A Great Crime Novel Recomendation

GameForFiveThis recommendation comes from Jacqui, who blogs at JaquiWine’s Journal

Game for Five by Marco Malvaldi (tr. by Howard Curtis)

This post is my contribution to Petrona Remembered, a blog dedicated to honouring the memory of Maxine Clarke.

Earlier this year I read (and loved) Marco Malvaldi’s The Art of Killing Well, a delightfully playful and witty mystery set in the Tuscan countryside in 1895, published in the UK by MacLehose Press. Malvaldi has also written the Bar Lume mysteries set in present-day Italy, and Game for Five (published by Europa Editions, World Noir) is the first novella in this series.

Game for Five takes us to Pineta, a fashionable seaside resort near Pisa. Here we meet Massimo, long-suffering owner of the Bar Lume and unofficial guardian to four old-timers in their 70s and 80s who spend their days winding one another up and playing cards at the venue.

One of the most delightful aspects of this novella stems from Malvaldi’s descriptions of the characters and the banter between the main players. At an early stage in the story, we are introduced to the four elderly gentlemen, each of whom has his own individual habits and mannerisms. Ampelio, who also happens to be Massimo’s grandpa, is like a child who has escaped from the watchful eye of his mother, always on the lookout for ice cream and unsuitable drinks – unsuitable for both the sweltering heat, and his state of health. In this scene, we get a sense of the other characters and their activities at the bar:

The first to open his mouth is retired postal worker Gino Rimediotti, who looks all of his seventy-five years, and who now says, as he usually does, “I’m fine with anything. As long as I don’t play in a pair with him there.”
Listen to him! As if it’s always my fault…”
Yes, it is your fault! You never remember what cards have been dealt even if they bite you.”
Gino, listen, I’m fond of you, but someone who winks like he’s swallowed gravel the way you do should just keep still, OK? When you’re dealt a three anyone would think you’re having a heart attack. Even the people inside the bar know what cards you have.”
The name of the fourth man is Pilade Del Tacca. He has watched seventy-four springs glide pleasantly by and is happily overweight. Years of hard work at the town hall in Pineta, where if you don’t have breakfast four times in a morning you’re nobody, has formed both his physique and his character: apart from being ill-mannered, he’s also a pain in the butt. (pg. 24, Europa Editions)

Life in this small town is disturbed by news of a murder. Very early one morning, a local guy discovers the body of a young girl dumped in a parking-lot trash can by the side of a wood, and he stumbles into Bar Lume to raise the alarm. Having spent the night at the disco, the man is as drunk as they come, so Massimo accompanies him to the crime scene, confirms the presence of the body and calls the police. Into the fray comes the insufferable and bumbling Inspector Fusco, a man who Massimo and Dr. Carli, the police doctor in attendance, consider ‘prickly, arrogant, pig-headed, conceited and vain.

Game for Five is a hugely enjoyable book full of wry humour, and much of the story’s wit derives from the interactions between characters, especially those involving the inspector. Here he is interviewing Massimo about events on the night in question:

Right, you live in the city. Simone Tonfoni, the person who found the body, maintains that he entered your bar at 5.10. Can you confirm that?”
Yes.”
After he entered, he says he phoned this station to report finding the body. The officer on duty at the switchboard thought it was a joke and hung up. Then…”
Then I asked him to show me where the body was. We went to the parking lot, I saw the scene, went back to the bar and –”
Please just answer my questions and don’t interrupt,” the inspector said calmly. “Did you phone the station at 5.20 A.M.?”
Yes.”
Did you go back to the parking lot immediately after the phone call?”
Yes.”
Was the scene of the crime exactly as it had been the first time?”
Yes.”
Did you wait for the police to arrive, without leaving the spot?”
Yes.”
Are you sure about what you’re telling me?”
Yes.”
Is yes the only word you know?”
No.” (pg. 42)

It’s not long before the old-timers at Bar Lume start gossiping about the murder, speculating – often rather wildly – on events and possible suspects. Nevertheless, Inspector Fusco could probably do a lot worse than pay a visit to the bar should he wish to get to the bottom of the case:

You know the neat thing about this whole business, my dear Massimo? It’s that the town already knows more than the inspector. Firstly, because Fusco is a fool” – all those present nodded in unison – “and secondly, because if something happens in this town, to someone from the town, then someone else must know something about it. Maybe someone who saw something but doesn’t know what it meant. In my opinion, Massimo, Fusco should come to the bar and talk to all the people who drop in here, then go to see all the women in their homes, then go to the market, and so on. Nobody’ll go straight to him…” (pg. 39)

Due to his involvement in the discovery of the corpse, Massimo gets drawn into the investigation. He soon realises that Fusco has jumped on the obvious suspect – a young boy who had been seeing the victim – despite the absence of a clear motive or any evidence linking this individual to the crime scene. While Massimo longs for a quiet life and would prefer to leave matters to the authorities, the more information he uncovers, the more the case niggles away at him. Underneath Massimo’s slightly weathered exterior lurks a natural empathy for others, and he takes it upon himself to talk to those who knew the dead girl in an attempt to solve the crime. Aided and abetted, of course, by his grandpa and fellow frequenters of the Bar Lume.

Game for Five is great fun. It’s an enjoyable mystery, but what really elevate this book, making it such a delight to read, are the characterisation and different shades of humour Malvaldi brings to the narrative. As I mentioned earlier, each of the old-timers comes with his own individual idiosyncrasies and ways to infuriate to others (many of which are unconstrained by political correctness). Inspector Fusco is well-drawn, as is Dr. Carli, the police doctor. And as the novella progresses, Malvaldi reveals more of Massimo’s character adding depth to our image of the protagonist. The banter amongst the old-timers and their exchanges with Massimo are a joy: some scenes are pure comedy; others peppered with slightly sardonic wit. And the interactions between Massimo and the inept Inspector Fusco bristle with prickly humour.

All in all, Game for Five is a thoroughly enjoyable book. The mystery is resolved, but you’ll have to read the book to discover how much of a part Massimo plays in the outcome. My edition comes with an endorsement from Andrea Camilleri on the rear cover, and I can see Game for Five appealing to fans of the Inspector Montalbano series.

Game for Five is published in the UK by Europa Editions.

A Great Novel Recommendation

El ruido de las cosas al caer

This recommendation comes from José Ignacio, who blogs at The Game’s Afoot.

Reseña: El Ruido de las Cosas al Caer (English: The Sound of Things Falling) de Juan Gabriel Vásquez

This post is bilingual, scroll down to find the English language version

Esta entrada es mi aportación para honrar la memoria de Maxine Clarke. Ustdes pueden leer más sobre esto aquí y en el blog Petrona Remembered.
Alfaguara, 2011. Kindle edition (2422 KB). ASIN: B00634NZUE. E-ISBN: 978-84-204-9494-4. Pages: 272.

