When new books by much admired authors disappoint …

… it is hard to know what to write. Or indeed whether to write.

I’d hate to deter anyone from reading the works of an author whose other work I have appreciated … and maybe sometimes I come to a book at the wrong time, or with the wrong expectations …

ButI think I have to set out my feelings, remembering that there was enough in these books for me to read them to the end.

Two recent crime novels.


The first is The Quarry by Johan Theorin. It’s the third book in a loosely linked quartet of crime novels, one for each season, set on the Swedish island of Öland. I was very impressed by the first two books in the series, and so I didn’t hesitate to pick this one up.

As spring begins retired Gerlof Davidsson has decides to leave the senior  home where he has been living and return to his own cottage. It is in a quiet spot, but he has a few neighbours. There’s Per Mörner, recently divorced and struggling to cope with a withdrawn son and a sickly daughter. And there’s Vendela Larsson, who has persuaded her husband, Max, to buy a luxury home close to her childhood home on the island. The plot will link them all.

Per is estranged from his father, Gerry, a man with a very dubious past, but he takes him in after he suffers a stroke and then his house is destroyed by fire. A man was killed in the fire. And Gerry is agitated. Per begins to investigate.

Gerlof offers him counsel, but he is distracted. Because he is reading his late wife’s diaries, and what he learns will have consequences for Per and for Vendela.

The plot is cleverly constructed, the characterisation is excellent, and the sense of place is wonderful.

But it felt contrived, particularly the way in which Vendela was drawn into the story. No one element was wrong, but the elements didn’t work together.

A disappointment, but the quality of the first two books, and the things that did work in this one, are more than enough to make sure I will pick up the final book in the quartet when it arrives.


The second is The Betrayal of Trust by Susan Hill, the sixth book in her Simon Serrailler detective series.

I have loved this series for so many reasons. The quality of the writing. The perfectly drawn, complex characters and relationships. The broad view of crime and all those it touches. Consideration of serious issues. And the willingness to break the conventions of crime fiction, leaving loose ends, carrying plot strands between books.

All of that is still present. The body of a girl missing for many years and another, unidentified body, are found. The lives of the Serailler family continue to evolve. A woman considers ending her life when she is diagnosed with a progressive, debilitating disease. And another woman struggles to cope with her partner’s slide into dementia. The plot links them all.

But the plot is unbalanced. The crime story felt secondary to the consideration of ageing, illness and how a life should end. Important issues but, for me, having to consider motor neurone disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s Disease all in one piece of crime fiction was too much.

The ending of the crime story was much too neat, and much too rushed, ongoing storylines were advanced too little, and far too many threads were left hanging.

I can but hope that there will be another book to answer my questions, and that book will get the balance right.


I’ll mention no names, but crime fiction series can go wrong. Some run out of ideas and become predictable. Some paint themselves into corners. Some just go over the top …

Actually I will mention names: Janet Evanovich, Elizabeth George, Patricia Cornwell …

But I think, I hope, these two have only wobbled.

Time will tell …

Book Awards: A Challenge Completed

I was delighted this morning when I discovered that Paperboy by Christopher Fowler had won the inaugral Green Carnation Prize.

It’s a lovely book more than worthy of prizes and attention.

And it brought me up to the total of ten books read and written about that I needed to complete the Book Awards IV Reading Challenge.

I’ve been rather lackadaisical in my approach to reading challenges this year. Signing up and making book lists was lovely, but I’ve read the books that called and they weren’t always the books on the lists or books that fitted the challenges I’d signed up for.

I’ll wind up a few more before the year ends, but a few I’m afraid have fallen by the wayside. I’m not going to name names, I’m just going to say that I mean no disrespect to the hosts and that I do appreciate all of the thought and hard work that they put in.

But back to the one I have finished – here are the books:

  1.  The Tin-kin by Eleanor Thom (Saltire First Novel Award) 
  2.  The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips (Barnes & Noble Discover Prize)
  3. Paperboy by Christopher Fowler (Green Carnation)
  4. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen (SIBA Book Award)
  5. Haweswater by Sarah Hall (Commonwealth Writers’ Award)
  6. Echoes From The Dead by Johan Theorin (CWA New Blood Dagger)
  7. After The Fire, a Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld (John Llewelyn Rhys Prize)
  8. I Coriander by Sally Gardner (Nestlé Smarties Book Award)
  9. The Boy Next Door by Irene Sabatini (Orange Award for New Writers)
  10. Just Like Tomorrow by Faïza Guène (Scott Moncrieff Prize)

Some I picked from prize lists, some I read and they just happened to have awards and, maybe best of all, two I read and loved and then they won awards.

