mandag den 30. august 2010

Yaba Badoe, True Murder (2009)

This thriller is a debut from Ghana

The narrator of this rather unusual story is eleven-year-old Ajuba from Ghana who has been dumped at a boarding school in Devon. Her father did not feel he could take care of her after her mother´s break-down. Ajuba does not really feel she belongs among the British middle-class children so when the kind and well-meaning owners of the school, Major Derby and his wife, tell her to look after Polly, the new girl, she feels it is her duty to do her best to help the other newcomer settle in.

Though you have never met Polly Venus, I am sure you know the type. A girl who has seen far to much and knows about a world the other children have not quite understood exists yet. Like Ajuba, she is an outsider, but she takes charge immediately, making them believe her American ways are superior to theirs. She manipulates the naive girls around her, introducing secrets and dangerous games, e.g. the true murder game that gave name to the title.

Soon Polly invites Ajuba to visit her in her beautiful home, Graylings, first for a weekend, later every time the girls have a weekend or holiday away from school. Ajuba misses her own mother acutely and is soon whirled into the exciting atmosphere, finding it difficult to decide if she likes her friend Polly best. Or her charming mother. Or her considerate father. But slowly it becomes clear where Polly has her manipulative behaviour from.

We are told on the third page that Polly is going to die, and the story also involves other deaths, so this is the kind of plot where we approach the disaster from two sides: the child Ajuba who tells us about the events leading up to it, and an adult Ajuba who looks back on that time a few years later by discussing it with her mother´s sister, Aunt Lila.

As Ajuba grew up in another culture, it seems fairly plausible that she notices the peculiarities of the Englismen around her though she is so young: “despite their love of nature, the Derbys were not life-affirming huggers of trees or people”.

Like “Red Leaves” the story relies on quite a bit of premonition, but the plot moves along at a better pace. There is also superstition, just as Ajuba occasionally ´sees´ scenes she has not experienced herself. They help her come to terms with life and the scary events that take place around her, but the plot does not rely on supernatural intervention which makes a difference to me.

The book was sent to me by Maxine, Petrona, and I read it for the 2010 Global Reading Challenge # 11 (Ghana, Africa).

Maxine´s EuroCrime review.

søndag den 29. august 2010

Rebecca Tope, A Cotswold Mystery (2006)

This British novel is the fourth in the Thea Osborne series. I bought number three and four some time ago as part of my ´cozy mystery education´.

I picked the book yesterday because I suffered from a nasty headache and could not concentrate on anything heavier. It was entertaining, though Thea and her grown daughter annoyed me once in a while (well, let´s just be honest: a headache doesn´t exactly make you patient with people, does it).

Just a few words about the part I enjoyed mostly while I still remember it: Thea Osborne goes house-sitting as usual, but this time the bargain includes looking after old Mrs Gardner, the mother of the couple who inhabits the major part of the house. Thea knows the old woman is confused and forgetful, but she is at her wit´s end after a few minutes with her charge. Mrs Gardner suddenly admits that she realizes how forgetful she is, adding, “I can´t tell you how frightening it can be.”

“The lucid confession startled Thea yet again. It was like being in the presence of a growing group of people, all inhabiting one body.”

And getting to know this old woman was a great pleasure; she is so convincing - and so confusing. One moment she is there, and the next she seems to have forgotten she ever saw Thea before.

If you like a cozy mystery, taking place in the most charming, British setting, you´ll love this one. (And don´t worry, it doesn´t take a headache to enjoy it).

lørdag den 28. august 2010

The Cosy Knave, a Progress Report

Wordle: Cosy Knave

[If you click on the Wordle tool, you can ´read´ my manuscript, or at least see which words I use most often. Thank you, Kerrie, for the inspiration]

Yesterday it was exactly two months ago that I wrote the first scene of “The Cosy Knave.” Tomorrow it is two months since I first told you about my new project. (If you want to check my posts, you can click the label “The Cosy Knave”)

I felt I had come up with a good idea with regard to the main characters, and I thought writing a cosy would be a good change from the Danish manuscript I had struggled with for ages. I was a bit apprehensive when it came to writing a whole novel in English, though.

I think you must have guessed from the glimpses I have given you of my writing process, my name games etc, that I am having so much fun with this. And what is just as fine, my writing process has gone unexpectedly smoothly, even after my holidays ended two weeks ago.

Tada: two months´ work = 45,000 words – or around two thirds of the first draft.

How to Cook up a Cozy:

Yesterday I returned to Elizabeth´s excellent recipé to see if I was on the right track.

Sleuth and sidekick: I feel fairly certain you´ll like Constable Primrose and his fiancé Rhapsody Gershwin. But who is the sleuth and who is the sidekick? Hard to say, and please don´t ask them; I am not sure they will agree.

The puzzle: far too early to judge that, but I have succeeded in making my first beta reader curious. Should be a good thing.

The setting: Knavesborough, tiny village with a grocer, a teahouse, Women´s Institute, a manor and a castle ruin – in Yorkshire. Should be okay, especially if I can manage to make the Yorkshire in my head anything like the real Yorkshire.

