26 June 2016

Review: DARK AS MY HEART, Antti Tuomainen

  • this edition published 2015 by Harvill Secker London
  • ISBN 978-1-846-55853-5
  • 308 pages
  • translated from Finnish into English by Lola Rogers
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (author website)

Aleksi Kivi lost his mother on a rainy October day in 1993. Twenty years later Aleksi, now 33, is certain that he knows who’s responsible for his mother’s disappearance. Everything points to millionaire Henrik Saarinen. The police doesn’t agree. Aleksi has only one option: to get close to Henrik Saarinen and find out the truth about his mother’s fate – on his own.

Dark As My Heart tells the story of a mother and son and the search for justice. It’s a story of a lifetime of loneliness, of promises made, the cost of obsessions, the price of vengeance and the power of love. Written in a beautiful and precise language with a touch of poetry, Dark As My Heart is crime novel, mystery tale and modern take on the Greek tragedy. Its heart beats fiercely and full of longing – for love, justice and redemption.

My Take

In some ways this plot reminded me of THE TRAP which I read recently, and also one of the themes of Pauline Rowson's Portsmouth series which also deals with a mother who disappears when her son is in his teens.

In the long run, I thought the author was struggling to bring the story of DARK AS MY HEART to a resolution. The central theme is the search for understanding what happened to Aleksi's mother twenty years earlier. Aleksi and the original police investigator are both convinced that the murderer struck again ten years later and so he will strike again on the 20th anniversary of his mother's disappearance.

Aleksi thinks he recognises the voice of millionaire Henrik Saarinen as that of a friend of his mother and becomes convinced that he is the murder. He takes a job as a caretaker on Saarinen's estate so he can keep a close eye on him.

The introduction of other characters: a daughter, a housekeeper, a chauffeur, as well as the detective now semi-retired and dying of cancer, pad the plot out, provide red herrings, and muddy the waters.

The setting has a definite Finnish flavour reinforced by use of a number of Finnish place names. The plot is very noir and for me there were one or two strands that really served no purpose.

My rating: 4.3

About the author
Antti Tuomainen is the award-winning author of five novels: A Killer I Wish, My Brother’s Keeper, The Healer, Dark as My Heart, and his latest – The Mine. He has been called ‘The King of Helsinki Noir’ by the Finnish press and his writing has garnered attention worldwide.
In 2011 his third novel The Healer was awarded the Clue Award for Best Finnish Crime Novel and has subsequently been published in 27 countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Brazil, China, Iceland, Turkey and Greece, among others.
His fourth novel Dark as My Heart was optioned for feature film in 2013 and is in development at Making Movies Ltd., the production company behind the Finnish film sensation Black Ice. The novel has also been voted the best crime novel of the past decade by the readers of a Finnish crime fiction magazine.
His fifth novel The Mine was published in Finland in August 2015.

Review: THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG, Muriel Barbery - audio book

Synopsis  Audible.com

An enchanting New York Times and international best seller and award-winner about life, art, literature, philosophy, culture, class, privilege, and power, seen through the eyes of a 54-year-old French concierge and a precocious but troubled 12-year-old girl.

Renee Michel is the 54-year-old concierge of a luxury Paris apartment building. Her exterior (short, ugly,and plump) and demeanor (poor, discreet, and insignificant) belie her keen, questing mind and profound erudition. Paloma Josse is a 12-year-old genius who behaves as everyone expects her to behave: a mediocre pre-teen high on adolescent subculture, a good but not outstanding student, an obedient if obstinate daughter. She plans to kill herself on the 16th of June, her 13th birthday.

Both Renee and Paloma hide their true talents and finest qualities from the bourgeois families around them, until a wealthy Japanese gentleman named Ozu moves into building. Only he sees through them, perceiving the secret that haunts Renee, winning Paloma's trust, and helping the two discover their kindred souls. Moving, funny, tender, and triumphant, Barbery's novel exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.

