31 January 2015


  • first published 1964
  • this edition translated from Swedish into English by Sarah Death
  • published by Vintage Books 2011
  • ISBN 978-0-09955469
  • 215 pages
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

In an unnamed country, in an unnamed year sometime in the future, Chief Inspector Jensen of the Sixteenth Division is called in after the publishers controlling the entire country's newspapers and magazines receive a threat to blow up their building, in retaliation for a murder they are accused of committing. The building is evacuated, but the bomb fails to explode and Jensen is given seven days in which to track down the letter writer.

Jensen has never had a case he could not solve before, but as his investigation into the identity of the letter writer begins it soon becomes clear that the directors of the publishers have their own secrets, not least the identity of the 'Special Department' on the thirty first floor; the only department not permitted to be evacuated after the bomb threat.

My Take

This novel comes before THE STEEL SPRING which I reviewed recently. Again it is a dystopian novel. In the unnamed country crime rates are falling and so are birth rates, but the government has recently made it illegal to become inebriated not only in public but also at home. Every night the jails are filled with drunks, and the government makes a small fortune by fining the inebriates.

Publishing of all sorts has become a monopoly of the group that owns The Skyscraper, the 31 storey building that dominates the capital city's skyline. As a result the people are fed a bland diet of feel good material whatever their choice of reading. The Skyscraper employs over 4,000 people and these all have to be evacuated when the bomb threat arrives by post. Stopping the presses even for a short time is extremely expensive, and the managing director of the publishing group contacts the chief of police for advice and immediate action. Neither is pleased when Chief Inspector Jensen advises that they must evacuate the building as he can't guarantee safety of those inside. However there is no bomb.

Jensen is given seven days to find out who sent the threat. His life is complicated by the fact that the pain that eventually sends him out of the country for a transplant in THE STEEL SPRING is ever present, but he is a dogged investigator and eventually finds out the truth. 

This is not your every day crime fiction novel and those who have no taste for political polemic or satire might like to steer clear of it.

My rating: 4.3

I've also reviewed - Sjowall, Maj & Wahloo, Per:

Per Wahloo

I read this for my participation in the Vintage Mystery Bingo.

30 January 2015

Review: CLOSED FOR WINTER, Jorn Lier Horst

  • first published in 2011
  • translated from Norwegian into English by Ann Bruce 2013 and published by Sandstone Press
  • #7 in the William Wisting series, second to be translated into English
  • ISBN 978-1-908737-49-6
  • 321 pages
  • source: my local library
  • Winner of Norway's Booksellers' Prize 2012
Synopsis  (publisher)

Ove Bakkerud, newly separated and extremely disillusioned, is looking forward to a final quiet weekend at his summer home before closing for winter but, when the tourists leave, less welcome visitors arrive. Bakkerud’s cottage is ransacked by burglars and next door he discovers the body of a man who has been beaten to death.

Police Inspector William Wisting has witnessed grotesque murders before, but the desperation he sees in this latest murder is something new. Against his wishes, his daughter Line decides to stay in one of the summer cottages at the mouth of the fjord. Wisting’s unease does not diminish when they discover several more corpses on the deserted archipelago. Meanwhile, dead birds are dropping from the sky.

My Take

There is a nice introduction to William Wisting at the beginning of this novel, giving the reader a description of the setting, and Wisting's personal history. The foreword also points out how Jorn Lier Horst draws on his own deep experience of police procedures and processes in these novels, resulting in a strong sense of these novels being grounded in reality.

CLOSED FOR WINTER brings two different types of crime together: those who want to take advantage of Norway's wealth by burglarising summer cottages now closed up for winter, and drug runners bringing cocaine into Norway and using it as a base for money laundering.

Wisting has recently returned from sick leave, a breakdown, worn down by thirty years of increasingly complex and disillusioning police work. There are times when he wonders if he has returned too soon.  This seems to lead quite naturally into reflection by the author into the state of Norwegian society, and how it compares with its near neighbours.

A very satisfying read.

My rating: 4.8

I've also reviewed
4.7, DREGS

About the Author
Jorn Lier Horst was born in 1970, in Bamble, Telemark, Norway. He has worked as a policeman in Larvik since 1995. His debut novel in 2004, Key Witness, was based on a true murder story. The William Wisting novel series has been extremely successful in his native Norway as well as Germany and the Netherlands. DREGS was his first book published in English. In 2013 the next novel in this series, The Hunting Dogs, won both the prestigious Golden Revolver, for best Norwegian crime, and The Glass Key. See more

27 January 2015

Review: THE MONOGRAM MURDERS, Sophie Hannah

Synopsis (publishers)

Hercule Poirot's quiet supper in a London coffeehouse is interrupted when a young woman confides to him that she is about to be murdered.  She is terrified – but begs Poirot not to find and punish her killer. Once she is dead, she insists, justice will have been done.

