Double celebration…and wishing you a Happy 2012!

Today Mrs P. celebrates not falling over while ice-skating¬†and reaching the milestone of 70,000 hits on the Mrs. Peabody Investigates blog ūüôā

To close out the year, here are two lists:¬†5¬†popular¬†Mrs P. posts from the 60 published in 2011, and Mrs Peabody’s top 5 reads of the year.

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5 of the most popular Mrs P. posts of 2011:

1. BBC4’s The Killing Series 1¬†[Danish crime TV]

This was the first of a number of Mrs P. posts¬†on¬†the Danish¬†drama Forbrydelsen, whose instant¬†popularity took everyone by surprise (not least BBC4). If you haven’t seen it yet, make doing so one of your¬†resolutions for 2012. Outstanding.

2. BBC1’s Zen¬†[British / Italian crime TV]

My review of the TV¬†series based on Michael Dibdin’s ‘Aurelio Zen’ novels, starring the delectable Rufus Sewell.¬†The BBC, somewhat oddly, decided not to commission a second series.

ZEN (high res)

3. Crime novels that make you want to rant: Philip Kerr’s Field Grey¬†[British / German crime fiction]

This was a¬†lament or¬†a rant, depending on your point of view, which examined Philip Kerr’s seventh Bernie Gunther novel in the context of the previous six books in the series. The eighth, Prague Fatale,¬†which I have yet to read, was released in October 2011.

4. Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy¬†[Danish crime fiction]

A review of one of my standout novels of the year, and the first in this Danish author’s Department Q series. The second, Disgrace,¬†is due out with Penguin in June 2012.

jacket image for Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen - large version

5. Matsumoto’s Inspector Imanishi Investigates¬†[Japanese crime fiction]

This was one of my early posts, and remains a favourite Рa review of a Japanese classic from 1961, which still holds up extremely well today.

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Mrs Peabody’s top 5 reads of 2011 (in alphabetical order as I can’t bring myself to rank them):

1. Jussi Adler-Olsen, Mercy (2011 [first published in 2008])

Danish. A bravura start to the Department Q series: powerful, gripping and moving in equal measure. Features a strong and compelling female protagonist  5 stars

jacket image for Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen - large version

2. Jan Costin Wagner, Silence (2011 [2007])

German author / Finnish setting. The second novel in the Kimmo Joentaa series. An absorbing police procedural and a sensitive portrayal of grief  5 stars

3. Sam Hawken, The Dead Women of Juárez (2011)

American. An outstanding crime novel¬†set in the corrupt Mexican border city of Ju√°rez,¬†infamous for¬†its high rate of ‚Äėfeminicidios‚Äô (female homicides) 5 stars¬†¬†

4. Ernesto Mallo, Needle in a Haystack (2010 [2006])

Argentinian. An excellent crime novel, which paints a searing portrait of 1970s Argentina under military rule  5 stars

5. Shuichi Yoshida, Villain (2011 [2007])

Japanese. A gripping dissection of a murder and its repercussions  5 stars

*****

Many thanks to everyone for reading and –¬†most importantly –¬†for contributing in such an illuminating and generous way to the discussions on this blog¬†in 2011.

Wishing you a very Happy New Year and all the very best for 2012!

Summer’s here! Mrs Peabody’s holiday crime fiction recommendations

Now that it’s July, my thoughts are turning to the serious business of holiday reading.

Choosing reading matter to take on holiday is something I take extremely seriously: an afternoon of peaceful reading with ice-cubes tinkling in a cool drink by my side is one of my chief holiday pleasures, and the quality, quantity and variety of the crime fiction in my suitcase needs to be just right. Major disasters in the past have included being caught short in Spain, resulting in an exhaustive hunt for an English-language bookshop, and paying well over the odds for some crime fiction in New Zealand, where book prices are incredibly high. As a result, I now always carry a small library with me abroad (Kindle, of course, is another option, although I like to take second-hand paperbacks I can leave for other holiday-makers, which I then cunningly replace in my luggage with souvenirs).

The following are some random holiday crime fiction recommendations – all books that I’ve read and enjoyed, albeit for varying¬†reasons. If you feel like posting suggestions in return I’d be very pleased to see them.

  • Light and frothy, with an emphasis on entertainment. Perfect for lounging by the pool or whiling away a few hours in a¬†caf√© with a cappuccino.

Fred Vargas’ Detective Commissaire Adamsberg series: a quirky and erudite collection¬†of crime novels, mostly¬†set in Paris. It’s not essential to read them in order, in my view, but Have Mercy on Us All is a good place to start. You may or may not know, but Fred is¬†actually a¬†female author, and an¬†archaeologist by trade.

