Monday, December 31, 2012

Special Delivery before Midnight, 12/31/2012

I feel like a woman about to give birth, and it's not a comfortable sensation. I finished The Child's Child by Barbara Vine (the pen name Ruth Rendell uses for dark and complex psychological suspense), but this tale about Grace Easton, who becomes pregnant by her brother Andrew's lover and discovers an unpublished manuscript from 1951 that mirrors this triangular situation, is too sad to review on the last day of the year. I haven't quite finished Karen Englemann's delectable The Stockholm Octavo, in which seer Sofia Sparrow reads the cards and promises young Office of Customs and Excise bureaucrat Emil Larsson a golden path to love and connection in 1791 Stockholm. Rather than prolong my labor in writing a review, let me share some books I plan to read soon.

Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus, translated by Steven T. Murray (Macmillan, January 2013). I want to revisit the Grimm's fairy tale refrain "White as snow, red as blood, black as ebony." In this multifaceted German police procedural, Altenhain cops Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein investigate the death of a woman whose son, Tobias Sartorius, was convicted 10 years earlier of murdering two teenage girls. The bodies were never found. Tobias has recently been released and moved back home. After more disappearances, townspeople are ready to take the law into their own hands. This is the fourth in a six-book series, and the only one published in English so far. What I've read about this police duo and the twisting plot of betrayal and revenge promises a great read.

Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov (Melville International Crime, 2001). Okay, you tell me how I can read the first sentence of a Kirkus review ("A writer is sucked gently into the evil new Ukrainian economy as his penguin flatmate watches.") and not scramble to read this book. Viktor Alekseyevich's life, in the dumps since his girlfriend left him, appears to be looking up. He's taken over the care of Misha, a "quiet and thoughtful" penguin de-accessioned from the Kiev zoo, and he's been hired by Capital News to write "pre-need" obituaries for underworld luminaries. Then Viktor realizes he's handing death sentences to these luminaries.

The Woman Who Wouldn't Die by Colin Cotterill (Random House, February 2013). It is now 1978, and Dr. Siri Paiboun is retired from his job as national coroner of Laos; however, a judge has asked Siri to look into a case involving the minister of agriculture's wife, who has hired the supposed-to-be-dead Madame Keui to lay rest the ghost of the minister's brother. Siri, who has a healthy regard for the supernatural, is the perfect man for the job. This is the ninth book in Cotterill's witty Dr. Siri Paiboun series. (Read Della Streetwise's review of the first book, The Coroner's Lunch, here.)

Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason (Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster, February 2013). “There is very little peace for a man with a body buried in his backyard.” Thus begins Mason's debut about an ordinary man named Jason Getty, who kills and buries a man behind his house. That is enough to disconcert Jason right there, but things become even more complicated when police dig up two bodies, and neither is the one that Jason buried. The publisher says this book is for fans of offbeat, black thrillers and the Coen brothers' movies––in other words, for me, and you, too?

Perfect Hatred by Leighton Gage (Soho Crime, February 2013). For a police procedural that combines terrific characterization, action, setting, and social issues, Della Streetwise, Maltese Condor (see her review here), and I read Leighton Gage's Chief Inspector Mario Silva series, set in modern Brazil. In the sixth book, Silva's team investigates a suicide bombing, the assassination of a gubernatorial candidate, and the revenge plot of a newly released felon who hates Silva. It's not necessary to read Gage's books in order, but these characters grow over time, and you'll want to follow them. The first book is 2007's Blood of the Wicked, in which Bishop Dom Felipe is assassinated when he visits the agricultural town of Cascatas do Pontal.

What about you? What's on your schedule for early 2013?

I'll be back later this week to tell you about Vine's The Child's Child and Engelmann's The Stockholm Octavo. I hope your festivities tonight will deliver a wonderful 2013 for you.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

It Is Hereby Resolved (Part Three)

It would be inadvisable, if not impossible, to put together a list of New Year's Resolutions on New Year's Eve. We would never ask a guy like Harry Hole to do that. So here we are, on New Year's Eve Eve, taking one last look at our favorite characters' self-improvement efforts for 2013. As for you though, don't ever change.

