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

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Barter Books’ 2016 Christmas tree (photo @Argot101)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bitter Lemon Press

No Exit Press 

Orenda Books

Europa Editions

Wishing you all a very happy festive season!

Scandi Xmas

Source: littlescandinavian.com

The Library Suicides (Wales) & 2016 CWA Dagger Awards

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

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

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

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

Click here to see a clip.

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

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Writer Fflur Dafydd and director Euros Lyn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Author Elly Griffiths

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

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

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

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

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

New Welsh noir! Hinterland Series 2

Series 2 of the acclaimed Welsh crime drama Hinterland kicks off on BBC One Wales with four 90-minute episodes from Wednesday, 23rd December at 9.30pm. Viewers outside Wales will be able to watch live on satellite (Sky channel 952 or Freesat 964) and cable (Virgin Media 864).

UPDATE: BBC4 will begin showing Hinterland on Saturday 23 April at 9pm. The 2015 special will be shown first (which is well worth watching), followed by Series 2 (5 programmes in total). Further information is available here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0791w11

See below for an overview of Series 2 and some great insights from Hinterland’s producers/writers and Richard Harrington, who plays DCI Tom Mathias.

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Here’s the BBC overview of Series 2, Episode 1: ‘In this new series, Mathias is under pressure. Meg, his wife, has turned up in Aberystwyth, and he’s under investigation by the IPCC. When a bus driver’s body is found shot on an isolated mountainside, the investigation provides a welcome escape. In his current state of mind, Mathias is fascinated by the lifestyle choices of suspect and ex-soldier John Bell. He also knows that he cannot avoid Meg for much longer.’

And rejoice! Here’s an absolutely wonderful two-minute sneak preview from Series 2, Episode 1… Just click on the image below.

Season 2 Episode 1 clip

Now for an (almost exclusive) extra:

I had the good fortune to attend a TOP-SECRET Hinterland press briefing in Cardiff, at which Richard Harrington (Tom Mathias) spoke about the making of series 2, along with its Fiction Factory co-creators, producers and writers Ed Thomas, Ed Talfan and Gethyn Scourfield. They had some very interesting things to say about DCI Mathias, the series’ Welshness and international success, and the musical adventures of Hinterband… 

Richard Harrington told us about the challenges of playing the troubled Mathias in series 2, as more of his backstory is revealed. He was aware that some viewers felt frustrated at not knowing more about Mathias by the end of the first series, but didn’t feel it was a bad thing to keep the audience waiting a little. Series 2 was all the more exciting due to Mathias’ character development – a ‘seismic shift that changes everything’.

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Mathias in his caravan. They don’t make Harrington live there for the whole shoot…

The producers discussed the Welshness of the series from a number of intriguing angles. The brooding Ceredigion landscapes provide a ‘big space for big stories’. Hinterland is ‘a love letter to a disappearing Wales’ and a ‘distillation’ of a particular regional Welshness, but also a ‘made-up Wales’ that deliberately avoids contemporary political references to remain timeless. Harrington described the famously hostile Welsh weather as having a biblical feel and being an apt metaphor for Mathias’ mind.

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Close to the edge…

The producers are very proud of the drama’s Welshness. They talked of a Welsh ‘hunger’ for creating and consuming television dramas in both Welsh and English. These provide an opportunity to ‘reflect the Welsh back to themselves’ and to promote Wales to the world, which is a way of ‘helping people to get us better’. When the producers went to France, armed with images of amazing Ceredigion landscapes, they encountered a number of people who knew nothing about Wales, but loved what they saw. The series is shot completely on location in and around Aberystwth, and the producers feel this is key – they can’t imagine filming it in any other way.

Harrington spoke about the challenges of filming in two languages. The series is filmed twice over – once in Welsh for S4C and once in English (with some subtitled Welsh) for the BBC. This is hard work for the actors, who tend to feel more comfortable in one of the languages, and requires flexibility on the part of the writers – for example, they have to find ways around procedural police language that doesn’t work as well in Welsh. But working bilingually is also rewarding, and Harrington says he ‘finds certain emotions in Welsh’ that he doesn’t find in the same way when speaking English.