Offbeat characters: quirky characters aplenty – my only worry is if there can be too many? I do like those Kickinbottoms, though. Very easy to manipulate – or do you think they could be manipulating me into giving them all that attention? All I know is that my characters really surprise me now and then, especially when they are in a fix. Those people will say and do the most astonishing things to get away.

Elizabeth´s last words:
“have fun and your enjoyment will shine through” – I wonder whether anyone else will ever laugh as much at the inhabitants of Knavesborough as I do – never mind, one of my projects in life is keeping this writer busy and happy!

fredag den 27. august 2010

Yrsa Sigurdardottir, My Soul to Take (2008)

This is the second novel in the Icelandic Thóra Gudmundsdottir series. I read it in English because my generous friend Maxine offered to send it to me.

Sometimes a writer comes up with a fine or promising debut, but cannot really live up to the readers´ expectation with the sequel. This one is different. The debut was really promising, but My Soul to Take is absolutely unputdownable! Five stars, nothing less will do. I won´t even try to write the review it deserves, just give you five reasons to read it.

First of all the English translation by Bernard Scudder and Anna Yates is of very hig standard. One sentence I really enjoyed was when Thóra ran into a tiresome man at war with the postal services. Afterwards her colleagues says: “This man phoned while the letterboxers were with you.”

Second, though the prologue is terrifying [bait # 71], it is also an excellent hook. Besides it makes a difference to me that these atrocities to a little child go back more than sixty ears.

Third, the environment, a remote part of Iceland with a modern (well, newly-built at least) health resort, a few farms and an old church was immensely appealing.

Fourth, the main characters were all credible and nuanced, especially the lawyer Thóra who is doing her best to keep her client Jónas, owner of the healt resort, out of prison when the police suspect him of having killed his bitchy architect. Jonas is just as credible, but also annoying, as he does his best to incriminate himself in his naive belief that his lawyer will save him no matter how silly he behaves.

An impression of the characters, the local beliefs and the sense of humour:

“Thóra interrupted him [Jónas]. ´Can you describe this “haunting” for me, please?´
´There´s just a horrible atmosphere in the house. Also, things go missing, strange noises are heard in the middle of the night, and people have seen a child appear out of nowhere.´
´So?´ Thóra asked. That was nothing special. In her household, things always went missing, particularly the car keys, there were noises day and night, and children appeared out of nowhere all the time.”

Fifth, the plot is of very high standard. The modern murder story is fine, but for me the most intriguing thread was the old story about the little girl who disappeared without a trace in 1945. And did I guess who did it? Nope. It was not even one of my two candidates.

Yrsa Sigurdardottier, Den der gravede en grav (2007)

Bogen er den anden i den islandske serie om Thóra Gudmundsdottir. Jeg læste den på engelsk, fordi min gavmilde ven Maxine sendte den til mig.

Af og til skriver en forfatter en flot eller lovende debut, men kan ikke rigtigt leve op til læserens forventninger i efterfølgende bog. Her er det modsat. Debuten var lovende, men Den der gravede en grav, kan man slet ikke lægge fra sig. Mindre end fem stjerner kan absolut ikke gøre det. Jeg vil ikke engang prøve at skrive den anmeldelse, bogen fortjener, bare give fem gode grunde til at læse den.

For det første er den engelske oversættelse ved Bernard Scudder og Anna Yates fremragende. Et underholdende eksempel er da Thóra render ind i en trættekær mand som slås med postvæsenet om placeringen af sin brevsprække. Bagefter siger hendes kollega: “This man phoned while the letterboxers were with you.”

For det andet: selv om prologen er skræmmende, er det også en fremragende madding. Desuden gør det en forskel for mig, at den nævnte grusomhed mod et lille barn går mere end tres år tilbage.

For det tredje appellerede miljøet stærkt til mig, et øde område i Island med et moderne (eller i hvert fald nyopført) helsehotel, nogle få gårde og en gammel kirke.

For det fjerde var hovedpersonerne alle troværdige og nuancerede, især advokaten Thóra, som gør sit bedste for at holde klienten Jónas, ejer af helsehotellet, ude af fængslet, da politiet mistænker ham for at have myrdet sin stride arkitekt. Jónas er lige så troværdig, men også irriterende, mens han fjumrer rundt og gør sig mistænkelig i sin naive tro på, at hans advokat kan holde ham ude af fængslet, uanset hvor tåbeligt, han opfører sig.

Et lille indblik i personerne, den lokale overtro og den humoristiske tone:

“Thóra afbrød ham [Jónas]. ´Kan du beskrive den ´spøgen´ for mig?´
´Der er bare en frygtelig atmosfære i huset. Og så forsvinder ting, der er sære lyde midt om natten, og folk har set et barn dukke op ud af den blå luft.´
´Og hvad så?´ spurgte Thóra. Det var da ikke noget særligt. I hendes hjem forsvandt ting hele tiden, især bilnøglerne, der var sære lyde dag og nat, og børn dukkede op ud af den blå luft hele tiden.