Harry Hole is one of crime fiction's best protagonists. He's driven, loyal, resourceful, deeply flawed, haunted by the past and facing a tenuous future. Yesterday, I caught up with Harry in the eighth, and latest, Jo Nesbø book, Phantom, in which Harry, an ex-cop, returns to Oslo from Hong Kong to help someone close to him who's been arrested for murder. The plot involves the drug trade and deals with themes of loss and redemption, good and evil, responsibility and love. It's complex and absolutely fantastic. Nesbø's books are being translated from Norwegian into English helter skelter, so I'll next read the first Harry Hole book, The Bat, and the second, The Cockroaches. I'll also hope for the ninth.

If I were Harry, the first thing I'd resolve to do in the New Year is change my name. The correct pronunciation of Harry's last name is apparently Hoola but looking at it on the page as Harry Hole would be too much for me. But not Harry. Below are items on his list of resolutions.

1.   Do I want to settle down in Hong Kong or go back to Norway? Decide if I want to decide.

Hong Kong


2.   Think about rejoining the police, if they'll have me. I can't stop pursuing criminals and it's easier with real ID in my wallet.

3.   Enlarge my circle of friends. Keep in touch with the few old ones. Drop into Schrøder's. Check on my sister. Rakel, my love. Oleg. Hell.

On Maslow's hierarchy of needs, I'm barely on 
the chart let alone fulfilling any social needs.

4.   Watch my back.

5.   Put my titanium finger to better use. Investigate Victorinox for possible attachments.

6.   No more big facial scars. One will do me.

Resolve not to google this.

7.   Don't drink today. Say the same thing tomorrow.

8.   Take better care of myself. Too often I look and feel like shit.

I might settle for breathing.

9.   Make peace with my past.

10.   There's no such thing as free will or happy endings. Appreciate moments of happiness and peace.

Godt nytt år.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

It Is Hereby Resolved (Part Two)

Are you starting to recover from Christmas yet? Or are you still knee-deep in wrapping paper with a bow stuck in your hair and the world's worst sugar crash from all those cookies? Either way, we're sure you have no need to improve your character. Just sit back in your recliner, watch the last days of 2012 float by and let a fictional character worry about New Year's resolutions.

Cop Aurelio (pronounced ow-raily-oh, not aw-reelly-oh) Zen spends a lot of time being homesick. His superiors in Rome transfer him to various Italian cities, ostensibly to fill a temporary need, but it seems more in the nature of a punishment. In Michael Dibdin's eleventh and final Aurelio Zen series book, End Games, Zen is in the southwestern region of Calabria, filling in for the Cosenza chief of police, who accidentally shot himself in the foot. An American lawyer who was born in Calabria and is doing location work in advance of a movie filming is killed, and Zen heads the investigation to track down his killer. It's painful to say arrivederci to Zen––the good-looking and kind-hearted, but world-weary policeman––and this entertaining series, which combines great characterization and settings, black humor, and commentary about contemporary society with an Italian police procedural.

And now, here are Zen's resolutions for 2013:

1.   Try to cough up some ambition. If I don't climb the promotion ladder, I'll be at the mercy of my superiors forever.

Just like the game of Chutes and Ladders 

2.   I must learn to feel at home when I can't smell the sea.

3.   Do a better job of fitting in. Here in Calabria, I look nude without facial hair.

4.   Give up cigarettes. This will be very difficult. Defying the no-smoking rules in my office adds a particular piquancy to my smoking.

5.   Get more sleep. I've been likened to John of Patmos. God forbid I look as if I'm seeing an apocalypse on the horizon.

6.   Try to place less importance on meals. Learn to like that international icon of Italian cuisine, the tomato, although it is fit only for barbarians. A bad meal should not make me feel spiritually as well as physically nauseous.

7.   Do my thoughts about spaghetti with clams––in terms describing women's sexual anatomy––mean I should resolve to see my wife, Gemma, more often? Do it.

8.   Work on my professionalism. A murder should not be excused because I like the murderer, empathize with his or her motives, or see another good reason not to make an arrest.

9.   Develop rapport with villainous suspects in a way that does not involve putting my cigarette out on their hands, grabbing their hair, or slapping them. This is beneath me. Rely more on underlings.

