Category Archives: Thriller

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.

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Airs Above the Ground

Like The Star of Kazan, Mary Stewart’s Airs Above the Ground features a stolen Lipizzaner and some fake jewels, plus romance and adventure galore, all set in Austria.

Well over forty years since I last read it, I discovered – again – that returning to a book often improves it. I remembered some things very clearly, and was delighted to find others that I really enjoyed.

Mary Stewart, Airs Above the Ground

Almost newly-wed Vanessa flies out to Vienna, ostensibly chaperoning 17-year-old Tim, who is crazy about horses, and the Spanish riding school especially. Both of them are travelling under false pretences.

A fire in a circus takes them all over Austria, and it turns out Vanessa’s husband leads a more exciting life than she’d hitherto been aware of. (Well, he is a Mary Stewart hero.)

Now that I’m much older than Vanessa (I wasn’t the first time), I can see that she is unreasonably mature at 24. But I like her, and I adore young Tim, who like Mary’s other ‘young men’ is truly lovely.

And as for the horse… well, not a dry eye left.

I wonder if Eva Ibbotson had read Airs Above the Ground? Or if great minds simply think alike? The final chapters in both books are so similar, in the most satisfying of ways.

Besides, it’s amazing how far £20 went in the early 1960s…

Did I know that?

No, generally not. Or at least, I didn’t remember it. Not even to the extent that when it got mentioned again (really?) there was some flutter of recognition.

Anyway.

I asked Son if he saw any Nobel laureates at the Gothenburg Book Fair. He didn’t. I only asked because the Resident IT Consultant and I spent a recent afternoon getting rid of books. We got to one by Orhan Pamuk, and I checked it for a signature. Nope. ‘He signed a book?’ ‘Yes, we kept coming across him everywhere for a couple of years,’ I said. And then I spied another Pamuk book, which was allowed to stay, but I wanted to know if the imagined signature was in that one. It was.

I asked Son if he saw any archbishops. He didn’t. But he did add that he was annoyed at having had to miss an event with K G Hammar, seeing as he’d translated something that the emeritus archbishop had written about Dag Hammarskjöld. ‘I didn’t know that.’ ‘Yes, you did,’ he said. (I later asked the Resident IT Consultant what he knew. He knew nothing.)

Son did see, and have a drink with, Andreas Norman, whose thrillers he has translated. Seems the first one, Into a Raging Blaze, is – potentially – very close to becoming a television series. Move over The Killing, The Bridge!

I have also had reports back from School Friend, who was enthusiastic about her two events – with Stina Wollter, and Anna and Ola Rosling – and Pippi, who apparently met an author whose mother she used to play with when they were children. So, as I said, it’s a small country.

The Thin Blue Line

Or Den tunna blå linjen, as it is in the original. This is Christoffer Carlsson’s fourth and final book featuring Leo Junker, and like many reviewers have pointed out, it has a rather good last line. But I’ll let you get to that on your own.

Christoffer Carlsson, Den tunna blå linjen

It worked quite well, reading this now, with me having skipped books two and three. I got to know Leo in the first book, and now I was able to catch up with where he’d got to, guessing a few things, about colleagues and lovers. There was enough to tell me what had happened to his school friend Grim, on the other side of the law.

Grim reminds Leo about the young Chilean girl they met years ago, and who was murdered five years before this story takes place, and asks, no, demands, that Leo looks into her unsolved death again. And this really opens a hornet’s nest.

This time Leo isn’t half drugged all the time, so he functions a little better. He’s also been reinstated as a policeman (although, for how long?) so can do what detectives need to do when they detect. Though at times it appears as if Swedish law makes it hard for the police but easy for the criminals. So it’s fair…

Stockholm is as unappealing as it was; the suburbs, but also the supposedly nicer places in the city centre. In the police you have crooked people and stupid people, as well as the hard-working middle ground people, trying to keep the place safe.

I couldn’t help but feel bad about the fate of the Chilean refugees/immigrants, who must have arrived with great hopes, only to end up dead, or very nearly.

