Crime Fiction Alphabet: H is for Hidden

Camilla Läckberg’s last book, The Gallows Bird, the fourth of series of crime novels, set in and around in the small town of Fjällbacka on the Swedish Coast, ended with a cliffhanger. Going through her late mother’s effects, Erica Falk found a Nazi medal, a bloodstained shirt and some old notebooks, diaries from the war years.

That made me exceedingly curious, and I had high hopes for the next book in the series: The Hidden Child.

It begins with Erika going back to work, retiring to her study to research and write a new “true crime” book. Her husband, police detective Patrik Hedström, was beginning a period of paternity leave and the couple had agreed that it was his turn to run the house and be the full-time, hands-on parent. Needless to say, things did not run smoothly. Patrick had underestimated the demands of looking after a one-year-old, and he missed his work and his colleagues. Erika wasn’t overly concerned that Patrik’s ex-wife. another newish parent was back in town, but she was less happy that her daughter was being babysat in the police station while Patrik gave a helping hand to a murder enquiry.

And Erika found it strange, sitting upstairs, trying to work while her husband and daughter were downstairs. She couldn’t concentrate on her work, and so she began to read her mother’s diaries. She met her mother as a sociable young woman, so different from the cold, distant mother of her memory.

The history reported in Erika’s mother’s diaries and the murder that Patrik’s colleagues were investigating were linked. Erika saw that straight away and she began to investigate, seeking out her mother’s old friends, and digging for more details in the local library.

It was fascinating, seeing the young people of the diaries in old age. Much had changed, and much had stayed the same. Much was said about the effects of the war in Sweden, and the political consequences that still resonated. And there were human stories too, stories of friends, stories of families. All are well handled, and there are some wonderfully touching moments.

The plot was strong, and a little less guessable, than many of Camilla Läckberg’s mysteries. And she’s as good as ever at bringing out just the right details of domestic life, opening out the stories of Fjällbacka’s detectives, making all of her characters and their lives seem utterly real.

Camilla Läckberg writes very human mysteries. And though this book could easily be read as a stand-alone, there is much to be gained from reading her books in the right order. There’s a nice variation to the mysteries, consistency and evolution in the ongoing storylines, and after reading five I can’t pick one standout or one dud.

But I do have to say that, with this book, the story took some time to get going, and though I like the plain straightforward style, one or two things bothered me that hadn’t before. There’s a little too much exposition through dialogue, and one or two scenes were a little laboured. But as soon as the plot began to move I forgot my concerns and I was happily engrossed; and now I’ve seen the synopsis for her next book I realise that those scenes were lining up another story.

I’m hoping for another intriguing mystery, and more interesting developments in the lives of characters I’ve come to like very much.

*****

The Crime Fiction Alphabet is hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.

“Each week, beginning Monday 21 May 2012, you have to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week …”

So next week, I is for … ?

Clearing the Decks: The First Introductions for 2012

Last year I decided that I needed to let go of some of my books .

There are so many wonderful books in the world, so many wonderful books still to come that I want to only hold on to the very best. The books that I want to pick up again and again, the books inspire an emotional reaction whenever I see or think about them.

So I selected a hundred books from the ridiculous number that I had unread. Books I wanted to read but probably didn’t need to keep. Those books went into my home library, to be read or rejected, and then passed on for others to read.

Forty books left the premises last year, so I’m adding forty more for 2012.

I realised when I chose them that I was getting closer to my goal: having the books I wanted to keep on shelves, and reading books that I wanted to read but not keep promptly before letting them go.

But I’m not there yet.

I’m introducing the books ten at a time. Do let me know if I have a book that you’ve loved and I’ll try to make it a priority. Or a book that you’ve hated and I should think twice about.

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Who Saw Him Die? by Sheila Radley

Cuthbert Bell, the village drunk, has been killed by Jack Boodrum in a road accident. In unravelling Jack’s and Cuthbert’s past, Inspector Quantrill and Sergeant Hilary Lloyd uncover secrets that shatter the peace of the little Suffolk town.

I picked this one up a couple of weeks ago. A charity shop had three books for a pound. There was one I wanted, one my fiance wanted, and so I looked for a third. This was the one that caught my eye.

