What Got You Hooked on Crime, Tracey Walsh?

TraceyAfter a rather busy start to the New Year, fraught with drama and sadness for my adoptive home France, it’s time to return to an old favourite of mine: being nosy about other people’s reading habits. Time to meet another online friend – welcome, Tracey Walsh! Tracey is one of those people who always seems to have just read those books I have only just heard about – and her recommendations have taken me to many new places. She reads, blogs and tweets tirelessly about crime fiction and has even created a fantastic map of the UK with her personal crime fiction favourites on her Crime Reader Blog.  You can also find Tracey on Facebook.

How did you get hooked on crime fiction?

I have happy childhood memories of Enid Blyton’s “The Five Find Outers” as my first mystery series. Then, in my teens, I binge-read dozens of Agatha Christies, with my favourites being the Miss Marple books. Later still, ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier and Patricia Cornwell’s Scarpetta series confirmed me as a lifelong crime fiction addict.

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

My preferred genre is psychological thrillers, because I love being immersed in twisty plots that examine the characters’ motives and relationships, the darker the better. Within this genre I have enjoyed several ‘domestic noir’ novels recently, for example Paula Daly’s ‘Keep Your Friends Close’ and Julia Crouch’s ‘Tarnished’.

What is the most memorable book you have read recently?

‘I Let You Go’ by Clare Mackintosh. I absolutely loved this book, which has one of the best twists ever. It was also memorable, because I found myself thinking about the characters even when I wasn’t reading, and imagining what would have happened had they made different choices.

bookpileTraceyIf you had to choose only one series or only one author to take with you to a deserted island, whom would you choose?
This would come down, not for the first time, to a toss of a coin between Val McDermid’s Tony Hill/Carol Jordan books and the Roy Grace series by Peter James. And the winner is…Peter James. There are ten books in the series (soon to be eleven) starting with ‘Dead Simple’, which has probably the best opening to a crime book I can remember.
What are you looking forward to reading in the near future?

‘No Other Darkness’ by Sarah Hilary – the follow up to one of the best debuts of last year, ‘Someone Else’s Skin’. Also, ‘Death in the Rainy Season’ by Anna Jaquiery – the follow up to ‘The Lying-Down Room’, a haunting literary crime novel.

Outside your criminal reading pursuits, what author/series/book/genre do you find yourself regularly recommending to your friends?
I really only read crime so that’s all I’m likely to recommend. I love recommending new authors to my friends, most recently the debut books by Paula Daly (‘Just What Kind Of Mother Are You?’) and Colette McBeth (‘Precious Thing’). It was particularly rewarding to introduce my Dad to the Roy Grace books by Peter James. I bought him the latest two in the series for his 80th birthday last year.
As a departure from reading the books I’m looking forward to seeing the stage play of ‘Dead Simple’ in Manchester soon.
Thank you, Tracey, I love your unabashed crime addiction and eagerness to explore new writers as well as old favourites. The Dead Simple play sounds like a good reason for planning a trip to Manchester! Excellent choice for a desert island series, as well. I notice that everyone tries to find really long-running series to take with them, for fear of running out of reading matter.
This series depends on your willingness to participate, so please don’t be shy if you would like to tell us about your reading passions. For previous posts in the series, please check out this link. 

 

July Reads and Crime Fiction Pick of the Month

A good month of reading, despite holidays and other distractions. 17 books, of which 4 translations, 2 in foreign languages, 2 poetry collections and 10 crime novels (or psychological/political thrillers).

Crime/thriller

Miyuki Miyabe: All She Was Worth

BlackHousePeter May: The Blackhouse

This was a reread for the virtual Crime Book Club.  I love the atmosphere Peter May has created of the very harsh, rather alien way of life on the Isle of Lewis. The description of the two-week guga hunting trip on the rock is not for those of a squeamish disposition like me. Although, interestingly, the animal rights activists are not presented in a particularly sympathetic light either. An uncompromising look at believable rather than ‘nice’ characters, with lots of back story, but they are all complex and ring true.

