Maximum reading: minimum reviewing

The main prompt for me to start this blog was to write down my thoughts about the books I read so that my future self would be a little less ignorant about my reading than I had been in the pre-blog days. Sadly this only works when I actually go to the bother of writing a review, something I have abjectly failed to do over the past week and a bit. I have read a rather astonishing 9 books since October 21 (the upside to insomnia) but only managed to review 2 of them. If I don’t at least write a few words about the rest my future self will be able to read them again as entirely new in a few short months so here are some mini reviews.

Outrage by Arnaldur Indriðason (translated by Anna Yates)

The 7th (in English anyway) of what must now be called the Reykjavik mysteries (due to the potentially sinister absence of its regular protagonist from this instalment) is a good old-fashioned police procedural in which one of Erlunder’s colleagues, gourmet cook Elinborg, investigates the murder of a young man in his Reykjavik apartment. Despite the fact the investigation is a slow one, featuring many frustrating dead ends, it makes for compelling reading as it uncovers the hidden layers of the victim’s life and, ultimately, leads the reader to ponder what they might do in the circumstances described in the book. There is a very authentic feel to both the crime and its solution. There’s also a rather nice depiction of Elinborg’s personal life which is one of highs and lows.  For me it’s not quite as hauntingly memorable as last year’s Hypothermia but still an excellent contribution to the series and the genre. Rating 4 stars.

Now You See Me by S J Bolton

Bolton’s fourth book tells the story of young DC Lacey Flint who finds a dying woman leaning on her car one evening and then becomes embroiled in the hunt for a killer whose gimmick is to recreate, at least partially, the crimes of Jack the Ripper. I’ve really loved Bolton’s first 2 books (and have the third here ready to read but was happy to read out of order when my library got this one in as the novels are all standalones) but did not enjoy this one quite as much. Partly this is because I think the theme of Jack the Ripper’s crimes being repeated is overdone and it bores the pants off me and I therefore found the folklore in the first half of the book more than a little tedious. I also was never entirely convinced that young Lacey’s role in the investigation was terribly realistic. I think crime writers have more license to be creative when they use ‘amateur sleuths’ as Bolton has done in the two other books I’ve read but in police procedurals things like a copper’s rank and relative experience have to ring vaguely true and here it just seemed bizarre that someone so new to the job would be given such status in the investigative team. There’s still suspense a-plenty though and the book actually got better as it went along (as the ‘Ripperology’ reduced). Rating 3 stars.

The Gallows Bird by Camilla Läckberg (translated by Steven T Murray, narrated by Eamonn Riley)

The fourth instalment of this semi-cosy series set in a small community in south-west Sweden is another solidly entertaining contribution. As always there is a strong element of the personal lives of the investigators as senior policeman Patrick Hedstrom prepares (or rather fails to prepare) for his wedding to Erica, his colleague Martin has some good news of his own and their newest colleague Hanna Kruse seems to have a rather dark secret. The story itself surrounds the death of a local shopkeeper in what is first thought to be a suicide and the subsequent linking of this to a series of other deaths around the country. There’s also a reality TV show being shot in the town and this too provides its own dramas as well as a dead body. As always the crime could be solved a bit more quickly by a bit brighter police force (and surely the poor old boss of the station deserves to have a change of luck with the ladies soon) but this does not detract from the naturally entertaining story full of humour and engaging people. I must admit I was thrilled when I learned my pre-order of the paper version of this book was not going to be issued because I thoroughly enjoy Eamonn Riley’s narration of the stories and am happy to see that volume 5 is already available via audible. Rating 3.5 stars

The Man Who Went up in Smoke by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo (translated by Joan Tate)

The second of 10 books featuring Martin Beck sees the protagonist called back from his summer holiday (after only 1 day) to head off to Budapest on the search for a journalist who has disappeared. In an attempt to avoid an international incident of any kind the investigation is an unofficial one though Beck does interact with both the Swedish embassy and the Hungarian police.  As something of a late starter to this series (first published 40 years ago) I am slowly reading them in order and finding them quite a treat, especially these editions from Harper Perennial which have forwards by modern-day crime writers (here it’s Val McDermid) and lots of interesting titbits at the end (interviews and wotnot). The story itself is tautly written, full of a dry humour (for which both the authors and the translator must be particularly congratulated) and makes compelling reading. I loved the sense of location (much of the story takes place in Hungary) and the period which somehow manages to convey the differences to today’s world without making it feel dated. Rating 3.5 stars.