Christoffer’s knowledge of criminology is what makes the plot so believable. It’s different to many other crime series where you suspect that the author just made stuff up. This really does feel like the inner workings of the police force, where the law in its eagerness to protect everyone, makes it impossible to corner criminals in a way that they can be tried in court and jailed.

There is also remarkably little violence. It’s the lack of hope that gets to you.

The Power-House

‘It’s very short, has absolutely no plot, and would make a good film.’ That’s roughly how the Resident IT Consultant summarised his first holiday read. And I had wondered, because at 108 pages John Buchan’s The Power-House, from 1913, seemed like a book that would be over before he’d even begun.

John Buchan, The Power-House

On that basis, I decided to have a go too, and was given the blessing that I’d not find it hard to read…

I have a certain fondness for the lives of these [purely fictional?] heroes who go about their lives in the early 20th century with not a worry. They have money and usually a good job – this one is both a lawyer and an MP – and they know everyone and they ‘dine out’ all the time, living in ‘rooms’ with a man to look after them.

This one, Sir Edward Leithen, fancies a holiday in the West Country, so buys a motorcar, employs a driver and off he goes! These men can go travelling at the drop of a hat and they buy whatever they need for their adventures. I have long wondered if there ever were real men like that.

So there is a mystery, which we never really understand, but Leithen takes it upon himself to solve it, and through lots of odd coincidences he ends up deeper and deeper (in shit, as we say these days), until his own safety is at serious risk. It involves Russia, and a wealthy and powerful man in London. Leithen is a bit naïve at times, but good will conquer all.

As short thrillers go, this is pretty thrilling. And yes, apart from there being virtually no women in the story at all, it’d make a really good film. The nice thing about it having been written in 1913 is that John Buchan can’t have had either Hollywood or Hitchcock in mind.

Besides, don’t you just love the kind of set-up where marooned ‘gentlemen’ could simply call in at a respectable house and be taken in and fed and watered and given a bed for the night?

Crime-ridden Easter

I went a little Norwegian over Easter, and let my criminal tendencies take over. I’d already managed to get a fair bit of reading done, with enough to cover reviews on here, and that kind of thing. So I decided I was allowed to immerse myself in some adult crime.

Traditions are interesting things, whatever they are. And it’s odd how lots of people end up doing the same thing according to some pattern. Like the Norwegians who read crime over the Easter holidays.

I suppose it’s too cold to be thinking of admiring the daffodils or tidy up the garden as the sun shines (hah) now that it’s Easter. Stay in and read. Although I would expect them to go for walks or ski, just a little bit.

The Resident IT Consultant and I both started yearning for the ‘new Ngaio Marsh’ at the same time, and Daughter sent off for a copy immediately, just to keep the old people quiet. I was able to settle down with Andreas Norman’s second thriller, which I read in the original Swedish, as the translation is under way, but not quite done yet. The poor Resident IT Consultant has to wait for De Otrogna to become Silent War, some time later this year.

And so do you.

The Territory – Truth

And here we are at last, the end is nigh, but what sort of end? Noa and her few surviving friends are about to do the impossible; break out of the Wetlands and back into the real place, where people actually have a chance of survival, if they do not go against the ruling politicians.

Sarah Govett, The Territory - Truth

But they are not just trying to get back to where they came from; they are doing it in the hopes that what they are planning might put an end to the uploads of propaganda into the minds of their peers. And that way perhaps their world stands a chance of returning to some kind of normal.

Sarah Govett’s third instalment of her Territory trilogy does not disappoint. It’s as gripping as the other two books, and while you feel you ‘know’ things will go well – maybe – you find it hard to believe, and you don’t see how it can work. Even if they do return, and even if they do that thing they have planned, it doesn’t deal with what started the awful situation in the first place.

Some of the means could even be said to have been well intentioned, but then what happens to politicians happened, and you can imagine the rest. They always go crazy, to a greater or lesser extent.

There are deaths here too. Ones you’d rather not had happened. And our group of young heroes do stuff they’d rather not have done.

And still the conundrum remains; how to solve all of it.

Let’s just say that there was one aspect to the sorry state of things that I completely overlooked.

The good news for anyone who didn’t read the earlier books is that now you can read all three in one fell swoop, with no long waits. I was about to offer no nail-biting, but realised that that would be going too far.