Mother Love by Domini Taylor

When Angela Turner marries Kit Vesey she is drawn into a web of lies and deceit, with horrific results for her and her family. For Kit’s mother, Helena, is divorced from her husband, Alex, a prominent conductor, and Kit has been leading a grotesque double life … It is only when Alex is knighted that Helena comes to realise the extent of Kit’s betrayal and the rage of an abandoned wife and neglected mother is unleashed …

A very tatty copy appeared in a bargain bin and it reminded me of the tv series, so I had to pick it up.

Tom Brown’s Body by Gladys Mitchell

When an unpopular teacher at a private boy’s school is found murdered, only Mrs. Bradley can solve the mystery in this classic crime caper from the redoubtable Gladys Mitchell.

I read one book by Gladys Mitchell years ago and I always meant to read more but I never did. So when this appeared in the art gallery book sale for less than the price of a library reservation it seemed sensible to buy it. But as Gladys Mitchell wrote so many books I daren’t keep it after reading in case I’m tempted to start a collection!

Hothouse Flower by Lucinda Riley

As a child Julia Forrester spent many idyllic hours in the hothouse of Wharton Park estate, where her grandfather tended the exotic flowers. So when a family tragedy strikes, Julia returns to the tranquility of Wharton Park and its hothouse. Recently inherited by charismatic Kit Crawford, the estate is undergoing renovation. This leads to the discovery of an old diary, prompting the pair to seek out Julia’s grandmother to learn the truth behind a love affair that almost destroyed Wharton Park. Julia is taken back to the 1940s where the fortunes of young couple Olivia and Harry Crawford will have terrible consequences on generations to come. For as war breaks out Olivia and Harry are cruelly separated . . .

I loved ‘The Girl on the Cliff’ and so I picked up this one too. But I passed that book on and so I think I must let this one go once I’ve read it as well.

The Hidden Child by Camilla Läckberg

Crime writer Erica Falck is shocked to discover a Nazi medal among her late mother’s possessions. Haunted by a childhood of neglect, she resolves to dig deep into her family’s past and finally uncover the reasons why. Her enquiries lead her to the home of a retired history teacher. He was among her mother’s circle of friends during the Second World War but her questions are met with bizarre and evasive answers. Two days later he meets a violent death. Detective Patrik Hedström, Erica’s husband, is on paternity leave but soon becomes embroiled in the murder investigation. Who would kill so ruthlessly to bury secrets so old? Reluctantly Erica must read her mother’s wartime diaries. But within the pages is a painful revelation about Erica’s past. Could what little knowledge she has be enough to endanger her husband and newborn baby? The dark past is coming to light, and no one will escape the truth of how they came to be…

I’ve borrowed all of Camilla Läckberg’s other books from the library, but there was a long queue for this one and so when I saw a copy in a charity shop I grabbed it. Which doesn’t make too much sense, because I would have reached the front of the library queue by now and I haven’t picked up my copy.

The House at Midnight by Lucie Whitehouse

When Lucas inherits Stoneborough Manor after his uncle’s unexpected death, he imagines it as a place where he and his close circle of friends can spend time away from London. But from the beginning, the house changes everything. Lucas becomes haunted by the death of his uncle and obsessed by cine films of him and his friends at Stoneborough thirty years earlier. The group is disturbingly similar to their own, and within the claustrophobic confines of the house over a hot, decadent summer, secrets escape from the past and sexual tensions escalate, shattering friendships and changing lives irrevocably.

I love big house books and I read some great reviews of this one. I meant to wait for it to appear in the library, but when I saw I charity shop copy I picked it up.

The Pleasure Dome by Josie Barnard

Belle is bright, funny – and a hopeless mess of self-doubt. A situation not improved by having a glamorous television presenter for a mother. In a bid to shock her mother and hijack some attention for herself, she gets a job as a dancer at the Pleasure Dome, a glitzy champagne strip joint in Soho.

Pokerface, Josie Barnard’s first novel, was cleared from the decks last year. A great book but I was happy to pass it on. So it made sense to add this one in this year. I must confess that it has been waiting for so long that I really can’t remember where I came from.

