findingtimetowrite

Thinking, writing, thinking about writing…

Japan, Italy, Spain: Where My Crime Fiction Takes Me

I do love crime fiction set in different countries. I believe that crime novels are great at conveying the small details, the atmosphere, the cultural differences which make up a country. I tend to pack them in my luggage when I venture to a new country, right alongside the travel guides. The last three have taken me to Japan, Italy/France and Spain.

Japan: “All She Was Worth” by Miyuki Miyabe (No information about translator!?!), Oriel

all-she-was-worth

Inspector Honma is a gentle soul, on semi-retirement from the police force since his wife’s death, with the usual single father doubts about his parenting abilities towards his ten-year-old son Makoto. A distant cousin descends on him one snowy evening and asks for his help to trace his missing fiancé. As Honma uncovers more and more unsettling facts about this woman and her past, he reluctantly has to bear witness to the dark side of Japan’s economic boom: the belief in a good life today rather than tomorrow, falling into debt and being pursued by loan sharks, succumbing to the temptation of hostess bars and … possibly… murder. The story is told at a much more leisurely pace than one might be accustomed to from a contemporary Western novel: there is almost something of the Golden Age detective novel feel about it, as one puzzle piece after another is found and carefully slotted into place. We may solve the mystery long before the main protagonist does, but along the way we experience a great fresco of Japan in the early 1990s, when the golden dream was becoming tarnished. All the while, I couldn’t help thinking of the much more excessive recent consumer excesses of the UK and Greece, for example. However, for Japanese standards (a nation of savers rather than credit cards), this must have been pretty explosive stuff at the time. The novel was written in 1992 and does show its age a little.

Italy/France: “Escape” by Dominique Manotti (Transl. Amanda Hopkinson & Ros Schwartz), Arcadia

ManottiTwo mismatched Italian prisoners break out of prison: Carlo is a former leader in the Red Brigades, Filippo a petty criminal from the slums of Rome. Yet it’s the latter who survives and who tries to make his fortune in Paris. While working as a night guard, this barely literate young man starts writing down the stories that Carlo told him in prison. The book is published and becomes a bestseller… with very dangerous consequences for Filippo, even though he tries to convince the reading public (and the police) that most of the novel is fiction.

This book has one of the most immediately gripping opening sequences I’ve read in recent memory… and we’re off on this rollercoaster of a ride through Italian politics of the 1970s/80s, the pretentiousness of the French literary establishment and the world of exiled Italians in Paris. Manotti’s work is at once dramatic and thoughtful, cinematic and intimate, politically engaged and also tongue-in-cheek. The characters often take themselves far too seriously, but the author never does: by offering us multiple points of view, she does a great job of pricking their balloon of self-satisfaction and self-deceit. She also does a great job of asking questions about the nature of memory, about the proportion of fiction in our truths, and just what is permissible in the name of success or political survival. A political thriller with a very personal story, this is a book quite unlike most crime fiction you find on the bookshop shelves today. An author who deserves to be far more widely known in the English-speaking world.

Spain: ‘Depths of the Forest’ by Eugenio Fuentes (Transl. Paul Antill), Arcadia

el-interior-del-bosqueAn attractive young woman is killed in a remote nature reserve in the north-east of Spain. Her boyfriend hires private investigator Ricardo Cupido to find the killer, as he fears the police are dragging their feet. Ricardo knows the local area, the secretive, closed nature of its people, but he has to start by uncovering more about the enigmatic and charismatic victim, Gloria, an artist who was equally loved and envied by those closest to her. Ricardo finds himself drawn towards her even after death, but a further death makes him wonder if the murder was at all personal.

Atmosphere galore in this novel: the claustrophobia of small-town rural Spain and the ominous wilderness of a great forest are both equally well described. The style is ornate, lyrical, with detailed descriptions, very different to the more spare Anglo-Saxon style, but beautifully written. A book to savour slowly, to let melt on your tongue. Once again, we are transported into other points of view and get to see both Gloria and the forest through multiple sets of eyes – a technique that is seldom used in UK/US crime fiction.

fuentesBut what I love about this author is the layers of meaning he instills in his books: superficially, they are simply a murder mystery, but underneath that they are character studies, and if you dig a little deeper still, you find the exploration of old mores and traditions, of cultural values, of natural forces fighting against humans.  Cupido himself is an attractive character, thoughtful but not unduly melancholic, although a bit of a loner. Here he is described by another character: “He was about thirty-five, very tall, with clean-cut features and profile, although he gave the impression of not knowing how to make the most of his good looks. He never allowed himself a broad smile… He appeared calm by nature, but by no means impassive; he was sceptical, but not pessimistic…’ I certainly want to read more about him in other books.

