The trouble with reading these Roy Grace books out of order is that the baby keeps popping back into the womb, and in this case it is made more compliThe trouble with reading these Roy Grace books out of order is that the baby keeps popping back into the womb, and in this case it is made more complicated by flashbacks to 12 years before, so keeping track of the action gets a bit complicated.
It's nevertheless a readable crime novel, though more of a police procedural than a whodunit -- the reader knows more than the police, and so it is easier to work out who the perpetrator is.
Roy Grace also seems to make some serious mistakes this time. Saying what they are would be giving too much of the plot away, but even though the reader has more clues than the police, Grace seems to miss some of the clues that he does have.
There are also some oddities of language. Is Peter James American, like Elizabeth George? I thought cars in the UK had number plates rather than licence plates.
This is a whodunit with a difference. Well, with several differences. It's about a serial killer, and quite a lot of crime novels are about that.
The mThis is a whodunit with a difference. Well, with several differences. It's about a serial killer, and quite a lot of crime novels are about that.
The most notable difference is that it pays as much attention to the victims as it does to the killers or the cops.
In many crime novels the victims are simply dead bodies, and the police investigating the crime have to identify them to find out who they were, and very often the reader knows little more about them than the police. In this case, however the story deals with them as real people with a history. One effect of this is to make one conscious of the enormity of murder. It is not simply a puzzle to be solved. It brings to an end, unexpectredly and with little warning, the life of a person with hopes and fears and loves and relationships.
Another difference is that it is set in Berlin in 1945, immediately after the end of the Second World War. After so much killing on an industrial scale, it requires a change of mental gears to deal with peacetime crimes. When so many people have died violent deaths in the previous few months, what do one or two more matter? So it is about a society in transition, and seeking to recover mormality.
Another difference, related to the last, is that it gives a picture of life in Berlin, not merely at the time in question, but over the previous 20 years. It shows how ordinary people responded to the rise of the Nazis to power, their behaviour in power, and how they responded to the war. I think that, quite apart from the plot and the characters, which are very good, this aspect of the setting may be the best feature of the book.
How do I know this?
I was 4 years old in 1945, and did not visit Germany until 20 years later. So how can I judge that the picture of life in Nazi Germany is accurate and authentic?
I think I can know by extension. I know that A Dry White Season tells it like it was in apartheid South Africa, even though it is a work of fiction, because I lived through the period. And this book has the same flavour of authenticity. It shows the ambiguities and inconsistencies and contradictions of living in an increasingly authoritarian society, and is worth reading for that alone.
I've read lots of British and Swedish whodunits. I've read several whodunits set in the USA and Norway, and a few set in DenA South African whodunit.
I've read lots of British and Swedish whodunits. I've read several whodunits set in the USA and Norway, and a few set in Denmark, Greece and Turkey. But it doesn't seem to be a popular genre with South African writers. So I enjoyed this one, and not just because it was set in South Africa, but because it was a pretty good specimen of the genre.
The protagonist, Detective Sergeant (or is it Constable? she seems to get promoted without explanation in the first couple of chapters) Persy Jonas, seems like a fairly ordinary person -- not a poet, not an aristocrat, not alcoholic or going through a traumatic divorce, not a rogue cop perpetually on the verge of being fired for drunkenness, but brought back in the nick of time because no one else is such a brilliant detective. Persy (short for Persephone) Jonas is an ordinary person and an ordinary cop. It makes it more real, somehow.
Of course she has her problems; which cop, real or fictional, doesn't? She has problems at home -- domestic violence3 in the family. She has problems coming to terms with things in her past. It's just kind of refreshing that those problems don't include booze and/or divorce, or perpetual disciplinary problems with superiors related to insubordination.
And of course there are problems at work. There are problems of racism, sexism and corruption, rivalries and personality clashes. But they don't take over the story.
In addition, in many whodunits one gets the impression that murder is the only crim,e the police ever investigate, so the stories seem somehow unreal. In this book there is a murder investigation, but it is sandwiched in between burglary, theft, and looking for a lost dog, which the police ar also investigating. That makes it feel more convincing as a police procedural, somehow.
There are a few editorial slip-ups -- Persie's rank being one of them -- but they don't detract from the story, so I'll still give it five stars. I think Persie Jonas could become one of my favourite fictional detectives.
This is the second historical murder mystery I've read in as many weeks, the previous one being Dissolution by C.J. Sansom. This one, however, is farThis is the second historical murder mystery I've read in as many weeks, the previous one being Dissolution by C.J. Sansom. This one, however, is far more complex.
