Tag Archives: EuroCrime

Review: A Death In Valencia by Jason Webster (Chatto & Windus)

Death in Valencia

A Death in Valencia is the seconding outing of Chief Inspector Max Cámara. I greatly enjoyed the first one, Or the Bull Kills You, but I often leave gaps between books in a series. It’s partly because I like having something to look forward to and partly as I’m nervous about not having enough distance and the earlier book overshadowing it.

This time though I couldn’t resist. It’s probably because at the time of writing (at the end of April) it’s been raining solid for days. And curiosity I think has got the better of me.

Or the Bull Kills You is set around bullring and the community that surrounds and supports it. This gives Webster a ready made cast in several ways as you need people that fit roles in that environment and you can play those against each other. And when you take away that setting does Cámara stand on his own?

In many ways A Death in Valencia is a better book because the scaffolding of the bullring is removed leaving Cámara and his supporting cast to deal with another death in a new set of circumstances. I was a little worried at the start as Cámara seemed to be bumbling along a little too aimlessly but Webster lays down another thread and starts weaving them together, which is when it moves from interesting to exciting as Cámara really gets to shine.

This though is not a police procedural by numbers and there isn’t a standard checklist that our Chief Inspector goes through and this is even highlighted when he is ordered to play nice and do things by the book and then he wilfully disobeys. And this is what is endearing about this new Spanish detective. He’s shambling, anarchic and fascinating to follow.

The murder itself is the death of a local paella chef whose discovery is an illustration of the complexities of the Spanish policing system (which are luckily outlined as a note before chapter one). Not only does Cámara have to deal with different agencies he’s caught up with town hall’s demolition of El Cabanyal, the colourful fisherman’s quarter. And then there is abortion clinics and the imminent arrival of the Pope.

If listed all the dramatic elements and twists in A Death in Valencia could seem, not obvious, at least guaranteed to create tension and could boil over into either melodrama or farce. But Webster sails the troubled waters with a swan’s eloquence regardless of what’s being thrown into the soup of this tale. They are handled with a light touch so they flavour the direction and politics but the issues never dominate. Though they pull Cámara in interesting and unexpected directions.

That isn’t to say that it’s without colour. There is a great cast of supporting characters, some are regulars and likely to turn up hopefully in future books and others only playing their part here but each make their mark.

If you like your detectives a little strange and shambling around a warm and colourful location you can’t go far wrong with Chief Inspector Max Cámara

A Death In Valencia is out today.

My brief review of Or the Bull Kills You 

Mini Review: Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker (Quercus)

Bruno, Chief of Poilce

I’m not sure why I downloaded this to my Kindle though I think it was as simple as I wanted to read more crime set in France as I’d only read (and loved) Fred Vargas centred around Paris.

Now Benoît Courrèges aka Bruno is the chief of police in the small town of St. Denis in southern France, which has a fabulous approach to interference of Brussels in their local market. Mostly involving potatoes. Being the only policeman and being friendly and sociable  means that Bruno knows everyone and their business, which is a bit of a shock when one of the locals is murdered.

This leads to an interesting dynamic as France’s other law agencies get involved due to the nature of the murder  including some of the countries high flying politicians and judges. Not only is a killing a rare event but the apparent motivations has more wide ranging implications for the community of St. Dennis and the country, hence the spotlight.

This is very much a story of a community and as most of the murder investigation is out of Bruno’s hands it is up to him to visit his neighbours and deal with the aftermath. Though like any good detective fiction Bruno is the only person to put the pieces of the jigsaw people together and shows up the outsiders with his local knowledge.

Martin Walker is a well travelled reporter and spent most of his career working for the guardian including placed in Moscow and the United States, and being European editor and assistant editor. So centring his story in much a small canvas maybe surprising. But Walker really made me pine for rural life. Though I might need to move to France to enjoy it fully.

I was so hooked after reading it bought the next one and had it there waiting within seconds. Ebooks are great for that. If you like your crime a little cosier you probably will too. Though you might need to wait a little longer if you like physical books.

