I’ve (virtually) climbed Mount Logan

I’m prepared to accept that reading 13 books is not quite as rigorous a challenge as climbing the highest mountain in Canada, and I’m sure it was a lot more fun but the stages of the Canadian Book Challenge #4 were all names after mountains so I’m happy to claim the scalp. For the challenge I needed to read 13 Canadian books (written by Canadians or set in Canada) between 1 July 2010 and 1 July 2011 so I’ve squeaked in with a month to spare. And here they are one more time:

Book 1 - April Fool by William Deverell (rated 3.5) A funny tale featuring an over 50 lawyer battling the forces of environmental destruction.

Book 2 - The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney (rated 3.5) An evocative historical fiction tale featuring the hunt for a murderer in remote Canada in 1867. This one ties for the best sense of place of the bunch.

Book 3 – The Devil’s in the Details by Mary Jane Maffini (rated 3.5) A victim’s right’s activist is named the beneficiary of the will of someone she can’t remember meeting which turns out to put her life in danger.

Book 4 –  Dead Politician Society by Robin Spano (rated 3) A Toronto politician is killed and a young female policewoman goes under cover in a local political science course to see if the murderer can be found.

Book 5 – The Taken by Inger Ashe Wolfe (rated 3.5) The discovery that a body in a lake is really a mannequin should bring relief to 62 year-old policewoman Hazel Micallef but it starts a strange game of cat & mouse with a killer.

Book 6 – The Dead of Midnight by Catherine Hunter (rated 3.5) A crime fiction book club losing members due to their grizzly deaths. Eeek, a little close to home :)

Book 7 - Negative Image by Vicky Delany (rated 3.5) A fashion photographer is murdered in the fictional town of Trafalgar (BC) and local policeman John Winters is under suspicion for the crime.

Book 8 – A Colder Kind of Death by Gail Bowen (rated 3.5) Joanne Kilbourn becomes a murder suspect when the man who is in prison for murdering her husband is killed.

Book 9 – Forty Words for Sorrow by Giles Blunt (rated 3.5) A young girl’s body is found 5 months after she was assumed to have run away and Detective John Cardinal must investigate this crime and others linked to it. This was the other book that tied for best sense of place as it had very strong imagery. It would have rated 4 but for the rather lengthy focus on the torture perpetrated on some of the victims. 

Book 10 - The Edge by Dick Francis (rated 4) The only ring-in but the book features an across-Canada rail trip on which an English Jockey Club investigator goes undercover to try to stop a criminal deed. It’s Dick Francis at his storytelling best.

Book 11 – The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (rated 2.5) A dystopian future not unlike many others depicted for us I found this one a bit predictable and very, very slow. It didn’t help that the audio book contained the book’s hymns being sung by a dweeb with a guitar which was very grating on the ears.

Book 12 – The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny (rated 3.5) In a fictional Quebec village the body of a man is found in the local bistro which is odd enough but even more peculiar is that no one in the small village admits to knowing who he is.

Book 13 – An Ordinary Decent Criminal by Michael Van Rooy (rated 3.5) A funny and engaging tale in which an ex violent criminal moves to Winnipeg where some people are determined not to make it easy for him to ‘go straight’.

I can’t really draw any insightful conclusions about the state of Canadian crime fiction (all but one of these books was in my preferred genre) other than that I think it’s in fine shape if a near random selection of books can produce 11 out of 13 books rated A good, solid entertaining read with a spark of something special or better on my personal rating scale. The only theme (if you can call it that) I noticed is that more than a few of the books dealt with tough subjects through the use of humour that seemed similar in some ways to the Australian way of looking at things. Of course this could be because I naturally selected books like that when scouring descriptions and reviews for challenge books.

I will be reading more by many of these authors which is, I guess, at least one aim of the challenge and have another Canadian book nearing the top of my TBR pile which will count towards the Global Reading Challenge.

Crime Fiction Alphabet: P is for Politicians

I talked more generally about politically themed reading during our last Federal election but I thought it worth having a look at how politicians themselves are treated in crime fiction. Perhaps it won’t surprise too many of you that, for the most part, they’re either murdered horribly or depicted as completely corrupt.