Dissolution is set in the sixteenth century and stays there, and though there are lots of deaths, they all take place in the 1530s. The Unburied is set in the nineteenth century, in the fictitious English cathedral city of Thurchester, but as the primary narrator, Dr Edward Courtine, is a historian, it harks back to several mysterious, or at least historically-disputed deaths in the past, in several different periods.
I enjoyed the book a lot, but perhaps that is because history is a topic that interests me a great deal. An interest in history, however, is not enough to make one enjoy historical novels, and in fact can impair enjoyment of them. A historian reading historical novels is always on the lookout for anachronisms (and yes, there are some in this book -- the use of the word "teenager", is but one example). But because the protagoinist is a historian, as are some of the other characters, perhaps one could call this a historigraphical novel, and that would make it of more interest to historians.
As I said, it is complex, and you have to keep your wits about you when reading it, to follow the motives not only of the characters, to see who had a motive for murdering whom, but also the motives of the historians who left their written accounts of the events, and the motives of the current characters in the story who interpret the documents and other evidence -- part of the evidence is in the fabric of Thurchester Cathedral itself.
The bulk of the book is taken up with Dr Courtine's visit to Thurchester, which lasts five days. He visits an old friend, from whom he has been estranged, and also visits the cathedral library in search of a manuscript that he believe's may throw light on the death of a ninth-century bishop, which may in turn illuminate the character of King Alfred. During his visit there is another murder, in which Dr Courtine is a witness, and uses his skills as a historian to try to work out what actually happened, but to some extent he is blinded by class prejudice, and so misses some important clues. So we have to read his account with a critical historian's eye, looking for unjustified assumptions and other historical errors.
It's a good and challenging read, especially if you like history.
Police officer Andreas Kaldis is a bit disgruntled when he is transferred from Athens to the tourist island of MykonoA readable and exciting whodunit.
Police officer Andreas Kaldis is a bit disgruntled when he is transferred from Athens to the tourist island of Mykonos in the Aegean, from investigating murders to being a nursemaid to tourists is not an exciting prospect. But soon there is a report of a dead body, found in the crypt of a rural church, apparently of a young woman. The case becomes more urgent when another young woman, a tourist, disappears, and it appears that the police on Mykonos have a serial killer to look for.
But there are political complications. The mayor of Mykonos does not want the news to leak out -- nothing must be allowed to frighten away the tourists on whom Mykonos's prosperity depends, When the police start to trace the movements of the murdered girl, and those who last saw her alive, there seem to be too many suspects, and at a crucial point in the investigation, most of the suspects disappear without trace.
There are a few plot holes and discrepancies in the story, but none of them serious enough to get in the way of enjoying a good read, if you like crime fiction. ...more
When I was a child we had this work on our bookshelves, in three volumes, just like the one in the illustrations, but they disappeared in several moveWhen I was a child we had this work on our bookshelves, in three volumes, just like the one in the illustrations, but they disappeared in several moves, when my mother got rid of a lot of surplus possessions. I read many of the stories but my favourites, the ones I reread many times, were those in the "horror" section, and it was this book that gave me a taste for horror stories.
It was more than fifty years ago now, but the stories that made the biggest impression on me, that I read and re-read, were "The Wendigo" by Algernon Blackwood and "Couching at the door" by D.K. Broster. After the books disappeared I sometimes wanted to read them again, but I could only remember the titles, and not the names of the authors, and I thought I would never find them again.
And then along came the Internet, with its access to knowledgeable people, and other resources. A web search engine quickly found the authors of both these stories, and "The Wendigo" was available in downloadable form. ...more
I rinished reading this book a couple of days ago, and it's a classic whodunit combined with a love story. In this particular edition the foreword wasI rinished reading this book a couple of days ago, and it's a classic whodunit combined with a love story. In this particular edition the foreword was written by Elizabeth George, whose crime novels also feature an aristocratic detective and his love life.
In this story the amateur sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey, has married Harriet Vane, and their honeymoon is complicated by the discovery of the corpse of the previous owner.
I've read a couple of other whodunits by Dorothy Sayers, and while I've enjoyed them, I would not say that they are the best detective fiction I have read. Sayers is sometimes linked with the informal literary group the Inklings, and though not actually a member, she was a friend of some of the members, and they sometimes read her work at meetings.
When I read Sayers's novels, I am very conscious of the period they are set in, and in which they were written, and so I'm very conscious of it being another age, almost another world. It is the world of Downton Abbey. Indeed, perhaps seeing Downton Abbey enables one to appreciate her stories more.
