Highlights of QDP 2016: Part 2

Totalachats2016

I think this picture speaks for itself: a whole coffee table full of new books. I’ve been on a terrible crime spree and my only excuse is that I will be moving soon from France, so it was my last chance to get French books and have things signed in Lyon. Actually, speaking of moving reminds me of one good reason why I should have been more moderate in my purchases…

Anyway, no time for regrets (not that I have any). In fact, I was planning to buy more, but the lack of availability of certain titles in English or certain authors who could sign the books meant that I had to scale down.

And, as I said on Twitter, at least it proves that as long as there are people like me in the world, crime writers will not starve!

From left to right, top to bottom, here we go:

  1. Jo Nesbø: Blood on Snow – I haven’t read the last few Nesbøs; he’s a bit hit and miss for me – I love some of his books, while others leave me cold. He was constantly mobbed by admirers, so I barely exchanged two words with him.
  2. Pascal Garnier: Comment va la douleur? – my favourite Garnier to date, I had the English translation at home but not the original in French
  3. Ayerdahl: Tendances – recommended by the hugely knowledgeable booksellers at the Quais when I asked about a novel set in Lyon, the author (French, despite his name) died in Sept. 2015.
  4. Manuel Vázquez Montalban: La Solitude du manager – Spanish classic crime; sadly, many of his books are not available in English (this was a 2nd hand purchase)
  5. Jake Adelstein: Tokyo Vice – had never heard of the author or the book, but we started chatting and of course someone who has lived 20 years as a journalist in Japan has got my full attention. The book was only available in French on the first day, but on the second day the attentive booksellers had got hold of a few English copies, so I couldn’t resist getting it. Doomo arigatoo!
  6. Rachid Santaki: La Légende du 9-3 – if you liked Jérémie Guez or Karim Miské’s portrayal of multicultural Paris, Rachid is in the same vein, 93 being one of the most troubled departements of France (outskirts of Paris).
  7. Sébastien Meier: Le Nom du père – rising star of Swiss crime fiction and practically a neighbour (he lives in Lausanne)
  8. Antonin Varenne: Battues – you never know what to expect with a Varenne book – he never writes twice about the same subject and his range is amazing. After the urban milieu of ‘Bed of Nails’ and historical fiction (19th century and war in Algeria), this is a rural Romeo and Juliet story.
  9. Hervé Le Corre: Après la Guerre – atmospheric story set in 1950s Bordeaux, this won the prize of Quais du Polar in 2014 and will soon be available in English from Maclehose Press.
  10. Colin Niel: Ce qui reste en forêt – the second in a series set in French Guyana, recommended to me by none other than my ‘partner in crime’, Emma from Book Around the Corner, who has reviewed the first in the series.
  11. Joseph Incardona: Permis C – I thought I was safe from buying anything by him, because I had his latest book, but I’ve met him at several festivals and he knows my by name. So when he produced a small pile of his very latest book, which has not yet come out in France, only in Switzerland, how could I resist?
  12. Janis Otsiemi: La Vie est un sale boulot – he was on my list of more diverse writers that I wanted to attempt – life in Libreville, Gabon sounds like it could be challenging and interesting! Besides, I loved his extensive collection of hats!