The Harlot’s Press by Helen Pike

London, 1820: George IV is to be crowned King at last. But will his estranged wife Caroline be allowed to join him as Queen? The city is in turmoil, as her radical supporters rally to her cause and threaten to overturn the government… Into this tumultuous world is thrown Nell Wingfield, a gutsy seventeen-year-old printer of political pamphlets. Nell has recently returned home after a six-month absence that she would rather not explain. After her mother s death, she was duped into working at one of the Houses of the Quality , the brothels on St James s, turning tricks with men at the heart of the English establishment. When one of them a key protagonist in the plot to keep Caroline from the throne – was found dead in his bed, it was time for Nell to leave. But, back on Cheapside, she finds that the family print shop, far from providing a sanctuary, has become a hotbed of dangerous radical activity. Nell’s troubles, it seems, have only just begun…

My fiance is a volunteer gardener, and he found a bag of books dumped among garden waste. This was one of them.

The Diviner’s Tale by Bradford Morrow

Cassandra Brooks is a single mother-of-two, a schoolteacher and a water diviner. Deep in the woods as she dowses the land for a property developer, she is lost in her thoughts, until something catches her eye and her daydream shatters. Swinging from a tree is the body of a young girl, hanged. But when she returns with the authorities, the body has vanished. Already regarded as the local eccentric, her story is disbelieved � until a girl turns up in the woods, alive, mute and identical to the girl in Cassandra’s vision. In the days that follow, Cassandra’s visions become darker and more frequent as they begin to take on tangible form. Forced to confront a past she has tried to forget, Cassandra finds herself locked in a game of cat-and-mouse with a real life killer who has haunted her for longer than she can remember.

This one came from the bag in the gardens too.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Mariam is only fifteen when she is sent to Kabul to marry Rasheed. Nearly two decades later, a friendship grows between Mariam and a local teenager, Laila, as strong as the ties between mother and daughter. When the Taliban take over, life becomes a desperate struggle against starvation, brutality and fear. Yet love can move a person to act in unexpected ways, and lead them to overcome the most daunting obstacles with a startling heroism.

This came from the LibraryThing Secret Santa a couple of years ago. If I hadn’t been given a copy I would have borrowed it from the library rather than buying a copy, and I think I should be fine letting this one go.

******

And that’s it for this batch. Any thoughts?

Crime Fiction: The A to Z

When I set out on Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Alphabet I promised myself two things.

The first was that I would read nothing just for the sake of filling a slot, that I would only read books that I would have picked up sooner or later anyway.

I’ve managed that, though I did have to bend the rules a little for the difficult letter X and I had to throw in an emergency short story when the book I’d picked for letter Y let me down.

The second was that I would mix things up, and choose some familiar and some less familiar books.

And so my list is made up of:

  • Persephone books for H and X, and a classic short story by a Persephone author for G.
  •  A Virago Modern Classic, and a winner of the CWA Gold Dagger to boot,  for K.
  •  A wonderful anthology of new writers at W.
  •  Victorian crime for S and Victoriana for U. I would have liked to read more of both, but I ran out of time and letters.
  •  Crime fiction in translation at L and V.
  •  A Cornish book, set in very familiar countryside, at B.
  •  Agatha Christie re-reads at A and F. A for Agatha seemed to be the perfect place to start, and once I had re-read one book a number of others called me.
  •  Neglected woman authors, who were published in numbered green Penguins, at E, M, P and R. If I have learned one thing through the alphabet, it is always to look carefully at green Penguins as there are some real gems there.
  •  Male authors from the middle of the last century, who aren’t as lauded as some but really should be, at I, N and Q.
  •  A lovely range of contemporary crime fiction at C, D, J, O, T and Z.
  •  And that excellent, emergency short story at Y.

Mission accomplished, I think!

Here’s the A to Z in full.

