Category Archives: Crime

Bookwitch bites #143

‘If the bacon flashes…’ It was late. I was tired. And some sign appeared to mention flashing bacon at Edinburgh airport. The second time I looked it said beacon. Whatever. I need to give up careless reading.

Holiday postal yield

We arrived home in the middle of the night. Thank goodness for 24 hour M&S where you can get your milk and juice and bread. Not to mention blueberries. Possibly also bacon. The postman hadn’t been too busy carting vanfuls of books to Bookwitch Towers while we were gone. Almost half of what you can see here arrived five minutes before we left. We had a quick look, in case there was anything that warranted a change of holiday reading plans. Yeah, I know the armchair should be for sitting in, but the books had to go somewhere.

Our leftover holiday milk was left (obviously) for Son who took over after us. His route from Helsingborg on Friday had him meandering between visiting the New Librarian, picking up Dodo in Copenhagen and [finally!] meeting ‘his’ author Andreas Norman, a mere three years – or is it four? – after translating Into A Raging Blaze. Seems selfies are the way to go these days. (My arms are too short.)

Andreas Norman and Ian Giles

On the home front the Carnegie Medal was busy being given to Ruta Sepetys on Monday. I wish I had read her winning book, Salt to the Sea, but despite no one sending it my way, I am sure it was a worthy winner. I’ve loved Ruta’s other books, and the refugee topic is as important today as it was in 1945.

Ending on a sad note, Swedish author Ulf Stark died a week ago. Having spent most of my life fairly unaware of him, it’s been different since I met Ulf in Manchester five years ago. There is never a good age to die, but Ulf was definitely too young to go at 72. Goodbye, and thanks for the singing.

Ulf Stark

The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star

I just love Ganesha, the baby elephant detective in Vaseem Khan’s Inspector Chopra novels! And I rather admire Poppy, aka Mrs Chopra. (I may have mentioned this before. Like every time I review Vaseem’s books.) I reckon Poppy is finding herself, going from loving wife of a police inspector to someone who… Well, maybe better not give it away, but there were one or two scenes in this, the third outing for Chopra and his elephant, that made me laugh out loud. Poppy knows her mind, but she still can’t prevent her personality from getting the better of her.

This crime adventure is set within the Bollywood business, but it is also pure Bollywood in itself. It is colourful and crazy, while also showing the reader the serious side to life in India; how some people have very few rights and lead dreadful lives.

Vaseem Khan, The Strange Didappearance of a Bollywood Star

Chopra’s sidekick Rangwalla has his own mystery to solve and he definitely discovers a few things about himself that he’s not proud over. But people can change.

So on the one side we have a kidnapped Bollywood hero and on the other we meet the Mumbai eunuchs. Chopra’s decent behaviour gets him into trouble, and were it not for those around him who love him; Ganesha, his adoptive boy Irfan, Poppy, his staff and his friends, things wouldn’t have ended so well.

Forgive me if I keep going on about how much I love these books. There is a charm and a decency, coupled with humour and a good crime plot and a fantastic setting. It leaves me wanting to learn more, but first I want some of chef Lucknowwallah’s food. And I’d like an elephant best friend.

Winning SWEA over

‘Who’s giving Son this money then?’ the Retired Children’s Librarian asked. On being told it was SWEA she turned out to be better informed than I’d assumed (it’s a women’s organisation) and asked if they’d made a mistake. Haha. As if male candidates can’t receive a stipend from them. They can. And Son did.

Seeing as SWEA International were to hand over his prize at a ceremony in Helsingborg last night and we were actually not too far way, the Resident IT Consultant and I decided to invite ourselves to this mingling with the Mayor, followed by speeches and the handing over of flowers and pretend cheques.

Earlier in the day I’d walked past the Town Hall and noticed that the main entrance was closed, wondering if I’d not be able to make a grand entrance after all. But by the time the mingling commenced it was open and we all trotted up those imposing stairs.

The Mayor spoke about his town and then he took selfies with the assembled ladies (and three gentlemen). From there we moved into the room where the serious town hall stuff happens, and the four recipients of the prizes were introduced.

The dentist was out first; the beautiful Iranian Nikoo Bazsefidpay who has started up a Swedish Dentists sans frontieres, if you can imagine, which made her Swedish Woman of the Year (Årets Svenska Kvinna). Young children in Zimbabwe now go to school more happily in the mornings, because they get to brush their teeth there…

Next came Son for research into the Swedish language, literature and society, and even though I’d already read his speech, I found it interesting. But then I would. Son even included a photo of our bookshelves, from before he ‘borrowed’ our Martin Beck novels. We’ve not seen them since.

