A Great Book Recommendation

defenceless200This recommendation comes from Norman, who blogs at Crime Scraps Reviews.

A Book for Maxine: The Defenceless by Kati Hiekkapelto

Looking out for crime fiction books that would have interested the much missed Maxine Clarke is always a bittersweet experience.

Sweet because she was such an excellent judge of a good crime fiction novel, and her own choices would almost always exhibit superb characters, complex plots, and an easy to read style, important themes and evocative atmosphere.

Bitter because when I read through the hundreds of emails we exchanged [we only met in person twice] I realize what a good friend I have lost. Maxine encouraged and inspired so many bloggers that I am certain I am not alone in missing her influence.

I have to admit a certain bias in choosing The Defenceless by Kati Hiekkapelto, translated from the Finnish by David Hackston, because I thought her first book The Hummingbird should have won last year’s Petrona Award. Kati is a punk singer and author; she lives in a 150 year old house on the island of Hailuoto in the Gulf of Bothnia in Northern Finland. She has a Masters degree in Special Education and studied racism and bullying among young immigrants in Finland.

The Defenceless is the second in the series featuring a mismatched pair of detectives. Anna Fekete is a young attractive woman, an immigrant as a child from the former Yugoslavia. She is Hungarian by ethnicity and her family, apart from Akos, her alcoholic brother who lives near her, still lives in the Hungarian speaking area of Serbia. Esko is a middle aged Finnish “redneck” with health problems, who hates all immigrants. The only thing they have in common is their desire to catch criminals, and their problem with alcohol and smoking. Anna is no virginal Miss Marple, and her drinking sometimes lead to sexual activity with some pathetic men that she regrets the next day.

The stark contrast between Esko living a pathetic lonely physically inactive life in a tiny apartment and worried at the dangerous age of 56 about his heart and lungs, and Anna a keen runner and skier makes for an interesting story.


Not everybody could be sporty health-freaks in top physical condition. Society needed the drunk, the obese, the depressed, as examples to the rest of us and to provide statistics with which to frighten people.


In both books we see that Esko who starts off as a horrid racist misogynist, may have a softer centre to this hard outer shell. Perhaps he is merely terrified at getting older, and the enormous changes that have occurred in his country. The arrival of 300,000 immigrants into the UK may create difficulties in providing schools, housing, and health services, but in a country like Finland with a much smaller population it alters the whole ethnic and social make up of the country.


The Finnish authorities and all the tree-hugging humanists should visit Copenhagen and Malmo and take a look at what an open-door immigration policy really means, thought Esko.


The story opens with Viho, an elderly Finn, having an argument with his noisy drug-dealing neighbour, Macke, while Sammy, a drug addicted Pakistani Christian, is trying to get a supply of subutex from the dealer.


But first he had to find some subs. Bupe. Orange guys. A dear child has many names.


When Gabriella, a Hungarian au pair, is arrested for dangerous driving as she has apparently knocked down and killed an old man on a snowy road, Anna is called to deal with the case because she speaks Hungarian, although she finds her ability to converse in her native language has faded over the years.

The book investigates the themes of, immigration, drug gangs, the status of minorities, racism and human rights, along with the loneliness of old age. Anna’s kindness towards Sammy, and her friendship with a gay immigrant pizza restaurant owners show her internal struggle with her identity, and her hopes for the future.


The idea of a Hungarian man, and especially one from Kanisza, seemed quite tempting, at least in theory., but in practice, in reality, it was something quite different. It was a culture that reared boys into a world in which women could never become their equals.


With the story being told from the perspective of Anna, Esko and Sammy I am sure it would have been the sort of book Maxine would have enjoyed, and we could have discussed it at length.

Could there be a more topical book in Europe 2015 than one about the problems of immigration, and the scourge of drug gangs?

The police procedural with a team of detectives working with Anna and Esko, and the social commentary reminded me of the Martin Beck books by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo.

There can be no better recommendation for this brilliant book.

A Great Crime Novel Recommendation

Concrete AngelThis recommendation comes from Margot Kinberg, who blogs at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist. 