Anthony Gilbert‘s series of ten mystery novels written in the 1920′s and 30′s featuring Scott Egerton, a rising British political leader (and one of the few politicians in crime fiction who is both brilliant and not at all corrupt), came to my attention when I was at University. It wasn’t easy to introduce genre fiction into my high-brow studies but I was writing about women who had been forced by convention (or the need for cash) to write as men, and Gilbert is one of several pseudonyms used by Lucy Beatrice Malleson. In 1932′s The Body on the Beam Egerton investigates the death of a woman of..er…uncertain reputation…whose body is found hanged. A man is quickly arrested for the crime but Egerton thinks it’s all a bit too easy and goes on to trap the real criminal. (Gilbert/Malleson went on to create the character of fat, uncouth lawyer Arthur G Crook who appeared in around 50 novels up until Malleson’s death in 1973)

Bartholomew Gill’s McGarr and the Politician’s Wife is the first novel of what became a long running series featuring Peter McGarr who is Chief Superintendent of Detectives for the Irish Garda. In this story the discovery of a body at a yacht club leads police to investigate a politician of dubious credibility and his promiscuous wife and tackles issues such as the impact of the IRA on local politics. The book was originally published in 1977 though was later republished in 2000 as McGarr and the Politician but I don’t know if this later version makes any substantial changes to the story to account for the altered political environment.

John Maddox Roberts’ historical series set in ancient Rome features a Senator, Decuis Caecilius Metellus (the Younger), as its amateur investigator and the cases often involve his political colleagues. In The Sacrilege a secret female-only ceremony is infiltrated by a corrupt politician who dresses as a woman and when a series of murders follows this Decuis starts investigating and, as always, uncovers a massive conspiracy that threatens the Repbulic of Rome. I must say when I read about ancient Roman politics (or watch it) I think our modern-day politicians get off lightly :)

Politicians are heavily featured in Australian author Shane Maloney‘s series following the adventures of Murray Whelan, aide, advisor and fixit man as well as reluctant amateur sleuth. In The Brush Off Murray’s boss has scored the job of Minister for the Arts so when an artist is found dead Murray’s first job is to ensure no fallout reaches his boss.  He discovers political cover-ups, abuse of power, fraudulent use of public money (all before breakfast). Maloney’s writing is a treat and having spent some time doing similar jobs to Murray’s I think he depicts that particular environment beautifully.

Robin Spano’s Dead Politician Society opens with the murder of a local politician in Toronto, Canada. Surely I can’t be the the only reader who happily inserted a particularly annoying politician of my own acquaintance in the mental images running through my head during that sequence. As part of its investigation into the case the Toronto police insert a young policewoman into a political group active at the university to identify whether or not any of its members are responsible for the death.

In Alan Glynn’s Winterland the crime part of the story almost plays a secondary role to its political elements. Set in present-day Ireland as the economic prosperity of the previous decade turns sour, the book opens with the death of two men on the same evening. As only one of the deaths is thought to be murder so police are not involved but a victim’s relative delves into the matter and uncovers the seedier side of Irish politics. Larry Bolger, son of a politician himself, is being groomed to take a shot at becoming the country’s political leader. His desire for the job, and the desire of his connections to make sure he gets it, are at the heart of this compelling story.

One of the surprising things I learned as I toddled around the internet looking up the titles of books half-remembered for this post, is that American TV news anchor Jim Lehrer (who has been, rather inexplicably, appearing daily on Australia’s foreign language TV channel for the past couple of decades) has written a swag of mystery novels including seven books featuring a character called one-eyed Mack who is the Lieutenant Governor of Oklahoma. Has anyone read any of these and are they any good?

Do you have a favourite politician in crime fiction? They don’t have to be dead or corrupt :)

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise is hosting the crime fiction alphabet meme which requires the posting of an article relating to the letter of the week. Do join in the fun by reading the posts and/or contributing one of your own. You don’t have to write every week.

Books of the Month – October 2010

That Was Then

I finished another 15 books during October (a couple of reviews still to come). Although I didn’t have any 5-star reads it was a high quality month with nothing rating below a 3. My pick of the month has to be Jo Nesbø’s The Redbreast, a novel I abandoned on my first reading last year but picked up again after you all told me to and fell in love with the book’s protagonist, Harry Hole.

There are a veritable treasure trove of honourable mentions which I simply cannot separate. They include trips to Scotland, Iceland, Ghana, America, England, 1850′s Australia and Japan.

New Additions

Since buying my eReader I have curtailed my acquisition of printed books quite dramatically (good for the trees) but have been busy stocking up eBooks and audio downloads (bad for the bank balance). Included among my new acquisitions are the latest Belinda Lawrence mystery, a Harry Bosch novel (Maxine made me give Connelly another go), a flash fiction anthology of stories that involve a mythical ‘Mega Mart’, the second novel in Karin Fossum’s Inspector Sejer series (yes I know I’m behind) and a historical work that blends fact with fiction in what promises to be an interesting fashion.