But contrast, when reading books by Inklings Charles Williams and C.S. Lewis I'm not so conscious of the period in which they are set. Though Lewis's descriptions of Mars and Venus are nothing like what we now know them to be, one can suspend disbelief for the sake of the story. And even though Williams's novels are set on earth, there is nothing quite as dated as the descriptions in Sayers, perhaps because she gives more details of everyday life -- characters smoking, ordering food, taking care of wine and the like.
There's also a lot of erudite literary wordplay between the amateur and the professional detective, which is a bit spoilt by the slightly patronising tone. If course back then being patronising was regarded as a good thing, noblesse oblige and all that. But there's another thing -- the characters keep breaking into French, with no hint of a translation. I suppose back then educated Englishmen (of both sexes) could be expected to converse freely, if not fluently in French, but that too just makes one aware of how much times have changed. ...more
As I read this book, I kept thinking that I had read it before, but then wondered why so much of it seemed quite new.
Detective Superintendent Roy GraAs I read this book, I kept thinking that I had read it before, but then wondered why so much of it seemed quite new.
Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is called on to investigate a serious hit-and-run motor accident, where the victim is an American student whose family have Mafia connections, promptin fears that they might take revenge on those they see as responsible.
Roy Grace has worries at home, however, as his girlfriend Cleo is having a difficult pregnancy, and has to spend some time in hospital. These were the bits I thought I had read before, and, having reached the end of the book I realise that that is because I must have read the next book in the series before this one, and in that one the pregnancy and its problems continue.
This is a police procedural rather than a whodunit, as you know who is going to do it even before it is done, but I think it is very well done, and is one of Peter James's best books I've read so far. ...more
Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers tries to help her neighbour Taymullah Azhar, whose nine-year-old daughter Hadiyyah has disappeared, apparently kidnaDetective Sergeant Barbara Havers tries to help her neighbour Taymullah Azhar, whose nine-year-old daughter Hadiyyah has disappeared, apparently kidnapped by her mother Angelina Upman. Since Azhar is not registered as Hadiyyah's father, it is not a matter for the police, so Havers puts him in touch with a private detective.
Angelina makes a reappearance when it turns out that Hadiyyah had been kidnapped from her mother, this time in Italy, and the action moves to that country, where a new detective hero emerges, Inspector Salvatore Lo Bianco, who has to battle with an obstinate superior who wasnts a suspect, any suspect, to get the media off their backs. He works with Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley of Scotland Yard to search for the missing girl.
It is a long story (over 700 pages), with many plot twists, and at several points the reader's credulity is strained as Havers breaks one rule of police procedure after another.
A student is murdered in "The Maze", a rundown area near the centre of Eastvale, and Detective Superintendent Alan Banks is looking for the killer. HiA student is murdered in "The Maze", a rundown area near the centre of Eastvale, and Detective Superintendent Alan Banks is looking for the killer. His colleague Annie Cabbot, seconded to another division, is called to investigate the murder of a disabled inmate of a home in the coastal town of Whitby. Subsequent investigations reveal links between the two cases, which have historical roots going back to previous cases, and events in described in some of Robinson's earlier books.
As a police procedural/whodunit it is up to Peter Robinson's usual high standards for the most part, though it seemed to get off to a rather shaky start. Having been a student myself, albeit a long time ago, I'm pretty sure that if one of my friends had disappeared after we'd been to pubs in town, we would have been very concerned about it, and would have been anxious to contact the police before they contacted us (though in South Africa in those days we might also have considered the possibility that the police themselves might have been responsible for the disappearance). So there is an air of unreality about the first few chapters of the story, where the friends of the missing student seem quite uncaring, and even after discovering that she was murdered, seem reluctant to get involved.
Though Peter Robinson lives in Canada his books, set in Yorkshire, have generally seemed fairly authentic to me. But in this one I noticed a transatlantic drift. He used "momentarily" in the American sense of "in a moment" rather than the more usual one of "for a moment", and also used "moot" in a transatlantic sense of "not worth debating" rather than "debatable". Most notably several of the characters are described as rolling their eyes.
Now it's quite a long time since I lived in the UK, and for all I know people there have adopted eye-rolling widely, and similarly the other modes of expression, but it struck me as a bit out of place.
I quite enjoyed the only other book by Camilla Läckberg that I have read, The stonecutter, but I doubt that I'll finish this one. It is simply too fruI quite enjoyed the only other book by Camilla Läckberg that I have read, The stonecutter, but I doubt that I'll finish this one. It is simply too frustrating and incomprehensible.