El ruido de las cosas al caer fue galardonado con el XIV Premio Alfaguara de Novela 2011. En en el acta del Premio “El jurado quiere destacar las cualidades estilísticas de esta novela cuya prosa recrea una atmósfera original y atractiva, un espacio propio habitado por personajes que acompañarán al lector. Ambientada en la Colombia contemporánea, la trama narra el viaje de un hombre que busca en el pasado una explicación de us situación y la de su país. Una lectura conmovedora sobre el amor y la superación del miedo.”

La traducción inglesa de Anne McLean, publicada en 2013, ganó el Premio Internacional de Literatura IMPAC Dublin en el 2014. En el comentario de los jueces se indica que: “El Ruido de las Cosas al Caer es un destacado thriller literario que resuena mucho después de la última página. Por medio de un dominio magistral de capas de tiempo superpuestas, misterios crecientes y una paleta noir, nos revela cómo la vida íntima se ve ensombrecida por la historia; cómo el pasado se alimenta del presente; y cómo el destino de los individuos, así como el de los países es moldeado por los acontecimientos lejanos, o encubiertos “. (Mi traducción libre, la cita completa en inglés está disponible aquí).

También ha estado galardonado con el Premio Gregor von Rezzori-Città di Firenze 2013. En la motivación del jurado se indica: “La nueva novela de Vásquez, El ruido de las cosas al caer, es una historia de conspiraciones y asesinatos, de personas que se enfrentan a misterios que, si se solucionan, podrían ayudarles a reparar sus vidas destrozadas. Es el noir, elevado a la categoría de arte. Es una novela que engancha desde la primera página, pero también nos ofrece una meditación profunda sobre el destino y la mortalidad.” (Mi traducción libre, la cita en inglés esta disponible aquí)

La historia está narrada en primera persona por el protagonista, un joven profesor de Derecho de la Universidad de Bogotá (Colombia), llamado Antonio Yammara. La acción se se pone en marcha a partir de la lectura de una noticia en una revista importante a mediados de 2009: Un hipopótamo macho cayó muerto. Había escapado dos años atrás del antiguo zoológico de Pablo Escobar en el valle del Magdalena, y en ese tiempo de libertad había destruido cultivos, invadido abrevaderos. atemorizado a los pescadores y llegado a atacar a los sementales de una hacienda ganadera. Los francotiradores que lo alcanzaron le dispararon un tiro en la cabeza y otro al corazón….

A partir de ese momento, el recuerdo de Ricardo Laverde se convertirá en un fantasma siempre presente, fiel y dedicado. Y Antonio va a pensar cada vez más acerca de los días en que se conocieron, sobre la brevedad de su relación y la longevidad de sus consecuencias. Poco a poco iremos descubriendo que Ricardo Laverde murió, o más precisamente, lo mataron a principios de 1996, Antonio lo había conocido a finales del año pasado, unas semanas antes de Navidad, cuando estaba a punto de cumplir veintiséis años. Hace dos años que se había graduado de la Facultad de Derecho y se había convertido en el profesor más joven en dar clases en la facultad. Después del trabajo, él solía aparecer en los billares de la calle 14, cerca del apartamento donde vivía. Por esos días Bogotá comenzaba a desprenderse de los años más violentos de su historia reciente.

Las primeras palabras de Ricardo Laverde, que Antonio escuchó fueron: “Qué culpa tienen ellos de nada”. En referencia a la situación de los animales abandonados en la Hacienda Nápoles, el lugar mitológico de Pablo Escobar, después de su muerte en 1993. Días más tarde, después de que Laverde se hubiera marchado, uno de los muchachos con los que Antonio había estado jugando, le reveló que Ricardo acababa de salir de la cárcel donde había pasado veinte años. Pero nadie sabía realmente cuál fue su delito. Y así, casi sin darse cuenta, Ricardo y Antonio se fueron acercando.
Espero que me permitan terminar aquí esta breve introducción. Aunque, tal vez, debo añadir que un día, al salir de los billares, Ricardo es asesinado y Antonio resulta gravemente herido. Lo que sigue es el viaje que Antonio emprende con el fin de descubrir el pasado de Ricardo y comprender su propio presente.

Juan Gabriel Vásquez (Bogotá, 1973) es autor de la colección de relatos Los Amantes de Todos los Santos y de las novelas Los Informantes (escogida por la revista Semana como una de las más importantes publicadas en Colombia desde 1982), Historia Secreta de Costaguana (Premio Qwerty en Barcelona y Premio Fundación Libros & Letras en Bogotá) y El Ruido de las Cosas al Caer (Premio Alfaguara 2011, English Pen Award 2012 y Premio Gregor von Rezzori- Città di Firenze 2013 y Premio IMPAC Dublín). Vásquez ha publicado también una recopilación de ensayos literarios, El arte de la distorsión, y una breve biografía de Joseph Conrad, El Hombre de Ninguna Parte. Ha traducido obras de John Hersey, John Dos Passos, Victor Hugo y E. M. Forster, entre otros, y es columnista del periódico colombiano El Espectador. Sus libros han recibido diversos reconocimientos internacionales y se han publicado en dieciséis lenguas y una treintena de países con extraordinario éxito de crítica y de público. Ha ganado dos veces el Premio Nacional de Periodismo Simón Bolívar. En el año 2012 ganó en París el Premio Roger Caillois por el conjunto de su obra, otorgado anteriormente a escritores como Mario Vargas Llosa, Carlos Fuentes, Ricardo Piglia y Roberto Bolaño. Las reputaciones es su cuarta novela. Aquí puedes escuchar el discurso de Juan Gabriel Vásquez al recibir el Premio IMPAC Dublín 2014. (Información de Anagrama).

El Ruido de las Cosas al Caer es una novela brillante que encaja mejor en el neo-noir sudamericano que en la categoría de novela de detectives. Tengo que admitir que me ha gustado mucho. De alguna manera nos acerca a una realidad bastante familiar para aquellos de nosotros que vivimos en ese momento, pero que, al mismo tiempo, era una realidad muy desconocida. No es una mera descripción documental de algunos acontecimientos históricos, pero, en mi opinión, es una importante obra de ficción contemporánea, magistralmente escrita, y con un uso muy interesante y eficiente de los diferentes períodos de tiempo en los que se desarrolla la novela. Una trama que tiene lugar en un país muy específico y en un período de tiempo muy concreto. Lo recomiendo encarecidamente.

Mi valoración: A+ (No se demore, consiga un ejemplar de este libro) Alfaguara

The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez

SoundofThingsFallingThis post is my contribution to honour the memory of Maxine Clarke. You can read more about this here and on the blog Petrona Remembered.

