#43 / Pascal Garnier, Moon in a Dead Eye

Pascal Garnier, Moon in a Dead Eye, translated from the French by Emily Boyce (London: Gallic Books, 2013 [2009])  4 stars

Love this design: a seriously stylish series.

Opening line: Martial compared the photo on the cover of the brochure with the view from the window.

Pascal Garnier, who died in 2010, was a prolific French author who worked in a number of genres, including crime. Gallic Books have thus far published four of his works in translation, with more due in 2014.

To date, I’ve sampled two of Garnier’s novels – or more accurately novellas of modest length – and have very much enjoyed the sharp observational powers deployed in each. Moon in a Dead Eye is set in a posh French retirement village: a gated community whose inhabitants are attracted by its 24/7 security and the promise that they will be protected from nasty ‘foreign’ elements. But perhaps Martial, Odette, Maxime, Marlene and Lea should be worrying less about the threat from without than the threat from within? To all those fantasising about a retirement in the South of France, I can only say: be careful what you wish for…

In common with Garnier’s earlier novel A26, which I would also highly recommend, Moon in a Dead Eye digs beneath the apparent respectability of provincial life to reveal the violence lurking beneath. This violence is often male, erupting from unexpected sources following a series of interlinked events. Although the stories they tell are undeniably bleak, both books are leavened with a biting satirical humour (reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith or the German author Ingrid Noll), and are beautifully and precisely written.

I’m looking forward to reading the other two (superbly titled) Garnier novels already available – The Panda Theory and How’s the Pain? Together with A26 and The Moon in a Dead Eye, they’ll make a stylishly grim quartet on my bookshelf.

Mrs. Peabody awards Moon in a Dead Eye a beautifully-observed and rather wicked 4 stars.

With thanks to Gallic Books for sending me an advance copy of this book.

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#41 / Håkan Nesser, The Weeping Girl

Håkan Nesser, The Weeping Girl [Ewa Morenos Fall], translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson (London, Mantle 2013 [2000])  4 stars

Hmmm. Didn’t like this cover: at odds with the description of ‘the weeping girl’ in the book

Opening lineWinnie Maas died because she changed her mind. 

The Weeping Girl is the eighth in Håkan Nesser’s Inspector van Veeteren series, although its lead investigator is actually his very capable protégé Ewa Moreno, as signalled by its original title, Ewa Morenos fall (Ewa Moreno’s Case). I have to say that I much prefer the Swedish title: placing an emphasis on the figure of the policewoman rather than the ‘weeping girl’ who triggers the investigation feels right, as the novel offers a 360 degree portrait of Ewa’s professional life and personal circumstances. In this respect, it also reminded me of Indridason’s 1998 Icelandic crime novel Outrage, in which Elinborg takes centre stage.

Cover of the French translation, which retains the original title’s focus on the lead investigator

I’ve been a fan of Nesser’s work since reading Borkmann’s Point many moons ago (published in the UK in 2006). I remember loving the characterisation, the clever narrative construction, the gentle satirical humour, and the way the novel was situated in a generic European context, with people and place names that sound Dutch, German, Spanish or Polish. Six novels down the line, The Weeping Girl has maintained the very high standard of that earlier work (no mean feat this far into a series).

The novel uses a classic Golden Age trope: the detective pulled unexpectedly into an investigation while on holiday (e.g. Miss Marple, Lord Peter Wimsey, Harriet Vane). Ewa is drawn into not just one but three investigations while staying in Port Hagen near Lejnice, the most prominent being the disappearance of a young woman, Mikaela, who has just discovered that her father – former school-teacher Arnold Maager – was convicted of murdering a teenager 16 years ago. Plotwise one could argue that there’s nothing especially new on offer here, but oh my, it’s extremely well done. Nesser balances the descriptions of the personal and professional aspects of Ewa’s life perfectly, provides us with a range of well-drawn and interesting characters (such as Lejnice police chief Vrommel), and combines the various narrative strands in such a way that makes you want to keep reading, but without ever feeling overloaded. All in all it’s a hugely enjoyable, quality read, and I’m now keen to catch up with the earlier novels in the series that I’ve missed.