And now I’m off to read my final book for another challenge …

Echoes From The Dead by Johan Theorin

Many years ago a small boy disappeared. He climbed over his parents’ garden wall and disappeared into the mist.

Now, twenty years on, the first piece of evidence has come to light. A new investigation begins.

A simple story, but Johan Theorin builds on it very well indeed.

He builds characters.

First there’s Julia. it was her son, Jens, who disappeared. She has never come to terms with her loss, never learned to live with it. She was already separated from her husband, and her refusal to accept that her son must be dead has left her estranged her from her family and friends and unable to return to her job as a nurse. She is in every way a woman alone.

And she is utterly believable. Infuriating and understandable in equal measure.

There is her father, Gerlof, struggling with the problems of old age and missing the respect and camaraderie he enjoyed in his working life.

Gerlof receives a child’s shoe in the post. Jens’ shoe. He calls his daughter, and a new investigation begins.

Who is responsible? Local people have alway blamed Nils Kant, a local man with a dark reputation, even though he was dead and buried before the child disappeared. Rumours persist. That another body is buried in the graveyard. That Nils Kant has returned.

And so two stories are told.

The first is the story of an investigation, of a mother’s dawning realisation that her child is lost to her, and of a father and daughter struggling to rebuild their relationship.

The second is the story of Nils Kant, of what lay behind the events that blackened his name, of what happened to him when he left his homeland.

Both are complex human stories, and both are very well executed.

And compelling – each time I stopped reading I was surprised at how many pages had gone by.

The atmosphere is dark, the sense of place is palpable, and the construction of the story is oh so clever. Particularly the conclusion, which comes quite naturally out of the story without ever feeling predictable.

I’m still thinking about this book, and I’m looking forward to Johan Theorin’s second novel too. It’s already in my library pile!

Translated by Marlaine Delargy

Library Loot

Now why is it that just when you’ve decided you have more than enough library books, and that you want to read your own books, yet more books that you really can’t resist appear?

I’m not risking another visit until after the bank holiday!

Here’s this week’s loot:

The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale

” Brought up in rural Sussex, seventeen-year-old Agnes Trussel is carrying an unwanted child. Taking advantage of the death of her elderly neighbour, Agnes steals her savings and runs away to London. On her way she encounters the intriguing Lettice Talbot who promises that she will help Agnes upon their arrival. But Agnes soon becomes lost in the dark, labyrinthine city. She ends up at the household of John Blacklock, laconic firework-maker, becoming his first female assistant. The months pass and it becomes increasingly difficult for Agnes to conceal her secret. Soon she meets Cornelius Soul, seller of gunpowder, and hatches a plan which could save her from ruin. Yet why does John Blacklock so vehemently disapprove of Mr Soul? And what exactly is he keeping from her? Could the housekeeper, Mrs Blight, with her thirst for accounts of hangings, suspect her crime or condition?”

A while back this kept popping up on recommendation lists. I liked the look of it but I didn’t rush to track down a copy. But when I saw it on the shortlist for the Orange Award for New Writers I decided that its time had come and placed an order

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

“The wireless crackles with news of blitzed-out London and of the war that courses through Europe, leaving destruction in its wake. Listening intently on the other side of the Atlantic, newly-wed Emma considers the fragility of her peaceful married life as America edges closer to the brink of war. As the reporter’s distant voice fills the room, she sits convincing herself that the sleepy town of Franklin must be far beyond the war’s reach. But the life of American journalist Frankie, whose voice seems so remote, will soon be deeply entangled with her own. With the delivery of a letter into the hands of postmistress Iris, the fates of these three women become irrevocably linked. But while it remains unopened, can Iris keep its truth at bay? “

This seems to have been around for a while, but it was only released in the UK a few weeks ago. So I consider myself lucky to have picked it up so quickly. And I’m glad that for once that we have the same cover as the US edition – I spotted it from a great distance!

Nimrod’s Shadow by Chris Paling

“Reilly is an impoverished painter who lives alone in a shabby garret, with only his unsold canvases and his faithful dog Nimrod for company. He seems destined to remain in artistic obscurity until he learns that the most influential art critic of the time has begun to notice his talent. But no sooner has he found a patron than the critic is found drowned in a local canal and trail leads directly back to Reilly. From Reilly’s prison cell in Edwardian London to an exclusive gallery in contemporary Soho, the clues that lead to the real murderer lie carefully hidden, until the day when Samantha a young office assistant finds herself drawn to one of Reilly’s pictures and decides to embark upon her own investigation.”

