Category Archives: Crime

Double Whammy

When I remembered I had a few unread novels by Carl Hiaasen, I knew I had to pick one of them to come with me on my recent travels. I knew it’d be good, and unlike children’s books that can be too short, Double Whammy is just over 400 pages so I could be sure it would last a while.

I might have chosen Double Whammy anyway, for being the first of the Hiaasens on my shelf, but having looked through all the books, I couldn’t help noticing this one had Skink in it, and that rather clinched the deal. I like Skink. Well, within reason, and it is easier to like him in a book than it might be in real life. If he was real.

Carl Hiaasen, Double Whammy

Double Whammy turned out to be the first Skink novel, so that was an added bonus. (If you don’t know Skink, you can read about him here.) He used to be that totally unlikely creature; a Florida Governor who was honest and decent and couldn’t be bribed. So that’s obviously fiction.

Double Whammy is about the fishy stuff that goes on in the world of bass fishing in Florida. If you think it’s weird that men sit for hours in silence, fishing, it’s even weirder that people will watch these men fishing on television, but there you have it. And if you read Double Whammy you are reading about people watching people fishing…

Some fishermen are cheating, because there is much money at stake in bass fishing competitions. And then they start dying, and someone needs to find out about both the cheating and the murders. Private Eye R J Decker gets the job, and he soon teams up with Skink, despite being slightly scared of this wild man who lives off roadkill.

It’s funny. It’s quite disgusting at times. But it’s also reassuring to read about people who want to do the right thing, both for the environment and against cheating. And say what you want about Carl Hiaasen’s usually very attractive and often scantily clad women characters, but they are feisty and brave.

And all this without any mobile phones or decent clothes, since this was 1987. It’s amazing how far we haven’t come in some respects.

(It’s probably for the best if you are not a dog lover.)

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Tweet tweet

It’s just as well I get emails to prod me into looking at Twitter. Not that one can’t live without Twitter, but sometimes it’s fun. I don’t look often, though.

Discovered this at the weekend:

Tweet

Interesting in its own right, I was interested, and surprised, to see that Sara Paretsky follows Son. On Twitter; not in some stalky way. I was even more surprised to see I don’t follow Sara. I should, and now I do. But I suppose while there are obvious people to follow, you can’t really sit down with a complete Twitter once-and-for-all shopping list.

Some of the responses to Son’s question were more serious than mine. As the mother lite I only managed a Ziva David quote, although I think it’s quite as likely to be the correct answer as any of the others.

Or you could argue that the Scandi lit scene is rather limited… 🙃

One day is here

Don’t know whether I mentioned the trip we made last month? Doesn’t matter. Long train journey; out one day, home again the next. I used up – almost –  my whole quota of good reliable looking children’s books. I needed three, one out, one back, and one in reserve. The books I had with me were good, and I was pleased with my selection.

Then came two more trips, one just finished and one soon to happen. I had to select reading material for them together, to make sure they were evenly balanced, and so I didn’t accidentally pick all the best books for one, leaving nothing sensible for the other. Same principle of three books per journey.

Trouble was, there were not many children’s books left in the to be read pile. At least not enough to fit in with my needs. There are some hardbacks, but they are too big to hold, and weigh a little too much. Others are short, and would be over too quickly.

So I actually went into the twilight zone. I have a bookcase where I put the ones which have had to drop off the to be read pile due to space and time issues, but that I still believe will be really good to read. One day.

In the end I had two well matched piles, each containing two adult crime novels and one children’s book. That’s not how I like things to be, but frankly, the children’s books coming in are not long journey material. OK, travelling in Britain I could obviously buy a replacement at some point, but not perhaps when I needed it.

And, erm, I even managed to colour coordinate one pile. It was a sort of orangey tinge, until I swapped one book for Death in Berlin, which was rather faded and grey. Not to mention dry. Pages 24 and 25 sailed away on the plane, and I had to anchor them with my foot until I could rescue them.

From the other pile I decided against another ancient copy of a book with print that was far too small for [my] comfort. That’s another thing about old, sometimes used, books. They don’t age well. It can be content, or it can be physical, with dry spines and faded covers where you can barely see what the book is. The tiny print is presumably one reason so many books back then were around 200 pages.

And who knows, before I get on the next train, there could have been a mass arrival of perfect travel companions. Some books are really good, beginning when I get to the station and ending as the train and I are almost at our destination.

Death in Berlin

M M Kaye wrote six ‘Death in …’ novels, each featuring a lovely young heroine meeting crime in a thriller setting, somewhere exotic. And also meeting love in the shape of dashing and mysterious man.

So, therein lies the problem, now that it’s the 21st century. On rereading Mary Stewart’s romance set in Vienna last year, I found it had grown old gracefully. Her heroines were usually a little more mature [than barely out of their teens] and her men not too frightfully macho. They had good conversation, and who cares if they were all rather unfashionable [by today’s standards] and belonging to the more entitled social classes?

Not me. Not then, and not now.

But this one by M M Kaye, the Death in Berlin one, was every bit as bleak as I recalled. Possibly because a cold and wet March in 1953 in a divided Berlin, with lots of ruins still, can never be as charming as a sunny romance in Africa or India. And I do remember being disappointed in the hero. He’d almost have been all right – at least now when I’m older and wiser – and then she had to go and compare him to Alec Guinness!