One of the early scenes is a funeral. At first it is not clear who has died or how, but then there is some reference to "the accident". I'm now 120 pages into the book, and there have been several more references to "the accident", but I'm still not sure what happened, who was involved in it, or how it affects the plot of the book, other than that it seems to have resulted in the protagonist, detective Patrik Hedstrom, not being able to work full time. Though at times it seems that that may have been the result of illness rather than "the accident".
Perhaps all this is made clear in the previous book in the series, but to find out would mean going out searching bookshops for a book that may by now be out of print. This seems to be becoming a trend, and a rather annoying one. I noticed it when reading the books of Louise Penny, where there were references to things that had happened in previous books of the series, but in those it did not affect one's understanding of the book one was actually reading. In The lost boy, however, it simply makes Camilla Läckberg another author to cross off my list. Unless I get very, very bored, I'll probably never finish it. ...more
This is the sixth detective novel about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, and the third I have read, and also the best I have read so far, It was the onThis is the sixth detective novel about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, and the third I have read, and also the best I have read so far, It was the one we bought first, because of the blurb, and only after getting it did we discover that there is a metastory that runs through the series, with the same characters popping up again and again.
Chief Inspector Gamache is on leave in Quebec, recovering from injuries received in an earlier shoot-out, and is asked ny the local police to help with a case -- an amateur archaeologist, notorious for his obsession with finding the grave of the founder of Quebec, Samuel de Champlain, is murdered in the basement of the Literary and Historical Society, an English-speaking institution. The murder could increase tensions between the French and English-speaking communities of the city, and Gamache is asked to help because he speaks better English. He has also been doing some historical research of his own in the library.
I suppose one of the reasons I like books like this is my own interest in historical research, and so mysteries of the past that have repercussions in the present are the kind of thing I like reading about. Added to that is that my wife Val's great great grandfather, William John Green, was born in Quebec in 1790, so the city is the setting of a historical mystery that has exercised many members of the Green family for more than a century. The period is entirely different to that of the story in this book, but the setting is the same, and the book gives a feel for the city and its present inhabitants.
In addition there are some more historical threads in this book. Gamache keeps having flashbacks to an earlier case, where he feels he failed, and he sends his second-in-command, Jean Guy Beauvoir, to have another look at yet another case, which he thinks may have gone wrong, in the village of Three Pines, which seems to crop up in all these novels. These cases may have been covered in a couple of the books that we haven't read, so mentioning too many details may be spoilers for the books we haven't read yet.
There are a couple of things about the series that become slightly annoying -- Louise Penny seems to be more given to detailed descriptions of every meal the characters eat than Enid Blyton and I, for one, get a bit tired of reading yet another description of maple-cured bacon and other Canadian delicacies. But it is generally a good read. ...more
This is the second crime-mystery book by Louise Penny that I have read, though it is the third in the series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.This is the second crime-mystery book by Louise Penny that I have read, though it is the third in the series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. The first one I read, Dead Cold, is the second in the series, and this one features many of the same characters in the same setting, the small village of Three Pines somewhere south of Montreal.
I'm beginning to feel that there is not much I can say about this book until I've read more of the series, and get a picture of where things are going. I'm beginning to wonder if Three Pines is about to rival Midsomer Worthy as the murder capital of the world, despite its small size, with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache trying to overtake Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby of the Midsomer Murders. Tom Barnaby's exploits are chronicled in books like Written in Blood by Caroline Graham.
The other reason for wanting to read more is that in the two books I have read there seems to be a metaplot that carries over from one book to the next. In addition to solving the case at hand, Chief Inspector Armand Gamashe has to watch his back because some of his colleagues are out to get him because of an earlier case.
In this book a group of people in Three Pines decide to hold a seance, and when it proves to be a bit of an anticlimax they decide to repeat the exercise in an abandoned house that is believed to be haunted. One of the members dies during the seance, apparently of fright, though it in the post mortem examination there are indications that it could be murder.
One of the interesting things about the book is that, like the novels of Phil Rickman there are hints of supernatural forces at work. Rickman started off writing horror stories that gradually moved towards becoming whodunits. Louise Penny's novels seem to have the same mix.
That's enough for now -- I'll need to read more to see where the series is going.
This is the first detective story I've read for a long time that seems to be a true whodunit, inviting the reader to interpret the available clues, anThis is the first detective story I've read for a long time that seems to be a true whodunit, inviting the reader to interpret the available clues, and try to solve the mystery. Most of the others these days withhold such clues from the reader, perhaps to resist spoilers, and the detective protagonist trots out the solution at the end, revealing for the first time the clues that enabled him to solve the case. Perhaps that's because most of the crime fiction publishjed nowadays are police procedurals or psychological examinations of the criminal mind -- the whydunits.