The sound of things falling was awarded the XIV Premio Alfaguara de Novela 2011. In their motivation “The jury wants to highlight the stylistic qualities of this novel whose prose recreates an original and attractive atmosphere, its own space inhabited by characters that will accompany the reader. Set in contemporary Colombia, the plot follows the journey of a man who searches in the past an explanation of his situation and of his country. A touching read about love and overcoming fear.” (My free translation)

An English translation by Anne McLean was released in 2013 and won the 2014 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. The judges commented: “The Sound of Things Falling is a consummate literary thriller that resonates long after the final page. Through a masterly command of layered time periods, spiralling mysteries and a noir palette, it reveals how intimate lives are overshadowed by history; how the past preys on the present; and how the fate of individuals as well as countries is moulded by distant, or covert, events.” (read full citation)

It has also been the recipient of the Premio Gregor von Rezzori-Città di Firenze 2013. In their motivation the jury stated: “Vásquez’s new novel, The Sound of Things Falling, is a story of conspiracies and assassinations, of people confronting mysteries that, if solved, might help them repair their shattered lives. It’s noir, raised to the level of art. It’s a page-turner, but it’s also a profound meditation on fate and mortality.” (here)

The story is told in first person by the main character, a young law professor at the the-sound-of-things-falling-cover-051413-margUniversity of Bogotá (Colombia), called Antonio Yammara. The action begins while he’s reading a story in a major magazine in the middle of 2009: A male hippopotamus was shot dead. He’d escaped two years before from Pablo Escobar’s old zoo in the Magdalena Valley, and during that time of freedom had destroyed crops, invaded drinking troughs, terrified fishermen and even attacked the breeding bulls at a cattle ranch. The marksmen who caught up with him shot him once in the head and again in the heart….

From that moment, the memory of Ricardo Laverde will become an ever-present ghost, faithful and devoted. And Antonio will increasingly think about the days when they met each other, about the brevity of their relationship and the longevity of its consequences. Gradually we will discover that Ricardo Laverde died, or more precisely, he was killed in early 1996. Antonio had met him late last year, a few weeks before Christmas, when he was about to turn twenty-six. Two years ago he had graduated from Law School and had turned into the youngest lecturer ever to teach in the faculty. After work, he used to show up at the billiard club on 14th Street, near the apartment where he lived. At the time Bogotá was beginning to emerge from the most violent years of its recent history.

The first words from Ricardo Laverde, that Antonio heard were: ‘It’s not their fault, anyway’, referring to the situation of the abandoned animals at Hacienda Napoles, the mythological place of Pablo Escobar, after his death in 1993. Some days later, after Laverde had gone, one of the guys with whom Antonio had been playing, revealed him that Ricardo had just come out of prison where he had spent twenty years. But no one really knew what was his crime. And thus, almost without realising it, Ricardo and Antonio began to approach each other.

I hope you will allow me to finish here this brief introduction. Although, perhaps, I should add that one day, upon leaving the billiard club, Ricardo is murdered and Antonio is seriously wounded. What follows is the journey that Antonio undertakes in order to discover Ricardo’s past and understand his own present.

Juan Gabriel Vásquez, (Bogotá, 1973) is best known as the author of El Ruido de las Cosas al Caer, winner of the Premio Alfaguara and the English Pen Award, and also a finalist for the Médicis. Prior to that, he wrote the short story collection Los Amantes de Todos los Santos and the novels Los Informantes, and Historia Secreta de Costaguana, all of which were rapturously received by critics and readers alike. He studied Latin American literature at the Sorbonne in Paris, and made Barcelona his home for more than a decade. His short stories have appeared in anthologies in all over the world. He has translated the works of E.M Forster, Victor Hugo and John Hersey, among others, and his articles appear regularly both in Spanish and Latin-American publications. Ever since the publication of his first novel, Juan Gabriel Vásquez has consistently impressed readers and reviewers with his talent, wisdom and his astonishing narrative maturity. To date his books have received an incredible range of international acknowledgments. They have been published in 16 languages and 30 countries. He is the two-time winner of the Premio Nacional Simón Bolívar and more noteworthy, he won the Roger Caillois in Paris in 2012 for all of his works, an award also given to Mario Vargas Llosa, Carlos Fuentes, Ricardo Piglia and Roberto Bolaño. He was also the 2013 recipient of the Von Rezzori award. Las reputaciones is his fourth and most recent novel, finalist for the I Bienal Mario Vargas Llosa, the Prix Fémina and the Prix Médicis. ( Casanovas & Lynch Agencia Literaria, Spain).

The Sound of Things Falling is a brilliant novel that fits best into the South American neo- noir than in the crime fiction category. I have to admit I’ve very much enjoyed it. Somehow it brings us close to a familiar enough reality for those of us who lived at that time but that, simultaneously, was a highly unknown reality. It isn’t a mere documentary description of some historical events, but, in my view, it’s a significant work of contemporary fiction, masterfully written, and with a very interesting and efficient usage of the different time periods in which the novel unfolds. A plot that takes place in a very specific country and in a very concrete time period. Highly recommend.

My rating: A + (Don’t delay, get your hands on a copy of this book)

The Sound of Things Falling has been reviewed at Seeing The World Through Books (Mary Whipple) and at Mysteries in Paradise (Kerrie)

Bloomsbury Publishing (UK) Penguin (US)

Fragments: A Conversation Between Neil Smith and Liza Marklund About The Long Shadow

LongShadowThe following is an email exchange between Liza Marklund, author of the Annika Bengtzon series, and her translator Neil Smith

Fragments
Neil to Liza:

3 September 2012
Hi Liza!
I’m about to start the translation of The Long Shadow, and was wondering if I could run a few things past you before I get going? Obviously the book picks up where Lifetime left off, but the tone feels completely different – partly because of the shift away from Sweden, of course, but also because everything is seen from Annika’s point of view this time. I was wondering why you chose that approach in this book in particular – and if you think that’s one reason why The Long Shadow is the longest book in the series so far? I’m also kind of curious about why you felt the time was right to send Annika outside Sweden!
I’m intrigued by the ‘interludes’ in this one – they remind me a bit of the cutaways in Eyvind Johnson’s series of books about Olof: terrible events presented in a dreamlike, fairytale way. I’m tempted to try to draw some parallel about you both being from Norrland, but maybe that’s going a bit far!
Right, time to get to work…!
Neil x
Liza to Neil:

6 September 2012
Darling Neil!
You sure know how to flatter a girl (well, hrm, middle-aged woman) – comparing her to a Nobel Prize literature laureate! One thing’s accurate, though: me and Eyvind are truly from the same godforsaken part of the world, his birth village (Svartbjörnsbyn) being about an hour away from mine (Pålmark)…

Right now I’m quite far away from Norrbotten, I’m in my house in Marbella, looking out
over the Mediterranean. (I can actually see the coastline of Africa today, the Rif mountains where they grow all the cannabis in the Shadow…)
You’re definitely right about the Annika perspective, it’s new to me, I’ve never tried this before, telling everything from her point of view. And yes, it got a lot longer. I basically wanted to tell this story without taking the short cuts that a change of perspective allows (I mean, if you want a cliff-hanger, just cut and switch, right?). It really surprised me how much more physical work it was, writing out every step of the storyline. I kind of like the result. It became a very closely woven piece of material, a detailed fresco of our time…  (pretentious, who me?)

