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!