M M Kaye, Death in Berlin

And the class thing; it’s really not working. They are so frightfully British and superior in war torn Germany. Fine, you can hate the life as the wife of a British army officer, the moving round the world, and all that. But it’s not attractive voicing such hatred of foreigners. Fine, you want your heroine to do well. But in this case her man has a job. He doesn’t have to tell his new love that she needn’t worry, because he does have a private income as well. And his attitude towards this beautiful young female would be highly inappropriate today.

The crime, though, is pretty satisfying, and I couldn’t remember who did it. Quite a good thrilling end.

And as I mentioned yesterday, I liked the Berlin connection, even if it wasn’t exactly Zanzibar. It was clear that M M Kaye had lived there herself, at that time. I was amused to see that even back then there was a noticeable difference between British workmen and German ones. Seems that foreigners are good for some things, then.

Go home!

It seemed appropriate that Joe Dunthorne – an author I know nothing about, I’m afraid – should write in ‘Made in…’ for Saturday’s Guardian Review about setting books in Santiago de Compostela, Tokyo and Oaxaca, but that it wasn’t until he went home to Swansea that he was in the right place.

I once wrote one chapter of a novel set in Los Angeles. I was maybe thirteen. Still haven’t been to LA, but if I had, I don’t believe it would help. Not even if I could write fiction.

When Adrian McKinty returned to Carrickfergus and installed his detective Duffy in the house where he, Adrian, was born, his novels got even better. Nothing wrong with New York, or Colorado, or places you arrive in via a wormhole in space, but you can’t beat your home town.

This week I’ve been reading Christoffer Carlsson’s new crime novel. I won’t review Järtecken here yet, as it’s not out in English. But watch this space.

After four crime novels set in Stockholm, where he lives now, he’s gone home. Home to Halmstad and the woods just outside this town on the west coast of Sweden. And the difference is obvious.

St Nikolai, Halmstad

And, this has only just dawned on me, but I am home too. This is something that I’ve not been able to say about fiction in the past. I’ve never been this much home before. (There was a Henning Mankell where the detective lived near where I have also lived. That felt good. But the story was mostly set elsewhere.)

But now, I’m back in a place that I don’t share with very many friends. I think back to it, yes. Not so much reminiscing with anyone, though.

Sure, Christoffer is thirty years my junior, and he might very well have moved a bus route, lost a head prosecutor and perhaps uses slang that is too recent for the 1990s. But it’s still home.

Much as I dislike woods, I may have to traipse round to his and have a look around. And as one of the suspects says, it’s not very easy to say what you did on a specific date ten years earlier [except he can]. Christoffer has used a date for that conversation, where I can say exactly what I was doing. And so, I dare say, can most of the population of Sweden. That’s a clever way of doing things.

And it’s home. I hope there will be more.

Emily Lime Librarian Detective – The Book Case

St Rita’s School isn’t your average girls’ boarding school. Not even if you factor in that it’s in a book. It’s falling apart and the food will poison you, if you’ve made it that far. Most of the girls seem to be delinquents, so Daphne, the new girl who’s been expelled from her old school, should fit right in.

Dave Shelton, Emily Lime Librarian Detective

As the new Assistant Assistant Librarian, she is roped in to help Assistant Librarian Emily Lime solve the mystery of the break-in in the rather bookless library. It might have something to do with the bank robbery in town. Or not.

In Dave Shelton’s humorous crime novel, set at St Rita’s soon after WWII, there is never a dull moment.

It’s not clear if this is the first of several school library mysteries, but I’d welcome more. After all, there has been no explanation of George, the lone male student at St Rita’s.

And the train journey there would be worth revisiting. Those were the days!

Iceland noir, with some colour

To get in the mood for Iceland I reread Ævar Þór Benediktsson’s short story about the librarian who finds her library empty of books one morning. And who then drops her Moomin mug.

No, I didn’t go to Iceland. Daughter did. (It was ‘on her way’ back from Baltimore…) And no, there has been no dropping of Moomin mugs at all. But I gather Reykjavik had all sorts of lovely things a person could buy. Including a shop window full of every colour Kånken backpack. (She gave me one for Christmas, so no need to shop for more. The backpack; not the shop window.)

Kånken

She did go to the library, though. They had an exhibition of photographs on, which to her surprise they charged for. Must be in case more Moomin mugs drop. She got her zeroes a bit wrong, too, having recently exposed herself to the Chilean peso, where it was quite reasonable to pay 15,000 for lunch. (I think, anyway.) 1000 krona in the library, however, was more than expected.

The day after Daughter’s arrival in Reykjavik, I noticed BBC Four had the new season of Icelandic noir Trapped on. I wasn’t entirely sure it was wise to watch the horrendous things that might happen in Iceland, but we did anyway. Seems the Resident IT Consultant had watched season one, while I hadn’t. I’d forgotten this.

It’s grim. I suppose if the weather was sunny, the noir would kind of fail, so maybe the grey drizzly surroundings are to be expected. I find the people – the fictional characters – unlikeable. I went to school with that girl. Didn’t like her then. Don’t like her now. The men are all the same as those who sit on Swedish park benches with a carrier bag next to them. And don’t drink the water in the stream, whatever you do!

The lit up town at night is pretty, though. And I almost understand some of what they say.