Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Man in the Brown Suit: Agatha Christie

The  Man in the Brown Suit is one of Agatha Christie's early thrillers. It is also a stand alone book, not starring one of her regular protagonists, Poirot or Miss Marple or Tommy and Tuppence. First published in serialized form in 1923 and 1924 under the title Anne the Adventurous, it was then published as a hardback in 1924.

So far, most of the Agatha Christie novels I have read are told in first person narrative. This one is a bit different because it has two narrators. Most of the story is told by Anne Beddingfield, a young adventuress. The journals of Sir Eustace Pedler cover some areas of the tale which Anne cannot tell. The use of two narrators allows for different tones and varied looks at secondary characters.

Anne is the daughter of an archaeologist who has died and left her with very little money. She has always dreamed of being an adventuress. The opportunity arises when she witnesses the accidental death of a man who falls under a train. She is convinced that there is a story behind his death and follows up on a clue on a piece of paper that she has stumbled upon. She uses all her funds to buy a ticket on a ship bound for South Africa, and the excitement begins. After she gets over being very, very seasick.

Some readers and reviewers rate Christie's books in the adventure or spy thriller vein lower than her puzzle mysteries, but I have found them very entertaining. This one is told in a light-hearted manner and not to be taken seriously, but I enjoyed that element of the story too.

Margaret's review at BooksPlease goes into more detail about the background of the novel.

Carl V. at Stainless Steel Droppings reviews an audio version of this book.

I  read this book for the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge, hosted by  Mysteries In Paradise. If you are interested in joining in, here are instructions on how to do that. Links to other reviews for this month will be found here.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Q is for A Question of Identity

Today, for the Crime Fiction Alphabet, I feature A Question of Identity (2012), a book by Susan Hill. The author, born in 1942, published her first novel at the age of eighteen. She is the author of The Woman in Black, a ghost story, but, according to this interview at The Guardian, she does not like to be pigeon-holed. In 2004, she published the first novel in the Simon Serrailler Crime Series.

This book begins with a trial. A man has been accused of killing several elderly women in their homes. Although everyone, even the jury, is convinced that he is the killer, he is freed because of the questionable evidence of the only eye witness. Because public opinion is so heavily against him, and he will be in danger when released, he is given a new identity. And then, ten years later, the same type of crimes begin happening in a different area, the British town of Lafferton, and the crimes are assigned to Chief Superintendent Simon Serrailler and his team.

This is a police procedural where the extended family of the policeman plays a large part in the story. It is a part of a seven book series by Susan Hill. Even though the series is named for Simon Serrailler, in many of the books, Serrailler is not the most prominent character.  And, though the crimes and crime solving feature in this book from the beginning, at times they take a back seat to the family issues.

This is a difficult review to write because I was disappointed in this book and I don't want to turn readers away from this series. Looking back, I truly loved the first few books in the series and was just as happy for Simon to be in the background. His love life is always complicated, he is an artist, and he is very self-centered. Not unpleasant, just not your most lovable protagonist. I rated the first five books very highly, so what has changed now?

This book is not comfortable reading. It is not filled with graphic violence, but it does concern a serial killer. Although the descriptions were handled well, they were the types of crimes that bother me from a personal standpoint, so left me feeling tense, anxious. I mainly point this out to show that these are not cozies by any stretch of the imagination, even if there is a lot of family interaction going on. The family issues aren't that pleasant either.

On the positive side, Susan Hill writes beautifully. The book has been a pleasure to read and engrossing. The characters are well developed. I just was not into the story and spent too much time thinking about what I did not like.

I am growing weary of the complicated lives of the Serrailler family and the melodramatic stories with resolutions left dangling at the end of each book. If I am going to read about family issues, I want some form of resolution by the end of the book. I like Susan Hill's ability to build characters, but I would like to see more focus on the secondary characters related to the crimes and less on family members.

I guessed the culprit early on. I don't mind when that happens, but in this case there were no other suspects. Either Hill was going to throw a culprit in at the last minute (not fair at all) or this one was the only option. So the mystery is lacking in mysterious elements, and the "how they find him" wasn't very convincing either.

