Crime Catch-Up!

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book jacketsI've fallen so far behind with my book reviews (being amply complimentary to myself in calling them such!) that I had to revisit the archives in order to discover when I last posted and about what. In fact it was back in late May, and in my defence I declare that work and life has been too 'involving' and not afforded me the time to indulge myself in the pleasurable pursuit of putting on paper (metaphorically speaking) my thoughts on the books I read and then sharing those here on the library blog.

While I have read quite a few crime novels over the past couple of months, I will restrict my mention here to five of those, in so doing jumping from southern Europe to northern Europe and finally to the southern portion of the African continent.

The CrocodileFirst the get a mention is 'The Crocodile' 4.5 stars by Italy's Maurizio De Giovanni, the second such title I have read by this author (the first being 'I Will Have Vengeance' which is set in 1930s Naples). This one involves Detective Inspectore Giuseppe Lojacono in the hunt for a killer of teenagers on the streets of modern-day Naples. Lojacono has been transferred to Naples after a career setback involving the Sicilian Mafia, his desk assignment now meant to sideline him and keep him away from criminal investigations. But he is soon brought on board in the hunt for this methodical killer of teenagers when his insights into the case are overheard by the attractive Assistant District Attorney Laura Piras. He doesn't buy the organised crime angle, but the pressure is on to find whatever link there might be between the victims that will lead to the discovery of the killer before he strikes again. The young victims all appear innocent of any sort of major wrong doing, so Lojacono, working closely with the Assistant District Attorney, investigates the possibility of links other than between the victims themselves. All the while you the reader know who the killer is, but the insights you periodically get by way of letters he writes to someone dear to him are never quite enough to reveal the why of his actions. The killer's full intent and motive eventually becomes clear as the story culminates in a race against time to save his next intended victim. 

This story is well crafted, well written and suspenseful right to the end, bitter or otherwise I will not say! And  I can highly recommend it, as I did the first.

Strange ShoresNext I head north, to Iceland in fact. 'Strange Shores4.5 stars by Iceland's Arnaldur Indridason is the latest, and possibly the last, in the series featuring Detective Erlendur of the Reykjavik police. I say possibly, for the ending certainly leaves room for speculation, and I think too that that is the author's intent, so don't be surprised if like Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole you see another in the series. In this Erlendur revisits a haunting event from his past, namely the disappearance of his younger brother during a snowstorm, in an attempt to bring some closure. Erlendur survived that snowstorm and largely blames himself for his brother's disappearance. That event has served to haunt him ever since. Erlendur is absent from the previous two titles in the series (Outrage, Black Skies); it might in fact be that events here happen in parallel with the storyline of the previous title.

While his primary concern is his brother's disappearance, he finds himself investigating another disappearance, that of a young woman in somewhat similar circumstances during the war. Her disappearance during a blizzard occurred the same evening that a number of British servicemen were lost while on military manoeuvres, an unusual aspect of this storyline is that the event involving the British servicemen was in fact a real life occurrence. This investigation, while unofficial, takes him back and forth between a number of individuals still living who had associations with the woman in question. Erlendur is like a dog with a bone when it comes to solving a mystery, in particular when some doubt raises its head as to what in fact happened to her given that her body was never recovered. And dragging up the past is not to the liking of all. Meanwhile the activities of a now dead fox catcher is perhaps the only tenuous link and therefore hope for Erlendur in maybe finding his brother's remains.

Much of the story too involves Erlendur looking back on events of that fateful night where we meet really for the first time the young Erlendur and his parents, and where we get too a real sense of the tragedy that befell them and shaped the rest of their lives.

This is yet another class work from Indridason. A well constructed plot is at its core, but of equal measure is the character of Erlendur and the long time effect of his brother's disappearance on him. Indeed personal loss and its effect on people are central to the story, and you can't help but be engrossed in this well written story from start to finish. I can highly recommend it. 

The Double SilenceStaying north, but heading due east for my next title, this being 'The Double Silence' 2 starsby Sweden's Mari Jungstedt.  Now it's always a pity to say that a book disappointed, particularly when the author's previous titles all proved reasonably satisfying reads. I started reading this confident that it would please, but soon found myself fighting the urge to put it down and not pick up again. I was one hundred or so pages into the book before it marked itself out as a crime novel, but even long before that I was struggling with it. I have rarely not finished a book and it was only the faint hope that things might improve that kept me going, but alas this book ultimately failed to satisfy.