I might have resisted the synopsis,but I couldn’t resist the dog! Briar looks just like that when you say “beach” or “park”. And it’s published by the lovely Portobello Books, which is a very positive sign.

Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin

“Can you ever come to terms with a missing child? Julia Davidsson has not. Her five-year-old son disappeared twenty years previously on the Swedish island of Oland. No trace of him has ever been found. Until his shoe arrives in the post. It has been sent to Julia’s father, a retired sea-captain still living on the island. Soon he and Julia are piecing together fragments of the past: fragments that point inexorably to a local man called Nils Kant, known to delight in the pain of others. But Nils Kant died during the 1960s. So who is the stranger seen wandering across the fields as darkness falls? It soon becomes clear that someone wants to stop Julia’s search for the truth. And that he’s much, much closer than she thinks …

I picked up a book by Johan Theorin last week, and discovered later that it was his second and some of the characters had appeared in his first book. I ordered that book in so that I could read them in sequence.


Have you read any of these? What did you think?  Which are you curious to know more about?

And what did you find in the library this week?

See more Library Loot here.

Library Loot

Eva is coordinating Library Loot this week.

I’m still trying to be moderate. My own books are calling. Loudly. But three very different books had to come home this week.

First there was the award winning crime novel:

The Darkest Room by Johan Theorin

” It is bitter mid-winter on the Swedish island of Oland, and Katrine and Joakim Westin have moved with their children to the boarded-up manor house at Eel Point. But their remote idyll is soon shattered when Katrine is found drowned off the rocks nearby. As Joakim struggles to keep his sanity in the wake of the tragedy, the old house begins to exert a strange hold over him. Joakim has never been in the least superstitious, but from where are those whispering noises coming? To whom does his daughter call out in the night? And why is the barn door for ever ajar? As the end of the year approaches, and the infamous winter storm moves in across Oland, Joakim begins to fear that the most spine-chilling story he’s heard about Eel Point might indeed be true: that every Christmas the dead return….”

I’m enjoying my journey through the Orange Prize longlist but I wanted a change, to bring home something completely different. And this one caught my eye. Winner of the Glass Key Award for the Best Nordic Crime Novel of the Year. Now there are a lot of great Nordic crime novels around at the moment, so surely to win this must have been pretty good.

Then there was the book of the shortlist for the Orange Award for New Writers that I just had to order:

The Boy Next Door by Irene Sabatini

“As Zimbabwe breaks free of British colonial rule, young Lindiwe Bishop encounters violence at close hand when her white neighbour is murdered. But this is a domestic crime, apparently committed by the woman’s stepson, Ian, although he is released from prison surprisingly quickly. Intrigued, Lindiwe strikes up a covert friendship with the mysterious boy next door, until he abruptly departs for South Africa. Years later, Ian returns to find Lindiwe has been hiding her own secret. It is to bring them closer together, but also test a relationship already contending with racial prejudice and the hostility of Lindiwe’s mother. And as their country slides towards chaos, the couple’s grip on happiness becomes ever more precarious.”

I was curious when I saw this on the shortlist and so I ordered a copy. I’ve only read one chapter in but I’m impressed – Lindiwe is an engaging narrator and the story looks very promising.

And, finally, there’s the book that caught my eye on the new books shelf:

Diamond Star Halo by Tiffany Murray

“Halo Llewelyn’s prayers begin, Dear God and Otis Redding, because she lives at Rockfarm, a rural recording studio where the sound of tractors and Stratocasters battle. One midsummer night an American band called Tequila arrives in a beautiful silver bus, and when they and that summer are gone, they leave behind an equally beautiful baby boy; they leave Fred. Fred is everybody’s favourite, a golden child, and Halo adores him. By seventeen his ambition has propelled him out into the word and into the stardom that was always his destiny. Yet up on stage, being screamed at by hundred of teenage girls and boys, Fred will always turn his spotlight on Halo in the crowd. That’s the problem with falling in love with your charismatic almost-brother: it can never be a secret. In the end, the whole world has to know.”

This looked so different that, although I wasn’t sure it was going to be my sort of book, I had to pick it up. I’m still not sure but when I saw the quote “Cider With Rosie with an impeccable soundtrack” from Mark Radcliffe on the cover I knew that I had to give it a try. And it’s published by Portobello Books, which is a very good sign.


Have you read any of these? What did you think? Which are you curious to know more about?

And what did you find in the library this week?