  13. Christophe Molmy: Les loups blessés – this was an unintentional purchase. I saw the author looking a bit lonely, sitting next to Deon Meyer, who had a huge queue of people to sign for. So I started chatting to him and discovered he still works as a policeman, in fact heads up the Anti-gang squad in Paris, so I asked him several questions pertaining to cross-border crime. After helping me with my novel, it would have been churlish not to buy his own, wouldn’t it?
  14. Naïri Nahapétian: Qui a tué l’ayatollah Kanumi? – another writer on my diversity list, this is an Iranian of Armenian origin who came to France as a child and worked as a journalist reporting on Iran for many years. I have many Iranian friends and want to find out more what lies beneath the easy clichés about that country.
  15. Jax Miller: Freedom’s Child – I’d heard rave reviews about this remarkable debut novel last year, but never got around to reading it. After meeting the larger-than-life Jax Miller at the conference, I was determined to follow her progress with every book (and I’m sure there will be plenty more).
  16. Craig Johnson: Dry Bones – I haven’t read a Walt Longmire book in a while, but I always enjoyed them, and the author of course is an utterly lovely person. I also plan to make some effort to catch the Longmire series on Netflix or somewhere – any ideas?
  17. Frédéric Lenormand: Le Diable s’habille en Voltaire – I saw Lenormand a year or two ago at the Quais, he wasn’t here this year; but a book with Voltaire as a detective, when I live a short walk from his chateau? You bet! (2nd hand purchase)
  18. James Oswald: The Damage Done – I never thought I liked supernatural mixed up with my crime, but James has convinced me it works. Besides, we had a lovely chat about farming and cows and sheep (I come from good old farming stock, it’s in my blood)
  19. Patrick Delperdange: Si tous les dieux nous abandonnent – Belgian writer who was recommended to me by a bookseller who heard me asking about Pascal Garnier books. ‘If you like Garnier, you will be struck by this book.’ Besides, he had the loveliest idea for signing books: ‘Give me a word and I’ll create a sentence for you.’
  20. Richard Price: The Whites – another outstanding noir author,with a searing (and bleak) vision of New York City, who was mortified when he spelt Sofia wrong in the dedication. As if I would be offended…
  21. Parker Bilal: The Ghost Runner – another cross-cultural adventure, Makana being a Sudanese ex-cop turned PI in Egypt, and giving us a picture of the Middle East in the aftermath of 9/11. Parker Bilal is the crime writing pseudonym of Jamal Mahjoub, who writes literary fiction under his real name.
  22. Jean-Claude Izzo: Total Khéops – I adored the Marseille Trilogy by this author, but I borrowed it from the library and wanted to acquire my own copies. My favourite of the three books is Chourmo, but the bookseller couldn’t find it for me so he brought me the first one (2nd hand purchase).
  23. Deon Meyer: Cobra – I’ve only found 2-3 of Meyer’s books at the library here, so I bought one of the books I haven’t got around to reading. I like this ‘not at all breathless’ thriller style and deep characterisation.
  24. Raynal Pellicer/Titwane: Enquêtes générales – fascinating graphic book about real-life cases following a period of immersion with the anti-crime squad in Paris. Useful for my own research about French policing, as well as a work of art.