I’m not surdownloaded this to my Kindle though I think it was as simple as I wanted to read more crime set in France as I’d only read (and loved) Fred Vargas centred around Paris. Though this time I was taken to rural France.
Now Benoît Courrèges aka Bruno is the chief of police in the small town of St. Denis in southern France, which has a fabulous approach to interference of Brussels in their local market. Mostly involving potatoes. Being the only policeman and being friendly and sociable  means that Bruno knows everyone and their business, which is a bit of a shock when one of the locals is murdered.
This leads to an interesting dynamic as France’s other law agencies get involved due to the nature of the murder  including some of the countries high flying politicians and judges. Not only is a killing a rare event but the apparent motivations has more wide ranging implications for the community of St. Dennis and the country hence the spotlight.
This is very much a story of a community and as most of the murder investigation is out of Bruno’s hands it is up to him to visit his neighbours and the aftermath. Though like any good detective fiction Bruno puts the pieces of the jigsaw people together and shows up the outsiders with his local knowledge.
Surprisingly Martin Walker is a well travelled reporter and spent most of his career working for the guardian including placed in Moscow and the United States, and being European editor and assistant editor. So centring his story in much a small canvas maybe surprising. But Walker really made me pine for rural life. Though I might need to move to France next.
I was so hooked after reading I bought the next one. Ebooks are great for that. If you like your crime a little cosier you probably will too. Though you might need to wait a little longer if you like physical books.

Review: The Day is Dark by Yrsa Sigurdardottir (Hodder & Stoughton)

41qS6dM+ZmL SS500

It’s not much of a summer I know but it’s been warm enough that reading parts of The Day is Dark made me shiver. We start off in Iceland but we quickly move to Greenland following Thora Gudmundsdottir as she joins the investigating team looking in to disappearance of two Icelanders working on the sparsely populated northeast coast.

This is Thora’s fourth outing and my first accompanying her. And to be honest I’m not much more the wiser who she is at the beginning than at the end. This isn’t a bad thing as such but it does illustrate that the main focus is on the events surrounding the missing men rather than developing Thora or her relationship with Matthew.

That isn’t to say she isn’t an enjoyable or colourful character, she is. But her personality doesn’t have time to shine. Instead through Thora we are taken to a mining station near a village that is only accessible via boat or helicopter and are trapped with her as she helps investigate.

It is a great and claustrophobic setting and Yrsa is good at keeping the tension tight and the story moving as not only does the place itself bring external pressures but slowly the layers are peeled back and you discover that people in isolation need a certain personality traits to thrive in this environment. And the original crew here definitely seemed to have slowly festured.

It’s also an insightful commentary on isolated communities like the indigenous people, as the doctor in the group keeps saying things like ‘normally they welcome us’ as they again get ignored by the villagers when they come asking questions and seeking information that’ll find the missing men.

What is fascinating is how old superspicions effect so much and Yrsa challenges the readers belief in how much they are old wives tales and how far they extend into reality.

As I’ve said The Day is Dark is tightly written.  The twists and turns keep on coming but Yrsa manages to spend time exploring the more spiritual and human experiences in this harsh environment and even though it pushes Thora away from centre stage she is a catalyst for several key moments and she is an enjoyable pair of eyes to see events through.

Highly recommended. I certainly intend to go back and see what else Thora Gudmundsdottir has been up to.

 

Green Review: Have Mercy on Us All by Fred Vargas (Vintage)

Have Mercy on Us All by Fred Vargas
Out Now in Paperback from Vintage

Firstly I have to say I’m ashamed of myself. No, I really am. When do you think I read the last book in this series? JUNE 2009! Let me say that another way. It’s been over 14 months. I know time flies but that’s terrible. You know that it is right?

Should I have left it another 14 months? God no and I’m not waiting 14 months before reading Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand. I hope not at least as I ordered it as soon as I finished this one.

You know what I like about Eurocrime, at least the Eurocrime I’ve been reading, is that they focus in on the characters and give everything a foundation and a reason for happening. There isn’t drama for drama sake like guns and gangsters. These are ordinary people who have been twisted enough to kill.

And the method of killing in Have Mercy on Us All is certainly twisted and if I’m honest quite dramatic. The killer brings plague to the French capital but before he does he paints symbols on the door of those who are protected. At the same time he makes cryptic messages that are read out by a town crier though it takes a while for these ‘specials’ to reveal their intentions.

