Book Launch for #DeepDownDead

I started my Christmas reading with Steph Broadribb’s  Deep Down Dead and it gave me a feisty attitude to see me through the tricky holiday period. So I was delighted to attend the official launch for the book at Waterstone’s Piccadilly last night.

I want someone to look at me the way Steph looks at Karen in this picture...
I want someone to look at me the way Steph looks at Karen in this picture…

Karen Sullivan from Orenda Books never does things by half: this was an Americana-themed night, with Bourbon, Hershey’s candy and corn-bread on offer. And, of course, the by now traditional cake (which is not just a pretty icing, immaculately put together, but also delicious).

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Steph herself was in great form, and Martyn Waites got her to share stories of bounty-hunting training in California, exploring theme parks in Florida and how she acquired her shooting skills but needs to update her tasering skills. She also told us about her love of country music and cowboy boots.

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There was such a good turn-out of writers, bloggers, publishers and readers at the event – a testimony to the love and esteem that Steph has built up via her blog at Crime Thriller Girl. Asked whether her reviewing has changed now that she is a published writer herself, Steph said she hoped she hasn’t become either harsher or more lenient, but admitted that she just has far less time to read and review. However, she said book blogging is a wonderful way to get to know people and to push yourself to read more broadly.

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I finally had the chance to catch up with authors such as Quentin Bates, Rod Reynolds, Fiona Cummins, Lisa Hall, Louise Beech, Jane Isaac, Susi Holliday and A.K. Benedict, as well as stalwart bloggers and reviewers such as Barry Forshaw, SonyaLiz Barnsley, Vicky Goldman, Joy Kluver. Plus so many more that I didn’t get a chance to bump into. Ah, well perhaps at a crime festival soon… However, I can foresee it will be harder and harder to keep up with all the releases once I get to know more and more authors, as I feel obliged to read their work so I can make intelligent conversation.

How many writers can you spot in one picture: Quentin Bates, Barry Forshaw, Daniel Pembrey...
How many writers can you spot in one picture: Quentin Bates, Barry Forshaw, Daniel Pembrey…

I tried to dress up for the occasion, but by the end of the evening, hobbling back on the Tube and train, I was somewhat regretting the high-heeled cowboy boots (well, more Spaghetti Western boots).

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Thank you all for a lovely evening, especially Orenda Books for the invitation and Steph for giving us something to celebrate: the book itself!

Haibun: Things I’m Done With

I’m done with swashbuckling pirates or panthers, that faint gleam of danger to hasten the pulse and pinprick the senses. Where winds sweep dry, offer me water, not desert fire. Where waters swirl deep, offer me bridges, not islands.
Give me slow, earthy kindness: spilt fruit of joint labours. I open the window and wait for new breeze.

A plant with deep roots
that can catch my tumbleweed
rest sweet for a while.

Tumbleweed caught in a fence, from National Geographic.
Tumbleweed caught in a fence, from National Geographic. Not the kind of rest I mean…

I’m linking this to Haibun Monday prompt at dVerse Poets Pub. If you want a very good explanation of what a haibun is and does, please visit the Pub and check out all the great examples of prose-poems linked in there.

Reading Plans for 2017: The EU 27 Project

All of last week I’ve been catching up with reviews of books that I read in December and over the holidays, but what are my reading plans going forward?

Initially, I was going to take it easy in 2017. I dropped my Goodreads challenge to 120. [Yes, it sounds like a lot, but I’ve been reading between 155-180 for the last few years.]

The physical and electronic TBR piles are intimidating – almost a health hazard! So I’ve joined the TBR Double Dare Challenge of reading only from the books I already own for the first 3 months of the year. After single-handedly subsidising the publishing industry for the past 4 years, I resolve to buy no new ones for several months. Of course, that doesn’t include books I receive for review on Crime Fiction Lover and other sites, but no more novelties or even ARCs on my own blog.

I’ve already cheated slightly, following the death of John Berger. I remembered how much I enjoyed his Pig Earth when it was on my reading list for anthropology, but I didn’t own it, so… Well, it’s not my fault that he died just after the 1st of January, is it?