A is for Agatha The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie
B is for Bolitho Framed in Cornwall by Janie Bolitho
C is for Crombie Where Memories Lie by Deborah Crombie
D is for Darkside Darkside by Belinda Bauer
E is for Ethel The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White
F is for Five Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie
G is for Glaspell A Jury of her Peers by Susan Glaspell (short story)
H is for Holding The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding
I is for Innes Death at the President’s Lodging by Michael Innes
J is for Jane The Burning by Jane Casey
K is for Kelly The Spoilt Kill by Mary Kelly
L is for Läckberg
The Stone-Cutter by Camilla Läckberg
M is for Mary Death and the Pleasant Voices by Mary Fitt
N is for Not Not to be Taken by Anthony Berkley
O is for Other The Other Half Lives by Sophie Hannah
P is for Potts The Man with the Cane by Jean Potts
Q is for Question A Question of Proof by Nicholas Blake
R is for Roth Shadow of a Lady by Holly Roth
S is for Study A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan-Doyle
T is for Tyler The Herring in the Library (and others) by L C Tyler
U is for Unburied The Unburied by Charles Palliser
V is for Van der Vlugt Shadow Sister by Simone Van Der Vlugt
W is for Written Written in Blood: a Honno Anthology
X is for Expendable The Expendable Man by Dorothy B Hughes
Y is for You You are a Gongedip by Sophie Hannah (short story)
Z is for Zouradi The Messenger of Athens by Anne Zouroudi

And that really is the end of the alphabet.

So where does my crime fiction reading go now? Well, I have The Quarry by Johan Theorin, A Herring on the Nile by LC Tyler, Now You See Me by S J Bolton, and two books by Erin Kelly in my library pile. My own green Penguins and my Agatha Christie collection are calling too, Plus those authors I discovered, and rediscovered, along the way and want to read again. And recommendations I picked up from others along the way ….

No end of possibilities …

The Gallows Bird by Camilla Läckberg

The Gallows Bird is the fourth of Camilla Läckberg’s series of crime novels, set in and around in the small town of Fjällbacka on the Swedish Coast.

It’s a series that I have grown to love, without understanding quite why, and while thinking that, maybe, I shouldn’t love it as much as I did.

Now though I have sorted things out in my head.

I had sometimes thought that the dialogue was stilted and that the characters were too straightforward. But when I read back the dialogue I couldn’t fault it. The characters spoke simply and naturally and with correct grammar. And though I could find no quirk, no eccentricity, in any of the recurring characters, I believed in them completely and really wanted to know what their futures held.

What I am trying to say is that Camilla Läckberg’s writing is completely focused on her characters and their stories. On their lives, their situations and their emotions. And that she does it very well.

She also varies her mysteries very nicely. This time around there are two very distinctive storylines.

A woman argues bitterly with her partner, storms out, and some time later is found dead in a car reeking of alcohol. Her partner is devastated, her daughter is shattered, and her ex husband is still bitter that his wife left him .

I reacted to all four characters, and I was particularly touched by the relationship between the dead woman’s daughter and her lover, as they mourned.

Real people and real emotions.

It is soon established that the death was no accident, and eventually links are made to a series of apparently accidental deaths across the country.

Meanwhile reality television has come to town. A coach load of those who have found fame in on other reality shows has arrived, to be filmed working in local businesses and interacting with the townsfolk.

This side of the story could have easily veered towards parody or cliché, but the author’s clear presentation of facts and characters meant that it was perfectly pitched. I felt concern, where I had expected to feel distaste.

The powers that be had hoped that the programme would bring good publicity to the town, but the participants are fractious and eventually a party gets out of hand and a body was found.

The investigation of both death falls, of course, to Patrik Hedström of the Tanumshede Police, and I was pleased to be allowed to watch Patrik and his colleagues at work again.

Eventually, of course, they linked the two, seemingly disparate deaths, in a very clever piece of plotting.

But before that there was routine policework, there were flashes of inspiration, and there were some lovely human details that revealed just a little more of the recurring characters.

And it was lovely to follow Patrik home, and to watch as he and his fiance Erika supported her sister in the aftermath of the events at the end of the previous book in the series, care for their infant daughter and, in between times, plan their wedding.

There were mundane day-to-day details, the sorts of scenes that are played out in so many families, and some wonderful moments. The moment when Erika, who was stressed and horribly aware that she hadn’t quite lost the extra weight she gained during her pregnancy, finally found the right wedding dress was absolutely perfect.