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Mathias’ colleague DI Mared Rhys, played by Mali Harris

Hinterland/Y Gwyll has been a huge international success. It’s sold to over 30 countries and has been picked up by Netflix. The producers hope this will lead to further success stories for Welsh-made drama, but stressed that understanding the ‘physics of distribution’ is vital. Hinterland is made with investment from S4C, BBC One Wales and other partners, and feel this kind of approach is the way forward. They clearly know what they’re doing, as series 3 has already been commissioned and begins filming in early 2016.

So how do cast and crew relax when they’re not filming? By playing in their very own HinterBAND, with Hannah Daniel (DS Sian Owens) on vocals and Harrington on drums. They’re so good that they headlined the Aberystwyth Carnival in the summer 🙂

There’s a great piece about Hinterband by Kathryn Williams – with photos – on Wales Online here. And here’s the band in action:

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas – Nadolig Llawen from Wales!

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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

Welsh delights: Series 2 of Y Gwyll (Hinterland) and Graffeg’s The Starlings & Other Stories

UPDATE: Hinterland series 2 airs on BBC One Wales on 23rd December 2015. For further details, see here.

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Last weekend was a bumper weekend for TV crime drama in the UK. Swedish crime drama Beck aired on BBC4 on Saturday, and the second series of Welsh crime drama Y Gywll / Hinterland began on Sunday on S4C.

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I hugely enjoyed the first series of Y Gwyll/Hinterland, which followed brooding DCI Tom Mathias and his team through a series of investigations in and around Aberystwyth in Wales. Well written and beautifully shot, with a brooding Cymru Noir feel, it’s polished crime drama that’s well worth viewing (see my earlier post here).

The second series kicked off in style, with Mathias (Richard Harrington) dealing with the dramatic fall-out from his previous case and investigating the murder of a bus driver. We also begin to find out more about Mathias’ troubled past, when his wife arrives from London out of the blue. I was pleased to see this aspect of the narrative getting more attention, as it was the only thing I felt was under-developed in series 1, and will help to add definition to Mathias’ character  – and to that of his partner DI Mari Rhys (Mali Harris), who’s also dealing with family problems.

Those of you who saw series 1 will remember that two different versions were aired – one in Welsh and one in English. The series now on S4C at 9.00pm on Sunday nights is in Welsh with English subtitles – and I do recommend watching this one if you can to get a real flavour of the language. If you’d like to catch up, you can do so via Clic, S4C’s online version of BBC iPlayer (the subtitle button is on the bottom right of the screen next to the volume). You can see the subtitled trailer for episode 1 below.

English version Hinterland (which still has some subtitled Welsh bits) will be broadcast on BBC Cymru Wales and BBC Four at a later date, yet to be confirmed.

Starlings

Welsh publisher Graffeg has dipped its toe into fiction with an intriguing collaboration. In The Starling & Other Stories, edited by Ann Cleeves, twelve crime authors have contributed stories inspired by David Wilson’s bleakly beautiful photographs of Pembrokeshire, and the result is an aesthetic delight: a high-quality softback that features twelve black and white photos ahead of the resulting tales. It’s very lovely and would make a pleasing gift (check out the online sample here).

The authors are ‘The Murder Squad’ – Ann Cleeves, Martin Edwards, Cath Staincliffe, Chris Simms, Margaret Murphy and Kate Ellis – and six ‘accomplices’ – Christine Poulson, Helena Edwards, Valerie Laws, Jim Kelly, Mary Sharratt and Toby Forward. So far, I’ve dipped into ‘Homecoming’ by Cath Staincliffe and ‘The Starlings’ by Ann Cleeves (the latter featuring one of my favourite police investigators, Vera Stanhope) – both of which were great. Having the photographs as a starting point is also very effective: I found myself looking at the relevant photo in a fair bit of detail before reading the story, and was then watching out to see which visual or thematic elements the author picked up and how she wove them in. Great fun, and a feast for the eye and criminal imagination.

