Set in France in the aftermath of the First World War, THE GREAT SWINDLE is loosely a crime novel, owing to the fraud perpetrated as part of the ongoiSet in France in the aftermath of the First World War, THE GREAT SWINDLE is loosely a crime novel, owing to the fraud perpetrated as part of the ongoing action. What it really is, is an exploration of the treatment of returned servicemen, the damage - physical and mental - that war leaves in it's wake, and the similar damage societal pressure causes.
In what turned out to be a massive book (I was reading an ebook version of it and didn't twig to the size until well into the story), Lemaitre introduces the reader to the three main characters on the battlefront - in an apt and very discomforting series of scenes, set amongst an engineered charge against the Germans. One man desperately injured still finds it within himself to try to save a second. In the short, sharp and violent journey to that point, both have been betrayed. Lieutenant d'Aulnay Pradelle is determined to use the war to cement his place in a world that he resents. Engineering a charge by committing battlefield murder, Albert Maillard is the soldier who discovers Pradelle's deception, coming up against Pradelle's determination in a way that should have ended his life. Except for Edouard Pericourt, fellow soldier, talented artist, from a wealthy family, who despite his own horrendous injuries comes to the aid of the dying Maillard.
Maillard and Pericourt thereafter have a bond that cannot be broken, despite so many difficulties. Pericourt's injuries are so severe, and so shattering that Maillard becomes his carer, his champion and protector. He engineers Pericourt's change of identity and keeps the truth of his survival from his wealthy father and sister. Meanwhile Pradelle devotes himself to his ruthless attempts to save his own family name and fortune, and rise in society as he believes is his due. Needless to say circumstance is not done with these three.
Lemaitre choreographs an intricate dance for his main characters. The awfulness of war gives way rapidly to an awfulness of returning home. Maillard and Pericourt have the added complication of Pericourt's appalling injuries to deal with - but their situation is made even worse by the disregard of the society that they return to. There is no ongoing support or help, and Maillard must struggle to work, care for his charge, maintain the deception of his death from a grief stricken family, and combat the machinations of Pradelle - who frankly - is dangerous and manipulative. Add to that Pericourt's addiction to expensive pain killers which Maillard battles to source and pay for, and THE GREAT SWINDLE paints a picture of desperate times, and grand schemes to escape them.
The pace of this novel is interesting. It goes from rapid fire to almost languid. It shifts from the truly horrific to surprisingly mundane, and it deals with much that is grand and wide-ranging, and much that is domestic and trivial. It pulls people and circumstances into the orbit of the three main characters, deals with their impact and then sometimes moves on, and sometimes draws them closer. It moves quickly between the hardship and the friendship, between regret and regard. It also doesn't shy away from the nastier aspects of some people, and the despair and loneliness of others. It draws stark differences between the people who have money and power, but not necessarily peace, and those that have nothing and are equally unhappy.
Needless to say THE GREAT SWINDLE is a fascinating book. It's not universally uplifting and it's not overbearingly depressing. It is, however, unerringly clever.
If two Ned Kelly Awards and one short-listing hasn't given you a big enough hint already, CRIMSON LAKE should absolutely confirm that Candice Fox is aIf two Ned Kelly Awards and one short-listing hasn't given you a big enough hint already, CRIMSON LAKE should absolutely confirm that Candice Fox is an Australian writer of immense ability.
Always on the darker side, Fox's books incorporate clever plots with strong characters. She has a particular ability to create unusual, unexpected partnerships, teaming up the unlikely, creating tension and unexpected affection and acceptance. It's that idea of acceptance of the fringe dweller's, of the flawed and the people who are rebuilding their lives where all her characters stand out.
None more so than Ted Conkaffey and Amanda Pharrell. CRIMSON LAKE does possibly concentrate slightly more on Conkaffey's story, weaving in Pharrell's own tragic back story more in the latter part of the book. Conkaffey was accused, and then released due to insufficient evidence, of the abduction and rape of a 13 year old girl. Pharrell was convicted and served time for the murder of a popular young teenage girl years ago. Needless to say an interesting pair for reasons that get better and better as the book goes on.