The pistol-shaped black notebook was a freebie from publishers Folio, containing best quotes from crime fiction. The other black notebook in the bottom right is a Moleskine-type notebook, which I used to scribble my impressions of each panel.

Even my cat is astounded by the amount of books I bought...
Even my cat is astounded by the amount of books I bought…

Right, now time to find some good hiding places for all these books, so that I don’t have to endure sharp criticism about money wasted, lack of space and removal terrors…

Other Quais du Polar 2016 numbers: 80 000 visitors (up 10% from last year), 130 authors of 22 nationalities, 200 events throughout town over this period and 35,000 books sold. (So not every visitor bought 24 books then!). Pretty good going though; I’d love to see the figures for Harrogate or Bloody Scotland.

Cocktail of Reading in March 2016

What a month it has been! More snow than we’ve had all winter, amidst bursts of sunshine and flowers coming out. Helping to prepare a conference with the Geneva Writers’ Group and getting to meet so many talented writers. Getting even more impetus to work on my novel and poetry. And, of course, without fail, plenty of reading – a cocktail of flavours. Some day, I may even catch up with the reviewing…

Photo from Balugabar.co.uk
Photo from Balugabar.co.uk

Foreign language fiction:

  1. Pascal Garnier: Too Close to the EdgeBlack Vodka and Pomegranate
  2. Peter Gardos: Fever at DawnVodka and Cranberry Blush
  3. Mircea Eliade: Romanul Adolescentului Miop (The Diary of a Short-Sighted Adolescent) – a mocktail for underage drinkers to be reviewed for Necessary Fiction
  4. Marius Daniel Popescu: La Symphonie du Loup (The Wolf’s Symphony) – Bitter Orange and Cardamom
  5. Alina Bronsky: Scherbenpark (Broken Glass Park) – White Russian – the cream makes it a bit sickly

Crime Fiction (stretching the boundaries a bit):

  1. Quentin Bates: Thin Ice Margarita – let’s get the party started!
  2. Guy Fraser-Sampson: Death in Profile  – Pina Colada with an umbrella
  3. Joe Flanagan: Lesser EvilsOld-Fashioned with a twist of lemon
  4. Katharina Hall (ed.): Crime Fiction in German – Hefeweizen beer
  5. Elizabeth Knox: WakeBloody Mary
  6. Liz Jensen: The Uninvited – Sidecar – there’s far more to it than immediately obvious
  7. Claire McGowan: A Savage Hunger – Guinness
  8. Sara Gran: Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead  Mai Tai – colourful, vibrant
  9. L.S. Hilton: Maestra – trendy Amaro-based mix (with oysters on the side)
  10. Laura Lebow: Sent to the Devil – Opera (or Bellini?)

Non-fiction

  1. Olivia Laing: The Lonely City  – Manhattan
  2. David Sedaris: Me Talk Pretty One Day – Cosmopolitan
  3. Mary Oliver: Felicity (poetry collection) – Long Island Ice Tea

18 books, of which 10 by women, 5 in translation, 9 crime(ish) novels and one book about crime fiction. Let me tell you which of the yet-to-be-reviewed books I really enjoyed: Olivia Laing, Liz Jensen and Crime Fiction in German. Meanwhile, Sara Gran, Laura Lebow and David Sedaris were a nice diversion. One book I did not much like, although it is currently getting a lot of hype and will no doubt sell well, since it is being marketed as ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ meets ’50 Shades of Grey’ is Maestra. [The art history and fraud element in there was the most interesting part to me, and I wish there’d been more of that instead.]

While there is nothing much I can do about the books I am given to review, I should make more of an effort to read more diversely, while also reducing the piles on my virtual and physical shelves. [Although I suspect I will be buying plenty of new books in Lyon, as usual.]

Here are some suggestions for myself: Marina Sonkina, Claire Fuller, Joanna Cannon, Sarah Hilary from Netgalley; Clarice Lispector, Yana Vagner and Virginia Woolf from my shelves; Circ (written by 10 authors), Jennifer Tseng and The Devil is a Black Dog: Stories of the Middle East by Sandor Jaszberenyi from ‘books found languishing on my e-reader for far too long’. But of course, I am also eager to read the books I acquired at the GWG Conference…

Impossible Choices and Alternative Endings

quaispolar16Only a few more days to go before the Quais du Polar (Crime Festival) kicks off in Lyon and I am trying to create an events schedule. Really tough choices, as so many events I’m interested in are taking place at the same time in entirely different locations. So, let me ask you, what would you choose between:

  1. An Hour with Jo Nesbo       vs.     Women in Crime Fiction (with Sara Gran, Jax Miller, Dolores Redondo, LS Hilton, Philippe Jaenada)
  2. Urban Locations in Crime Fiction (with Donato Carrisi, Walter Lucius, Carlos Zanon, Richard Price and Michele Rowe)      vs.    New Wave Brits (JJ Connolly, Jessica Cornwell, SJ Watson, James Oswald, LS Hilton)
  3. An Hour with David Peace     vs.    Crime Fiction from Quebec
  4. An Hour with Arnaldur Indridason        vs.    New World/Old Continents (with Parker Bilal, Colin Niel, Caryl Ferey, Olivier Truc, Nairi Nahapetian)

The other topic which has preoccupied me this Easter weekend was alternative endings to much-loved classics. My younger son had to write a new ending to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (which his class are going to be performing next week). He had Puck taking mercy on Titania and being punished for that by Oberon. Then Titania has a sword fight with Oberon and kills him for his cruelty, but the mortals rush away just in time for the Duke’s wedding. So he’s made a tragedy out of a comedy and left Titania to rule single-handedly over the fairy realm. Which shows he’s either a budding feminist or future crime writer, I suppose!