Further details about The Starlings can be found over at the Graffeg website.

True Detective 1, Top of the Lake 2, Y Gwyll/Hinterland 2

The title of this post may look a bit like a line of football scores, but as you’ve probably guessed, the numbers denote the seasons of the crime series being discussed…

So…I know I’m late to the party, but I’ve *finally* managed to watch the box set of True Detective 1 (HBO 2014) that’s been sitting on my shelf for over a year. And what a treat it turned out to be – grown-up, complex crime drama at its absolute best.

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There was so much to like: the complex characterisation of Louisiana state police detectives Marty Hart and Rust Cohle, the absorbing interview/flashback structure, the stunning cinematography, the Deep South gothic-noir mood, and of course, that iconic title sequence featuring The Handsome Family’s ‘Far From Any Road’.

I watched the series with my son, and we were both impressed with the consistently high standard of the eight episodes. We ended up rationing them to one an evening, because each was such a rich viewing experience that we wanted to dissect them afterwards. While the investigation – into the ritualistic murder of a woman and the earlier disappearance of a child – was extremely compelling, what lingered in my mind was the story of Marty and Rust’s own development and the evolution of their relationship over a period of twenty years. Their characters were very different, with individual complexities and flaws, and were brilliantly brought to life by actors Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson.

I particularly loved Rust’s tenacity (bordering on worrying obsessiveness) in refusing to let the case die. Here he is scouting a site for clues with his ‘taxman’ notebook.

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I hear that True Detective 2 hasn’t (ahem) quite lived up to expectations, so if you haven’t yet seen True Detective 1, now could be the moment to check it out. It will stand the test of time as a standalone series, I’m sure.

Some very good news: a second series of Top of the Lake has been commissioned by BBC2, with Elizabeth Moss reprising her role as Detective Robin Griffin.

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There’s a major change of location, though: season 2 will be shot and set in Sydney, Australia and Hong Kong rather than New Zealand. I admit to having slightly mixed feelings about this, as the New Zealand setting was one of the big strengths of the first series for me. On the other hand, Jane Campion and Gerard Lee are once again co-writing, with Jane also set to co-direct, so I’ll be watching come what may. Production begins in December.

There’s further information about season 2 at indiewire and if.com.au. My earlier post on the first series of Top of the Lake (2013) and its wonderful female protagonists is available here.

And finally… The second series of Welsh crime drama Y Gwyll/Hinterland will air on British screens in mid-September:

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WalesOnline reports: >>The ground-breaking crime drama, starring Richard Harrington as DCI Tom Mathias, will premiere in Welsh, with optional English subtitles, on S4C in the prime drama slot of 9pm on Sunday nights. The first episode of the eight-part series starts on September 13 and Mathias’ wife Meg turns up, hopefully revealing some of the moody detective’s shady past <<.

And here’s a nice little article by Kathryn Williams on ‘5 Things to Expect from Y Gwyll / Hinterland Series 2′. It looks like we’ll be finding out a lot more about both Mathias and Mared Rhys, which is a welcome development. While series 1 was great, a few people (myself included) thought a bit more backstory on the key investigators would have been good (see my earlier post here).

The English-language version will be shown on BBC Cymru Wales and BBC4 at a later date. Riches galore.

January 2015: some crime drama treats

Here we all are in a shiny new year. Wishing you and yours a very happy 2015!

There are a number of wonderful crime dramas heading our way in January. Here’s a quick round up of four goodies…

Y Gwyll / Hinterland, S4C, 9pm on Thursday 1 January 

Today sees a special, one-off episode for fans of this bilingual, Welsh-English crime drama. Here’s the S4C description >> Troubled hero DCI Mathias returns to the front-line in this brand new episode. Faced with a suspected arson attack, Mathias is drawn into a community riven by old feuds and bitter jealousies. A story of heartbreak and loss, but for Tom Mathias, will it offer a new beginning? <<

Head over to the S4C website for further information (in English), a trailer and details of how to activate subtitles. If you don’t have access to S4C, don’t worry – you’ll be able to access it later via S4C Clic online (the Welsh equivalent of iPlayer). The episode will no doubt also appear on BBC1 in due course. An earlier Mrs. Peabody post on Y Gwyll is available here, and a new series follows later in 2015.

