Lately I’ve read a few books that haven’t, for one reason or another, made it to a review post of their very own and I’ve decided to give up pretending they ever will. I have enough impossible backlogs in my working life that I really don’t need to clutter up my leisure life with them too, but I do want to record my impressions so that I have a chance of recollecting these books in the future. And so, in reading order, we have…
June Wright’s DUCK SEASON DEATH – A book written in the 1950’s but only published in 2014 this is one of what is now seven published books by a little-known Australian female crime writer. It’s a traditional country house mystery (though in this case the country house is an inn in the Australian countryside) in which a small cast of oddball characters form the suspect pool for the murder (or was it?) of an unpleasant man at the start of the local shooting season. As well as being of the genre the book takes some not-so-gentle digs at classic whodunnits and, for me at least, it wasn’t entirely successful. I thought it was trying a little too hard to be clever. I’ve not yet any of Wright’s novels that were published during her lifetime (though I now have two here on Mount TBR) so I shall possibly have more to say about this author soon.
Arnaldur Indridason’s REYKJAVIK NIGHTS – During a recent interview at the Sydney Writers’ Festival Michael Connelly intimated that when his famous police detective’s official career is over Connelly might be finally ready to write of Harry Bosh’s time in Vietnam. If so he’ll be joining a growing trend of writers turning to the origin stories of their much-loved characters when age makes their continuation as professional detectives too unbelievable even for fiction. Having allowed his dour, loner Detective Erlendur to end his career in STRANGE SHORES, Indridason takes us to 1974 and introduces us to young Erlendur doing night shift as a relatively new policeman. Car crashes, domestic violence incidents and run-ins with all manner of people who seem only to come out at night form the backdrop to Erlendur’s investigations into the death of a homeless man he had come to know and the disappearance of a young woman. There is much to like about this origin story.
Hans Olav Lahlum’s THE HUMAN FLIES was a delightful surprise. Knowing I was planning to read it myself I avoided all reviews of the book so had no idea I would be delving into a classic whodunit set in late 1960’s Norway. New police detective Kolbjørn Kristiansen is tasked with investigating the seemingly impossible locked room murder of a prominent Norwegian who had been a hero of the resistance during the war. The high profile case threatens to prove unsolvable but Kristiansen is fortunate enough to attract the attentions of an intelligent amateur sleuth who manages to help him unravel this tale of secrets within secrets. A truly entertaining read, with fascinating insight into Norway’s wartime experiences, and evidence (should you need it) that not all Scandi crime fiction is cold and grim.
Leif G.W. Persson’s FREE FALLING AS IF IN A DREAM – I almost feel like I’m cheating including this because I ended up skipping bits and pieces of this 588 page tome. As the final part of Persson’s Story of a Crime trilogy the book sees several investigators, all of whom we’ve met in Persson’s earlier books, brought together in secret to take another look at Sweden’s greatest unsolved crime: the assassination of Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986. Amidst all the stultifying detail here there is a good story straining to be heard but honestly by the end of this one I was really cross with modern publishing. This book needed an editor. Very, very badly. My life was not enriched in any way by knowing exactly what fruit DCI Lisa Mattei ate during each day and at what times she ate each piece nor any of the thousands of similar details masquerading as context. This book is virtually inaccessible to anyone who isn’t a die-hard devotee of politically infused European crime and even then I am prepared to wager many wouldn’t bother wading through to the bitter end.
Alan Bradley’s THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE is one of those books I thought I ought to read as so many people love it. In case you’ve been living under a rock it introduces 11 year-old Flavia de Luce, aspiring chemist turned amateur-sleuth who solves the murder that takes place on her family’s country estate in 1950. My chief accolade for the book is that it is blessedly short. I didn’t hate it but nor can I really see what all the fuss is about. For my tastes Flavia is a bit too precocious to be truly engaging and the book has some truly dull passages (descriptions of visual magic tricks are on par with people relaying their dreams on the scale of things I’m not at all interested in). Lest you fear I am just anti books narrated by children I offer Belinda Bauer’s THE FACTS OF LIFE AND DEATH, Mari Strachan’s THE EARTH HUMS IN B-FLAT or Catherine O’Flynn’s WHAT WAS LOST as examples of superior crime stories told by young children.