The name of the book, A Question of Identity, points to one theme in this book. What is our identity, and can we ever change who we are? That may be the most interesting part of the book, when we get the serial killer's perspective on what has happened to him and who he is now. And other characters are faced with issues of identity and change in their lives.

In regard to this series, I recommend that you try earlier books. Because of the development of the family issues over time, the reader can benefit from reading them in order, but I do think each book gives enough clues so that this is not necessary. I will read the next book in this series, although I doubt if I will rush out to pay for the US hardcover edition (as I did for this one).

Lest I have driven some readers away from this series unfairly, here are comments from Allan Massie at The Scotsman, who has a very high opinion of her novels. The first one is from his review of the sixth in the series, The Betrayal of Trust:
While she never forgets that people read novels for pleasure, and is adept at providing that pleasure, she uses fiction to examine difficult ethical questions about the choices people make and the constraints within which such choices are made. That is why reading these novels, which combine good plots with well-drawn characters and intelligent probing of the way we live now, is so enriching.
And, from his review of A Question of Identity, at Susan Hill's website:
This is Susan Hill's most thrillingly imagined crime novel to date. ... The crime part of the novel is very good. But as in all these books, we are also engaged in the continuing story of the Serrailler family. All this gives the novel a much richer texture than is usual in crime fiction.
I am also including other reviews. Some reviewers have similar complaints to mine... but other reviewers loved this book.
The Crime Fiction Alphabet is sponsored by Mysteries in Paradise.  Please visit this post to check out other entries for this letter.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Planetary (comic book series)

In the last couple of weeks, I read four trade paperbacks that collected a series of 27 comics. The comic book series is Planetary.

Some people refer to these collected works as graphic novels, others disagree with that definition. But for the purposes of this review, I consider them graphic novels. Each of the collected books covers a set of stories that work together. They are titled:
Planetary Book 1: All Over the World and Other Stories

Planetary Book 2: The Fourth Man

Planetary Book 3: Leaving the Twentieth Century

Planetary Book 4: Spacetime Archeology
I have always enjoyed comic books, but reading comic books has not been a constant in my life. I read comic books as a child... I was always a reader. Little Lulu, Richie Rich, Mighty Mouse, and Katy Keene. When my son was younger we read all kinds of comics: Disney comics like Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge; the Archie Comics with Betty, Veronica, Reggie, Moose and Midge. I loved the Archie universe. Also Superman, Spiderman, and Batman. In later years we graduated to alternative comics like The Tick, Usagi Yojimbo, Flaming Carrot, and Xenozoic Tales.

My son has continued to read various comics, especially Manga. He recently purchased the 4 volume set of graphic novels that collect all of the Planetary comics. There are only 27 comics in the series and he previously had read less than half of those. After reading them all, he encouraged me to give them a try.

You would think 27 comics would be a snap to get through but the overarching story is complex and I am out of the habit of reading comics. So I ended up doing a bit of rereading of the first couple of volumes.

The protagonists we follow in this series of comics describe themselves as “Archaeologists of the Impossible." They are trying to discover the world's secret history. Funded by a mysterious Fourth Man, they include three superhuman beings: Jakita (super strong and nearly invulnerable); The Drummer (the techie of the group); and Elijah Snow, who is picked up to join the team, somewhat unwillingly, in the first story. Elijah can create intense cold and extract heat.

As the stories move along, we realize the overall story is about a universe that pulls together new (and very different) versions of comic book heroes from many universes (DC, Marvel, etc.), pulp fiction heroes, and even heroes from detective fiction (Sherlock Holmes). This is not a spoof, but a retelling and a different vision. I am sure those more familiar with the comics universe would get even more of a kick out of this. To be honest, I did not recognize the origin of a lot of these alternate heroes or villains, but the story was still meaningful to me. In my opinion, it can be enjoyed on various levels.

Each comic is a stand-alone story, but as the books progress, the reader can see that each mission leads the heroes toward a goal which they are initially not aware of. I liked the slow development of the story, the extracting of the origins of the heroes and what they know and what they have “forgotten.”