My Take

This novel is a departure into the world of non-crime fiction.
Perhaps listening to the audio version was probably not my best move because it tends to turn the  book into a series of short vignettes. Nevertheless I enjoyed the venture into philosophy in the form of the thoughts of both Renee the concierge and Paloma the teenage school girl.

The novel consists of items from Paloma's journal as she contemplates the meaning of life and Renee's narration about her life as the concierge of a large residential building. The two gradually interweave with each other and pictures are created of other residents in the building and there is a progression of events. In addition there is quite a bit of background about Renee's life over the years.

In the long run I enjoyed it more than I expected to, as I too thought about the philosophical issues they raised.

My rating: 4.2
Muriel Barbery (born 28 May 1969) is a French novelist and professor of philosophy.
Her novel L'Élégance du hérisson (translated into English by Alison Anderson as The Elegance of the Hedgehog) topped the French best-seller lists for 30 consecutive weeks and was reprinted 50 times. By May 2008 it had sold more than a million copies. It has been a bestseller in France, Italy, Germany, Spain, South Korea, and in many other countries. It concerns the inhabitants of a small upper-class Paris apartment block, notably its crypto-intellectual concierge, Renée. She and Paloma, the likewise intellectual (even radical) teenage daughter of a resident family, narrate the book in turn. Renée also features briefly in Barbery's first novel, Une Gourmandise, which appeared in Anderson's English translation as Gourmet Rhapsody in 2009. The Elegance of the Hedgehog was also turned into a film called Le Hérisson (in English The Hedgehog), directed by Mona Achache. It was released in 2009.

20 June 2016

Review: THE DRY, Jane Harper

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 3534 KB
  • Print Length: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Macmillan Australia (May 31, 2016)
  • Publication Date: May 31, 2016
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B01B40JHRQ
Synopsis  (Amazon)


Luke Hadler turns a gun on his wife and child, then himself. The farming community of Kiewarra is facing life and death choices daily. If one of their own broke under the strain, well ...

When Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk returns to Kiewarra for the funerals, he is loath to confront the people who rejected him twenty years earlier. But when his investigative skills are called on, the facts of the Hadler case start to make him doubt this murder-suicide charge.

And as Falk probes deeper into the killings, old wounds are reopened. For Falk and his childhood friend Luke shared a secret ... A secret Falk thought long-buried ... A secret which Luke's death starts to bring to the surface ...

Winner of the 2015 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript

My Take

Drought in Australia takes its toll in many ways and many believe that Luke Hadler has just snapped under the pressure. When Aaron Falk comes to the town for the funerals, he intends to get away as quickly as possible. But Luke's parents ask him to try to work out what triggered the murder/suicides, and then Falk meets a local policeman who is having a hard job accepting that Luke Hadler killed his family.

Aaron Falk and his father left the rural Victorian country town after the death of one of Aaron's friends. The final verdict was that Ellie had actually committed suicide, filling her shoes and pockets with stones, and drowning herself in a local swimming hole. Aaron and his father were questioned in connection with her death and then hounded out of town by Ellie's father. Now, twenty years on, the old rumours resurface and many townspeople treat Aaron with hostility and suspicion.

This is a really well constructed novel, with a number of credible red herrings, and then a final solution that really comes out of left field.

A good read.

My rating: 4.7

About the author:

Jane Harper has worked as a print journalist for thirteen years both in Australia and the UK. She lives in Melbourne and writes for the Herald Sun, among other publications. Winner of the Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, The Dry is her first novel with rights sold to over twenty territories.

Review: FALLING IN LOVE, Donna Leon

  • source: my local library
  • published 2015
  • #24 in the Guido Brunetti series
  • ISBN 978-0-8021-2353-4
  • 264 pages
  • this edition published by Atlantic Monthly Press
Synopsis  (Fantastic Fiction)

In Death at La Fenice, Donna Leon's first novel in the Commissario Brunetti series, readers were introduced to the glamorous and cut-throat world of opera and to one of Italy's finest living sopranos, Flavia Petrelli - then a suspect in the poisoning of a renowned German conductor.

