A Great Book Recommendation

The Moth CatcherThis recommendation comes from José Ignacio, who blogs at A Crime’s Afoot

This book is my contribution this month to A Book for Maxine at Petrona Remebered. With my special gratitude to Margot Kinberg for the opportunity to pick this book to honour the memory of Maxine Clarke. For those of you who do not already know who Maxine was, let me copy the first lines at Petrona Remembered – About:

For many years Maxine Clarke reviewed, discussed and advocated on behalf of intelligent crime fiction. She enjoyed crime and mystery novels with nuanced characters and intriguing plots and particularly enjoyed those novels which explore a social issue, political idea or troubling aspect of the human condition. She was well known for loving Scandinavian crime fiction long before it was fashionable but her favourite authors were a varied and somewhat eclectic mix; a fact indicative of her willingness to take each book on its own merits.

Her online home was her blog Petrona but she contributed also to Euro Crime and was a top 500 reviewer at Amazon UK. Maxine nurtured a community of crime fiction lovers, many of whom hang out at the Friend Feed Crime and Mystery Fiction Room she founded, by commenting on dozens of blogs (especially the sites of fledgeling bloggers who she encouraged and welcomed with an open heart and mind), trying out new authors, fairly reviewing the books she read and individually recommending the books she thought her friends would like (and often sending the actual books to readers dotted around the globe).

Maxine died after a long battle with illness in December 2012. Here her friends in the crime fiction community have created this site in honour of both her memory and in an attempt to keep alive the kind of community spirit she engendered. We know she’d hate having a fuss made of her but we hope she would agree that if we are determined to have a tribute then it is right it take the form of a continued conversation about and celebration of intelligent crime fiction from around the world.

Review: The Moth Catcher by Vera Stanhope

Macmillan, 2015. Format: Kindle edition. File size: 3194 KB. Print length: 401 pages. ISBN: 978-1-4472-7831-3. ASIN: B00UXKJ0XA.

Synopsis: Life seems perfect in Valley Farm, a quiet community in Northumberland. Then a shocking discovery shatters the silence. The owners of a big country house have employed a house-sitter, a young ecologist named Patrick, to look after the place while they’re away. But Patrick is found dead by the side of the lane into the valley – a beautiful, lonely place to die.

DI Vera Stanhope arrives on the scene, with her detectives Holly and Joe. When they look round the attic of the big house – where Patrick has a flat – she finds the body of a second man. All the two victims have in common is a fascination with moths – catching these beautiful, rare creatures.

Those who live in the Valley Farm development have secrets too: Annie and Sam’s daughter is due to be released from prison any day; Nigel watches, silently, every day, from his window. As Vera is drawn into the claustrophobic world of this increasingly strange community, she realizes that there may be deadly secrets trapped here . . .

My take: The Moth Catcher revolves around the mysterious murders of Partick Randle and Martin Benton. Patrick’s body was discovered by chance in the ditch on a road, and DI Vera Stenhope of the Northumbria Police Force and her team are called to investigate. Shortly after the body of a second victim, Martin Benton, shows up in the apartment Patrick was occupying at the Carswells mansion in Carswell Hall. Patrick was house-sitting while the Carswells were off in Australia, visiting their son. The odd thing about this case is that it doesn’t seem to be any connection between both victims until, later on, it is discovered that both had a common interest on insects, more specifically on nocturnal butterflies, moths. But, what can it be so dangerous in such an innocent hobby? Soon the investigation will begin to be heading in two separate directions. On the one hand seeking into the life of the victims any clue that may shed light on what has happened. On the other hand questioning the neighbours in the area to find out whether they had seen anything suspicious that particular day or during the previous days. Although the manor house was in a relatively isolated area, somewhere down the road there was an upscale development housing an eccentric bunch of people who called themselves ‘retired hedonists’, on which soon Vera is going to focus part of her attention.