Quote from a review at
I find that the true mark of a long-lasting, high-quality book is its ability to strike a chord long after the dust has settled upon its pages, and the creative team has scattered, moving on to new and different projects. Planetary was a sporadically running series that ran from 1999 to 2009, which consisted of 27-issues residing well within the trenches of the Wildstorm Universe.
Over the years, Planetary has developed enough of a following to justify the release of several editions collecting the issues over the years. There is the four book set I read, another two volume set published later, and a final set that collects them all in one volume. The story by Warren Ellis is excellent, as is the artwork. The penciler was John Cassaday; the comics were colored by Laura Depuy (also credited as Laura Martin); with David Baron and Wildstorm FX.

Another graphic novel that my son has recommended is Watchmen. I will be reading that sometime in the next year.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

P is for Plots and Errors by Jill McGown

Today, for the Crime Fiction Alphabet, I feature Plots and Errors (1999), a book by Jill McGown.  This book is the tenth in a series of thirteen books set primarily in a fictional town in the UK called Stansfield.

Jill McGown (1947 - 2007) is one of my favorite authors. She was born in Campbeltown, Argyll, Scotland, but by the age of 10 had moved to a town in Britain, Corby, where she lived the rest of her life. She is best known for the British police procedurals starring Chief Inspector Lloyd and Sergeant Judy Hill, but she also wrote five stand-alone mysteries.

I discovered the Lloyd and Hill mysteries in 2007, after McGown had died. I read the first book in the series, The Perfect Match, and was very impressed. It was different, and I always like mysteries that take a different approach. Yet, I was not sure whether to continue the series, because it was not the kind of book that could be repeated. I tried the second book in the series and liked it too. Within four months, I had read all thirteen books in the series. I won't say I loved every book in the series, but all are good mysteries, and at least 10 of the 13 are personal favorites of mine. One of the characteristics of the series is that the books do not follow a formula; Jill McGown does not write the same book over and over. Lloyd and Hill, and their ongoing relationship, are the mainstays of the series, but each book can take a different approach to telling the story.

The unique aspect to Plots and Errors is that the structure is like a play and it is interspersed with quotes from Hamlet. There is a prologue, five acts, and an epilogue. There is even a list of the Dramatis Personae.

The Prologue sets the stage, when the murders are discovered. Act I goes back in time a few weeks, and is from the point of view of the Esterbrooks, the family most affected by these murders. Act II is from the point of view of the private investigators who are involved. Act III is The Plot; Act IV is The Murders. Act V is The Investigation, taking us back to Lloyd and Hill and their team. The Epilogue wraps it up.

You can see that the plot gets complex and hops around in time. Although I could not find many reviews of this book online, the author's website notes that some readers were not happy with the complexity and the approach, and I noted this in some comments at Goodreads also. At this page on the author's site, McGown discussed why she wrote the story.

The character development is very good. Lloyd and Hill are more in the background in this story than in most of the series (as I remember it), but I think that the way their backstory is introduced lets you know what kind of people and detectives they are. The other policemen involved are fleshed out. The members of the Esterbrook clan are very well developed as characters in this story. They are mostly not likable people, but interesting nevertheless. And there are plenty of surprises as the story unfolds.

Comments on Plots and Errors in this tribute to Jill McGown at Aunt Agatha's:
To me this is her best novel because it combines her genius with characters and a tightly wound plot that is one of the best I've ever read. And of course, the detective portion of the novel, Lloyd and Hill's investigation, is the thread of decency tying it all together. The modern detective novel makes us think, but it also ties up the loose ends and implies that bad deeds are righted, or at least avenged, in the civilized manner of the legal system.
I reread this book in preparation for writing this post, and I did not remember who had perpetrated the crimes. At times I thought the ending was obvious, but I was wrong. The ending was not what I expected, but it did not disappoint me. I enjoyed reading it just as much the second time around, and maybe even more this time.

The series is best read in order, because the Lloyd / Hill relationship changes over time, but the author has stated (in this post at Mystery*File which includes some excerpts from an interview) that each book is written to stand alone and contains enough backstory to explain the relationships where needed.

