearance of his little brother in a snowstorm. While there, he investigates another disappearance, of a young woman in 1942. A thoroughly engrossing novel with a powerful ending. But make sure the other eight have been read first! Full review here.

M.J. McGrath, White Heat and The Boy in the Snow (Mantle 2011/2012). These are the first two novels in the Edie Kiglatuk series, set in the chilly realm of the Arctic. Edie is a wonderful protagonist, and through her investigations we gain a tremendous insight into life in the frozen north – not least its cuisine. There are maps at the front of each novel, which provide a new perspective on a world in which Alaska is ‘down south’. Absorbing and entertaining reads.

Derek B. Miller, Norwegian by Night (Faber and Faber, 2013). I adored this book and haven’t met anybody who didn’t love it. It stars (and that really is the correct term) Sheldon Horowitz, a recently-widowed Jewish-American octogenarian living in Oslo with granddaughter Rhea, who makes a crucial decision after witnessing an appalling crime. An absolute joy from start to finish. Full review here.

Angela Savage, Behind the Night Bazaar (Text Publishing, 2006). The first in the Jayne Keeney series by Australian author Savage, this novel was shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Best First Book Award in 2007. Jayne is a highly engaging private investigator based in Bangkok, whose investigations offer readers an escape to sunnier climes, and provide a vivid and insightful portrait of Thailand. Full review here.

Simon Urban, Plan D, translated from German by Katy Derbyshire (Harvill Secker, 2013). It’s 2011 and the Berlin Wall is still standing. Welcome to the alternative world of Plan D, in which the reunification of Germany never happened, and fifty-six year-old East German Volkspolizei captain Martin Wegener is about to embark on the strangest investigation of his career. An admirably bonkers alternative history that will appeal to those with an interest in 20th-century Europe and the Cold War. Full review here. A handy GDR glossary is available too.

Ben H. Winters, The Last Policeman and Countdown City (Quirk Books 2012/13). The first and second of a trilogy set in an America of the near future. Asteroid Maia is on a collision course with earth, and with just six months to impact, society is beginning to disintegrate. Why, given that they’ll all be dead soon anyway, does Detective Henry Palace of the Concord Police Department bother to investigate a suspicious suicide? Because that’s the kind of dogged guy he is… Sharp, funny and brilliantly observed.

Daniel Woodrell, Winter’s Bone (Sceptre, 2007). When sixteen-year-old Ree Dolly’s father disappears, she needs to find him again quickly to prevent the loss of her family home. Set in the Orzark Mountains of Missouri during an unforgiving winter, in a closed community that has its own laws, this is a tough but beautifully-written novel. Ree is a memorable protagonist, who reminded me a little of Mattie Ross in Charles Portis’ True Grit.

Winter’s Bone was turned into an acclaimed film starring Jennifer Lawrence

Jakob Arjouni event / A trip to Swansea Library / Maigret

News of an event tomorrow night that will be of particular interest to those in London:

No Exit Press, together with Pancreatic Cancer UK, is hosting an event at Daunts Books (112-114 Holland Park Avenue, London, W11 4UA) on Tuesday 26th November, 18:30-21:00, to celebrate the life of German author Jakob Arjouni (1964-2013) and to raise funds for research into pancreatic cancer (http://www.pancreaticcancer.org.uk/). Barry Forshaw will be hosting and there’ll be German food and drink available. Entry is free.

The event will also launch Arjouni’s fifth and final Kayankaya novel, Brother Kemal. Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m particularly fond of the first in the series, Happy Birthday Turk!, which was an absolutely ground-breaking German crime novel back in the 1980s – see my earlier post here. I can also thoroughly recommend Brother Kemal, which provides a wonderful conclusion to the Kayankaya series.

In other news, I’ve been down to my local library to stock up on some crime fiction! I’m particularly blessed that Swansea Central Library is on my doorstep, which has an impressive range of crime fiction, including lashings of international crime. I came away with a satisfying selection including the first Arabic detective novel in English translation (Abdelilah Hamdouchi’s The Final Bet), some Spanish crime (Eugenio Fuentes’ At Close Quarters) and M.J.McGrath’s second Arctic novel, The Boy in the Snow. I’ve now read the first two, which were both excellent in their own ways, and am looking forward to meeting Edie Kiglatuk again soon.

Aside from the quality of these novels, it’s been a relief to read some crime that doesn’t open with the gruesome murder of a young woman. All too many of the novels sent to me by publishers begin with blurbs such as the following: ‘the body of a young woman is found carved up and buried in a forest glade’ / ‘a young woman is discovered in her apartment bound and gagged, the victim of an extraordinarily brutal attack’ / ‘a young woman has been brutally killed, her body abandoned in a car boot as a warning to others’ / ‘a young girl has been brutally murdered, her body arranged in bed with her hands over her eyes’. And so on… There does seem to be a depressing pattern here of an opening set piece featuring a young, sadistically brutalised female, and I’m getting pretty fed up with the gratuitousness of it all. I think a few more trips to the library are in order soon.