Later that night, Poirot learns that three guests at a fashionable London Hotel have been murdered, and a cufflink has been placed in each one’s mouth. Could there be a connection with the frightened woman? While Poirot struggles to put together the bizarre pieces of the puzzle, the murderer prepares another hotel bedroom for a fourth victim...

My Take

I feel pretty strongly about  what I have called elsewhere "coat-tails" writing. Nevertheless I was interested to see whether Sophie Hannah could capture anything like the spirit of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot. I guess that is what a lot of Agatha Christie readers want to know, and I have decided to try to judge THE MONOGRAM MURDERS on its own merits, as far as I can.

The setting is February 1929 in London. According to the Hercule Poirot chronology, this is thirteen years after Poirot left Belgium and arrived in England as a refugee. In 1925 he "officially" retired, at the age of  about 61. So he is really at the height of his deductive powers, has been working privately, but has not been very satisfied with the kind of work he has managed to get.

Here are the stories set around this date.
    1929 "The Third Floor Flat"
    "The Underdog"
    "Wasp's Nest"
    1930 BLACK COFFEE (play by Christie)
    "The Second Gong" (Expanded with new ending as "Dead Man's Mirror")
    "The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest" (expanded and updated as "The Mystery of the Spanish Chest" in the fifties)
The story is narrated by a young Scotland Yard detective,  Inspector Edward Catchpool. He and Poirot have rooms in a London lodging house belonging to Mrs Blanche Unsworth. From the lodging house Poirot can see his own apartment house, where he normally lives, but he has spread the rumour that he has gone on vacation out of London. The narration has been completed it seems some time after the events. I found the placement of the story in the Poirot chronology interesting and that probably worked better than later in Poirot's life.

I considered several things as I read this book: had the author captured Agatha Christie's style? Did I recognise this Hercule Poirot? Did the plot hold together?

Well, there were glimpses of the original Hercule Poirot - there was his faith in his own ability to solve the case logically, and his disparagement of others like Catchpool who could not match his abilities. He played his cards very close to his chest, not wanting to share his knowledge or conclusions.  But there was little description of Poirot's physical appearance, not much sense of his dapperness or fastidiousness.

The plot worked well enough but was rather more convoluted than an original Christie, resulting in a slightly longer book. There were passages that I could not envisage Christie having written. Christie had a sparer style than displayed in this novel. Some parts of the story seem almost theatrical particularly when Poirot gathers a large audience of the staff at the Bloxham hotel so that he can confront the guilty persons. During the story we hear different interpretations of what has happened, and much depends on the timing of when things happen. Red herrings abound. So it is very easy for Catchpool and the readers to become a little confused.

Worth the read? Yes, you really do want to know what actually happened and all is not revealed until the very end.  But I don't want to see another: I for one don't want THE MONOGRAM MURDERS to be beginning of a string of pseudo-Christies.

My rating: 4.3

While I read this for the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge, I have also read the following by Sophie Hannah.

23 January 2015

Review: HADES, Candice Fox

Synopsis (Random House Australia)

A dark, compelling and original thriller that will have you spellbound from its atmospheric opening pages to its shocking climax.

Hades Archer surrounds himself with the things others leave behind. Their trash becomes the twisted sculptures that line his junkyard. The bodies they want disposed of become his problem – for a fee.

Then one night a man arrives on his doorstep, clutching a small bundle that he wants ‘lost'. And Hades makes a decision that will change everything...

Twenty years later, homicide detective Frank Bennett feels like the luckiest man on the force when he meets his new partner, the dark and beautiful Eden Archer. But there's something strange about Eden and her brother, Eric. Something he can't quite put his finger on.

At first, as they race to catch a very different kind of serial killer, his partner's sharp instincts come in handy. But soon Frank's wondering if she's as dangerous as the man they hunt. -

My Take

This is a cleverly layered novel, superbly written, that flits between the past and the present, between the serial killer case the Sydney based police are currently focussing on, and Eden Archer's story.

Eden Archer and her brother have a secondary agenda, one which Hades, their adoptive father, has trained them for all their life. Those who get in the way, those who want to know too much and to get too close, are putting their own lives on the line.

My rating: 5.0

About the author
(from Random House Australia)
Candice Fox is the middle child of a large, eccentric family from Sydney's western suburbs composed of half-, adopted and pseudo siblings. The daughter of a parole officer and an enthusiastic foster-carer, Candice spent her childhood listening around corners to tales of violence, madness and evil as her father relayed his work stories to her mother and older brothers.

As a cynical and trouble-making teenager, her crime and gothic fiction writing was an escape from the calamity of her home life. She was constantly in trouble for reading Anne Rice in church and scaring her friends with tales from Australia's wealth of true crime writers.

Bankstown born and bred, she failed to conform to military life in a brief stint as an officer in the Royal Australian Navy at age eighteen. At twenty, she turned her hand to academia, and taught high school through two undergraduate and two postgraduate degrees. Candice lectures in writing at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, while undertaking a PhD in literary censorship and terrorism.

Hades is her first novel, and won the Ned Kelly Award for best debut in 2014. Eden, its sequel, is published in December.