Again, Vargas leads the dance showing us all the events but somehow missing the right bits at the right time to end up surprising you at the end.

We find out more about Adamsberg’s character in this book and I’m not sure I like the revelation. It fits perfectly as he is a bit odd. He thinks and allows events to lead him. It’s like he’s an archaeologist slowly putting bits back together until he has enough to come to a decision on what he’s looking at. Though how he works it all out is a bit of a mystery. But he doesn’t care in the sense the he doesn’t make the emotional attachments that others would and this gets in him into trouble.

But the personal revelations show that Vargas has plans to keep his love life as complicated as the crimes he investigates.

I do need to say that I’m not sure if it’s the translation or Vargas’s writing style but this one feels a little rougher and flatter than the first two I’ve read. I think it might be the pacing or it might the that the translation has lost a little life somewhere. It was just enough to take the shine off the story.

But I’m invested and I enjoyed the crime and the solution and the mix of characters so what more can I ask?

Review: Have Mercy on Us All by Fred Vargas (Vintage)

Have Mercy on Us All

Firstly I have to say I’m ashamed of myself. No, I really am. When do you think I read the last book in this series? JUNE 2009! Let me say that another way. It’s been over 14 months (this review was first published in 13/8/2010 -gav.). I know time flies but that’s terrible. You know that it is right?

Should I have left it another 14 months? God no and I’m not waiting 14 months before reading Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand. I hope not at least as I ordered it as soon as I finished this one.

You know what I like about Eurocrime, at least the Eurocrime I’ve been reading, is that they focus in on the characters and give everything a foundation and a reason for happening. There isn’t drama for drama sake like guns and gangsters. These are ordinary people who have been twisted enough to kill.

And the method of killing in Have Mercy on Us All is certainly twisted and if I’m honest quite dramatic. The killer brings plague to the French capital but before he does he paints symbols on the door of those who are protected. At the same time he makes cryptic messages that are read out by a town crier though it takes a while for these ‘specials’ to reveal their intentions.

Again, Vargas leads the dance showing us all the events but somehow missing the right bits at the right time to end up surprising you at the end.

We find out more about Adamsberg’s character in this book and I’m not sure I like the revelation. It fits perfectly as he is a bit odd. He thinks and allows events to lead him. It’s like he’s an archaeologist slowly putting bits back together until he has enough to come to a decision on what he’s looking at. Though how he works it all out is a bit of a mystery. But he doesn’t care in the sense the he doesn’t make the emotional attachments that others would and this gets in him into trouble.

But the personal revelations show that Vargas has plans to keep his love life as complicated as the crimes he investigates.

I do need to say that I’m not sure if it’s the translation or Vargas’s writing style but this one feels a little rougher and flatter than the first two I’ve read. I think it might be the pacing or it might the that the translation has lost a little life somewhere. It was just enough to take the shine off the story.

But I’m invested and I enjoyed the crime and the solution and the mix of characters so what more can I ask?

 

Green Review: The Stone-Cutter by Camilla Läckberg (Harper)

Title: The Stone-Cutter
Author: Camilla Läckberg
Pages: 480
Genre: Euro Crime
Standalone/Series: Series (Book 3)
Release: Out now in Hardback
Publisher: HarperCollins

Synopsis

The remote resort of Fjallbacka has seen its share of tragedy, though perhaps none worse than that of the little girl found in a fisherman’s net. But the post-mortem reveals that this is no accidental drowning! Local detective Patrik Hedstrom has just become a father. It is his grim task to discover who could be behind the methodical murder of a child both he and his partner, Erica, knew well. He knows the solution lies with finding a motive for this terrible crime. What he does not know is how this case will reach into the dark heart of Fjallbacka and tear aside its idyllic facade, perhaps forever.

Comments/Thoughts/Analysis

Blurbs are by their nature there to sell you a book and to do that they have to get you interested and ‘tearing asisde [an] idyllic facade’ is a phrase that seems overly dramatic especially as Fjallbacka has more secrets to tell. But tear apart Läckberg does and we’re left knowing that there is one more tale to tell.