Third was Sami Elin Marakatt in full national dress, who taught us to say hello in North Sami (very different from South Sami, apparently). She will use her Intercultural Relations money to study cross border movements of reindeer in Tromsø. I find the way some people feel so definitely belonging in a certain geographical spot in this world so very reassuring, somehow.

Last but not least was 16-year-old ballet dancer Agnes Rosendahl, who dances all day long, and who will go to school in Copenhagen where she will dance even more. She showed us her toe-dancing shoes which, if I understood her correctly, have concrete in the tips.

IMG_0760

After much photographing, the SWEA ladies and their winning guests walked off to Dunkers Kulturhus for a well deserved dinner. The Resident IT Consultant and I wolfed down some sandwiches in the car before driving north with Son’s flowers.

Hopefully they will not be dead when he shows up next week. Although it won’t matter; he’ll be so sleep deprived by then that he won’t see them.

Meyer on Meyer

One of the loveliest things is when a superb publicist grabs hold of me and introduces me to an author I know nothing about at all, but someone I find I really do want to learn more about. I knew Deon Meyer is a big name in the world of crime, and I could sort of place him in South Africa. But I didn’t know that he writes in Afrikaans and not in English. He is visiting Europe right now, on what is mainly a Dutch book tour, with a couple of days in London, to publicise his brand new novel Fever (which between you and me looks like a fabulous read).

Deon and I were meant to email chat one evening this week, but holiday wifi being what it turned out to be, it was as well that we had a plan B. Nothing will stop me from asking famous authors silly questions, so here goes:

Deon Meyer, Fever

Tell me who Deon Meyer really is! How famous are you? Do people stop you in the street? Any relation to Stephenie Meyer? (I’m almost not serious about the last question.)

In South Africa people do – and I have been stopped in France too. In the UK I was stopped once, but that was by people who wanted directions. I also admit to being stopped for speeding.  And my wife’s beauty stops me in my tracks every time!

I was fascinated to learn that you write in Afrikaans; somehow one just expects people from ‘English speaking’ countries to turn to English for most things intended to travel. Did you ever consider not using Afrikaans, or is that as stupid a question as people asking me whether I really speak Swedish? (Which, of course, I don’t actually expect you to know the answer to.)

May I first say that South Africa is not an English speaking country … it is actually a Zulu speaking country. There are as many other languages spoken  there as there are English speakers. Then I would say that writing is tough anyway – and to do it in a second language, constantly searching for the correct word, would be tricky if not downright difficult. And thirdly, even though the Afrikaans book market is relatively small, it is immensely strong, and to lose out on that market would be financially imprudent of me ..!

Not sure whether I just imagined this, but do you translate your books yourself? If so, does that feel a bit weird?

No – I have a wonderful translator who does a terrific job of moving me from Afrikaans into English – for the English speaking market.  For most other languages I have to trust my foreign editors and believe them when they say the job has been done well. Of them all, I think Chinese is the biggest mystery.

I’m assuming the reason you have a Dutch book tour now, is that you are particularly popular in the Netherlands (and Belgium?)? Are the two languages close enough that there are no language barriers with your Dutch fans?

Actually, Afrikaans isn’t that similar to Dutch at all, so that is a good question, and there really is no simple answer. Slow, clear and unaccented speech makes it a bit easier – but that ‘ardly ever ‘appens. As they say …

And does the Afrikaans/Dutch aspect sort of make you a little bit Nordic? By which I mean half Anglo, but also half something completely different; something that means you stand out from the UK/US crowd [of crime writers]?

I don’t know the answer to this one!

If you weren’t Deon Meyer, who would you like to be?

If I wasn’t me … hmmm.  Let me think.  I’d say Ridley Scott because I love his visual storytelling, and it would be wonderful to have the opportunity to make a big budget, entertaining movie.

Do you happen to know what young South African readers like to read? (The one person I know, whom I asked, could only suggest Harry Potter…) I ask because children’s and YA books are closest to my heart.

The young in South Africa do read the same sort of books as British (and Swedish) children. Most of what is available here is available there – for young adults as well. They also love to read Facebook posts, of course.

What do you yourself read for pleasure?

I have been meaning for some time to read Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants… which I now am.  He is such a great storyteller, I don’t mind taking on a big book – and it is part of a trilogy, so I know there is lots to come.  I am an omnivorous reader – I even read the labels on the condiment bottles on tables … I find it fascinating how some makers can disguise what goes into their product. But crime and suspense fiction are still my favourites.

Finally – if you’ve survived my questions this far – please tell me you have a favourite Swede? (A simple ‘yes’ is not enough of an answer.)

