Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bristol: Crimefest 2009 - Thursday

Well, I've made it to Bristol for Crimefest 2009, and spent an enjoyable and inspirational afternoon at the crimewriting workshop lead by Peter Gutteridge and Janet Laurence. The workshop was very cosmopolitan, with participants travelling from Europe, the USA, Canada and Australia. Tomorrow I'm looking forward to the variety of panels, and a chance to pitch to an agent!

Impressed so far by the Bristol Marriott hotel: my room is spacious and bright.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Iceland: "Hypothermia" by Arnaldur Indriðason - September 2009

More details of the next Inspector Erlendur novel by Arnaldur Indridason. As revealed in my earlier blog, the title of the book is Hypothermia, and Amazon is now showing a release date of 3rd September in the UK (October 27th in the US). The translation is by Victoria Cribb, who competed the work on his previous novel, Arctic Chill, after the death of Bernard Scudder.

The blurb states:

One cold autumn night, a woman is found hanging from a beam in her summer cottage by Lake Thingvellir. At first sight it appears to be a straightforward case of suicide; the woman, Maria, had never recovered from the loss of her mother two years earlier and had a history of depression. But when Karen, the friend who found her body, approaches Erlendur and gives him the tape of a seance that Maria had attended, his curiosity is aroused.

Driven by a need to find answers that even he does not fully understand, Erlendur embarks on an unofficial investigation to find out why the woman's life ended in such an abrupt and tragic manner. At the same time he is haunted by the unresolved cases of two young people who went missing thirty years before, and, inevitably, his discoveries raise ghosts from his own past.

Þingvellir (Thingvellir) is a site of historical, cultural, and geological importance and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. Þingvellir National Park was founded in 1930 to protect the remains of the parliament site and was later expanded to protect natural phenomena in the surrounding area. The first parliament or Althing was established at Þingvellir in 930 and remained there until 1789. Þingvellir is the site of a rift valley and home to Lake Thingvellir, the largest natural lake in Iceland.

I'm looking forward to this book, and finding out more about Erlendur's past.

Sweden: A New Wallander Novel! "The Nervous Man" by Henning Mankell

Perhaps everybody else already knows this, but more than ten years after the last book Henning Mankell has written another novel featuring Kurt Wallander - the final in the series, apparently. It's completed, and scheduled to be published in Sweden on August 18th August 2009 (and hopefully as soon as possible after that in English!)

In a recent interview Mankell revealed the title of the book : Den Orolige Mannen This apparently translates as The Nervous Man.

This extract is provided from the Swedish publisher's press release:

"On a winter's day in 2008 a retired high naval officer, Håkan von Enke, disappears during his daily walk in Lilljansskogen. For Kurt Wallander this becomes a personal matter of the highest importance. Von Enke is Linda Wallander's father-in-law, and her little daughter's grandfather.

The investigation leads back in time, to the Cold War, to right-wing associations and assassins from the old Eastern Europe. Wallander suspects that he is on the track of a big secret, perhaps on the edge of something much more serious than even the Wennerström affair, the worst spy scandal Sweden has ever experienced. At the same time an even darker cloud appears on the horizon..."

Argentinian Wallander fan Ezequiel M. González Busquin, who heard Mankell speak of this new novel at the Buenos Aires Book Fair in April, says Mankell mentioned that Wallander will not die in the book, but that something will happen to him and it will be impossible to write any more Wallander novels.

I am lucky enough to have got a ticket for the Radio 4 Book Club discussion with Henning Mankell at the end of May in Wye. Maybe we will be able to entice him to reveal more then! A most informative site in English giving up-to-date Henning Mankell news can be found here.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Sweden: Three more of Henning Mankell's "Wallander" stories commissioned for TV by BBC.

A second series of Wallander, based on Henning Mankell's novels set in Ystad in southern Sweden, has been commissioned by the BBC.

Kenneth Branagh reprises his role as Inspector Kurt Wallander for three further adaptations of Henning Mankell's novels: Faceless Killers, The Fifth Woman and The Man Who Smiled. All three episodes will again be filmed in Ystad.

Branagh said: "I'm delighted to be back in Kurt Wallander's shoes. The character's story becomes ever more complex in these next films." The show won this year's BAFTA Television Awards for best drama series and best actor for Branagh.

For information about the location check my earlier blog here. A list of the Wallander (say Wall-AND-er) novels in the correct order can be found on here.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Quebec: 'The Cruellest Month' by Louise Penny - a Three Pines state of mind.

Follow Autoroute 10 southeast from Montreal towards the Eastern Townships, and after about an hour's drive turn off south down a country road into the mountains towards the US border.

This road will lead you deeper and deeper into the forest until the path becomes a dirt track and you stumble across a village "nestled in the palm of the rugged Canadian mountains, protected and hidden and rarely found except by accident".

This is the delightful fictional community of Three Pines as described by Louise Penny in her novels featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec.

The Cruellest Month is the third in the series but my first exposure to this idyllic location - a place I feel I would love to linger, despite the mortality rate. When I began the story I thought it might be a mistake to pick up the series in the middle - I had to concentrate quite hard to unravel the backstory of corruption and double-dealing in the Quebec police. I also wasn't sure which characters I should be familiar with, but I drew up a list of names and roles of the kind often found in 'golden age' mysteries, which helped, and I was soon caught up in the storytelling.

The story follows C.I Gamache as he is called to investigate the death of a vibrant and popular Three Pines resident during a seance in a haunted house - apparently of fear. What follows is a classic "closed community" whodunnit with a convincing selection of suspects unfolding alongside the machinations of dark forces against Gamache in the Québec Sûreté.