See another review at AustCrime.

20 January 2015


  • originally published 1935, this digital edition published 2014
  • foreword by Martin Edwards
  • File Size: 1753 KB
  • Print Length: 206 pages
  • Publisher: The British Library Publishing Division (February 19, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • I bought it
Synopsis (Amazon)

The Reverend Dodd, vicar of the quiet Cornish village of Boscawen, spends his evenings reading detective stories by the fireside – but heaven forbid that the shadow of any real crime should ever fall across his seaside parish. The vicar’s peace is shattered one stormy night when Julius Tregarthan, a secretive and ill-tempered magistrate, is found at his house in Boscawen with a bullet through his head.

The local police inspector is baffled by the complete absence of clues. Suspicion seems to fall on Tregarthan’s niece, Ruth – but surely that young woman lacks the motive to shoot her uncle dead in cold blood? Luckily for Inspector Bigswell, the Reverend Dodd is on hand, and ready to put his keen understanding of the criminal mind to the test.

This novel from the golden age of British crime fiction is set against the vividly described backdrop of a fishing village on Cornwall’s south coast.

My Take

Despite the fact that it was published in 1935, this is a delightful find for those who love cozies, with a brilliant foreword by Martin Edwards. Bude (a pseudonym used by Ernest Ellsmore) published over 30 detective novels, all stand alones, in just over 20 years, and this was his debut title in detective fiction.

A question that the Reverend Dodd asks himself early on is whether the methods he uses to solve the puzzles in the detective fiction would work as well if he were confronted by the real thing. And then he has the opportunity to assist Inspector Bigswell in the solving of a real life murder, and he knows he will never feel the same about crime fiction.

As I said, a delightful read.

My rating: 4.3

17 January 2015

Review: THE STEEL SPRING, Per Wahloo

  • This edition published 2013 by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
  • Originally published 1968
  • translated from Swedish into English by Sarah Death 2013
  • 200 pages
  • from my local library
  • ISBN 978-0-307-74446-3
  • Available from Amazon
Synopsis (Amazon)

Chief Inspector Jensen is a policeman in an unnamed European country where the government has criminalized being drunk, where newspapers are designed for reassurance, and where the city centers have been demolished to devote more space to gleaming new highways.

Recovering in a hospital room abroad after a liver transplant, Jensen receives a note instructing him to return home immediately, but when he reaches the airport he discovers that all flights home have been cancelled and all communication from within his homeland has ceased. One of the last messages sent requested urgent medical help from abroad. But what has happen? Has an epidemic taken hold? And why has the government fled the capital? To penetrate the silence and mystery that has fallen over the country and its people, Jensen returns only to discover the unthinkable.

My Take

This was the last novel that Per Wahloo wrote on his own. (see Fantastic Fiction) All the later ones, the last six in the ten title Martin Beck series, were written in partnership with Maj Sjowal.  THE STEEL SPRING is the only one of his stand-alone novels that I have read so far, although I have some more on my radar.

Although crimes have obviously been committed, the plot is not really crime fiction, but rather is dystopian, emerging from his Marxist-based vision of where Swedish society is headed. It is heavily infused with disillusionment and scary messages. In contrast to other dystopian novels that I have read, it is not a world apocalypse that will destroy Sweden, but rather it will self-combust.

He does not name Sweden in the novel, probably to escape some sort of prosecution, but every one who read the novel at the time would know which country he was referring to. Hakan Nesser uses a similar ploy in his novels set in an unnamed Scandinavian country, although I don't think his have the political overtones of THE STEEL SPRING (and perhaps others by Per Wahloo).

Although there is at least one mystery strand, the tone of the novel is polemic and didactic, and will not suit some readers. On the other hand it reminded me of FAHRENHEIT 451 (Ray Bradbury), NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (Cormac McCarthy), and Chris Womersley's THE LOW ROAD. And it is not unknown for crime fiction writers to convey social messages through their work (think about Ian Rankin, Henning Mankell and others).

My rating: 4.1

I've also reviewed - Sjowall, Maj & Wahloo, Per:

16 January 2015

Review: WEB OF DECEIT, Katherine Howell

  • first published by Pan Macmillan Australia 2013
  • #6 in the Ella Marconi series
  • ISBN 978-1-7426-1030-6
  • source: my TBR
Synopsis (Pan Macmillan Australia)

When paramedics Jane and Alex encounter a man refusing to get out of his crashed car with bystanders saying he deliberately drove into a pole, it looks like a desperate cry for help. His frantic claim that someone is out to get him adds to their thinking that he is delusional.

Later that day he is found dead under a train in what might be a suicide, but Jane is no longer so sure: she remembers the raw terror in his eyes.

Detective Ella Marconi shares Jane's doubts, which are only compounded when the case becomes increasingly tangled. The victim's boss tries to commit suicide when being questioned, a witness flees their attempt to interview her, and then to confuse matters further, a woman is beaten unconscious in front of Jane's house and Alex's daughter goes missing.

