Eurotour Stop 1. Hamburg, Germany: “Nowhere does the summer fade more splendidly”

Guten Tag from Hamburg! Our first extract comes from…

John le Carré, Smiley’s People (Sceptre, 2011 [1979], pp. 29-30). 

The extract is set at the height of the Cold War.

The second of the two events that brought George Smiley from his retirement occurred a few weeks after the first, in the early autumn of the same year: not in Paris at all, but in the once ancient, free, and Hanseatic city of Hamburg, now almost pounded to death by the thunder of its own prosperity; yet it remains true that nowhere does the summer fade more splendidly than along the gold and orange banks of the Alster, which nobody has yet drained or filled with concrete. George Smiley, needless to say, had seen nothing of its languorous autumn splendour. Smiley, on the day in question, was toiling obliviously, with whatever conviction he could muster, at his habitual desk in the London Library in St. James’s Square, with two spindly trees to look at through the sash-window of the reading room. The only link to Hamburg he might have pleaded – if he had afterwards attempted the connection, which he did not – was in the Parnassian field of German baroque poetry, for at the time he was composing a monograph on the bard Opitz, and trying loyally to distinguish true passion from the tiresome literary convention of the period.

The time in Hamburg was a few moments after eleven in the morning, and the footpath leading to the jetty was speckled with sunlight and dead leaves. A candescent haze hung over the flat water of the Aussenalster, and through it the spires of the Eastern bank were like green stains dabbed on the wet horizon. Along the shore, red squirrels scurried, foraging for the winter. But the slight and somewhat anarchistic-looking man standing on the jetty wearing a tracksuit and running shoes had neither eyes nor mind for them. His red-rimmed gaze was locked tensely upon the approaching steamer, his hollow face darkened by a two-day stubble. He carried a Hamburg newspaper under his left arm, and an eye as perceptive as George Smiley’s would have noticed at once that it was yesterday’s edition, not today’s.

Klaxon! le Carré’s new novel, A Legacy of Spies is out on 7 September. After 25 years, George Smiley is back! 

Hamburg Gallery

We’ve had a wonderful couple of days in Hamburg, seeing family, friends and lots of sights. It really is a most beautiful place. A few highlights below…

View across the Aussenalster (Outer Alster), which is mentioned in the passage above and lies right in the middle of the city:

Here’s the kind of boat our young man was waiting for – these chug around the Alster like genteel water-taxis:

Here’s the front of the Rathaus or City Hall. We noticed that it was flying the Hamburg flag and the European flag, but not a German one. The city’s Hanseatic Free City status is one it is very proud of and likes to stress:

Here’s the back of the Rathaus. Rather splendid:

Pavement graffiti – ‘be free’:

A local delicacy from this seafaring city – matjes (herring) with Bratkartoffel (fried potatoes). Delicious!

The German election is coming up later in September, so election posters are everywhere. Behind to the left, the offices of Die Zeit, the influential weekly broadsheet.

The Elbphilharmonie, a swish new concert hall and architectural wonder, has just opened. This is the way in (*hums stairway to heaven*). Hamburg locals have already nicknamed the building ‘Elphie’:

Lastly, the best souvenirs ever: an iconic Tatort key-ring and a book-bag (Lesestoff = reading matter).

Click here for an overview of Mrs. Peabody’s Eurotour

 

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Holiday reading and Price’s Other Paths to Glory

One advantage of an enormous TBR pile is that it provides you with plenty of fodder for holiday reading. We’re off in the VW shortly, and I’m in the process of creating a miniature crime library to take on the road.

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Mwnt in Wales – one of our stops in the VW last year. A very nice spot for a cuppa and a good book.

The following have already made the cut:

K.T. Medina’s White Crocodile (Faber & Faber, 2014). Cover text: ‘When emotionally damaged mine-clearer Tess Hardy arrives in Cambodia to investigate the truth behind her ex-husband’s death, she finds that local girls are going missing. Caught in a web of lies that stretches from Cambodia to England, Tess must unravel the truth, and quickly – before she becomes the next victim’. The novel has received some really glowing reviews and has been on my list to read for ages.

white-crocodile-jacket

Roberto Costantini’s The Root of All Evil (translated from Italian by N.S. Thompson, Quercus, 2014 [2012]). This is the second novel in the ‘Commissario Balistreri’ trilogy, which moves back in time from Italy of the 1980s/modern day to Libya in the late 1960s. I loved Deliverance of Evil (review here), and am looking forward entering this author’s complex world again. At 676 pages, The Root of All Evil is also handy insurance against rainy days when holidaying in the north of England.