A quick aside: the focus on team members other than the dominant investigator (such as van Veeteran or Erlendur) is a welcome development for the police procedural as far as I’m concerned, especially as it often places very interesting female investigators in the spotlight. It’s one I’ve only really just noticed, but must have been going since at least 1998 when Nesser published Münsters fall (Münsters Case)… Can anyone think of earlier examples?

Mrs. Peabody awards The Weeping Girl an expertly crafted and absorbing 4 stars

With thanks to Mantle for sending me a copy of this book (Petrona Award submission).

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#40 / Ioanna Bourazopoulou, What Lot’s Wife Saw (first review of Greek crime!)

Ioanna Bourazopoulou, What Lot’s Wife Saw, translated from the Greek by Yannis Panas (Edinburgh: Black and White Publishing, 2013 [2007])  4.5 stars

Opening line: Perhaps reality is but a mass delusion, thought Phileas Book, watching the waves of the Mediterranean Sea breaking against the concrete quays of Paris.

Well! I was hoping for something a bit different when I opened this book, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Winner of the 2008 Athens Prize for Literature, What Lot’s Wife Saw is a dazzling, hybrid crime novel that takes readers on an extraordinary journey of the imagination.

The novel is set in the future, twenty-five years after The Overflow, a tsunami that destroyed large portions of southern Europe, and whose cause was the eruption of a highly addictive violet salt through the Dead Sea Rift. The harvesting of this valuable commodity at a remote ‘Colony’ is now controlled by the mysterious Consortium of Seventy-Five, but when the operation is placed in jeopardy following the suspicious death of the Colony’s Governor, an expert is asked to help investigate.

And this is where things get really interesting. The expert is Phileas Book, who works for The Times newspaper compiling Epistlewords, a new kind of three-dimensional crossword shaped like a Greek meandros or key pattern, which uses fragments of letters (and the ways in which their ‘soundhues’ interact with one another) as clues. For this reason, Book is asked to inspect six letters from inhabitants of the Colony who were close to the Governor, in the hope that he will be able to ‘detect’ the truth of what happened. Along with Book, we are given access to the letters, and invited to take up the role of investigators, by comparing and contrasting the accounts of these rather dubious individuals, and trying to sift the truth from what may well be a tissue of lies. The six letter-writers are Bernard Bateau, Presiding Judge; Andrew Drake, Captain of the Guards; Montague Montenegro, Orthodox Priest; Charles Siccouane, the Governor’s Private Secretary; Niccolo Fabrizio, Surgeon General; and Regina Bera, the Governor’s wife. All have secrets that they would rather not share…

Greek meandros unravelling… (image courtesy of http://www.ekathimerini.com)

What I’ve said so far doesn’t even come close to conveying the richness of the narrative, which manages – don’t ask me how – to combine a re-imagining of the biblical tale of Sodom and Gomorrah with a critique of multinationals and totalitarianism. From a literary perspective, the novel feels like a slightly bonkers mash up of Thomas Pynchon (think the tour de force that is Gravity’s Rainbow), Agatha Christie (won’t say which one) and The Usual Suspects (super-stylish narrative construction). Really.

If you’re looking for an easy read, then put this book to one side for now. But if you’re in the mood for a challenging, vividly imagined and highly original crime novel with plenty of chutzpah and heart, then this one could be for you. A compelling read that’s perhaps a little too long in the middle, but is redeemed by a bravura ending, What Lot’s Wife Saw will stay in my mind for a while to come.

Mrs. Peabody awards What Lot’s Wife Saw a staggeringly inventive 4.5 stars

You’ll find an extract from the novel available here.

With thanks to Black and White Publishing for sending me an advance copy of this book.

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#39 / D.A. Mishani, The Missing File (first review of Israeli crime!)