The Eastern Townships (Estrie) region of Quebec is a landscape of mountains, valleys, hills and picturesque villages which have become established favourites for visitors. There are several tourism sites: this one has a link to videos of the region (in French) and this is an official Quebec Tourism site.

Three Pines itself is a fictional village, in the general area shown on my map. Some consider Three Pines to be based on the author's own home village of Sutton, but Louise Penny herself says: "Three Pines itself I think of as simply a state of mind, we can always visit when we choose kindness over cynicism."

In fact she has used the mountain resort of Sutton as a basis for the fictional St Remy in the stories. Another fictional location in the story based on a real place is Williamsburg, which is roughly based on the lovely village of Knowlton. The real Cowansville is the site of the area's hospital, where the post-mortem of the victim in The Cruellest Month is carried out.

The latest Three Pines novel The Murder Stone (A Rule Against Murder - US) recently been released in the UK - Louise Penny talks about it on YouTube here.

The Cruellest Month is just the kind of puzzle I enjoy most, and the solution kept me guessing right until the end. I can hardly wait to read the other books - but unfortunately I have to, until they become available to Sony Readers in the UK!

Click on the image above to read a fascinating interview with Louise penny in Shots Ezine, a recommended read for those of us who enjoy crime fiction!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Finally gone and done it - and a heartfelt plea to authors!

Well I've finally gone and done it ......... I've bought a Sony Reader.

Why? Because I needed cheering up, with at best months and months of horrible medical treatments in front of me and at worst - we won't go in to that.

The result? I'm very happy with the reader - so lightweight, portable, easy to use - and with an adjustable font size so I never need to use reading glasses. I can hold it and turn the pages in either hand which makes reading in bed so much easier too. I can sit in the garden in bright sunlight reading it with no problem.

But I'm sadly disappointed at the lack of crime fiction ebooks available for us in the UK. It's hard work finding the ones I want, and I've had limited success so far. Part of the problem is that I have narrow requirements: specific authors and specific titles.

What I desperately want to be able to read and can't at the moment:

Louise Penny: two earlier Three Pines mysteries: Still Life (not UK) and Dead Cold
Ann Cleeves: Red Bones
Natasha Cooper: A Poisoned Mind

And so many more!

What I'm looking forward to buying on 28th April:

Yrsa Sigurdardottir: My Soul To Take (from HarperCollins US site)

What I've read on my Sony Reader so far:

Henning Mankell: Before The Frosts (mostly enjoyable)
Kate Summerscale: Confessions of Mr Whicher (engrossing)
Margaret Moore: Tuscan Termination (annoying)
Asa Larsson: The Blood Spilt (loved)
C.J.Sansom: Revelations (currently)

So, a heartfelt plea: authors, PLEASE ask your publishers to release your new titles as ebooks for us in the UK, and harry them to make available as many of your back catalogue as possible too!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Finland: 'Ice Moon' by Jan Costin Wagner - a strange and haunting story cracked through with grief.

"Sanna was dead, and this fact would govern his life from now on."

This is a book I gave up on first time round. Not because of any fault in the prose or story, but because of my own situation I found the opening almost unbearable to read. I put it aside for a while, but the quality of the writing drew me back in.

Young Finnish detective Kimmo Joentaa's wife dies of cancer and now everywhere Kimmo sees people he imagines them dying. Driven back to work by the appalling emptiness of his life he leads the investigation into a series of killings in the city of Turku, on Finland's west coast. Kimmo's isolation is reflected in his home outside the city in woods by a lake.

This is not a whodunnit: we know who the killer is very quickly and follow his story in a parallel narrative to Kimmo's investigations. His superiors are preoccupied with a search for the attempted assassin of a local politician, which descends into a farce and his immediate boss Ketola seems to be losing his mind. His colleagues are deftly drawn, and his relationship with the volatile Ketola strengthens as the book progresses. Turku and its surroundings are a vividly portrayed backdrop against which the story is played out.

The city of Turku is on the SW coast of Finland, 2 hours drive from Helsinki. It's situated at the mouth of the Aura River on the Baltic Sea, but sheltered by an archipelago of islands. The summer average temperatures are surprisingly similar to those of London, England, though the winters of course are much colder. It's roughly on the same latitude as Bergen, Stockholm, and Lerwick in the Shetland Isles, though in my ignorance I always thought of Finland as much further north.

Turku is the oldest city in Finland, and its history plays a part in the story: the Great Fire of Turku in 1827 destroyed most of the city - which was at that time the largest in Finland - including many significant buildings; after this, power transferred to Helsinki, where it remains. Turku is linked to Stockholm in Sweden by ferry, a 10 hour Baltic crossing, which Kimmo takes to interview a witness.

The only area which survived the Great Fire was a hillside on the outskirts of the city, which since 1940 has been preserved as the Luostarinmäki Handicrafts Museum, an open-air living history museum in which the visitor can experience life as it was in Turku 200 years ago. It consists of a dozen or so blocks of original 18th and 19th century buildings. During the summer season, the museum's workshops have craftspeople working there every day, and this site plays a significant role in Ice Moon.

Also important in the story is the little seaside town of Naantali, ten miles west of Turku city centre, and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. Apart from its beaches and the islands of the archipelago, it's also home to Moomin World, a theme park based on the Moomin books by Tove Jansson - one of the world's best theme parks for children according to The Independent on Sunday.

Ice Moon is Wagner's second novel, but the first to be translated into English. The author himself is German but is very familiar with the landscapes of Finland - clear from reading the novel - as his wife is Finnish and they divide their time between the two countries. I look forward to reading more about Detective Kimmo Joentaa.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sweden: 'Shadow' by Karin Alvtegen - a comment

First of all, an apology for the lack of recent posting, due to ongoing health issues - I now have to play catch-up over the next couple of weeks!