As a way of remembering the late and much-missed Maxine Clarke, and of building a resource of fine crime fiction novels, Bill Selnes at Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan had a terrific idea. Each month, different crime fiction bloggers could contribute a post about a book they would recommend to Maxine.  This is my contribution.

I believe Maxine would have been very pleased about several recent releases, as there’s been some fine crime fiction out lately. One of them is Patricia Abbott’s Concrete Angel.

Concrete Angel is the story of Eve Moran and her daughter Christine. Eve has always been driven to acquire, whether it’s things, or money, or men. She stops at absolutely nothing to get what she wants. Her daughter Christine has grown up in this dysfunctional atmosphere. Dependent on her mother, as children are, she’s been caught in Eve’s web since early childhood. At some level, she’s always known that her mother was toxic. Eve can be very persuasive, though. What’s more, Christine has not been raised with anything like a normal perspective on life, and that’s had a powerful impact on her. Their relationship is both complicated and dysfunctional, and gets more so as time goes by.

Everything changes when Christine sees a disturbing pattern begin to repeat itself. Eve starts to draw Christine’s three-year-old brother Ryan into her web, too.  Now that she’s older, Christine begins to see her life and that of her mother for what they are, and she wants to spare Ryan what she’s been through herself. Once she sees that Ryan may soon be trapped in the same unhealthy, dangerous patterns, Christine knows that she’ll have to find a way to free herself and Ryan from Eve. But that choice may cost her more than she knows.

Maxine was always interested in books that take larger issues down to the human level. And in this case, Abbott does that with the mother/child dynamic. As we follow the Morans, we see how the larger psychological questions of dependence, the parent/child bond and sibling relationships play out in this one family.

Another element in this novel that Maxine would have appreciated is the psychological suspense. Abbott builds the tension through the interactions among the characters, and through the psychology of those interactions. Maxine was never one for gory violence or gratuity, and Abbott resorts to neither as she tells the Morans’ story.

Abbott explores the complex nature of the parent/child relationship and poses the question of what happens when it becomes twisted. Maxine would, I am sure, have liked her take on it very much.

Another book I truly wish Maxine could read is Sarah Ward’s In Bitter Chill. DI Francis In Bitter ChillSadler and his team are called in when the body of Yvonne Jenkins is discovered at the Wilton Hotel in Bampton, Derbyshire. It looks to be a clear case of suicide, but there is one unusual thing: a link between this death and a case that has haunted the Derbyshire police since 1978. In January 1978, Sophie Jenkins and Rachel Jones were walking to school together as they usually did. But that day, only Rachel came back. No trace of Sophie, not even a body, has ever been found. Now that old case is re-opened.  With help from Superintendent Llewellyn, who remembers it well, Sadler and his team piece together what happened that day, and how it led to Yvonne Jenkins’ death. And in the process, several secrets, some of them very uncomfortable, come to the fore.

This novel takes place in the Peak District, and Ward places the reader there very clearly. Maxine would have appreciated the sense of setting and local culture in this story. The scenery, the weather and the local customs are all woven through the novel.

She would also have very much liked the way the 1978 story and the present day story are tied together. Maxine enjoyed novels where we see the impact of the past on the present; she would especially have appreciated the personal, almost intimate way in which that impact is depicted in this one. She would also have liked the focus on characters.

Maxine would also have liked the police procedural element of In Bitter Chill. The detectives involved in this case are not stereotypical demon-haunted mavericks (character types with which she had little patience). Rather, they are humans trying to do the best job they can. I’m sure Maxine would have liked that.

Both Concrete Angel and In Bitter Chill also reflect the kind of focus Maxine preferred in her stories. Neither author opted for gratuitous violence or improbable events. Both authors focus on character development. And that would have suited Maxine perfectly.

Along with that, there’s another reason Maxine would have been happy about these books. Both are written by authors Maxine knew and respected. She was always extremely supportive of authors, and I think she would have been so happy and proud to see Patti Abbott and Sarah Ward enjoy success with their novels. She’d have been there at their launches if she could.