In any case, I managed to work out the identity of the perpetrators about halfway through, because the clues were available.
Of course crime fiction is not true life crime. The author can go around scattering clues for the detectives (and the readers) to pick up, but in real life criminals rarely do that.
Dead cold is the second of a series of books featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, We actually bought the sixth one (Bury your dead) on a sale, and discovered references to earlier books featuring some of the same characters, and tried to get the first one, but it was not available, so I've started reading the series with the second book.
Chief Inspector Gamache is dealing with two murders -- one of a homeless woman in Montreal, and the other of an interior designer in the village of Three Pines, 100 km away. The first case is not really his, but one that he is giving a second opinion on, by an informal arrangement with a friend in the Montreal police. One of the biggest difficulties is to find the identity of the victims.
A minor mystery is that [Book:Dead cold] was originally published under the title of [Book:A fatal grace], and one wonders why the title was changed. The most notorious example of this was the change of [Book:Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone] to [Book:Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone], but it seems to be a confusing and unnecessary practice. Is it done for copyright re4asons, or just because publishers like to confuse readers, or perhaps dupe them into buying two copies of the same book, thinking that, becxause it has a different title, they haven't already read it? ...more
Detective Superintendent Roy Grace of the Sussex Police has a lot on his plate: a murder case with a limbless headless corpse. How can the search forDetective Superintendent Roy Grace of the Sussex Police has a lot on his plate: a murder case with a limbless headless corpse. How can the search for the killer if they don't know who the victim is? And then a film crew want to use the Brighton Pavilion for a new film on King George IV and his mistress, and Roy Grace is put in charge of security for the film set and the star Gaia Lafayette, whose temperamental fans can turn adoration to detestation in an instant, and has already received several threats to her life. There are others too, with grudges against the producers of the film, who are planning to disrupt it. Some of the threats are known, but some are unknown to anyone other than the plotters.
Peter James has written several whodunits featuring Roy Grace, and I think this is one of the best. As with many such books it is not easy to say much about it without giving away too much of the plot. But this one is definitely a good read for lovers of murder mysteries.
Are there flaws?
Yes, it is difficult to write a book that has none. But in this book the most obvious flaw does not affect the plot and is peripheral to the story, though it could quite easily not have been. And that is that I can't imagine any circumstances in which one would take a newborn baby home from the hospital in a car seat. ...more
According to the blurb, it seemed that this was a whodunit, with Scotland Yard Detective Frederick Troy as protagonist. But in the first hundred or soAccording to the blurb, it seemed that this was a whodunit, with Scotland Yard Detective Frederick Troy as protagonist. But in the first hundred or so pages he had only made one very brief appearance. It also seemed to be a rather highbrow intellectual whodunit, aiming to be more a work of literature than a light read.
It is set in the pre-war Vienna of the 1930s, in the world of music and the arts, a young girl learning to play the cello in the shadow of the growing threat from Nazi Germany. There are a couple of shifts of scene to a British internment camp for enemy aliens at the beginning of the Second World War.
When the detective finally appears on the scene, he is a bit of a puzzle. There is clearly a backstory to this, and it turns out that Lily of the field is only the first of a series of novels with Inspector Troy as the main character. And, like many British fictional detectives, he has an unusual characteristic that distinguishes him from most of his colleagues. Like Inspector Morse, he is a Musical Policeman, and this enables him to solve a mystery that baffles his colleagues.
But it seems that it would probably be better to begin with one of the earlier novels in the series, as one learns who Inspector Troy is through allusions to them, which are not completely clear if you haven't read the other books.
The book is set in the 1930s and the 1940s, and the author, John Lawton, seems to have been quite careful to avoid or explain anachronisms in the settings. There are a few, which I would never have noticed, yet he includes some rather interesting notes on them.
Unfortunately he does not seem to have been quite so careful about anachronisms in language, and he uses some expressions and turns of phrase that would not have been used in the 1940s. I spotted two on one page that I am fairly certain were anachonisms, and a couple more that may have been. On page 215 of my edition, it is said of someone that he "went ballistic". "Ballistic" was a technical term used by military gunnery specialists, police forensic scientists and rocket scientists, but probably only entered the consciousness of the general public in 1957, with the launch of Sputnik I. The most significant thing about Sputnik I, the media told us, was that it showed that the USSR could launch an ICBM -- an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. And I'm sure it took a few more years before the term "went ballistic" was applied metaphorically to human beings.
The second such anachronism is where someone is described as "a scrounger living low on the food chain". Again, while the food chain may have been a concept familiar to biologists, I don't think that the general public became aware of it before environmental concerns came to the forefront in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and people began writing books with titles like Diet for a small planet.