Karen Alvtegen's Shadow is a psychological mystery dealing with dark secrets surrounding Nobel prizewinning author Axel Ragnerfeldt and his family. The story opens with a young boy abandoned on the steps of an amusement arcade in 1975, and proceeds to unravel the repercussions of that act thirty years later. It's nominally set in Stockholm, but in fact could be anywhere.

The major problem I had with this book - apart from the fact I found the characters entirely unlikeable - is that one of the twists at the end is a well-worn contrivance and thus not much of a surprise. Apart from unremarkable plot-devices, though, this is a reasonably entertaining and undemanding read, but I won't be adding any of her other novels to my 'To Be Read' pile in the near future.

A small point - I nearly didn't pick up this book at all: from the picture on the front I assumed it fell into the misery-lit genre and was to be avoided at all costs.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Netherlands: 'The Reunion' by Simone Van Der Vlugt

Sabine Kroese, the narrator of The Reunion by Simone Van Der Vlugt, remembers little of the day nine years ago when her classmate, 15 year old Isabel Hartman, disappeared. As the story opens 23 year old Sabine returns for the first time in seven years to the small Dutch coastal town of Den Helder, 55 miles north of Amsterdam, where she grew up and went to school and from where her friend vanished. She has seen in a newspaper the notification of an upcoming school reunion and has begun to think about the past.

We learn that Sabine is about to take up her job at The Bank in Amsterdam again after some kind of mental breakdown, and it is not a happy return: her friend has moved to another job and a dictatorial co-worker has been promoted above her. Sabine feels isolated and ostracised, but takes comfort finding that an old schoolmate of her brother's is now working at The Bank too.

After seeing a recontsruction of Isabel's disappearance on TV, Sabine is haunted by the feeling that deep in her memory may be important information about the case, and she feels compelled to use the snatches and details she recalls to try and find out what happened. These clues lead her deep into the heart of the mystery where she uncovers several suspects, and gradually reveals to the reader the truth of her own childhood and the force which makes her so determined to uncover the truth.

The Reunion is Van Der Vlugt's first novel in the crime genre, and I was so engrossed in the story that I read it in a day. I don't always enjoy 1st person narrations, but this one worked very well, and I look forward to more from this author.

Among the many pleasures of the book is the author's evocation of this little seaside town in the off-season: the flat landscape, the lead-coloured sea and salty wind. Sabine doesn't look back on it fondly: it's a place for old people, sailors and tourists, she thinks. Den Helder is at the tip of the North Holland penninsula, and is the site of a large naval base, as well as being a tourist destination for both Dutch and foreign visitors. Not only does it boast a magnificent beach and sand dunes at Huisduinen, but woodlands, hiking and biking paths. Huisduinen is also famous for its lighthouse - Laang Jaap (picture above). The Dark Dunes, which feature prominently in the story, are a real and much visited location - click on the map at the bottom for WhereDunnit's The Reunion locations map.

The Frisian island of Taxel, another lovely and windswept destination, is a ferry-ride north of Den Helder - read about it here. Although I've visited the Netherlands a few times, I've never been to this penninsula - it's certainly on my wish-list now!

UK: The new Miss Marple on ITV at Easter - & the location of St Mary's Mead?

I've been doing some web-searching to try and find out when the new series of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple stories featuring Julia McKenzie will be shown on ITV, and according to some folk on DigitalSpy the first one, A Pocket Full of Rye, is scheduled for Easter. We'll see.

This programme has already been broadcast in several countries outside the UK, and for anyone desperate to know if Julia McKenzie's portrayal of the aged sleuth will be more Joan Hickson than Margaret Rutherford, several episodes (A Pocket Full of Rye and Murder Is Easy) are available on YouTube I'm not at all sure about the legality of whole episodes being there, and you would have to watch ten or so segments to see the whole thing, so personally I think I'll wait for the TV version!

As a matter of interest, although many people believe St Mary's Mead to be located in Hampshire between Basingstoke (Market Basing) and Bournemouth (Danemouth), and the location may indeed have evolved over the years through Christie's novels, the first reference to the village places it firmly in Kent, and in a Poirot story.

First mentioned in The Mystery of the Blue Train, a Poirot mystery published in 1928, St Mary Mead in Kent is the residence of its heroine, Katherine Grey.

During the same year Christie created one of her most famous sleuths, Miss Jane Marple, whom she introduced in a short story, The Tuesday Night Club. Miss Marple becomes the armchair solver of mysteries in a series of six short stories published in various magazines over the next few years. The club, founded by Miss Marple’s novelist nephew Raymond West, meets every week in St Mary Mead to discuss unsolved crimes, and quiet, genteel Miss Marple is always the one who solves each mystery. She explains: “Human nature is much the same in a village as anywhere else, only one has opportunities and leisure for seeing it at closer quarters.”

In 1932 these stories and seven others were gathered together and published in one volume as The Thirteen Problems. By this time the first full-length Marple novel, Murder At The Vicarage, had been published and Christie had fictionalised Kent as ‘Downshire’.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Sweden: "Mind's Eye" by Håkan Nesser: Introducing Inspector Van Veeteren

It's a given - Swedish author Håkan Nesser's acclaimed Inspector Van Veetering stories are set in Sweden, surely? That's certainly what I assumed last summer when I read Borkmann's Point – the 2nd in the series, though the first to be translated in English. I enjoyed that book, despite some obvious plot twists. So I was surprised to discover last week, reading the first in the series Mind's Eye, that the books aren't set in Sweden at all, but in an unnamed European country that could be Holland, Poland, Germany…….. with the locations sounding distinctly Dutch.