A Great Crime Novel Recommendation

12RoseStreetThis recommendation comes from Bill Selnes, who blogs at Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan.

It is July and, though I am very late in the month, July gives me the opportunity to recommend a book I read in the last year that I believe the late Maxine Clarke would have enjoyed. Last year Margot Kinberg from the terrific Confessions of a Mystery Novelist and I wanted to keep the Petrona Remembered blog fresh with new book reviews. We invited bloggers to nominate a book they think Maxine would have enjoyed. A selection of fine books were recommended over the year.

Last July I recommended a thriller, The Ascendant by Drew Chapman. This July I look to a book, 12 Rose Street, from one of my favourite authors, Gail Bowen. That the book is set in Saskatchewan only 300 km south of me is an added bonus.

While Maxine prized good writing she appreciated a book that looked to address a contemporary issue. 12 Rose Street is focused on a municipal election for mayor featuring a progressive candidate, Joanne’s husband, versus an establishment man, Scott Ridgeway. It also challenges the assumptions of the financially comfortable who want to help the least advantaged.

I am confident Maxine would have enjoyed the newest book in the Joanne Kilbourn series because she enjoyed the first three books in the series. She described the first, Deadly Appearances, as engaging. After reading the third book she planned to read more of the series.

Writing this post reminds me how much I miss Maxine.

My review is:

12 Rose Street by Gail Bowen

Joanne Kilbourn returns to her political roots in the 15th book of the series. Her husband, Zack Shreeve, is running for mayor of Regina and is in an uphill battle against the incumbent mayor, Scott Ridgeway, a favourite of the developers and business community.

In the first book of the series Joanne had been at a summer political rally for Andy Boychuk, a former Premier of Saskatchewan, when he was poisoned. Her deceased husband had been a cabinet minister. While the provincial party is never exactly stated Joanne is well left of centre in her politics. She had been an eager and active participant in provincial politics including elections.

Now Zack has chosen her to be his campaign manager and she is savouring the chance to challenge the conservative establishment a generation after Boychuk’s death.

In an effort to build momentum a slate of “progressive” candidates for City Council has been assembled. Leading this group is Brock Poitras, the aboriginal gay former Saskatchewan Roughrider player (Canadian football), who has been working with Zack on community development.

Joanne draws in her old political mentor and ex-Premier, Howard Dowhanuik. Long retired and living a quiet life Howard is energized by being involved again in an election.

The campaign is fiercely contested. It turns nasty as the book opens with a threat of child abduction at a social event for Zack’s campaign. The information comes from an unlikely source. Cronus, a former criminal client of Zack, is a slumlord operating by the principle of “maximum income, minimum maintenance”. He is also fond of rough sex with consensual partners.

Joanne pleads with Cronus to do anything he can to prevent an abduction. He sends a text message to an unknown recipient from his phone. It is composed of a few numbers and an attached photo of himself standing between Zack and Brock. No child is taken.

A couple of days later Cronus is brutally murdered. In her usual quiet way Joanne tries to figure out what happened.

As the bitter campaign continues attack ads are run on T.V. against Zack. They feature Zack and former criminal clients who were acquitted at trial and then committed further crimes. (For American readers think of Michael Dukakis and Willie Horton.)

Joanne knows Zack cannot maintain a lofty indifference to the attacks. With the aid of a skilled hired political operative she counter-attacks. Joanne has an aggressive aspect to her personality seldom seen in the series. She is fierce in defending Zack and embraces going on the offensive.

As a part of the campaign battles Joanne and her family face a stunning revelation that left me shocked for a moment. It is credible and leaves them reeling. How Joanne copes shows the depths of her character. Few authors can bring forward a compelling personal story 15 books into the series that deeply affects each of the major characters and how they view their lives over the past 25 years.

While Joanne is deeply involved in the election there is time in the story, as in real life, for personal life. One of her best friends is coping with the death of a daughter at 38 from pancreatic cancer.