That had me wondering what endings I would like to see in some other favourites. An alternative Great Gatsby ending is too easy: just look at Tender Is the Night for what would have happened if Gatsby had married Daisy…

Most of the time, I have to admit that the writers of great classics did judge the endings perfectly and the books would have lost of some of their power if they had any different resolutions. However, there are a few exceptions (some of which will raise your hackles, no doubt):

  1. Jane Eyre:  I’d have run away from Mr. Rochester no matter what. Not realistic, perhaps, in those days.
  2. Rebecca: A civilised separation and a settlement to enable the second Mrs. de Winter to live somewhere quietly in a place of her choosing, with equally beautiful rhododendrons and a view of the sea.
  3. Anna Karenina: I’m not for a minute suggesting a happy ending here, but I do think that poor Anna suffers the punishment for adultery, while the men get off scot-free for the most part. I’d like both her husband and Vronsky to suffer, and for her son to grow up in a more loving environment, perhaps with Kitty and Levin.
The ultimate Anna in my eyes: Tatian Samoilova in the Russian version of the film.
The ultimate Anna in my eyes: Tatiana Samoilova in the 1967 Russian version of the film.

 

Four Quick Crime Reads

I read the last four crime books at great speed – almost slurping them in (unlike the much slower reading of the meticulously detailed and long Six Four). Each of them was satisfying in very different ways. Yes, none of them are translations, which is a bit of a shame on a #translationthurs, but they take place in Scotland, Iceland, US and …erm… Hampstead. Does that count?

oswaldJames Oswald: The Damage Done

I normally steer well clear of crime fiction which contains supernatural elements, as I feel it ‘doesn’t play fair’ with the readers and solving the case. But in this case (and it was my first Oswald novel, so I wasn’t sure what to expect), I found it woven in so plausibly and to such chilling effect, that I was won over. My full review is over on Crime Fiction Lover and I’ll be seeing the author in Lyon in April.

frasersampsonGuy Fraser-Sampson: Death in Profile

A quick, easy read for lovers of Golden Age type puzzles, this one is quite openly an homage to Dorothy Sayers and her most famous creation Lord Peter Wimsey. Implausible and oddly ‘outside time’ though this tale is, there is a lot of entertainment value in the sheer audacity of its set-up and fun interaction between its witty (and on the whole very well-behaved) characters, reminiscent of an earlier age. One for puzzle fans, although the author doesn’t play entirely fair at one point. I do love the Hampstead/Belsize Park setting too!

thiniceQuentin Bates: Thin Ice

I think that Bates is developing a Nordic comic noir style all his own, almost lampooning at times the seriousness and gloom that we have started to associate with Scandinavian crime fiction. There are touches of Fargo about the set-up of this latest in this Officer Gunnhildur series, which not only has the delightfully down-to-earth, middle-aged Gunna as the main crimebuster (think an Icelandic equivalent to Catherine in ‘Happy Valley’), but also a motley bunch of rogues and their victims hiding out in a boarded-up hotel in the middle of nowhere. A really fun read – for my in-depth review see here.

Layout 1Joe Flanagan: Lesser Evils

Europa Editions is better known for its translated literature (some of it dark, but often simply literary), so this is a bit of a departure for them. Flanagan is an American speechwriter and freelance writer and I believe this is his debut novel. It’s a recreation of Cape Cod of the late 1950s and it’s got a great sense of time and place, as far as I can tell, having lived through neither. But this is a trope that is so familiar to us from film depictions of the US during that time that I could almost imagine Burt Lancaster, Glenn Ford or Charlton Heston brooding on by, under hats pulled low over their foreheads and perhaps laying aside their trench-coats for a minute because it’s summer after all.