Another possible anachronism, on the same page, is where someone speaks of "blows coppers away". That one I'm not sure of, but I don't think people would have used such an expression in the 1940s.
Lawton goes to some trouble to set the scene of the dreariness of postwar Britain, to remind readers who weren't around then about things like rationing, almost making too much of it, but then spoils it somewhat by using language that seems out of place.
In spite of that, it's still a good read, though the beginning promises more than the author actually delivers, and there are some poor patches, especially in the second part. But it whetted my appetite for more, and I'll look for the first of the series to see if I can find out who Inspector Troy is, really. ...more
This is Jo Nesbø's best novel yet -- the only problem is that it is his first.
Nearly four years ago I read The Redeemer by Jo Nesbø.I thought it was tThis is Jo Nesbø's best novel yet -- the only problem is that it is his first.
Nearly four years ago I read The Redeemer by Jo Nesbø.I thought it was the best Scandiwegian whodunit I'd read till then, and it was the first one I'd read by Nesbø. But the later novels of his that I read were rather disappointing (see reviews here). Perhaps if one reads them backwards, there will be a steady improvement.
In The bat Norwegian detective Harry Hole is sent to Australia to help with the investigation of the murder of a Norwegian citizen in Sydney. The book is therefore quite an interesting guide to Australian geography and culture, which Nesbø explains to his Norwegian readers, to whom it would be unfamiliar. Books set in Australia and written by Australians don't generally do this, since the authors no doubt assume that their readers will be Australian, and therefore familiar with the social demographics of Sydney suburbs, and the appearance of the Queensland countryside. I found that Nesbø's explanations of these added to the interest of the book
There are also some Australian folk tales (the title of the book is based on one of them) and more about the different cultures in Australia -- as seen through Norwegian eyes. I found all this far more interesting than the lengthy descriptions of Harry Hole's hangovers, which seem to take up more and more space in the later books, though even in this one they are not entirely absent. One of the plot holes of this one is that one is never told when he stops drinking and is able to function again.
A child is kidnapped and within minutes the local police, the New York State Police and the FBI are on the case, along with several other experts fromA child is kidnapped and within minutes the local police, the New York State Police and the FBI are on the case, along with several other experts from groups with various initials. But despite all their effort they are unable to find any trace of the missing girl.
The desperate mother then calls in the private team of Forensic Instincts, and these are all joined by another detective who investigated the kidnapping of the mother's twin sister 32 years previously, but had failed to solve the case.
It's not a bad read, in spite of the fact that one begins to suspect whodunit about a third of the way through. It is also rather tiresome because the good guys are presented as perfect and super competent, and never make mistakes -- not only the team of Forensic Instincts, but the members of all the other law enforcement agencies involved in the case. This begins with the first officer on the scene, who, within twenty minutes of the alert being sounded, not only has secured the scene and interviewed witnesses, but has information on what everyone else involved in the case is doing, and one wonders how he managed to get this information when he spends most of the available time explaining it.
With such perfect investigators, the only thing that can prevent them from solving the case instantly is the machinations of the bad guys, or unforeseen failures of equipment, or rash and panicky actions on the part of the victim's family. The good guy investigators do everything right, though not always by the book.
But in spite of being rather unconvincing, it's not a bad read, and one reads on to see how it all turns out in the end. ...more
This book began pretty well, and I thought it was one of Peter Robinson's best. Perhaps that was because i had not read one for a long time, or had reThis book began pretty well, and I thought it was one of Peter Robinson's best. Perhaps that was because i had not read one for a long time, or had read too many Scandinavian whodunits in between. It felt real and believable.
It's more of a police procedural than a whodunit, since you have a fair idea of who did it in the first chapter. It's more a matter of gathering evidence and tying up loose ends, and the story does not lose interest.
It's only in the last couple of chapters that the story seems to come unpicked, with a kind of deus ex machina ending. If the ending had been better, I would have given it four stars, but it felt as though the author had lost interest at that point and just wanted to finish it off quickly. ...more
Over the last 10 years or so Scandinavian crime fiction has come to dominate the genre in the English-speaking world. Many of the books in the genre hOver the last 10 years or so Scandinavian crime fiction has come to dominate the genre in the English-speaking world. Many of the books in the genre have a gloomy boozy divorced (or about to be) detective as protagonist. This one is different.
There is no protagonist. We are given glimpses into the lives and loves and hates of members of different branches of the Swedish police as they are touched in some way by the apparent suicide of an American journalist who fell from the 16th floor of a student residence.