I always admire how Gail works into every book a development in the lives of Joanne’s family that shows how children and grandchildren are maturing in their lives. In 12 Rose Street it is Joanne’s step-daughter Taylor, approaching 16, who has begun a dating relationship with 18 year old Declan. Gail delicately handles the emotions of first love.

12 Rose Street does focus on Joanne. The previous book, The Gifted, concentrated on the artistically gifted Taylor. This book is about Joanne with Zack having a major role.

Adding to the story are social issues. Few mysteries address the dynamics of the interactions between the well intentioned well-to-do (Joanne and Zack) and the desperately poor and struggling residents of a rough neighbourhood.

12 Rose Street is a good mystery with a striking personal revelation and a challenging look at important social issues. Last, but not least the election has set up further story lines for future books. Joanne Kilbourn is never going to spend her retirement sitting at home in her rocking chair. The series remains strong.

A Great Crime Novel Recommendation

Wolf WinterThis recommendation comes from Crimeworm, who blogs at Crimeworm


It’s obviously incredibly difficult to recommend a novel to someone you’ve never had the pleasure of meeting – particularly someone as influential, knowledgeable and, of course, loved as Maxine was. From what I know of her, which isn’t a great deal, she was fanatical about Nordic/Scandi Noir – call it what you will. That’s when Wolf Winter sprang to mind. It is a Swedish mystery – but set way back in 1717. I hope, were Maxine here to read the book, she would it enjoy it as much as I and many other bloggers did.

Anyway, here’s my thoughts on Cecilia Ekback’s Wolf Winter.

Wolf Winter is the debut novel by Cecilia Ekbäck, whose family originates, not surprisingly, from the north of Sweden and Lapland. This doubtless accounts for the novel’s hugely strong sense of atmosphere and place, and makes it the unique book that it is. The phrase also refers to the longest and hardest times in a person’s life – so, for our main characters, it is certainly an appropriate title!

It’s set in 1717, and is the story of a family: father Paavo, mother Maija, and daughters Frederika, 14, and Dorotea, 6, who move to a settlement on Blackåsen mountain in a “swap” deal with Paavo’s uncle (mainly arranged because Paavo has developed a phobia of his work on the sea as a fisherman), from the seas of Finland to the mountains of Sweden. So they arrive at their new settlement on the side of the remote mountain, where there are only six households, not including the Lapps, who only come down to the mountain in winter from higher ground. Life is very tough, and really seems to consist of survival for the families.  Obviously, as it’s so far north, in summer it’s almost completely light, and in winter the opposite.

At the very opening of the book, just three days after arriving on the mountain, Frederika and Dorotea come across the dead body of a man in a glade. Their mother fetches other residents of the mountain, none of whom she’s yet met, who dismiss the death as a wolf attack. But Maija knows wolf don’t attack humans, and even if they did, the wound wouldn’t resemble that inflicted on Eriksson, which she believes was caused by a rapier. The other settlers would also know this. She believes Eriksson was murdered, but knows that the pool of suspects on the mountain is obviously small, and that she, as a newcomer and a woman, is not in a position to publicly disagree with the longer established male settlers. So she does her best to gather more evidence (a little of which she manages to do at an examination of the body, requested by Elin, the dead man’s widow, and also attended by the priest.) Thereafter, she watches and waits, taking in all she can regarding relationships between the settlers, past disputes, etc, hoping to find out the truth behind Eriksson’s demise. Meanwhile, before winter starts, Paavo decides it would be prudent to travel south to gain employment, and leaves his wife and daughters to run the smallholding – although to me, this merely seems a plot device to allow Maija to take centre stage.

Frederika, the oldest daughter, seems to have some kind of supernatural powers, which are recognised by Fearless, one of the Lapps. She is also on a quest to find out what happened to Eriksson, although she and her mother seem the only ones concerned, as was apparently an unpopular man who liked to discover people’s secrets and use them for his own gain. Almost everyone, it seemed, was on remote Blackåsen mountain to hide away and conceal secrets – and in the course of Maija and Frederika’s respective investigations, many such secrets people would prefer to keep to themselves come tumbling out. And I can promise you, some will certainly surprise you. Other secrets are revealed when people take trips to the coast and “make enquiries” about their neighbours .