Janek Mitter wakes up one morning after a mammoth drinking session to find his wife of three months Eva Ringmar dead in the bath. Arrested for her murder he tells his lawyer and DCI Van Veeteren that the only thing he recalls of that night is that he did not kill her.

Van Veeteren is introduced as a man despondent when the weather is poor, separated several times from his wife, depressed by the prospect that they might be getting back together, and responsible for a sick elderly dog. He is distant from his adult daughter Jess, and his son Erich is serving a prison sentence for drug-smuggling. He rarely smiles – though he has a dry wit – and at one point compares himself to a posturing male gorilla when he unexpectedly catches sight of himself grinning.

He is sustained on a daily basis by a supply of wooden toothpicks and the ambition of beating his colleague Münster at badminton. As possibly the best interrogating officer in the country his attempts to resign from the police are consistently refused by Chief of Police Reinhart.

Van Veeteren prides himself on his ability, in 19 out of 20 cases, to tell with accuracy whether an accused is guilty or not. But Janek Mitter is the 20th, and Van Veeteren's not sure. Without the accused's co-operation, though, Van Veeteren is unable to take the investigation in any new direction before Mitter comes to trial.

Mind's Eye is a little slow to get going, and Van Veeteren is hardly the first disaffected, middle-aged curmudgeon of a detective in crime fiction, but he is entertaining in his mordant moodiness and his persistence in spite of the inefficiency and incompetence which sometimes surrounds him. It's a very enjoyable read, with a puzzle I didn't decipher until the end.

As for the locations, although Maardam is a fictional town and the made-up northern European country where the stories are set is never named, many believe that Nesser took his inspiration from the towns of Kumla and Örebro, about 130 miles west (thanks, Anonymous!) of Stockholm. As Kumla is where Håkan Nesser was born and grew up, this would hardly be surprising.

The TV series featuring Van Veeteren was filmed in the south of Sweden, and for the first three programmes, a great deal of attention was paid to making the locations culturally neutral, by using non-Swedish registration plates on the cars, and non-Swedish police uniforms. The later three films are less scrupulous in this regard.

In 2006 Håkan Nesser created a new detective: Gunnar Barbarotti, a Swedish police inspector of Italian descent, and this time, although he has created another fictional city - Kymlinge - the location is firmly in Sweden.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

North Carolina: Down on the farm with 'Down River' by John Hart

Adam Chase, the narrator of Down River, returns home to the family farm five years after being banished from his childhood home by his father following his acquittal in a murder trial. Even his family thought he was guilty and didn't want him around.

Now his best friend has begged him to come back. In the meantime a nuclear power company is trying to buy up all the land for development, and Chase's father – the largest landowner in the area – is leading the opposition.

I chose to read Down River as it is set in a part of the USA – North Carolina – that I loved when I visited, though most of my time there was spent on the wonderful Outer Banks. And when I noticed it bannered as a Richard&Judy Summer Read, I expected it to be a compelling story.

But I'm sorry to say that, for me at least, it wasn't. I found the style, with its tendency to very short sentences and sentence fragments – presumably to enhance the urgency of the narrative drive – to be wearying after a while. The plot rattles along at a breakneck speed with an interesting initial premise, but its development and the ultimate denouement is predictable. I never felt the characters were fully fleshed out, and I didn't care about what happened to them.

Most disappointing was, however, that there was little sense of place in the story. It is set in Salisbury in Rowan County, fifty miles north of Charlotte, the largest city in North Carolina, and I was astonished to discover, when researching for this blog, that Rowan County, the Yadkin River and the city of Salisbury are all real places – the city has some gracious old buildings and an interesting history. This makes the lack of grounding and atmosphere even more surprising, especially since the author is himself a native of the state, and still lives there.

I guess this just isn't my style of story – lots of fighting, guns, beautiful women and running about. I'm moving on to Hakan Nesser's Mind's Eye next – hopefully that'll be more to my taste!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

UK: Inspector Barnarby to leave 'Midsomer Murders' on TV

Causton police HQ is to lose its most famous resident detective. Actor John Nettles, 65, has announced that he will be leaving Midsomer Murders after 2 more series are made - 16 episodes, his final epsiode scheduled to be screened in 2011.However, the series is apparently set to continue after Nettles leaves.

The original novels, by Caroline Graham, are located in the Chilter
ns area north-west of London. In The Killings At Badgers Drift, Barnaby's home village is located 30 miles from Slough, infamous for John Betjemin's poem, Heathrow Airport - and of course, David Brent!

The TV series was shot mainly in the counties of Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire, with many scenes also filmed in Oxfordshire, and as far as Wales and Devon. Here is is great site which gives details and pictures of nearly 200 of the locations used in the shows so far.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

UK: News - Ann Cleeves's Vera Stanhope on TV?

I was delighted to discover today there is a strong possibility that the Vera Stanhope novels of Ann Cleeves might be televised, beginning with Hidden Depths (See here for more about Vera and the location of the stories.) There's more information about the possible ITV production in Ann Cleeves's web diary - apparently the scriptwriter has been up to Northumberland to look round 'Vera-land' and his on his second draft.

In the light of my previous post on the Shetland Isles I must also be sure to look out for Ann's short story, to be broadcast in the 3.30pm story slot on Radio 4 in April, set in Shetland and featuring Detective Jimmy Perez. There's also a link on her website to an interview about Red Bones, the third in the Shetland Quartet, which is published next week.