D.A. Mishani, The Missing File, translated from the Hebrew by Steven Cohen (London, HarperCollins 2013 [2011])  4 stars

Opening line: Across the desk from him sat a mother.

The reviews I’ve read so far of this novel, while pleased to see a contemporary Israeli crime novel in translation, have given it rather a cool reception. Although I’d be the first to admit that The Missing File is not perfect, I wonder if it deserves some extra praise for the profound comment it makes on the processes of detection and interpretation, and the implications of those processes for securing (or not securing) proper justice.

The setting for the novel is the small city of Holon, where the author grew up, which was established in the 1930s on sand dunes a few kilometers south of Tel Aviv and has a very suburban feel. Here we’re introduced to Inspector Avraham Avraham of the Israeli police, as he listens somewhat wearily to a mother reporting the disappearance of her sixteen-year-old son at the end of a long shift. That disappearance predictably turns into a major missing persons case, with potentially serious implications for Avraham’s career.

Original cover of The Missing File

Pretty much the whole of the novel – aside from a bizarre and largely redundant interlude in Belgium – is devoted to solving the riddle of schoolboy Ofer Sharabi’s whereabouts. As a result the narrative has a slow-moving feel that takes a little getting used to in an era of fast-paced, eventful plotlines. It was actually only when I reached the end of the novel that I really began to understand what it was all about, and to appreciate its cleverness.

In a sense, the case itself is marginal: what’s really being explored is what it means to be a good or bad detective – one who really listens to what he’s being told and can accurately sift the information he is given, versus one who allows his judgement to be clouded by false assumptions or to be influenced by outside pressures. Avraham has the potential to be an extremely good detective, but is shown at various points to be either under- or over-confident, leading him into investigative cul-de-sacs from which he has to be rescued (please note) by two women – his police boss Ilana, and Marianka, a young woman he meets on his trip to Belgium. He’s therefore a long way from the seasoned, engagingly brilliant detectives that we’re accustomed to in our crime narratives, and I wonder if this is another reason why the novel hasn’t won over more readers.

The novel also reminded me a little of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Pledge, in the sense that it can be viewed as an existential detective novel – consciously reflecting on the genre and its conventions. We are told that Avraham’s hobby is reading detective novels and watching past episodes of Law and Order in order to ‘prove the detectives wrong’. ‘With every crime novel I read [he says], I conduct my own investigation and prove that the detective in the book is mistaken, or else deliberately misleads the readers, and that the true solution is not the one he presents’. And at the end of the novel, we as readers are invited to reflect deeply on that pronouncement. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a crime novel that needs to be read twice over: once to be swept along with Avraham as the case unfolds with all its minute twists and turns, and then again knowing the probable truth, in order to see the clues that were pointing us in the right direction all along (my favourite two are contained in one of Avraham’s pronouncements on detective fiction and in the title of a book). We readers, it’s implied, also need to open our eyes and ears a bit more…

Overall, this felt very much like a first novel setting things up for a series. I’m keen to meet Avraham again, hopefully in a stronger investigative position following his experiences on this case, and to hear more about life in Holon (the novel has a nice, albeit understated sense of place and Jewish-Israeli culture). I’m also intrigued by the brief mention of Uri from the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), whom Avraham ‘detests’, and who leads him to reflect that ‘Israel had another police force about which he knew very little – a special police force, only for Arab-related matters, without stations, without published telephone numbers’. This reference made me wonder if a later novel in the series might dare to explore Israel’s relationship with Palestine. I imagine that this would probably be a first for Israeli crime fiction (does anyone know?) and would be very interested to see how its complexities are depicted.

The Missing File is one of six novels shortlisted for the 2013 International Dagger.

Mishani has written a series of very interesting blog posts for the Jewish Book Council on Hebrew crime fiction and how his own detective departs from the conventions of the Israeli literary hero.

Part 1: The Mystery of the Hebrew Detective

Part 2: The Mystery of the Hebrew Detective: The Investigation Begins

Part 3: Detective Fiction and the Zionist Cultural Revolution

Part 4: Can a Policeman be an Israeli Hero?