Costantini

Eva Dolan’s Tell No Tales (Vintage, 2015). I expect the second in Dolan’s ‘DI Zigic and DS Ferreira’ series to be a particularly resonant and disturbing post-Brexit read. Cover text: ‘Two men are kicked to death in brutal attacks. Caught on CCTV, the murderer hides his face – but raises a Nazi salute. In a town riddled with racial tension, Detectives Zigic and Ferreira from the Hate Crimes Unit are under pressure to find the killer. Riots break out, the leader of right-wing party steps into the spotlight, and Zigic and Ferreira must act fast before more violence erupts’. I reviewed Long Way Home, the first in the series, here.

Dolan

When catching up with the lovely Ms Adler in Cardiff last week, I picked up Anthony Price’s Other Paths to Glory in Oxfam Books. Because it was part of the ‘crime masterworks’ series – one of my favourites – I didn’t even bother to read the back cover, but soon realised it was going to be very topical given the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July.

The novel was the winner of the CWA Gold Dagger Award in 1974, and shows World War One historian Paul Mitchell being pulled into undercover work for the MoD following the murder of a colleague. A map fragment from the Battle of Hameau Ridge on the Somme in 1916 appears to be the cause, but why?

Other Paths to Glory was an absorbing read that provided sobering insights into the history of World War One and the experiences of ordinary soldiers, many of whom died senseless deaths at a tragically young age. Part of the plot explores the mystery of regiments that simply disappeared from the battlefield, and the novel offers an ingenious and plausible solution to that enigma.

There’s a lovely review of Price’s The Labyrinth Makers over at CrimeFictionLover, which also gives some background on this very interesting author and his works.

Anthony Price

Somme

Graves at the Somme

London calling: Forensics, European crime fiction…and cake

I’m just back from a couple of crime-filled days in London. The main reason for my visit was to speak at a symposium on European crime fiction and data visualisation (of which more later), but I travelled up a day early in order to see the Forensics exhibition at The Wellcome Trust.

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The Wellcome Trust is by Euston Square station. Get there early, as it’s a popular exhibition

I’ve already written about the Forensics exhibition in a previous post, so here’s a summary of the parts I particularly liked.

  • Its focus, as one would expect, is scientific, but it also incorporates photography and artwork reflecting on violence, murder and its aftermath, which provide some genuinely thought-provoking perspectives.
  • Frances Glessner Lee’s ‘Nutshell Study of Unexplained Death’ – a crime scene recreated in a dollhouse for police training purposes in the 1940s – was fascinating for its miniature juxtaposition of detailed handcrafts and gruesome homicide.
  • Room 4, which explores how forensic archaeologists have gathered evidence of political and war crimes in Chile, Rwanda and Yugoslavia, was highly moving in its emphasis on bearing witness and justice.
  • The vast array of exhibits yielded wildly diverse treasures such as exquisite drawings of deadly plants, a porcelain Royal Doulton morgue table and Sir Bernhard Spilsbury’s hand-written autopsy cards (although I did wonder how the poor victims would have felt about having their personal details on public display…).
  • I took some great new definitions and phrases away with me: the word ‘autopsy’ means ‘to see with one’s own eyes’ and constitutes ‘the last chance to question the dead’; Eduard Locard, head of the first police crime lab in Lyon, introduced ‘the exchange principle’, based on the theory that ‘every contact leaves a trace’ (perpetrator on victim and victim on perpetrator), and Erle Stanley Gardener asserted that medical experts giving evidence at trials ‘must serve but one client, and that client should be truth’.

A note of warning: the exhibition is not for faint-hearted, as some of the images and commentary it contains are extremely graphic. I was grateful for a strong and steadying cup of coffee in the Wellcome Cafe afterwards. But I would highly recommend a visit – see the exhibition website for more details here.

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Drawing breath in the Wellcome cafe…

Friday was spent at the British Library, taking part in the symposium ‘Towards a Digital Atlas of European Crime Fiction?’ – part of an AHRC project run by Dominique Jeannerod and Federico Pagello of Queen’s University Belfast. The project is evidence of how rapidly the ‘digital humanities’ – which explore the contribution of ‘big data’, technology and data visualisation to humanities research – are expanding, and was of course particularly interesting as it considered these areas in relation to European crime.

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Eduardo Paolozzi’s statue of Isaac Newton at the British Library

The morning was spent hearing the project contributors’ findings. What I liked about this section was the chance to see some data visualisations, to discuss the metho-dological and technical challenges involved in their creation (e.g. getting from ‘dirty’ to ‘clean data’), and to get an idea of the kinds of case studies involved (French, Hungarian and European crime). I had expected the speakers to be evangelical about digital research, but they discussed its advantages and disadvantages in very even-handed and thoughtful ways – such as the capacity of ‘distant reading’ to make trends visible against the time that inputting and cleaning data can take. The project is designed to have an exploratory function and as someone considering increased use of digital methods in my research, I found these reflections very useful indeed.