This is all excellent news. I wonder who will be cast as Vera? I've put some suggestions in the poll to the right - if you've got other ideas, please post them below!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Shetland Isles: Beating the chill with 'White Nights' by Ann Cleeves.

It's summertime in Shetland and the sun never sets: during those white nights it seems like everyone goes a little crazy.

A stranger falls to his knees weeping in front of one of the pictures at the opening of a glamorous art exhibition. The man then disappears after claiming to Detective Jimmy Perez – attending the launch with one of the artists, Fran Hunter – that he is suffering from amnesia, only to be found dead the next morning.

White Nights is the second to be published in Ann Cleeves's Shetland Quartet of stories. The first, Raven Black, was released in 2006 to much acclaim, and White Nights followed in 2008. Over the last few days I've thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in a warm Shetland summer: the book is an engrossing puzzle that kept me guessing right until the very end, and has sympathetic characters I liked spending time with.

The story is focused on the isolated settlement of Biddista, a fictional location on the northwest coast of Shetland's main island. The village comprises little more than a few cottages and crofts, a manse where world-famous artist Bella Sinclair lives and an art gallery and restaurant called the Herring House, converted from a building that once dried fish. Ann Cleeves based the arts centre on the real Bonhoga Gallery at Weisdale Mill, a former grain mill housing Shetland's premier gallery showing local, national and international exhibitions of art and craft, plus a coffee shop, and famous throughout the islands.

The author herself provides a most helpful map on her website giving the general location of the first three books in the quartet.

Though part of the British Isles, the Shetlands are in fact 130 miles north of the Scottish mainland (12 hours by ferry, which is why the detectives from HQ in Inverness prefer to fly!). Shetland is further north than Oslo in Norway, Stockholm in Sweden, and even Moscow, and Lerwick is as close to Bergen in Norway as it is to Inverness and Aberdeen. The Shetland Isles are much further north than they usually look on a map of the British Isles, as they tend to be scrunched up in a box in the top right-hand corner with the distances not to scale.

Travel to the Shetlands is either by ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick, or by flying from one of the major Scottish cities to Sumburgh in the south of the main island. The distance and lack of direct communications to many places on the mainland cause problems for Inspectors Taylor and Perez in their investigations. Cruise ships visit Shetland during the summer months, docking in Lerwick for a few days and offering various trips around the islands to their passengers, and it is with one of these that White Nights begins.

The Shetland Tourist Board are of course keen to encourage visitors and have been very supportive of author Ann Cleeves as she explains in her blog on the launch of White Nights at a gallery in Bloomsbury last April. Ann herself talks about living in the Shetlands for two years in the 1970s
in this article for The Times.

The next in the series, Red Bones, will be published on 20th February 2009, and I'm looking forward to reading it!

Click on the map below to go to WhereDunnit's map of Ann Cleeves's Shetland Quartet:

Thanks to Roger Cornwell for permission to use his photo of the Bonhoga Gallery, Shetland, and to Jean Rogers for her wonderful view of Shetland, top.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Germany: A puzzle, but no mystery?

Snow Day - school's out in Kent! This has given me time to update some of the countries on WhereDunnit, including uploading the page for German crime fiction. And it struck me that there seems to be a dearth of German crime fiction translated into English - at least as far as I can find.

I understand that Germans are great fans of the genre, devouring Scandinavian, British, French and Italian novels - so it's hard to believe that there aren't more native German crimewriters. If there are, why haven't they been made available to us in English?

So if anyone knows of any glaring omissions in my list, I'd be very grateful if you could let me know, likewise if any of the locations are incorrect. I've also updated the following: Canada, Austria & Switzerland and France. If it keeps on snowing, I may have time to do some more tomorrow!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Sweden: Stieg Larsson's 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo' -WhereDunnit's verdict, and 'Millennium' tours of Stockholm.

Well, I managed to finish it this time: though it felt like a long haul in places.

Once I had got into the Vanger plotline there was never any chance that I wasn't going to keep on until the end - I got caught up in the storytelling in the same way as I do when reading one of Robert Goddard's books, and I really wanted to find out what had happened to Harriet (though I confess to being a little disappointed with the solution to her disappearance - in a novel of over 500 pages, with enormous detail about almost everything, there were plot tie-ups that seemed surprisingly abrupt).

Nor did I care much about who Blomkvist was sleeping with at any time though I could see at least some of that had a purpose for the plot. And sadly I never really believed in Salander – she's like James Bond – too ridiculously good at everything, not just the hacking and fighting, but being able to produce, for instance, firstly perfect Oxford English and then impeccable German with a deliberate Norwegian accent.

But despite the wildly-gothic plot and the smug way Blomkvist assured the Swedish people that their Stock Exchange crash wouldn't affect ordinary people's lives (we've all seen how well THAT theory's played out recently) I'm not sorry I read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, if only to see what all the fuss was about. Mostly it's a page-turner: the ruthless pruning which would have improved it was impossible due to Larsson's death. I won't be rushing to read The Girl Who Played With Fire, but I won't dismiss it either.

One of the glowing tributes to Stieg Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo calls it Swedish crime-fiction's War and Peace. Sorry - in my opinion, Tolstoy he ain't!

It's now possible to take Stieg Larsson tours in Stockholm, courtesy of the City Museum. Here is a 12 minute radio article in English which talks a little about the story and characters, also about Larsson himself, and interviews readers from around Europe. (Click on the link on the Swedish radio page- you may have to select your audio settings at the bottom (Realplayer/ Windows) and then press Spara)

An article Fans Walk In The Footsteps of Stieg Larsson's 'Millennium' Trilogy gives details of route of the tours, when and where, and how much the tickets are.