Wolf Winter is a novel most of which I really enjoyed, although I did put it down for a week or two at one point as it seemed to lose momentum slightly. About halfway through, though, the story picked up considerably, mainly with Frederika’s attempts to use supernatural powers she feels she may have, and with the secrets of the various settlers being revealed – some innocuous, others the hiding of which you can certainly understand.

Where Ekbäck really excels, though, is in her description of the weather – to me, it beggared belief that people were able to survive in these circumstances, never mind live self-sufficiently! One description of a storm is so evocative, you can almost feel the wind blowing the windows in. The nature of the area; its animals, and particularly its plants, is another area where you can tell she’s done her research.

I really liked Maija – she was a tough, resourceful woman who got on with what had to be done, without complaint, although there were a few points in the book where it was clear she wondered what they’d let themselves in for by moving somewhere so isolated and demanding. Paavo, to be honest, we barely got to know, although it was apparent that, of the couple, Maija was definitely the stronger one. However, their relationship was without doubt rock solid – despite receiving no letters from him throughout the winter (we learn of the reason why) she has faith he will return.

Frederika was equally likeable – sweetly protective of her little sister, she initially rejected any sign of any kind of “power”, before doing her best to use it – not for her own benefit, but to see justice done and protect her family. The justice that she sees done, though, may not be for the crime she’d initially hoped…

I’d really recommend Wolf Winter as a perfect winter read (although I may be a tad late for this winter!) It would also probably please the many fans of Nordic Noir, containing as it does murder and mystery at its heart. Also, if you enjoy books with a supernatural element, this would also be just the ticket for you.

A Great Crime Novel Recommendation

The Shut EyeThis recommendation comes from FictionFan, who blogs at FictionFan’s Book Reviews.  

Although I didn’t have the privilege of knowing Maxine, any reader who visits Amazon UK regularly is bound to be familiar with her reviews. It’s a testimony to the quality and popularity of her reviews that even now her profile is still listed amongst the ‘Top Reviewers’. Maxine reviewed Belinda Bauer’s debut novel ‘Blacklands’ and said “I loved the book, though it is not a “crime” novel in the usual sense…Overwhelmingly, though, I admire the achievement of the author for this well-constructed, observant and insightful book, not least because it is her first novel.” I’m sure she would have enjoyed Bauer’s latest book just as much.

The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer

Little Daniel Buck ran out of his house one morning four months ago and has never been seen since. Edie Evans was older when she went missing several months earlier, nearly a teenager, but the signs are even more sinister in her case, since blood was found beside her broken and abandoned bicycle. Edie’s case still haunts DCI John Marvel, especially since he has convinced himself that she is still alive. In fact, so desperate had he become that he even put aside all his disbelief and cynicism and consulted a psychic. But to no avail, and the case is now officially classed as ‘cold’. But when Marvel begins to suspect a tenuous link between the two very different disappearances, he’s willing to clutch at any straw to have it reopened…

Belinda Bauer has the rare talent amongst crime writers of achieving a near perfect balance of light and shade, so that her books are always hugely entertaining even when they are addressing some pretty grim and disturbing subjects. In this book, she does this in two ways. Her third person multiple-viewpoint narration provides a tiny bit of distance between the reader and her characters, allowing her to show the emotional turmoil of losing a child without forcing the reader to spend too much time inside the bleakness of the parents’ minds. She is also a mistress of the art of injecting little bits of black humour at just the right places to lift the tone without destroying the tension. Her humour is so black and so subtle, in fact, that it often feels as if it comes direct from the reader’s mind rather than the author’s pen, which is brilliantly disconcerting.

There are three main viewpoints in the book. James, Daniel’s father, is riddled with guilt because he left open the door allowing Daniel to run off. But he’s just about holding it together, providing strength and support for his distraught wife, Anna. James works in the garage across the road from his home and it was there that the last signs of Daniel were seen – his little footprints embedded in the wet cement of the new forecourt. The garage is staffed mainly by immigrants, legal and illegal, while James’ boss is an unscrupulous bully. But this all-male environment gives James a kind of emotional support that helps him face things at home.