The Crime Fiction Alphabet is sponsored by Mysteries in Paradise.  Please visit this post to check out other entries for this letter.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Dark and Stormy Night (film)

In this marvelously fun film, writer, director, and actor Larry Blamire spoofs the horror films from the 1930's known as the "Old Dark House" genre. The plot is filled with silly characters and bizarre events and filmed in black and white. Many hallmarks of that genre are included: the reading of the will, multiple murders, a sinister butler, secret panels, stormy nights, stranded in a remote house, hands reaching from behind curtains, and an overheated musical score. There is even a guy in a gorilla suit (Bob Burns came out of retirement to play the gorilla).

Blamire's other films were The Lost Skeleton of Cadavera (2001) and The Lost Skeleton Returns Again (2009). Both of these films spoof the sci fi films of the 1950's. On initial watchings, I found that The Lost Skeleton of Cadavera was laugh out loud funny and Dark and Stormy Night had more style (and was less funny). On repeated viewings, I find them both very funny and charming. At least one other review mentioned that the Skeleton film had to grow on him. Once I got use to his approach, I enjoy all of Blamire's films.

In making the movie, Blamire used no digital special effects, but instead used miniatures and matte paintings for effects. Blamire uses a stock company of actors, which makes his films even more entertaining to me. In the commentary on Dark and Stormy Night, it seems obvious that Blamire and his crew all are knowledgeable of vintage movies and respectful of those films.

Examples of the vintage films spoofed here are:
The Cat and the Canary (1927), a silent horror film directed by Paul Leni.
The Old Dark House (1932), directed by James Whale.
One Frightened Night (1935), directed by Christy Cabanne. Story by Stuart Palmer, author of the Hildegarde Withers series; screenplay by Wellyn Totman. From Mascot Pictures, one of the "Poverty Row" studios.

Quote from this review at Dread Central:
Blamire is a mad genius. He creates films that perfectly mimic the old sci-fi, horror, and murder films of the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties by writing his scripts as they would have been written back then complete with vintage lingo and then films them in delicious black and white. The results are both as incredibly funny and even unintentionally funny as the original films of that era seem now. They're just absolutely charming.
Some other articles online about this movie.
  • TV Tropes calls it an "affectionate parody."
  • As I was writing this post, I discovered a detailed post at The Passing Tramp website featuring several "Old Dark House" movies and Blamire's Dark and Stormy Night. Please check it out here.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

O is for Open Season by Archer Mayor

Today I feature Open Season by Archer Mayor as my submission for the Crime Fiction Alphabet 2013. This books is the first in a series, and the main protagonist is Joe Gunther, a police lieutenant in Brattleboro, Vermont. This book was published in 1988, twenty two more books followed, and Two Can Keep a Secret is due out in October 2013.

Open Season is a serviceable police procedural. The forensics are attended to and play a big part in identifying and locating the culprit. I like forensics to feature strongly in police procedurals. The members of the police force are believable, not heroes, but most are trying to do there best. With in-fighting and rivalries and disputes between the upper and lower echelons.

The complex plot took a while to get moving, which is fine. There is a horrendous crime at the beginning and eventually the crime and related events lead to the re-investigation of a very high profile case. Since the case may have been mishandled, the issue of looking into it again is very sensitive and threatening to a lot of people, on both sides of the law.

The premise was good, but this book did not grab me and keep me interested. Yet the writing and story telling was fine. This series has continued with loyal fans for twenty three books, so I felt I had to allow the author some slack, even in the areas that did not appeal to me. And there were several.

The plot was too dense for me. It was not that it was hard to follow, but it strained my ability to suspend disbelief. One or two weird and extremely damaged people among the victims, relatives and suspects  may be believable, three or four is stretching it. Yet the plot is no less credible than a lot of TV or movie thrillers.

Within the scope of this book, there were no characters that I grew to care about. The story is told from Joe Gunther's point of view and thus we only get his knowledge (or what he thinks he knows) about any motivation for the crimes. His co-workers and friends and relatives are better developed but still not enough to get me involved.