Now, many years after Brunetti cleared her name, Flavia has returned to the illustrious La Fenice to sing the lead in Tosca. As an opera superstar, Flavia is well acquainted with attention from adoring fans and aspiring singers. But when one anonymous admirer inundates her with bouquets of yellow roses - on stage, in her dressing room and even inside her locked apartment - it becomes clear that this fan has become a potentially dangerous stalker. Distraught, Flavia turns to an old friend for help.

Familiar with Flavia's melodramatic temperament, Commissario Brunetti is at first unperturbed by her story, but when another young opera singer is attacked he begins to think Flavia's fears may be justified. In order to keep his friend out of danger, Brunetti must enter the psyche of an obsessive fan and find the culprit before anyone comes to harm.

My Take

Although he does use some police resources,  at first this is almost a private case for Brunetti. Not until a young singer whom Flavia Petrelli has praised is pushed down some steps does he really take it seriously. And then a mutual friend whose house Flavia is staying in is stabbed.

Once again the title is intriguing, almost misleading.

And then the reader might question the morality of the "justice" meted out in the end.

Signora Elettra goes on strike over what she sees as the unfair dismissal of one of her colleagues, and there is also some discussion of how Venice has changed particularly under the influence of tourism.

Another good read.

My Rating: 4.5

I've also read

13 June 2016

Review: TREACHERY IN BORDEAUX, Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noel Balen

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • #1 in the Winemaker Detective series
  • File Size: 398 KB
  • Print Length: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Le French Book (August 6, 2012)
  • first published in French 2004
  • Publication Date: August 6, 2012
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B008UEHFR4
  • translated from French by Anne Trager and published in English 2012
Synopsis (Amazon)

Treachery in Bordeaux is the first book in the beloved Winemaker Detective novels, the "addictive" French series featuring master winemaker Benjamin Cooker and his sidekick Virgile. When some barrels turn at the prestigious grand cru Moniales Haut-Brion wine estate, Cooker and Virgile start to investigate. Is it negligence or sabotage? They search the city and wine region for answers, welcoming readers into the underworld of a global luxury industry. Grab a glass of your favorite Bordeaux and delve into a world of money, deceit, inheritance, greed, and fine wine.

Brimming with description, intrigue, and compelling characters, Treachery in Bordeaux kicks off this unbeatable series, which was adapted to television in France.

My Take

My impression is that with this series, now 22 titles, the reader can take a virtual tour of French wine regions, learning about both wine and food, but indulging in cozy mysteries at the same time. Perhaps a good series to read in preparation for an upcoming trip to France?

This is the debut title, and begins with master winemaker Benjamin Cooker taking on a new assistant and then going to the assistance of a winemaker friend who has found that 6 barrels of his prestigious wine have become contaminated.  Benjamin and Virgile try to not only cleanse the wine of a yeast infection but also to identify the source of the infection.

The winery they are assisting is in an area where many great chateaux have disappeared, their vineyards and even the buildings themselves demolished to make way for intensive housing development. So there is a lot of historical detail, perhaps a little too much for my liking. There is also a lot of scientific detail about how the yeast infection is treated. Added in too are recipes and notes about the culinary delights of the Bordeaux area.

It is interesting to note that these books have become the basis of a popular French television series.

My Rating: 4.1

About the authors
Jean-Pierre Alaux is a magazine, radio and television journalist when he is not writing novels in southwestern France. He is a genuine wine and food lover and recently won the Antonin Carême prize for his cookbook La Truffe sur le Soufflé, which he wrote with the chef Alexis Pélissou. He is the grandson of a winemaker and exhibits a real passion for wine and winemaking. For him, there is no greater common denominator than wine. He gets a sparkle in his eye when he talks about the Winemaker Detective series, which he writes with Noël Balen. It is a 20-strong series that is a hit on French television and is now being translated into English by Le French Book. 