I was particularly interested in this series after watching several episodes of Vera on TV. I knew Ann Cleeves after reading some of her books in the Shetland series, but I have the impression that my preferences are heading more towards Vera Stanhope. Although I must admit that I have also enjoyed the Jimmy Perez books that I have read. It does not bother me to begin reading a series by its end, by one of its last books as in this case. Those who have followed me on this blog know my view. Sometimes I don’t hesitate to start reading first one of the last instalments iin a series, to get an initial impression about it. Later I will have time to follow reading the rest of books in chronological order, if that’s what I want, and find out how the author has gotten there. I have to admit that this book has not disappointed me, at all, and I look forward to reading the rest of the books in the series. I fully agree with Jim Napier, when he writes in his review here below at Reviewing the Evidence:

Cleeves has a keen ear for rural dialogue, and a real gift for providing layered portraits of each of her characters, sharply delineated yet nicely nuanced, and she skillfully exploits these talents in painting a vivid picture of country life. Structure and pace are also hallmarks of her novels, and dominating the whole is a clever plot with unexpected twists and masterful misdirection that will keep readers engaged until the final page. All in all, an excellent read.

Highly recommended

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

About the author: Ann Cleeves is the author behind ITV’s Vera and BBC One’s Shetland. She has written over twenty-five novels, and is the creator of detectives Vera Stanhope and Jimmy Perez – characters loved both on screen and in print. Ann’s DI Vera Stanhope series of books is set in Northumberland and features the well loved detective along with her partner Joe Ashworth. Ann’s Shetland series bring us DI Jimmy Perez, investigating in the mysterious, dark, and beautiful Shetland Islands…

Ann grew up in the country, first in Herefordshire, then in North Devon. Her father was a village school teacher. After dropping out of university she took a number of temporary jobs – child care officer, women’s refuge leader, bird observatory cook, auxiliary coastguard – before going back to college and training to be a probation officer. While she was cooking in the Bird Observatory on Fair Isle, she met her husband Tim, a visiting ornithologist. Soon after they married, Tim was appointed as warden of Hilbre, a tiny tidal island nature reserve in the Dee Estuary. They were the only residents, there was no mains electricity or water and access to the mainland was at low tide across the shore. If a person’s not heavily into birds – and Ann isn’t – there’s not much to do on Hilbre and that was when she started writing. Her first series of crime novels features the elderly naturalist, George Palmer-Jones. A couple of these books are seriously dreadful. In 1987 Tim, Ann and their two daughters moved to Northumberland and the north east provides the inspiration for many of her subsequent titles. The girls have both taken up with Geordie lads. In the autumn of 2006, Ann and Tim finally achieved their ambition of moving back to the North East. For the National Year of Reading, Ann was made reader-in-residence for three library authorities. It came as a revelation that it was possible to get paid for talking to readers about books! She went on to set up reading groups in prisons as part of the Inside Books project, became Cheltenham Literature Festival’s first reader-in-residence and still enjoys working with libraries.

In 2006 Ann was awarded the Duncan Lawrie Dagger (CWA Gold Dagger) for Best Crime Novel, for Raven Black, the first book in her Shetland series. In 2012 she was inducted into the CWA Crime Thriller Awards Hall of Fame. Ann lives in North Tyneside. Ann Cleeves will be presented with the CWA Diamond Dagger at the CWA’s Dagger Awards ceremony in London on 26 October 2017. Previous winners of the CWA Diamond Dagger include P.D. James, John Le Carre, Dick Francis, Ruth Rendell, Lee Child, and Ian Rankin.

The Vera Stanhope book series is made up of the following titles until this date:: The Crow Trap (Vera Stanhope, #1); Telling Tales (Vera Stanhope, #2); Hidden Depths (Vera Stanhope, #3); Silent Voices (Vera Stanhope, #4); The Glass Room (Vera Stanhope, #5); Harbour Street (Vera Stanhope, #6); The Moth Catcher (Vera Stanhope #7) and The Seagull (Vera Stanhope #8).

The Moth Catcher has been reviewed at Crime Review, Criminal Element, Crime Scraps Review, Shotsmag, Mysteries in Paradise, Reviewing the Evidence,

UK Pan Macmillan publicity page

US Macmillan publicity page

Ann Cleeves’ Vera Stanhope Series

Ann Cleeves’ Website

audible

Author Interview: Ann Cleeves at Scarborough Mysteries

The Moth Catcher (lit.: El cazador de mariposas nocturnas) de Ann Cleeves

Este libro es mi contribución este mes a un libro para Maxine en Petrona Remebered. Con mi agradecimiento especial a Margot Kinberg por la oportunidad de escoger este libro para honrar la memoria de Maxine Clarke. Para aquellos de ustedes que no saben quién era Maxine, permítanme copiar las primeras líneas en Petrona Remembered – About:

Durante muchos años, Maxine Clarke reseñaba, debatía y defendía las virtudes de la novela negra y criminal inteligente. Disfrutaba con las novelas negras y de misterio con la diversidad de personajes y con sus interesantes argumentos, y disfrutaba especialmente de aquellas novelas que exploraban un tema social, una idea política o un aspecto preocupante de la condición humana. Era bien conocido su amor por la literatura negra escandinava, mucho antes de que estuviera de moda pero sus autores preferidos eran una mezcla variada y algo ecléctica; un hecho indicativo de su interés por juzgar cada libro según sus propios méritos.

Su casa virtual era su blog Petrona, pero ella también contribuìa con sus opiniones en Euro Crime y sus reseñas se encontraban entre las 500 mejores de Amazon UK. Maxine fomentó el desarrollo de una comunidad de entusiastas de la novela negra y criminal, muchos de los cuales pasaban un buen rato en el Friend Feed Crime and Mystery Fiction Room, que ella fundó, comentando en decenas de blogs (especialmente los sitios de blogeros bisoños a los que ella animaba y daba la bienvenida con una gran generosidad de mente y espíritu), leyendo nuevos autores, reseñando imparcialmente sus lecturas y recomendando individualmente los libros que pensaba que les gustarían a sus amigos (y, a menudo, enviaba libros a lectores dispersos por todo el mundo).

Maxine murió tras una larga batalla contra la enfermedad en diciembre de 2012. Aquí sus amigos en la comunidad de lectores de novela negra y criminal han creado este sitio para honrar su memoria y en su intento por mantener vivo la clase de sentido comunitario que generó. Sabemos que ella odiaría estar en el centro de la atención, pero esperamos que ella esté de acuerdo en que si estamos decididos a hacerle un tributo, entonces sería lo correcto que éste adoptara la forma de una continua conversación para festejar la novela negra y criminal en todo el mundo .

Sinopsis: La vida parece perfecta en Valley Farm, una comunidad tranquila en Northumberland. Cuando un descubrimiento impactante rompe el silencio. Los dueños de una gran mansión han empleado a un cuidador de casas, un joven ecologosta llamado Patrick, para cuidar de la casona, durante su ausencia. Pero Patrick aparece muerto en la cuneta del camino que se adentra en el valle, un lugar hermoso y solitario para morir.

La inspectora Vera Stanhope llega a la escena, con los detectives Holly y Joe. Cuando echan un vistazo al ático de la mansión, donde Patrick tiene un apartamento, encuentran el cuerpo de una segunda persona. Todo lo que las dos víctimas tienen en común es su fascinación por las mariposas nocturnas, la captura de estas hermosas y raras criaturas.

Los que viven en el complejo de Valley Farm, también tienen secretos: la hija de Annie y de Sam será excarcelada cualquier día de estos; Nigel mira, en silencio, todos los días, desde su ventana. A medida que Vera se adentra en el mundo claustrofóbico de esta comunidad cada vez más extraña, se da cuenta de que aquí pueden existir guardados secretos mortales. . .

Mi opinión: The Moth Catcher gira en torno a los misteriosos asesinatos de Partick Randle y Martin Benton. El cuerpo de Patrick fue descubierto por casualidad en la cuneta de la carretera y la inspectora Vera Stanhope de la Policía de Northumberland y su equipo son llamados a investigar. Poco después el cuerpo de una segunda víctima, Martin Benton, aparece en el apartamento que Patrick ocupaba en la mansión de los Carswells en Carswell Hall. Patrick estaba cuidando de la mansión mientras los Carswells se encontraban en Australia, visitando a su hijo. Lo extraño de este caso es que no parece haber ninguna conexión entre ambas víctimas hasta que, más tarde, se descubre que ambos tenían un interés común por los insectos, más específicamente por las mariposas nocturnas. Pero, ¿qué puede ser tan peligroso en un hobby tan inocente? Pronto la investigación comenzará a dirigirse en dos direcciones distintas. Por un lado, buscando en la vida de las víctimas cualquier pista que pueda arrojar luz sobre lo que ha sucedido. Por otro lado interrogando a los vecinos de la zona para averiguar si habían visto algo sospechoso ese día en particular o durante los días anteriores. Aunque la mansión estaba en una zona relativamente aislada, carretera abjao había una urbanización exclusiva que alberga a un excéntrico grupo de personas que se llamaban a si mismos “los jubilados hedonistas”, en los que pronto Vera va a centrar parte de su atención.