Annika herself should be like we both know her, though: a lone ranger, a cowboy in sneakers, a human being even though she is a woman. My aim has been to give her the same broad range of characteristics as always: intelligent, ambitious, unpleasant to some of her colleagues and loving towards her children, clumsy and embarrassing, brilliant and relentless, she is crying too much and in the wrong places – and she gets away with it! (and she has sex with two different guys, both in other relationships – will the British readers still like her, you think?)

A lot of the story takes place in the south of Spain, as you’ve noticed – please let me know if there’s anything that’s fuzzy or unclear in the description of the Spanish society (some things might be strange for the British readers). I’ve been here so long now that I’m afraid I’ve turned blind to some of the strangeness…
Please also see if you find one of the characters (Carina) too racist towards British people (there is quite a tiredness towards drunken Brits here, I have to admit, driving on the wrong side of the road and refusing to learn Spanish – when they’re not understood they just speak louder).

Alright, that’s all for now. Over and out.
/liza

Neil to Liza:

15 September 2012
Hi Liza!
Sorry to be so slow replying – I had a copyedit of a translation I submitted eighteen months ago show up completely without warning, with the usual ‘we need this back in two weeks’! I completely understand that publishers need to focus on their own schedules, but I sometimes wish they’d remember that we have other stuff to do, and aren’t just sitting around waiting for copyedits to show up! Anyway, now I’m supposed to remember exactly why I made a particular translation choice on p. 317, and to be able to defend it…
But I’m guessing this is just a minor version of the queries you get the whole time? I mean, with your books being translated all round the world, and at different rates, you must constantly be getting bombarded with detailed queries about each and all of the books, all at the same time?! Which got me thinking – what’s the question you’ve been asked most often? And what’s the one question that no-one’s ever asked about the books, even though you’ve been expecting it right from the start?!

I don’t know if it’s because of the way you chose to write this book (entirely from Annika’s perspective), but I like Annika even more than usual this time round – even if I was mentally yelling at her for the way she behaves with Thomas! I really like what you did with Annika’s relationship with Lotta, the photographer – luring readers to join in with Annika’s frustration, then switching it completely and giving us Lotta’s perspective of the stroppy cow she’s having to work with!
I think you’re on pretty safe ground with the Spanish setting as far as British readers are concerned – it’s far more familiar territory than Stockholm is to most people. But not to me, I’m afraid – I may need to pick your brains about some of the details! I’m guessing that the village in the hills where Annika and Niklas go for a meal is more your kind of Spain than the coastal strip?  You’ve said before that visiting the locations of the books is very important to you – so this one must have involved plenty of trips to Gibraltar and Morocco? I usually try to do the same before I start a translation – the trip out to Frihamnen in Stockholm for Vanished on a dark, rainy, windswept day in November remains a highlight! – but the Rif mountains may be a trip too far. (And from what you’ve said about Borderline, I doubt I’ll be going to Kenya either!)
Everything that Carina says in the book about British expats in Spain seems fair enough to me – given the slightly hysterical tone of the debate about EU migration in the UK these days, I reckon it’s actually pretty healthy for us to be reminded that Brits aren’t universally adored in other countries! In a way, I’m probably more intrigued to see what the reaction is to the details in The Long Shadow about Gibraltar’s financial affairs: it’s always rather sobering to be reminded that an awful lot of the world’s tax havens are remnants of the British empire, given that we’re very fond of lecturing other countries about financial probity.
More soon!
Neil x

Liza to Neil:

9 October 2012
Neil, darling,

Don’t work yourself to death. You’ll be such a disappointment to the editors. This is what I keep reminding myself when shit gets piled up: If I do die, I’ll never get it done…
I’ve actually learned to say no. I really don’t have a problem with it anymore. If I don’t want to do something, I just don’t. This includes interviews, TV-shows, promotion trips, you name it… This gives me much more time to do really useful stuff, like thinking and reading.
I intend to be around for some time. This requires development.

The question I’ve been asked more than anyone else is: “Are you Annika? Isn’t it just yourself that you’re writing about, really?”
I’ve started replying: “Oh jeez, you’ve exposed me! You must be so clever! Yes, she’s me! Totally. I killed my boyfriend. My father drank himself to death. My mother’s an unemployed alcoholic… I’ve been mistreated at the same shitty newspaper in Sweden my whole career, and I’ll do absolutely anything to get a good headline!”.
(But to tell you the truth – I do borrow stuff from my own experience in all my books. I have, for example, worked with “Lotta” on numerous occasions. Give me strength!!!)

Glad you’re intrigued about the Gibraltar part! It’s such a weird place, sitting on that rock on the European-African shore… It’s really quite an ugly place. No trace of all the money there in the architecture or the city parks. Here are some research photos I took while writing:
lawyerTo the left, the entrance to a lawyer’s office in Gibraltar. Fancy, eh…?

 

 

 

 

 

 

street

 

 
 
 
 
 

Street view.

 

 

 

tunnelThe Land Port Tunnel, the entrance to the city.
The architecture around Puerto Banus and Nueva Andalucia (where more of the book takes place) is a lot more extravagant, take a look at this view from my usual morning walk:

Wouldn’t call it tasteful, but maybe exciting…?

 

 

 

 

palacioThis, by the way, is the Palacio de Ferias y Congresos de Málaga where Annika meets up with Thomas in the book:

Ah well, back to work…
Keep it up!

/liza

Neil to Liza:

11 October 2012
Thanks, Liza – that’s all really helpful. (Love the picture of the lawyer’s office!) And I shall do my very best not to work myself to death before we get to the end of the series!! 
I’m sure plenty more questions will crop up as I work my way through the book, as usual, but I’ll try not to bother you with anything too silly! More soon, no doubt, but I’ll let you get on with the next book while I get on with The Long Shadow. Until then, take care, and have fun!
Neil xx

(PS – by the way: what is the question you’ve always expected but never been asked?!)

Liza to Neil:

15 October 2012
Neil babe,

I’m off to the savannah in the Masai Mara for a few months. You can always reach me on my cell, but the internet reception is a bit slow out there (but we do have wireless in the lounge).
Just howl whenever you hit something too weird or incomprehensible, but it might take a day or two before I can get back to you.
Enclosing a picture of my favourite pet:pet
Now – off to Nairobi!

/liza
PS. I DO have a question I’ve never been asked and always wanted to be – I’ll tell you next time we meet in Stockholm!