The book shows us the darker side of the ‘golden years’ of America, with a detective, Bill Warren, who is well ahead of his time in terms of empathy, compassion, sensitivity and integrity. At times, it does feel a little hard to believe that everyone else in the book seems to be so rotten and corrupt, and that he is the single hero in search of justice and the truth. Too much Lone Ranger perhaps, and the undercurrent of Mafia influence and willingness to look away are overdone. Some readers will be repulsed by the child killings, although the scenes are never overly graphic. What kept me reading were the complex characterisations and motivations of many of the characters. All in all, an absorbing story, revealed in a way that felt fresh despite fitting well within the traditional noir canon.

 

 

February 2016 Reading Round-Up

Trying to stick to my resolution and read only from my TBR pile, but a few slipped through the net (in addition to the usual review copies).

Picture from mirabiledictu.org
Picture from mirabiledictu.org

TBR on the shelves:

  1. Andrew McMillan: Physical
  2. Petina Gappah: The Book of Memory
  3. Denise Mina: Gods and Beasts
  4. Klaus Vater: Am Abgrund (Es geschah in Berlin 1934)

Netgalley Guilt:

  1. Claire Vaye Watkins: Gold Fame Citrus – DNF
  2. Asne Seiersted: One of Us
  3. Simon Booker: Without Trace
  4. Jeanne M. Dams: Blood Will Tell
  5. Massimo Marino: Daimones (Part 1)
  6. Melissa Harisson: Rain – Four Walks in the English Weather
  7. Hideo Yokoyama: Six Four

Review copies sent by publishers:

  1. Karl Ove Knausgaard: Some Rain Must Fall
  2. He Jiahong: Black Holes
  3. Yusuf Toropov: Jihadi- A Love Story
  4. James Oswald: The Damage Done
  5. Kate Medina: Fire Damage

Slipped through the net:

  1. Amanda Jennings: In Her Wake
  2. N. J. Fountain: Painkiller
  3. Fred Vargas: Temps Glaciaires

Male/female ratio: 9 male/ 9 women and one not known

English language/translated (or foreign) ratio: 13 in English/ 6  translated

Many good reads this month, but the most unforgettable (and unsettling) book of the month: Asne Seiersted’s account of the Norwegian massacre in 2011.

As you may have noticed, I am also a little behind on reviews, because I’ve been trying to work, write and go skiing with children on holidays. On the days when they weren’t ill and demanding my attention, or else I was coming down with flu yet trying to concentrate enough to write a professional article. Reading, however, proved the perfect antidote to tired muscles and brains!

In terms of writing, I have not progressed much this month with the middle and end, but I have edited the opening of my novel, written a synopsis and found a (temporary?) title. I have also submitted some poems (and had one accepted), so it’s been a month of timid progress.

 

Holiday Activities: Going to the Bookshop and Library

Just another day of holidays, but with coughs and flu looming, we didn’t go skiing. Instead, my sons and I (all of us great readers) had to return some books to the library and passed by the only two bookshops in the area. The first one is a standard bookshop, which is a resurrected version of the previous bookshop which had gone bankrupt and was rescued by an association of book lovers. We stopped there to collect a book we had ordered, one that my older son needed for his French classes: a junior edition of the medieval collection of animal stories/fables ‘Le roman de renart’ (roughly translated as: The Novel of the Fox).

Then we passed by the other bookshop, which specialises in BD (bandes dessinées – graphic novels and comic books), where I had acquired my original Max Cabanes adaptation of Manchette’s novel Fatale. I had chatted with Cabanes in Lyon and he told me he was redoing and continuing another Manchette adaptation, so I couldn’t resist asking if they had his latest. They did, so I acquired that – it’s a visual delight, as well as being based upon one of my favourite French noir authors.