Dominique Manotti: Escape

Anna Jaquiery: The Lying-Down Room

Eugenio Fuentes: The Depths of the Forest

Harriet Lane: Her – also reviewed on CFL

Julia Crouch: The Long Fall – also reviewed on CFL

Maurizio de Giovanni: The Crocodile – review forthcoming on Crime Fiction Lover

Michael Arditti: The Breath of Night

An incendiary political thriller and a hunt for clues about a dead missionary who is going to be canonised as a saint.  This book is about the Philippines during the Marcos regime and after, with very vivid, harsh and poignant descriptions of daily life and the contrast between rich and poor, expats and local people. The constant shift between time frames work well, as it shows so clearly ‘plus ça change plus c’est la meme chose ‘ and the afterword is a masterpiece in apologetics.

playdateLouise Millar: The Playdate

Believable tale of motherly angst and struggle to balance work and childcare, a social life and relationships with the other sex, all in an anonymous big city. Three main female characters are all plausible and there is much to sympathise with in each one… until you discover that each one of them has some unsavoury secrets.

Poetry:

101 Sonnets

Adam Wyeth: Silent Music – my poetry tutor and a very talented poet indeed (no, he doesn’t read my blog, so I can praise him without hoping for leniency on the next module). More detailed review will be coming up shortly.

 

Gossip/Groupie Fanfiction

bowieAngela Bowie: Backstage Passes

Pamela Des Barres: I’m With the Band

It was interesting to read these two in quick succession, as they are so similar in subject matter, and yet so different in tone. Angela Bowie’s account is quite bitter and all about point-scoring (perhaps understandably so, as Bowie’s super-stardom and drug-taking in the 1970s cannot have been easy to live with, although it sounds like Angela was keen to give as good as she got). She also sounds extremely self-centered and takes herself far too seriously. Meanwhile, Pamela comes across as very needy and rather silly at times, but also self-deprecating and humorous. Not the kind of life I would recommend as aspirational for young women: gain fame by being linked to famous people. The endless recitals of drug-taking and sex scenes become terribly dull and repetitive after a while, rather than titillating.

German:

Hilde Spiel: Ruckkehr nach Wien

French:

Martin Vidberg: Le Journal d’un remplacant  – wise, wry and funny observations (in cartoon format) about life as a supply teacher at a school for children with special emotional needs.

Other:

Courtney Maum: I’m Having So Much Fun Here Without You

And my Crime Fiction Pick of the Month (a meme hosted by Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise) was a tough choice, as I enjoyed most of the crime I read this month very much. But in the end, I think the political thriller of Dominique Manotti wins out, as it taught me a lot of new things about the Red Brigades, Italian exiles in France and the pomposity of the French literary world. Besides, who can resist this gorgeous cover?

Manotti

 

 

The Saga of ‘The Lying-Down Room’ by Anna Jaquiery

the-lying-down-roomWhen reviewing for the Crime Fiction Lover website, I tend to get a little possessive about all the books by French authors or set in France. Since I live in this country for the time being, I feel like all of the books remotely connected with France (and its neighbouring countries – my desire for conquest knows no bounds: Germany, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Spain) are mine by rights! So you can imagine my disappointment when someone else nabbed the debut novel set in Paris that everybody had been talking about, The Lying-Down Room by Anna Jaquiery. Of course Raven did a fantastic job of reviewing it, but this could have been me!

So I sensibly did the next best thing. The book was said to be French crime fiction, so I would read it in French – so there! Unfortunately, I could not find it listed in any French bookshop or library in the area or even online on Fnac. I did some further digging and discovered that, although the author was of French origin, she actually has lived all over the world and writes in English. So I bought the book in its original English, read it, was intrigued by its perfect blend of French sensibilities and English crime fiction conventions, and got in touch with the author to beg her to take part in my series on ‘What Got You Hooked on Crime‘.

So you’ll have guessed that I liked the book, but here’s a proper review of it now.