The book is not well-written; in many ways there seems to be too much irrelevant detail. Describing in detail how a single protagonist spends Christmas is one thing; doing it for five or six different characters seems to be overdoing it. Some of the problems in the writing may be problems in translation rather than in the original. The writing sometimes seems stilted.
One of the more disconcerting things is that it takes one a while to work out the period the story is set in. The book was first published in 2002, so one expects it to be at around the turn of the century, but the technology doesn't fit -- there are no personal computers, only typewriters. No cell phones. The technology used would seem to date it to about the mid-1970s, but the story also concerns the investigation of a possible plot to assassinate the Swedish prime minister, which links it to the assassination of prime minister Olof Palme in 1986. Though the prime minister in the book is not named, there are sufficient resemblances in the story to make that a possible period as well.
One of the minor characters is a South African student with an improbable name, and there were stories of South African connections to the assassination of Olof Palme, and in Totale aanslag by De Wet Potgieter this is presented as historical fact. As an aside (this is not mentioned in the story, and is rather a personal anecdote), in 1988 my wife worked in a factory and the office next door to hers was used by a company that was indirectly linked. Sometimes she could not help overhearding conversations in the next door office, and she got the impression that they were involved in some shady business -- money laundering, illicit diamond buying, or something like that, and possibly the assassination of the Swedish prime minister. At about that time we had a break-in at our house, and the house was thoroughly ransacked, cupboards and boxes were emptied, but the only things that were taken were the cheap loudspeakers for our radiogram, which had been carefully unscrewed from their cabinets (the cabinets themselves were left behind), and some food. We had the impression that the thieves were looking for something very specific, which they didn't find, and the usual things that thieves took, cameras, computers etc., were left behind.
But, to get back to the book, in spite of its deficiencies, it was an interesting story, even if it was not well-told, and ultimately worth reading.
A series of short stories, mostly about crime. Some, but not all, feature Alan Banks, his main detective character, and the last one, "Like a virgin",A series of short stories, mostly about crime. Some, but not all, feature Alan Banks, his main detective character, and the last one, "Like a virgin", is a kind of prequel to the Alan Banks series, with him in the London Metropolitan Police, thinking about applying for a job in Yorkshire....more
I've recently read two of Henning Mankell's books one after the other (bought on a book sale). The previous one, The man from Beijing was not one of tI've recently read two of Henning Mankell's books one after the other (bought on a book sale). The previous one, The man from Beijing was not one of the Detective Inspector Kurt Wallander series, and I did not enjoy it as much as this one, which does feature Wallander.
It seems to me that Mankell is, in a way, dominated by his own creation. When he tries to write books without Wallander, they seem to be patchy, with the plot not hanging together, and the characters become unconvincing.
In this book Wallander is involved in a case that affects his own family -- his daughter Linda's boyfriend's parents. The boyfriend's father, who lives in Stockholm, is a retired naval officer, who disappears, and, because of the family connection Wallander gets involved in the case.
Quite a large part of the book is devoted to Wallander's own reflections on the aging process, as he nears retirement himself. He reviews his life, wonders what happens to people he was at school with, wonders if he is becoming like his father and so on. I can understand that, since I am ten years older than Wallander is in the book, and I too wonder what happened to people I was at school or university with. I tend to use things like Facebook for that, but that doesn't seem to occur to Wallander. He has a computer, but doesn't seem to use it much.
The main story also recalls the past, with its roots in the Cold War. To say much more than that would reveal too much of the plot. If you like your whodunits to get on with the story and not have much introspective reflection, then perhaps you'd better wait for the Readers Digest condensed edition to come out. But I thought this was one of Mankell's better books. ...more
When I read the first couple of hundred pages or so, I was thinking that this was Henning Mankell's best book ever. Judge Birgitta Roslin is on sick lWhen I read the first couple of hundred pages or so, I was thinking that this was Henning Mankell's best book ever. Judge Birgitta Roslin is on sick leave, and visits a village in the north of Sweden where a horifying mass murder has recently taken place, because her mother's foster parents had lived there. She discovers that they had been killed, and also discovers some clues to the killer that the local police seem to be ignoring. The trail leads to China, which she visits with a friend.
Mankell reveals to the reader, though not to the protagonist, that the crime has political implications, and is linked to power struggles in the Chinese Communist Party.
While reading, I realised how little I know about China now. Like the protagonist, Judge Birgitta Roslin, I was quite interested in China in the 1960s. My interest was sparked by reading a book by Felix Greene, The wall has two sides, and one of the things that caught and held my interest was the mention of the fact that there were trolley buses I had a thing about trolley buses back then, and still interested in them even today, though there are now none left in South Africa.
