June Reading & Crime Fiction Pick of the Month

Amazing amounts of reading this month – that’s what business travel does for you! 17 books in total.

6 books in translation or foreign language – 35%

Raymond Queneau: Zazie dans le m̩tro Рabsurd and fun

Hanne  Ǿrstavik: The Blue Room – sinister and claustrophobic

Domingo Villar: Water-Blue Eyes – atmospheric and world-weary

Lena Divani: Seven Lives and One Great Love – delightful and witty

DorinFrançoise Dorin: Va voir maman, papa travaille

Way ahead of its time – this book was published in 1976 and discusses the ambivalence of motherhood, of gender inequality, of combining career ambitions and work satisfaction with parenting in a way which makes the current crop of domestic goddesses seem self-deluded and vapid. A very honest account, which makes you question your own assumptions.

untitledPaulus Hochgatterer: The Sweetness of Life

Or should that be called the ‘sadness of life’?  Highly unusual crime fiction – more of a meditation on the nature of evil, on mental illness and the darkness inherent in all of life. Perfectly captures the depression and neuralgia of small-town Austria during winter and introduces an interesting detecting duo: psychiatrist Horn and police inspector Kovacs.

1 Non- Fiction:

Summer Pierre: The Artist in the Office  – inspiring and no-nonsense

1 Paranormal Thriller:

Lauren Owen: The Quick – Victorian Gothic with vampires

2 Psychological Rollercoasters:

Tamar Cohen: The Broken – cringingly true-to-life

Miriam Toews: All My Puny Sorrows – emotionally charged

7 Additional Crime Novels (total crime this month: 53%)

DarkestHeartDan Smith: The Darkest Heart – to be reviewed on Crime Fiction Lover website; an ominous journey through the heartland of Brazil, echoes of Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’

Linwood Barclay: Trust Your Eyes – unusual premise, stylish execution

D.S. Nelson: The Blake Hetherington Mysteries – charming cosy series featuring a pedantic hat-maker

Sam Alexander: Carnal Acts – great marketing campaign, still waiting to hear who Sam Alexander is

Edward Wilson: The Whitehall Mandarin Рmore in the thoughtful Le Carr̩ mould than in the heroic American style, but at some point I will write a blog post about why I find spy thrillers in general a little disappointing

M.J. McGrath: The Boneseeker – unusual characters and locations, lovingly described

Taylor Stevens: The Innocent – a tougher than nails heroine not always acting in strictly legal fashion, trying to save a child abducted by a cult; to be reviewed on Crime Fiction Lover

 

pick of the monthPerhaps it’s inevitable that, when you go through so many books a month, you end up wading through an average books portion – books that are OK but nothing to really get excited about. This has been such a month. There were also a couple of books I really did not enjoy very much (luckily, not that many). My crime fiction pick of the month (if you haven’t yet come across this meme at Mysteries in Paradise, go check it out: a great source of recommended reads to add to your TBR list)  is probably Linwood Barclay’s Trust Your Eyes. I felt from the start that I was in the hands of a competent and elegant storyteller. For a few choice Linwood Barclay quotes from Geneva Book Fair, look here. 

 

 

 

 

It’s Grim Ooop North…*

While I was working in the north of England, it just seemed appropriate to be reading crime novels set in the north (Northumberland, upstate New York and Canada’s Northern Territories). Each of these novels has a strong sense of place, and there’s desolate rural wind blowing through their very different landscapes (as well as the usual village gossip).

CarnalSam Alexander: Carnal Acts

I have to admit I struggled with this one, because it was almost unbearably graphic and misogynistic (not the author, but many of the characters). I suppose it was bound to be a disturbing read, with topics such as sex trade, Albanian mafia and both traditional and modern slavery. Fiercely independent former London cop Joni Pax is an interesting character, but I found her ditsy hippy Mum a bit overdone, while her detecting partner Heck Rutherford promises to be intriguing but does not yet quite stand out sufficiently for me. It’s a thrilling enough read, but I found the story a tad predictable yet not quite fully plausible. Stylistically, also, it feels lazy, with abundant clichés, as if the author is on holiday and allowing him or herself a bit of downtime with this book.  However, I have to admit I admire Arcadia’s clever marketing ploy to discover the real writer beneath the pseudonym. And, like everyone else, I’m dying to find out #WhoIsSamAlexander. [And won’t I be biting back my words if I discover it’s one of my favourite crime authors?]