 

Where have you recently ‘travelled’ via your books?  Please share with me your favourite discoveries, as there is nothing I enjoy better than to explore new locations through an author’s eyes.

 

 

Ode to My Fellow Pub Poets

After a short summer break, the dVerse Poets Pub reopens its doors and celebrates its third anniversary. This is no small matter in a world where blogs come and go at lightning speed, especially community-based blogs, where we share our poetic thoughts and feel free to experiment. The poem below is based on Catullus and his famous Ode to Lesbia, and it’s dedicated to all of the talented poets (and moments of fun and serious talk) that we’ve had here at the Pub.

Let’s live and love then, my dear friends,

another glass of champagne? …don’t mind if I do..

and give old naggers’ disapproving frowns short shrift.

The sun rises and sets on repeat.

[Over and over and over and over...

//the joy of repetition really is in you.]

But we? Once our sun’s snuffed out, it’s the graveyard shift.

So cover me in poems, a thousand,

then a hundred more, then let’s start over again.

Oh… is that taking it too far? / No, wait!// Don’t turn away…

A million poems later, let’s fudge the score

so no cold calculating eye can quell our enthusiasm!

And

if in doubt for entertainment

dancing on tables

is also great                  and would suffice.

What Got You Hooked on Crime, Crime Thriller Girl?

CrimeThrillerGirlIf you haven’t yet discovered the wonderful blog of Crime Thriller Girl, you are in for a treat.  She not only provides you with thoughtful reviews of the latest crime fiction releases, she also does author interviews and is fully up-to-date with any crime festivals or other literary events. She seemed like an obvious candidate for my ‘Life of Crime’ series, so I hope you enjoy the revelations about her reading passions as much as I did.

How did you get hooked on crime fiction?

As a kid I loved reading the Famous Five, and later Sherlock Holmes – usually read by torchlight under the covers when I was staying at my grandparents’ house, as they had a wonderful bookcase packed full of mystery books which I loved browsing through. The Hound of the Baskervilles was (and still is) my favourite Sherlock book, and I guess you could say Sherlock is how I first got hooked into the genre. I can still remember the image on the cover of the first copy of Hound of the Baskervilles I read – a terrifyingly huge hound with a green glow around it. I don’t think I slept for a week!

As a teenager I was addicted to old re-runs of Columbo and The Saint, and read John Grisham’s legal thrillers at a rapid pace. Then I discovered the novels of the great, late Michael Crichton, and read every one of them – what a master of creative story-telling he was! I think it’s from reading his books that my love of thrillers was born.

Are there any particular types of crime fiction or subgenres that you prefer to read and why?

I love a great action thriller. Something fast-paced, with lots of twists and an emotional hook thrown in always grabs my attention. There are some fantastic series in the subgenre – Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, Zoe Sharp’s Charlie Fox, and Jeff Abbott’s Sam Capra to name a few.

DistanceWhat is the most memorable book you’ve read recently?

Gosh, that’s a tough one, there’ve been so many! But, sticking true to my love of thrillers, there are two debuts I’ve read recently that are really stunning: ‘The Killing Season’ by Mason Cross, which is the first book in his Carter Blake series about a mysterious American gun for hire, and ‘The Distance’ by Helen Giltrow – the first book in her Charlotte Alton series set in the UK with a wonderfully strong female lead who navigates skilfully on both sides of the law.

If you had to choose only one series or only one author to take with you to a deserted island, whom would you choose?

I’d have to say Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. It has everything I love about thrillers. Besides, each book is set in a different location and sees Reacher face a different kind of problem, so even if it’s the only set of books I have on the island, I’ll still have quite a lot of variety!