Here are the qualities of this book that I did like:
  • The picture of small town politics and the relationship between the town officials and the police.
  • The narrative voice. I may think the plot too convoluted, but Joe tells his story well and with appeal.
  • The themes of connections and relationships. Connections to his girlfriend and his boss, Frank Murphy, a friend and father figure for decades. Relationships with co-workers. I think the author can do a lot more with the relationships in later books.
I also liked the setting, even though it contributes to the problems of credibility.  Brattleboro, Vermont is a small town and there cannot be a lot of crime, and especially complex murder plots, going on there. But, I know nothing about Vermont and I want to know more. At this post at, we get a nice picture of Brattleboro and Mayor's use of it in his books.

Thus, I do not want any of my comments to discourage readers from trying this series. You might even want to start at a later book. Reviews I have read indicate that the author does a good job of telling each story in a way that it can stand alone. And a lot of reviews differ with the opinions I have expressed.

And if you have had good experiences reading Archer Mayor books about Joe Gunther, please let me know and give me some suggestions for other books of his to read. I will find more books in this series to try and see if it has become a series I want to follow.

Here are some other reviews of various books in the series:
At Mystery*File, a review of Skeleton's Knee
At Jandy's Reading Room, a review of Open Season
At In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, a review of Open Season
At Ted Lehmann's Bluegrass, Books, and Brainstorms, a review of Tucker Peak

The Crime Fiction Alphabet is sponsored by Mysteries in Paradise.  Please visit this post to check out other entries for this letter.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Canadian Reading Challenge 6: Books Read

This year I participated in the Canadian Book Challenge 6. This is an online reading challenge in which participants from Canada and around the world aim to read and review 13 or more Canadian books in a one year span: July 2012 through June 2013. A Canadian book is a book written by a Canadian author or set in Canada.

I  read these books for the challenge:

The Suspect by L. R. Wright
This book is the first in a series by L.R. Wright (1939 - 2001). The series features RCMP Staff Sergeant Karl Alberg and librarian Cassandra Mitchell. It is set in a small town on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. The Suspect won the 1986 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel of the year. It was the first Canadian novel to do so.
The first three books in a series, set in post World War II Britain, in the village of Bishop's Lacey. Flavia narrates the stories. She is the youngest daughter (around 11 years old) in the de Luce family, and lives with her two sisters and their father. Her mother died when she was young. They live in an ancient country house.
Amuse Bouche by Anthony Bidulka
Russell Quant is a private detective, and to this point in his career he has had small, nondescript cases. Now he has a case where a wealthy client has hired him to find his missing lover, Tom Osborn. Set in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Very enjoyable humorous mystery, part of a series of eight books.
Forty Words for Sorrow by Giles Blunt
A serial killer novel with too much graphic violence for my tastes. However, the characterization was so strong in that book, and the plotting and setting are so vivid, that I have to try the next in the series.
Deadly Appearances by Gail Bowen
Murder at the Mendel by Gail Bowen
The first two books in a series of fourteen books about Joanne Kilbourn, a political analyst and university professor who gets involved in criminal investigations. Set in Saskatchewan. Family and relationships play a large part in these mysteries.
A Stone of the Heart by John Brady
A police procedural featuring Matt Minogue, a Sergeant in the Garda Murder Squad in Dublin. Like some books of that sub-genre, it goes much deeper and examines the character of the policeman and how his family and his environment affect his ability to do his job. The setting is primarily Dublin, Ireland in the late 1980's. Thus the unrest and violence in Ireland at the time is a part of the story. There are nine more books in the series.
The Ransom Game by Howard Engel
This is the second book in a series featuring Benny Cooperman, private detective. Benny is hired to locate a paroled ex-con, by his girlfriend. He is missing and she fears he has come to harm. Her boyfriend, Johnny Rosa, was in prison for kidnapping a wealthy young woman, and the ransom money has never turned up. The book is set in a small city in Canada near Niagara Falls: Grantham, Ontario. This town is based on the real city of St. Catharines, Ontario, where the author was born.
Except the Dying by Maureen Jennings
The first in series of seven books known as the Murdoch Mysteries. Set in Toronto in 1895. William Murdoch is an Acting Detective, ambitious and intelligent. He wants to move up in rank, and he hopes this case will bring him some attention. The author takes us through the investigation slowly, introducing us to the individuals involved. She describes the prejudices of the time and the hardships that the poorer inhabitants of Toronto lived with.
A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny
This is the second in a series of mysteries set in a small village in Quebec. The investigator is Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Surete de Quebec. Gamache is a likable character, a dedicated policeman yet compassionate. I have often said that I prefer a fairly normal protagonist, especially as a police investigator, and am growing tired of flawed and damaged policemen. In this case, Gamache is a little too perfect for me, but still an interesting character.
Kaleidoscope by J. Robert Janes
This book is set in Occupied France, in December of 1942. It is the story of two men who are on opposite sides but must work together. Gestapo Haupsturmführer Hermann Kohler and  his partner, Sûreté Chief Inspector Jean-Louis St-Cyr have been thrown together by circumstances to investigate crimes. They have developed a trusting relationship, but know that due to the realities of war, it will probably not end well. One side or the other will be the victor, and then where will their loyalties lie? This is the second book in the series, and Jean-Louis and Hermann follow cases in a total of 14 books.