Part 5: Introducing Inspector Avraham Avraham

If you’re interested in finding out more about Israeli crime fiction, there are a couple of illuminating guest posts on the subject by Uri Kenan at Detectives Beyond Borders.

Mrs. Peabody awards The Missing File an unusual and intriguing 4 stars.

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#36 / Wendy James, The Mistake

Wendy James, The Mistake (Penguin / Michael Joseph ebook, 2012). An outstanding portrait of a family in crisis and the repercussions of past mistakes  4.5 stars

Opening line: If, before all this happened, before her – before their – unravelling, she had been asked how her life was, she’d have said that life was good.

The Mistake is Australian author Wendy James’ fourth novel. Like her first, Out of the Silence, which won the Ned Kelly Award for ‘Best First Crime Novel’ and was shortlisted for the Dobbie women’s writing award, it’s a hybrid narrative aimed at a diverse reading audience (doesn’t that cover remind you of something by Jodi Picoult?). While not a conventional crime novel, it raises profound questions about legal and moral boundaries, and the media’s role in pre-judging those it deems to be guilty of transgressing social and cultural norms.

Jodie Garrow is a middle-class wife and mother living in the affluent New South Wales town of Arding. She has the requisite lawyer husband, two children and a dog, and is a respected figure in the local community. However, when daughter Hannah breaks a leg on a school trip to Sydney, Jodie’s carefully ordered existence begins to fall apart. The hospital Hannah is taken to is the same one where Jodie secretly gave birth to a daughter many years before, and when a nurse from that time recognises her, a damaging piece of information comes to light: there is no record of baby Elsa Mary having been given up for adoption as Jodie claims. In the absence of legal proof, the baby may have to be classified as a ‘missing person’ by the police, with suspicion of foul play falling on Jodie as the last documented person to see her alive.

While the question of what happened to the baby looms large, the exploration of the fallout from Jodie’s ‘mistake’ (whatever that turns out to be) is central to this rich, multi-layered narrative. The novel can be read simultaneously as a portrait of a complicated woman, of a family in crisis, of a possible crime, and of the vilification of ‘bad mothers’ by the press. The ‘bad mother’, in this context, is a woman who fails to show the requisite ‘maternal’ qualities or emotion to convince the public that she is innocent of wrong-doing (as in, to a greater or lesser degree, the examples of Lindy Chamberlain, Sally Clark and Kate McCann). We are shown in brilliantly-drawn detail the destruction of an individual’s reputation, and the social consequences for the entire family of the doubts raised about Elsa Mary’s fate.

What stood out for me in particular was the novel’s excellent characterisation, which allows a nuanced picture of Jodie’s identity and her relationships with others to emerge. There’s also a superb analysis of how Jodie is shaped by class, which helps to illuminate her response to her unplanned pregnancy at the age of nineteen. Fittingly for a novel that is critical of a rush to judgement, no absolute moral position is taken. It thereby success-fully avoids stereotyping and knee-jerk reactions, focusing instead on the very individual circumstances that lie behind the case.

I read The Mistake in almost one sitting, and can therefore happily testify to its properties as a page-turner. The plotting and pace are excellent (although there is one ‘lead’ that would surely have been followed up sooner), and its ending will stay with me for a long time to come.

My thanks to Angela Savage for encouraging me to read this novel following an earlier post on crime novels that critique the media (Leif G.W. Persson’s Linda, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Yvonne Erskine’s The Brotherhood). You can read Angela’s own review of The Mistake here as well as Bernadette’s review at ‘Fair Dinkum Crime’ here.

Mrs. Peabody awards The Mistake a thought-provoking and utterly gripping 4.5 stars

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#34 / Leif G.W. Persson, Linda, As in the Linda Murder

Leif G.W. Persson, Linda, As in the Linda Murder (Linda – som i Lindamordet), trans. from the Swedish by Neil Smith (London: Doubleday, 2013 [2005]). 5 stars

linda

Opening line: It was a neighbour who found Linda, and, all things considered, that was far better than her mother finding her. 

