Emma Kavanagh: The Missing Hours – Review

missinghoursThis was a very good companion on a sleepless night. It’s a police procedural (a nice change to psychological thrillers, which seem to be mushrooming all over the crime fiction landscape at the moment). Yet it also introduces  readers to the lesser known world of K&R (kidnap and ransom) specialists, a growth industry in various parts of the world. People are kidnapped for profit, the insurance brokers and corporates step in and hire experts who will negotiate a good price and a speedy (sometimes not all that speedy) release.

Selena Cole and her husband own such a boutique business, but after her husband’s death in a bomb blast in Brazil a year ago, she has stepped back a little from the helm, leaving her sister-in-law and her husband to take care of affairs. But then one day she simply disappears from the playground, leaving her young daughters to fend for themselves. Very uncharacteristic of her, so friends and family fear the worst. She is found twenty hours later, but has no memory of what happened during those ‘missing hours’. A murder occurred during this period: is it possible that Selena was involved in any way?

Another innovation in this novel is that the investigating team feature a brother and sister couple of detectives, which allows us to see events and the people involved from two distinct but sympathetic points of view. Leah Mackay, mother of twin girls, identifies almost too much with Selena and starts to see links to the case everywhere she goes. Meanwhile, her younger brother Finn is more interested in the murder case, but sometimes allows his own emotions and judgements to take over. The interaction between the two siblings was fun and realistic: it was refreshing to see two partners who are supportive rather than antagonistic, but still able to laugh at each other, without a trace of forelock-tugging.

The author is a trained psychologist, but she does not drown the reader in excessive detail. Instead, she has developed an elegant, pared down way of describing thought processes and reactions, telescoping them over a long period of time.

And then life moved on, and somehow, without me knowing it, I got whipped into pregnancy and babies and a family and home, and yet still I am held hostage, there on that cold kitchen floor, holding a bottle of Rioja, wanting to die.

Some readers have objected to the introduction of the kidnap and ransom case files which are interspersed throughout the book. They felt that they interrupted the flow of the story. I actually quite liked them, it felt a bit more experimental and a nice change from the ‘perspective of the serial killer’ chapter so prevalent in many recent books. They introduced a matter of fact, non-emotional reporting element, which upped the ante, making us aware of the globalisation of crime.

 

Police Procedurals in Three Countries

Serial killers of some description or another appeared in each of these three books – a trope which I have slowly grown weary of, but it was handled intelligently in each of the novels below and brought something fresh to the subgenre. However, what I found far more interesting were the obvious differences in approach to investigating a crime, reporting on it and even finding a resolution in the three countries and societies described here. [My own translations unless otherwise marked.]

klausvaterKlaus Vater: Am Abgrund – Berlin 1934

The serial killers here are in power. Berlin after Hitler’s rise to power, during a murky period of German history, when the SS and the SA (both Nazi supporters) are fighting for power between themselves, and the police is losing authority daily and its right pursue criminals according to legislation. During the construction of a tunnel for the S-Bahn in Berlin, an explosion kills several of the construction workers. A ‘non-aryan’ carpenter Leiblein is accused of provoking the explosion and is arrested. Hermann Kappe is a Kommissar with a lot of heart and ethical principles, and he soon realises that Leiblein is being made a scapegoat for a matter which the various political factions would like to see buried. As the lines between right and wrong, truth and cover-up, become increasingly blurred, it becomes clear that the power of the fist (or weapons) triumph over the power of law. In fact, law itself is being subverted by a new political regime keen to rid itself of any opposition. Kappe has many moments when he fears for himself and his family. He learns to compromise, to find small loopholes in a society which is becoming ever more frightening and inhuman. No happy outcome is possible, only temporary relief and terrifying uncertainty.

Without looking at them, [Kappe’s boss] told them: ‘According to a report from the Reich’s Ministry of Transport, Director Dr. Erich Klausener shot himself in his office earlier today. There is no police confirmation of this. The news came to us via the security services… It’s hard for me to believe them. Gentlemen, it’s clear to me that there is an entirely different tune being played here. The Führer is clearing out anyone who stands in his way: Klausener, von Schlicher and his wife, … and many more. I don’t know what to do anymore.

