A fellow blogger chum, Dave at Espressococo was bemoaning the fact on Twitter that he couldn’t keep up with the ratio of reading books: reviewing books, and we have decided that we shall hence forth be known as #TheLeagueOfLaggardBloggers. I managed the giddy total of one review this month for the excellent Death Deserved- Thomas Enger & Jorn Lier Horst but I have actually read 15 books. Three more for the Petrona Award for Scandinavian Crime Fiction, (Jussi Adler Olsson- The Washington Decree, Thomas Enger- Inborn and Stefan Ahnhem- Motive X) five for blog tours scheduled for March ( better get my reviewing groove on for those!) and the little smorgasbord of delights below. I’m attributing blame to the stress of flooding which has badly affected where I live, so much so that we are debating to add the monicker On-Sea to our town, and the general hurly burly of stuff going on in my personal and work life at the moment. March will be calmer, and weather permitting, my reading/reviewing equilibrium will be restored…
With my current fetish for Japanese crime I read The Honjin Murders and The Inugami Curse by Seishi Yokomizo back to back, which introduce the shambling, head-scratching private investigator Kosuke Kindaichi. Very much in the tradition of, and relecting the Japanese obsession with, the locked room mystery genre, both books are cleverly plotted, replete with red herrings and mind tickling twists in the narrative. I slightly preferred The Inugami Curse (trans. Yumiko Yamakazi) as the other book seemed a little more slight in its plotting, but would heartily recommend both as a sterling introduction to this author. As an aside, The Honjin Murders (trans. Louise Heal Kwai) also includes in the story a go-to list of other Japanese mystery writers which I have started exploring, and am looking forward immensely to the next Yokomizo to be produced by Pushkin Vertigo.
A world away from Japan I read three thrillers rooted in the UK and more specifically the North of England. I would absolutely recommend a debut thriller by Chris McDonald- A Wash of Black introducing DI Erika Piper. I sometimes find police procedurals a little samey, but McDonald has not only introduced a character to the genre who genuinely endeares herself to the reader, but is also involved in an investigation that keeps your attention, takes some unexpected turns, and some equally unexpected deaths. A nice bit of gore factor, a bit of movie gold dust and pacy plotting added to my satisfaction. Doesn’t hurt that I was also reminded of the Manchester crime novels of the woefully underrated Chris Simms too. Recommended.
Next up was The Alibi Girl by C. J. Skuse who can always be relied upon to produce an enjoyable, cynical and genuinely entertaining crime thriller. To me personally she also has the mantle of being one of the funniest people on Twitter with her acerbic observations and fabulous sarcasm as demonstrated by her brilliant book Sweetpea. I loved the premise of this really quite emotionally fragile woman inventing a host of personas, slewing them on and off like a snake skin, but ultimately of them being a very necessary form of armour for her as her back story unfolds. Sharp, perceptive and despite some of its lighter moments, has some interesting observations on the nature of family loyalty, the persistence of childhood memory and how it shapes us as adults. Recommended.
Last, but not least was Kate Atkinson’s Big Sky. I must admit I did toy with reviewing this, but having talked about this book for a solid month as a promotion for work, I’ve tired of it somewhat, although I did enjoy reading it. Having such a gap in a character series I was gratified by how quickly it was to get back into Jackson Brodie world. He’s back, the excellent/annoying parenthesis are back and drawing on elements of the infamous Yew Tree investigations, Brodie is soon inveigled in a sinister case with what could be sinister repercussions. Atkinson once in demonstrates her flexibility as a writer, bringing her adroit style and fluidity to this genre as she does to her more ‘literary’ fiction.
Also managed to squeeze in a couple of non-fiction titles too with Monisha Rajesh Around The World In 80 Trains, her follow up to the brilliant Around India In 80 Trains, which sees her tracking a course through Europe, Asia and the Americas. Filled with beautiful observations, some alarming interactions, and her genuine love for life on the tracks, I really lost myself in this one. The irony being that I read a good chunk of this which covered the amazing efficiency of the Japanese rail system, whilst stuck on a replacement bus service for a couple of hours!
Also read An Ode To Darkness by Sigri Sandberg (trans. Sian Mackie) which is a slim but fascinating assessment of how our lives are lived too much in the light, and how we need to embrace darkness on a psychological and emotional level. Referencing figures like Christiane Ritter (A Woman In The Polar Night) as emblematic of how to overcome the fear and isolation of darkness, Sandberg also makes a good fist of addressing her own irrational fear in the isolated reaches of Norway, surrounded by a world of darkness. Contemplative and thought provoking too.
With thanks to Orenda Books and Red Dog Press for Death Deserved and A Wash of Black respectively.
I bought The Honjin Murders, The Inugami Curse, The Alibi Girl, Big Sky, Around The World In 80 Trains and An Ode To Darkness