That said, if my rucksack was big enough, I’d also sneak in the Charlie Fox series by Zoe Sharp, and the Tom Thorne series by Mark Billingham onto the island! Both are awesome.

What are you looking forward to reading in the near future?

I’m really looking forward to reading Steve Mosby’s new book ‘The Nightmare Place’, which has just been released. Also Jessie Keane’s new novel  ‘Lawless’, that’s coming out later this month, and the new thriller from Simon Kernick ‘Stay Alive’, which is already out and about which I’ve heard great things.

jillycooperbooksOutside your criminal reading pursuits, what author/series/book/genre do you find yourself regularly recommending to your friends?

To be honest, I mainly read crime and thrillers. Outside of the genre, I’ve read everything by Stephen Fry and would recommend all his books, they’re brilliant. Aside from that, it’s whatever might catch my eye when I’m browsing in a bookstore. Oh, and I suppose perhaps I should admit my guilty pleasure – Jilly Cooper – I’ve been a fan of hers since I sneaked a read of my Mum’s copy of ‘Riders’ back when I was a teenager!

Well, well, Jilly Cooper – who’d have thought that of a hardened thriller fan! There’s nothing like a little variety after all. Thank you very much for sharing your reading pleasures with us, Crime Thriller Girl, and enjoy yourself at Theakston’s Crime Festival in Harrogate later this week!

For previous replies in this series about reading passions, see here.  And if you would like to participate in the series, please let me know either in comments below or on Twitter.

 

Showcase Sunday: Book Haul

Inspired by Pop Culture Junkie and the Story Siren, the aim of Showcase Sunday is to highlight our newest books or book related swag and to see what everyone else received for review, borrowed from libraries, bought in bookshops and downloaded onto eReaders each week. For more information about how this feature works and how to join in, see the sparkling and fizzy blog of Books, Biscuits and Tea.

This week the theme has been ‘return to old favourites or classics’ rather than new releases, all (new to me) books by authors I’ve already read and enjoyed.

In the postbox

didionJoan Didion: The Year of Magical Thinking

How can you deal with sudden, unexpected grief and loss? A heartbreakingly honest look at the year following her husband’s sudden death and the illness of her daughter.

Joan Didion: Blue Nights

Just after the previous book was published, Didion lost her daughter too.  A haunting, passionate and almost angry memoir of her daughter and of parenting in general.

I think these two will have me in a flood of tears… so the rest of my picks for this week are very light-hearted and easy to read.

PamelaPamela Des Barres: I’m with the Band. Confessions of a Groupie.

From the woman who hung out with Jim Morrison, turned down a date with Elvis Presley and was best friends with Robert Plant and Frank Zappa, here is a witty and warm-hearted kiss-and-tell account of the rocking and swinging 60s and 70s, without any of the sleaziness or score-settling that ruins other memoirs. Something to which I suspect my good friend Nicky Wells, rockstar romance writer, will relate.

Downloaded on special offer

Anne Zouroudi: The Bull of Mithros

artemisAnne Zouroudi: The Feast of Artemis

Two installments in the delightful series set in the Greek islands and featuring the mysterious, always nattily-dressed Hermes Diaktoros. The taste, smells and sounds of Greece truly come to life in her books – the perfect summer read.

Irving Wallace: The Prize

I saw the film, starring Paul Newman as the rather non-plussed Nobel Prize-winning writer, but have never read the book, which sounds like good, juicy, scandalous fun. Another ideal read for the summer.

Sent for review

corpseCathy Ace: The Corpse with the Platinum Hair

I have previously read and reviewed two books in the series by this Welsh-Canadian writer, featuring the indomitable amateur detective and dedicated foodie Cait Morgan. I’m happy to say that Cathy Ace never forgets to get in touch when she has a new book out to ask me if I’d be interested in reading it. Thank you, Cathy, always a pleasure!

 

Vive la France! Some Reading for Bastille Day

What better way to celebrate 14th of July, the Day of the Fall of the Bastille, than with some French fiction? I’ve picked three very different French writers for you, who are perhaps not quite household names (yet), especially outside their home country.  Each one has a very different style and approach to literature and life in general. Their books have been translated into English, but there are many more I could have recommended who are not yet available in translation. More’s the pity!