Fortitude, Sky Atlantic, 9pm on Thursday 29 January

There’s an increasing amount of buzz about this series in the press. Drawing on Scandi Noir traditions, it features a stellar international cast (Stanley Tucci, Michael Gambon, Sofie Gråbøl, Christopher Eccleston), is set in a mining community in the Arctic Circle and was filmed in Iceland. From where I’m standing, that’s an impossible combination to resist.

Sky’s description is as follows: >> Fortitude is a place like nowhere else. Although surrounded by the savage beauty of the Arctic landscape, it is one of the safest towns on earth. There has never been a violent crime here. Until now. In such a close-knit community a murder touches everyone and the unsettling, mysterious horror of this crime threatens the future of the town itself.

The local Chief of Police, Sheriff Dan Anderssen (Dormer), has to investigate alongside DCI Morton (Tucci), the detective who has flown into Fortitude so fast that questions are being asked about how much he knew, and when. As these two cops try to make sense of the killing, each finds compelling reasons to mistrust and suspect the other. <<

Further details are available here and there’s a preview clip too…

Broadchurch, ITV, Monday 5 January

Alec Hardy (David Tennant) and Ellie Miller (Olivia Coleman) return for the second series of this crime drama set on the Dorset coast. I absolutely loved the first series and am intrigued to see where the storyline goes after the explosive revelations of the final episode.

Spiral, BBC4, 9pm on Saturday 10 January (12 episodes)

The fifth season of this gritty French crime drama will be a welcome addition to BBC4’s international crime slot on Saturday evenings. I’ll resist providing a description of the first episode in case there are some who’ve not yet seen the end of season 4 (that includes me), but if you’re interested in knowing more, you can head over to the BBC4 website.

Crime Time Preview has a useful round up of further crime dramas (British and international) that are scheduled for 2015. It looks to be a promising year.

Wishing you all a fabulous start to 2015. My January’s going to be a bonkers one, trying to juggle a number of different publishing and academic commitments, so I may be posting a little less than usual this month. It’s all good though – and I look forward to reporting on a completed project soon 🙂

Dylan Thomas at 100 / Getting hooked on crime fiction

Today, 27. October 2014, is the 100th birthday of poet Dylan Marlais Thomas. As I live in Swansea, just around the corner from where he was born, I thought I’d mark his centenary on the blog.

Today I was lucky enough to have a tour of 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, the lovingly restored Thomas family home, which I would heartily recommend. Here are some photos to give you an idea:

The bedroom where Dylan Thomas was born…100 years ago today

Dylan’s TINY bedroom and a reconstruction of his writing desk

They made him an awesome birthday cake! With smarties!

And for the last few days, the city has been buzzing with all manner of Dylan events, from the Do Not Go Gentle festival (featuring Danish band Eggs Laid by Tigers, who set Dylan’s poetry to music) to the Dylathon at the Swansea Grand Theatre, a non-stop, 36-hour reading of Dylan’s writings and works. I’m very excited to be heading to the final session tonight, which features Ian McKellen, Sian Phillips, Katherine Jenkins and The Morriston Orpheus Choir, amongst others.

AND … last night Port Talbot boy Michael Sheen’s production of Under Milk Wood was broadcast live from the 92nd Street Y in New York, the same venue where the only recording of the piece with Dylan Thomas was made in 1953. It’s a vivid, humorous and moving evocation of a day in the life of a Welsh town called Llareggub (spell it backwards…!) and is well worth a listen. My favourite character is Mr. Pugh, who yearns to murder his cold, nagging wife: ‘Alone in the hissing laboratory of his wishes, Mr. Pugh … mixes especially for Mrs. Pugh a venomous porridge unknown to toxicologists which will scald and viper through her until her ears fall off like figs, her toes grow big and black as balloons, and steam comes screaming out of her navel’. And there we have our link to crime! It’s always there if you look closely enough…

Marina Sofia interview photo (1)

In other news, the lovely Marina Sofia invited me to take part in her ‘what got you hooked on crime’ interview series. It was great to be asked and I had a lot of fun answering her questions. If you’d like to see my responses, they are over at her findingtimetowrite blog, and take in most of the books featured on the pile above. Perhaps you have some views on my choices?