Estaba particularmente interesado en esta serie después de ver varios episodios de Vera por televisión. Conocí a Ann Cleeves después de leer algunos de sus libros en la serie Shetland, pero tengo la impresión de que mis preferencias se dirigen más hacia Vera Stanhope. Aunque debo admitir que también he disfrutado de los libros de Jimmy Pérez que he leído. No me molesta empezar leyendo una serie por su final, por uno de sus últimos libros como en este caso. Los que me han seguido en este blog conocen mi punto de vista. A veces no dudo en empezar a leer una de las últimas entregas de una serie, para obtener una primera impresión al respecto. Más tarde tendré tiempo de seguir leyendo el resto de libros en orden cronológico, si eso es lo que quiero, y descubrir cómo el autor ha llegado hasta allí. Tengo que admitir que este libro no me ha decepcionado, en absoluto, y espero leer el resto de los libros de la serie. Estoy totalmente de acuerdo con Jim Napier, cuando escribe en su reseña en Reviewing the Evidence:

Cleeves tiene un fino oìdo para captar el diálogo rural, y un verdadero don para proporcionarnos retratos claramente definidos y complejos de cada uno de sus personajes, y sabe sacar provecho con gran habilidad de su talento para dibujar una viva imagen de la vida en el campo. Estructura y ritmo son también rasgos característicos de sus novelas, y dominándolo todo una trama ingeniosa con giros inesperados y un magistral desvío de la atención del lector, con lo que consigue mantener su atención hasta la última página. En resumen, una lectura excelente.

Muy recomendable

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

Sobre la autora: Ann Cleeves es la autora de las series Vera de la ITV y Shetland de la BBC One. Ha escrito más de veinticinco novelas, y es la creadora de los detectives Vera Stanhope y Jimmy Pérez, personajes queridos tanto en pantalla como en papel. La serie de libros de Ann protagonizados por la inspectora Vera Stanhope se desarrollan en Northumberland y en ellos participa también su compañero el detective Joe Ashworth. La serie Shetland de Ann nos presenta al inspector Jimmy Pérez, investigando en las misteriosas, oscuras y hermosas Islas Shetland …

Ann creció en el campo, primero en Herefordshire, luego en North Devon. Su padre era maestro rural. Tras abandonar por un tiempo la Universidad, desempeñó varios trabajos temporales como responsable de un centro de atención a la infancia, responsable de un refugio para mujeres maltratadas, cocinera en un observatorio de aves y asistente de guardacosta, antes de regresar a la Universidad para realizar los currss de formación de agente de libertad vigilada. Mientras estaba cocinando en el observatorio de aves en Fair Isle, conoció a su esposo Tim, un ornitólogo invitado. Poco después de casarse, Tim fue nombrado responsable de Hilbre, una reserva natural en una diminuta isla en el estuario del Dee. Eran los únicos habitantes, no tenían agua corriente o electricidad y sólo podían acceder a tierra firme através de la orilla cuando había marea baja. Si una persona no es muy aficionada a los pájaros, y Ann no lo es, no hay mucho que hacer en Hilbre y fue entonces cuando empezó a escribir. Su primera serie de novelas policiacas estaban protagonizadas por el anciano naturalista George Palmer-Jones. Un par de estos libros son francamente malos. En 1987 Tim, Ann y sus dos hijas se trasladaron a Northumberland y el noreste le proporciona la inspiración para muchos de sus títulos posteriores. Las dos chicas se han comprometido con chicos de Northumberland. En otoño de 2006, Ann y Tim finalmente lograron su ambición de regresar al Nordeste. En el Año Nacional de la Lectura, Ann fue nombrada lectora en residencia de tres bibliotecas. ¡Fue toda una revelación descubrir que era posible tener un sueldo por hablar con los lectores sobre libros! Continuó con la creación de grupos de lectura en las cárceles como parte del proyecto Inside Books, se convirtió en la primera lectora en residencia del Festival Literario de Cheltenham y todavía disfruta trabajando con bibliotecas.