My favourite Swede choice would be Svante Weyler – my Swedish publisher.  He is a great guy, a really smart bloke and a wonderful publisher – and if I can’t be Ridley Scott, I want to be Svante Weyler.

Deon Meyer © Guido Schwarz

I have met Svante, and I’m inclined to agree with Deon, with the exception of perhaps not wanting to turn into him. Admiration is enough. Now I want to meet Deon, either as himself, as Ridley Scott or as Svante Weyler. And how right this speedy and romantic man is regarding languages. Zulu… I should have known!

With many thanks to the ever efficient Kerry Hood for organising this opportunity to put Deon on the spot, and with rather less thanks to the local mobile network masts. But we beat you, so there!

And I’m off to read a nearby ketchup bottle.

October is the Coldest Month

This Nordic Noir crime novel could almost be for your ordinary adult crime fan, were it not so short. But it is actually a YA noir, written by Swede Christoffer Carlsson. This is his first YA book, but he’s an award winning author of several adult crime novels. I was attracted to his lovely surname, and the fact that he hails from a place I know well.

I don’t think the story is set there, though, but it’s still easy enough to visualise those dark and intimidating woods. I don’t like woods.

Christoffer Carlsson, October is the Coldest Month

To my mind this is quite a daring story for translation into English. I’m sure the Swedish teenager reading it won’t turn a hair over the sex, but I can see that UK gatekeepers might have something to say about it. Hopefully October is the Coldest Month will make it into the hands of new readers without interference.

Set in Småland, and I imagine far from the nearest IKEA, we meet 16-year-old Vega who lives in a small community in the woods with her mother and older brother. And now her brother has disappeared and the police are looking for him.

Vega knows more than she will admit, and she sets out to find Jakob, and also to discover what’s behind his reason for hiding, and how it will affect her, and for that matter, the lives of everyone else out there.

Translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles, it feels throroughly Swedish and depressingly noir.

The freebie

There is nothing quite like a free bag. Or book. Both, even.

The Resident IT Consultant should be jaded by now, but he still brought home this cloth bag with a copy of The Scotsman and the crime novel A White Arrest by Ken Bruen. And, erm, various edibles, including a sachet of porridge oats…

Now me, I have cloth bags coming out of my ears, closely followed by novels. Not so much porridge. I’m more of a yoghurt girl.

So he was terribly pleased with his loot. The Resident IT Consultant is now back to eating porridge for breakfast like a proper Scotsman. He decided to take them up on the newspaper deal as well, so somewhat to my horror we are reading what seems to me to be a rather conservative newspaper. But it’s got Scottish news, he says. Unlike the Guardian.

We are probably not going to read the Bruen novel. A short story in my past taught me Ken is a little noirer than I feel comfortable with. But at least I’d heard of him, unlike the porridge eater.

I wonder how the deals for this kind of freebie works? This book is pretty old, so maybe they shared costs, both in the hope of selling more. More Scotsman, more Irish Noir. And more porridge. Can’t remember if there was shortbread as well.

Good value for £1. And I think that was the bag Daughter passed on to a friend, who was happier about the bag than anyone ought to be. But why not?

(It worked on me, all those years ago, with a free Ann Granger novel. Changed my life and all that.)

Fallout

In her new novel Fallout Sara Paretsky goes home to Kansas. She lets V I do her detecting in her own old home town of Lawrence, even if she does rearrange the place a little to make it fit the plot. Sara’s father features for a second or so, and apparently she based the story on something from his work past.

Sara Paretsky, Fallout

Fallout proves the theory that writers generally do better when they write about a place they know well, so it was a good move to send V I to Kansas. I’m not sure, but I wonder if this was the most Chicago-free of all the Warshawski novels.

Anyway, they do things differently down there, and before long the whole of Lawrence knows exactly what V I has come for (to find two people who have vanished from Chicago), and they seem to keep track of her wherever she goes. They literally are.

And Fallout is precisely what the story is about, in more ways than one. As well as mentioning NCIS several times, Sara goes a bit DiNozzo with her clues, and V I makes a Faraday cage! V I’s missing pair are really only the catalyst of what’s going on in Lawrence, and the crime takes us in a rather worrying direction. It’s feels more generally political than has been the case in the past, and that’s despite the book having been written before the Presidential election.

The plot is kinder than they have been, or do I mean less violent? Not that V I is muscle before brains, but the most menacing thing is the way everyone ‘knows’ everything. It can get quite claustrophobic when you have no privacy in your detecting. Or so I imagine. I obviously wouldn’t know.

But there are also some very promising local characters, understandably different from the inhabitants of Chicago. I loved this, as long as I don’t have to go down into Doris McKinnon’s cellar.