For det femte er plottet af høj standard. Den moderne morderhistorie er fin, men for mig var den mest interessante tråd den gamle historie om den lille pige, som forsvandt sporløst i 1945. Og kunne jeg gætte, hvem der gjorde det? Nix. Det var ikke engang en af mine to mulige kandidater.

torsdag den 26. august 2010

Thy´s Day # 24 - and a Task for You

Some of my readers have a terrific memory, and it is probably true that I have promised you a story at some point or other. So here comes your inspiration: two photos of an old house and a fine, old water pump (Lodbjerg, Thy). Why did I tilt one of them, you´ll ask, but if you use Blogger yourself, you may know the answer. I wash my hands!

And now for your role: you can give me ideas for the setting, the characters, the plot etc, and I will try to include as many as possible in my story.

NB: if you are new to my blog and don´t have the faintest idea what I am talking about, you can see "The Red Shoes", "The Blue Vase" and "End of Christmas", literary masterpieces that my readers that I wrote last year.

onsdag den 25. august 2010

DJ´s Bait in the Box # 71

Last week the climate was a bit too hot for me so I headed north for this week´s bait. Do you recognize the series?

“It was much colder inside the hole than outside. She tried to sit down, but the floor was even more icy than the seat of the car had been. She hugged herself. The hatch swung down and just before it closed she heard the man say, ´Good luck. Say hello to your mother, and to God. Don´t stop praying.´

Everything turned black. The girl tried to catch her breath, but her sobbing made it difficult. What upset her most was that the envelope would never be delivered. She squeezed her eyes shut, because the thought of sunlight always calmed her. Maybe someone would come to get her. Surely the person at the window would save her. Please, please, please. She didn´t want to stay here any more.”

The Rules:
If you recognize the quotation, or if you think you are able to guess who wrote it, please post a comment. Just leave a hint, do not spoil the fun by giving too much away. The book will be reviewed on Friday.

tirsdag den 24. august 2010

Rendell in a Rage

Last week I took a look at Ruth Rendell´s novel “Simisola” about illegal immigrants and unemployment. Today´s crime novel is “Road Rage” from 1997.

Do nettles matter? Or butterflies? Well, certainly it must be more important to have a bypass around your town so people can get to work on time instead of sitting in a queue in the centre.

On the very first page Chief Inspector Reg Wexford says goodbuy to Framhurst Great Wood, deploring the fact that nature must surrender to asphalt:

“For six months the trees would remain and the uninterrupted view over the hill, the otters in the Brede and the rare Map butterfly in Framhurst Deeps. But he didn´t think he could bear to see it any more. ...

When I retire, he had told his wife, I want to live in London so that I can´t see the countryside destroyed.”

Dora Wexford believes in taking up the battle, so she joins KABAL, Kingsmarkham Against the Bypass and Landfill. Soon environmental groups join the protest, and next come the tree people, worshippers of nature who seem to mix ideas from New Age and paganism:

“The tree people drove steel bolts into tree trunks at a height calculated to buckle a chain-saw blade when felling began. They they began building themselves dwellings in the tops of beeches and oaks, tree-houses of planks and tarpaulin and approached by ladders which could be pulled up once the occupant was installed.”

Dora worries that some of tree fellers may be hurt, and Reg Wexford fears a civil war is going to break out. He tries to be pragmatic or ´eat my cake and have it´ as he says, but of course the protests escalate, and people are hurt.

Just like in “Simisola”, Rendell combines her social issue with an excellent crime plot in a way that seems natural and effortless. She introduces the various groups and their points of view, and by and by she demonstrates how difficult it is to look through people and decide who are idealists and who protests for completely different reasons.

Next week: “Harm Done” (1998)

mandag den 23. august 2010

What´s in a Name - Finished.

As soon as I saw this challenge on Beth Fish´s blog, I knew I had to participate. It has been a pleasure, Beth!

What´s in a Name Challenge:

1. Food: Pierre Magnan, Death in the Truffle Wood (2005) - France
2. Body of water: Paul Cleave, Cemetery Lake (2008) – New Zealand
3. A title: Colin Cotterill, The Coroner´s Lunch (2004) - Laos
4. A plant: Thomas Cook, Red Leaves (2005) - America
5. Place name: Matt B Rees, The Bethlehem Murders (2007) - Israel
6. Music term: Margot Kinberg, B-Very Flat (2010) - America

The very best reading experience: The Coroner´s Lunch
A shared second place: Death in the Truffle Wood and B-Very Flat.

Three challenges down, one to go.
Do you participate in reading challenges? Which one is your favourite?

søndag den 22. august 2010

Thomas H. Cook, Red Leaves

This American psychological thriller is a stand-alone. The writer has written several novels but this one is the first I have read. I bought it myself.