Noël Balen lives in Paris, where he shares his time between writing, making records, and lecturing on music. He plays bass, is a music critic and has authored a number of books about musicians in addition to his novel and short-story writing. He is a real Epicure and he shares his passion for fine wine in the Winemaker Detective series that he co-authors with Jean-Pierre Alaux. This 20-strong series is a hit on television in France, and is being translated into English by Le French Book

11 June 2016

Review: BLACK COFFEE, Agatha Christie (Charles Osborne)

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 305 KB
  • Print Length: 227 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0006511376
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; Masterpiece Ed edition (October 14, 2010)
  • Publication Date: October 14, 2010
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
Synopsis (Amazon)

A full-length Hercule Poirot novel, adapted from Agatha Christie’s stage play by Charles Osborne.

Sir Claud Amory’s revolutionary new formula for a powerful explosive is stolen. Locking his house-guests in the library, Sir Claud switches off the lights to allow the thief to replace the formula, no questions asked. When the lights come on, he is dead, and Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings have to unravel a tangle of family feuds, old flames and suspicious foreigners to find the killer and prevent a global catastrophe.

My Take

The play Black Coffee apparently got a very unenthusiastic reception from Agatha Christie's publishers after she presented it to them in 1928, but it was eventually staged in 1930. In 1931 it was filmed. The play was "novelised" by Charles Osborne as a novel in 1998.

Really what Osborne has done is convert the dialogue and stage directions into a narrative but for me it retained that play script feeling. The setting is May 1934 and Poirot is ostensibly retired. He is contacted by Sir Claud Amory, a famous atomic scientist, who asks Poirot to visit him at his country house as he believes a member of his household is attempting to steal the formula he has created for a new and deadly explosive. He then asks Poirot ot come a day earlier, but by the time Poirot gets there Amory is dead.

The astute reader knows from the moment it happens who is responsible for poisoning Sir Claud. I presume the theatre audience also knew, as they saw it happen. The suspense lies in the idea of whether Hercule Poirot will solve the puzzle.

I don't think that, in creating the 'novelisation' of the play that Charles Osborne would not have strayed very far from the original wording of either the dialogue or the stage directions of the original play. There is a feeling of looking at a stage set. The result is a rather peculiar flatness to the novel, both the plots and the characters lacking depth. It is an authentic Poirot and the plot contains similarities to other novels and stories.

For me perhaps the most useful part of the e-book version is the last 10% of the book which is devoted to a short summary of each of the original Poirot novels.

My rating: 4.0

Agatha Christie novels 

9 June 2016

Review: AN ISOLATED INCIDENT, Emily Maguire

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 1161 KB
  • Print Length: 316 pages
  • Publisher: Picador Australia (March 22, 2016)
  • Publication Date: March 22, 2016
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Language: English
  • Author website
Synopsis  (Amazon)

When 25-year-old Bella Michaels is brutally murdered in the small town of Strathdee, the community is stunned and a media storm descends.

Unwillingly thrust into the eye of that storm is Bella's beloved older sister, Chris, a barmaid at the local pub, whose apparent easygoing nature conceals hard-won wisdom and the kind of street-smarts only experience can bring.

As Chris is plunged into despair and searches for answers, reasons, explanation - anything - that could make even the smallest sense of Bella's death, her ex-husband, friends and neighbours do their best to support her. But as the days tick by with no arrest, Chris's suspicion of those around her grows.

An Isolated Incident is a psychological thriller about everyday violence, the media's obsession with pretty dead girls, the grip of grief and the myth of closure, and the difficulties of knowing the difference between a ghost and a memory, between a monster and a man.

My Take

AN ISOLATED INCIDENT is not really about the investigation into the horrific death of Bella Michaels, although that happens in the background for nearly three months with few suspects. It is not really even about Bella herself although we are looking over her shoulder as investigative reporter May Norman tries to understand who Bella was and what might have caused her violent end.

