An Italian Love Affair - Italian Crime Fiction Re-visited

Donna Leon

Donna Leon

I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with crime fiction author Donna Leon at a book signing in Dubray Bookshop (see photo on left) in Dublin on the 11th April last, where she was talking about her work and signing copies of her latest book 'The Golden Egg' 4 stars. Her description of this, the 22nd in the  Commissario Brunetti series, as a "love letter to language" just increased my desire to get started on it, which I did soon after.

In this, Commissario Brunetti, at the behest of his wife Paola, looks into the suspicious death of a deaf-mute man who may also have had mental issues. Of interest too of course is that no one seems to know much if anything about the man, who worked in their local dry cleaners for many years. So it becomes an investigation to discover who this man with no paper trail was and what were his circumstances. Without wanting to give too much away, this is not a conventional crime story but rather a tale of a different sort of crime and the tragedy and injustice that can befall an individual born into the wrong circumstances.

Out of Europe, Into Africa, Laos, Australia, USA. Crime Reads

I bet most people are somewhat familiar with the film 'Out of Africa' (1985), starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, and which is based loosely on an autobiography by Karen Blixen, it first published in 1937. The setting is British East Africa, better known today as Kenya, a point which leads me nicely on to the first crime novel I want to tell you about here, it too based in Kenya. As you might by now have guessed this post does not include any books with a European setting. But change is good, no?

A Guide to the Beasts of East Africa'A Guide to the Beasts of East Africa4 stars is the only title I have yet read by Nicholas Drayson, and it is the sequel to 'A Guide to the Birds of East Africa'. The first thing to say about it is that if you like the No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency books (McCall Smith), you should like this. Which I did, although I was initially slow to warm to it, probably because of its slower than what I am used to pace. But it has humour, style and interesting characters in its favour, and all helped to draw me more and more into the book with each page turning. The story like I said is based in Kenya, and around a number of different events and characters; Mr. Malik and his planning of the Asadi Club's annual safari, his daughter's impending marriage, a threat to the club's very existence, theft, political corruption, and the mystery surrounding a seventy-year old unsolved murder. The question: can Mr. Malik, who is of course a bit of a sleuth together with the help of lawyer Tiger Singh, unravel the mystery and save the day? An entertaining read this, I think you will like it. Regrettably, we do not have this title in our (Dublin City) libraries (horror!), for that I must apologise, I will ask for it to be purchased.

Crime (Cream?) Always Rises to the Top!

Vanishing PointLooking at the list of the most borrowed adult fiction titles in our libraries in recent weeks, even I was surprised at the level of dominance of thrillers and crime fiction. It must be true to say that crime holds an endless fascination for readers the world over. I would venture that over 50% of the top 20 adult fiction titles are in the thriller/crime category. The following is a listing of the most popular of those, and for me it is noticeable that two Scottish authors feature at the top:

Some Christmas Crime Fiction Reads?

While some people like to escape to the sun for Christmas, many prefer the embrace of a traditional white Christmas. Whichever group you fit into, maybe one or other of these books might allow you to escape, in a fashion, to the sun or, if it is your preference, to more northern climes. The following are just some of the books I have read in recent months and I hope you get to enjoy them. So travel with me to Australia, South Africa, Iceland, Norway and Sweden!

Going to sunnier regions...

The BatTo Australia first. 'The Bat3.5 stars is the first in the Harry Hole series by Norwegian Jo Nesbo, but the last to be translated, reason being I understand is that the publisher thought the others in the series more marketable as they were based in Norway, while this novel is based in Australia. In this, Harry is sent to Sydney to assist the investigation into the murder of a young Norwegian woman, it being a race against time to catch the serial killer before he strikes again. Harry is here teamed with an Aboriginal police officer, the Aboriginal aspect being strong in this book. You also learn something of Harry the person, while his problem with alcohol raises its ugly head also. A gritty ending as you come to expect from Nesbo.

Where Scotland meets Germany

Brother GrimmYou might well wonder, where does Scotland meet Germany? Or to be more precise, where does Glasgow meet Hamburg? The answer lies in the person of Craig Russell, Scottish-born author and the creator of two wonderful crime series, one set in Hamburg, the other, needless to say, in Glasgow.

The series set in Hamburg stars Detective Jan Fabel, he being half-Scottish and half-German, and stems from Russell's interest in the culture and people of Germany. Russell, born in Fife in Scotland in 1956, is an ex-policeman and fluent German speaker, and his Fabel series have been a big success not alone in Germany but elsewhere, having been translated into 23 languages.