You could say this really well-written story begins ´ab ovo´, or even before Eric´s son Keith is born. Eric loves his little family, but when Keith is fourteen, his father begins to suspect there are ´hidden depths´ and ´unexpected complexities´ to his son.

And then something terrible happens: eight-year-old Amy Giordano disappears, the neighbours´ only child, on an evening when Keith was babysitting her. The police begin an investigation, of course, but the focus in the story is Eric and his family, the story about what happens to a little family when they are involved in a criminal investigation.

At first Eric, the first-person and sometimes second-person narrator, seems to be an optimistic husband and father, and on the surface he does all he can to support Keith who is obviously in the limelight. He does not really understand Keith, his sullen and withdrawn teenageson, and perhaps not even his wife, Meredith. Soon Eric begins to brood over life, his present as well as his past in a rather dysfunctional family, and he wonders whether he could have read all the signs and saved his first family, his father, mother, brother and little sister, and now his own nuclear family.

Red autumn leaves are a recurrent theme in the novel which is full of premonition and a sense of inevitable doom rather than action and great discoveries. Meredith struggles to keep up the facade while Eric does his best to get through the cloud of suspicion and support his son. But, as he says, ´suspicion is an acid´.

My overall impression: some of the characters are well-drawn and convincing, but Meredith and the relationship between her and her husband did not sound very convincing to me. The beginning is fine and exciting and the ending did not disappoint me either, but the middle part struck me as somewhat weaker. The writer does much to build up tension and a sinister atmosphere of foreshadowing, but nothing much happens again until the last fifty pages or so.

I read it for the What´s in a name challenge # 6 (a plant) 


That Sagging Middle: as most of you know, I write crime novels and try to sell them, but this problem is so well-known to me that I almust blush when I accuse other writers of making this error. But while I am rather good at setting the crime scene and coming up with a satisfactory ending, I always struggle with the middle part.

Still, someone has to tell us about our weak parts, no matter whether the writer is me or someone who has already published several books.

lørdag den 21. august 2010

The Huey, Dewey and Louie Effect

A month ago I called for help because I had a name problem. I had realized it was a very bad idea to have a Jesmona and a Jemima in the same story because it would be so difficult to tell them apart. You were there promptly and solved the problem for me.

Yesterday I ran into another name problem. I have realized that one constable does not make a murder mystery, not even a cosy one. So I needed more proper police scenes, and thus some new names for Constable Primrose´s troops.

I know that these fellows are going to play minor roles, and on the one hand I want you (all my prospective readers) to remember that they are ´the constables´, on the other hand it won´t matter if they seem like an anonymous mob to you.

And this is where the Huey, Dewey and Louie effect comes into it. I know that some Donald Duck enthusiasts can tell the nephews apart, but most of us can´t – and it doesn´t bother us. Astrid Lindgren achieved the same effect in her Pippi Longstocking stories when she introduced the two silly policemen Kling and Klang (don´t know if they are called the same in English, but you will get my point).

So meet my mint-new constables: (Amy) Winchester, (Adam) Smith & (Walther) Wesson.

fredag den 20. august 2010

Colin Cotterill, The Coroner´s Lunch (2004)

This novel, written by a British writer who lives in Thailand, is set in Laos, and it is the first in the series about Dr Siri Paiboun.

The book gives a strong sense of Communist Laos in 1976 and of the very intriguing character, Dr Siri. It grabbed me from the very first chapters because I had to know more about Dr Siri who begins his career as the State Coroner very reluctantly, but as all other doctors have fled, no one else is better qualified. He finds some French textbooks in the humble morgue and embarks on his new career though the just as inexperienced judge does not show much interest in his results. So Dr Siri does not have much left to hope for but retirement, the sooner the better.

But when he gets involved in two cases where someone apparently does not want him to get to the bottom of the causes of death, Dr Siri wakes up and shows what kind of person he really is. And this is also the point when he realizes that his assistants, the romantic nurse Dtui and Mr Geung who suffers from Down´s Syndrome, have hidden talents. So though the story is highly critical of the political system, it is very gentle and respectful towards the team who seem ailing and deficient on the surface. Perhaps it would have been impossible to unravel the rather unusual cases without the combined efforts of the unusual team, plus the aid of several spirits and an exorcist.

As if all these strong points were not enough, I enjoyed the style and the humour so much that I actually laughed out loud several times.

Here Dr Siri and Comrade Civilai from the politburo are eating their lunch sandwiches together:

He took a swig of his tea and handed the flask to Civilai. ´I don´t want to be cutting up bodies till the day I become one of them. I need this. I need to know when I can expect a replacement. When I can stop. God knows, I could keel over any second. What would you do then?´
´Eat the rest of your sandwich.´

This book is highly recommended for several reasons.

The book is a gift from Maxine, Petrona, and I read it for the 2010 Global Reading Challenge # 10 (Laos, Asia), and for the What´s in a Name Challenge # 5 (title).

If you need further recommendation, you can read Maxine´s review here.

torsdag den 19. august 2010

My Life According to Crime Fiction 2010

Do you remember this funny meme from last year?