So those were my only plans, on the vague side of the spectrum. But then some ambition woke up in me.  The year that Britain triggers Article 51 would be a good year to read a book from every member country of the EU, I decided. Especially following the resignation of the UK’s ambassador to the EU amidst the frankly frightening cries of ‘traitor! pessimist! how dare you tell us that it might be complicated?’ (I’ve heard it all before in another country, but I never thought I would hear it here.)

27 sounds manageable, right? I’m excluding the UK, because obviously I’ll be reading plenty of home-grown authors anyway. A few of these books are sitting on my bookshelves already, while others will require a bit of research. Here is what I have to date, with gaps where I have nought. Also, some suggestions in italics and with question marks, in the hope I might be able to track them down in libraries and keep costs down.

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Austria     Arthur Schnitzler:  Später Ruhm

Belgium    Patrick Delperdange: Si tous les dieux nous abandonnent

Bulgaria    Ilija Trojanow: Macht und Widerstand

Croatia    Miljenko Jergovic: The Walnut Mansion

Cyprus

Czechia [sic?]   Ivan Klima: Lovers for a Day

Denmark  Inger Christensen: Poetry?

Estonia    Sofi Oksanen – she is officially Finnish, but has an Estonian mother and writes about Estonian history?

Finland     Kati Hiekkapelto: The Exiled

France    Romain Gary: La vie devant soi – or can I get away with claiming that he is Lithuanian (born in Vilnius)?

Germany   Sascha Arango: The Truth and Other Lies

Greece   Nikos Kazantzakis: The Last Temptation (reread, unless I find something new)

Hungary   Miklós Bánffy: They Were Counted

Ireland   Davy Byrnes Story Awards 2009

Italy    Andrea Camilleri: Rounding the Mark

Latvia    Inga Abele sounds interesting, not sure if she’s been translated?

Lithuania

Luxembourg    Jean Portante?

Malta

The Netherlands   Gerard Reve: The Evenings?

Poland   Andrzej Stasiuk: On the Road to Babadag

Portugal    Fernando Pessoa: The Book of Disquiet

Romania    Ileana Vulpescu: Arta compromisului

Slovakia

Slovenia  Goran Vojnovic: Yugoslavia, My Fatherland

Spain    Javier Marias: Dance and Dream (Your Face Tomorrow Vol. 2)

Sweden   Liza Marklund: Last Will

Any suggestions would be gratefully received! And if you want to join in (with your own selection of books, of course, these are just the ones I happen to have to hand), please let me know in the comments below. If there are enough of us who want to do it, I might set up a separate linky. We have all year to do it, so that’s a leisurely book a fortnight. Or, even better: I see no reason why we might not meander over into 2018, very much like the EU disentanglement process itself.

 

 

Theatre Review: Classics Revisited

Over the holidays, we had the opportunity to compare and contrast two children’s classics performed onstage. ‘Peter Pan’ at the National Theatre and ‘The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party’ (based on Alice in Wonderland) in a collaboration between the Royal Ballet and Zoonation. Instead of giving you my personal reviews of the two shows, I will let my older son do the talking. This is the one who likes both watching and participating in theatrical productions, but usually merely grunts: ‘Yeah, fine’ when I ask him what he thinks of something. For you, dear blog readers, he has agreed to be more eloquent on this occasion…

Scenes from the production, from culturewhisper.co.uk
Scenes from the production, from culturewhisper.co.uk

Peter Pan

‘The pictures advertising the show and the set we saw when doing the backstage tour earlier that day made me expect a very modern version of Peter Pan, but actually it was just the usual old one, with very few extra twists. Yes, Mrs. Darling played Captain Hook, and the staging was very modern, full of recycled materials, but I was hoping for some alternative storytelling. Perhaps the Lost Boys could have been from a deprived council estate, struggling to grow up and find things to play with. The pirates could have been a drug gang.

I also found the whole musical thing unnecessary. The lyrics were bad and barely audible, and the songs themselves were not very hummable or memorable. It was also muddled about exactly what age group it was for: too serious for little ones, but too many childish jokes for older ones.