DelphineEng1) Delphine de Vigan: Nothing Holds Back the Night – Bloomsbury (transl. George Miller)

This is perhaps the closest to what you might expect from French fiction – moody, complex, eloquent and philosophical. It is somewhere between memoir and fiction: the autobiographical account (with embellishments and multiple interpretations) of the author’s childhood and, in particular, a portrait of her beautiful, fragile and troubled mother. A book that explores not just mental health issues and depression, family history and myth-making, but also whether we can ever truly help someone, as well as a meditation on the nature of memory, of how we construct our lives, our truths and semi-truths. Infused with some of Colette’s lyricism, yet analytical and even clinical at times, it is a book which startled, shocked and moved me deeply. I’ve reviewed it in the context of ‘bad mothers’ earlier this year. Currently available as an e-book, the paperback version will be published on the 31st of July.

Nicolas2) Goscinny (text) and Sempé (illustrator): Nicholas (Le petit Nicolas) – Phaidon (transl. Anthea Bell)

Absolutely enchanting, nostalgic trip down memory lane, when classrooms still had blackboards and chalk and children were allowed to play outside on a vacant lot. Goscinny( of Asterix and Obelix fame) captures the voice of a seven-year-old with great accuracy and charm. Nicolas and his merry band of friends set out with the best of intentions, but somehow always end up doing something naughty. A mix of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Just William, set in 1950/60s France, there are plenty of witty subtleties which will appeal particularly to adult readers. However, my children loved the books too, as well as the cartoon series and films. Unpretentious, laugh-out-loud fun with a minimum of moralizing, the books in the original language are also great for improving your French.

 

3) DaviBielberg-Project_cover_200x300d Khara: The Bleiberg Project – Le French Book (transl. Simon John)

Are you afraid that French literature is too ornate stylistically, too obscure or quirky in subject matter? Here is something refreshingly punchy and action-filled, but thought-provoking, to whet your appetite. It’s hard to do justice to the complex storyline, but this thriller blends memories of World War II atrocities with an account of a present day menace and manhunt. Many of the usual elements of international conspiracy are added in: an all-powerful global team, ruthless killers, betrayal of the principles of science… there are even sci-fi elements and biological experiments.  Yet the cocktail is served in a fresh and exciting way. I’ve written a review of this book on the Crime Fiction Lover website, as well as conducted  an interview with this popular young writer. The book will now be available in paperback from the 15th of July, courtesy of the hard-working independent publisher Le French Book. Since this is the first book in a trilogy, we hope that the next two translations are on their way soon

 

As for me, after a rain-soaked first week of the holidays, I just hope this weekend stays dry for the multiple planned fireworks displays! Bonne fête!

Friday Fun: Places to Read in Summer

You know my love for cosy reading nooks. They are perfect for winter, particularly with a toasty fire somewhere nearby (for burning toes and marshmallows, not books, of course!). But, come summer, you long for something fresher, more airy, to do your reading. If you are not fortunate enough to have a super-comfortable cherry tree like I did during my childhood summers at my grandmother’s house, here are some worthy alternatives. Plain woodwork and white shades are the way to go…

Front porch. Frome Domaine Home.

Front porch. From Domaine Home.

Japanese bath house. From Decoist.

Japanese bath house. From Decoist.

Veranda.  From Vogue Living.

Veranda. From Vogue Living.

Conservatory. Savvy Home.

Conservatory. Savvy Home.

Mykonos San Giorgio Hotel.

Mykonos San Giorgio Hotel.

Garden retreat. With a Pimms, of course! From Pinterest.

Garden retreat. With a Pimms, of course! From Pinterest.

The River

From the BBC website.

From the BBC website.

Now those memories come back to haunt me 
they haunt me like a curse 
Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true 
Or is it something worse 
that sends me down to the river 
though I know the river is dry 
That sends me down to the river tonight (Bruce Springsteen) 

 

I said river and I meant river

I walked to the river in my dreams

searched for it when sleeping

when keeping watch

when whistling the night

 

I whistled the river but found no river – I now know

that whether I conjure it or fear it

it’s never outside

when I struggle, when I scream,

that’s when it comes

the river

in narrow trickles down my back – it glistens…

in the river I’ll be taken

in the river I’ll breathe my last

one untamed gulp

Foam

Crushed

 

So what can I do – chewed, spat out

So what can I do – gnawed to flotsam

 

I said river but I meant no river

All I craved was

A lagoon

 

Memories or Possessions?

