Friday, 2 April 2010

What I Read In March

March was (mostly) translated crime fiction month. Although I started the month off with a British caper and ended it with a most excellent short story collection.

Published: March 2010
Publisher: maXcrime
Setting: English seaside town
Protagonist: Mark Miles
Series?: Standalone
First Lines: 'Summer is hell here.'
Mark Miles is a PR...I hesitate to say expert because, quite frankly, he's not. When his escapologist client fails to escape and is missing, presumed drowned, that's just the start of a very bad day for Mark. It's only going to get worse as he's pestered by a sleazy private investigator and he becomes involved with a dodgy self-help guru who's more like the leader of a cult. A great blackly comic romp from the director of the original Get Carter, you can tell this was written by a man with an eye for the screen as there are some wonderful descriptions and very cinematic scenes that really made me smile. Larger than life. Violence, sleaze, blackmail, sex. Great stuff.

I'M NOT SCARED - Niccolo Ammaniti
Published: 2010 (first published 2001)
Publisher: Canongate
Setting: A small Italian village
Protagonist: Michele Amitrano
Series?: Standalone
First Lines: 'I was just about to overtake Salvatore when I heard my sister scream.'
Michele is a ten-year old boy from a tiny Italian village. His long hot summer days are spent with his sister and his friends, riding around on their bikes, playing games, squabbling amongst themselves – typical ten-year old boy stuff. Until one day Michele is dared by his friends to go into a deserted and tumbledown house. He finds something hidden away in a pit which changes his life and leads him to discover things about himself and the people he loves that mean that idyllic childhood days are gone for good. A dark, tense coming-of-age story told in the first person, which means we are just as in the dark as Michele and see things as they unfold through his eyes.

THE RETURN - Hakan Nesser
Published: 2007 (first published 1995)
Publisher: Macmillan
Setting: an unnamed country in northern Europe
Protagonist: Inspector Van Veeteren
Series?: 3rd to be translated
First Lines: 'It was the first and last day.'A prisoner is released from jail after serving a twelve year sentence. A little girl on a school trip in the woods comes across a man’s body wrapped in a carpet. Inspector Van Veeteren is called in. His job is made harder not only by the fact that the body has been dismembered and decapitated, but it’s also been lying there for about a year. And, as if that wasn’t enough, Van Veeteren is due to go into hospital for a serious operation and is facing his own mortality. Nesser is an excellent writer. This is a clever and brilliantly plotted book that spans twenty years, but it is the character of Van Veeteren which is really special. He’s slightly glum but with a great sense of understated humour. He’s also realistic about justice, without being totally cynical. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and he’s not an easy man to get to know but he’s sympathetic and likeable character, a good man and an excellent policeman.

SILENCE OF THE GRAVE - Arnaldur Indridason
Published: 2006 (first published 2002)
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Setting: Iceland
Protagonist: Detective Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson
Series?: 2nd
First Lines: 'He knew at once it was a human bone, when he took it from the baby who was sitting on the floor chewing it.'
As a decades old skeleton is slowly and carefully unearthed, so detective Erlendur Sveinsson slowly and meticulously uncovers the solution, fleshing out the bare bones of the story by painstaking detective work. Like the Nesser, this book has its roots set in the past. Indridason’s detective is quite a bit grumpier than Nesser’s. He’s lonely, miserable, and he doesn’t seem to have that much going for him. His ex wife hates him, his children avoid him, and his daughter is a pregnant drug addict. Indridason is one of those authors who do social realism really well. The main theme of SILENCE OF THE GRAVE is domestic violence – past and present. And a very compelling and sad tale it is too. It made me feel quite melancholy as I was reading it and heartsick for several of the characters.

A PRETTY FACE - Rafael Reig
Published: 2007 (first published 2004)
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
Setting: Madrid
Protagonist: Maria Dolores Eguibar Madrazo
Series?: Possibly 2nd but more of a standalone
First Lines: 'It all ended one Thursday morning, 18 November 1999, without the century coming to an end and five days before my birthday. I'd have been thirty six.'
We first meet Maria Dolores (aka Lola), the narrator of this story, as she is dying on her own doorstep. Needless to say, she's more than a tad peeved by this, and is not paticularly happy to attend her own autopsy, especially as she's accompanied by Benito, the obnoxious schoolboy her imagination has created in a series of children's books. Got that? This is the very surreal, alternate reality created by Reig. Into the mix he throws a psychiatric hospital, some mysterious papers, and a neuroprotein. Convoluted and idiosyncratic metafiction I quite literally lost the plot on occasion, but it's good fun, and told in a breezy conversational style by a protagonist you can't help wishing was still alive.