Not just intriguing, these are also a pair of believable and vividly drawn characters right from the moment they first hit the page (not just because Conkaffey rescues a poor Goose and her goslings). They both surround themselves with animals in need, they both have their peculiar quirks and traits, the both are struggling with the consequences of their circumstances. Whether or not they both feel guilty or not is very much left to the interpretation of the reader, and in Conkaffey's case, to a reporter who is pursuing him to the point of stalking.
The setting of a small north Queensland town in the far tropical north provides another closed room style scenario without belting you over the head and shoulders with it. It also provides the opportunity for Fox to explore the consequences of small communities dealing with external pressures, forces and changes that they don't ask for, and don't handle particularly well.
What brings both these people - and their pasts together, however - is a current day mystery. Pharrell runs her own private detective agency and Conkaffey is introduced to her just as a new case surfaces. A local celebrity author has gone missing, assumed dead with his wife seemingly more interested in the financial aspects of proving his death than anything else. Meanwhile a couple of local cops are doing an excellent line in bully boy behaviour that initially seems to be all about getting Conkaffey out of town, especially as Pharrell and he start to reveal some odd things about their investigation into the same case.
Fox always writes strong plots that sizzle along at a rapid rate of knots, never sacrificing character development or sense of place. In CRIMSON LAKE the lost nature of the places that Pharrell and Conkaffey find themselves in, with tropical weather, wildness, danger from lurking crocodiles and strange human behaviour, in a small town, outside the mainstream of life are the perfect foils for personal mood and situation. Conkaffey is more reflective and more tortured as you'd expect with a life destroyed by an allegation that he was never tried for - never declared guilty or innocent. Pharrell did time for the murder charge, and is brittle, fragile and decidedly eccentric.
While you're busily engaged in deciding whether or not it's okay to like two such seemingly dodgy characters; or if the author's son is as guilty as hell about something; his wife's up to anything at all; or the local cops are simply idiots; suddenly you'll find a lot of plot points merge together neatly into a completely coherent, tidy set of extremely satisfactory resolutions. Except for those that aren't and you really are going to want to know where Conkaffey and Pharrell go next.
MASTER, LIAR, TRAITOR, FRIEND is the third in the Swedish Leo Junker series, a set of books which hopefully all fans of Scandinavian crime fiction areMASTER, LIAR, TRAITOR, FRIEND is the third in the Swedish Leo Junker series, a set of books which hopefully all fans of Scandinavian crime fiction are aware of.
Up there with the very best of Scandinavian crime fiction, partly it's the interweaving of the past and present into the backgrounds of the crimes and the main characters, partly it's beautifully descriptive writing that never becomes overdone, that help make this series work so well. Ultimately it's the realness of the situations and the characters that take the reader directly into the story, seeing and feeling much of the action, and in particular the reactions, of everyone involved.
MASTER, LIAR, TRAITOR, FRIEND is particularly intriguing because Junker is central to so many threads within this story. The dead man and Junker had a close, and fraught relationship. Charles Levin was a mentor to Junker, and then something happened to fracture their friendship. Levin moved to a small village after retiring from the Police Force and it is there he's found shot dead. Tove Waltersson, the local detective in charge of the preliminary investigation, is a native of this small village. Her older brother had also been in the police force, until he was killed in a shoot-out a year ago. Junker's arrival on the scene to launch his own investigation before the National Bureau of Investigation takes over is difficult for Waltersson - not that he realises why, but she knows that Junker is the one that accidentally shot and killed her brother.
And then there's a small kitten. What on earth does a kitten have to do with the murder of an ex-cop and Junker's problems with his own past, and everybody's reaction to him? Well nothing, and everything. Which is part of the point about Carlsson's storytelling ability. There's plenty of introspective, brooding Scandinavian cop portrayal, and there's tensions between Stockholm and the outlying districts. Then there's characters who are rubbing up against each other, or downright hate, regardless of whether the target of that feeling (or even readers) know why. But there are also touches of lightness and asides - often times funny, frequently touching, along with that constant searching for how the past infects the present and how the present isn't just the job, that makes this a series extremely believable and involving.
It's interesting that this author's background is in criminology, as there's something about these books that speaks to a searching for meaning. For exploring consequences and understanding why things turn out as they do. Even in the character of Junker there's that constant searching within himself - to explain his past, his decisions, his addictions and his methods for handling all of that.
All of which feeds into why this is a series for fans of crime fiction. It's introspective, considered, thoughtful, insightful and brilliant.