The Gallows Bird wraps the mysteries, the investigations, and the home lives together beautifully, and I was eager to follow all the storylines.

But it isn’t perfect. The police are still a little too reliant on Patrik’s seemingly infallible intuition, and one or two loose ends are tied up a little too neatly. I was disappointed  the cliffhanger at the end of the previous book was resolved too quickly, and potentially interesting events passed over.

And, not for the first time, I worked out who the killer was very early on. That was a little disappointing, but I was happy to spend time with the people, to see what was happening in their lives, to see how the investigation panned out.

There was high drama, and another cliffhanger at the end, so reading the next book in the series is a high priority.

That next book, The Hidden Child, has been selected for The TV Book Club. Im delighted both for the author, as her books deserve a wider audience, and for me, as I’m sure that the library will be ordering copies promptly!

Translated by Steven T Murray

Crime Fiction Alphabet: L is for Läckberg

The Stone-Cutter is the third of Camilla Läckberg’s series of crime novels, set once more in the in the small town of  Fjällbacka on the Swedish Coast.

It’s a series that is growing and developing nicely, and I’m very glad I found it.

The style is simple and straightforward but it works. It works very well.

A dramatic and atmospheric opening chapter sees a fisherman finding the body of a child tangled in his nets. A horrible, tragic accident it seems.  Patrik Hedström, a detective in the local police force, has to break the terrible news to the parents of the eight year-old girl. A difficult job made harder because Patrik knows the family.

Charlotte, Niclas and Sara, the daughter who is now lost to them, have only recently moved home to Fjällbacka, and have been staying with Charlotte’s mother and stepfather while they look for a home of their own.

Patrik’s partner Erika formed a close friendship when their paths crossed while both were pregnant. Since then Erika has provided sanctuary when Charlotte needed to escape from the demands of her family, and Charlotte has offered support and reassurance and Erika struggles to cope with the demands of her first child. It’s not that Patrik is unsympathetic or unwilling to help, but work so often calls him away.

A post-mortem finds clear evidence that Sara’s death was not an accident, and so a murder investigation begins.

It is an investigation that reveals a great deal: bitter disputes between neighbours, long estrangements between family members, parents struggling to cope with difficult children, marital disharmony … any or all of these things may have a bearing on Sara’s death.

Past history may have a bearing too. The  story of the stone-cutter and his family, beginning in the 1920s, must be significant. Why else would it be there?! It’s rather more story-book than the other strands of the book, but still compelling. 

There’s a lot going on: the domestic life of Patrik and Erika, the workings of the local police force, the investigation and the lives it changes, and the old history. 

Fortunately the plotting has been well thought out. Each strand has plenty to hold the interest, and those strands are very nicely woven together to make a complete story.

The pacing is very well handled too, starting slowly and then building, building …

The mystery was less complex than most and I worked out the ending well ahead of time but that didn’t matter too much. Because it was the right resolution, and because I wasn’t quite ready to leave this book behind.

You see, the point wasn’t so much solving the mystery as following and understanding the human stories. Camilla Läckberg’s characters are simply and clearly drawn, but it is so easy to believe in them and empathise with them. Their situations, their emotions, their responses are so recognisable, and they ring completely true.

I wanted the right resolutions for them all.

And I would like to meet Erika and Patrick again. The events in the final chapter of this book whetted my appetite for more …

Translated by Steven T Murray

*****

The Crime Fiction Alphabet is hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.

“Each week, beginning Monday 10 January 2011, you have to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week …”

So next week, M is for … ?

Library Loot

Marg and Eva are both away, but Library Loot has its own momentum!

(Edit: Marg is back, with a library book and with Mister Linky!)

I’ve been a little disorientated because the library has been rearranged. My autopilot needs adjusting! But I still managed to bring home three new books.