En el 2006, Ann fue galardonada con la Daga de Oro Duncan Lawrie por la CWA a la mejor novela negro-criminal, por Raven Black, el primer libro de la serie Shetland. En el 2012 fue admitida en Hall of Fame de los Premios CWA Crime Thriller. Ann vive actualmente en North Tyneside. Ann Cleeves recibirá la Daga de Diamante de la CWA en la ceremonia de entrega de los Premios Dagger de la CWA en Londres el próximo 26 de octubre de 2017. Entre los anteriores galardonados con la Daga de Diamante de la CWA se encuentran P.D. James, John Le Carré, Dick Francis, Ruth Rendell, Lee Child e Ian Rankin.

La serie de libros Vera Stanhope se compone de los siguientes títulos hasta esta fecha: The Crow Trap [Una trampa para cuervos] (Vera Stanhope, #1); Telling Tales (Vera Stanhope, #2); Hidden Depths (Vera Stanhope, #3); Silent Voices (Vera Stanhope, #4); The Glass Room (Vera Stanhope, #5); Harbour Street (Vera Stanhope, #6); The Moth Catcher (Vera Stanhope #7) and The Seagull (Vera Stanhope #8). TVE2, ha emitido varios episodios de la serie Vera.

 

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A Great Book Recommendation

This recommendation comes from Moira, who blogs at Clothes in Books.

I always say the same thing when the question of Maxine comes up, but that doesn’t make it any less true: I didn’t know Maxine Clarke, Petrona, for long, but she made a big impression on me. She was kind and generous and very welcoming to a new blogger – she was part of a group of crime fiction fans who very kindly invited me in to their circle. The others are friends to this day, and so we all miss Maxine, who should still be here.

So I am always very glad to contribute to this site in her memory, and feel particularly honoured that this time I am doing a book chosen for Maxine – but also the book that won this year’s Petrona prize in her memory.

Where Roses Never Die by Gunnar Staalesen

Published 2016

Translated from Norwegian by Don Bartlett

I picked the right time to read this one. Compared with my crime fiction friends, I’m a novice when it comes to Scandi books, but a review over at Reactions to Reading  convinced me to try this one – Bernadette, the proprietor, is always reliable. She doesn’t just write great reviews, she also matches my tastes. (Secretly I enjoy her slamming reviews of books she doesn’t like almost more than the good ones.)

Anyway, she did a good job selling this, and unsurprisingly I loved it – and then I surfaced from reading it to find it had won the Petrona Award. That’s the literary prize founded in honour of our much-missed friend Maxine Clarke, who blogged as Petrona and died a few years ago. The award is for a book she would have liked, and I think she’d have loved this one.

Varg Veum is a private investigator in the tradition and spirit of the great US crime books: maybe washed up, has a messy personal life, is an alcoholic, has made enemies. It is 2002, and he is asked to look again at the case of a 3-year-old girl who went missing from outside her house 25 years earlier. One of the remaining witnesses died in a strange and random robbery attempt, and the child’s mother was reminded that she is running out of time, a statute of limitations is about to impose itself.

There was a group of families living in a housing co-op: all friends, most with children. Many of the relationships didn’t survive the era of the disappearance, though Veum turns up other reasons for that. Slowly he works his way through the list of those involved, calling in favours and following  instincts and intuition – his own and others.  Norwegian life and ways are laid out for us in a most appealing way. The people are varied, some good some bad, all distinctive in their characters. Facts are teased out till eventually Veum reaches the truth. Sometimes, as in the extract above, we see the events of 25 years before through the other characters’ eyes.

There is some great dialogue – like this exchange with a retired colleague

‘But if there’s anything else you need, you know where to find me.’
‘Yes, if you haven’t gone to the fjord, that is.’
‘I never go so far that I can’t find my way back.’
‘Wish I could say the same.’

And during an uncomfortable conversation:

Like two experienced synchronised swimmers we raised our cups of coffee at the same time, staring furiously at each other. Neither of us liked what he saw and we didn’t try to conceal it.

And sadly Veum breaks his resolution not to drink:

‘You can allow yourself one glass.’
‘Well…’ All of a sudden my throat was drier than a temperance preacher’s on the booze cruiser from Denmark. ‘One then.’