Serial killer tropes have been so overdone in crime fiction, but in this book it’s a little different. The serial killer seems to be targeting inoffensive, somewhat lonely old ladies, who have been a little neglected by their families. What is odd and frightening is these women are laid out and displayed after death in an almost grotesque ritual arrangement. Inspector Serge Morel, himself a complex character with unresolved issues, is looking into these crimes. Struggling with a Paris sweltering in the August heat, understaffed because of holiday season, he and his team – particularly the feisty, bright Lila Markov – struggle to find a motive for these murders and a connection between the women.

The investigative part of the book follows fairly traditional police procedural lines, albeit with strong characterisations. Yes, the Inspector has his problems: the requisite insensitive, media-hungry boss, a father descending into the chaos of Alzheimer’s, and a secret yearning for his first love Mathilde, which crosses the line into stalking. Yes, he has the obligatory strange hobby or quirky trait that fictional detectives need to have nowadays to stand out from the crowd: in this case, it’s origami. Yet none of it feels forced or formulaic – there is a natural flow to his personal story. Morel’s French/Cambodian mixed heritage is only briefly addressed, but will be more prominent in the next book. But I do hope the next book doesn’t lose Lila Markov, who is bristly, smart and utterly no-nonsense, making up for her boss’s occasional fey-ness.

Where the book then differs from standard police procedural is in offering us alternative points of view, including those of the pair who emerge as possible suspects. The middle-aged teacher Armand has a terrible secret from his own youth, while his protegé César is a mute young boy adopted from a Russian state orphanage. There is so much sadness and veracity in this part of the story – it is not at all sensationalised, but rather suffused with a profound melancholy and sense of helplessness. So different from another book I recently read (to be reviewed very shortly for CFL) about religious cults and the children who survive them.

And then there is all the local colour – the small asides and descriptions which place you in Paris and rural France – all done with the insider knowledge of a local, without the sometimes excessive showing-0ff for the sake of the literary tourists. And although it is not exactly French, it is an excellent book to introduce you gently into the world of French crime fiction for those who are unfamiliar with it and put off by its relentless ‘noir’ attitude or quirkiness.

 

What Got You Hooked on Crime, Anna Jaquiery?

I am delighted to welcome a very talented writer on my blog today to share her reading passions with us. Anna Jaquiery’s debut novel ‘The Lying-Down Room’ has been receiving rave reviews on Crime Fiction Lover , Liz Loves Books and ShotsMag. So compelling is her portrayal of origami-loving Detective Serge Morel and of Paris sweltering in the August heat, that many readers believed this to be a translated French novel. Yet, although Anna is of French-Malaysian descent, she has lived all over the world, first with her diplomat parents, then with her job, and is now settled in Australia, where she writes fiction, journalism and poetry in English. How could I resist inviting this global nomad to discuss her favourite books? You can also find Anna on Twitter.

How did you get hooked on crime fiction?

AnnaJaquieryIt’s difficult to remember when it all started. I’ve been reading crime fiction for a very long time. I read it alongside other genres. I like crime fiction’s ability to take on contemporary issues and say something about the world we live in.

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

I like crime novels that are about more than just plot and offer something original. If a book opens with a girl trapped in a basement… I have to admit I’m often unlikely to continue. The sadistic serial killer theme is overdone. My favourite crime novels are the ones where characters and setting really come to life. For example, I love a number of American writers like James Lee Burke, Dennis Lehane and Laura Lippman. I read every book they publish. I love their writing and when I read their stories I feel I’m really there.

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

Though it was some time ago, the Stieg Larsson trilogy really stood out for me. I found it so gripping and was sad when it came to an end. There are so many interesting strands in the books. Lisbeth Salander is a fantastic character. Many people have said that the books are too long and could have done with some serious editing. Perhaps that is the case, but I found myself completely engaged, particularly with the first book, ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’.