Reminder: The Bridge 2 and Hinterland air this Saturday 4 January

A quick reminder that this Saturday is a bumper one for crime fans, with the start of not just one but two cracking crime series on the BBC.

On BBC Four from 21.00 to 23.00, we have the first two episodes of The Bridge 2, the Danish-Swedish co-production that attracted considerable praise in the UK when the first series aired in 2012. You’ll find further details about Bron/Broen 2 over at The Radio Times website – and here’s a bit of what they have to say about it:

>> In a thrilling opening sequence, a cargo vessel wanders from a shipping lane to head directly for the gigantic Øresund Bridge linking Denmark and Sweden. Despite frantic radio pleas from the coastguard, there is no word from the ship as it crashes into the structure that spans a mass of chilly, lonely water. Yes, The Bridge is back. After nearly two years in “real time” and precisely 13 months in fictional time, the cult Scandi thriller’s brilliant cop partnership of Saga Noren and Martin Rohde returns. <<

An amusing clip of Saga and Martin’s reunion is available on the BBC4 website here – isn’t it great to see them together again?

And lest you’ve forgotten, here’s the wonderful title sequence, featuring the song ‘Hollow Talk’, by The Choir of Young Believers. Marvellous stuff.

Meanwhile, over on BBC One Wales from 21.30 to 23.05, we see the start of the gripping Welsh crime drama Hinterland, which aired a little while back in a Welsh-language version and will now be shown again in a bilingual version. I am SO pleased that both English and Welsh feature (the latter with subtitles), as this accurately reflects life in Wales, where you hear speakers hopping from one language to the other all the time.

This is what the BBC has to say on the decision to film in both languages (full press release available here):

>> The special adaptation of the drama for BBC One Wales will feature dialogue in both English and Welsh – the first time both languages have played a prominent role in a drama series broadcast by the BBC. The Welsh-language elements of the programme will have on-screen subtitles.

Starring Richard Harrington, Hinterland has already attracted critical acclaim for its brooding portrayal of police life in west Wales. The Guardian said “fans of washed-out noir are going to love this for its slow, confident pacing, attention to detail and Harrington’s engrossing performance.”

The new series follows a commitment made by BBC Cymru Wales Director, Rhodri Talfan Davies, at the Celtic Media Festival in April to better reflect Welsh language life and culture on BBC One Wales. At the time, he said: “I think we have to spend more time finding bridges that can connect different audiences to cultures, view-points and experiences they might not normally encounter. On BBC One Wales I want us to think creatively about how we allow Welsh language voices and experiences to be heard and experienced a little more.” <<

For my take on the Scandi-influenced, Welsh-language original Y Gwyll, including a spoiler-free review of the first episode, see here. Further details are available in The Radio Times.

The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted that these two programmes clash… Set those recorders now – neither should be missed!

WELSH crime drama Y Gwyll / Hinterland

Hinterland will be shown again on BBC4 from Monday 28 April 2014. See below for information about the series and a spoiler-free review of Episode 1.

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There’s been lots of buzz recently about the new Welsh crime drama Y Gwyll / Hinterland, which debuts at 9.30pm, next Tuesday, 29th October on S4C Digital. (In case you’re wondering, S4C stands for Sianel Pedwar Cymru or ‘Channel Four Wales’, and is also available beyond Wales via satellite, cable, and online).

My ears pricked up when I heard about this Fiction Factory/S4C/BBC production, partly because I have the good fortune to live in Wales, and partly because of its strong Scandinavian connections. Pre-broadcast coverage has repeatedly emphasised the influence of crime dramas such as The Killing and Wallander on Y Gwyll, both in terms of its tone – think Scandi melancholy and bleakly beautiful landscapes – and in terms of the decision to film it in Welsh with English subtitles. It’s a gentle reminder that languages other than English are spoken in the UK, and provides a wonderful showcase for Welsh language and Welsh culture, especially that of west Wales, which has a high proportion of Welsh-speakers.