 

Reviews of The Long Shadow may be found at Crimepieces, Crime Scraps , FictionFan’s Book Reviews, The Game’s Afoot, and Reviewing the Evidence

A Great Crime Novel Recommendation

Nesser the G File

This recommendation comes from Norman at Crime Scraps Review.

I found deciding on one book to recommend to dear Maxine a difficult task, but after several weeks’ prevarication I have selected The G File by Hakan Nesser, translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson. The G File is a very long book weighing in at 601 pages in my hardback version, but that wouldn’t have put off Maxine; she was a lady who read Trollope for relaxation; Anthony [1815-1882] not Joanna [1943-].

Hakan Nesser is an author who creates memorable characters and manages to include in his dark plots about violent acts a smattering of wit and humour. I feel that if one likes an author it improves your enjoyment of his or her books. Maxine and I were lucky enough to meet and chat with the charming Hakan at CrimeFest 2009 in Bristol, so I am fairly certain that she would have devoured The G File with the same enthusiasm as I did. 

This is a 'photo of Maxine Clarke and Håkan Nesser

This is a ‘photo of Maxine Clarke and Håkan Nesser

 

The G File is the tenth and last book in the Van Veeteren  series, one of the fewdetective series I have read in the correct order. The story begins back in 1987 when private detective Maarten Verlangen, a drunken ex-policeman struggling to survive financially, is hired by a beautiful American woman, Barbara Hennan, to follow her husband and report on his activities. She gives him no idea of her reasons, but Verlangen knows her husband Jaan G. Hennan from his time in the police.
 
Trustor had wanted a sort of detective who could investigate irregularities using somewhat unorthodox methods- and what could possibly be more appropriate in the circumstances than a police officer who had been sacked-or rather, ‘had chosen to leave the force rather than be hanged in a public place. A gentlemen’s agreement.
 
 The pathetic failure Verlangen is contrasted from the start with the successful Jaan G Hennan, who seems to have it all. 
 
And ten times more desirable. No, not ten times. Ten thousand times. Why on earth would anybody want to be unfaithful if they had a woman like Barbara? Incomprehensible.
 
A dozen years previously when Verlangen had been a functioning policeman he had been one of the team who had put Jaan G Hennan in prison for two years  six months for drug dealing. 

Verlangen spends his time drinking and watching Jaan G. Hennan and when instructed by Barbara not to let him out of his sight one evening he follows him to the Columbine restaurant, and they both have a meal. Jaan G. Hennan joins a shocked Verlangen at his table, introduces himself and they drink together, Verlangen getting very drunk. And as Henman drops him off at his hotel he thinks….
 
On the whole Hennan had behaved reasonably , and the reason his wife wanted him to be kept under observation was more enveloped in mystery than ever.
 
When Jaan G. Hennan returns home he discovers that his wife Barbara has fallen from the high diving board into their swimming pool which happens to be empty. Murder, manslaughter, accident? Chief Inspector Van Veeteren, who also knows Jaan G Hennan from their schooldays, is convinced that G was behind his wife’s death, but G has Verlangen and others as a cast iron alibi.

G is a man with a very dark past; he was the school bully and his casual brutality lead to the suicide of another pupil. A few years later G had treated a girl friend of Van Veeteren very badly. Van Veeteren had persistent feelings of guilt for not standing up to G at school.

When further investigations of the Hennans’ finances reveal a large life insurance policy taken out on Barbara Hennan, Van Veeteren is distraught at the inevitable outcome, the result of a Northern European liberal justice system.
 
…the accursed G had been able to sit back and relax, and wait for the inevitable outcome- a not guilty verdict and one point two million guilders.
 
The narrative jumps forward 15 years to 2002 [the book dates from 2003. English readers have had a long wait for this series to reach us] when Van Veeteren is retired from the police, running Krantze’s Antiquarian bookshop and settled into a less stressful new life.

A young woman comes to see Van Veeteren, sent by his former colleague Munster. She is Maarten Verlangen’s daughter. She tells Van Veeteren that her father continued to drink excessively, brooding  about G and the death of Barbara Hennan. Now the private detective has disappeared leaving an A4 sheet of lined paper from a spiral bound pad on his kitchen table.

Written on it were  “14.42″ and “G. Bloody Hell”.

The former Chief Inspector Van Veeteren begins a search for Verlangen.
 
They had eaten turbot, if he remembered rightly, and drunk a bottle of Sauternes…..That was before the antiquarian bookshop. Before Ulrike. Before Erich’s death.
It wasn’t even a decade ago, he thought. But nevertheless my life has changed fundamentally. I’d never have believed it at that time.
Bausen cleared his throat, and Van Veeteren came back down to earth.
 
The G File is a well constructed detailed police procedural. There are few plot pyrotechnics, it does not need them, and while veteran crime aficionados might be able to guess the solution to the killing of Barbara Hennan, the writing [and translation by Laurie Thompson] are of such a high quality that 600 pages soon whiz past. The G File is all about compelling characters, thinking about life’s mysteries, the creation of a dark brooding atmosphere, and the question: how does a liberal justice system deal with really bad people?

The G File is a worthy finale of this series, and I am sure Maxine would have agreed with me that Van Veeteren deserves a place alongside Morse, Maigret, and Rebus in the panoply of great police detectives.
 
There was no point in speculating on that as well, of course, and he soon grew tired of trying to find alternative ways through the swamp that was life. His own path and turned out the way it did, and if he thought about it at all nowadays, it was with gratitude. Despite everything

A Great Crime Novel Recommendation

 

SwimmingInTheDarkThis recommendation comes from Margot Kinberg, who blogs at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist…

It’s very difficult to think of books to recommend to someone as well-read as Maxine was. But here goes… The book I’ve decided I would recommend to Maxine if I could is Paddy Richardson’s Swimming in the Dark. Fifteen-year-old Serena Freeman has dreams that go far beyond her ‘wrong side of the tracks’ home in Alexandra, on New Zealand’s South Island. She’s a very promising student, passionate about learning, and her teacher Ilsa Klein has high hopes for her. Then things begin to go wrong. Serena loses interest in school. She begins to skip class and when she is there, pays little attention to what’s going on. Klein begins to be concerned about Serena and alerts the school’s counselor.

It comes out that Serena has a very dysfunctional family situation, so she gets little support at home. What’s more, her family has little use for the authorities, and her mother deeply resents what she sees as interference from social service representatives.

Then, Serena disappears. Her older sister Lynnette ‘Lynnie’ travels from Wellington back to Alexandra when she learns what’s happened. She’s shocked to discover that nobody’s really taken an interest in the girl’s whereabouts. She’s been missing for three weeks, and no-one has really searched thoroughly for her. Resolving to do just the opposite, Lynnie starts looking for her sister.