Ella is at a loss to know how all these clues add up, and feels the investigation is being held back by her budget-focused boss. Then, just when she thinks she's closing in on the right person, a shocking turn of events puts more people in danger and might just see the killer slip through her hands.

My Take

WEB OF DECEIT follows the same structure as Howell's earlier novels in the series: police investigations running in parallel with paramedics whose callout allows the reader to see another side of a victim. The result is four strong characters who are dedicated to the work that they are doing. But they all have more personal relationships on their minds as well, and I think that is what makes them seem so real. None of us operates in a vacuum. Our personal lives impinge on our work and vice versa.

Here is a well plotted novel written by an accomplished and established Australian author, the first to win two Davitt awards.

I have two novels in this series to catch up on: DESERVING DEATH published in 2014, and TELL THE TRUTH due out Feb 2015. I am looking forward to reading both of them!

My rating: 4.7

I've also reviewed
5.0, FRANTIC - #1 (mini review) - 2007
4.6, THE DARKEST HOUR - #2 - 2008
4.8, COLD JUSTICE - #3 -2010
4.8, VIOLENT EXPOSURE -#4 - 2010
4.8, SILENT FEAR -#5 - 2012

15 January 2015

Review: PUT ON BY CUNNING, Ruth Rendell - audio book

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

Sir Manuel Camargue, yesterday one of the most celebrated musicians of his time, today floats face down in the lake near his sprawling English country house. 

The consensus is accidental death -- but Inspector Wexford knows the stench of murder most foul when he smells it. Particularly in the company of two suspects -- one, the victim's fiancee, who is too young to be true, the other his daughter who may be no kin and even less kind . . . 

My Take

This made excellent listening. Charles Kay does a very good job of narration and particularly allows you to savour Ruth Rendell's wonderful writing. There are little bits of particularly British humour that come over very well.

The central story focuses on trying to prove whether the young woman who claims to be Sir Manuel Carmargue's only daughter, estranged from her father for 19 years, is who she is. Following threads from what is really an unofficial investigation, Wexford takes wife Dora to Los Angeles where he attempts to mix work with pleasure, and he and his offsider Burdon take a work trip to Paris to apprehend a murderer before he strikes again.

Highly recommendable.

My rating:  4.7

I've also reviewed

Plans, plans, plans

Every now and again I make plans about what I am going to read next.

As you know I participate in a number of reading challenges which are supposed to extend my reading.
Without a list, I sometimes lose my way.

If you look in the right hand column you will see this "little" list which I have selected from all I have on offer.
But they are really just the tip of the iceberg.
I also get tempted from what I see others reading and reviewing. I think maybe I am a book kleptomaniac.

TBRN - To Be Read Next
- lists to give me direction
but I often ignore them :-)

  • from Net Galley
    • DEATH OF A LIAR, M.C. Beaton
    • EDEN, Candice Fox
    • ODD FELLOWS, Nicholas Shakespear
  • from my TBR
    • PAVING THE NEW ROAD, Sulari Gentil
    • WEB OF DECEIT, Katherine Howell
  • audio books on the go
    • PUT ON BY CUNNING, Ruth Rendell
    • THEY FOUND HIM DEAD, Georgette Heyer
  • from my Kindle
    • THE CARTER OF 'LA PROVIDENCE', Georges Simenon
    • IT HAPPENED IN EGYPT, Charles Norris Williams
  • review books
    • THE KIZUNA COAST, Sujata Massey
    • THE FOURTH REICH, Helen Goltz
  • from the library
    • HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN, Louise Penny
    • THE ART OF KILLING WELL, Marco Malvadi
    • THE BACK ROAD, Rachel Abbott
    • THE STEEL SPRING, Per Wahloo
    • THE TERRORISTS, Sjowall & Wahloo
So now you can, maybe, follow what I am reading, but I can't guarantee the list will shrink - it may even disappear!

14 January 2015

Review: MASTERMIND, Helen Goltz

  • source: review copy from author
  • this edition published by Atlas Productions 2014
  • ISBN 978-0-9807532-0-2
  • 420 pages
  • #1 in the Mitchell Parker series
Synopsis (author website)

You are playing a game online; masterminding the perfect crime. Or at least you think it’s a game. A seemingly normal web site inviting game players to mastermind the perfect crime is the façade for billionaire Lawrence Hackett’s real-life game of Mastermind—an invitation-only competition for a select few to see who can perform the perfect heist and win an enormous bounty.

Special Agent Mitchell Parker and his team learn the magnitude of the international crime ring just in time. Washington, London, Paris … the clock is on. If you love it when a plan comes together, hold on tight, because nothing is about to go right! Available from Atlas Productions and Amazon

My Take

Contestants in Mastermind must plan and carry out the perfect crime. A prize pool of five million pounds will be divided among the Mastermind entrants who succeed. Entry is by invitation and only six entries will be selected to play. Each Mastermind act is allocated a supervisor and must take place in the month of November. Each Mastermind crime has to be unique, a crime that has never been carried out before. There have been two rounds of Mastermind in the past, and five crimes have been successful. The stakes are high, but the profits for the brains behind it are high as well.

