Category Archives: Thriller

Destination Earth

Wow! I forgot to eat my peach as I was finishing Destination Earth by Ali Sparkes. Those last twenty pages, or so, really had me in their grip. (Not that the preceding 320 pages were exactly lacking in fun and excitement.) Very Ace of Bass. (So to speak.)

This was my very first Ali Sparkes. Are they all this good? I can’t believe I’ve not tried her before. Anyway, Ali was at the Manchester Children’s Book Festival yesterday, and this was my way of making up for missing her. Phew. What a book! Or did I just say that?

Ali Sparkes, Destination Earth

The blurb is nowhere near as persuasive as it needs to be. Lucy is the lone survivor from another planet, who has journeyed to Earth for ten years after killer aliens wiped out her whole home planet. And one of those aliens has hitched a lift on her spaceship…

But instead of the cold science fiction nightmare I was expecting, I found a warm and funny early teen adventure. Masses of humour, and full of nice, intelligent people.

OK, so Lucy is an alien, and even to her the killer alien is an alien, and it might just wipe out all of Earth in a week or so. But we have time for ‘killer’ hairdressers with a fondness for purple and there is a nice grown-up romance (sort of; it’s yucky when parents do that kind of thing) and there is space technology and space ships and weapons and Motokola mobiles. Not to mention Nipe trainers. Brad Pitt.

All the usual misunderstandings aliens suffer when they land on Earth. That’s fun. You can prepare for a lot, but you can’t prepare for everything. ‘The Sarah Jane Adventures meet E.T.’ is actually a much more apt description than most.

It’s funny. It’s exciting. I even found myself wanting to discover more about Level 42 (a real band, I understand).

Andreas Norman and the chicken sandwich

Andreas Norman uses a fair bit of English when he talks, so I needed to come up with a way to mark his English words and phrases in the translated interview, where English is so plentiful that you’d not notice. Those are the green bits, in case you were wondering. (Why green, I couldn’t tell you, though.)

Andreas Norman

Here is the interview, homemade translation and all. And the green bits, totally untranslated.

His novel Into A Raging Blaze is published today. In it Andreas says uncomplimentary things about the MI6 and the Swedish Foreign Minister.

The chicken sandwich is what got slightly in the way of conversation at his end. Beats Ferrero Rocher, I suppose.

Euro Noir

Wouldn’t it be nice to be an expert at lots of things? Except you can’t. There is a limit to how much you can delve into different areas of interest. And that’s when it’s good to have someone who does it for you.

Barry Forshaw knows a lot about crime (in the right sort of way). He is a Nordic crime specialist, but reads a wider diet than that. Here he is with his new Euro Noir, briefly outlining crime fiction and films in a number of European countries. I’m ashamed to admit I’d never considered whether there are Polish crime novels.

He wondered what I would make of the Nordic section, which is only right, since I know almost nothing about Romania or Greece when it comes to crime, or any fiction, now that I think of it. But if I did want to read something so drastically new, I now know where I would begin. With this book. And then one of the ones mentioned in here.

Barry Forshaw, Euro Noir

Barry is right to ponder how he can cover Nordic crime yet again and so briefly, but he has succeeded. There is a good selection of authors from a long time ago as well as now. And he does the same for the other Nordic countries. You might know a lot of it already, but I bet there will be something new for everyone.

And once you’ve covered the north, there is all the rest of Europe. If I were to tackle French crime I’d have to go to Fred Vargas. Barry very sensibly asked various specialists to write a page on what they like best, and my colleague Karen Meek likes Fred Vargas. That’s good enough for me.

There is a wide coverage of films, including some pretty ancient ones, and obviously the recent euro crime we’ve seen on television during the last few years. Again, you might know it all, but that doesn’t prevent this from being interesting to read.

Euro Noir is a short book, which will quickly tell you what you need to know.

Into A Raging Blaze

I would like to think that this new Swedish thriller, will be the next huge success story from the country that gave the world the Millennium trilogy.

Andreas Norman, Into A Raging Blaze

Written by Swedish diplomat Andreas Norman, who has so far only produced a volume of poetry, Into A Raging Blaze is a terrific read. En Rasande Eld, as it is in the original, is more thriller than detective story. Like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, it begins with seemingly unconnected things, and the seemingly humdrum routines ‘at home’ at the Foreign Office in Stockholm.

You wouldn’t think that finding out about department meetings or how to request a new office chair would be interesting. But it makes for compelling reading from the first page, and by the time you’ve grown quite fond of FO employee Carina Dymek, her career is in tatters and you swiftly move on to Secret Security Agent Bente Jensen, based in Brussels.