When I was in England in 1966-68 there were bookshops in Tottenham Court Road, one called Colletts in particular, that sold magazines with pictures of China, and during the Great Cultural Revolution I acquired a copy of the "Little Red Book" of the thoughts of Chairman Mao, with cheap plastic cover, and read about paper tigers and bean curd tigers, and wondered what bean curds were. I didn't go as far as Birgitta Roslin in ideentifiying with the Red Guards, but nevertheless rather liked the idea of fat-cat bureauscrats who had betrayed the revolution being sent to be re-educated by working among the peasants. Since I'm writing this on May Day, it seems an appropriate sentiment. I even made a couple of attempts to do things like that myself, with some other city friends.
When I returned to South Africa in 1968, that annus mirabilis of student power, I somewhat sadly left my copy of the "Little Red Book", and a book on guerrilla warfare by Che Guevara, with a college friend, Alan Cox. It would have been crazy to bring them back to South Africa, as I fully expected my luggage to be searched on my return, though it wasn't, and it would also not have been a good idea to have the SB find them in a raid, though they never raided me. The SB visited to take away my passport, and later to give me a banning order, but did not search the house, so I could have brought them back and kept them with impunity. Alan Cox was murdered in Pakistan a few years ago, so I'll never discover what happened to my books.
I was still interested in China when I visited Hong Kong in 1985, taking a long bus ride and a long walk through paddy fields to climb a small hill from where one could look out over China, and see Guangdong, which is mentioned in Mankell's book with its older transliteration of Canton. But after that, and especially after the Tianamnen Square massacre in 1989, I somehow lost interest.
Nineteen eighty-nine was another annus mirabilis, with freedom breaking out all over, and in many countries liberal ideals were beginning to be realised. In China, however, the liberalism extended only to economic liberalism, and any manifestations of political liberalism were brutally crushed. And so I lost interest in China. And I realised, reading Mankell's book, that I would not be able to name the president of the most populous nation on earth, and still know nothing about him or his career.
I was interested in Mao, and somewhat less in Chou, and the Gang of Four I remember, but now I find China slightly distasteful -- communist moralising combined with capitalist greed, even worse than Russia, where at least they have abandoned the pretence. But padding out pet food with melamine to enhance the protein levels seemed to me the most unscrupulous capitalist trick of all, and made me lose all interest in Chinese trade, Chinese goods, or even China itself.
Henning Mankel brings this struggle out in his book. It is part of the background to the story, yes, but at some points I think the story gets overwhelmed by Mankell's didacticism. But then I suppose that I am not alone among his readers in being largely unaware of what has been happening in China in the last 25 years, and needing to be brought up to speed in order to follow the plot.
The plot also involves Chinese neo-colonialism in Africa, and at one point it seems to me that Mankell might be using his novel to make propaganda for Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe. Of course it is always risky to assume that the views expressed by a character in a novel reflect the views of the author, but coming after the rather heavy didacticism of the preceding pages, I rather suspect that this does reflect Mankell's view.
And I half agree with him. The Western condemnation of Zimbabwe by the likes of George Bush II and Tony Blair was indeed cynical and hypocritical. Mugabe liked to blame all his (and Zimbabwe's) troubles on them, and on the sanctions that the Western powers imposed, and it seems that Mankell tends to agree.
But Mankell tells only half the story. Western sanctions were imposed after Zimbabwe's economy crashed, and there was nothing that the Western powers could do to damage it more than the Mugabe regime had already done. Mankell also fails to point out that most of the opposition to the Mugabe regime came from the trade unions, a fact that Mugabe's bombastic rhetoric about Western imperialism is caclulated to obscure, though it is recognised by Cosatu (the Congress of South African Trade Unions), a delegation from which was refused entrance into Zimbabwe. I might not have gone into all this detail in reviewing Mankell's book, but since I'm writing this on May Day, it seemed worth doing.
If the book had fulfilled the promise it showed in the beginning, I might have given it five stars, but it has several serious flaws. One, as I have pointed out above, is its didacticism verging on propaganda for an oppressive regime. Another is that there are some serious unexplained plot holes.
In a whodunit, a murder mystery, one does not necessarily expect all the loose ends to be tied up, all questions answered, and the detectives to have all the answers in the end. But when some of the mysteries in the case are never solved, one at least expects the author to say so at the end. If the author does not mention them at the end, then one suspects that the author himself is unaware of the inconsistencies in the story.
I can't be specific about the biggest plot hole, because that would give away too much of the plot and spoil it for the reader, so I leave it as an exercise for the reader to find out. ...more