And finally… I’ve set up a new Maigret tab on the main menu of the site, where I’ll post mini-reviews of Simenon’s 75 Maigret novels as they are reissued by Penguin once a month. The idea is to build up a nice record / resource over time, and to track interesting developments in the series. It’s a (very) long-term reading challenge, which you are most welcome to join – either for the whole or for part of the way.

CrimeFest 2013 and the inaugural Petrona Award

This time next week CrimeFest 2013 will be in full swing. There’s a mouth-watering programme with lots of international writers as well as British writers whose works are set on international shores.

They include: Quentin Bates (Iceland), Xavier-Marie Bonnot (France), Roberto Costantini (Italy), K.O. Dahl (Norway), Jeffrey Deaver (USA), Thomas Enger (Norway), Ragnar Jonasson (Iceland), Pierre Lemaître (France), Adrian Magson (UK/France), M J McGrath (UK/Arctic), Derek B. Miller (Norway), Barbara Nadel (UK/Turkey), William Ryan (UK/ Russia), Jeffrey Siger (US/ Greece), Yrsa Sigurðardóttir (Iceland), Dana Stabenow (USA/ Alaska), Valerio Varesi (Italy), Robert Wilson (Spain/Portugal/Africa), Anne Zouroudi (UK/Greece). A full list of writers with further details is available here.

The winner of the first Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year will also be announced at the CrimeFest Gala dinner on Saturday night. I have my posh frock at the ready and am looking forward to the occasion very much.

The award was set up in memory of Maxine Clarke, who blogged as Petrona and was an expert in Scandinavian crime fiction. The 2013 shortlist, compiled on the basis of Maxine’s reviews, is as follows:

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PIERCED by Thomas Enger, tr. Charlotte Barslund (Faber and Faber)

BLACK SKIES by Arnaldur Indridason, tr. Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker)

LAST WILL by Liza Marklund, tr. Neil Smith (Corgi)

ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER LIFE by Leif GW Persson tr. Paul Norlen (Doubleday)

Synopses of the novels with extracts from Maxine’s reviews can be found at the wonderful ‘Petrona Remembered’ blog. Karen Meek has also set up two polls over at ‘Eurocrime’: ‘which novel do you want to win the Petrona Award 2013′ and ‘which novel do you think will win the Petrona Award 2013′. The polls are open until 29 May.

I’ll be tweeting from CrimeFest using the following hashtags: #CrimeFest and #CrimeFest2013. The only difficulty now is deciding which of the panels to attend – they all look so good…

#35 / Jason Webster, A Death in Valencia

Jason Webster, A Death in Valencia (London: Chatto and Windus, 2012). The second in the Max Cámara series provides some much needed summer warmth and a genuine insight into modern-day Spain  4 stars

Opening line: The green-and-white Guardia Civil patrol boat looked out of place so close to the shoreline. 

Fed up of our seemingly never-ending British winter, I found myself reaching for Jason Webster’s A Death in Valencia, set during a sweltering summer in Spain’s third largest city (and home to one of its most famous traditional dishes, paella). Being transported to the land of sun, sea and sangria proved to be an excellent move.

A Death in Valencia opens with the body of Pep Roures, a well-known paella chef, being recovered by Chief Inspector Max Cámara from the sea. The subsequent murder investigation is set against the background of a number of challenging events: the town hall’s commercially-motivated demolition of El Cabanyal, an old fishing quarter by the sea; the sudden collapse of an apartment block; the kidnapping of the director of an abortion clinic, and the visit of the Pope. Cámara, too, is going through a tough time, with the emotional fallout from Or the Bull Kills You (the first in the series) leading him to act rather unwisely on occasion, in spite of his grandfather Hilario’s sound counsel.

While the plot takes a little time to ignite, the novel builds to a satisfying conclusion, not least due to its rich depictions of Valencia and contemporary Spanish society. Readers learn about regional details such as the all-important rating system for paella, as well as larger issues, such as the fundamentally divided nature of Spanish society: conservatives with ‘traditional’ values rooted in the church on the one hand, and those who celebrate regional diversity and change on the other. The Valencian setting is also vividly evoked, especially the old El Cabanyal quarter (which really is under threat – see www.cabanyal.com).

Source: http://www.deverdaddigital.com/pagArticle.php?idA=9749

El Cabanyal

If you’re a Max Cámara fan, or are interested in this series, you might like to read Mrs. Peabody’s interview with Jason Webster, recorded at the 2012 Harrogate Crime Writing Festival and available here. Areas explored include the legacy of the Spanish Civil War, the role of Spanish proverbs, and the influence of the author Vázquez Montalbán.

Mrs. Peabody awards A Death in Valencia a highly enjoyable 4 stars and looks forward to meeting Max Cámara again soon. 

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