Bente is probably very slightly on the autistic spectrum. She is no Lisbeth Salander, though. Very likeable and very competent, it is she and her secret team who have to work out what’s happened. Did Carina really handle top secret, potentially terrorist, material on purpose, or was she set up? Is her Arab boyfriend Jamal cultivating her to aid him in some sinister plot? Or are they – as they seem to be – simply two nice young people, accidentally caught up in something much bigger?

MI6 are the bad guys here. You need to get used to that. Very efficient, and quite scathing about the naïve Swedes, they really set the ball rolling. And once they have, it’s well nigh impossible to stop it.

So here you find various secret services having to work together, but in effect working against each other. It is very much a page turner, and you become quite paranoid after a while. I read with my heart in my mouth. How can anyone ever be safe from the intrusion of agents the world over? Have you any idea of how it feels to be the prey in such a powerful hunt?

Into A Raging Blaze is the first of two books featuring Bente Jensen. It was published in Sweden last year, with the second one due in 2016. English language readers have something great to look forward to.

(Translation by Ian Giles)

Vango

Timothée de Fombelle’s Vango, Book 1 – Between Sky and Earth is the kind of book that makes your hair stand on end. It’s the sheer unexpectedness of finding something new and marvellous, as well as ‘simply’ getting a reading experience which is pretty special. I’d never heard of Timothée or Vango until the second book arrived, but it looked so good I requested the first book so I could enjoy both.

Timothée de Fombelle, Vango, Book 1 - Between Sky and Earth

Set primarily in the 1930s, Vango could be David’s – from I Am David – older brother. A displaced boy with a mystery, one who speaks several languages, is hard working, popular and good at many things. Born in 1915, Vango is 19 when we meet him, and then the action moves back and forth from when he was three until early 1936. Set mainly in Europe, we move from Paris to Italy to Germany and Scotland during the exciting fictional 1930s that we love so much.

Vango can climb. Anything. There are Zeppelins, repercussions from the war as well as a slow romance going on. It’s very exciting. Very lovely. Perhaps because people are not talking about this book as much as they should, because it’s French. A translation, by the capable Sarah Ardizzone. It’s a typical example of how you lose out through xenophobia. Admittedly, Timothée’s idea of Scotland is based more on England, but who cares? It’s fun. It has a flavour of The Thirty-Nine Steps, with some Jules Verne thrown in.

Having decided to take a – very short – break before reading book 2, I can’t entirely say where Vango is going. But trust me, it’s worth reading. This is the kind of discovery you want to make, rather than more of the same, whether wizzards or vampires. You get Vango, and countless more colourful characters that you want to get to know better. That’s more than enough.

The actual book

So, we visited Son the other day. He wanted someone to cart his stuff away from his old office, and to be driven home from IKEA. (Not at the same time. Obviously.) He and Dodo also had free pizza they needed me and the Resident IT Consultant to eat for them. So we did.

What’s more, Son had just taken delivery of a box of books (that should have been me), and we were all pretty excited to see them. It was a first for all of us, in various ways.

Here it is, the fruit of months of backbreaking translating. (He could have used more finesse when ripping open the box, but other than that…)

Andreas Norman, Into A Raging Blaze

Andreas Norman, Into A Raging Blaze

Andreas Norman, Into A Raging Blaze(To win a copy of the book, try here.)

And there is an audiobook, read by Maggie Mash, being recorded by White House Sound Ltd.

 

Meeting the next big thing?

You know when there is a train strike and you end up with two hours to kill in Malmö? That’s what happened to Daughter and me yesterday. And me being me I had emailed the next big name in Scandi thrillers to come and meet us to while away the time.* This is him.

Andreas Norman

Andreas Norman is far too diplomatic to say he couldn’t, so suggested we meet at Starbucks (did you know they have about three Starbucks in Sweden and that makes them special and unique? It was nice…) at the station. After all, he had to have lunch somewhere. Might as well be with us. (He wasn’t quite as much of an old fogey as Daughter had been visualising.)

We arrived early, after saying we’d be late, so had time to case the joint and to buy drinks. This dealt with the possible embarrassment of deciding who would pay for what. (They are very fair-minded in Sweden.) Andreas bought a difficult-to-eat-while-you-talk sandwich, but I have promised not to publish any photos of him stuffing himself.

Starbucks lunch

I’d asked for twenty minutes and kept him talking for an hour. Because it was so nice to sit there and chat. It will morph into a proper interview, given enough time. Wrong language, of course, so I will have to see about a translation. (That’s what got me into this in the first place.**)

Once he’d eaten and I’d stopped asking questions, Andreas politely inquired when our train was, so we picked up our suitcases and went to look for a way to cross That Bridge. (No dead bodies.)

*I didn’t really ask him to come and help pass the time. I had requested an interview in a reasonably normal way.

