Time’s Convert – Deborah Harkness

Title – Time’s Convert

Author – Deborah Harkness

Published – September 2018

Genre – Fantasy fiction

The publication of this book came hot on the heels of the debut of Harkness’ TV series on Sky One. When I was lucky enough to receive a copy for the publisher I knew it would be a while before I could both read it and review it so it was fortunate to discover that my husband works with a fan of the series and she would be willing to happy to provide a guest review.

So many thanks to Emma for her words!

“Time’s Convert” is set in the same universe as Harkness’ hugely successful “All Souls” trilogy, which has recently been adapted as a television series, “A Discovery of Witches”. The book focuses on two of the minor characters from the trilogy – Marcus the vampire and his human partner Phoebe. Harkness tells the story of Marcus’ history and transformation into a vampire, reliving key moments of his human life during the American Revolutionary War and his early days as a vampire during the French Revolution. The book also tells the story of Phoebe’s transformation into a vampire in modern day France as she waits to be reunited with Marcus, and continues the story of Matthew de Clermont and Diana Bishop – the main characters from the “All Souls” trilogy.

Harkness’ story telling is enchanting and captivating and this is a delightful addition to her previous books, adding more richness and detail to loved characters and developing more depth in previously minor characters.

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Cheltenham Literature Festival – In Cold Blood: Scandi And Nordic Noir

I’m attending a few events at the Cheltenham Literature Festival this year and “In Cold Blood: Scandi And Nordic Noir” was the first. The billed panel was Barry Forshaw, Quentin Bates and Søren Sveistrup but there was a last minute change of programme and Søren was replaced by Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen. Who knows how the discussions would have played out with a different panel but Jakob offered a very informed and engaging insight into Scandinavian crime fiction.

The discussion took the audience on a whirlwind journey charting the rise in popularity of scandi / nordic crime fiction, both in print and on television.

The general consensus was that the publication of Peter Høeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow which, although a mix of literary and crime fiction, set the stage for other translated fiction to reach a wider audience in the UK. For crime fiction the real breakthrough was the Millennium series from Stieg Larsson when it became easy to spot people reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo when out and about. These weren’t the first translated fiction books to be available but series like that by Per Wahlöö and Maj Sjöwall with the 10 novel sequence of Martin Beck / The Story of a Crime didn’t receive the same broad audience. Following the success of the Stieg Larsson series there has been the rise of the publishing ‘superstar’ in the success of Joe Nesbo and his books and subsequent films.

On the small screen the Wallander series led the way, especially when those averse to subtitles could watch the Brannagh version in English. The breakthrough for series broadcast in their original language but with subtitles was The Killing which opened up the opportunities for the success of series like The Bridge. As well as acceptance of the subtitles is also the audience exposure to series where the characters are taken on a longer journey than we might be used to.

There was much discussion about the content of the crime fiction – how the stories and themes can be used to demonstrate the mistreatment of women, the failures of the welfare state and how, in countries that faced occupation in the Second World War, incidents can often have their roots in behaviour or attitudes from that period.

It was an interesting and informative panel and we all stayed awake which was quite a feat considering how hot the room was! And the final consensus – that while there might have been a perceivable rise in the prevalence of ‘scandi noir’ it’s now an established part of the crime fiction landscape.

Barry Forshaw – reviews crime fiction for a number of national newspapers and is the author of a number of guides to crime fiction including Nordic Noir and Death in a Cold Climate: A Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction.

 

 

 

Quentin Bates – author of the Gunnhildur “Gunna” Gísladóttir series, set in Iceland and translator of Icelandic books into English including books by Ragnar Jonasson and Lilja Sigurdardottir. The lasted book in the series, Cold Breath, was published 11th October. 

 

 

 

Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen – a  Senior Lecturer in Scandinavian Literature in the School of European Languages, Culture and Society (SELCS) and acting Director of Comparative Literature at University College London and author of ‘Scandinavian Crime Fiction’ which is aimed at an audience with an interest in the rise of the this translated fiction.

 

 

Thin Ice – Quentin Bates

Title – Thin Ice

Author – Quentin Bates

Published – 2016

Genre – Crime fiction

It’s good to see that while Quentin Bates is forging a new career as a translator of Icelandic fiction he has also managed to find time to continue writing his ‘Officer Gunnhildur’ series. Thin Ice is the fifth book in the series, and although it was a while since I’d read a story from the series I didn’t feel as if I’d forgotten anything important and I’m sure this would read well as a standalone.

When two petty criminals (Magni and Ossi) fail to find their getaway driver after robbing one of Reykjavik’s main drug dealers they need an alternative escape route and the solution is to hijack a car forcing the woman driver and her daughter (Erna and Tinna Lund) to assist them.