The dedication at the front of Linda, As in the Linda Murder reads ‘for Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö – who did it better than almost anyone’. In this newly-translated novel, first published in 2005, author Leif Persson undoubtedly pays homage to the godparents of the Swedish police-procedural, and in particular to the first in Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Martin Beck series, Roseanna, published exactly 40 years prior to Linda in 1965. Consider the following:

  • both novels are named after a young female murder victim
  • both open with the discovery of the victim’s body, on 4 July and 8 July respectively
  • both are set outside Stockholm in smaller Swedish cities (Motala and Växjö)
  • both depict the police investigation in exhaustive detail
  • both critique misogynist attitudes in Swedish society and foreground the female victim
  • and … the murderer’s name in Linda echoes the murderer’s name in Roseanna!

However, the lead investigator in Linda, tasked with solving the murder of 20-year-old trainee police officer Linda Wallin one hot summer night, is no Martin Beck. Meet Detective Superintendent Evert Bäckström, also known as ‘that fat little bastard from National Crime’, whose egotistical, sexist, racist, homophobic, vain and supremely-blinkered mind we are invited to see in all its dubious glory. Bäckström is a darkly comic tour-de-force, a monstrous creation who cares solely about his financial interests, maintaining a steady supply of drink, and the welfare of his pet goldfish Egon. His character is used to shine a spotlight on a less-than-heroic side of Swedish policing: while he is busy impeding the progress of the investigation, capable detectives such as Jan Lewin are forced to work around his prejudices and incompetence as best they can.

Thus, at the same time as paying tribute to Sjöwall and Wahlöö, Persson stamps his own style on the Swedish police procedural, imbuing it with a highly satirical edge. Other aspects of Roseanna, such the critique of the press’s prurient interest in female murder victims, are also extended further in Linda (see my earlier post on crime fiction and the media for details).

In the context of Persson’s own work, Linda forms a departure from his first two hugely ambitious novels, Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End and Another Time, Another Life, which are set against the much larger political and historical backdrop of post-war Sweden and the Cold War. In Linda, the focus is kept deliberately local, with the exploration of the consequences of just one crime, and strongly drawn characters such as detectives Jan Lewin and Anna Holt, as well as the murderer and the victim’s mother. Hats off also to translator Neil Smith, who captures Persson’s dry, satirical tone perfectly.

In sum, Linda is a rich and satisfying read from an author who’s now one of my absolute favourites.

*****

A useful further note from Neil Smith on Persson’s novels – poached with Sarah’s kind permission from the comments of the excellent Crimepieces Linda review  and with a couple of additions from me in square brackets:

Neil says >> As so often happens, Leif’s books are being published in a slightly different order in translation to their original Swedish publication.

The three books Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End (Sw. 2002, tr. 2011), Another Time, Another Life (Sw. 2003, tr. 2012), and Free Falling, as if in a Dream (Sw. 2007, tr. 2014), together make up a trilogy entitled ‘the Decline of the Welfare State’.

One of the main characters from that trilogy, Lars Martin Johansson, takes the lead in a later novel, The Dying Detective (Sw. 2010, as yet untranslated) [and appears a bit in Linda as well].

Evert Bäckström [who appears as a secondary character in the ‘Welfare State’ trilogy] is the focus of a further series of books, of which Linda, As in the Linda Murder (Sw. 2005) is the first. He Who Kills the Dragon (Sw. 2008), due to be published in English in October 2013, is the second in the series, and will be followed by Pinocchio’s Nose (not yet published in Sweden). <<

Mrs. Peabody awards Linda, As in the Linda Murder, a wonderfully rich and satisfying 5 stars

With thanks to Transworld for sending me an advance copy of this book.

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#33 / Hugh Howey, Wool

Hugh Howey, Wool (Books 1-5) (London: Century, 2013). A wonderfully realised dystopian vision that mixes sci-fi and crime fiction conventions with panache  4 stars

Opening line: The children were playing while Holston climbed to his death.