I saw the 2010 version of this game on Bernadette´s blog the other day – and of course I couldn´t resist. I have cheated just a tiny bit as I have not finished reading Red Leaves yet.

In high school I was: Found Wanting (Robert Goddard)

People might be surprised I’m: Sworn to Silence (Linda Castillo)

I will never be: Nearly Dead Man (Åke Edwardson, my translation)

My fantasy job is: Faceless Killers (Henning Mankell)

At the end of a long day I need: The Reunion (Simone van der Vlugt)

I hate it when: Red Leaves (Thomas H. Cook)

Wish I had: Resolution (Denise Mina)

My family reunions are: A Darker Domain (Val McDermid)

At a party you’d find me with: The Suitcase Boy (Kaaberbøl & Friis)

I’ve never been to: The Orchestra Pit (Unni Lindell; my translation)

A happy day includes: One Good Turn (Kate Atkinson)

Motto I live by: Never Go Back (Robert Goddard)

On my bucket list: Awakening (S.J. Bolton)

In my next life, I want to be: Misterioso (Arne Dahl)


Want to play? – of course you do.
And remember to come back with a link to your funny, tragic, terrible answers.

See Kelly´s hilarious post.

Thy´s Day # 23

onsdag den 18. august 2010

DJ´s Bait in the Box # 70

From Wales to Sydney to .... can you guess who and where? To help you, I can tell you the book is the first in the series.

“He was often described as a short-arsed man. He had a peculiar build, like a lightweight wrestler with a stoop. When he walked, it was as if his bottom half was doing its best to keep up with his top half. His hair, clipped short, was a dazzling white. ...

He´d never had much success with whiskers, unless you counted eyebrows as whiskers. His had become so overgrown, it took strangers a while to make out his peculiar eyes. Even those who´d travelled ten times around the world had never seen such eyes. They were the bright green of well-lighted snooker-table felt, and they never failed to amuse him when they stared back from his mirror.”

The Rules

If you recognize the quotation, or if you think you are able to guess who wrote it, please post a comment. Just leave a hint, do not spoil the fun by giving too much away. The book will be reviewed on Friday.

tirsdag den 17. august 2010

Ruth Rendell, Simisola (1994)

[This post is not a review, but a comment on Rendell´s engagement in a social issue]

In this novel, unemployment and the social deroute which may follow it form an interesting backdrop, or social commentary, if you like. Besides, the narrator sets out to expose the lifestyle of the privileged few of Kingsmarkham right from the first page:

“There were four people besides himself in the waiting room and none of them looked ill. The olive-skinned blonde in the designer tracksuit bloomed with health, her body all muscles her hands all golden tendons, apart from the geranium nails and the nicotine stains on the right forefinger. She had changed her seat when a child of two arrived with its mother and homed on the chair next to hers.”

“To Wexford´s surprise the smoker [the olive-skinned blonde] turned to him and said, without preamble, ´I called the doctor, but he refused to come. Isn´t that amazing? I was forced to come here myself.´”

Simisola is a crime novel, a brilliant one of its kind, but the themes of unemployment and  immigration, illegal as well as legal, are just as important. In Chief Inspector Wexford´s youth, coloured people were a rare sight in Kingsmarkham, and when the story begins, they are still a very small minority indeed. One of the newcomers is Wexford´s own GP, Dr Raymond Akande. Wexford likes his new doctor, and perhaps he secretly congratulates himself that he is so open and forthcoming, and though he explains to Mike Burden that ´we are all prejudiced´, he certainly feels less prejudiced than most of his colleagues. (I know that occasionally some modern readers have been annoyed by Wexford´s old-fashioned attitudes, but this novel made me suspect that though the writer likes him, she is also able to look through him and expose some of his flaws for what they are).

Dr Akande´s daughter, Melanie, disappears, and during the long search for her, the attitudes and prejudices of Kingsmarkham´s police force are tested. And of course we also meet some of the less fortunate immigrants; young women who work as illegal nannies and cleaners for the very rich, and before the story ends, we realize that some of them live under conditions which are not far from those of their slave ancestors. So though I enjoyed all the Wexford stories before Simisola, this one is the first that made such a strong impression on me that I have never forgotten the victim (and have to reread it every few years – always getting a lump in my throat).

No more revelations as they may spoil the plot for you if you have not read this five-star crime novel yet, but it has probably left many readers wondering that affluent people need to employ cheap, illegal immigrants at all. But then they would never have become so rich if they threw away their money, would they?

Next week: Ruth Rendell, Road Rage (1997)

mandag den 16. august 2010

Ruth Rendell, More than Crime

It is really amazing how much extra time you have when you are cut off from the internet for a day or two. You won´t want to hear about everything I have done, but let me just mention that I wrote 3,000 words this weekend – and read a novel.

Last year I began a series of posts about Ruth Rendell´s long-standing protagonist, the capable and likeable Chief Inspector Reg Wexford. My aim was to look at the development he had gone through over forty-five years. After three posts I ran out of time, however, or more precisely, I decided I wanted to spend more time writing crime fiction, less time reading and reviewing it.