About two years ago I discovered Scottish writer Denise Mina’s books. I am a big fan of hers. I’d also recommend Tana French, in particular her book ‘Broken Harbour’, and the Australian author Garry Disher. His book ‘Bitter Wash Road’, set in a remote part of South Australia, is one of the best crime books I’ve read these past years. Sometimes I find the categorization of books, and the tendency to define crime fiction as something separate from literary fiction, doesn’t do authors justice. Disher is both a crime writer and a so-called literary one. His writing is spectacular and this book is much more than a crime story.

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 think I’d have to say the Millenium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson, for the reasons mentioned above.

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

At the moment I’m reading a book you recommended on your blog! ‘The Sweetness of Life’ by Paulus Hochgatterer. I really like it for its originality and its moody, mildly claustrophobic atmosphere. The pace is quite slow and I like that too because I think there is some pressure on crime writers to keep things moving quickly in their novels.

I’m also looking forward to reading ‘The Reckoning’ by Rennie Airth. And also several non-crime titles: Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’, as well as forthcoming titles by David Mitchell and Sarah Waters.

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

Vikram Seth’s ‘A Suitable Boy’ is one I always recommend; it is such a joyous read. Salman Rushdie’s ‘Midnight’s Children’. Rushdie is an extraordinary writer and I can’t think of any living writer who is like him. He’s a literary genius. ‘A House for Mr Biswas’ by V.S. Naipaul is one of my favourite novels. Also ‘Life of Pi’ by Yann Martel and ‘The People’s Act of Love’ by James Meek. On a different note, I recently read ‘The Humans’ by Matt Haig and loved it for its humour and tenderness. I’ve been recommending that one to friends over the past few weeks.

Phew, what a choice and eclectic list of books and authors – I’ve been taking notes! Thank you so much for participating, Anna, and I’m very flattered that you followed one of my book recommendations. Watch out also for my own review of ‘The Lying Down Room’, which will appear on Wednesday or Thursday this week. 

For previous participants in the series, just follow this link. Of course, as usual, if you would like to take part, please let me know via the comments or on Twitter – we always love to hear about other people’s criminal passions!

What Got You Hooked on a Life of Crime, Stephanie Rothwell?

It’s Monday, the start of a great week for all, I hope, and time to introduce another member of our virtual crime fiction book club. Stephanie Rothwell is an avid and discerning crime fiction reader, and a big fan of long-running series. I convinced her to answer a few questions about her reading pursuits and give us some ideas for our already groaning TBR lists!

StephSteph, how did you get hooked on crime fiction?

I started reading crime fiction when I was a child. Enid Blyton, especially the Adventure Series, Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and the Three Investigators  were all favourites.

I then moved onto Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler. From then on, it was Colin Dexter, Ruth Rendell, Elizabeth George. All mainly authors who had a full series of books that I could get from the local library.
Are there any particular types of crime fiction or subgenres that you prefer to read and why?
I will try anything. I do prefer a series of books based on the same characters but will read standalones as well. I’m probably more reluctant to read spy thrillers.
What is the most memorable book you’ve read recently?
‘Wolf’by Mo Hayder, because it was so believably scary. If I could pick another, it would be ‘The Lying Down Room’ by Anna Jaquiery for its originality.
If you had to choose only one series or only one author to take with you to a deserted island, whom would you choose?

 

Well, it’s one that some may not class as crime fiction.!It’s called ‘The Quincunx’ by Charles Palliser. [Ostensibly a Dickensian mystery set in 19th century England, but with a modern twist of alternative ending and unreliable narrators.] I have read it two or three times and each time it fascinates me.
ipadWhat are you looking forward to reading in the near future?
I’m looking forward to reading the new books by Sharon Bolton and Peter James. I really want to get stuck into the Jane Casey books as well. I’ve heard so much about them.
Outside your criminal reading pursuits, what author/series/book/genre do you find yourself regularly recommending to your friends?

Currently it seems to be books about WW1, in particular ‘Wake’ by Anna Hope.

Thank you, Steph, for taking the time to answer my questions (and general nosiness). It seems there are quite a few of us who enjoy series by the same author, although we may be divided over the issue ‘read them in order’ or ‘read whichever is available’.

For more 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.