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 Crime Fiction Alphabet meets A Month of Dutch Literature: V is for Van der Vlugt

Now, where was I?

Four days ago I had a post written in my head, but before I could capture it I lost my internet connection. Completely.

I missed many my link to other readers, but without it for a few days I did a lot more reading. And I used the half hour a day available to me a the library to check email and continue my search for a job.

I’m still lacking a wireless connection, but for the moment I have salvaged a wired link and so I will try to pull that post out of the back of my mind …

Shadow Sister by Simone Van Der Vlugt seemed to be the perfect book. I had enjoyed the author’s first book, which I wrote about here, and so her second would nicely fill the V slot in my Crime Fiction Alphabet. And letter V fell in the middle of June,  so that the same book would fall nicely for A Month of Dutch Literature.

It was too perfect. I’m afraid the book was rather disappointing. It fell into the classic trap for crime fiction, of compromising characters for the sake of the plot. And I’m afraid there were problems with the plot too.

I must say now that this isn’t going to be a hatchet job. There were good things, things I liked, and I had no problem reading to the end. But I was disappointed.

The story began promisingly.

“All of a sudden he’s got a knife. The flash as he draws it is so unexpected fear paralyses me. I try to speak, but the sound dies in my throat. I can only stare at the blade glinting in the light streaming through the classroom window.”

Lydia taught in a language school. It could be difficult, but she cared, she felt she was doing good, and she was professional.

Her husband was less happy. Particularly when Lydia acceded to her school’s wish to deal with the student who pulled a knife on her quietly, in-house, to try to prevent damage to its reputation.

But Elisa, her twin sister, understood. The two woman were very different. Lydia, the teacher, was married with a child, organised, she knew where she was going in life. Elisa though was single, a photographer, and much more spontaneous in how she lived her life. Yes, two very different women, but they were joined by a shared history and they understood each other perfectly.

Until, just days after the knife incident, Lydia is killed.

And then the story is split. Between Lydia and the days leading up to her death, and Elisa in the days after as she grieved and searched for answers. It’s a very effective structure, drawing the reader into each life, each situation, and then unsettling as the realisation surfaces that one of those women is dead.

And initially I believed in them both, but things went a little wrong. Lydia’s character was compromised as her story was used to make points about immigrants and cultural differences. They were valid points, but they were pushed that little bit too hard. And Elisa’s character was compromised by the author’s decision push other aspects of her grief to one side and focus only on her need to know what happened.

I wondered if there was a very different novel trying to get out here. A story of family, culture and loss, that had been compromised by the need, or wish, to produce a book that sat more naturally in the crime fiction genre …

As a murder mystery Shadow Sister started well, but then it faltered. Because secondary characters were so very lightly sketched. Because so many secrets emerged. And because there were too many times when characters said and did things that I couldn’t believe in order to make the plot work.

And I’m afraid the ending didn’t work either. I knew when a killer was unmasked sixty pages before the end that there would be another twist to come. And there was, a very predictable twist that I’ve seen so many times before.

After that though, there was a final moment that worked beautifully, And there had been other moments before.

That made the weaknesses, the crime fiction clichés, so frustrating. Because those high points reminded me that Simone Van der Vlugt can write wonderful crime fiction, and made me think that she might do well to bend, or even break, the conventions of the genre …

Translated by Michele Hutchison


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 …”

And so next week W is for … ?

The Reunion by Simone van der Vlugt

The Reunion

In The Reunion Sabine Kroese tells her own story – and what a story it is!

It opens with Sabine returning to her administrative job in a big bank after a nervous breakdown. She has been away for a long time and a lot has changed. In particular Sabine’s closest friend she left and a woman Sabine appointed has been promoted over her head, and seems determined to make Sabine’s life difficult.

It’s all horribly believable and you cannot help sympathising with Sabine, particularly when you come to realise that the problems that caused her breakdown are still unresolved

The story of Sabine’s past unravels slowly.

Nine years earlier, when Sabine was fifteen, her friend Isabel had disappeared. She rode bike away from school in the small seaside town of Den Helder, apparently going to meet somebody, and was never seen again.

Isabel and Sabine were close friends when they were very young, but things changed as they grew. Isabel, bright and pretty, became the leader of the cool kids and a girl who could get whatever boy she wanted. Sabine became the child they tease dand bullied, the butt of their jokes.

All of this has been coming back to Sabine. Memories are stirred when an old schoolfriend appears at work, and they begin a relationship. And an advertisement for a school reunion appears in the newspaper. Long suppressed memories of things that happened on the day Isabel disappeared are beginning to surface, and eventually Sabine decides that the only way for her to find peace is to uncover what really happened that day.

New possibilities and questions are thrown up with every twist in the tale.

You certainly wonder if Sabine is an unreliable narrator. She is engaging though, and you cannot help sympathising with her, even as you wonder if she is fooling herself as well as you.

The story builds to a final revelation – or maybe not.

What you do have in the end though is a well-constructed and very readable debut adult novel.

Translated by Michele Hutchison