African Adventures!

// Nordic authors and settings seem to dominate my crime reads, the list is not exclusively Northern European I am glad to say. I have even endeavoured to go beyond wider Europe, taking in the US of A, the Middle East, south-east Asia, and even Africa. And it is to Africa that I travel in this post, with two authors to mention, South Africa's Deon Meyer (see below) and Southern Rhodesia's (aka Zimbabwe's) Alexander McCall Smith. McCall Smith a Rhodesian, you might ask? Well, while living in Scotland, he is correctly speaking a Rhodesian-born Scotsman who has also spent some considerable time in Botswana. A prodigious writer, he is probably best known as the author of the The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. The agency is located in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. So far the series extends to thirteen titles, of which I have to date read two.

Cornwell in the hometown of Stoker!

The Bone BedBest selling American crime writer Patricia Cornwell is in Dublin today, here to take part in one of the opening events of the Bram Stoker Festival, happening this weekend. The event, The Anatomy of Fear - From Stoker to Scarpetta with Patricia Cornwell, takes place in Trinity College, and the author will be introduced by the state pathologist, Dr. Marie Cassidy! Very appropriate given the subject matter and the significant role forensic science plays in her Dr. Kay Scarpetta series.

Patricia Cornwell in Trinity CollegeCornwell has sold over 100 million copies of her books worldwide, and wouldn't you know it, you can borrow her books in our branch libraries and read away to your heart's content (check below).

Right: Patricia Cornwell in Trinity College, 26th October 2012 (click thumbnail to enlarge)

The 20th novel in the Scarpetta series (The Bone Bed) has just been published (25th October in fact), so while not yet on our bookshelves is on order and soon to arrive. In this latest, Chief Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta returns to solve the mysterious disappearance of a palaeontologist.

Irish Author wins Crime Novel of the Year Award!

The RageIrish novelist and newspaper columnist Gene Kerrigan was last night announced as the winner of the Crime Writers' Association's (CWA) Gold Dagger for crime novel of the year in the UK for his fourth novel, 'The Rage'. 'The Rage' is set in the backstreets of Dublin, and intertwines the stories of professional thief Vincent Naylor, just out of jail and planning a new robbery, and detective Bob Tidey, investigating the murder of a banker.

According to a report in the Guardian newspaper, judges described 'The Rage' as 'a complex noir thriller that's multi-layered and solidly written, with great style and pace'.

From Italy to Iceland to Sweden to Denmark!

Beastly Things It's been too long since my last post here on crime reads, so time to catch up. In this post I am going to take you through my most recent reads, covering four nations, and not all Nordic! Starting with Italy we will then visit Iceland, Sweden and finally Denmark.

From Italy:

Number 21 in the Commissario Brunetti series, 'Beastly Things' 4 stars convinces me that Donna Leon has not after all grown tired of the Venetian detective. Thank heavens, this is a definite return to form. Four stars (out of five) from me. A well developed plot (yet another body retrieved from a canal) with Brunetti as ever a joy to accompany as he meanders through Venice and its surrounds while unravelling the mystery. The abattoir visit is quite descriptive! In contrast to a reviewer for the Independent newspaper, I long for even more of wife Paolo and the culinary delights. A likeable read, a perfect holiday read if looking for one.

(More) Recent Crime Reads

Continuing with my series on recent crime reads (see first in series), I include here the new to me (Kallentoft), the relatively new to me (Meyer) and some old stalwarts (Nesbo, Nesser et al).

Midwinter Sacrifice'Midwinter Sacrifice' 4 stars was my first encounter with Swedish writer Mons Kallentoft, and I give it a definite thumbs up. This I understand is his first crime novel, though not his first book. He tells a good story and I like his style. Set in Linköping, Sweden, it is a murder investigation that, though slow moving, kept my interest throughout. I liked the insight into the various characters, but would have welcomed more of it in fact, if only because the author does it well, and his characters do stir your interest. None more so than the members of the suspect and rather unpleasant family. Principal investigator is Malin Fors, in her early thirties, divorced and with a 12-year old daughter. I have seen reviews compare her character with Sarah Lund of 'The Killing' fame! The voice of the murdered man being heard at various junctures worked for me in the end even if at first I was unsure. Eager to read his next up, 'Summertime Death'.