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Federico Pagello (Queens), discussing ‘dirty’ vs ‘clean data’

The afternoon saw presentations from researchers on diverse digital tools and analysis in research on Czech, French, New Zealand and German crime (the latter from yours truly, on my Nazi-themed crime fiction database and this blog), as well as a talk from Samuel Schwiegelhofer of the Paris Bibliothèque des littératures policières (BiLiPo – a library dedicated to crime fiction!). That was followed by a marvellous keynote from Ian Sansom (crime author and academic), which ranged from the work of theorist Franco Moretti to the horse’s head in The Godfather and Ian’s garden shed.

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Professor Ian Sansom with his shed. Photo by Federico Pagello

All in all, the symposium was a rich and valuable experience, not least because it provided the chance to meet like-minded researchers from around the world, and has made me think deeply about my own research and its digital possibilities. Many thanks to the organisers for making it such a successful event.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the project, then take a look at the International Crime Fiction Research Group blog or follow the group on Twitter – @crimefictionrg. A website with lots of useful resources is on its way.

Last but not least, the trip provided a great opportunity to meet friends and co-conspirators from the crime blogosphere, including Jacky Collins, Andy Lawrence, Ewa Sherman and Sarah Ward. There were pilgrimages to The Scandinavian Kitchen and Maison Bertaux (the latter, London’s oldest patisserie, was a great find courtesy of Andy).

Large amounts of cake may have been consumed.

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Hinterland on BBC4 … and other crime news

For those in the UK who’ve not yet seen Welsh crime drama Hinterland, now is your chance. Episode One will air again on BBC4 on Monday 28 April at 9.00pm. Further details are available from The Radio Times and an earlier blog post of mine, which contains a spoiler-free review.

And for viewers beyond our shores, the good news is that Hinterland has been picked by Netflix, so crime fans in Canada and the US will shortly be able to enjoy its delights too. Cymru Crime is on its way!

In other news:

The good people at Penguin are still sending me a Simenon a month from their freshly translated Inspector Maigret series, and I’ve had a lovely time working my way through the latest three, The Yellow DogNight at the Crossroads and A Crime in Holland (all originally published in 1931). The latter involves a French lecturer suspected of murder and is therefore right up my street (although I hasten to add that all the French lecturers I know are model citizens). I’ve updated the Maigret page – we’re now up to a total of seven novels.

Holding on to the Dutch theme… I’ve just received a copy of Lonely Graves (Mulholland Books/Hodder), which is set in Amsterdam, and authored by ‘Britta Bolt’, the pseudonym of German Britta Böhler and South African Rodney Bolt. Böhler is a former lawyer in international law, while Bolt has a background in travel writing – an ideal pairing for a crime novel set in foreign climes. Their ‘detective’ is municipal government employee Pieter Posthumus, who arranges so-called ‘lonely funerals’ for those dying without family or means, and who decides to investigate when a young Moroccan is found drowned. I’m a few chapters in, and am enjoying the unusual scenario and Amsterdam setting. The novel is the first in ‘The Posthumus Trilogy’ – looks promising.

Meanwhile, I’ve also been exploring Turkish German novels for the Crime Fiction in German volume, including Jakob Arjouni’s Kayankaya series and Akif Pirinçci’s ‘Felidae’ series (in which Francis the cat detective can be said to represent a migrant perspective). The opening novel has been made into a rather good animated film, but be warned that it’s not suitable for children, as it explores some rather adult themes. Both series are available in English translation and have met with considerable success.

There are also some interesting recent developments, such as Su Turhan’s ‘Kommissar Pascha’ series, featuring Munich Turkish-German police inspector Zeki Demirbilek (not yet translated). My Swansea University colleague Tom Cheesman’s book, Novels of Turkish German Settlement (Camden 2007) has also been very helpful in terms of understanding wider issues relating to migrant experience and identity in Germany, and pointing the way to some crime fiction gems.

 

The Petrona Award shortlist for 2014

*Fanfare of trumpets*. Here is the shortlist for the 2014 Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year:

CLOSED FOR WINTER by Jørn Lier Horst tr. Anne Bruce (Sandstone Press)

STRANGE SHORES by Arnaldur Indriðason tr. Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker)

THE WEEPING GIRL by Håkan Nesser tr. Laurie Thompson (Mantle)

LINDA, AS IN THE LINDA MURDER by Leif G W Persson tr. Neil Smith (Doubleday)

SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir tr. Philip Roughton (Hodder & Stoughton)

LIGHT IN A DARK HOUSE by Jan Costin Wagner tr. Anthea Bell (Harvill Secker)

The judges for the award are Barry Forshaw, Sarah Ward and myself – with additional wise counsel from award founder and administrator Karen Meek.