Mitchell Parker's team from the FBI's Trans national Crimes Unit uncovers something suspicious during a routine surveillance of university activities, an extended booking of a high level science lab, and the rollercoaster ride of the novel begins there. The story is a thriller, a times a real page turner, a mix of ambitious plot lines and personal interest stories.

Helen Goltz is a new-to-me Australian author although she now has two books in this series published, and another one due out soon. I thought there were signs that MASTERMIND is a debut title, a few wavery plot lines, and some questions that at the end I had no answer to, but in general it is a good read.
Goltz also is the author of a number of other titles. See her website for more details.

My rating: 4.3 

12 January 2015

Review: GAME FOR FIVE, Marco Malvaldi

  • first published 2007, this edition published 2014
  • translated from Italian into English by Howard Curtis
  • ISBN 978-1-60946-184-4
  • source: my local library
  • 140 pages
  • #1 in the BAR LUME series
Synopsis (Amazon)

At the Bar Lume, in a small coastal resort near Livorno, between shots of espresso and hands of cards, four old-timers and Massimo, the barman, wile away the time chatting, arguing, and theorizing about the murder of a young woman in their town.

The girl’s body was found in a dumpster bin on the edge of town. The victim’s now notoriously licentious lifestyle has everyone thinking that her death had something to do with the world of drug trafficking and dangerous sex that she inhabited. The prime suspects in the case are two of the girl’s nightlife associates. But out of love of gossip and just to pass the time, the group of old friends at the Bar Lume begin to pull the case to pieces, forcing the Barman Massimo into the role of amateur sleuth.

Here is a victory for pensioners! The four old-timers analyze the crime and the suspects, contextualizing both, and in the process put a comic spin on their often narrow-minded neighbors. From this “investigation,” in Malvadi’s lively and colorful prose, emerges a fascinating picture of life in a small town that, for all its faults, stubbornly resists the devastation of mindless global tourism.

My Take

This is an entertaining and relatively brief read. The plot is carefully layered, plenty of red herrings, and a suspect who doesn't emerge until almost the end. Most of the theorising comes from Massimo whose observations are detailed enough to give him indications of things that are not quite right.

My rating: 4.3

11 January 2015

Review: THIN AIR, Ann Cleeves - audio book

 Synopsis (Audible.com)

A group of old university friends travel to Unst to celebrate the marriage of one of their friends to a Shetlander. But late on the night of the wedding party, one of them, Eleanor, disappears. The following day, Eleanor's friend Polly receives an email. It appears to be a suicide note. And then Eleanor's body is discovered, lying in a small loch close to the cliff edge. 

Detectives Jimmy Perez and Willow Reeves are dispatched to investigate. 

Before she went missing, Eleanor claimed to have seen a ghost. Her interest in a ghost had seemed unhealthy to her friends. But Jimmy and Willow are convinced that there is more to Eleanor's death than they first thought. 

My take

As you'll see from the list below, I love catching up with the Shetland series. There's plenty of mystery in THIN AIR, as well as human interest as Jimmy Perez tries to re-establish his life as a detective in the islands. We learn too a little more about Jimmy's personal life.

In addition, with its island setting THIN AIR is really a variant of locked room mystery, with limited access to the island, and also a limited number of murder suspects: one of the members of the wedding party, or a local resident? And for what motive? Ann Cleeves does a good job with tantalising red herrings.

When a second person is murdered the investigators are convinced there must be a connection between the two murders but who of the incomers knew the second victim or had a reason to kill him? And why would a resident kill both? And is there a connection with "Peerie Lizzie", the little girl from the "big house" drowned decades before by the incoming tide? Jimmy Perez is coming around to the idea that that might have been a murder too, although the nanny was always blamed for neglect, and seemed to take the blame when she committed suicide.

In the long run, the final solution was something that I did not forsee at all.

Kenny Blyth does an excellent job of the narration, enhancing the setting by using a Scottish accent.

My rating: 4.6

I've also reviewed
mini-review RAVEN BLACK - Shetland #1
WHITE NIGHTS - Shetland#2
RED BONES - Shetland #3
5.0, BLUE LIGHTNING - Shetland#4
5.0, DEAD WATER  - Shetland#5
4.3, MURDER IN PARADISE - Palmer-Jones series #3
TELLING TALES (Vera Stanhope) #2
4.8, SILENT VOICES, (Vera Stanhope) #4
5.0, THE GLASS ROOM (Vera Stanhope) #5
4.9, HARBOUR STREET, Ann Cleeves (Vera Stanhope) #6
 4.5, BURIAL OF GHOSTS - stand-alone

 The Shetland Series (as listed on Fantastic Fiction)
1. Raven Black (2006)
2. White Nights (2008)
3. Red Bones (2007)
4. Blue Lightning (2010)
5. Dead Water (2013)
6. Thin Air (2014)

9 January 2015


  • first published in French 1938
  • this edition published by Penguin as a Red Classic 2006
  • translated by Stuart Gilbert with revisions by David Watson
  • ISBN 0-141-02587-5
  • 211 pages
  • source: my local library
  • #7 from Simenon
Synopsis (Amazon)

Of Simenon's many novels, certain titles stand out as classics. This terrifying reconstruction of a madman's mind is one of them.