Click on the map below to see WhereDunnit's updated map of the places in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sweden: Stieg Larsson's 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo' - starting and stopping.

The world is thick with reviews of 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo' and there's little need for me to contribute another one. I haven't read other commentaries but the fact that it's a number one bestseller indicates how popular it is, and I believe that it has also achieved the feat of being critically acclaimed, too.

This is difficult for me, as I started reading the book a few months ago and found it less than compelling. The prologue was intriguing, but then I found myself bogged down with chunks of exposition about financial crimes far less exotic than those happening around me every day. I realised I was skimming paragraph after paragraph. Lisbeth Salander was introduced, but I wasn't moved by her, either. She struck me as a character very much following in the footsteps of, say, Donna Leon's Signorina Elettra crossed with the goth-chick-lab-tech traits of a variety of US dramas such as 'NCIS' (2003 - current) and 'Mysterious Ways' (2000 - 2002).

So I laid it aside as wave upon wave of praise crashed over it, and I felt compelled to give it another try. By the end of the week I'll know whether I've changed my mind!

Until then, here's my map of the (mainly) Stockholm locations of TGWTDT as far as I've now got:

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Sweden: Camilla Lackberg as the new Agatha Christie? A review of 'The Ice Princess'

The third stop on WhereDunnit's crime fiction tour of Sweden is the small fishing village of Fjällbacka, setting for Camilla Lackberg's first novel The Ice Princess.

Although she is the author of six books featuring Inspector Patrik Hedstrom of the Tanumshede police and writer Erica Falck, only one has been translated into English so far, with another, The Preacher, due for release in February. Lackberg has been called Sweden's Agatha Christie, and while it is certainly true that The Ice Princess is a beautifully plotted whodunnit, the characterisation and description is far more rich and dense than this comparison implies.

What she does share with many of Christie's stories is the setting she has chosen for her series: a self-contained community, where everyone tries to know everybody else's business, and secrets are hard to protect – but where keeping up appearances is vital. The community in The Ice Princess is the coastal village of Fjällbacka, where Lackberg herself was born and lived as a child.

When author Erica Falck returns to her childhood home in Fjällbacka to tidy up loose ends after the sudden death of her parents, she discovers the frozen, dead body of a schoolfriend she hasn't seen for decades. Reluctantly at first, and with the help of local police inspector Patrik Hedstrom, she begins to unravel the threads of mysteries that have lain hidden at the heart of the community for many years.

The importance of the setting is emphasised by the inclusion of a map of Fjällbacka, and the descriptions of the landscape are both vivid and an integral part of the story. One of the subplots concerns tourists and incomers from Stockholm buying up traditional homes just to use in the summer for holidays.

The characters are deftly drawn: Erica is a sympathetic lead: despite her tall blonde attractiveness – which would normally set me against her from the get-go - she is a little preoccupied about her weight, and, at thirty five and alone, worries about never having a partner or a child. The police squad are a cast of the usual suspects – the fiercely efficient secretary, the one coasting towards retirement, the suck-up – but my favourite is Police Chief Bertil Mellberg, with his paunch, his uncontrollable comb-over and his unshakable self-belief. Think Andy Dalziel without the charm or grace …. or skill.

Fjallbacka is about 90 miles north of Göteborg (Gothenburg) on the west coast of Sweden up near the border with Norway's coast. Although now primarily a tourist destination because of the picturesque aspect of the many original buildings, in the past it was a fishing village and it is this history which is important in The Ice Princess.

Fjällbacka means 'mountain hill' because the village is situated around the huge stone cliff of Vetteberget which is fractured by a fissure known as Kungsklyftan (King's Chasm/Cleft). The village is surrounded by an archipelago of lovely tiny islands, which also attracts many tourists – including, in the past, the famous movie actress Ingrid Bergman, who owned an island in the Fjallbacka archipelago and loved to go there each summer. At her request, after her death her ashes were scattered around Fjallbacka, and her statue was erected in the village square which was renamed in her honour.The hotel in the village, the Storla Hotellet Fjallbacka had mixed reviews on Tripadvisor, but most of the information available is of course in Swedish. There are more images here.

The Ice Princess and The Preacher have been made into a successful series for Swedish television. Lackberg has commented: " I loved the Swedish TV-series and especially the casting, which was great. They did the two first books and the series had very high ratings when it aired in Sweden, so they will now film the next two books come this fall." There are DVDs but they are only available in Sweden and I do not know if they come with English subtitles (I know some of the Swedish Wallanders do). This website, though in Swedish, shows the actors who play the main characters.

Last summer, Lackberg and Swedish chef published a cookery book called Smaker from Fjällbacka (Tastes from Fjällbacka), only available in Swedish. A review can be found here.

Finally, one of the things I was surprised to note in passing when reading this book, which struck me again as I start reading Stieg Larsson's The Girls With The Dragon Tattoo (yes, I know I'm way behind on this) is that Sweden has a statute of limitations on homicide, so that after 25 years even first degree murderers cannot be prosecuted. In 2005 there was discussion of removing this limitation, as DNA and other trace evidence can now be recovered from very old cases, but as far as I can discover it has not been repealed yet.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Northumberland: Ann Cleeves and the Vera Stanhope books.

The windswept coastal villages and rolling moors of Northumberland are the settings for Ann Cleeves's three novels featuring Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope, first introduced in The Crow Trap (1999).

In this book three women, all of them with secrets, come together in an isolated cottage in the Northumberland National Park to undertake an environmental survey. But after two sudden deaths it is up to Stanhope to untangle the mysteries they would rather keep hidden. Big, brisk but basically kindly and with a reputation for eccentricity, Stanhope gets results through dogged persistence coupled with a wise intelligence and the ability to see unexpected connections. She hides her decisive mind behind a lugubrious and down-to-earth exterior. The location for this story – Baikie's Cottage – is based on a settlement called Threestone Burns, right up in the hills of the national park.

