Category Archives: Crime

The Roman Quests – Return to Rome

Who’d have thought, that time about 15 years ago, when I discovered the [first] three Roman Mysteries in The Book People’s catalogue (yes, sorry about that) and felt they’d be perfect for my young reader of crime, who also happened to love school subjects such as the Romans, the Egyptians, and so on, that there would be another 27 books from Caroline Lawrence (so far), or that my young crime-reader would meet her (after all, she was an American…), or anything else?

I certainly didn’t think.

But here we are, with the – surely – last of her Roman adventures, Return to Rome. I was glad to see my second generation Roman adventurers back home, and in the company of some of the older characters. I like things tied up, and I would say Caroline has tied pretty well, and I think she’d find it hard to untie and continue. It is very satisfying when you know what happens to all your beloved characters.

Caroline Lawrence, Return to Rome

And yes, this is a spoiler, but you didn’t think Caroline would kill everyone off, did you? What we get is more history, learning more about Roman times, both in Britain and on the continent, while seeing how our young friends act in the face of adversity, and how they discover who they are and what they want in life.

While Roman Britain was interesting – and I especially enjoyed seeing Caudex in his natural habitat – I’m sure we all agree that we like Rome, and Ostia. And luckily, not all emperors are bad. Even Domitian had some good points.

So, our ‘old’ Roman friends did what adults do, and our younger Roman heroes are growing up, falling in love. Personally I’m relieved that Miriam’s twins were found. But they will always be a reminder that Caroline does kill when she needs to.

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The quick Vaseem

The Reading Agency’s Quick Reads are extremely good value, and when they invite some of the best authors to write for them, it’s a win-win. Even if you happily read normal length novels, these short story length little books are a bargain at £1. And if you find reading hard, look no further, as here is a grown-up story, with large print and not too many pages. It’s just right.

When I discovered that one of the 2018 books was an Inspector Chopra story, by Vaseem Khan, I just had to read it. I can’t get enough of Ganesha, the baby elephant who helps his master solve crimes, and Inspector Chopra & the Million Dollar Motor Car is merely a shorter book, offering as much enjoyment as the full length ones.

It’s a locked room kind of mystery, with a very expensive car vanishing from a garage, just as it was about to be delivered to its rich new owner.

And for anyone who’s not yet met Chopra and Ganesha, there is enough of an introduction to understand who is who in this Mumbai based crime series.

If there is a problem with the Quick Reads, it is that we could use many more of them. Just imagine how much good could, and would, come of having lots and lots of high quality, easy reads for adults. Six titles is fine, but if we could make that every month, at least?

2018 Quick Reads

29 years on, nearly there

Saturday morning desk

Woke too early yesterday, but saw the light – literally – from the dining room, so breakfasted while watching Son writing his thesis. Not all of it, obviously, but some of the bit of it that hadn’t got written the day before. Deadline is looming.

Over my yoghurt I was asked what I did on 23rd April 2000. I couldn’t remember, but said I’d not been invited to Shakespeare’s party, and suggested I might have been looking forward to Harry Potter no. 4. You need perspective.

Was also asked if I had a copy of Barry Forshaw’s Nordic Noir, but as I was trying to work out where I had hidden it, Son realised he’d already borrowed it and had left it at the office, which was not at all useful…

We talked about Marcel Berlins, and his fondness for the Famous Five, and about someone else I’d not even heard of. I’m flexible that way; don’t need to know what I am talking about.

I could recall when I first heard of Henning Mankell, and Son knew when the first translation into English appeared (surprisingly recently). I also knew roughly how ancient Maj Sjöwall must be and that Per Wahlöö had been older.

At some point Son was showing off his chapter pages, and Daughter admired the look until she found out it was in Word. Seems scientists don’t believe in Word.

Despite not wanting to upset Son’s proofreader with this tardiness, we all eventually took to the very snowy roads and went for brunch. There are times when I feel studded tyres would be quite welcome. This was one such time.

And despite it being intended as a [rare] weekend off, there was more thesis-ing between brunch and birthday cake and a Burns supper. Laziness must skip a generation every now and then.

Kepler, take 2

Translations can be tricky. I’m sure that in some cases it doesn’t matter what they are like. In the case of instructions for household appliances it does help if they don’t cause people to be injured, or worse. On the other hand, it has been claimed once or twice that a good translation of mediocre literature can win awards for authors, including the Nobel.

But does a bad translation prevent sales? After all, you tend to buy before you discover this, if you are able to tell. Sequels might suffer, though.

I read about the plans to reissue the crime novels by Lars Kepler, with new translations into English, and was reminded of a comment on here when I reviewed The Hypnotist, which was their first. Adèle Geras felt quite strongly that the translation was what put her off finishing the book. On the other hand, Alexander and Alexandra Ahndoril (aka Lars Kepler) reckoned the translation was good. And I found no immediate fault with it, but could have been handicapped by having already read the book in Swedish. It was just not a favourite of mine.

Now, however, Niclas Salomonsson of the Salomonsson Agency believes he knows why the books haven’t done as well in the US as he feels they deserve. When he ‘discovered’ that the translations were bad, he first spent a lot of money on buying the agency which owned the rights and then he bought back the US rights and hired a new translator to retranslate the first three books (of six). And he has high hopes of success, second time around.

It will be interesting to see if he’s right.