Known in the little Dutch town of Groningen as a respectable family man, Kees Popinga is the managing clerk of a reputed shipping firm. But when the company collapses under dubious circumstances just before Christmas, taking all his money with it, something snaps in Popinga's mind. From the shell of this model citizen emerges a calculating paranoiac, capable of random acts of violence - even murder. The fugitive Popinga makes his way to Paris, playing a bizarre game of cat and mouse with the police - determined to force a hostile world to recognize his newfound criminal genius ...

In The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By, Simenon created a compelling portrait of a man pushed too far, vividly reconstructing the effect on a mind in the spiralling grip of madness.

My Take

THE MAN WHO WATCHED THE TRAINS GO BY is one of Simenon's "psychological novels". At first Kees Popinga seems absolutely normal but something snaps when he finds out that his boss is going to fake suicide and that the company he works for is going under, taking his life savings with it. It now seems that he has worked all his life for nothing and he feels released to explore his "other self". There have been signs of mental inbalance that have emerged before, but they have been kept tightly reined in by other people's expectations, and Popinga's own concepts of right and wrong.

Now the inhibitions have gone and he deserts his family and takes himself to Amsterdam to visit a woman of ill-repute, Pamela, who dies as a result of his visit. From there Popinga goes to Paris where he becomes involved in a car heist and is constantly preoccupied with reports about himself in the newspapers.

This is not a Maigret novel although the policeman in charge of looking for Popinga is Superintendent Lucas who of course in the Maigret novels is Maigret's lieutenant. Popinga wants newspaper readers to have an accurate version of his achievements and so he writes to newspaper editors and then to Lucas himself to correct details that he thinks have been inaccurately reported. He is insulted when a French professor of psychiatry says he is paranoic, although he is not quite sure what that means.

As the plot progresses Popinga becomes increasingly detached from normality, not really understanding the hole he is digging for himself.

My Rating: 4.2

About the film:
The Man Who Watched Trains Go By (1952) is a crime drama film, released in the United Kingdom with an all-European cast, including Claude Rains in the lead role. Rains plays the role of Kees Popinga, who is infatuated with Michele Rozier (Märta Torén). The film was released in the United States in 1953 under the title The Paris Express. It was directed by Harold French and based on the novel by Georges Simenon.

I've also reviewed
4.4, MAIGRET & the MAN on the BOULEVARD

7 January 2015

Review: THE GOLDEN CLAW, Sax Rohmer

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

An illusive Chinese mastermind and his henchman have already killed one socialite and they hold a mysterious sway over many of London's elite. What is the secret of their power? Follow the trail with Sax Rohmer's famous detectives Gaston Max and Inspector Dunbar as they chase the international gang of hoodlums and their leader, the evil Dr. King.

My Take

This novel has an antiquarian almost "penny dreadful" feel about it. Gaston Max is a renowned French detective who has come to London on the trail of a Chinese syndicate who are setting up opium dens around the world. They have snared would be socialites and people who have acquired the opium habit while on diplomatic service in China. The French Surete has established that a considerable sum of money has come into the Paris opium den through a bank cheque drawn on the account of Henry Leroux, in whose London flat a woman has died.

Max is a master of disguise. He sets up a honey trap to ensnare Mr King by posing as an opium addict  who wishes to use the services of the London den. In some ways Max is a forerunner of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot. He basically works alone, playing his cards very close to his chest until he is very sure of his deductions, and he relies very heavily on logic.

On the other hand the author can be seen to be in the mould of Conan Doyle with very detailed descriptions of both characters and settings. The language is a little dated, at times using vocabulary many readers would recognize as obsolete.

I was particularly interested in the timing of this plot, set before World War One, which attributes corruption in high places to the Asiatic influences, a little ironic as it was the British who intentionally introduced opium to China through trade in the 1840s. 

I've read this for the Crime Fiction of the Year Challenge @ Past Offences for the year 1915.
It is also a book for the 2015 Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge.

My rating: 4.0

About the author (1883-1959)
Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward, better known as Sax Rohmer, was a prolific English novelist. He is most remembered for his series of novels featuring the master criminal Dr. Fu Manchu. Born in Birmingham he had an entirely working class education and early career before beginning to write. His first published work was in 1903, the short story The Mysterious Mummy for Pearson's Weekly. He made his early living writing comedy sketches for music hall performers and short stories and serials for magazines.
See more at Fantastic Fiction

4 January 2015

Review: ENTRY ISLAND, Peter May

  • source: my local library
  • this edition published by Quercus 2014
  • ISBN 978-1-78206-220-2
  • 534 pages
Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

Marilyn Stasio in The New York Times raved: "Peter May is a writer I'd follow to the ends of the earth." Now Peter May takes us to a small island off the coast of Quebec with an emotionally charged new thriller, Entry Island.