The little housing co-op is an important part of the book: much is made of the coloured houses, the closeness of the group, the function room where the New Year’s Eve party above is being held, the atmosphere and undercurrents of the group.

The five houses had been built in a kind of horseshoe shape. The tall two-storey facades, painted in strong contrasting colours, and the gently pitched roofs to the back betrayed their 1970s origins. The house forming the base of the horseshoe was the biggest. It had been painted red, as was one of the others; two were yellow and one was white.

And pictures of Bergen houses suggest that these colours were not unusual.
I thought it was a marvellous book, I very much enjoyed it. I’m faintly concerned by the fact that this was  the 19th book about Veum: I don’t have time to commit to a new series! But it would be quite wrong to take against Staalesen (or his translator Don Bartlett, who seems very good) on those grounds. The tropes of this book are familiar, we’ve all read many books with similar setups, similar PIs, similar families, similar investigations. But Staalesen takes the ingredients and makes something magical from them, something very different. He surely deserves this prize.

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

Wolf WinterThis recommendation comes from Crimeworm, who blogs at Crimeworm

Introduction:

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

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

A Great Crime Novel Recommendation

The Burning AirThis recommendation comes from Cleo, who blogs at Cleopatra Loves Books

When I originally signed up to recommend a novel to Maxine I foolishly thought the task would be easy, I’ve read loads of crime fiction and give people recommendations on what to try frequently enough that the names of those authors trip off my tongue. Giving a recommendation to someone who was as well read as Maxine was tough, so I concentrated on the aspect of crime fiction writing she found most appealing, those that covered a social issue, a political idea or troubling aspect of the human condition. I believe I found the perfect book . My choice definitely covers two of these, with a hint of the other, and it is one of my favourite crime reads of all time

The Burning Air by Erin Kelly

Lydia opens her diary, picks up her pen and prepares to commit her sins to its pages. Overwhelmed by her illness she finishes her entry stating ‘A good mother loves fiercely but ultimately brings up her children to thrive without her. They must be the most important thing in her life, but if she is the most important thing in theirs, she has failed.’ These words underpin the rest of one of the darkest stories I have read.

Lydia and Rowan McBride had a successful life, Rowan a headmaster at a prestigious private school and Lydia a magistrate with altruistic nature. Their three children Sophie, Tara and Felix grew up with all the benefits this background afforded them, attending their father’s school. Lydia’s husband Rowan, her adult children Sophie, Tara and Felix gather together along with an assortment of partners and offspring over a cold November weekend to scatter her ashes at Far Barn, the scene of many happy family holidays. Without a television or mobile signal and only a tape deck and record player for music, being at Far Barn is like going back in time. And so the scene is set for a claustrophobic weekend where the consequences of the past make themselves known. When Felix’s new girlfriend disappears with Sophie’s baby on bonfire night the secrets of the past come tumbling out with each character having a part to play in this well-crafted story.

So where, you might ask, are those aspects so beloved by Maxine? Well, this is a book about obsession which sparks acts of violent revenge, a human condition which left unchecked can cause utter devastation as this novel demonstrates. The cause of the vengeance is someone who believes the family were responsible for a bright, intelligent child from a mixed-up background missing out on the chance of attending the private school, the one that the younger McBrides attended because their father was headmaster. This single event sparked an obsession with the McBride family that lasted many years, the pursuit of revenge having a corrosive effect on all who stepped into its path.

This is a fascinating look at some views about private education: does it provide an advantage regardless of the ability of the child attending? Likewise the converse, if a child is intelligent would they thrive in any educational facility? What does a private school offer children of all abilities that aren’t available in the state system? Or is it perhaps a little more complex than any of those questions? Isn’t it a social as well as a political issue that an education that can be bought is more desirable than the one that the vast majority of children attend?

In many ways The Burning Air is a book about moral issues with degrees of guilt and innocence being far more important, certainly in the background to this story, than the absolutes of right and wrong. I prefer my reading matter not to be black and white and so I think this book will be interpreted in a variety of ways depending on how morally responsible the reader holds the perpetrator.

As I hope you can see, there is plenty to think about in this novel but just for avoidance of doubt, it is also a great read, with plenty of twists and turns which I have done my level best to avoid spoiling whilst writing this recommendation post for Petrona Remembered.

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 Ilse 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 Ilse 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. Ilse 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.