Challenge Progress

It’s a good thing I had a whole year to complete the Global Reading Challenge as it looks like it will take me that long to finish it. This month I read another two books to bring my total to 19 of 21. Both Villain and Wife of the Gods made it to my honourable mentions for the month.

My only other open challenge is the Canadian Book Challenge which requires me to read 13 books by July next year. I read four books that counted for this challenge in October bringing my total to 7.

Isn’t it marvellous that Canada produces enough entertaining female crime writers that I can have a smorgasboard of them without even trying? Well I am assuming Wolfe is female though of course as it’s a pseudonym I could be wrong.

Reading Now and Next

I’m keen to finish the global challenge now that I only have 2 books to go so have started Southwesterly Wind which is set in Brazil and I’ll probably read my wildcard historical fiction straight after that. Then it might be time for my second Elly Griffiths novel I think. I’ve just started a new audio book, C J Box’s Three Weeks to Say Goodbye, which I am already enjoying and have no plans for what will come after that in audio format.

Chart of the month

So far this year I have finished 129 books which seemed like a statistically significant enough number to look at where they all come from. As you can see I buy most of my books in one form or another. Wonder what this will look like next year? Will I have a giant chunk of pie for pirated eBooks ( and if I do how will I hide it to avoid going to prison)?

What about you? What was your favourite book for October? Or your most exciting acquisition? Or is there something coming up for you in November that you can’t wait to get to?

Review: Dead Politician Society by Robin Spano

A mystery-writing college professor I know recently joked (?) that the reason the victims in her first two books had been college students was that it was more polite behaviour than killing the real thing. As I don’t write fiction I’m dependent upon others to carry out my fantasy murders of choice and for me these would involve politicians. So how could I resist a book titled Dead Politician Society which also counts as book 4 towards my Canadian Book Challenge?

When a politician is killed in Toronto rookie police officer Clare Vengel is tasked with her first undercover assignment: join the political science class at the local University where police believe someone may be, or at least know something about, the killer. An email that appears to have originated on campus was sent to a newspaper claiming responsibility for the politician’s murder on behalf of The Society for Political Utopia and it’s Clare’s job to see what she can find out. When she joins Matthew Easton’s Political Utopia for the Real World class she meets more than one person with motive for killing and when more politicians start dying she has to work fast.

At 42 I’m probably a bit young for grumpy old woman status but if my reaction to the character of Clare is anything to go by I’ve definitely got my training wheels on. Despite being given a job she covets Clare does her best to ruin her chances of success by behaving irresponsibly, such as deliberately getting drunk while under cover and forgetting what falsehoods she has told, and berating her handler in an annoyingly childish fashion for all manner of imagined put downs. This might be quite realistic behaviour for a 22-year old but all I wanted to do was give her a slap and tell her to grow up.

Fortunately for me though this is not one of those stories in which a single character advances all the action. In fact the book’s chapters alternate from different points of view and in addition to Clare’s we see action unfold from the perspective of Matthew (the Professor), Laura (the ex-wife of the first victim), Jonathan (one of the students in the class) and Annabel (the journalist who is in text-message contact with the person claiming to be the killer). I found the regular switching gave the book a good, fast pace as well as allowing me to get away from Clare and engage with people I found much more interesting.

Much of the action unfolds against the backdrop of Matthew Easton’s unorthodox class in which students are divided into political parties and must from alliances, present legislation and generally operate as a parliament. Being a politics junkie I really enjoyed this aspect of the novel (I would have crawled over hot coals to be part of something like this when I studied political science myself all those years ago) and thought it offered an original spin on what is at heart a classic whodunnit. Having the students discussing and debating a range of issues allowed all sorts of possible motives to be explored as we learn about the histories and families of all the players. This kept me guessing, if not about the culprit, then about motives and the ultimate outcome right to the end.

Dead Politician Society is well-plotted, has just the kind of social introspection that I enjoy in my reading and the characters are well drawn. The fact that I found Clare to be annoying as hell is quite realistic, I get that annoyed by real people too. If you’re in the market for a funny, fast read with a political bent then you could do a lot worse (especially if you are not a curmudgeonly old woman).

Dead Politician Society has also been reviewed at A Novel Source, Musings of a Bookish Kitty and Pickle Me This (none of these reviews mention any level of annoyance at the character of Clare and one thinks she is a brilliant, feisty heroine so mine is clearly not a universal reaction, just me being a grumpy old woman).

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My rating 3/5
Publisher ECW Press
ISBN 9781550229424
Length 328 pages
Format eBook (PDF)
Source My thanks to the Publisher, via Net Galley, for the review copy