When Detective Sime Mackenzie boards a light aircraft at Montreal's St. Hubert airfield, he does so without looking back. For Sime, the 850-mile journey ahead represents an opportunity to escape the bitter blend of loneliness and regret that has come to characterize his life in the city.

Traveling as part of an eight-officer investigation team, Sime's destination lies in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Only two kilometers wide and three long, Entry Island is home to a population of around 130 inhabitants--the wealthiest of which has just been discovered murdered in his home.

The investigation itself appears little more than a formality. The evidence points to a crime of passion: the victim's wife the vengeful culprit. But for Sime the investigation is turned on its head when he comes face to face with the prime suspect, and is convinced that he knows her - even though they have never met.

Haunted by this certainty his insomnia becomes punctuated by dreams of a distant past on a Scottish island 3,000 miles away. Dreams in which the widow plays a leading role. Sime's conviction becomes an obsession. And in spite of mounting evidence of her guilt he finds himself convinced of her innocence, leading to a conflict between the professional duty he must fulfill, and the personal destiny that awaits him.

My Take

There is a fascinating touch of the paranormal as Sime McKenzie brings to life, in his dreams, stories that his grandmother told him that had been recorded in his great-great-great-great grandfather's diaries.  There is a lot of Scottish history, particularly that related to the Highland clearances, the potato famine in the Hebrides and Ireland, and Canadian migration history, told as background to the main investigation. Sime's link to the past is a signet ring with a distinctive crest.

It is a challenging read as the reader has to be alert to the change of voice from Sime's modern voice and the voice of his ancestor nearly one hundred and fifty years before. The author has not used any of the conventions like italics to indicate the second voice, but the clues to the voice come from the setting.

ENTRY ISLAND  is a variant on the "locked room" mystery as the main access to the island is by ferry and dependant on the weather, and it is possible to use a private boat. The residents of the island choose to speak English which is why Sime is chosen to be part of the investigation, despite the fact that it is being led by his French-speaking ex-wife, and the rest of the team are all French speakers. To some extent this makes his fellow investigators, largely not English speakers, likely to see Kirsty Cowell as "weird" and to regard her as guilty of her husband's murder, while Sime is more prone to see her as innocent. Kirsty owns a pendant with a family crest that matches Sime's ring, and he has an uncanny feeling that he has met her before.

One thing I like about Peter May's books is the depth of research evident in the stories.  ENTRY ISLAND is a particularly interesting read because of the way it slips so easily between time frames and cultures.
It is going to be hard for any novel I read this year to top this one.

My rating: 5.0

I've also reviewed

3 January 2015

New to me authors October to December 2014

I did really well with new-to-me authors in this quarter.
I brought my 2014 total to 42, with an additional 18.
As you can see many of them were quite acceptable reading, and a number of them were Vintage reads.
  1. 4.6, CURTAIN CALL, Anthony Quinn
  2. 3.7, HOTEL BRASIL, Frei Betto 
  3. 4.5, HAPPINESS IS EASY, Edney Silvestre  
  4. 4.7, THE SOUND OF THINGS FALLING, Juan Gabriel Vasquez
  5. 3.6, MURDER ON THE SECOND TEE, Ian Simpson
  6. 4.5, MOTHERS WHO MURDER, Xanthe Mallett
  7. 4.1, THE CROSSWORD MURDER, Nero Blanc
  8. 4.4, AFTER THE SILENCE, Jake Woodhouse 
  9. 4.7, THE NARROW ROAD TO THE DEEP NORTH - Richard Flanagan
  10. 4.3, A FATAL TIDE, Steve Sailah 
  11. 2.5, MOSCOW BOUND, Adrian Churchward
  12. 4.4, STAR FALL, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
  13. 4.4, COUNSEL OF CHOICE, Stuart Littlemore  
  15. 4.5, THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS, Sara Blaedel
  16. 4.4, NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH, James Hadley Chase
  17. 4.0, MURDER UNDERGROUND, Mavis Doriel Hay 
  18. 4.4, A TIME TO KILL, John Grisham   
Don't forget to see what authors others have discovered.

Updates, Record Keeping, and Challenges

I spent most of the morning of New Year's Day sorting out the directions of my reading for 2015.

I try to give my book selection some purpose by participating in a number of reading challenges which ensure that I include some diversity. Because of what I naturally choose to read, you could argue that some are not challenges, but I would argue that they do give me a wider appreciation of what is currently being published, but also what has been published in the past, and in languages other than English.

If you've come across a reading challenge that you think I should consider by all means recommend it in a comment. I allow overlapping in my challenges so a book could be recorded in a number of places.