Hugh Howey’s Wool is a self-publishing success story that began in 2011 with a standalone on the Kindle Direct Publishing platform. When it took off, ‘quite by accident and all on its own’, Howey added another four interlocking stories, which were gathered in a Wool omnibus and published in hardback earlier this year. To top it all, 20th Century Fox has now also bought the film rights. It’s basically every indie author’s dream come true.

Wool transports us to the world of ‘the silo’ – the home of humankind in an apparently ravaged, post-apocalyptic future. The silo is a self-contained community divided into different sectors (such as IT, mechanical, nursery, food farms) that are spread over 100+ floors connected by a single, DNA-like spiral staircase. This enclosed world is described in minute detail, down to the sherpa-like silo porters who carry communications and supplies up and down the well-trodden stairs. The only glimpse of the desolate outside world is ‘up top’, on screens that become increasingly grimy until ‘a cleaning’ takes place…

So far, so sci-fi. But what makes Wool really take off for me are the elements of crime fiction woven into the narrative. Firstly, in line with standard crime conventions, there are a number of murders – some obvious and some more subtle – which are investigated with varying degrees of success by characters in the five ‘books’. Secondly, and in common with many other crime novels, there is an exploration of the rules and regulations governing society, and the ways in which crimes are dealt with by the law enforcement system. Except here, of course, we are dealing with the extremely unusual closed community of the silo, which shapes conceptions of criminality and punishment in entirely unprecedented ways.

The biggest crime in the silo – ‘the great offence’ – is ‘expressing any desire to leave’. As soon an individual utters the words ‘I want to go outside’, the law is broken, resulting in a literal explusion from the community. Once outside, wearing only a protective suit against the toxic elements, he or she is ‘put to cleaning’ – wiping the sensors that give the silo’s inhabitants their view of outside. And all diligently obey this command, although it is initially not clear to us why.

The first book starts with Sheriff Holston – the key figure entrusted with maintaining law and order within the silo – requesting to go outside. And this opening is typical of Wool, which is filled with wonderful plot ideas and scenarios. For why would anyone wish to leave the safety of the silo for the hostile environment outside, let alone the sheriff, who has himself overseen past cleanings, and should know exactly what fate awaits him?

While occasionally a little rough around the edges in terms of its writing and credibility, Wool is a compelling read – a fabulous page-turner that brings a possible future vividly to life, and grapples with big issues such as the rights of the individual, freedom of information, and the power exerted by the state over its citizens. The five interlinked stories detail the lives of several individuals – men and women, young and old – with the standout character of Jules or Juliette quickly becoming my personal favourite.

If you like the idea of a fusion of sci-fi and crime – and a rollicking good story – this is one for you. The energy and freshness of the narrative would undoubtedly also serve it well in the young-adult fiction market, which is where Howey first made his mark.

Shift, due for publication in April 2013, is the prequel to Wool, and is set just 50 years from now.

Wool is my  ‘Seventh continent’ book for the Global Challenge 2013.

Mrs. Peabody awards Wool an exciting and highly original 4 stars.

#32 / Fred Vargas, An Uncertain Place

Fred Vargas, An Uncertain Place, translated from the French by Sian Reynolds (London: Vintage, 2012 [2008]). A rather gruesome outing for Commissaire Adamsberg and his team  3.5 stars

Opening line: Commissaire Adamsberg knew how to iron shirts.

Fred Vargas is one of my favourite crime writers, but I always regard her novels as something of a guilty pleasure. By rights, I shouldn’t really like them, as I tend to favour crime novels that engage with history, politics or society (such as Dominique Manotti’s Affairs of State), and which feature grounded, rational policemen (I’m a sensible type at heart). Not novels involving a hunt for a werewolf (Seeking Whom He May Devour), or a Commissaire who wanders aimlessly around Paris using intuition to solve his crimes.