Here are last year´s posts for anyone who might wish to read them, plus a special post about Mike Burden.

Reg Wexford, 1960s
Reg Wexford, early 1970s
Reg Wexford, late 1970s
Mike Burden, the eternal sidekick.

And here is my new plan: a few posts about some of Rendell´s novels from the 1990s, a period when she took up some social and environmental issues in her books. We see evidence of this development e.g. in A Sleeping Life (1978) where women´s liberation is a recurrent theme though Reg and Dora Wexford are less than thrilled by this new-fangled idea.

Coming up: Ruth Rendell, Simisola (1994)


no internet in our area - will be back when I can blog from home

lørdag den 14. august 2010

Leah Giarratano, Black Ice (2009)

This Australian police procedural is the third in the series about detective Jill Jackson. I won it in a competition on Kerrie´s blog: Mysteries in Paradise

One of the main characters is Detective Sergeant Jill Jackson who works under cover among the drug dealers of Sydney while her younger sister, Cassie, is in free fall from a carefree existence as a model to a serious dependence on drugs, and on the generous lawyer who is more than willing to supply it to beautiful women.

We also meet Seren whose happy childhood ended when her violent stepfather entered her life. When the story begins, Seren is released from prison after more than a year for possession of drugs. She can resume life with her little son, Marco, but the odds on parole are tough, and she struggles with her two priorities: making Marco safe and happy again, and taking revenge on the man who is to blame for her sentence in jail. The reader suspects that the three women will meet before or later, but under which circumstances, and how much will go wrong before the drug dealers can be stopped?

The story is very well-written, and the characters and environment are very convincing indeed – perhaps almost too convincing. One of the reasons why I have found it difficult to finish this novel is that life is treating young Seren so unfairly. So this is the kind of book where women are victims, and when they are involved in crime, there is always a male scoundrel behind. Cherchez l´homme.

Nevertheless, Giarratano has created a fine, very exciting crime novel with a strong sense of Sydney´s underbelly.

Where is your limit?

I know several readers of crime fiction who don´t like too graphic and detailed descriptions of violence.

I know many other readers who don´t like reading about serial killers or torture of women. I can cope with most of those books as long as we do not enter the mind of a psychopath.

But of course I have an Achilles´ heel: for example very realistic descriptions of women in distress or people who are depressed. If I read too many books of this kind, they begin to get to me no matter how well-written they are.

Where is your limit? What gets to you, and are there things that can make you put down a book?

fredag den 13. august 2010

Down Under

From Wales I am heading South – down under – or perhaps down and out? The environment certainly has an underground feel.

“Seren ignored the sting of the fly sucking blood from her ankle. She pushed her lips into the salty skin of her knees, pressing the sobs back behind her teeth. This is the last night, she told herself. The last night with her back to the wall, shrunk into the corner, praying for morning. Whatever happened tonight, it would be the last time she slept with the lice scrabbling for purchace on her near-shaved scalp, and nesting in her pubic hair.”

Undersize me?

Oh no, another one of those fictional dwarves. A poor mother is sent away to prison, and the authorities come to drag her son away:

“He was eight years old; the top of his head did not even reach their waists.”

Just try to grab the nearest eight-year-old child and perform your own experiment: how tall is he/she compared to an adult? Sorry, but this is a pet peeve of mine; if you have to include little people in your books, please try to make them life-size. 

torsdag den 12. august 2010

onsdag den 11. august 2010

Fame At Last - Or...

Oh dear, away from my computer for 24 hours, and already so many emails to read and answer. As school begins today, I have not had time to select a proper bait-in-the-box novel, but I thought you might enjoy hearing about my international fame:

Dear Sayers Dorothy L,

Some time ago my colleague, Mrs. …….., offered you the possibility of making your academic paper entitled "Are Women Human  Astute and Witty Essays on the Role of Women in Society" available as printed book.

Since we did not hear back from you, I am now wondering if you received our first email. I would appreciate if you could confirm your interest in our publishing house and I will be glad to provide you with detailed information about our services.

I am looking forward to receiving a positive response from you.

Thank you and kind regards,

Acquisition Editor

…… Publishing House

Now the question is, should I give up my teaching career immediately, or should I wait and see how much money there is in my new (old) name?

tirsdag den 10. august 2010

Malcolm Pryce, Aberystwyth Mon Amour (2001)

This cosy caper is the first novel in a series about the private detective Louie Knight, Aberystwyth.

The setting is Wales, and to judge from this book, it is an even more exotic place than I thought. The small town Aberystwyth is controlled by two mafia-like groups, the Bronzinis and the Llewellyns, and they, in turn, are controlled by the mysterious Druids.