20140707_214456Yesterday my family and I went to Montreux to try and get last-minute tickets for Pharrell Williams. I’m a big jazz fan and I’ve always dreamt of going to the Montreux Jazz Festival (although it is debatable just how much Pharell Williams is a jazz musician). However, my children are obsessed with his ‘Happy’ song and we sing it beautifully with 3 voices in the car (I do the back-up vocals, in case you are wondering about my singing capabilities).

With the benefit of hindsight, it was perhaps not the best moment to embark upon such an adventure:

  • 9 and 11 are a bit young to really appreciate a concert with standing room only
  • the concert was late, started even later, my husband had to wake up very early this morning to catch a plane and we had to wake up early for swimming lessons
  • there was a real risk of not getting any tickets; as it is, we got the last four available after queuing for nearly 2 hours
  • the tickets were very expensive
  • we were also planning to soak up the atmosphere at the jazz festival (which has many free events outside), but it was raining on and off all day, which rather spoilt our plans
  • we nearly fainted with heat and exhaustion while waiting for the main act and my kids did not appreciate the opening act (I did though: the perfectly decent rockabilly-grungy Bosco Delrey, albeit with instruments not perfectly tuned to the size of the auditorium, i.e. it was all TOO LOUD)

20140707_214023Yet in the end, we forgot all our tiredness and moaning when the electric Pharrell Williams came on-stage with his fantastic crew and perfectly coordinated light-and-sound spectacular show. [My pictures do not do the show justice at all.] We were so close we could almost touch Pharrell and we boogied along to every song. I lifted up my older son and he waved and made eye-contact with Pharrell – so proud and overjoyed. But it was hard, hot work for their first concert experience and I’m not sure if they felt it was completely worth it.

This sparked a bit of a row between my husband and myself, as we have two very different views of what makes a childhood memorable. Neither of our families had much money when we were growing up, so we were never spoilt, but the priorities were very different for each of us. My husband’s parents spent all their money building a house and decorating it, to have something solid for their children to inherit. They are now the grandparents who always buy far too many presents for our kids: security and material possessions are clearly important to them. Meanwhile, my parents spent all their money on books, education and cultural activities or holidays. I don’t remember having a single present that I could really boast about during my childhood (on the other hand, they rarely turned down my request for a specific book), but my fondest memories are of museums, theatres and family excursions. Eating 13 ice-creams on my first day in Italy, sleeping on a park bench in Seville, getting on the wrong train in Poland and ending up somewhere completely unexpected… crazy things like that.

20140707_140436

In front of Freddie Mercury statue

So I’ve wanted to create memories for my own children, because I feel that’s the only thing that cannot be taken away from us in life. Unfortunately, memories can be both good and bad… and you never quite know beforehand which kind you’re going to get. I’m sure it’s much easier to buy children’s affection with an Xbox or computer games (and yes, affection can be bought – children are quite materialistic after a certain age, and I don’t think it’s just mine). But perhaps I’m being selfish, choosing those things that made me happy in childhood, rather than those things which they prefer.

An ongoing debate. And sense of guilt.

 

What Got You Hooked on Crime, Louis?

Louis-Bravos-300x300The aptly-named Louis Bravos is a Japanese to English translator, blogger and writer, living in Melbourne, Australia. After three university degrees and three years spent in rural Japan, he is now working on his first novel and also writing short stories. He is a fellow contributor to the Crime Fiction Lover website and would love to see more Asian crime books translated. You can follow Louis on Twitter but will find he sadly neglects his own blog.

How did you get hooked on crime fiction?

I grew up reading a lot of genre fiction – Stephen King was my favourite author as a child – but for some reason that stopped during high school. After I finished university I went to live in Japan for a while, and my range of reading material was pretty limited. I found a book store with a small English language section, and one of the books I picked up there was The Long Goodbye. In the next few months I read everything Raymond Chandler wrote (except Poodle Springs, which I still haven’t read. I don’t know if I ever will…) and from there moved on to Golden Age detective fiction, also readily available in Japan. Since then I haven’t looked back.