They waited for him to say something more. But he didn’t. Then he told them: ‘You can go now.’

sixfourHideo Yokoyama: Six Four (translated by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies)

In Japan, the police seems to be as much of an administrative morass as the great corporates. Officers are rotated between departments every few years, and Superintendent Yoshinobu Mikami finds himself moved from Criminal Investigations (specifically: murder) to Press Director in the Administrative Affairs department. Even worse, when he tries to create a more collaborative relationship with journalists, his efforts are thwarted by his superiors and decisions about what to reveal and what to hide are made above his head for reasons which are not even explained to him. The amount of political manoeuvring and the social nuances which need to be taken into account make the Japanese police force seem labyrinthine in comparison to its Western counterparts. Everything seems to be about preserving the reputation of the police and getting promoted.

Captain Tsujiuchi is on his ‘tour of duty’ from Tokyo in the prefectural HQ where Mikami works, but he has no real power. He isolates himself in his office and is kept far from any real problems by Mikami’s fellow officers.

The Prefecture D Police had been diligent in their cultivation of the man’s near-divine status. They reported favourable information and insulated him from everything that wasn’t good news. They devoted themselves to ensuring that his time in the Prefectural HQ was spent in comfort. He was kept free from germs, sheltered from the troubles and worries of the local police, treated instead like a guest at a spa, and when he returned to Tokyo it would be with pockets full of expensive gifts from local companies. I enjoyed my time here, surrounded by the warmth of the local community and the officers serving it. They would feel relief as he recited the formulaic words during his departing speech, then, hardly leaving time for them to gather breath, they would begin to gather information on the personality and interests of the incoming captain.

tempsglacFred Vargas: Temps Glaciaires

And then we come to France, itself no stranger to the stranglehold of bureaucracy.  However, as in all countries with a Latin influence, rules are made to be broken or reinterpreted, and Comissaire Adamsberg pushes the boundaries of what is permissible more than most. At a certain point, he is in a rush to get to a certain place in the countryside and is pulled over by the traffic police. He tries to explain that it’s an emergency, but the two gendarmes (a different branch of the police than the detectives, and suffering a bit of a chip on their shoulder from being regarded as inferior) seem to take great pleasure in throwing the rule book at him:

‘I forgot to put my beacon on. I’ll come tomorrow and we’ll sort all that out…’
‘Ah, no, not tomorrow. First of all, because it’s Sunday, and secondly, because it will be too late.’
‘Too late for what?’
‘For testing your alcohol levels…’
‘I repeat: it was an emergency.’
‘Sorry, sir, your trajectory was a bit uncertain in the curves.’
‘I was just driving fast, that’s all. Emergency, how many more times do I need to say it?’
‘Blow here, Commissaire.’

In this book, Adamsberg relies so much on his legendary intuition and continues to pursue a line of enquiry regarded as tenuous by Danglard and some others in his team, that he is almost faced with a mutiny. When he insists on going to Iceland to pursue some leads, his team is divided between those sceptical but loyal to their boss, and those who openly disagree with him. Yet Adamsberg does not pull rank on them and punish the disbelievers: his is a democratic approach, even when he is at the receiving end of distrust. He can even forgive serious mistakes, as one team member discloses rather more than they should have to a suspect. But he does make sure that they realise their mistake and never repeat them.

I have to remind you all that no private information about any of our team members should be given out to a stranger. Not even if he has gone for a piss or to feed the cat. Not even if the stranger is sympathetic, cooperative or frightened.

So there we have it: three very different approaches to policing, one of them is set in a historical context, three insights into different cultures. The world of Scandinavian, British and American policing, which we are all so familiar with, suddenly seems very much easier, doesn’t it?

 

 

What Got You Hooked on Crime, Rebecca Kreisher?

RebeccaKreisher

Today I have the great pleasure of introducing yet another crime fiction lover and blogger to you. Rebecca Kreisher blogs as Ms. Wordopolis , primarily about crime fiction. She is passionate about translated crime and likes to challenge herself by reading books set in countries all over the world. You can also find Rebecca on Twitter.

How did you get hooked on crime fiction?

While I read and loved Nancy Drew mysteries when I was little, I wasn’t really hooked on the genre until I was much older. Patricial Cornwell, Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton are what hooked me as a twenty-something law student.

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

I tend to gravitate to police procedurals such as those by Arnaldur Indriðason, because I’ve moved on from the PI novels I used to read.

What is the most memorable book you have read recently?

Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland was a recent favorite. It was more of a thriller than I expected, and the social/political commentary was quite good as well.

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 bring the Wallander series by Henning Mankell, both because I haven’t finished the series yet and because the books themselves tend to run long.

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

I’ve been catching up with Laura Lippman lately, and I’m looking forward to her newest Hush Hush.

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

Honestly, I usually recommend crime novels, so this is a difficult question to answer. I like Allegra Goodman and Ann Patchett for smart fiction, and Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration for nonfiction.

 

Thank you, Rebecca, for some great suggestions here. Several authors I’ve been meaning to explore further – like Laura Lippman. But I will stay strong for a month or so longer, for the sake of my TBR Double Dare Challenge!

For previous participants in the series, just follow this link. 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!

 

Review/Giveaway for Crossing the Line by Frederique Molay

 

Crossing The Line banner

You know I very seldom participate in blog tours – perhaps once a year. However, I feel strongly about making French books more widely known to the English-speaking public, so I share the same enthusiasm and values as Emma from the blog Words and Peace and the independent publisher Le French Book. So, for them, and for the writer Frédérique Molay, I make an exception.  I read and reviewed the first book in the series featuring Nico Sirsky just over a year ago and was looking forward to reading more by this author. For other reviews and Q&A with the author, please visit France Book Tour

Crossing the Line cover

Crossing The Line

[police procedural / thriller]

(translated by Anne TRAGER)

 Release date: September 23, 2014 at Le French Book

224 pages

ISBN: 978-1939474148

Website | Goodreads

***

SYNOPSIS

It’s Christmas in Paris and Chief of Police Nico Sirsky has an uneasy feeling that something is very wrong with the case he’s investigating. He and his team of crack homicide detectives follow the clues from an apparent suicide, to an apparent accident, to an all-out murder as an intricate machination starts breaking down. Just how far can despair push a man? How clear is the line between good and evil? [provided by the publisher]

Crossing The Line- Frederique MolayABOUT THE AUTHOR

Called, “the French Michael Connelly,” Frédérique Molay graduated from France’s prestigious Science Po
and began her career in politics and the French administration. She worked as chief of staff for the deputy mayor of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, and then was elected to the local government in Saône-et-Loire.
Meanwhile, she spent her nights pursing a passion for writing she had nourished since she wrote her first novel at the age of eleven. The first in the Paris Homicide series, The 7th Woman, won France’s most prestigious crime fiction award and went on to become an international bestseller, allowing Molay to dedicate her life to writing and raising her three children.

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ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR

Anne Trager loves France so much she has lived there for 27 years and just can’t seem to leave. What keeps her there is a uniquely French mix of pleasure seeking and creativity. Well, that and the wine. In 2011, she woke up one morning and said, “I just can’t stand it anymore. There are way too many good books being written in France not reaching a broader audience.” That’s when she founded Le French Book to translate some of those books into English. The company’s motto is “If we love it, we translate it,” and Anne loves crime fiction, mysteries and detective novels.

My Review:

In the run-up to Christmas, Parisian detective Nico Sirsky’s personal and professional life seems to be going well, although he is still recovering from the bullet wound he received at the end of the previous book. But then something unexpected happens: the head of a cadaver being used for study by medical students contains a disquieting message. Could it be a student prank? The verdict for the death of the man who bequeathed his body to science was suicide, but many details about his last few weeks before dying seem to indicate something far more sinister. Soon, the case becomes complicated, involving and I love the way the author takes us step by step through the investigation, following promising leads which lead to blind alleys, showing all the effort and rewards of good teamwork.

This is no ‘lone ranger’ type of investigator miraculously solving impossible puzzles, whilst watching his private life go to pot. What we have here is a true police procedural in the 87th Precinct tradition, showing just how much work is involved in finding clues, filtering through the data, making connections… and still having a satisfying home life. Sirsky’s family situation takes a back seat in this story and the book is all the better for it.

There is far less graphic description of violence or dead bodies (well, if you exclude the cadavers in a university lab), but the story is a sad one. Interesting twists and bizarre clues along the way will make you want to devour the book as quickly as possible, but this is no superficial action-filled thriller. If you like crime fiction with heart and more subtle thought (and not always a fully wrapped-up parcel of an ending), Frédérique Molay is an author you will enjoy.