As the story unfolds it’s something of a comedy of errors as, without a plan, the car runs out of petrol and they are forced to keep improvising. The relationship between the two men is strained and as one steps up to the challenges it’s not perhaps the one you expect. Taking the hostages isn’t their finest move and the characters of the two women start to impact on their plans – especially the budding relationship between Magni and Tinna Lind.

The story switches between the criminals and their efforts to escape to the sun  and Gunna and her colleagues who are investigating the death of a thief in a house fire and the disappearance of a mother and her daughter on a shopping trip (who could that be??). It’s interesting reading the story from both perspectives.

One of the joys of Bates’ writing is Gunna and her family. Her home life never seems to be on an even keel but she deals with whatever life throws at her with equanimity. She certainly doesn’t fit in with any of the cliches of the traditional detective in crime fiction, other than her dogged determination to get to the bottom of a mystery. Having said that you could read the book as a standalone, if you haven’t read the previous books you will have missed some of the key developments in Gunna’s life, and the development of the relationships that are important to her, which would be a shame.

An enjoyable and atmospheric read with a thrilling climax this is much less depressing than more conventional  ‘Icelandic Noir’.

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Spectacles – Sue Perkins

Title – Spectacles

Author – Sue Perkins

Published – 2015

Genre – Memoir

This is one of a few books I’ve read recently which falls outside my normal crime fiction reading. This was a book I had particularly fancied reading as I have a fondness for Sue (and Mel) and although I watch the ‘new’ Bakeoff I still miss their ability to lighten the tense and tearful moments for the contestants. She always appears to be one of those genuinely nice and positive people and having read Spectacles I can’t see anything to cast doubt on this.

Although it’s ‘A Memoir’ Sue manages the reader’s expectations from the start by offering a disclaimer that she has taken some liberties with the narrative to increase the comedy and “I have amplified my more positive characteristics in an effort to make you like me.”. Which probably makes for a more entertaining read – and in places it really is laugh out loud funny.

The book charts the time from her upbringing in Croydon to 2012 and her participation in World’s Most Dangerous Roads, with Liza Tarbuck, driving along the Ho Chi Minh Trail – something I must have missed at the time and now feel the need to find and watch.

As well as being funny, and gently humorous the book also has some very touching parts including her father’s diagnosis with cancer. And if you are in a public place you should skip over ‘A letter to Pickle’ until you are somewhere away from other people and have a box of tissues to hand…

Of course, as the book charts Sue’s childhood, time at Cambridge and career progression and there are less traumatic highs and lows – not all her decisions are good ones but that’s the benefit of hindsight. What I found slightly odd was the things that weren’t mentioned. I’m not sure if there was something self-effacing about this (others would have made more of being Footlights President) and more serious issues that are glossed over (an accident to an eye as a child) but it did feel a little odd.

Nevertheless, for all the liberties that the author took I do feel as if I was reading about the person I though I knew from her TV appearances, even though she is someone who tends to keep out of the spotlight rather than seek it.

18th October sees the publication of the next ‘instalment’ East of Croydon – I’ll definitely be adding a copy to my Christmas wishlist.

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Dark Pines – Will Dean

Title – Dark Pines

Author – Will Dean

Published – Feb 2018

Genre – Crime fiction

This may be an unpopular point of view so I should say now that if you are one of the huge number of fans of Dark Pines and its hero Tuva then you probably won’t want read my review.

I bought this book for two main reasons, the first being that so many people on social media have raved about how good it is (I should know to manage my expectations better when this happens) and secondly I saw Will Dean on a panel at Crimefest and he was an engaging speaker and made his book sound like one I would enjoy.

Set in Sweden the premise is that a murdered body has been found deep in the snowy forest with its eyes removed – something that harks back to a series of unsolved murders some twenty years ago. Tuva is the (deaf) reporter for the Gavrik Posten, she’s recently moved to the small town from London in order to be closer to her seriously ill mother. For Tuva successful investigative reporting on the murder could be a step up the ladder for her and she drops the more mundane stories that are the usual content for the paper to spend her time investigating the murder.

The occupants of the small group of houses closest to the discovery of the body seem to be the natural suspects for the murder – and what a mixed bunch they are! Tuva concentrates her efforts on these few characters despite the fact that this means travelling into the forest – a struggle for her as she is terrified of nature.

As a character driven crime thriller I wasn’t too keen on Tuva. She is definitely different from other lead characters although she’s playing the recognisable role of an outsider coming into a close-knit community. One of the important distinctions about Tuva over protagonists in other books is that she’s deaf, which didn’t perhaps have as much impact on the story as I would have expected – I thought the author would have made more use of it in, for example, being able to lip read. The downside to the deafness was a seeming fixation in making sure that the reader didn’t forget and one of the few occasions where the deafness gave her an extra insight (the possible impact on a young boy of a noise others can’t hear) she did nothing.