The second in the series, Telling Tales (2005), sees Stanhope seconded to South Yorkshire to investigate an apparent miscarriage of justice, but she returns to her cottage in the Northumberland hills for Hidden Depths (2007). Cleeves's mastery of shifting persepective is particularly evidenced in this finely crafted tale. The investigation revolves around a series of bodies discovered drowned surrounded by flowers like pre-Raphaelite figures, and a group of four men bound by the ties of old friendship.

Seaton, where much of the novel is set, is based on Holywell, near Whitley Bay in Northumberland. Deepden, where one of the bodies is discovered, is a fictional village up the coast is somewhere on the wide sweep of Druridge Bay. Hidden Depths is an intriguing and beautifully crafted story, and Stanhope is a strong and interesting detective.

Although I am enjoying very much Cleeves's latest Shetland Quartet series, I hope we haven't seen the last of Vera Stanhope!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Italy: Andrea Camilleri's "Paper Moon" in paperback, and Montalbano's Sicily.

You won't find Vigàta on any map of Sicily. It’s the fictional setting for Andrea Camilleri's highly popular series of nine (in English) crime novels featuring temperamental yet wise Inspector Salvo Montalbano.

Paper Moon is the most recent to be translated into English, and the paperback version has just been reissued. It delivers the expected romp as Montalbano once again finds himself investigating beautiful women, this time involved in the death of a travelling pharmaceutical salesman, aided (or hindered) by his caricature police colleagues. And throughout the story he is plagued by intimations of his mortality.

Camilleri himself grew up in the Sicilian town of Porto Empedocle on the SW coast of the island, and this is the inspiration for Vigàta, the little harbour town in which Montalbano serves alongside his small band of officers. In fact, so proud are the inhabitants of their literary connections that in 2003 the town was officially renamed Porto Empedocle Vigàta. The fictional city of Montelusa is based on Agrigento, the nearby provincial capital.The detective's favourite trattoria, the San Calogero, actually exists at 2 Via Roma, Porto Empedocle. The owners are used to tourists coming in and asking for Montalbano's favourite dishes.

The Italian television episodes based on the Montalbano novels were filmed in various places around Sicily, but much of Vigàta was shot in the hillside town of Ragusa (see map below) a glorious baroque fortified town with steep winding streets, slashed by a deep ravine created by an earthquake which split the town in two in the 17th century, now spanned by four impressive bridges.

Montalbano's beachside home with terrace was shot using the seafront at Punta Secca, although the bedroom was filmed a few miles away at a seafront villa in Marina di Ragusa.

For a taste of the fantastic scenery and settings for the Italian TV version, visit the RAI Montalbano website, and here is a direct link to go directly to this page from which you can watch all the TV episodes – in Italian, of course.

I especially love the opening sequence which has some fabulous shots, so it's worth a look even if you don't intend to watch each 90 minute show in full! My only difficulty with this series is that Luca Zingaretti seems a decade too young for my idea of Montalbano, but he's quite compelling in the role.

Finally, anyone wishing to follow in Salvo's footsteps, there are organised tours– or you can even have one customised especially for you!

Click on the map to view larger

Monday, January 05, 2009

UK: TV detective series scheduled for 2009 include the following:

Another six episodes of Alexander McCall Smith's The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency stories. Despite the sad death of Anthony Mingella. Jill Scott and Anika Noni Rose return as co-founders Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi, but find their turf being trodden on by newcomer Cephas Buthelezi (Paterson Joseph) - a fellow private detective who sets up a rival agency and moves in on Mma Ramotswe's patch. The series is currently scheduled to air from March 2009.

David Peace's Red Riding Quartet has been made into a trilogy of films set in Seventies and Eighties Yorkshire – and drawing on the real-life hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper. Both the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph rate it as likely to be one of the television highlights of the year. Paranoia, police corruption and the Yorkshire Ripper form the backdrop to three feature-length adaptations of Peace's bleak, violent novels. Currently scheduled to air on Channel 4 in March, it stars Warren Clarke (Andy Dalziel) and Sean Bean.

I was attending Leeds University and living in Leeds during the 1970s and it was very scary at the time. The final victim was killed just off Alma Road in Headingly, where a very close friend and his wife lived whom we had visited many times.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

UK: When will the Kindle be available here?

Why are we wa-aiting?

Of course, I know the technical reason given by Amazon: they have to sign up a variety of wireless networks to cover the whole of Europe before they want to go to the effort of introducing the Kindle over here.

But surely they must have some idea of when it is likely to be launched in the UK? I have been seriously thinking about buying the Sony Reader for several months, but each time I restrain myself in the belief that as soon as I do, the Kindle will be launched in the UK and I will kick myself for not waiting.

Today, searching for a copy of Charles Todd's A Fearsome Doubt which I want to read because it's set in Kent and I'm still working on my Wheredunnit book proposal [Promise to self: This WILL be completed by the end of January] I discovered that I could download it immediately as an ebook. So I'm all of a dither again.

There seem to be drawbacks and advantages to both the Sony and the Kindle.