Anna is falling apart – she rarely leaves the house except to clean and polish the footprints to stop them from being worn away. Anna’s story is the grimmest strand in the book – Bauer shows us the agony and guilt felt by a mother who loses her child, and when we first meet Anna we learn how close she is to complete despair and mental breakdown. But one day a flyer is put through her door for a spiritualist meeting and she is tempted to try to find out once and for all if Daniel has died.

The third viewpoint is DCI Marvel and it’s in the sections relating to him that Bauer employs her humour. Marvel is a good cop, driven to succeed, but with little empathy for either the victims or his colleagues. Usually he sees each case as a competition between himself and the killer, but something about Edie has found his soft centre – maybe because she wanted to be an astronaut when she grew up, and this reminds him of his own boyhood dream. So when the Superintendent pulls him off a murder case to carry out what he sees as a trivial investigation, he’s at first outraged but then decides to use it as leverage to force the Superintendent to reopen Edie’s case. We also get to see Marvel’s home life, and his relationship with his put-upon partner Debbie, which nicely rounds him out as a character. He loves Debbie but he clearly doesn’t understand why she gets so frustrated with his behaviour. What’s so odd about looking over autopsy pictures during dinner anyway?

There is a supernatural element to the book surrounding the spiritual church and the psychic involved in looking for Edie. Normally that would destroy the credibility of any book for me, but Bauer’s writing is of such high quality that she carried me along and I was happy to suspend my disbelief. Marvel, too, is a cynic about such things and his down-to-earth scepticism prevents this aspect of the plot from becoming too fanciful.

Another excellent outing from Belinda Bauer, who seems to grow in skill and confidence with every book. Recently she has been producing standalones, as this is, but I would be one delighted reader if she decided to bring DCI Marvel back for another case at some point – he’s the kind of character who’s fun to spend time with… complex, frustrating, sometimes unfeeling, but also amusing and likeable, and with a good heart. I may have to start a petition…

A Great Crime Novel Recommendation

ecThis recommendation comes from Rebecca Bradley, who blogs at Rebecca Bradley Crime 

Eye Contact by Fergus McNeill

If you look him in the eye, you’re dead.

From the outside, Robert Naysmith is a successful businessman, handsome and charming. But for years he’s been playing a deadly game.

He doesn’t choose his victims. Each is selected at random – the first person to make eye contact after he begins ‘the game’ will not have long to live. Their fate is sealed.

When the body of a young woman is found on Severn Beach, Detective Inspector Harland is assigned the case. It’s only when he links it to an unsolved murder in Oxford that the police begin to guess at the awful scale of the crimes.

But how do you find a killer who strikes without motive?

My Thoughts: 

This is a very clever novel that manages to drag you in and hold you hostage as Robert Naysmith plays his ‘game’. The game being that when he decides to start the clock, the first person who looks him in the eye will be the person he kills. But, that person has 24 hours to live first as Naysmith likes the hunt: to find the person again after 24 hours have passed, with the person being hunted completely unknowing.

Naysmith is a clever articulate man. He holds down a whole other life: a great job and a home with a beautiful partner whom McNeill manages to show you the intricacies of Naysmith’s emotional checks and balances as he maintains this relationship and how this itself plays out.

There’s also Detective Inspector Harland who is struggling with his own loss while hunting Naysmith. And though there are chapters with Harland in them and the police in general making an attempt to capture this killer, this is not a police procedural by any means. In fact the police aspect takes a back seat most of the time.

The whole book is hypnotising. It’s the only way I can describe it. I had to keep turning the pages because the language used and human frailty captured was just riveting. I’m definitely looking forward to reading the next novel by McNeill.

A Great Crime Novel Recommendation

Wreath for the BrideThis recommendation comes from Moira R., who blogs at Clothes in Books.