RADGEPACKET 4: Tales From The Inner Cities - Various - short story collection
Published: March 2010
Publisher: Byker Books
Setting: Various
Protagonist: Various rapscallions, madmen and cutpurses
Series?: Luckily, yes, there are more
A collection of 22 short stories - gritty, funny, weird, warped and wonderful. Some of my favourites were Ray Banks' THE DEACON SHUFFLE about a robbery in a chemist's shop, Keith Gingell's REPO - a chilling tale of a man who values houses that have been repossessed, Danny King's IT STARTED WITH A DISS - a great story of a schoolboy crush, Steve Porter's creepy BLURRED GIRL DIARIES, Paul Brazill's THE NIGHT WATCHMAN and Blaine Ward's AN EYE FOR AN EYE. They're not all crime stories but many of them have a crime in, and all of them are deliciously nasty. An anthology for those who like their fiction twisted, profane and depraved. Me, I loved it.


  1. Cheers for the hat tip, Donna. I've a couple more Peter Ord investigations knocking about -including one with a trip to Scotland! Crivens!

  2. Help ma boab!!!

    Cheers for that - glad you liked it.

  3. Excellent, I've been looking forward to this post! I'm Not Scared is still gathering dust on my bookshelf (it's only been there a few weeks but I don't clean often so there's a lot of dust about in my flat), but I will read it soon.
    I read The Return and I enjoyed it very much. Van Veeteren reminded me a lot of Morse. I kept waiting for him to pull out the Times crossword or correct the grammar in some criminal's letter of confession. I think there is a difference though in their ideas of justice. I'm not sure Morse would have wrapped up the case in the same way Van Veeteren did.
    The similiraties between Morse and Van Veeteren got me wondering about why some books are translated and others aren't. It can't be about filling a gap in the market because, although I enjoyed reading The Return, I didn't find it unique or unlike anything I'd ever read before. There was nothing particularly Swedish about it; the characters and the storyline could easily have been transplanted to another European country without me noticing any difference. Is it to do with how popular the author is in his or her home country? I see that Hakan Nesser has won numerous Swedish and Scandinavian awards for his writing.
    I'd be interested to hear from anyone who knows what publishers are looking for when they take on works in translation.
    Don't forget to let us know what you will be reading in April, Donna!

  4. You have read some great Scandinavians there! Hakan Nesser may not be as well-known as Mankell, but in some ways I like his quiet stories better.

    I know "Old Dog" is a caper. I wonder whether it can also be called a cozy mystery? Well, I am a post-modern reviewer so I s´pose it is anything I feel it is no matter what the author says ;D

  5. Paul, Ed - I did indeed - great stuff guys!

    Helen - I totally agree about Van Veeteren and Morse - in fact, wasn't there a Morse case which he solved from his hospital bed? And I also agree that Morse would never have resolved the case in the same way. Hmmmmm, he might somehow have led it there, though? I have no idea why publishers choose to translate some and not others. From Dorte's blog there are some Scandinavian authors I really wish would be translated. They also seem to do them in a weird order (I know that Nesser and Nesbo at least both have this problem). I shall definitely post a list of my April reads. I can tell you that my first one is GUNS OF BRIXTON by Mark Timlin and will have a think about the rest and let you know! Thanks for your thoughts on Nesser.

    Dorte - I prefer Nesser to Mankell. And you can call OLD DOGS anything you like (although I think my mum might disagree about the cosy!)

  6. You know I've just finshed a story called Guns Of Brixton, which is going to be in Crime Factory! Doh! Do you think I should change the title?

  7. Paul - I think it's a perfectly lovely title and you should keep it :o)

  8. Ta. I have taken you advice and kept the title.
    I'm writing the follow up now . The title is also froma punk era song. Let see if someone else uses it. Or Maybe I should just call it "Shaddap You Face"

  9. Thanks for the mention, Donna. Glad you liked it. In response to the question about what publishers are looking for when they take on works for translation: simple, something that they think will sell plenty of copies. Just as happens in publishing in general in the vast majority of cases and certainly where crime writing is concerned.

  10. Paul - now I'm intrigued to know the title.

    Steve - you're welcome - it was a great story. As for the translations, I guess that if it's a series, they just translate what they think is the best one and if it sells they'll maybe translate the rest!

  11. Hi Donna,
    Found your site via Byker Books newsletter and like what you're doing here.
    I'll be sure to check out your recommendations.
    And that Paul Brazill - helluva writer!