Schoolboys begin to disappear, and though most of them are lowlife scum that won´t be missed by anyone but their naive mothers, the sleuth Louie Knight gets involved because the beautiful femme fatale of Aberystwyth, Myfanwy Montez wants him to find her missing cousin. The private investigator feels most safe and comfortable with his shoes on his desk or eating Sospan´s ice creams, but his self-appointed sidekick, the schoolgirl Calamity Jane, forces him to get up and try to do something to save the town from the Druids. Her theory is that the Welsh teacher is killing off his own students. And why not, we all know how cruel teachers can be.

All lovers of cosies and capers must appreciate the scene where the owner of the wool shop KnitWits identifies a rare tea cosy because of the Mayan symbols on it. I also enjoyd learning about the cartographer´s folly, but my favourite quotation was this one:

“I wondered how the gene for risking one´s life on stupid causes could survive in the gene pool.”

Yes, indeed.

A delightful mystery though there is some violence against dogs and donkeys. The style might be called “Donna Moore meets Godfather” - and he will never be the same guy again.

So now I know much more about Wales – or do I???? The book was a delightful and entertaining gift from Maxine, Petrona.

mandag den 9. august 2010

A Sense of Place

Now and then it is is important to move out of your comfort zone so my next review book is from an area I have never visited, and apart from an Enid Blyton story, I don´t think I have read anything about this remote and exotic area before.

And now for a quotation to give you an impression of the style and setting:

"When I arrived at Canticle Street Mrs Llantrisant was already there swabbing the step. She did this every morning as well as tidying up in my office and doing a number of other things, all of which I had forbidden her to do. But she took no notice. Her mother had swabbed this step and so had her mother and her mother before that. There had probably been a Mrs Llantrisant covered in woad soaping the menhirs in the iron-age hill fort south of the town. You just had to accept the fact that she came with the premises like the electricity supply." 

Very cosy - but perhaps appearances deceive?
More about Malcolm Pryce and Aberystwyth tomorrow.

søndag den 8. august 2010

Riley Adams, Delicious and Suspicious (2010)

This American cosy mystery is the first in the Memphis BBQ series, written under a pen name by Elizabeth Spann Craig. I bought the book myself.

Yesterday I gave you a taste of the setting, and here you meet the main character, Lulu:

“And right there on Beale Street, you can find the reigning queen of the barbequing art, Lulu Taylor. She´s not back in the kitchen anymore, of course. You´ll find her holding court in the dining room, cutting up with some customers, and buttering up others.”

Just as the setting is of great importance to a cosy, so is the writer´s ability to create interesting and often quirky characters. Lulu is by no means perfect, but she is a headstrong and considerate woman, bustling with energy and initiative.

The story begins when the obnoxious food scout, Rebecca Adrian, shows an interest in Lulu´s barbeque restaurant. Lulu, her family and her host of loyal friends hope it will appear on The Cooking Channel and win the title of best local BBQ. But in a few days Rebecca rubs everybody up the wrong way so when she is found dead in her hotel room, nobody seems to miss her. The only problems are that a case of poison is not a very good advertisment for the BBQ, and that the narrow circle of suspects are all friends or relatives of Lulu. She is not the type who beats about the bush, however, so she plunges into the case to solve it the sooner the better.

There is  a suitable handful of suspects, and though I wondered if the ending would be too predictable over a chapter or two, the writer lived up to my expectations on that score also (I cannot reveal more without spoiling the plot). The delightful and humorous story has everything a cozy mystery needs, and a bit more, and if you should feel very hungry after having read it, Lulu is even willing to share some of her recipes with you. If you like cozies, this one is a must!

lørdag den 7. august 2010

The Scene is Set, Folks

The very first rule for an aspiring writer:

If you want to write a book, begin by reading a million.

So if you want to write a cozy mystery, go and read some! I am (wanting to write one & reading one).

This is how it sets out:

“Memphis, Tennessee, is a little bit of heaven in the springtime. The azalea bushes burst with blooms, magnolias perfume the air, and daffodils nod sassily in the breeze. Children scamper right down the middle of the street with their scolding mamas hustling after them. Folks pull leashes from the closet and take Buddy and Princess for a little stroll.”

You may not have figured out yet that this is a mystery, but I think you have guessed it is cosy. The book is part of my summer curriculum, one of the very pleasant steps on my route to pick up the various tricks of the cozy mystery trade. 

Tomorrow´s post: a full review of the book in question, “Delicious and Suspicious”, written by Riley Adams (i.e. my blog friend Elizabeth Spann Craig who knows everything about cozy mysteries and is happy to share her expertise with the readers of her blog).

fredag den 6. august 2010

P.D. James, The Private Patient (2008)

This police procedural is the forteenth in the Adam Dalgliesh series. I bought the book myself.

My bait quotation has given you some kind of insight in the bleak childhood of Rhoda Gradwyn, the victim of the novel. The incident leaves her with an ugly, facial scar, and perhaps it has also left a lasting stamp on her personality: “Probing into other people´s secrets became a lifelong obsession, the substratum and direction of her whole career.”

Rhoda Gradwyn is excellent at probing and has a splendid career as a journalist, but one suspects the quotation is more sinister than that. When the plot begins, she has finally decided to have her scar removed with the following explanation to the surgeon “because I no longer have need of it.” A very private person who no longer feels she needs a disfigurement to keep people at a distance?