Glad you found some things to like here, Bernadette. I’ve got The Human Flies coming up before long on my own TBR, so good to hear it’s worth the read. And you make an interesting point about youthful narrators. I liked The Sweetness… and Flavia de Luce more than you did, but in general I agree with you that it’s very hard to get a young narrator right. I like your examples, though, of authors who have. 🙂
I think you’ll enjoy The Human Flies Margot
LikeLiked by 1 person
I enjoyed all of these short reviews. I liked the Flavia de Luce book much more than you did but I was very surprised that I did. And I can easily understand why it would not be liked by other readers. Your review of THE HUMAN FLIES was very helpful and I am eager to get a copy.
I told a friend here I wasn’t quite as taken with Flavia as she had been and she remarked that Flavia reminded her of me when we were kids – so perhaps that’s why I didn’t like her 🙂 I agree I probably was as annoying and full of myself
That is funny and interesting. As a kid, I was very quiet, very shy, and mostly read all the time. Pretty much like now except a bit less shy. Maybe that is why I like Flavia. Although I will admit she can be annoying and the charm wears off in the latest book, for me.
I am glad you wrote this reviews, in brief. They work. I haven’t read about Flavia de Luce, but I loved The Earth Hums in B-Flat and liked What Was Lost. The second book by Strachan titled Blow on a Dead Man’s Embers is set post-WWI and is about Gwenni Morgan’s grandmother, quite a woman.
Now, on The Human Flies I am more ambivalent than you are. I liked the locked-house set up as a classic mystery plot device and the small number of murder suspects. And while I was not thrilled with the writing itself, I was fascinated by the plot and wanted to see whodunnit and why and I was interested in the flashbacks to a WWII incident. So I could not put the book down.
But I thought the police detective consulting a young genius about what he should do, what the clues meant and the steps he should take and why in his investigation were a bit contrived. What cop would do that? It fell into the “disbelief” column in my head.
Now, I read three books that I loved in the past month: Eva Dolan’s Long Way Home, Elly Griffiths’ The Ghost Fields and Crimepieces blogger, Sarah Ward’s In Bitter Chill. Ward’s was just a perfect book, one that one opens and can’t stop reading until the end. Perfect for a rainy weekend, but with tea and biscuits.
I do agree that the genius helper in The Human Flies is quite preposterous Kathy…but I think there’s always an impossibly clever person in the classic whodunnit. I was more peturbed by the notion of a disabled person feeling the need to lock herself away in the way she does. But I still liked the book a lot.
I’m waiting until Sarah Ward’s book is released here in Aus next month but glad to know you enjoyed it – I am looking forward to it – we’ve got lots of rainy weekends at the moment. I haven’t yet read that Griffiths but it’s definitely on my list too. I Liked but didn’t love Dolan’s book – though really can’t remember what didn’t quite gel for me
I liked these short reviews – they told me what I needed to know to decide whether to read the books or not. Random thoughts: Human Flies is not yet in my library or any other linked library. However, I’m more ambivalent about reading it after reading the comments here! I liked Flavia but I was a bossy and opinionated child too so it worked for me. I think I read What Was Lost based on your recommendation – kind of a bittersweet book but well-worth reading – or listening – I was glued to the CDs. I wouldn’t have picked up this book without your review. I’m religious in reading books in order – but since I can be years behind in a series, it’s always tough to decide whether to read a book such as Indriason’s prequel – peek back now or wait to read in order? Thanks for your reviews!
Interesting choice Katy whether to read the Indridason books in publishing order or timeline order. And then there is the fact they have been published in a different order in English and Icelandic. So many variables to take into account 🙂
Yes. I concur on the disabled woman’s locking herself away. I don’t understand it unless she was terrified by what went on at the end of the book. It’s a way for the author to keep up this plot device and he does with later books with the police detective consulting her.