Are there any particular types of crime fiction or subgenres that you prefer to read and why?

I’ve been reading a lot of espionage lately.  I tend to find an author I like and read everything they’ve written. Now I’m reading through Alan Furst’s WW2 spy novels, but before that I was reading noir, or police procedurals. Previously, I’ve devoured Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Martin Beck series, and Andrey Kurkov’s surreal novels – almost crime fiction, in a way. Next up I think might be David Downing’s John Russell series, or Derek Raymond’s factory series of British noir novels.

What is the most memorable book you’ve read recently?

PM Newton’s Beams Falling, set in the early 90s in a Vietnamese immigrant community in Sydney’s western suburbs. It tells the story of a community torn apart by drugs and racism. I hadn’t heard of the author before, but picked this book up because of a great review I read online from the blog of an independent bookstore I really trust. And I have to say I was not disappointed.

If you had to choose only one series or only one author to take with you to a deserted island, whom would you choose?

Of course, if I was going to a deserted island I would pack accordingly. Thinking strategically, I’d have to take an author who has written several books, but whose works I’ve only read one or two of. I’d probably go with James Ellroy, Lawrence Block or Ed McBain, authors I’ve always been thinking I should read more.

What are you looking forward to reading in the near future?

I still haven’t read the latest Alan Furst. I’ve been putting off finishing the series, because then it will be over and I’ll have to wait for the next one to be published. I had the same problem with the Martin Beck series, although at least this time there’s a chance that more will be published.

Outside your criminal reading pursuits, what author/series/book/genre do you find yourself regularly recommending to your friends?

I enjoy a good epic – the Russian classics, or Moby Dick. I’m not sure if others share my belief that Anna Karenina is a really fun novel. I like to try anything that’s translated, and I often find myself in bookstores buying books based on their covers.

Thank you, Louis, for sharing your reading passions with us. I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one who nearly cried when the Martin Beck series was over, and I’m not sure I’ve ever heard Anna Karenina described as ‘fun’ before.

For previous revelations of reading passions, see here. And if you would like to participate in the series, please let me know either in comments below or on Twitter.

Sunday Showcase: Bumper Crop of Books

Admittedly, this is 2 weeks’ worth of books, as some of the books I’d previously requested or ordered were all approved and/or delivered this week.

Books for review from publishers: Manotti

Dominique Manotti: Escape – political thriller about Italian Red Brigades and an escaped convict settled in Paris who writes a far-too-realistic novel

Julia Crouch: The Long Fall – a Greek holiday has repercussions twenty years later

Louise Penny: The Long Way Home – Inspector Gamache has retired to Three Pines – but of course murder is never far away

 

Books bought for my tablet:

Anna Jaquiery: The Lying Down Room – Paris in summer, a killer who targets elderly women and a detective with a passion for origami

Tarjei Vesaas: The Ice Palace – a deep childhood friendship, a disappearance and the power of memory

Stan Barstow: A Kind of Loving – Northern England in the 1960s, part of the ‘Angry Young Men’ movement

Paul Johnston: The Black Life – when I discovered Sam Alexander was actually Paul Johnston (hey, at least I guessed the author’s gender!) and that he has written a PI series set in Greece, I had to get this

Linda Grant: I Murdered My Library – because I really need to start thinking what I’m going to do with my huge book collection spread across three countries and four sites.

 

Free download:

Faith Bleasdale: Deranged Marriage – a marriage pact gone wrong – it looked fun, although perhaps not my usual reading matter P1020442

Special Intro Pack from The Stinging Fly:

This Irish literary journal specialising in new writers and new writing (not just from Ireland) has an intro pack offer of the current issue, two back issues and two of their books (which you can choose). How could I resist this?

Books from the library:

Martin Vidberg: Le journal d’un remplaçant (comic book – The Diary of a Replacement Teacher) – as a former teacher, I think this will make me laugh and cry in wry recognition. SSsmall Inspired by Pop Culture Junkie and the Story Siren, the aim of Showcase Sunday is to highlight our newest books or book related swag and to see what everyone else received for review, borrowed from libraries, bought in bookshops and downloaded onto eReaders each week. For more information about how this feature works and how to join in, click here. -

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