A Wreath for the Bride by Maria Lang

I love the idea of remembering Maxine this way: recommending a book that we think she would have liked. I didn’t know her long or well before she died, but she had already shown her generosity to me, welcoming me into the world of blogging and making her thoughtful and perceptive comments at Clothes in Books. She wanted to share her great ideas and great finds with the rest of us, and she hoped we’d do the same back for her – so what better way to commemorate her than to carry on that tradition.

The book I have chosen is A Wreath for the Bride by Maria Lang. It was first published in Sweden in 1960, and has recently been republished in English (my translation is credited only to the publishers, Hodder and Stoughton) – probably because a Swedish TV show has been made from her books, and was recently shown on the BBC under the name Crimes of Passion.

Maria Lang (1914-1991) wrote 42 detective stories: she was ‘the first queen of Swedish crime fiction.’ She was often compared to Agatha Christie – usually these comparisons make me sigh (you wonder if the people making the comparisons have actually read any Christie) but based on this book, it’s not so unreasonable.

The book has a very strong sense of place – but it couldn’t be further from the hard-boiled, noirish books many of us now associate with Scandi-fiction. It’s set in a small village, Stroga, where everyone knows each other. Everyone gossips and has an opinion on others’ affairs. You can’t walk down the street without being seen and noticed.

Or can you?

‘Anneli is wearing virginal (but not bridal) white when she disappears. This image from the Clover Vintage tumblr’ (http://clover-vintage.tumblr.com/post/79109082830/1956-la-femme-chic)

‘Anneli is wearing virginal (but not bridal) white when she disappears. This image from the Clover Vintage tumblr’

Anneli, young and beautiful, is about to marry rich eligible Joachim. She is chatting with her friend Dina in the main street, then dives into the florist’s shop – her fiancé has asked her to look at her bouquet, which he has chosen. Dina waits outside for her, chats to some locals. It starts raining, and she can wait no longer. So she goes into the flower shop – and is told by the owner that Anneli has never been there. She has vanished into thin air. She does not re-appear in time for the wedding, which has to be called off, though everyone goes for the meal in the hotel anyway.  A few days later a body is discovered.

So what did happen to her? What are the undercurrents in peaceful Skoga? Luckily, Chief Inspector Christer Wick is visiting from Stockholm – he has come for the wedding, as he grew up in Skoga and his mother still lives there. He investigates the crime, and also takes a great interest in the delightful and pretty Dina, Anneli’s devastated friend. In the end he finds the solution, and expounds the full explanation to the gathered townspeople in true Christie fashion. In a very Christie-like manner, there have been all kinds of different things going on, and the explanation is very complex. My only criticism is that if something very odd and inexplicable has happened –  but it turns out that it didn’t happen, someone was just lying – then that’s not much of an illusion. But that’s a bit picky.

The atmosphere is beautifully done: the old-fashioned shops in the street, giving onto a yard, the old lady who sits outside watching what goes on. The action takes place in the high summer, and I love the fact that one character goes out at 3 o’clock in the morning and finds it is

‘…wonderful out— the sun out and the birds singing away at full blast.’

Quite a lot of people are out and about in this midnight sun, so very un-English and beautifully described.

I watched the TV version of this one, which was enchanting, with gorgeous scenery, 1960 clothes, and Swedish houses to look at. It was somewhat expanded from the book, but true to the spirit, I thought, and great fun to watch.

The English title of the book is misleading: The bride’s flowers are very important, but it is her bouquet, not her head-dress, that matters so much. The Swedish title translates as the King of the Lily of the Valley, and refers to a poem which various characters quote, and indeed lilies-of-the-valley are of great importance (there is a song based on the poem, which you can hear on YouTube).

As we all know, Maxine loved her Scandi-fiction, and the books she read were often harsher and more contemporary than this one. But I think she would have liked A Wreath for the Bride: to see where it fits in the history of Swedish crime fiction, because of its great sense of place, and because it is engaging, but also haunting – it has a darker sadder side. It is the ideal short sharp read.

*Clover Vintage Tumblr