'The Double Silence' sees a group of close friends (a rather unreal closeness in fact) take a holiday together on a remote Swedish island, only for friendships to unravel once a series of fatal mishaps befall them. Like I said, I was one-third of the way into the book before a body showed up, by which time I had grown weary of the over concentration on the group members' family and personal lives and relationships. To the point of tedium. Whole passages could be given over to child feeding, nappy changing, domestic chores and trivial conversations, making me want to fast forward, but to where? Inspector Knutas, the principal investigator, is not so prominent in this as in the previous books, more's the pity, but as for his welling up with tears at one point, aaagh! Journalist Johan Berg, who plays a major part in the previous titles in the series (this being the seventh), also has a lesser role here than normal. One other criticism I would level at the book is that the chapters are too short, resulting in you being thrown from one scene to another with far too much frequency.

The basis for the crime element is sound enough, jealousy and a shared secret past, but too much of the story is given over to matters of little interest or relevance for me to have really cared at any point. Enough said, not all reads can be rosy!

Water MusicNeeding some warmth after recent ventures up north, I headed due south, thousands of miles in fact, to South Africa and a writer who indeed warmed me with the first book of hers that I read (Daddy's Girl). And glad to say, my second experience of Margie Orford, 'Water Music4 stars, was equally warming. This is the fifth book involving Dr. Clare Hart, a civilian profiler working in Section 28, Cape Town’s Child Protection Unit. Section 28 is named after the clause in the South African constitution that lists the rights of children.

In 'Water Music' an unconscious, emaciated three-year old girl is found abandoned and close to death on a lonely bridle path in Cape Town. Soon after, a grandfather appeals for help when his grand-daughter Rosa, a gifted nineteen-year old cellist, goes missing. Hart embroils herself in both cases, even though Rosa's is strictly outside her remit as Rosa is not a child in the eyes of the law. While pursuing the dual investigations in her usual stubborn and dogged manner, Clare has to deal with an unwanted and unwelcome pregnancy. As if this was not enough grief, Clare has to deal with those in the police force who do not welcome her involvement and who are in fact set on disbanding her unit. Consequently Clare pursues her investigations very much as a sole operator, this despite her romantic involvement with Captain Riedwaan Faizal, an undercover police officer who has his own difficulties with his superiors. He in fact faces exile of a sort with his unit too being disbanded and he sent far from Cape Town for his sins, thus affecting his ability to assist Clare however he can.

This is a well-plotted, atmospheric, fast-paced thriller with twists and a climactic ending. But it is not just a thriller: it is a story of corruption, of a police force less than willing to tackle issues; it is too about darker topics such as enslavement, child abuse and male domination; it is about the challenges women face in a male-dominated environment such as that in which Clare operates; and it is about that other challenge woman are often faced with (but rarely men) - maybe having to decide between parental desires and other life/career ambitions.

Following on 'Daddy's Girl' (read review), this book keeps Margie Orford firmly on my list of authors to watch out for. Thankfully there are a number of other titles by her that I have yet to read and which are within easy reach. You can add her to your list now too!

A Deadly TradeStaying on the African continent, 'A Deadly Trade' 2.5 stars is the second title from the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip but my first to read. Essentially a police procedural, it is based in Botswana and features, as in the first book, the rather rotund food-loving Detective Kubu. The story centres around two murders committed in a tourist camp in northern Botswana close to the border with Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Local officer Tatwa Mooka calls on the help of the more experienced Kubu from the capital, Gaborone, but as the investigation proceeds the plot thickens. The fact that one of the recently murdered men has been dead for many years does not simplify matters. The book hints at Agatha Christie in fact, as each of the characters has his or her own secret, or so it seems, but it does too have action and, probably its strongest aspect, Botswana and the recent troubled history of the wider region at its centre. There are hints at drug-running, war crimes and political interference. The book in fact mixes the serious with the light, humour and light-heartedness being brought by Kubu, his demeanour, and his love of food and desire to consume biscuits at every opportunity. But he is too a strong and resolute officer, as his response to the threat to his family will testify. 'Kubu' in fact means 'Hippo' in Setswana, the language of Botswana.

Despite it being set in the warm, nay hot, climes of Botswana, I however found it hard to warm to this book; it felt overly long, the story didn't flow, there was a certain tedium in terms of detail, events being dragged out and indeed re-visited and re-capped. I was always conscious of it being the work of two authors, and reading it, it read like such. To my mind it needed some editorial intervention. In saying that, I found it hard to find a reviewer on the web who felt as I did about it!

Botswana, if you are not already aware, is also the country in which the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, by Alexander McCall Smith, is based. If pressed as to which I preferred, McCall Smith would get my vote by some margin.

Beware: this book is sold in the USA under the title 'Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu'.

Happy reading! 

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