 

If you would like to participate in the giveaway draw for a chance to win one of 5 digital copies of ‘Crossing the Line’ (open internationally), plus a further 5 copies open for US readers only, please enter your details by clicking below. The winners will be announced on the website and individually on the 7th of October. Good luck and enjoy your read!

My Favourite Scandinavian Crime Fiction

This is part of an article on Scandinavian crime fiction which I wrote during my seemingly endless offline period – actually, only about 2 1/2 weeks since I moved, but had no means of posting online.  Yes, I did not waste endless days on social forums and idle chat – but it will probably take me a few days just to wade through all th emails and interactions, to make sure that I don’t miss anything important.  And no, I did not finish my novel, although I did make some progress with it.  Having to live in boxes and using a box as a desk did not quite work for my fussy, pernickety creative muse!

What is it with the current obsession with Scandinavian crime fiction (loosely defined as crime fiction from those countries suffering bleak winters and darkness for half of the year)?  It’s not a new phenomenon: they are rooted in good ancient stock of storytelling in fur-lined caves around a campfire, when there is little to tempt you to go outside. The Gothic imagination of the North – the ghost stories of Scotland, Ireland and England, bloodthirsty Viking tales, the equally gory Nibelungensaga… Yet the latest batch of crime fiction emerges from societies that are well-ordered, neat and contained, where people consistenly report high levels of wellbeing (and fairness and equality) and where serious crime is fairly uncommon.  Murders are the exception here rather than the norm.  But it’s almost as though there is a fear that under the veneer of civilisation, that dark ancestral spirit is waiting to come out – as it sometimes does (I cannot tell you how devastated and puzzled Norwegian friends were about the shootings last summer).

It is nearly impossible (and not very productive) to lump together all Scandinavian crime fiction as a vast, amorphous mass: there are huge differences between Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell (both Swedish), not to mention between Iceland, Denmark and Norway. And I am not sure why Finland is habitually ignored and untranslated, as last time I looked, they too were part of Scandinavia, or at least as much as Iceland.  Yet if there is one thread that they all have in common, it is that they all use crime as a social commentary and in this sociological perspective they have all been influenced by the godparents of Scandinavian crime fiction: Maj Sjӧwall and Per Wahlӧӧ.  Not as well-known as they deserve to be (perhaps because they are not easily available: thank you to Harper for their reissue of the whole series under the Perennial imprint in 2007, translated with great verve by Alan Blair, Joan Tate and Lois Roth).

Written in the late 1960s and early 1970s and reflecting that period of tremendous social change in Sweden and throughout the world, the so-called Martin Beck novels were planned as a series of ten novels by this husband and wife team (and Per Wahlӧӧ managed to live just long enough to complete the final novel in the series).  Much has been made of the authors’ Marxist sympathies and their criticism of the perceived failings of the Swedish social democratic welfare state.  But you will find no blatant propaganda beating you around the head here: merely razor-sharp observations, small details that can almost be overlooked, comments made by one or the other of the policemen or the people whom they interview.  All of which help to place the novels in their time frame, yet not enough to make them feel dated. And there is lots of humour, some gentle, some satirical.

Fifty years on, when the dysfunctional police team led by a middle-aged, sour-faced male detective with a troubled marriage have become clichés, it is hard to appreciate just how fresh and exciting these novels were when they first appeared.  Yet some of that freshness and novelty still comes through, even to (comparatively) younger readers like me, who were born after the novels were published, and who have been brought up on a steady diet of gloomy cities where even gloomier detectives investigate crimes that expose the underbelly of a society in decay.  The writing is sparse and powerful, no word is carelessly flung on the page.  Without fuss, extreme posturing or excessive interior monologues, we are privy to the complexities of characters in this ensemble piece (for, although Martin Beck is the main character, his colleagues Kollberg, Larsson, Melander and Rӧnn are well-rounded figures in themselves, rather than just convenient sidekicks).

It is hard to pick a favourite among all the books, but perhaps ‘The Man on the Balcony’ (third in the series) and ‘The Laughing Policeman’ (fourth) lingered most in my mind, although the series gets more ambitious,complex and darker as it progresses.

So, if you like crime fiction, if you like the Nordic countries, if you admire and devour  Jo Nesbo and Karin Fossum and all the other Scandinavian crime writers increasingly available in translation, then I do recommend going back to the source: Maj and Per. Their names almost say it all, don’t they?  The Ma and Pa of all the writers that came after them…