Colin Bateman’s Mystery Man: Murder, Mayhem and Damn¬†Sexy Trousers (2009).¬†It’s rare for writers to pull off a successful comic crime novel.¬†This one made me laugh out loud, in spite¬†of its¬†ultimately rather serious subject matter –¬†the legacy of the Nazi past and the weighty theme of post-war justice. A deft juggling act.

Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen series (televised earlier this year). Written quite a while ago now, but¬†they’ve held up well, with¬†a nicely rounded¬†investigative figure. A wry look at Italian policing,¬†politics and life. An earlier Mrs P. post on Ratking is available here.

  • Stronger stuff – more intense and challenging crime. The sort of novel¬†you might not normally get round to, and which isn’t necessarily the easiest of¬†reads in terms of its content or style.

Andrew Taylor’s Roth Trilogy.¬†Brilliant and¬†somewhat underrated,¬†this trilogy¬†excavates¬†the history¬†of a¬†sociopathic killer, moving backwards in time from the present day to the 1970s and the 1950s. Best read in¬†order for cumulative effect.

George P. Pelecanos, The Big Blowdown. First in the Washington Quartet by an author also famous for his contribution to The Wire. Grim and gritty depiction of D.C. just after the Second World War. Breathtakingly good.

Jussi Adler Olsen’s Mercy – a recent Danish sensation, which is brilliantly written, but very hard-hitting. First in the Department Q series, featuring detective Carl M√łrck. A Mrs P. review of Mercy¬†is available here.

Happy holidays and enjoy!

#7 Jussi Adler-Olsen / Mercy

Jussi Adler-Olson, Mercy, translated from the Danish by Lisa Hartford (London: Penguin, 2011 [2008]). A bravura start to the Department Q series: powerful, gripping and moving in equal measure  5 stars

jussi-adler-olsen-mercy

Opening sentence: She scratched her fingertips on the smooth walls until they bled, and pounded her fists on the thick panes until she could no longer feel her hands.

On Friday 13th May, the author of Mercy joined John Lloyd, contributing editor on the Financial Times, to discuss his novel on BBC Radio 4.¬†There was an entertaining clash of views: while¬†Lloyd felt¬†the book was ‘terribly, terribly, terribly dark’,¬†Adler-Olsen thought¬†Lloyd¬†‘completely wrong – it’s a very funny story in many aspects’. Having finished the novel today, I’ve come to the strange conclusion that they’re both¬†right: Mercy will take you to the very¬†darkest of places, while also somehow¬†retaining¬†the capacity to make you laugh out loud.

Mercy is the first in the ‘Department Q’ series,¬†published in Denmark to great acclaim in 2008, and is the winner of a clutch of crime fiction prizes, including the Danish Reader’s Book Award. The novel introduces Copenhagen detective Carl M√łrck, an outstanding investigator whose erratic behaviour following a traumatic shooting gets¬†him kicked upstairs to lead the newly formed Department Q. Its remit:¬†reopening and solving cold cases. Except being kicked upstairs actually means being kicked downstairs to¬†a pokey office in the¬†basement, without any investigative support other than¬†chauffeur,¬†cleaner and¬†beverage-maker Assad.

The first case taken up by¬†M√łrck is that of rising Democrat politician¬†Merete Lynggaard, whose sudden disappearance¬†five years previously has never been satisfactorily explained.¬†Everyone, including M√łrck, assumes that she is dead. But is she?

Mercy is a beautifully constructed crime novel, weaving an account of Merete’s story since 2002 into¬†M√łrck’s investigations in¬†present-day¬†2007. The movement between these¬†strands¬†creates a¬†beguiling momentum that¬†carries the reader forward in anticipation of the moment when – just maybe – the two narratives will intersect.

Merete’s tale is extremely dark and easily the most powerful part of the narrative: the¬†crimes committed against her are horrifying, although the¬†author manages to avoid the¬†pitfall of¬†crude misogynism¬†through a compelling examination of how this young woman attempts to¬†resist the powerful forces bent on her destruction.

The story of M√łrck’s investigation into Merete’s case is lighter, in spite of his struggle with the trauma of¬†a past shooting. Both his tussles with¬†police colleagues and his developing relationship with Assad,¬†an unlikely assistant sleuth with a few¬†secrets of his own,¬† provide genuine moments of¬†humour, although these are never allowed to interfere with¬†the progression of a first-class police procedural.

Interestingly, I managed to work out the ‘solution’ to the mystery at the heart of¬†Merete’s story quite early on. Even more interestingly, this didn’t matter to me in the slightest. Mercy was such a quality reading experience¬†that my enjoyment of the text wasn’t remotely impeded. I’m already impatiently looking foward to the second novel in the series, Disgrace.

An extract from Mercy is available here. With thanks to Penguin for providing Mrs Peabody Investigates with a review copy.

Mrs. Peabody awards Mercy an outstanding 5 stars.