There are two things going on in Läckberg’s books. One is a murder investigation and the other is the developing relationship between Erica and Patrik. So its half drama and half whodunit. Actually it’s all drama that just happens to centre around a murder. And I love her for that.

Instead of seeing a murder through the sole eyes of the investigator you get to see it from everyones eyes including the murder and you get to see the build up to the crime and in that is case that goes back to 1923.

Läckberg manages to have the narrators tell their own truth and omitting certain information that would incriminate them. And she does it with you feeling like there is something missing. I think that’s because all the character have their own secrets and their own thoughts and we mostly see the surface ones and they usually relate to the scene that is playing out.

And ‘trick’ is brilliant as a couple of the threads made no sense to me for most the time until the pay off and it all clicked into place.

If The Preacher was funny, I found little to laugh at in this one, but the humour comes from the characters especially Erica but her new baby isn’t making them into the perfect family so her usual fun self is down and depressed. But again Läckberg makes give her a journey and she sees the light at the end of the tunnel.

The darkness in The Stone-Cutter doesn’t only come from the first death being a child but also the humanity or lack of it from most of the characters. They are each in their loathsome but each have redeeming qualities that makes them human. I say the death rather than victims as there more victims but more deaths as well.

This isn’t a book to be reading if you are in a fragile state of mind instead Läckberg again shows the darkness and the light that we all have though the light here is weak it does enough for you to see why we struggle in life for horrible moments.

Even though there is a change of tone here. This shows a leap in Läckberg as a storyteller. She puts complete faith in her characters and they reward her by living and breathing and being believable. There is a slight problem though with having this dark threads as good as they are. I almost wanted one less ‘bad’ character. I needed someone to champion to the end. And I almost had one but Läckberg took that away from me.

It shows courage and a skill to take me on an emotional journey and when I got to the end she gave me a reason to want to learn Swedish straight away.

Summary

Fjallbacka has suddenly become a much darker place. Läckberg has jumped up a stage as a story tell or should that be delves deeper ash she takes us down into a darker place. For me she’s moved from an Ice-Princess to a Cold-Crime-Queen.

I hope she is going to keep her cool with The Jinx and from the ending of this one I know it’s going to change Erica, and maybe Patrik forever.

Green Review: The Preacher by Camilla Läckberg (Harper)

 

9780007253944 
Title: The Preacher
Author: Camilla Läckberg
Pages: 419
Genre: Euro Crime (Sweden)
Standalone/Series: Series
Release: Out Now in PB
Publisher: Harper

Synopsis

In the fishing community of Fjallbacka, life is remote, peaceful — and for some, tragically short. Foul play was always suspected in the disappearance twenty years ago of two young holidaymakers in the area. Now a young boy out playing has confirmed this grim truth. Their remains, discovered with those of a fresh victim, send the town into shock. Local detective Patrik Hedstrom, expecting a baby with his girlfriend Erica, can only imagine what it is like to lose a child. When a second young girl goes missing, Hedstrom’s attention focuses on the Hults, a feuding clan of misfits, religious fanatics and criminals. The suspect list is long but time is short — which of this family’s dark secrets will provide the vital clue?

Comments/Thoughts/Analysis

And dark secrets there are. Who would torture two young girls and then reappear 24 years later to commit the same crimes again. It can’t be a copycat as their bodies weren’t found until now, can it?

Things have moved on from The Ice Princess. And it’s not much of a spoiler to say that Erica and Patrik are expecting a child. 

This is quite a neat trick on Läckberg’s part. It means that this book focuses more on Patrick and his more official investigations. Though Erica not only gives vital information but also a grounding and a humour that European crime seems so good at providing.

Läckberg’s again focuses on families but this time it’s two warning brother. One who is found dead after being accused of the murders twenty odd years ago, leaving his sons and wife in a run down farm, and the other who inherited their fathers farm and fortune and doesn’t like this ordered and balanced world disturbed.

But what’s makes Läckberg’s stories interesting is how many heads she shines a light in. She shows us the characters from the inside and out and the reader is left to puzzle out the truth of what they’ve seen and heard.