In the meantime, we learn more about Ilsa Klein and her mother Gerda. The Klein family, originally from Leipzig, fled what was once East Germany during the 1980’s, when the Cold War was in full force. They made their way to New Zealand and have built new lives for themselves.

Gerda remembers the Stasi, the East German secret police, and knows from tragic experience the power they had. She’s happy in New Zealand, and appreciates the second chance at life that she’s gotten. Ilsa likes New Zealand too. But she was too young to understand what life under the Stasi was really like. And even after all these years, she misses the culture, the food, and her own language.

Although these two women have different perspectives on life, on Germany and on New Zealand, they both get involved in Serena Freeman’s life. And their decision has consequences that they couldn’t have imagined. They end up finding themselves drawn into much more than they thought.

I’d like to think Maxine would have enjoyed this novel. She particularly liked novels where larger issues are brought to the ‘human’ level and we see that in this story. For example, without preaching about social class and the role it plays in our lives, Richardson shows how class has affected the Freeman family and their local reputation. Richardson also shows, at a very human level, what it’s like to live under a government that spies on its own citizens and uses scare tactics and secret police to control people. And there’s the issue of immigration, which is also addressed at the human level.

And yet, these larger issues are also discussed at a larger level, and Richardson doesn’t offer pat, easy answers. I’d like to think Maxine would have appreciated that too. She preferred books that don’t offer easy, superficial answers to sometimes very complex and difficult issues.

What of the mystery itself – the story of Serena Freeman’s disappearance? Maxine appreciated stories where the mystery is believable – where people do credible things and, well, act like real people. And that’s the case in this novel.  The truth about Serena’s disappearance makes sense and the characters react to it, to her and to the events in the book in ways you can imagine, given the story. The plot is taut and suspenseful, too, and I think Maxine would have liked that as well.

Maxine wasn’t much for a lot of gore, and didn’t care for gratuitous brutal violence. So I’d like to think she’d be pleased that this book isn’t ‘blood-soaked.’ There are scenes of violence, but they aren’t overdone and they aren’t extended. Oh, and I think she’d also like the fact that Richardson doesn’t use the ‘female-in-distress’ plot point as the focus of the novel. Maxine got quite impatient with that.

Maxine enjoyed novels with a solid sense of place and atmosphere, too, and we see that in this novel. Richardson depicts both settings – South Island and Leipzig – distinctly, including culture and lifestyle as well as physical setting.

So is there anything about this novel that Maxine might not have liked so well? It’s written in the present tense, and Maxine commented to me a few times about her preference for the past tense. But I think she’d have looked past that easily. She’d have appreciated the focus on the characters, the pace of the plot, the larger issues discussed and the fact that Richardson accomplishes all of this without resorting to brutal violence.

All in all, I think Maxine would really have enjoyed this book. I’m truly sorry she won’t have the chance to read it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Great Crime Novel Recommendation

This recommendation comes from Bill Selnes at Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan, and was originally posted on his blog.

TheAscendentSince offering to write the first post for Petrona Rememberedon on a book I have read in the past year that I would have recommended to Maxine I have been thinking about the 50 some books I have read since the middle of 2013. What might Maxine have liked?

My favourite book over that time would be Gail Bowen’s mystery, The Gifted, which is the 14th book in the Joanne Kilbourn series but it is not the book I have chosen to recommend.

The book I have selected is The Ascendant by Drew Chapman. My review of the book is being re-posted as part of this recommendation.

I was primarily led me recommend the book because of its skilful description of nations using technology to attack other nations. Not a bullet is fired or a bomb dropped but devastating attacks are launched between the China and United States. I remember and was impressed with Maxine’s knowledge of the internet and the technical aspects of blogging. Her obituary from Nature noted that she was a “researcher in the biophysics of muscle contraction” before joining Nature. I think she would have appreciated the information technology nuances of The Ascendant more than I understood them and she might very well have had a trenchant comment for my review.

On cyber attacks The Ascendant is very much current. Today’s New York Times has an article on Chinese hackers attacking American government agencies and how the U.S. government has penetrated Chinese companies.

I expect the hero’s talent in seeing patterns would further have appealed to Maxine’s scientific mind.

I also looked at the “About” section of Petrona Remembered and noted that Maxine “…..particularly enjoyed those novels which explore a social issue, political idea or troubling aspect of the human condition”.

The Ascendant is a thriller more than a mystery it delves into an important social and political issue in China – a fictional grass roots movement challenging the Communist Party because of the Party’s corrupt and arbitrary actions in furtherance of economic development. I think Maxine would have been intrigued by the all powerful Party being confronted.

As well Maxine always loved a good story and The Ascendant has a plot to capture the reader.

****

24. – 771.) The   Ascendant by Drew Chapman – I was swept into The Ascendant. It has been quite awhile since I was reading in bed and suddenly realized it was 2:00 in the morning of a work day and I still wanted to keep reading. I was reminded of how I was caught by the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. I had to know what was going to happen next in the story.
I rarely repeat blurbs but the words of Marysue Rucci, Vice-President and Editor-in-Chief of Simon and Schuster resonated with me:
 
     I love this book and tore through it in two sittings.
 

Chapman has created a striking contemporary hero in Garrett Reilly. The former California surfer has become a bond analyst on Wall Street for a medium size firm. The job barely holds his interest. Most days he smokes some marijuana to gain the “fuzzy, contented peace” he needs to let him deal with the constant agitation of trading in bonds.

He has two special gifts. He has a photographic memory for numbers and a talent for detecting patterns:

 

Just the barest hint of a pattern – in numbers, colors,
sounds, smells – would start a tingling feeling at the base of his
spine, the faintest electric shock that was somewhere between
pleasure and alarm. As the pattern, whatever it happened to be,
became clearer to him, the tingling dissipated, melding quickly
into hard fact ……. It didn’t matter if there was purpose or intent
behind the patterns; Garrett simply saw them, felt them,
everywhere, and the recorded them in his brain. Just like that.
Every minute of every hour of every day.

 

On a rare sober day he senses an unusual pattern in the market for American Treasury bonds. Because he can remember the identifying numbers on Treasury bonds issued years ago Reilly, by looking closely at the Treasury bond market around the world notes that someone is selling the bonds purchased at a single auction of the bonds twelve years ago. What excitement can there be in the sale of bonds? Their sale becomes breathtaking when the total sold is $200,000,000,000.00.

Reilly advises his boss, Avery Bernstein, that China is attacking the U.S. through the sale of the bonds. Confirming other evidence is the timing of the sales. They took place in a repeating loop 4 and 14 minutes apart through the day. In Chinese culture 4 means death and 14 means accident. They are “the two most unlucky numbers in China”.

When Bernstein passes the information on to the Treasury Department the information is intercepted and assessed by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

As the American government recognizes Reilly’s remarkable talent to see patterns in the chaos of modern society’s ceaseless flow of information they seek to recruit him to determine the patterns in Chinese actions.