The repetitive nature of the care of her hearing aids, the repetitive descriptions of driving up and down the same piece of road and some of the extraneous parts of the story that didn’t really seem to go anywhere, things that could have been red herrings but were never explained, all made me think this was more an attempt to write ‘literary’ crime fiction rather than ‘thrilling’ crime fiction. While I like my crime fiction to be well written I do want it to thrill!

Told in the first person the story was atmospheric and tense but there was also a lot of Tuva’s angst which I didn’t feel much sympathy for. She makes some poor choices that put her at greater risk than she needs to be and there a number of moments where, as a reader, I found her actions very frustrating. She’s been driven to live where she does, somewhere she doesn’t like, because of her intention to be on hand for her mother but when push comes to shove she puts her job first which felt like an inconsistency.

While this is an atmospheric thriller with the feel and pace of ‘nordic noir’ there were too many things I didn’t like about it and without spoiling the story for anyone who hasn’t yet read it I think there is at least one plot hole that detracted from the story.

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The Evolution of Fear – Paul E Hardisty

816qpyYSM1LTitle – The Evolution of Fear

Author – Paul E Hardisty

Published – 2016

Genre –  Thriller

Claymore Straker is back and I regret that I left it so long before picking up this second book by Paul Hardisty. The story picks up just a few months from the end of The Abrupt Physics of Dying and starts off with an action sequence as a reminder of how thrilling Hardisty’s writing is.

Straker’s cover seems to be blown and he may have been betrayed by one of the few people he can trust. He flees his safe house on the coast of Cornwall in a thrilling sequence that will have you holding your breath.

When he recovers from his flight from England he tries to track down Rania, the woman he loves. Unable to speak to her, he follows a trail which leads him to Istanbul and although he finds her he quickly loses her again. A twist in the story see Straker separated from Rania and unsure if she still wants anything to do with him. While he tries to unravel the truth behind the story she has been working on (she is a journalist) he is still a fugitive with a considerable price on his head.

Having moved from the setting of Yemen and the environmental issues of the first book, there is a different issue at the heart of this book – the destruction of the habitats of sea turtles on Cyprus. But of course at the centre it’s still human greed and rival factions trying to make the most profit they can, ignoring the human or environmental cost.

Straker plays the male lead to the full, battered and bruised but ever resourceful. In this second book we find out more about the incident that drives him and for which he perpetually feels that he needs to make amends for. As with the first book Rania’s character is important as a driver for him but she’s not someone we really get to know.

As with its predecessor this wraps fast-paced action-packed writing around a heart which wants to see justice done, whatever the cost. Another thrilling read and I must now dig out the next book in the series! Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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The Dark Angel – Elly Griffiths

Title – The Dark Angel

Author – Elly Griffiths

Published – Feb 2018

Genre – Crime fiction / Mystery

I’m someone who is committed to reading series in order but the Ruth Galloway books by Elly Griffiths are one of a few exceptions to this rule. I’ve read the first book and read and reviewed the fourth and oddly still have book 5 on my TBR, but I couldn’t resist starting on book 10 when it arrived. Although I felt I’d missed out a little in not having read the intervening books, there is enough background that you could pick this up without having read any others in the series.

Italian archaeologist and TV presenter Professor Angelo Morelli asks Ruth to help him after a television recording of a dig suffers an unexpected problem. In need of a holiday, Ruth agrees to take the opportunity to exchange Norfolk for a hilltop village outside Rome, if only briefly, so she and her friend Shona and their children travel out to stay with Morelli.

There are multiple threads to the story. As well as the initial dig, Morelli believes that his life is in danger, supported by some mysterious happenings, then Ruth discovers the body of a local man in the village church. There are some dark secrets within the village that date back to the Nazis and WWII which are bubbling under the surface. To complicate matters Ruth and Morelli had a one night stand when she was in Rome for a conference some twelve years before, which Ruth remembers fondly although she’s unsure of his intentions towards her or what she wants.

There was more of the story given over to Nelson and his point of view than I remember in previous books. Both he and Ruth and Nelson’s wife have got their lives into quite a mess. There is a potential threat to Nelson as a man he put away for killing his wife and children in a fire has recently been released from prison. However an earthquake in Italy prompts Nelson (and Cathbad) to join the ladies in Italy where he’s a fish out of water, although it does allow him to spend some ‘family’ time with Ruth and Kate.

I did enjoy the book but this was definitely more of a summer read than a gritty crime drama, and I’m not sure that the all of the questions raised were answered. The change of location offers sunny days, lots of wine consumption and Italian hospitality. Ruth is a lovely character whose life is becoming more and more complicated as the series progresses although she’s not changed much in the last ten books – still feeling like a middle-aged klutz, despite the men who seem to be perpetually in tow.

An enjoyable read if you enjoy a mix of Italian atmosphere and romance with your forensic archaeology. Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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