Linwood Barclay: Trust Your Eyes

TrustEyesWhat if you committed a crime and thought you’d got away with it, but discover a few months later that anyone with an internet connection could have witnessed it? A brilliant premise for a novel which reminded me of Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’. Linwood Barclay is the poor man’s Harlan Coben – and I mean this in the best possible way. In his breathtakingly exciting novels, all of which start with some kind of paradox, it’s not people with superhuman abilities or international spies who have all the adventures. No, it’s the average Joes, modest citizens like you and me, who find themselves suddenly in an impossible situation, completely out of their depth. In that respect, he reminds me more of Sophie Hannah or Nicci French… and there is a strong family component to his writing as well. This is an author who really ‘gets’ complex family dynamics. This tale of two dissimilar brothers (Ray the successful illustrator and his schizophrenic, housebound, obsessive brother Thomas who sees something he shouldn’t have online) goes much deeper than just a crime story – and there is quite a thrilling, multi-stranded plot here, make no mistake about that. Not surprisingly, I discovered that Barclay himself has a brother with mental health problems, and although he says the character of Thomas is not based on his brother, the frustrated love the two brothers have for each other rings very true indeed.

BoneSeekerM. J. McGrath: The Bone Seeker

I absolutely loved the near-anthropological descriptions of life in the Inuk community of Ellesmere Island in Canada in ‘White Heat’, McGrath’s debut novel featuring Arctic hunter and unwilling detective Edie Kiglatuk. Anybody talking about strong women should take Edie as a role model: diminutive yet tough as nails, caring yet unsentimental, thoughtful yet able to whip up a good bowl of seal blood soup. In this second novel the author has corrected some of the weaknesses of the previous novel: this one has more diverse characters, is faster-paced and avoids over-long nature descriptions. Yet somehow I enjoyed it slightly less than the first, perhaps because there is a whole government conspiracy to unravel as well as a crime to solve. (I’m not a huge fan of conspiracy theories.) The description of young Martha, however, the girl who hopes to escape from her community and see the wider world, is very poignant and memorable indeed.

 

* Nobody is quite sure of the origin of this phrase, but it seems to have been fairly well established as a trope in British culture since Victorian times at least. The North stood for all that was sooty, industrial, coal-miney and dark. Funnily enough, for us Southern Europeans or those in the Balkans, the North always stood for prosperity, non-corrupt democracy, fair-mindedness and social progress.

 

Falling Behind on Reviews…

Manchester, Piccadilly Gardens.
Manchester, Piccadilly Gardens.

I’ve been travelling and working (for money rather than love) for the past three weeks. Which, as always, means I get a lot of reading done (dinners for one at hotel restaurants and lonely hotel rooms are conducive to that sort of thing), but my reviewing falls by the wayside. Too tired mentally to string two words together (except perhaps ‘not now’).

I was aiming for entertaining rather than gruelling books, books to divert rather than ravage me. Some have been better than others, some have been slightly disappointing. I will try to do them all justice with longer reviews over the next few days, so this is what you have to look forward to!

Town Hall, Sheffield.
Town Hall, Sheffield.

Better than or as good as expected:

Linwood Barclay: Trust Your Eyes – ‘Rear Window’ suspense with a modern twist

Miriam Toews: All My Puny Sorrows – depression and suicide, not a light read

M.J. McGrath: The Bone Seeker – another fascinating insight into Inuit life

Tamar Cohen: The Broken – captivating if uncomfortable story of marital and friendship breakdown

 

Manchester, up-and-coming urban area.
Manchester, up-and-coming urban area.

Slightly disappointing (perhaps because of the hype):

Sam Alexander: Carnal Acts – too tough and graphic for my taste

Domingo Villar: Water-Blue Eyes – the abrupt ending spoilt an otherwise rather promising book set in Galicia, Spain

Edward Wilson: The Whitehall Mandarin – ambitious and thoughtful spy thriller, but gets a bit silly towards the end

 

More than slightly disappointing:

Lauren Owen: The Quick – an interesting writer stylistically, but stories about vampires are just not, not, NOT my thing (and I really need to read blurbs more attentively in future)

 

Tour de France preparations, Sheffield.
Tour de France preparations, Sheffield.

Charming and quirky reads:

D. S. Nelson: Blake Hetherington Mysteries – middle-aged, finicky hat-maker is an adorable detective, but felt the novella format was too short for the mystery to fully develop and breathe

Lena Divani: Seven Lives and One Great Love – autobiography of a cat – with great observations about life, humans and love – funny but also poignant

And, speaking of places I’ve travelled to, I found that Sheffield surpassed my expectations, while Manchester was a disappointment. I am sure weather, circumstances, time,  having an insider show you around etc. makes all the difference and I am sure that both cities have plenty to offer, but I know which of the two is my favourite. Still, both of them would make good backdrops to crime novels…

Manchester, former fish market.
Manchester, former fish market.
Sheffield, Winter Gardens.
Sheffield, Winter Gardens.