The diplomatic corps has already noted a change. Chapman’s narrative ability is demonstrated by the following summary of diplomacy:

Diplomacy with the Chinese was, to U.S. Ambassador Robert
Smith Townsend’s mind, ceremonial theater. A carefully
choreographed dramatic set piece, with a first act, an interlude, a
second act, the occasional reversal or surprised, the
reintroduction of an early plot point, a denouement, and then a
neatly wrapped-up resolution. Each actor knew his or her role,
what was expected, and how the drama would turn out.

But not this time.

Reilly is a master of modern information technology. At the same time he is abrasive and self-absorbed and amoral. He is volatile. Simmering with anger he flares into violence. He is a team of one. No one could be more ill-suited to work in the military.

It is no surprise he is resistant to joining the DIA. Beyond his innate distaste for working in a group, having his older brother killed in action while a soldier has left him bitter towards the American military.

At the same time  Reilly is so brilliant at patterns that the DIA continues his recruitment.

The American military realizes that soldiers are inevitably unready for the next war because they have studied and are influenced by the last war. Reilly is free from the mould of conventional military training.

Within China Hu Mei, a young peasant woman, is leading a growing movement against the regime which has no hesitation in trampling the working people in pursuit of economic development. Can she be having an effect upon the Party leadership?

Reilly and readers of the book are suddenly caught up in a conflict between China and the U.S. that is being waged by technology rather than soldiers.

A video game has become real life. Attacks, without using a bullet, bomb or rocket, are being launched through computers.

Chapman has imagined a new form of conflict for the 21st Century that entranced me.

Reilly’s cleverness is amazing. While a genius, his behaviour is often boorish and immature. I was reminded of Lisbeth Salander – another brilliant, emotionally damaged, amoral character with immense computer skills. What a pairing Salander and Reilly would have made!
It is not a book you want to pause and reflect upon while reading for you are bound to question the reality of the plot. Just settle in for the ride and prepare to be astonished adopting  the words of the New York Times on Maisie Dobbs, the first in the series by Jacqueline Winspear. Not many books justify the use of the word thriller. The Ascendant is a genuine thriller.

 

Not just another ‘best of 2013′ reading list

santa_klausThis week’s post is from Rich Westwood

Back in December 2011, when I was still new to blogging, I was struck by a piece Maxine Clarke wrote for her blog Petrona. Rather than do a simple ‘best of the year’, she opted to follow the ‘End of the Year Book Meme’, which enabled her to highlight more of her year’s reading. She didn’t originate the idea, but it was her
version I saw first.

Everybody who has written for Petrona Remembered has pointed out how supportive Maxine was to other bloggers, and I can only echo that. So here by way of thanks is a Petrona-inspired End of the Year Book Meme.

(Disclaimer: I tend to review classic mysteries, so I’m taking 2013 to mean ‘read in 2013′ rather than ‘published in 2013′. Don’t worry, there are some recent titles in here as well.)


Best book of 2013
‘Best’ is a very difficult thing to pin down. Are we being subjective or trying for objectivity? Petrona’s strapline was ‘intelligent crime fiction from around the world’, so I’m going to offer some global candidates, all of which I awarded five stars.

From Ireland: Gene Kerrigan’s THE RAGE (2012). Set in post-Celtic Tiger Dublin, this is a tough crime novel with a moral core. In true noir style, it focuses on a committed career criminal working on his first big job but about to fall prey to his own weakness – in this case, revenge.

From the US: Patricia Highsmith’s THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY (1955) is an acknowledged classic which, however, seems to divide opinion quite sharply. The moral of the story could be summed up as ‘what a tangled web we weave…’ as we follow anti-hero Tom Ripley in his leech-like career in a beautifully described Italy.

From Holland (sort of): Nicholas Freeling’s GUN BEFORE BUTTER (1963), of which more later.

From France: Didier Daeninckx (trans. Liz Heron) MURDER IN MEMORIAM (1984) is a cold-case story with its roots in the brutal treatment of Algerian protesters in the 60s. The hero Cadin is a wily cop with a talent for making enemies. Despite the unpleasantness that underlies this case, the overall tone is light and reminiscent of Camilleri. Cadin, like Montalbano, is a slight obsessive, adept at blundering through local politics, and has a history of falling in love with witnesses and victims.

Worst book of 2013
Geoffrey Household’s ROGUE MALE (1939)

Having failed to assassinate a European dictator, the protagonist of ROGUE MALE bolts to the English countryside and then disappears from view by digging himself a hole in the bank of a country lane. There are hints of Robinson Crusoe as he builds himself the perfect den.

Why don’t I like it? I can’t stand the (nameless) protagonist. He’s angry, arrogant, and a snob. ‘A hideous word – hiker. It has nothing to do with the gentle souls of my youth who wandered in tweeds and stout shoes from pub to pub. But, by God, it fits those bawling English-women whose tight shorts and loose voices are turning every beauty spot in Europe into a Skegness holiday camp.’

Most disappointing
Michael Innes’ THE JOURNEYING BOY (1949)

This started so well. A fussy schoolmaster named Thewless accepts a job tutoring the problem child of a nuclear scientist and finds himself drawn into a confusing world in which his charge may or may not the target of kidnappers. Meanwhile, somebody has killed the boy’s former tutor. By the half-way point I had no idea what was going on (in a good way). Then I did (in a bad way). Once the mystery begins to resolve itself, the book becomes an adventure story with shades of Enid Blyton. And I lost all interest.

Most surprising in a good way
Scott Turow’s PRESUMED INNOCENT (1987)

I would never have picked up PRESUMED INNOCENT in a million years. A 1980s American legal thriller? No way. But it was one of the Crime Writer’s Association’s top 100 novels and so I tried it.

It is the story of Rusty Sabich, a Prosecuting Attorney in Kindle County, USA. Rusty is already mixed up in a tense and competitive political struggle when his ex-mistress Caroline is found raped and strangled. The book follows his investigation, and then in a volte-face, his trial for Caroline’s murder.

What is fascinating is that Rusty knows the game so well. His trial isn’t about guilt or innocence, it’s about winning. Nobody on his side even considers the question of guilt or innocence. And so the reader has to presume…

Book you recommended to people most
Harry Kemelman’s THE NINE-MILE WALK (1968)

This relatively obscure collection of Harry Kemelman short stories features Nicky Welt, an armchair detective who works as Professor of English at Fairfield University but is often on hand to advise his friend the County Attorney. The stories (which first appeared in ‘Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine’ between 1947 and 1967), are neat little bits of old-school mystery. Kemelman’s virtuoso piece is a thought-experiment in which Welt reconstructs a crime from a chance remark overheard by his friend, so convincingly he realises it must have actually happened.