Ashes to Dust by Yrsa Sigurdardottir (translated by Philip Roughton)

Reading the the third tale to feature Reykjavik lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir felt a lot like visiting the home of a good friend who you don’t see often enough. Three (and a quarter) bodies are discovered in the basement of a house on an Icelandic island which, along with its neighbours, was abandoned during the 1973 eruption of the island’s volcano. Although people have returned to live on the island this particular stretch of houses was covered by lava and ash and is only now being incorporated into an archaeological project. Thóra’s client Markus wants to rescue some items from his home before the project takes over but he is not expecting the bodies. When he becomes a suspect in the crime that led to their burial Thóra takes it upon herself to investigate the decades-old secrets being kept by various islanders. I love the combination of humour, domestic life and somewhat haphazard investigative style that are the hallmarks of this series though do have to admit that a bit of editing could have helped this instalment along (it’s 450+ pages for what is ultimately a fairly simple story). Still I did find the history of the island and its volcanic eruption very engaging and the starring role of Thóra’s secretary was a real treat in this outing. Rating 3.5 stars

This entry was posted in Arnaldur Indriðason, Camilla Lackberg, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, mini review, S J Bolton, Yrsa Sigurdardottir. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Maximum reading: minimum reviewing

  1. Thanks for taking the time to write the reviews, @bernadetteinoz. I didn’t realise I’m so far behind with reading the Camilla Lackberg series. I read and enjoyed The Ice Princess and the Preacher, but still have The Stone Cutter on my To Be Read pile. Thanks for your blog.


  2. I have been having the same problem lately. I have been months behind with reviews because of stupid morning sickness effecting my brain functioning and now that I am finally catching up with them all but my initial thoughts and reactions to the books are all gone. Very frustrating.

    Sounds like you have read some really great books there. I especially like the sound of the Man WHo Went Up in Smoke


  3. Kathy D. says:

    This is a very good round-up, reminding me that I have Outrage here to read, that I should try S.J. Bolton’s first two books, that I must reread the Sjowall and Wahloo book (with the Val McDermid introduction), and that I have to buy Ashes to Dust, but will do so. I haven’t been inspired by Lackberg’s writing, but I may try again with this book.
    Just read what was a good book for me to read about 1940 San Francisco, with a gutsy private eye, Miranda Corby, in Kelli Stanley’s second book about her, City of Secrets. I enjoyed this, as Miranda says and does what I’d like to do in my own private detective alter ego chasing Nazis and their ilk.


  4. Maxine says:

    Great round=up, Bernadette. I really enjoyed Outrage, too, & “The Man Who….”. I have to confess I am increasingly disappointed in Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s series, partly due to either translation or editing deficiencies, but also because she does not seem to have continued the erratically eccentric Thora/family/Matthew themes very much, preferring to focus on the mystery each time – and frankly these are over-long (solutions a bit obvious) for my taste given the lack of Thora-ness. I quite liked Ashes to Dust (the one you review here) but not so much the next one — which is far less good than the classic “miss smilla’s feeling for snow” with which it shares some (but not all) elements.
    I liked The Gallows Bird and also enjoyed the next one, The Hidden Child, which in some ways acts as a “breathing space” for the series in tying up some old secrets. As you point out, the series has become more “cosy-like” and less bleak/gritty as it has continued (The Ice Princess seems quite sharp and edgy compared with the subsequent novels) but still I enjoy these and hope you like The Hiidden Child in audio-format.


  5. Kathy D. says:

    Now I’m more resolved to buy Ashes to Dust.
    Just a note in response to the Amazon sales’ tax issue in the States: They do charge sales tax, have for a few years. I checked my last book order and was billed for sales tax, and this has been true for quite awhile.


  6. Margot Kinberg says:

    Bernadette – Thanks for some excellent, excellent mini-reviews :-). Your short reviews here are heaps better than a lot of folks’ long ones. I’m so glad you’re reading the Sjöwall and Wahlöö series. In my opinion, that’s a classic police procedural series that has all of the elements that many of today’s series can only wish they had. And I actually like the fact that Outrage features Elinborg in a central role, much as I like Erlendur. It’s interesting to see how authors handle character development when a hitherto more minor character “takes over.”


  7. Barbara says:

    “Ripperology” is such a good word. I’m tired of the copycats too. I’ve often thought that if I could just stop sleeping, or get along on about 4 hrs. of sleep like Pres. Clinton could, I could get so much more reading done. It’s too costly though; you must be feeling like a zombie after so many nights of sleeplessness. Hope your insomnia is gone soon.


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  9. I know what you mean; the same happens when I have headaches for days – I am usually able to read much of the time, but I cannot sit up hence don´t take notes while reading.

    But you are much better at summing up your books afterwards. Well, I suppose there is a reason why the experts have certified my concentration is poor…


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  11. Thanks a bunch for these reviews. I am a crime fiction fan looking for some new good reads and these wee reviews – and the comments – are so helpful. I am now also a fan of Reactions to Reading! :o)


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