We also get to see the not only the lives that the investigation touches but also the lives of the police detectives. Some of whom are far from endearing but their characters mean that it’s quite insightful, if frustrating for Patrik and his investigation, to be with them for a while.

There is some great moments of humour especially involving uninvited guests and guests that aren’t what you expected.

We also get to see more of Erica’s sister Anna and her struggles to free herself from the control of her children. It’s upsetting to read as you can see why she does what she does as if she has no choice. I at least wanted to shout and scream to make her see sense but I think more than that she needs a knight to take her away and make her feel safe.

The crime element is well done and the investigation that upsets both families as it delves deeper in to the events surrounding the earlier murders pulls out quite a few secrets that you know they’d rather left buried.

I’m very much looking forward to The Stone-Cutter.

Summary

Läckberg is fast becoming another favourite Eurocrime writer. Her sly sense of humour combined with her willingness to let the reader se her characters have lives around the story is making it feel like seeing growing family.

And it will, at least for Erica and Patrik.

Green Review: The Ice-Princess by Camilla Läckberg (Harper)

 

9780007253937

Title: The Ice Princess
Author: Camilla Läckberg
Pages: 393 plus The Preacher extract
Genre: Euro Crime (Sweden)
Standalone/Series: Series
Release: Out Now in PB
Publisher: Harper

Synopsis

Returning to her hometown after the funeral of her parents, writer Erica Falck finds a community on the brink of tragedy. The death of her childhood friend, Alex, is just the beginning. Her wrists slashed, her body frozen in an ice cold bath, it seems that she has taken her own life. Erica conceives a memoir about the beautiful but remote Alex, one that will answer questions about their lost friendship. While her interest grows to an obsession, local detective Patrik Hedstrom is following his own suspicions about the case. But it is only when they start working together that the truth begins to emerge about the small town with a deeply disturbing past.

Comments/Thoughts/Analysis

In my Eurocrime adventure I’ve been to Iceland (via Arnaldur Indridason) the Swedish island of Öland (via Johan Theorin) I’ve popped across to France (via Fred Vargas) and now i’m in or around Camilla Läckberg’s birthplace, the small Swedish west coast town of Fjällbacka.

I’d be happy to visit each of the others again will Läckberg’s Fjällbacka become a place to visit?

In a word, yes, definitely. Before the discovery of a body we meet the first of many characters that inhabit the place. Eilert Berg isn’t happy and he’s going to leave his wife. It hasn’t nothing to do with the murder enough but Läckberg is conscious to give her characters a personality and a life of their own outside the story.

Läckberg definitely succeeds in giving her whole cast personalities and quirks but doesn’t quite give them a life of their own as they are all integral in their own way to the murder of Alex.

It’s one of those stories that gets more complicated the more you read but it adds to the pleasure rather than confuses. There are so many little hints and tips that it takes a while for Patrick with the help of Erica to work it all out.

It’s a great story as it delves into friendships and childhoods and how who we are as children can completely change when we are adults. She really uses her cast well.

I would say that as this her first novel her lack of confidence in her own writing comes across with the number of dramatic motivations and moments.

But I’m hoping the her next novel she’ll trust herself and her characters a little more as she can definitely create strong characters and a compelling and interesting story.

It’s rare for a crime novel to have a central love story. But Läckberg manages to make it come from the characters and gives this story a different dynamic and gives a light heart to what us a dark and disturbing tale.

Läckberg is also good at misdirection and withholding information. That partly comes from uses several different view points as not all of them are totally reliable or at least they are selective about what they share.

As a sum of it’s parts I really enjoyed it. It’s a little uneven giving the characters and the story a slight sense of unreality. But Läckberg comes across as having a talent that’s going improve the more she writes.

Summary

A Swedish crime novel that’s a murder and love story mixed with the haunting effects that our childhoods can have on the rest of our lives.

Packed full of an eclectic cast of characters that in some cases are as fascinating as they are disturbing.

A great talent that I feels going to shine over coming books.