OK, maybe I’m being a bit grumpy because I was tired after a whole day in London and had a bit of a headache. There were some good bits: the performances were generally good, especially Captain Hook; there were some really funny moments (Tinkerbell); and the flying and special effects and sets and props were all great.’

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

From the Evening Standard.
From the Evening Standard.

‘This was the exact opposite of the Peter Pan show: very original idea of setting the characters in an asylum and showing all sorts of mental health issues. It was unexpected, but executed very well, mostly through hip-hop dancing. The message is not told to you: you have to deduce it. Wonderland is the place that accepts all people, with all disabilities, but not everyone wants to go there.

It was all far too dark for the younger kids in the audience though, but if you were at least 10 or over, it was very good fun. Great music, very acrobatic and energetic dancing, and, though it was quite sad in the first half, it finished in a very upbeat way. They could have pulled fewer people on the stage at the end, though, as it was a bit embarrassing for them, but other than that… Really liked it! Sick!’

Peter Pan is playing until the 4th of February at the National Theatre (Olivier), while The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (Roundhouse) closes after the 22nd of January.

 

 

Friday Fun: Snow and Mountain Love

I am a snow bunny, an unashamed snow bunny (imagine this sung to the tune of An Englishman in New York). Admittedly, at times the memory of skiing is much sweeter when you are safely nestled beside a toasty fire, sipping mulled wine and reading a favourite book. I won’t be skiing this year, but I have plenty of wonderful memories…

This is my idea of heavenly powder... from OnTheSnow.com
This is my idea of heavenly powder… from OnTheSnow.com
Nope, I can't jump like that, but I keep on dreaming. From lasrehab.com
Nope, I can’t jump like that, but I keep on dreaming. From lasrehab.com
A corner of the French Alps formerly known as home.
A corner of the French Alps formerly known as home.
If you get bored of using your own legs for locomotion...
If you get bored of using your own legs for locomotion… Plus an indispensable finger over the camera lense!
Personally, I find snowshoeing more challenging than skiing...
Personally, I find snowshoeing more challenging than skiing…
Mont Blanc is a stunner from all angles.
Mont Blanc is a stunner from all angles.

And after the effort and the cold, relax the Savoyard or Swiss way, with a raclette in front of the fireplace.

From Tripadvisor.com
From Tripadvisor.com

#TranslationThurs: Holiday Reading – Nordic Climates

Winter holidays are perfect for catching up with the frozen Northern climes and cold cases, and I had great fun with the following two. OK, maybe ‘fun’ is not the operative world, as they were both quite melancholy and thought-provoking, and both left open questions about justice and redemption.

dyingdetectiveLeif GW Persson: The Dying Detective (transl. Neil Smith)

The equivalent of Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time, featuring Lars Johansson, a retired detective recovering from a serious illness in hospital, bored, and setting out to investigate a cold case with only his research and his brains at his disposal. Of course, unlike the Princes in the Tower, the Swedish author’s case is much more recent, although it is past the statute of limitations date, so the perpetrator will not be punished in a conventional way.

Lars is also much more seriously ill, so it is a battle against death in more ways than one. He fears that his famous ability to ‘see around corners’ is now muddled and compromised.  Utterly compelling and heartrending, the book is not a fast-paced action thriller, but full of good investigative detail so we can follow the logical links. A delight for fans of puzzles and of well-written psychological fiction as well. The only quibble might be the sudden shifts in POV within the same scene – which feel more like a film script than a novel. There are a few references here to Swiss writer Dürrenmatt and his moral dilemma in The Judge and His Hangman : the similarities are plain to see and deftly (humorously) handled.

ruptureRagnar Jonasson: Rupture (transl. Quentin Bates)

Iceland’s modern answer to Agatha Christie continues his triumphant wooing of the British reading public with the latest instalment in the Ari Thor series. (They have been translated somewhat out of order, but this has not impeded my enjoyment of the series.)

