Lately I’ve read a few books that haven’t, for one reason or another, made it to a review post of their very own and I’ve decided to give up pretending they ever will. I have enough impossible backlogs in my working life that I really don’t need to clutter up my leisure life with them too, but I do want to record my impressions so that I have a chance of recollecting these books in the future. And so, in reading order, we have…
June Wright’s DUCK SEASON DEATH – A book written in the 1950’s but only published in 2014 this is one of what is now seven published books by a little-known Australian female crime writer. It’s a traditional country house mystery (though in this case the country house is an inn in the Australian countryside) in which a small cast of oddball characters form the suspect pool for the murder (or was it?) of an unpleasant man at the start of the local shooting season. As well as being of the genre the book takes some not-so-gentle digs at classic whodunnits and, for me at least, it wasn’t entirely successful. I thought it was trying a little too hard to be clever. I’ve not yet any of Wright’s novels that were published during her lifetime (though I now have two here on Mount TBR) so I shall possibly have more to say about this author soon.
Arnaldur Indridason’s REYKJAVIK NIGHTS – During a recent interview at the Sydney Writers’ Festival Michael Connelly intimated that when his famous police detective’s official career is over Connelly might be finally ready to write of Harry Bosh’s time in Vietnam. If so he’ll be joining a growing trend of writers turning to the origin stories of their much-loved characters when age makes their continuation as professional detectives too unbelievable even for fiction. Having allowed his dour, loner Detective Erlendur to end his career in STRANGE SHORES, Indridason takes us to 1974 and introduces us to young Erlendur doing night shift as a relatively new policeman. Car crashes, domestic violence incidents and run-ins with all manner of people who seem only to come out at night form the backdrop to Erlendur’s investigations into the death of a homeless man he had come to know and the disappearance of a young woman. There is much to like about this origin story.
Hans Olav Lahlum’s THE HUMAN FLIES was a delightful surprise. Knowing I was planning to read it myself I avoided all reviews of the book so had no idea I would be delving into a classic whodunit set in late 1960’s Norway. New police detective Kolbjørn Kristiansen is tasked with investigating the seemingly impossible locked room murder of a prominent Norwegian who had been a hero of the resistance during the war. The high profile case threatens to prove unsolvable but Kristiansen is fortunate enough to attract the attentions of an intelligent amateur sleuth who manages to help him unravel this tale of secrets within secrets. A truly entertaining read, with fascinating insight into Norway’s wartime experiences, and evidence (should you need it) that not all Scandi crime fiction is cold and grim.
Leif G.W. Persson’s FREE FALLING AS IF IN A DREAM – I almost feel like I’m cheating including this because I ended up skipping bits and pieces of this 588 page tome. As the final part of Persson’s Story of a Crime trilogy the book sees several investigators, all of whom we’ve met in Persson’s earlier books, brought together in secret to take another look at Sweden’s greatest unsolved crime: the assassination of Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986. Amidst all the stultifying detail here there is a good story straining to be heard but honestly by the end of this one I was really cross with modern publishing. This book needed an editor. Very, very badly. My life was not enriched in any way by knowing exactly what fruit DCI Lisa Mattei ate during each day and at what times she ate each piece nor any of the thousands of similar details masquerading as context. This book is virtually inaccessible to anyone who isn’t a die-hard devotee of politically infused European crime and even then I am prepared to wager many wouldn’t bother wading through to the bitter end.
Alan Bradley’s THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE is one of those books I thought I ought to read as so many people love it. In case you’ve been living under a rock it introduces 11 year-old Flavia de Luce, aspiring chemist turned amateur-sleuth who solves the murder that takes place on her family’s country estate in 1950. My chief accolade for the book is that it is blessedly short. I didn’t hate it but nor can I really see what all the fuss is about. For my tastes Flavia is a bit too precocious to be truly engaging and the book has some truly dull passages (descriptions of visual magic tricks are on par with people relaying their dreams on the scale of things I’m not at all interested in). Lest you fear I am just anti books narrated by children I offer Belinda Bauer’s THE FACTS OF LIFE AND DEATH, Mari Strachan’s THE EARTH HUMS IN B-FLAT or Catherine O’Flynn’s WHAT WAS LOST as examples of superior crime stories told by young children.