Interview: Camilla Läckberg – The Stone Cutter

 Foto Thrond Ullberg

lackberg

Gav: Thanks for taking the time for answering a few questions on NextRead. European crime is slowly and surely becoming a part of my reading and that’s being reflected on the blog. So I guess I should ask why do you think that the UK is slowly catching up with the rest of Europe and now reading more European crime especially novels set Scandinavia ?

Camilla: I think there are a few excellent Swedish crime writers that have really opened up Europe’s – and now UK’s eyes – for our novels. I believe that Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson have been in the forefront of this new interest. Also, there seems to be a lot of curiosity for the country Sweden in the rest of Europe.

Gav: What makes Scandinavia such a strong setting for crime stories? I know you’ve set your series around your birthplace, the small Swedish west coast town of Fjällbacka is that because it’s easier to write about home, or is one place as good as another as long as the characters are strong? Or is it something else entirely?

Camilla: I chose Fjällbacka because I once got the advice to chose the place I knew best. And the place where you grew up is always the place you will know best. Also I find a small town much more psychologically interesting than the big city.

Gav: And related to the above have do you think you’ve affected tourism there? I really want to visit just to see how close fact is to fiction. Though I’m worried I might be slightly bored?

Camilla: Fjallbacka is pretty much accurately described and it is really one of the most beautiful places on earth I think. But it is small and if you want a big choice of restaurants, night life etc it’s not the place to go… However if you enjoy nature, and calm, it’s perfect. And there are guided tours around my books now there….:-)

Gav: The Stone-Cutter is your third novel in English in the UK but book eight, Fyrvaktaren, was published last year. Is it strange to see the focus being placed back on your earlier work? Is it weird looking back? Or is exciting to see them getting a new audience?

Camilla: My books are published in over 30 countries now and all are on different stages of which book it is. But it is quite weird to go to another country and for example promote my first book “The Ice-Princess”.

I started writing it ten years ago, and frankly can’t quite remember everything about it so it’s a little bit difficult when I sometimes get detailed questions about it… But I love the fact the books are reaching people all over the world now – from Japan to UK….

Gav: The cover points out that your translator is Steven T Murray, who translates Henning Mankell, Do you have any thoughts on being translated? How important is having the right translator? Does Steven bring a part of himself to your books?

Camilla: For me it’s impossible to judge the translation – most languages I don’t even understand. And I don’t read for example the English translations, so I have to trust the translator. But I have met Steven and talked to him about the books, and I also hear that people think very highly of his translations.

Gav: There is a quite but strong sense of humour to your books. Is it important to have some light in events that are so dark? I know I can’t help smiling every now and again but was it hard to inject those moments?

Camilla: As an author I love contrast. Laughs and sorrow. Good and bad. Fast pace, slow pace. So yes, for me humour is a very important element and it helps highlighting the darker passages.

Gav: Erica has to take a bit of a backseat in The Preacher after being the main focus in The Ice-Queen can you give any clues about what we can expect form other investigations that Erica & Patrick get involved in? Do they spend more time working together? Or does juggling a growing family get in the way?

Camilla: It changes over the books who is the main character, Erica and Patrik, but I actually love that it’s a little bit of an “organic” process to who is the focus. But for me they aren’t two separate entities or two “heroes” – they are a unity to me and my “hero” is actually the couple. Even when one of them plays a stronger part in a book – the other one is an absolute must also.

Gav: Speaking of family. They seem a central part of your stories and you spend a long time exploring the relationships and connections between all the characters. Do all families have their secrets just waiting to get out?

Camilla: Yes I do that all families have secrets, big or small. And for me it is very intriguing that the place where we are most safe or are supposed to be most safe – also is the most dangerous place. Nine out of ten murders are committed by someone close to the victim, often within the family, and I play a lot with that in my books.

Gav: We also get inside the heads of several of the main ones. What do you think their viewpoints adds to the story?

Camilla: For me that is the joy in writing. That I get to explore and develop so many characters. In one section I can be a fifteen year old boy – in another a eighty year old woman. And for each one of them I have to find their unique “voice”.

Gav: Finally, if you were take Patrik and Erica on holiday where would they go and would they have a quiet time or would they get involved in something a little darker?

Camilla: No I would let them have some time off. I think a long weekend in New York is something they would appreciate – or why not London!

Thanks again.

gav.