I will be participating in the 7th annual Canadian Book Challenge sponsored by John Mutford at The Book Mine Set. You can see information on joining this challenge HERE.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Green-Eyed Lady: Chuck Greaves

From the summary at the author's website:
U.S. Senate candidate Warren Burkett has a history of marital infidelity. Three weeks before Election Day, Burkett comes to the aid of a beautiful green-eyed lady, only to find himself alone and naked in a stranger’s home from which a priceless painting is missing. As the resulting scandal threatens to tilt the election, the painting turns up in a most unexpected place . . . and so does a dead body.
And the cast of characters includes: "ruthless politicians, felonious art dealers, swarming paparazzi, the amorous wife of Burkett’s billionaire opponent, her mobbed-up brother, and a District Attorney with an old score to settle." The setting is Sierra Madre, California.

Jack MacTaggart, attorney, is hired to help Warren Burkett navigate his problems, turn the election back in his favor, and otherwise save the day. Well really, he is hired to defend Burkett in the criminal case but the ultimate goal is to get the election back on track. Marta "Mayday" Suarez is his law partner; Bernadette Catalano is their secretary. They hook up with Officer Regan Fife  of the Sierra Madre Police Department, and she unofficially helps them out.

Warren Burkett and his opponent in the Senatorial campaign, Larry Archer are polar opposites. Archer's politics are anti-tax, anti-union, and anti-regulation. Burkett's leanings are much more to the left. To make it more complicated, Archer's wife has ties to the art world and her brother is connected to the mafia.

MacTaggart starts getting messages on an Etch-a-Sketch screen. It isn't clear if these are intended to help, confuse or threaten.  Once a dead body shows up, with even stronger connections to Burkett, the situation becomes more complex and more serious.

From the start, I enjoyed the story. I am not sure how realistic it is. But fiction is not always supposed to mirror the real world, and in this case, any niggles I had were minor. I enjoyed being along for the ride. I liked the ending, especially some of the surprises along the way.

I liked the characters who were trying to clear up the disappearance of the painting and the resulting deaths. Some of the other characters were over the top, but in a fun way. I liked that the story is told in the first person by a very likeable narrator. There was just enough tension between the people MacTaggart works with to make it believable; they are all sterling individuals, but not too goody goody.

Plus he has a nice dog.

I might have preferred that the book take sides less in the Republicans vs. Democrats arena. Not because I was not in agreement with its leanings, but I like the issues to be covered in a more equitable way. On the other hand, neither one of the candidates is a very appealing character, which is very realistic, in my opinion.

The action in this book goes back and forth between Sierra Madre and Santa Barbara, California. Which was a bonus for me. If Greaves got Sierra Madre and other L.A. County locations down as well as he did Santa Barbara and surrounding areas, he did a really good job with the setting and atmosphere. The author practiced law in the L.A. area for many years.