Here they are:

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey

“When George and Sabine Harwood arrive in Trinidad from England George instantly takes to their new life, but Sabine feels isolated, heat-fatigued, and ill at ease with the racial segregation and the imminent dawning of a new era. Her only solace is her growing fixation with Eric Williams, the charismatic leader of Trinidad’s new national party, to whom she pours out all her hopes and fears for the future in letters that she never brings herself to send. As the years progress, George and Sabine’s marriage endures for better or worse. When George discovers Sabine’s cache of letters, he realises just how many secrets she’s kept from him – and he from her – over the decades. And he is seized by an urgent, desperate need to prove his love for her, with tragic consequences…

Another book I liked the look of of the Orange Prize longlist and ordered.

The Stone Cutter by Camilla Läckberg

“InThe remote resort of Fjallbacka has seen its share of tragedy, though perhaps none worse than that of the little girl found in a fisherman’s net. But the post-mortem reveals that this is no accidental drowning! Local detective Patrik Hedstrom has just become a father. It is his grim task to discover who could be behind the methodical murder of a child both he and his partner, Erica, knew well. He knows the solution lies with finding a motive for this terrible crime. What he does not know is how this case will reach into the dark heart of Fjallbacka and tear aside its idyllic facade, perhaps forever.”

The third book in a series that I have grown to love. So it was lovely to find a copy on the new books shelf before I’d even realised it was out.

The Maintenance of Headway by Magnus Mills

“‘It’s a matter of procedure,’ I explained. ‘Strictly for the record. You don’t get sacked from this job unless you did what Thompson did.’ ‘What did he do then?’ ‘We never mention it.’ In Magnus Mills’ brilliant short novel he transports us into the bizarre world of the bus drivers who take us to work, to the supermarket, to the match and home again. It is a strange but all too real universe in which ‘the timetable’ and ‘maintenance of headway’ are sacred, but where the routes can change with the click of an inspector’s fingers and the helpless passengers are secondary. The journey from the southern outpost to the arch, the circus and the cross will seem as familiar as your regular route, but then Magnus Mills shows you the almost religious fervour which lies behind it, and how it is fine to be a little bit late but utterly unforgivable to be a moment early.”

I can’t quite explain it, but there is something every special about Magnus Mills’ books.

Have you read any of these? What did you think? Which book should I go for next? And which are you curious to know more about?

And what did you find in the library this week?

The Preacher by Camilla Läckberg

the-preacher

Camilla Läckberg laid good foundations for a crime series in her first book, The Ice Princess. In this, her second, she builds successfully on these foundations.

The story opens with a strong and very visual scene. A small boy, playing where he has been told not to, stumbles across the body of a young woman. And that’s not all – when police examine the scene they find older remains of two more women below the first body.

The story then moves to Erica Falck and Patrik Hedstrøm, Camilla Läckberg’s two principal serial characters. He is on leave and the couple is at home together in her childhood home when Patrik is called back to work to investigate the three killings.

Hooray for a detective who isn’t an idiosyncratic maverick but a regular person with a familiar family life!

The two older bodies are swiftly linked to the cases of two young girls who went missing some twenty years ago. Back then, suspicion fell on the members of a prominent local family, and signs point to them again.

The Hult family is descended from Ephraim Hult, a distinguished and charismatic preacher and healer. Living in the shadow of such a man is not easy and the family has many deep seated troubles and feuds.

Meanwhile, Erica is heavily pregnant in the middle of a heatwave and she is plagued by friends and relations who expect to visit and be looked after. It’s the price of living in a large house in beautiful countryside. And she worries about sister, who has left her abusive husband but will maybe take more missteps.

And so the story weaves between the police investigation, the family under scrutiny and Erica and Patrik’s family life.

When I wrote about The Ice Princess I was a little critical of the balance between those three elements. Not this time around – it helps maybe that all of the continuing characters and relationships are in place this time around – the balance feels right and the contrast between the darkness of the crime and the warmth of the domestic storyline is interesting.

Camilla Läckberg shows emotional understanding and great psychological understanding. Her characterizations are spot on and her style is clear and exact, with not a word wasted.

The story twists and turns, before reaching a conclusion that is both unexpected and totally logical – something that many distinguished crime writers can’t pull off this well.

Definitely a successful second outing – I look forward to the third.

Translated by Steven T Murray