From left to right: Karen, Mrs Pea, Barry and Sarah, following our rewarding shortlisting session in London.

Here are our comments on each of the shortlisted works:

CLOSED FOR WINTERThis highly atmospheric novel sees Chief Inspector Wisting investigate an off-season burglary and disturbing case of murder on the Norwegian coast of Vestfold. As ever, author Jørn Lier Horst’s police background lends the novel a striking authenticity, with readers treated to the outstanding plotting and characterisation that typify this quality series.

STRANGE SHORESDrawn back to his childhood home by the unresolved disappearance of his brother, Inspector Erlendur takes on the most personal and difficult case of his career. Exploring the series’ enduring themes of loss and the impact of Iceland’s twentieth-century social transformation, this remarkable valedictory novel is one of the finest by a truly incisive writer, the undisputed king of Icelandic crime fiction.

THE WEEPING GIRL: While supposedly on holiday, Detective Inspector Ewa Moreno is pulled into the case of a missing teenage girl and the earlier murder of a woman. This quietly compelling novel from Swedish author Håkan Nesser, with its distinctive European feel, is full of the assurance readers have come to expect from the Van Veeteren series. There is not a single misstep as the grim implications of the narrative are teased out.

LINDA, AS IN THE LINDA MURDER:  Leif G W Persson’s sprawling, state-of-the-nation novels make deft use of crime fiction conventions to expose the faultlines of Swedish society. This more closely focused novel is a brilliant exploration of a young woman’s murder, press sensationalism, and the inner workings of a police investigation, with readers reintroduced to the blackly humorous and truly unforgettable police detective Evert Bäckström.

SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME: When a young man with Down’s Syndrome is convicted of arson and murder, lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir is hired by one of his fellow inmates to investigate a possible miscarriage of justice. This ambitious Icelandic crime novel, which skilfully weaves multiple narrative strands together with elements of the supernatural, is another gripping and highly entertaining read from author Yrsa Sigurðardóttir.

LIGHT IN A DARK HOUSE: Still mourning the loss of his wife, Finnish detective Kimmo Joentaa is called to investigate the strange murder of a comatose woman in hospital. German author Jan Costin Wagner delivers another wonderfully written and tightly constructed instalment in the Joentaa series, notable for its moving portrayal of a grief-stricken policeman and its in-depth exploration of victim and perpetrator psychology. 

The winning title will be announced at the international crime fiction event CrimeFest, held in Bristol 15-18 May 2014. I’m already dusting off the posh frock.

More information and updates can be found on the Petrona Award website  (http://www.petronaaward.co.uk).

Merry Christmas! Nadolig Llawen!

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas, or, as we say here in Wales, Nadolig Llawen.

To add to your festive cheer, here are some peerless Muppet chickens singing ‘Joy to the World’. Their impressive harmonies are guaranteed to raise a smile.

Here’s to family and friends – present and absent, near and far…

All best wishes, Mrs. P.

Tribute to Maxine Clarke / Petrona

This morning I heard the very sad news that Maxine Clarke, who blogged as Petrona, has passed away.

Rhian Davies and Margot Kinberg have both written wonderful tributes to Maxine, and I’d like to add a few words of my own.

Maxine was a prolific crime fiction reviewer, and one of the very, very best, setting a gold-standard in crime blogging. Her posts were knowledgeable, perceptive and thoughtful, and, more often than not, made you want to rush out and buy a book. Her blog, Petrona, is one of the ‘core’ crime blogs I always recommend to others. It’s descriptive subtitle is pure Maxine: ‘Mainly about reading with an accent on intelligent crime fiction from around the world’.

As well as holding Maxine in extremely high regard as a blogger, I valued and admired the contribution she made through her encouragement and support of others. I am struck, when reading tributes and comments on Twitter, by how many rookie bloggers Maxine welcomed into the crime-blogging community and quietly nurtured: I am one of those who will always be grateful for the kindness and encouragement that she showed me in my early blogging days. No review ever went by without a comment from Maxine (often within minutes of it being posted!), and those comments were generous, thoughtful ones that helped you to reflect further on the book in question. In short, Maxine was a great teacher, the kind that you always wanted to do your best for and who made you glow when you received her praise.

I never met Maxine in person, but will miss her friendship enormously. My thoughts are with her family and friends at this very sad time.