This is the second book in a series. It is also unusual for me to start a series after the first book, so this was an experiment for me. In this case, I would have liked to have had the background of the first book, but it certainly did not lessen my enjoyment in reading the book. There was enough background thrown in to give a sense of the situation, but not so much as to pull the reader out of the story.

I liked this book well enough to seek out the first in the series, Hush Money. I would like to know a little more of MacTaggart's background, even though some of the story will already be known. That book has been nominated for the Private Eye Writers of America’s Shamus Award for Best First P.I. Novel, which is quite an honor.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

N is for Håkan Nesser

Mind’s Eye by Håkan Nesser is my submission for the Crime Fiction Alphabet at Mysteries in Paradise this week.

From my copy of the book:
Håkan Nesser was born in 1950 in Sweden. In 1993 he was awarded the Swedish Crime Writers’ Academy Prize for new authors for his novel Mind’s Eye, and is the only author to have won the Academy’s best novel award three times: in 1994 for Borkmann’s Point; in 1996 for Woman with Birthmark; and in 2007 for A Rather Different Story. In 1999 he was awarded the Scandinavian Crime Society’s Glass Key Award for the best crime novel of the year for Carambole. His novels have been published to wide acclaim in nearly thirty countries.
At the beginning of Mind's Eye, a man wakes up with an excruciatingly painful hangover, not sure even who he is. He discovers the dead body of his wife in their bathtub and remembers who he is. He calls the police.

This is definitely not your standard mystery story. From almost the beginning of the book, a suspect is apprehended for a murder, is charged, and very quickly the story moves to the trial of the defendant for murder. There is no real proof that this man is the murderer, yet there seems to be no other answer.

The detective is Inspector Van Veeteren. He is very talented at his job and he knows it. This keeps him motivated to stay with the job even when he is not enjoying it. I don't know if I would call Van Veeteren likeable, but he is human and very interesting.

Quotes from the chapter where we meet the inspector:
Detective Chief Inspector Van Veeteren did not have a cold.

On the other hand, he did have a tendency to be depressed when the weather was poor, and as it had now been raining more or less nonstop for ten days, melancholy had made the most of the opportunity to sink deep roots into his mind.
Why be a depressed master gardener or bus driver when you can be a depressed detective chief inspector...
The book is divided into three parts. Each part kept me interested. The first part focussed more on the people involved. The second and third parts moved on to more intense stages of the investigation. The story was compelling.  I read the first part the first night, the rest the next evening, rather than splitting the book up in many sessions as I usually do.

In summary, I liked this book very much and I am eager to continue the series. I found the characters to be interesting and believable. It was more of a psychological  study than a fairly-clued mystery. There were hints but no real clues to the solution, which is fine with me as long as the author keeps me entertained.

I prefer to go into a book knowing as little as possible about the story and I was glad I did not read any of the summary on the back cover of the book, because it tells way more than I want to know. But that is just me. Some of the reviews and posts listed below go into more detail of the story, if you are looking for more.

In the Spotlight by Confessions of a Mystery Novelist...
Karen Meek's review at Eurocrime

Please visit the post at Mysteries in Paradise to check out other entries for the letter N.

This is the third translated book I have read this year and will count for the Books in Translation Reading Challenge.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Japanese Literature Challenge 7

This challenge, hosted by Dolce Bellezza, started in June 2013. I joined in last year, and was hoping it would be offered again this year.

The challenge sign-up link is here.
  1. The challenge runs from June 1, 2013 until January 30, 2014.
  2. There is only one requirement: In the allotted time, read one, or more, books of Japanese literature and share them with the challenge group.
  3. Types of books eligible include children's books, short stories, mystery, biography, sci-fi/fantasy, manga and poetry.
  4. There is a suggested reading list here.
Last year I read only one book for the challenge:  The Tattoo Murder Case (1999) by Takagi Akimitsu. I have read no other books by Japanese authors up to now... if my memory serves me right. So even adding one more Japanese book will be an accomplishment.