Through the eyes of Chris Rogers, Bella's older half sister, and May Norman we uncover the nature of the town of Strathdee, a truck stop half way between Sydney and Melbourne. After the first flush of media activity caused by the discovery of Bella's body the reporters depart but May stays on. She feels that there is more of a story to be had if she can interview a few more residents and then focus on Chris.

The novel has its focus in uncovering the sort of town Strathdee is, the violence that seems to underpin most relationships, the impact of Bella's death on Chris and also on those who barely knew her, and on May's own relationships.

There's plenty to think about in this novel, plenty to talk about in a book group if you are part of one, but be warned, you may find the scenarios and language confronting.

My rating: 4.8

Read another review

About the author
Emily Maguire is the author of the novels An Isolated IncidentFishing for Tigers, Smoke in the Room, The Gospel According to Luke and the international bestseller Taming the Beast. She was named as a Sydney Morning Herald Young Novelist of the Year in 2010 and again in 2013. She is the recipient of the 2011 NSW Writer’s Fellowship.
Her non-fiction book Princesses and Pornstars: Sex + Power + Identity (2008) is an examination of how the treatment of young women as fragile and in need of protection can be as objectifying and damaging to them as pornography and raunch culture. A Young Adult version of this book titled Your Skirt’s Too Short: Sex, Power, Choice was published in 2010.
Emily’s articles and essays on sex, feminism, culture and literature have been published widely including in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Observer and The Age.

6 June 2016

Review: THE TRAP, Melanie Raab

  • this edition published by Text Publishing 2016
  • Translated from German by Imogen Taylor 2016
  • ISBN 9-171925-240870
  • 281 pages
Synopsis (Text Publishing)

I know who killed my sister. I wrote this book for him.
Twelve years ago, Linda’s sister Anna was murdered. Her killer was never caught, but Linda saw him.
Now, all these years later, she’s just seen him again on TV.
He’s become a well-known journalist, and Linda–a famous novelist and infamous recluse–knows no one will believe her if she accuses him.
She does the only thing she can think of: she sets a trap, writing a thriller called Blood Sisters about the unsolved murder of a young woman.
When Blood Sisters is published, Linda agrees to give just one media interview.
At home.
To the one person who knows more about the case than she does…

My Take

The plot of the novel and the thriller, Blood Sisters, that Linda is writing are revealed to us in tandem, and one closely parallels the other.

The interview with the journalist whom Linda thinks killed her sister goes horribly wrong and Linda begins to doubt her own memory and even her sanity. Twelve years have passed since she discovered her sister's blood soaked body and she glimpsed the murderer's face as he rushed away. Perhaps she was wrong. And the reader begins to wonder just how reliable a witness she is.

My rating: 4.7

About the author
Melanie Raabe was born in 1981 in a small village in Germany and studied media science and comparative literature in Bochum. After completing a traineeship for a Cologne city magazine, she became an actor, blogger, interviewer, stage play and screenplay writer. She has her own interview blog (www.biographilia.com) and has received several prizes for her scripts and short stories. The Trap is her debut novel.

1 June 2016

Crime Fiction Pick of the Month May 2016

Crime Fiction Pick of the Month 2016
Many crime fiction bloggers write a summary post at the end of each month listing what they've read, and some, like me, even go as far as naming their pick of the month.

This meme is an attempt to aggregate those summary posts.
It is an invitation to you to write your own summary post for May 2016, identify your crime fiction best read of the month, and add your post's URL to the Mr Linky below.
If Mr Linky does not appear for you, leave the URL in a comment and I will add it myself.

You can list all the books you've read in the past month on your post, even if some of them are not crime fiction, but I'd like you to nominate your crime fiction pick of the month.

That will be what you will list in Mr Linky too -
ROSEANNA, Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo - MiP (or Kerrie)

You are welcome to use the image on your post and it would be great if you could link your post back to this post on MYSTERIES in PARADISE.


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