This novel has two mysteries at its core and brings together once more the combined investigative powers of policeman Ari Thor and journalist Isrun, or Thoughtful and Feisty, as they might also be called if they were Snow White’s dwarves. The first case is almost ancient history: an ill-fated attempt in the 1950s to create a new settlement in an isolated fjord near Siglufjordur, which ended with a mysterious death. Stuck in a quarantined town because of a suspected outbreak of haemorrhagic fever, Ari Thor might as well reopen the case when new photographic evidence emerges, although he isn’t too hopeful that anyone will have anything to contribute after so many decades.

Meanwhile, in Reykjavik, Isrun is still trying to progress her career with news scoops and the case of an abducted child and a hit-and-run accident seem to be her ticket to fame. She gets more than she bargained for, however, when it becomes obvious that there might be some political implications to her stories.

The author plays scrupulously fair with the readers, allowing us to puzzle things out for ourselves, giving us plenty of clues, revealing all the legwork, yet still keeping it entertaining. There are some moments of almost unbearable tension(fear of an intruder outside your home, for instance), but, on the whole, the charm of the story resides in the deduction rather than in action scenes. For my full review, see Crime Fiction Lover.

Return to Favourite Authors: Simenon and Rankin

Christmas is also about the comfort of favourite authors, who are not going to let you down, no matter what. I turned to two ‘reliables’, each of whom I discovered at a different stage in my life: Simenon in secondary school, Ian Rankin when I first moved to the UK.

maigretdeadmanGeorges Simenon: Maigret’s Dead Man (transl. David Coward)

Maigret is humouring a paranoid matriarch in his office, when a man calls his direct line, in great fear for his life. Not entirely convinced by the man’s confusing story, the good inspector does send one of his men over to the bar where the man claims to be calling from. Alas, too late, the bird has flown. He calls again from somewhere else, and as Maigret and the reader follow the man from bar to café to bar, we start to wonder just what kind of a set-up this is. Then the man is found dead. Who was he and what was he afraid of?

Maigret sets the investigation in motion from his sick-bed initially, so we get to see more of his fellow officers, the prosecuting judge and the other police force that is so typical of the intricate French system. We also get to see a lot more of the patient, protective and discreet Madame Maigret. Above all, however, we are privy to the musings and gut instinct of Maigret himself, although the author does not always play fair. He withholds vital pieces of information and springs them upon us during the interrogation of suspects. It’s more complex and longer than the usual Maigret novels (which are usually of novella size) and there are hints of Simenon’s darker non-Maigret novels in the atmosphere.

The recent TV adaptation makes the links between the Picardie farm murders and the hunted person much clearer from the start, but loses a little in the psychological depth of the Slovakian criminal gang and Maigret’s handling of them.

This is a new translation of the novel, in the highly covetable remastered Penguin Classics edition. It sounds quite modern, without being jarring, and is perhaps slightly less word-for-word faithful than the 1950s translation by Jean Stewart.

ratherbedevilIan Rankin: Rather Be the Devil

Rebus is getting restless in his retirement: merely walking the dog and worrying about his health, even being in a relationship with forensic scientist Deborah Quant, is not quite enough to occupy his time. He reopens a cold case and talks about it to a former police officer who had been investigating it a few years back. When that man is found dead, Rebus becomes convinced that the case is somehow linked to the very current criminal gang turf wars and money-laundering cases that Siobhan Clarke and Malcolm Fox are investigating.

This is an entertaining read, with the usual tussles between Siobhan and her former boss, plenty of laconic humour, and an uneasy sort of truce with Ger Cafferty, Rebus’s former nemesis.  Fox also emerges as a more complete and haunted character than I had previously given him credit for. The case is reasonably tangled and then untangled. However, there is one major reservation I have. If you can ignore the way in which Rebus (and his colleagues too) seem to ignore proper procedure and commit all sorts of illegalities (such as impersonating a police officer, walking off with case files and photocopying them etc. – all the unlikely scenarios which annoyed me about TV series such as ‘Marcella’, for instance), you will enjoy it. It is a suspension of disbelief too far for me: fun enough for a one-off, but I don’t think it will be plausible to see Rebus in a next outing.

However, the writing is as sharp and economical as usual. It’s just enough amount of detail to really convey the landscape, society and characters populating Edinburgh and Glasgow. A master class in crime writing, just like Simenon.