I have three mysteries in mind, all belonging to my husband: 
All She Was Worth (1992) by Miyuki Miyabe
The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (1981) by Soji Shimada
The Devotion of Suspect X (2005) by Keigo Higashino
Last year, Bellezza recommended these books to me...
Inspector Iminishi Investigates (1989) by Seicho Matsumoto
Villain (2007) by Shuichi Yoshida
Out (1997) by Natsuo Kirino
Villain has a killer cover and I would love to get a copy of that.  I actually have Out because my husband passed it on to me.

I welcome comments on these choices and suggestions for other Japanese literature to read. I might not get to many of them this year, but I can always plan ahead.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

New to Me Authors: April, May, & June

Today I am joining in on the meme for the best new-to-me crime fiction authors at Mysteries in Paradise. This meme runs at the end of each quarter. Check out other posts for this quarter.

In the second quarter of 2013, I read seven books by authors I had never read  before and I was very happy with all of them. This is my list of books by new (to me) authors:
  1. Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch
  2. The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters 
  3. Chinatown Beat by Henry Chang 
  4. The Dark Winter by David Mark
  5. Except the Dying by Maureen Jennings
  6. Silence of the Rain by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza
  7. House of Evidence by Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson
It is really hard to pick a top new author of this bunch. As usual for me, a lot of these were the first books in a series. The only stand alone novel is House of Evidence by Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson. I definitely plan to read further in all of the series. I will also seek out another book by Ingólfsson.

The book that most surprised me was Silence of the Rain by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza. I wanted to read it because it is written by a Brazilian author and set in Brazil. But the book greatly surpassed my expectations. It was not a standard police procedural (if there is such a thing), the cultural differences were interesting, and it had a very unexpected ending.

I was also surprised at how much I liked Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch. I had heard lots of praise for the novel, but it was described as Harry Potter for adults with a rookie policeman as the protagonist, and I was not sure about that. But it was a thoroughly enjoyable read, making me wish I had the next book in the series to read right away.

And then there was The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters. Although I don't avoid apocalyptic novels, I would never had read this one had it not been a crime novel also. I enjoyed this depiction of how people would react to an approaching asteroid, and I loved how he doled out pieces of that part of the story gradually throughout the book. Another great read, and I have high expectations for further books in the series.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Reading in June and Crime Fiction Pick of the Month

In June I read a total of eight books. I read one non-fiction book, and two fantasy novels. Both of the fantasies had elements of crime fiction. And one of my favorite reads was a police procedural in an apocalyptic setting. Another good reading month.

The non-fiction book I read this month was Don't Know Much About Literature. I was disappointed in this book. The subtitle is "What You Need to Know but Never Learned About Great Books and Authors" and it supplied little that I needed to know or wanted to know about literature.

I usually love any book about books, this one did not do it for me. To quote a review at Goodreads that says it very well:
While I typically devour books about books and I have enjoyed Davis’s other books, the “quiz” format of DKMA Literature just didn’t work. It was literally too trivial and didn’t offer any quality information on literary topics or authors.
I got the impression from that review and others that the format is different from other books of the same series, and I have not tried any of those.

These are the books I read, with links to reviews...
  1. Kaleidoscope by J. Robert Janes
  2. Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch
  3. Don't Know Much About Literature by Kenneth C. Davis
  4. Death Wore White by Jim Kelly
  5. Daemons Are Forever by Simon R. Green
  6. The Last Policeman by Ben Winters
  7. The Mugger by Ed McBain
  8. The Pusher by Ed McBain
Two of these books stood out for me, Rivers of London and The Last Policeman.

Rivers of London is a cross-genre novel, blending fantasy and crime fiction. Most often I have seen it categorized as Urban Fantasy. The main character is a policeman and is actively investigating crimes so it also fits the definition of a police procedural. It is humorous and fun.

The Last Policeman is the story of a policeman, Detective Hank Palace, pursuing a homicide case in a pre-apocalyptic world. In a world where many people are abandoning their jobs or changing their entire lives, Hank is stubbornly investigating an incident that every one else thinks is suicide. That one was compelling and thought-provoking.

I could go for a tie, but I think I need to make a choice. I loved both of them for different reasons, but I guess my favorite book of the month is The Last Policeman. And later, when I am able to read the next book in each of these series, I will see how those compare.