10.  When an investigation is spinning out of my control, work on focus. Don't sit and stare at the wall. Find a beautiful spot outdoors to meditate and think. When things end badly, look on the bright side. I'm going home.

Best wishes for a prosperous 2013.

Friday, December 28, 2012

It Is Hereby Resolved (Part One)

It's the time of year for making resolutions, but what can you do if, like Mary Poppins, you're already practically perfect in every way? The obvious solution is to present the New Year's resolutions of some notable crime fiction writers and characters.

In Stieg Larsson's Millenium Trilogy there are loads of characters who deserve an entire coal mine in their stockings and, by comparison, Lisbeth Salander seems like a paragon of virtue. But there is definitely room for improvement, wouldn't you say? Let's see how The Girl Who thinks she might clean up her act.

1.   Cancel those piercings/tattoo appointments. I'm running out of prime real estate on my body, and now that I've seen what tattoos look like as you age, well, I'm losing enthusiasm for them as an art form.

2.   Let my eyebrows grow back too.

3.   Dump Mikael Blomkvist like a hot potatiskorv. What was I thinking, having sex with an out-of-shape dude 20 years older than I am, anyway?

Michael Nyqvist (not Daniel Craig) as Mikael Blomkvist

4.   Stop having frozen pizza as my go-to dinner. Eat a fruit or vegetable once in awhile.

5.   Trade in my Powerbook for something more up-to-date; like something more powerful than the smartphone Miriam Wu has now, for example.

6.   Think about those anger management sessions. Everybody seems to think I went a little overboard with carving up Nils Bjurman. (Still not sure I agree there was anything wrong with my doing that.)

7.   Now that I've liberated all those millions from Wennerström and bought this gigantic flat, it's time to do something with it, like maybe furnish a few rooms beyond my bedroom and the living room. Somebody told me you can buy furniture at places other than Ikea. Look into it.

8.   Sometimes I want to just kill my male relatives. Oh, wait, I already did that. Guess I can cross that off the list.

9.   In the new year, try not to get tortured, shot or buried alive.

10.  Is there some rule that you need to have 10 resolutions? I hate rules.

Agatha Christie's Jane Marple says: It is the time of year when people reflect on the past 12 months, take stock of themselves and set some goals for the future. I am certainly not perfect. There are some things I would like to improve upon, so I came up with this short list of 2013 resolutions.

1.   Be more positive. I was fairly positive I knew who the murderer was in They Do It with Mirrors but I dilly-dallied while more people died. This must change.

2.   Increase volunteering. Well, I call it volunteering, but there are those who might call it sticking my nose in other people’s affairs. If it weren’t for me, the 18-year-old murder in Sleeping Murder would still be a mystery. My ingenuity––as well as my busybody efforts––in A Pocket Full of Rye brought an evil person to justice.

I have no delusions about the existence of evil.

3.   Update my information-gathering ability. No, this isn't necessary.

4.   Retain my harmless appearance. It is not difficult to show up on people's doorsteps, bag in hand, when one looks as innocuous as I do.

5.   Travel more. My nephew Raymond has been most generous in giving me lovely vacations. Trips to Bertram’s Hotel (in At Bertram's Hotel) and on a guided garden tour in Nemesis helped balance the scales of justice. One of my nicest vacations was the trip to the Caribbean where I revealed the murderer of Major Palgrave––even though I appeared to be knitting most of the time. I have three sweaters and a scarf to show for it as well. This was chronicled in A Caribbean Mystery.

Bertram's Hotel
I haven't yet stayed here.

6.   Speaking of knitting, be more ambitious.

7.   Get fit. I could do with a makeover. Even twinsets and tweed skirts can enhance the figure. No more baggy clothes for me!

Dress somewhere between this ...
and this.

8.   Buy another hat. I must also pass the word to those costumers who do my TV shows. No woman has but one hat that she wears to garden in, to attend funerals and every other time she steps out her door. I must have more than one hat!

9. Improve my financial situation. The National Health service doesn't take care of everything, and these knees of mine need attention. If I were to be reimbursed for some of my sleuthing, just imagine what I could accomplish. But St. Mary Mead and its denizens have taught me all about human nature; thus I realize this resolution may be one left unfulfilled because why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

Happy New Year to all.