Some of the challenges are external to this blog while others are hosted here or on a blog that I manage.
In practical terms I do allow some challenges to overlap, that is, most books will appear in more than one challenge.
In addition many of the challenges are simply continuations of challenges I took on last year, and are a reflection of my reading interests..

2015 The reading challenges I've joined

Last updated 3 January 2015
Looking for some reading challenge ideas yourself? Check A Novel Challenge.

 A visual summary
2015 Outdo Yourself Reading Challenge hosted by The Book Vixen

In 2014 I read 137 books.
Aiming for 145.
So far this year: 1

This challenge has its own record page at 2015 Reviews.

Agatha Christie Reading Challenge

How to join the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge

This is one that I host.
I completed the challenge in 2014 and so here this year I'll record blog posts related to Agatha Christie, probably mainly related to short stories.

2015 Global Reading Challenge: 1/21

I have committed myself to reading 21 titles, all crime fiction, 3 titles each from 7 "continents".
My 7th continent - historical crime fiction.
Blog site: 2015 Global Reading Challenge

Australasia/Oceania (my modification) - An extra hurdle for Australasia - at least one from New Zealand.
I can count separate Australian states

Europe -
    1. 4.8, ONLY THE INNOCENT, Rachel Abbott  - England
      North America -
      South America -
      7th Continent: Historical -
        USA Fiction Challenge ongoing
        USA Fiction Challenge ongoing

         This is one I'm hosting on its own site. I'm keeping my own  records on a page on my blog.

        So here I will just keep a summary of the number of states covered, as well as a list of US crime fiction I've read in 2015.
        Total so far 19/51

        Books read 2015: 0

        Golden Vintage - books written before 1960
        - no bingos claimed yet

        Silver Vintage: books written 1960 - 1989
        - no bingos claimed yet

        Vintage Mystery BINGO 2015: Silver & Gold Edition

        This is hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block.

        * All books must be from the mystery category (crime fiction, detective fiction, espionage, etc.).  The mystery/crime must be the primary feature of the book--ghost stories, paranormal, romance, humor, etc are all welcome as ingredients, but must not be the primary category under which these books would be labeled at the library or bookstore.

        You keep your records on bingo cards. 
        See my special page for this challenge 

        British Books Challenge 2015
        - mine will be crime fiction

        British Books Challenge 2015 hosted by Fluttering Butterflies

        The aim is to read at least 12 books by British authors. This is really not much of a challenge for me as I read so much British crime fiction, so the challenge is really just a way of keeping my records.

        Currently: 1/12
        1. 4.8, ONLY THE INNOCENT, Rachel Abbott

          The Aussie Author Challenge 2015 is being hosted at Booklover Book Reviews

          I'm aiming initially at Kangaroo (12 titles) but the reality is that I will read many more than that.
          - Read and review 12 titles written by Australian Authors of which at least 4 of those authors are female, at least 4 of those authors are male, and at least 4 of those authors are new to you;
          - At least 6 fiction and at least 2 non-fiction, and at least 3 titles first published in 2014 or 2015. 

          Currently: 0.

            2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge

            I will be aiming to read about 20 titles, all crime fiction. They will also count for the Aussie Author Challenge (above)

            Currently : 0

              2015 Ebook Reading Challenge

              Here is another that is probably not much of a challenge for me as I read so much on my Kindle.

              1. Bits – 5 ebooks
              2. Bytes – 10 ebooks
              3. Megabytes – 25 ebooks
              4. Gigabytes – 50 ebooks
              5. Terabytes – 75 ebooks
              6. Empty the Cloud – 100 ebooks
              Currently: 0
              This is a personal challenge. I intend to read as many new-to-me authors as I can.

              Currently: 0
              1. 4.8, ONLY THE INNOCENT, Rachel Abbott
              Not crime fiction
              Not crime fiction

              Another personal challenge: a reminder to myself that I need occasionally to read outside the crime fiction genre. I find this very hard to do.

              Currently: 0
                Nordic Reading challenge

                Another personal challenge: a reminder to myself that I want to keep an eye on Nordic/Scandinavian crime fiction and to keep records of my reading.

                Currently: 0
                  New Zealand authors
                  New Zealand Reading challenge

                  Another personal challenge: a reminder to myself that I want to keep an eye on New Zealand crime fiction and to keep records of my reading.

                  Currently: 0
                    Translated crime fiction

                    This will overlap with a number of the other challenges and is really just a record of translated titles that I've read this year.

                    Currently: 0

                      It is really is a bit of a variant of the Crime Fiction Alphabet challenge that I have run for the last few years (and I may well do that again some time in 2015)
                      I will count only crime fiction books for this challenge which is being hosted by Samantha Lin
                      You list authors A-Z according to surname.
                      My "official" record page is here.
                        Snagged at the Library
                        Hosted here
                        probably not much of a challenge for me because I am a consistent "supporter" of my local library, but it will help me keep a nice record of my borrowed books.
                        Currently: 1
                        1. 4.8, ONLY THE INNOCENT, Rachel Abbott


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