Yes I suppose that’s what it is Kathy- though even before those events at the end she was a virtual recluse – very peculiar – I don’t think 1968 was so long ago that the world was shunning people in wheelchairs. Then again I was 1 year old at the time so I’m no expert 🙂
Bernadette: Although I understand it is not formally a review, I was very happy to read your review of my first novel The Human Flies. For me as a novelist and historian from the countryside in Norway, it is inspiring to see that some qualified readers from literally the other side of the World enjoy reading my novel from Oslo in the late sixties. Curiously but perhaps not randomly, I also very much enjoyed Reykjavik Nights by the highly recommendable Icelandic novelist and historian Arnaldur Indridason.
As I found two interesting and critical questions related to my classical crime literature project in the comments, I will use this chance to comment them myself.
Number one I have heard before: That one questioning the realism of a police investigator secretly consulting a young woman outside the police force about an investigation. First, I have to admit that although I still love to read the Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot novels of Agatha Christie, I often find myself struggling hard to consider them anything close to likely. This although I still consider them less unlikely than many of the modern action hero novels. And Jo Nesbø remains a great crime novel writer despite the fact that some of Harry Hole’s working habits are becoming all the more unlikely. To quote the greatest Norwegian crime writer of all time: “Please remember that crime fiction is exactly that – fiction”. I have no ambitions to make my own novels realistic in all details. That said I agree it can be a problem for both the readers and the writer if the story of a criminal novel becomes too unlikely, and I try to avoid this in all my novels. Obviously the police investigator in my novels is not following his worksheet and other official regulations. He is deliberately using irregular methods and taking shortcuts to achieve better results for himself and the police corps. In various ways this however still happens in real life, inside or outside the police force. Such situations were almost certainly more usual back in 1968. Having written several documentary books about Norwegian top politics in the sixties I was both shocked and fascinated to realize the role of more or less unlikely informal advisers – as well as various other irregular methods. I might mention this idea about the cooperation between K2 and Patricia was partially inspired by the true story about the British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith and his young personal friend Venetia Stanley, including him writing letters about state secrets to her during cabinet meetings… The latter story, taking place in a very critical World War context, I consider much more unbelievable. Still it is a documented fact. Fascinating but true: In my documentary books I can tell the readers stories that would have been considered much too unlikely for my novels! Sorry if I disappoint someone now – but the World very often has not been following the regulations…
The second question, about why this woman in wheelchair avoids publicity, is a new one which I am still a little puzzled about. True enough, in Norway anno 1968 we were not “shunning people in wheelchairs”. Still the public sphere in Norway like almost all other countries at the time was heavily dominated by car driving males above 45, and it was much less common than nowadays for young women or people in wheelchairs to take any role in the public life and the national newspapers. In much too many cases men with positions and ambitions in the end received the credit for the effort low key woman did behind the scenes. Among other this was a common theme in the resistance movement during the Second World War, as documented in several new historical books. As explained in the afterword of this novel, I was partially inspired by such a true story from my own family history. Many women in that era, with or without wheelchairs, for various reasons we today can consider more or less understandable, preferred to avoid publicity about their efforts. So did my grand aunt Dagmar Lahlum for many decades after the Second World War – and so does Patricia Borchmann in my novels. I hope the picture of Patricia’s motives for this, as well as the picture of her complex and somewhat ambivalent character, will be more understandable after the next novels. I never intended to close that part of the serie in this first novel.
Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your insights. I don’t know how qualified I am as a reader but I do love my crime fiction.
I liked Patricia a lot and I love it when a book has a really intelligent woman in it (so many times in those old American hard boiled novels that everyone else loves the women are there only for their looks or to be killed) so I didn’t mind that I thought it unlikely such a perfectly brilliant person would fall into the investigator’s lap so to speak just when he needed her. It’s funny how some things which are unrealistic are easy to accept and others are not. I can never predict which ones I’ll put up with and which ones will make me cross
I guess as I was born right around then I don’t like to think of 1968 as being quite so much in the distant past but I guess it was a different time for women in general and ones in wheelchairs in particular. Truly sad. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next for Patricia and I have checked and the second book is out now here (I’m woefully monolingual so I have to wait for the translations).
Thanks again for stopping by.