She chooses one of England´s best plastic surgeons, giving her an opportunity to stay at his private Dorset clinic, Cheverell Manor. The operation is a success, but before she has a chance to recover and enjoy her new face, Rhoda is murdered, and everybody connected with the small private clinic in Dorset turns into a suspect. Deftly, P.D. James portrays the staff from the successful surgeon Chandler-Powell to the smallest kitchen maid, plus the Manor and the prehistoric stone circle in the vicinity. They all have secrets which must be revealed, some insignificant, others solid motives for murder, and as usual the police work is in the capable hands of Commander Adam Dalgliesh, DI Kate Miskin and Sergeant Francis Benton-Smith.

This novel is not a fast-paced thriller but a solid, British mystery written by an expert who takes her time to let the characters and the environment unfold, very successfully on the whole, though there is stil a thing or two I would have liked to know. And the language is – as always - an exquisite treat.

torsdag den 5. august 2010

Thy´s Day # 21

The bell of the church from last week

onsdag den 4. august 2010

DJ´s Bait in the Box # 69

A very suitable quotation for this week, I think.

“She knew that her mother´s querulous, apologetic, half-whining voice would enrage him, that her own sullen presence would help neither of them, but she couldn´t go up to bed. The noise of what would happen beneath her room would be more terrifying than to be part of it. And now the room was full of him, his blundering body, the stink of him. Hearing his bellow of outrage, his ranting, she felt a sudden spurt of fury, and with it came courage. She heard herself saying, ´It isn´t Mother´s fault. The chair was wrapped up when the man left it. She couldn´t see it was the wrong colour. They´ll have to change it.´

And then he turned on her. She couldn´t recall the words. Perhaps at the time there had been no words, or she hadn´t heard them. There was only the crack of the smashed bottle, like a pistol shot, the stink of whisky, a moment of searing pain which passed almost as soon as she felt it and the warm blood flowing from her cheek, dripping onto the seat of the chair, her mother´s anguished cry. ´Oh God, look what you´ve done. The blood! They´ll never take it back now. They´ll never change it.´”

The Rules
If you recognize the quotation, or if you think you are able to guess who wrote it, please post a comment. Just leave a hint, do not spoil the fun by giving too much away. The book will be reviewed on Friday.

tirsdag den 3. august 2010

Tuesday´s Special: P.D. James

If I had to pick just one favourite detective, it would be very difficult for me to choose between Chief Inspector Adam Dalgliesh and Inspector Morse. I have spent so many pleasant hours in the company of these two gentlemen.

But today is P.D. James´ day. Believe it or not, the woman who has written so many wonderful crime novels, turns 90 today – and is still going strong.

Congratulations, Baroness James of Holland Park!

And thank you for two great stories about the private detective, Cordelia Gray, and fourteen novels featuring Adam Dalgliesh.

P.D. James interviewed by Craig, Crime Watch

Stuart Pawson, The Mushroom Man (1995)

This novel is the second in the D.I. Charlie Priest series. I bought the book because I wanted to combine my taste for mysteries with my need to know more about Yorkshire.

The book opens when Father Tudor Harcourt pedals along in a very pensive mood. He is going to retire after fifty years in the service of the Roman Catholic Church, and now he considers proposing to dear Miss Felicity Jonas who ´does for him´ three days a week and has become a very close friend over the years.

But sadly we will never know if the Pope would have granted him this pleasure; Father Harcourt has an encounter with a self-centered, drink-driving sales manager on his way to Miss Jonas´ isolated cottage. (Very unfair, Stuart Pawson).

Next, someone burgles the home of Mr Dewhurt. Not very efficiently, it seems, but the same morning his eight-year-old daughter Georgina vanishes into thin air. Are the two events related, or is Mr Dewhurst just unusually unlucky? And are the Yorkshire priests and vicars just extremely accident-prone or is there some human hand behind the many sudden deaths?

Even though I didn´t learn much about Yorkshire which I didn´t know already, there are many things to like in this novel. D.I. Charlie Priest is a likeable protagonist and the plot is good. The tone is very humorous, but now and then a bit crude, and if crime against children is too much for you, don´t read this one.

mandag den 2. august 2010

July Reviews

- a bit belatedly, but we had a wonderful day yesterday with some old friends (I will show you some evidence the next many Thursdays).

Readingwise, July has been a poor month with only six reviews, and one book I gave up on.

The one I did not finish was Sarah Waters, Night Watch. Hardly her fault as the characters and language are really fine, and I am sure I would have found a great story about the past of the characters if I had persevered. After 100 pages I put it away, however, because I just found it more interesting to work on my own little mystery.

Writingwise, July has been fantastic. I have finished editing a Danish novel and planned a new novel, written down a two-page plot plus descriptions of all the main characters and the setting. Besides, I have written eighteen thousand words on my English project, The Cosy Knave.