The Kindle:
  • It's not available in the UK and there are no details as to when it will be: very big CON
  • Judging from the US website there are thousands of crime fiction books which I might want to read all ready for downloading: PRO
  • But - the UK website might not have as many as the US one, and we might not be able to download from the US Amazon - Sony US ebooks aren't available to UK readers: CON
  • From the available images, the Kindle isn't as attractive as the Sony 505: CON
  • The Kindle has a keyboard, so you can make notes on what you are reading: PRO
  • Eventually, when the wireless is set up, downloading wirelessly will be very rapid: PRO
  • There is no effective & attachable light for the Kindle, only those old-fashioned clip-on things which I've never got on with for real books: CON
  • Kindle books appear to be cheaper than Sony books, though it's hard to make a comparison: PRO
Pro: 4 Con: 4

The Sony 505
  • It's available here now: very big PRO
  • It's cheaper than the Kindle is likely to be, at £194, which includes a CD of 100 classics: PRO
  • It's prettier than the Kindle, and the 505 has buttons to make one-handed reading easy: PRO
  • A lighted cover is available for reading in the dark without disturbing anyone (or reading in most hotels nowadays): PRO
  • There's no way of entering notes about books being read: probably a CON
  • It isn't wireless. Can't see this as a problem for myself, as I won't be wanting newspapers and magazines. But never having experienced it, I might be quite wrong: probably CON
  • The choice of books from Sony/Waterstones (and other UK-available sites) is fairly limited. For instance, I couldn't have got the latest Arnaldur Indridason: CON
  • The books available from Sony/Waterstones are VERY expensive - 'The Private Patient' is even more costly as an ebook than it was to purchase as a hardback: big CON
Pro: 4 Definite Con: 2 Probable Con: 2

So I remain undecided - for now. But I don't think I can hold out much longer..........

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Switzerland: "And Then There Was No One" by Gilbert Adair - Review

And Then There Was No One
is the third and possibly last book to feature Gilbert Adair's Agatha Christie pastiche caricature, Evadne Mount. She first appeared in the Boxing Day country-house mystery The Act of Roger Murgatroyd, which I read, and then A Mysterious Affair of Style, which I didn't.

This novel is written as a first person narration in the persona of the author 'Gilbert Adair' – a writer, who could be mistaken for David Hockney, who has written two Agatha Christie pastiches featuring a detective called Evadne Mount….. get the idea?

We are presented with the facts of the murder – who, when, where – on the first page of the prologue (a necessity, really, since the first body doesn't turn up until two thirds of the way through the book) – a prologue which exists as a wily chunk of exposition about the dead man's backstory. The victim – Gustav Slavorigin –was a Rushdie-esque figure, the author of a highly controversial polemical essay denigrating the American experience on 9/11 who has been pursued by, amongst others, the backwoods followers of a rabid neo-con Texan zillionaire.

The narrator, Slavorigin and several other ill-assorted authors meet in the Swiss town of Meiringen, site of the Reichenbach Falls, for the first Sherlock Homes literary festival. Meiringen is a real town with a real Sherlock Holmes Museum, proud of its literary associations and the Sherlock Holmes Hotel, though it sports the SportHotel (it must be catching…) branding is actually, I understand, one of the Hilton portfolio, though for some reason they keep this quiet.

Bravely, the Adair-narrator recites complete a piece from his "Unpublished Casebook Of Sherlock Holmes" to the audience at the convention – the completely new story 'The Giant Rat of Sumatra' as referenced in Conan Doyle's tale 'The Adventure Of The Sussex Vampire'.

Self-references abound, and real people are mixed with fictional creations: the real-fictional and the fictional-fictional worlds are dizzyingly interwoven, and the climax left me grinning with admiration.

The book is full of sly allusions to Christie's stories (Adair rents a house in the Cotswolds and travels down to it weekly on the 4:50 from Paddington) and to other crimewriters' works, for example the Martin Beck stories of Sjowall & Wahloo. But any jokes in German – and those in many other languages also – will have flown unnoticed right past me.

And that's really the problem I had with this book. This reader felt frustrated that she was probably missing more than half the jokes; it was frequently unclear whether the "author's" mocking tone was directed at himself, his story, or – most probably – at me. Although I enjoyed the romp and the worthy ending, I was left with the feeling that I'm not clever enough to fully appreciate the dazzling virtuosity on display in And Then There Was No One. And that, dear reader, is not a comfortable realisation!
The bronze statue of Sherlock Holmes outside the museum at Meiringen, Switzerland

Iceland: "Arctic Chill" by Arnaldur Indriðason - Review

Arctic Chill
is the fifth book featuring Reykjavik detective Erlendur Sveinnsson to be translated into English – the first two in the series, Sons of Dust and Silent Kill, are still not available to the English reader.

The bitter cold of an Icelandic January sees Inspector Erlendur and his team - Sigurdur Oli, struggling with the concept of adoption as his wife desperate for a child, and Elinborg, whose own infant is sick – investigating the death of a ten year old boy found stabbed and abandoned in an icy garden.

His mother is a Thai incomer, and Erlendur must consider a range of suspects from teachers and classmates to neighbours and local racists. Matters are complicated further when it seems that a dangerous paedophile might be living in the area. At the same time Erlendur is preoccupied not only by the disappearance of a local housewife but also the questions raised during a visit from his daughter, Eva Lind, which he does not wish to answer.

This is a compelling police procedural which I can thoroughly recommend: Erlendur is in the mould of depressed Scandinavian detectives Martin Beck and Kurt Wallander, but is his own man, and the gradual unravelling of his personal tragedy from novel to novel is intriguing, as is the insight into Icelandic society and the finely drawn characterisations and spare prose style.

The next Erlendur novel, Harðskafi, promises much. It apparently takes the detective back to his childhood home (see below) deep into his soul and the defining trauma of his youth, the loss of his younger brother. Released in Iceland in 2007, it is due to be published in English in the Autumn of 2009 under the provisional title Hypothermia.