While Younger Son was reading another BD cover to cover, Older Son asked me to buy the latest in the series ‘Seuls’, a Franco-Belgian children’s fantasy thriller about children having to cope alone in a world without adults. (Later on we discover the children are all dead.) Twice a winner in the youth category at Angouleme Festival, and winner of the Grand Prize of the Mickey Mouse Journal. The well-intentioned bookseller advised me to read these comic books with my boys, to make sure that they wouldn’t get scared. Then, when my eldest scoffed, claiming proudly that he was a teenager now and not easily scared, we received a zombie poster for him to put up on his wall, as well as a magazine with extracts from all the latest releases.

Haulbookshop

And that is why we love going into real bookshops: we spent a happy morning browsing, discovering new things, making mental notes about what to buy next time, and feeling the love of books and the personalised service of the booksellers. We never leave empty-handed.

tempsglacThe library run also ended with 6 books: 4 BD for the boys (fun holiday reading, as they also have a bit of a TBR pile at home) and 2 books I wasn’t intending to get… secret TBR Triple Dog Dare and all that… Fred Vargas’ Temps Glaciaires (the latest Adamsberg mystery, published in 2015) and Emmanuel Carrere’s  D’autres vies que la mienne (Lives Other Than My Own) – which is a story about grief and loss, but also a kind of memoir of how a narcissist became a more empathetic human being.

 

 

 

 

I Thought I Was Doing So Well…

I haven’t signed up to the TBR Triple Dog challenge this year (which means no purchasing or borrowing new books for 3 months, until you reduce your TBR pile considerably). I love the concept, but I failed rather dismally last year. Secretly, however, I was planning to tag along unofficially. I noticed, with some satisfaction, that in January I managed to read 14 from my TBR list, 2 review books, 1 from the library and 1 that a friend lent me. So I blithely informed James at his end of January update that I had done quite well.

But then books started arriving in the post, my willpower weakened and my clicky finger got activated…

So here is the truth of the matter:

Books I borrowed and had to read quickly before returning:

Christos Tsiolkas: Dead Europe

Ian Rankin: Standing in Another Man’s Grave

Books I got sent by publishers:

Karl Ove Knausgaard: Some Rain Must Fall – Vol. 5 about attending writing school and becoming an adult – I dived into it at once

Peter Gardos: Fever at Dawn – 1945 and Hungarian Miklos has just emerged from Belsen and is recovering in a refuggee camp in Sweden; he is looking for love and writes a letter to 117 Hungarian women from his village.

He Jiahong: Hanging Devils – Set in the mid 1990s, this debut by one of China’s foremost legal experts turned crime fiction author describes a rapidly-changing society.

Succumbed to Netgalley temptation:

Simon Booker: Without Trace  – a miscarriage of justice, a childhood sweetheart released from prison and then her own daughter goes missing – can she trust anyone?

Lisa Owens: Not Working – 20-something stops working to figure out what her purpose in life is

Joanna Cannon: The Trouble with Goats and Sheep – 1976 and 2 ten-year-olds decide to uncover the mystery of the missing neighbour

Melissa Harrison: Rain – 4 walks in the English weather – better get used to it again

Ordered thanks to enthusiastic reviews (I name the guilty party too):

Javier Marias: Your Face Tomorrow trilogy (Tony Malone)

Andrew McMillan: Physical (Anthony Anaxagorou) – poetry: hymns to the male body, friendship and love

Rebecca Goss: Her Birth (Anthony Anaxagorou) – poetry: series of poems documenting the short life of a daughter born with a rare and incurable heart condition

Claudia Rankine: Citizen (Naomi Frisby) – I’ve read this but wanted my own copy

Complete Novels of E. Nesbit (Simon Thomas) – because I haven’t read any of her novels for adults

So I acknowledge defeat on the buy/borrow/download front, but will stick to reading more from the TBR pile at least…