And yet the Adamsberg novels have afforded me more reading pleasure than almost any other crime series I’ve read. This has a great deal to do with the quality of the writing – there’s a reason why Vargas has won the CWA International Dagger three times – and the way in which she uses her medieval historian’s knowledge to take the roman policier in a pleasingly original direction. Add in a large dash of quirky gallic – her police team are eccentrically and extravagently ‘French’ – et voilà, you have a classy, distinctive crime series on your hands that’s mighty hard to resist.

Those who’ve loved previous Adamsberg novels are not likely to be disappointed by An Uncertain Place, as all the usual ingredients are present and correct. For British readers and Anglophiles, there’s also the bonus of an initial stop in London, which includes a splendidly gothic discovery at the entrance of Highgate Cemetery.

So why have I given An Uncertain Place only 3.5 stars?

For me, this crime novel went slightly too far in two respects:

1. It features a truly gruesome murder and crime-scene description. An explanation of the murderer’s rationale and methods are supplied further on in the narrative, but I still found the enormous amount of detail too much to stomach (not helped by the fact that I read the worst bit over lunch).

2. Vargas is usually very skilled at suggesting that other-worldly forces are at work while maintaining a plausible crime narrative in a ‘realistic’ French setting. As in previous novels, the tension between those in the police team who work intuitively and those who rely on logic is thematised (Adamsberg and his disciples are the ‘cloud shovellers’, while Retancourt leads the ‘rational positivist movement’). But Vargas jumps in a clear direction at the end of the narrative, and it was one that left me rather cross. So – with a little sigh – 3.5 it is.

An Uncertain Place was my January read for the 2013 Translation Challenge.

Mrs. Peabody awards An Uncertain Place an enjoyable but slightly infuriating 3.5 stars.

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Mrs. Peabody’s 2013 reading challenges

A little late in the day, I’ve been thinking about my reading goals for 2013, and have decided to take part in two challenges.

I’m not normally one for reading challenges, because I already have plenty of ‘performance enabling’ and research targets to meet in my professional life. Adding yet more items to tick off the list hasn’t seemed like a particularly good idea.

However, a combination of factors has drawn me to these challenges:

  1. They will help me broaden my reading in a more directed way.
  2. There are ‘easy’ levels, which look invitingly…easy.
  3. They both look like great fun.

The first is the 2013 Global Reading Challenge

The ‘Easy Challenge’ involves ‘reading one novel from each of these continents in the course of 2013: Africa, Asia, Australasia/Oceania, Europe, North America, South America, and The Seventh Continent (Antarctica or your own ‘seventh’ setting, e.g. the sea, the space, a supernatural/paranormal world, history, the future)’.

You’re also asked to ‘find a country, state or author that is new to you from your own continent’.

If you fancy joining me, you can sign up here via the host blog, Kerrie’s ‘Mysteries in Paradise’. There are links to challenges from past years, so that you can get ideas for reading; other wonderful posts out there will also provide inspiration. For example, there’s a great list of Latin American crime fiction over at ‘Ms. Wordopolis Reads’.

The second is the 2013 Translation Challenge

Hosted by ‘Curiosity Killed the Bookworm’, this challenge is a simple one: you’re asked to read one translated book a month.

You can sign up here. There’s also a handy set of links to publishing houses known for their support of translated crime fiction, to help create a reading list.

Those of you with eagle eyes may have noticed that the challenges overlap – books read for one could very well also be submitted for the other. This is a deliberate strategy on my part: if the nineteen-book total begins to feel unmanagable, I can double up where necessary and still complete them both. This could be viewed as a subtle bit of cheating or as a cunning back-up plan. I prefer the latter interpretation… 🙂

My January book for the Translation Challenge was Fred Vargas’ An Uncertain Place (France) and February’s will be Hakan Nesser’s The Return (Sweden), sequel to the wonderful Borkmann’s Point. I probably won’t be submitting these to the Global challenge though, as I’m on the hunt for something a bit more exotic from Europe. Suggestions welcome!

I’ll be building lists of the books I’ve read for my 2013 challenges here.