I’m sure the enormous success of the ‘subtitled homicide genre’ in the popular BBC4 Saturday crime slot played a sizable role in convincing telly execs that this fairly costly venture (£4.2 million) would prove worthwhile. The series has also been filmed in English, and will air on BBC Wales and BBC4 next year, but I’ll definitely be watching the Welsh version first, and am hugely looking forward to some quality Cymru Crime.

In a lovely twist, the series has already been sold to the Danish channel DR, which means that we’re exporting some Scandi-style subtitled drama back to Denmark. Expect to see lots of Danish tourists flocking to the seaside town of Aberystwyth soon.

Here’s a bit more about Y Gwyll from the Fiction Factory website:

> From the windswept sand dunes of the coastline to the badlands of the hinterland, Aberystwyth is the perfect setting for this brand new drama series. A place that lives by its own rules: a natural crucible of colliding worlds where history and myth meet the modern and contemporary. Into this world steps DCI TOM MATHIAS (Richard Harrington), a brilliant but troubled man. Having abandoned his life in London, he isolates himself on the outskirts of Aber – a town filled with secrets as dark and destructive as his own.

MATHIAS is partnered with DI MARED RHYS (Mali Harris). Intelligent and complex, she is a mother wiser than her 33 years suggest. Together, enigmatic outsider Mathias and hometown girl Mared form an engaging relationship.

MATHIAS is at the heart of every story. He is a man we instinctively trust, a man who knows that the key to solving the ultimate crime of murder lies not in where you look for truth, but how you look. From the windswept sand dunes of the coastline to the badlands of the hinterland, this is a detective drama with pace, poetry and scale. A series of four two-hour films with stories that are original and local, yet timeless and universal <.

You’ll also find a superbly atmospheric trailer on YouTube) to give you a flavour of what’s to come (in Welsh with English subtitles). The Guardian TV Guide reckons that ‘fans of washed-out noir slaughter are going to love Y Gwyll for its slow, confident pacing, attention to detail, and Harrington’s engrossing performance.’  Mwynhewch! Enjoy!

Further reading:

Stephen Moss at The Guardian about the making of the series and its Scandi influences:Hinterland – the TV noir so good they made it twice’.

Sioned Morgan, Wales Online: ‘S4C’s early-awaited Y Gwyll/Hinterland is a dark drama with a sense of place’.

UPDATE 29 OCTOBER: Review of Y Gwyll Episode 1 (spoiler free). 

Well, I really, really enjoyed this first episode of Y Gwyll: congratulations to S4C and its partners on a great start.

They’ve succeeded in creating a high-quality crime drama that draws on the best of brooding Scandi crime, but which also retains a distinctively Welsh feel. While there are definitely echoes of Wallander (the figure of DCI Mathias and the windswept landscapes) and The Killing (Mathias does lots of Lund-like gazing and thinking), we also have the twinkly lights of the Aber seafront, a caravan overlooking the spectacular Welsh coast, and of course, the Welsh language itself. The acting is great, the dialogue sparky, the cinematography stylish – and there are some heart-stoppingly creepy moments added in as well.

As with all subtitled crime drama, the ultimate test of quality is whether the subtitles get in the way, and they definitely didn’t for me (although their thoroughness in recording every sound effect provided some added entertainment – e.g. ‘rustling’, ‘door creaking’, ‘deep breathing’).

I’m already looking forward to episode 2 on Thursday for the resolution to the Jenkins case, and perhaps also the chance to find out more about Mathias’ own ‘hinterland’. He’s a bit of an enigmatic figure at the moment, a Welshman who is something of an outsider to the close-knit Aber community after time away. It’ll be good to see how his working relationship with DI Mared Rhys develops too…

‘Another wild night in Aber?’… Yes, please!