**I need to declare an interest here. Andreas Norman’s debut thriller – Into A Raging Blaze – which is published by Quercus next month, has been translated by Son of Bookwitch. That’s not why I like it. It’s purely the way I was introduced to the book, which makes for a marvellous read. After Monday’s interview, I also reckon I understand better why I like it. And I think you will, too. Like it, I mean.

I Predict a Riot

I’ll let you in on a secret. I read Catherine Bruton’s new book I Predict a Riot, completely the wrong way round. I was furious throughout the whole book. Don’t misunderstand me, it’s well written and the plot, inspired by the London riots, is very exciting indeed. But it begins with the end, where you are told what happened (and I supposed that was to make it more bearable), so I ‘knew’ what happened.

Except it didn’t. It was the other way round, making me stare at the ending, when it came properly, and wonder what on earth was going on? Was Catherine trying to trick her readers?

So, that little misunderstanding aside, this is a good way of looking at something that was in the news, but which many of us boringly well behaved people will have found hard to truly understand.

Set in London, in a mixed area, with poor and better off living close to each other, we have Maggie, the MP’s daughter, and two disadvantaged black boys, as well as the rather scary local gang. Maggie is filming everything she sees, possibly in an effort to forget about her real life.

Little Pea is a crazy boy who seems to be on everyone’s side, or none at all. You just can’t be sure. And there is Tokes, the outsider, who needs to stay away from trouble to save himself. They go round this part of London with Maggie and her film camera during a few hot days when everything is waiting to blow up, and then does.

For sheer excitement this is your book. Hopefully it will also teach readers to think about what’s important in their lives and how they would like to be judged by the rest of the world (preferably not as the famous gang leader who shows no mercy). And some parents could do with taking the side of their children, once in a while.

Bookwitch bites #121

I was a bit busy last week, so will have to join the rest of you in catching up on my favourite physics teacher, Lucy Hawking (here). You get a whole forty minutes of Lucy talking interesting stuff, courtesy of the Scottish Book Trust. Lucy has a new George book out – George and the Unbreakable Code – and you will hear more about that a little later. (My copy has had a close encounter with a black hole, mainly filled with water. Not of my doing!)

Lucy Hawking

More online fun for a new book can be found on various blogs this week, as Helen Grant spreads herself out with guest posts and things, to celebrate the publication of The Demons of Ghent on Thursday. Needless to say I bagged the 5th of June itself.

Helen Grant blog tourThe water-filled hole apart, the holiday reading chez Bookwitch Vacations is going well. Yeah, OK, so Birdie read complicated textbooks, but Daughter was wanting to prove my prediction on the likelihood of non-reading wrong, so has read several recent box office titles. She went to see the films and then decided to read the books (possibly to see what they got ‘wrong’).

The Resident IT Consultant, on the other hand, reads what he finds. I sometimes have to forbid him to go for what I need to read next, and he has been reasonably obedient. He did go looking for the charging cable for his Kindle, and was a little surprised when I said it was in the flower pot (I thought that was a good place for it). His main concern was whether it had been watered (like George, I suppose), but you don’t water artificial plants.

At least, I hope you don’t.

The Demons of Ghent

You know that feeling you have when you’re climbing about on the rooftops of Ghent, with Death right behind you? That’s The Demons of Ghent, the second of Helen Grant’s Flemish trilogy. It’s that strange thing, the perfect book, both extremely soothing and calm (I suspect it’s the Flemish aspect), and heart-stoppingly scary.

Climbing to the top of buildings and walking across whole city blocks is frightening enough on its own, without adding a stalking monster who kills people. Someone you might encounter as you run along some vertigo-inducing parapet or other narrow strip of roof. Add rain or darkness, and it’s almost heaven. (If you’ve been good. If not, it will be the other place.)

Helen Grant, Demons of Ghent

Veerle has had to move from the small village that she loved and knew so well, and is forced to live with her father and his new – pregnant – wife, who resents her presence. Not happy at school, Veerle bunks off, and meets Bram, another desirable young man (Kris seems to have dropped out of sight, to begin with), who is into rooftops.

People are dying, though. ‘Suicides’ jumping off houses. And Ghent natives are seeing ‘demons’ on the rooftops at night. As an outsider Veerle finds this rather odd.

Until the day she comes across someone whom she thought was dead and it all goes horribly wrong. It’s tough being wanted by two handsome young men all at once, as well as having Death turn up wherever you go.

I’m wondering if we will ever have an explanation, or if Veerle will keep putting herself in danger until it’s too late? Are the odd things that happen to her connected, or is she just prone to meeting new monsters at every new turn?

Helen writes so naturally that you can’t really see how she pulls it off. And although the reader screams at Veerle not to do whatever she has in mind to try next, it makes for surprisingly comfortable reading. Yes, Death and vertigo are both scary, but there is an intrinsic calm to this Flemish life.

Comfy horror. I love it!