Another ‘fascinating’ aspect is how this all goes down in the translating community. A job is a job, so I can understand if the new translator feels OK about this improvement task. But it must surely also feel a little icky, re-doing what your colleague seemingly has ‘failed’ at? And if you’re the ‘failure’? Except, according to my in-house translator, we don’t know who did the first translation, as it was a pseudonym, so I imagine no one will be publicly embarrassed.

In the end, I wonder if it will make a difference. I believe more in a good publicity effort, even if it is second time lucky. After all, we mostly don’t read crime novels and thrillers for any literary chills that might run down our spines. We want quick thrills.

But the blurb by Lee Child probably won’t hurt.

Minor experts, eh?

As a most cynical witch I still feel awestruck when I realise quite how much someone else believes. Which is sort of nice.

A few books ago I wrote here about David Lagercrantz, the man who is writing Stieg Larsson’s novels now that he is dead. That time it was based on an interview by one of David’s best friends, Johan Norberg, who usually writes [my favourite] columns in Vi magazine. They are often about music, because that’s Johan’s day job.

This time Johan had a hand in helping David with some music advice for book five, where he needed a piece of jazz, and got both the suggested Django Reinhardt track and all the necessary musical terms from Johan. The latter were important as part of the plot hinges around stuff like minor 6. (No, I don’t know what that is, but I get that it matters.)

When it was time for the English translation Johan offered to proof-read, but David ‘knew’ that he and his book were in safe hands with this major publisher, who would use experts for those parts.

And then Johan met the translator at the launch party and chatted about this, learning that the translator had asked his neighbour for help. ‘A musician?’ asked Johan. No, it seemed she had done music studies at university. Johan smelled a rat, and quite rightly. The minor 6 had become seven, and chords and stuff had not been translated, and other things invented in their place…

I gather that in the next edition, all is well, translated and proofed by Johan.

Places in the Darkness

This is pure Heinlein Noir. Do those two words not fill you with happy (-ish) expectations?

When I heard that Chris Brookmyre’s latest novel was crime in a science fiction setting, I thought it sounded like a wonderful marriage of two great genres. It is. I was also indiscreet enough to say so out loud, and before I knew it Daughter had magicked us a copy to arrive practically overnight.

I never find myself awake at night, sifting through all I’ve read in a crime novel, looking for clues, remembering almost everything, trying to work out who did it, and how, and maybe why. With Places in the Darkness I simply had to. I did suspect who was behind things, and maybe one other fact, the spoiler-ish aspect of which, means I can’t elaborate. But the rest, no. Quite good, really, because I wanted to be surprised.

Chris Brookmyre, Places in the Darkness

Towards the end of this American style noir, set in a man-made world up in space, some time in the future, I couldn’t see how there was going to be time to end it properly, let alone in a good way. But I was ready for a bad ending if that’s what it took.

There is no serious crime on Ciudad de Cielo. At least no murders. But when Dr Alice Blake arrives on CdC, one has just happened, and Alice just happens to be the next head of ‘police’ up there. And when she starts looking into things, Alice chooses to work with Sergeant Nikki Freeman of the Seguridad (I love all the Spanish words up in this cielo).

Nikki refers to the place as Seedee, and it certainly is. And no one knows the seedier side of her place in life better than she does. Nikki runs protection rackets, drinks too much, has lots of lovers, but no friends. You get the picture.

After the first gruesome murder, there are plenty more. The question is whether Alice and Nikki can stay alive to solve them. There’s also the question of AI. How can you be sure you’re not talking to a robot?

Chris has clearly spent a lot of effort on building his City in the Sky, and it is so interesting, and anyone who loves Heinlein will feel right at home. It’s not the same, but it feels right. If you love noir, there is more to enjoy. And as a girl I approve of there being so many important women characters; strong women, whether a Goody Two Shoes or a bent cop.

I could return to CdC.

A stone for Christmas Eve

The Resident IT Consultant rather surprised me. Back in the summer we wanted to have a few films to watch, and I asked him if there was anything he fancied getting. The response was immediate, and surprising. He wanted The Stone of Destiny.

For reasons I can’t easily explain here, he sees many more film trailers than I do. I assumed he’d come across it in the cinema during the last year or so. And then it turned out the film was almost ten years old. I was amazed he even remembered.

But of course he would, as it’s about Scottish history. We could see a trailer on YouTube, but then we hit a stone wall. In the end he sourced a Polish version online, with subtitles and everything. (If you’re really clever you can turn the subtitles off, but it was harder than it usually is.)

Ian Hamilton, Stone of Destiny

This is the true story of a group of young people from Scotland who go to London in 1950 to steal the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey. They do it on Christmas Eve (because that’s such a good time to commit a crime…). And they succeed.

Naturally.

It’s not an outstanding film or anything, but it’s fun and informative for rookie Scots. It’s got Robert Carlyle in it, and a group of relatively unknown actors (to me, anyway). I enjoyed it, and I could really feel the cold in that unheated B&B somewhere in London. The capital at Christmas looks very fine, if chilly, and then they drive north with the stone and it looks like summer near the Scottish border. That drive either took a long time, or the weather’s so much better up here. Or continuity forgot to lose the leaves on the trees.)

Stone of Destiny - film

It was not a forever triumph over the English, but it was good enough.

The film is worth seeing, especially without the subtitles. And the Resident IT Consultant got so fired up he [re]read Ian Hamilton’s book about his exploits as a young man, which we had on our Scottish shelves.

Naturally.