Best series you discovered
A toss-up between Barbara Nadel’s Hakim and Arnold, and Anya Lipska’s Kiszka and Kershaw.

I’m a fan of Barbara Nadel’s other series – the Istanbul-set Inspector Ikmen and the Blitz-ridden undertaker Francis Hancock. She’s good at depicting cosmopolitan communities – and the ways in which very different people get along (usually). Nadel brings the same approach to her new PI series Hakim and Arnold. Mumtaz Hakim is a veiled Muslim woman with real courage and strength of purpose. Lee Arnold is a former East End copper with an unexpected soft side.

Anya Lipska is a new author with reader-friendly prose and characters who make for engaging company: Janusz Kiszka and Natalie Kershaw. He’s a successful fixer to London’s Polish community; she’s an ambitious young detective. Some of the most interesting scenes are the meetings between Natalie and Janusz, initially exposing their prejudices: Polish thug vs harmless girl.

Most hilarious book
William Stephens Hayward: REVELATIONS OF A LADY DETECTIVE (1864)
Mrs Paschal is one of those ‘much-dreaded, but little-known people called Female Detectives’. Her eminently Victorian opponents are an enthusiastic mix of aristocratic bank robbers, Italian unificationists, evil nuns, live-rat-eating sideshow performers, the enormous wife of a pork-and-butter merchant, bent solicitors, evil twins, and larcenous postmen. Detection is kept to a bare minimum. Mrs Paschal’s MO is 1. Dress up as a servant. 2. Catch villain.

She displays a sly wit:

‘Thermopylae was not defended by men who lived upon the fat of the land, but by those who ate coarse bread and spring onions – rather objectionable in feminine eyes, but conducive to physical development.’

But more often than not, the humour is frankly unintentional: ‘Oh! How egregiously I have been duped!’ cried the abbess, in despairing accents.

Most thrilling, unputdownable book
John Fowles’ THE COLLECTOR (1963)

I think the putting down of a book depends as much on mood and circumstance as anything else. I can read a good book and find myself leaving it alone for no good reason, or charge through something demonstrably bad just because I am enjoying it. I have noticed this year that I’m no longer a big fan of the classic thrillers. Twenty years ago I hung on to every word of THE DAY OF THE JACKAL; this year I enjoyed it but wouldn’t describe it as immortal any more. Perhaps oddly, the book I had trouble leaving alone was THE COLLECTOR, John Fowles’ story of a butterfly collector who wins the pools and builds himself a prison in his cellar.

Book you most anticipated
Agatha Christie’s CROOKED HOUSE (1949)

This came highly recommended by fellow bloggers, and it is pretty good. Agatha herself rated it very highly: ‘This book is one of my own special favourites… writing CROOKED HOUSE was pure pleasure…’

Young diplomat (and son of a Scotland Yard brass hat) Charles Hayward falls for Sophia Leonides in wartime Cairo, and when the war is safely over he gets in touch to see if she wouldn’t mind awfully getting married. Unfortunately Sophia’s got some baggage in the form of a recently murdered grandfather and a very suspicious family. The family lives together under one roof, and Charles ends up staying with them while the police try to sort it all out.

The end is a classic Christie twist (you’ll kick yourself), and the book is definitely a cut above the majority of country house murder mysteries.

Favourite cover of a book you read
I can tell you the worst, straight off: Georges Simenon’s THE IRON STAIRCASE/THE iron_staircaseTRAIN.

My favourite covers this year are probably from the British Library’s classic crime series, with Mavis Doriel Hay’s THE SANTA KLAUS MURDER being the most seasonal (I didn’t go a bundle on the story, though).

Most memorable character
Tricky: I think I tend to like big, colourful characters best.

The Victorian lady detective Mrs Paschal was a real find. She’s not afraid to get stuck in, adopting a take-no-prisoners approach reminiscent at times of Mike Hammer.

Mortimer Shay, the semi-mythic Royalist spymaster from TRAITOR’S FIELD, has a lot of potential and would be great on screen, I think.

R.M., the anonymous hero of ROGUE MALE, is memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Fred and Miranda from John Fowles’ THE COLLECTOR are neither big nor colourful, but they are a memorable pair. He’s a control freak with a girl in his cellar. She’s a control freak who is, unfortunately, in his cellar. Their struggles for supremacy are gripping.

Most beautifully written
Robert Wilton’s TRAITOR’S FIELD (2013)

I’ve read some excellent prose this year, from Dashiell Hammett’s THE GLASS KEY to Scott Turow’s PRESUMED INNOCENT. Their style is what has made them classics, so I’ve chosen to pick a new entrant.

TRAITOR’S FIELD is set during the English Civil War. It’s the story of two intelligence men working on opposite sides: The Royalist Sir Mortimer Shay and the Parliamentarian John Thurloe. They share an obsession with a suspicious death during a botched attempt at a kidnapping. Wilton’s prose is dense and he is adept at conveying atmosphere – from a besieged town to a run-down prison to a remote country house. His fight scenes are brilliant:

‘Then the nightmare: the earth shuddering and the heads screaming and the drowsy clusters of men dragging themselves awake and somehow up, and staggering and clutching for shoulders and weapons and clarity and the nightmare is on them. The nightmare is Cromwell, vast leather-and-metal men on rampaging horses, exploding dark out of the night, monstrous grey-brown shadows and a madness of noise.’

Book that had the greatest impact on you
Georges Simenon’s THE TRAIN (1964)

This has surprised me a little bit. I didn’t especially enjoy it, in fact I didn’t review it beyond a brief mention in my reading review for September. It is the story of an ordinary man from a small town in France at the very beginning of World War Two. He flees the approaching German army with his family, but loses them and without drawing breath takes up with the Belgian refugee who proves to be his soul-mate. They enjoy a bizarre honeymoon is a refugee camp before his ‘real’ life catches up with him. What’s snuck into my mind and won’t leave, is an incredible act of betrayal in the final few paragraphs. His return to normality, to duty, eclipses everything else. And his soul-mate, of course, understands.

Book you can’t believe you waited until 2013 to read
Nicolas Freeling: GUN BEFORE BUTTER (1963)

Van der Valk is a cop show I remember my parents watching in the 70s (and the theme tune, available on YouTube, will doubtless be familiar to many. However, for some reason I had never considered reading the Nicolas Freeling books until I found this in my local second-hand bookshop. Van der Valk is an unconventional and whimsical detective who I think probably influenced Fred Vargas when she came up with her Commissaire Adamsberg. Van Der Valk is similarly unconventional, a thinker and dreamer whose mental processes do not fit into the standard police mould, but who yet has his uses: ‘He got thrown the queer jobs. Anybody with a funny name or a funny business. Or who talked other languages…’

So there we have it: my pick of the 60-odd books I read in 2013.

Rich blogs at Past Offences and is a regular reviewer for Euro Crime.