When the third part of a trilogy falls a little flat …

Something Nasty in the Woodshed by Kyril Bonfiglioli

mortdecai 3You may remember my enthusiasm for the reprints of the first two wickedly funny and totally non-PC Charlie Mortdecai books by Kyril Bonfiglioli last year; if you don’t, see my write-ups:

I loved them both; the second follows on directly from the first. Originally published in the 1970s, they sent everything up in a Raffles meets James Bond with a Jeeves and Wooster setting, through the adventures of aristo-art dealer Charlie Mortdecai, his manservant ‘thug’ Jock and Bond-girl type wife Johanna.

It’s such a shame then when the third volume in the original trilogy falls flat. (Bonfiglioli did leave another volume unfinished, now completed by Craig Brown, plus a novel of Charlie’s son’s adventures). That’s not to say that the third book wasn’t enjoyable – there were plenty of good jokes in it, but the action took two-thirds of the book to really get going – and in a 168 page novel, when it did happen, it was all quite rushed.  I’ll set the scene a little.

Charlie Mortdecai is sojourning on the island of Jersey, out of the way of those authorities on the British mainland that would otherwise be taking an interest in his affairs. He has rented a house and made friends with his two neighbours and their wives:

George’s Wife
is called Sonia, although her women-friends say that the name on her birth-certificate was probably Ruby… She is a slut and a bitch, every woman can tell this at a glance, so can most homosexuals. … Under a shellac-layer of cultivation and coffee-table books her manners and morals are those of a skilled whore who has succeeded in retiring early and now dedicates her craft to personal pleasure alone. She is very good at it indeed. I dare say.

Charlie, who as always narrates, takes the twenty pages of the first chapter to tell us about Jersey, his new friends, their wives, and the quaint system of policing on the island then. It is chapter two before anything happens, and when it does, it is rather nasty. Sonia is raped by a ‘beast’. The morning after, Charlie seems to be the last to know, Johanna tells him:

‘Course you know you won’t catch him, don’t you?’
I gaped.
‘Catch whom?’
‘The bloke who rogered Mrs Breakspear, of course. Silly bugger, he only had to say please, didn’t he?’

Oh dear… Soon Violet, wife of his other neighbour Sam, is similarly raped. Whereas Sonia takes it in her stride, so to speak, Violet is completely traumatised by the experience and is hospitalized. There are intimations of a satanic connection. Fearing that Johanna will be next – although Charlie knows she can look after herself – the three men and Jock set out to investigate and patrol the parish at night. They liaise with the local Centennier (volunteer Parish policeman) to find out about the local sex-maniacs. Charlie is telling Johanna about them:

‘And in St John’s,’ I ended, ‘there’s a well-respected man who does it with calves: what do you say to that?’
She rolled over onto all fours, her delightful bottom coquettishly raised.
‘Mooo?’ she asked hopefully.
‘Oh, very well.’

La Hougue Bie – Ancient passage grave under a mound which has a chapel built on top. As you can see, it was covered in scaffolding when I visited in 2013!

It then all gets very Bergerac meets Dennis Wheatley, and involves breaking into La Hougue Bie (right) and carrying out a Satanic mass in the de-consecrated half of the (still working) chapel on top which doesn’t end well. Afterwards, Charlie mopes around the house:

Nothing else of any note happened that day except the exquisite curry, throughout which I played records of Wagner: he goes beautifully with curry, the only use I’ve ever found for him.

Everything is eventually resolved, but it did leave a slightly nasty taste in the mouth this time. Lacking the cat and mouse antics of Charlie vs Inspector Martland of the first books, and with the violence being directed at seemingly unconnected people, it certainly wasn’t as much fun despite the jokes and that was a shame.

Those amongst you familiar with Stella Gibbons will recognise that the title comes from the pronouncements of the aged Ada Doom in Cold Comfort Farm.  This volume of the Mortdecai books was definitely the nastiest so far, but having all five on the shelves I am hoping that the comedy will pick up again in the fourth.   (7/10)

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Don’t Point That Thing at me: The First Charlie Mortdecai Novel (Mortdecai Trilogy 1)
After you with the pistol: The Second Charlie Mortdecai Novel (Mortdecai Trilogy 2)
Something Nasty in the Woodshed: The Third Charlie Mortdecai Novel (Mortdecai Trilogy 3)
All by Kyril Bonfiglioli, Penguin paperbacks – around 200 pages.

Annabel’s Shelves: A is for …

Arnott, Jake – The Long Firm

Thank you to everyone who suggested authors beginning with ‘A’ for the first read of my Annabel’s Shelves project. Atwood was a very popular suggestion, and I’m sorry to disappoint you but I have read four of her novels already so didn’t choose her this time. Initially, I want to concentrate on new to me authors so I can more fully explore my bookshelves. The author that leapt out at me was Jake Arnott who has written half a dozen well-thought of novels – all of which I have, so he fully deserved a go!  I’d bought the first two of his books after spotting signed paperbacks in Waterstones – this after seeing the BBC’s 2004 adaptation of The Long Firm which starred Mark Strong. The TV mini-series was jolly good – would the book match it?

arnottThe Long Firm is set in ’60s London, and Soho is moving towards its peak of sleaze being full of seedy clubs, porn shops, prozzies, rent-boys and low-lifes. The infamous Kray twins may rule in the East End, but Harry Starks is one of the kings of the roost in the West End and Harry is dangerous. We know that from the opening lines:

‘You know the song, don’t you? “There’s no business like show business”?’ Harry gets the Ethel Merman intonation just right as he heats up a poker in the gas burner.

Yes, we open with a torture scene! Harry has a predilection for this style of justice – not for nothing is he known as the ‘Torture Gang Boss’. Cross him and you’re likely to get taught a lesson you won’t forget. Terry survives, and we’re taken back to the day he met Harry, the day he was chosen as Harry’s next live-in boyfriend. Harry doesn’t flaunt it, but is openly homosexual (not ‘gay’ he insists). Having taken a shine to Terry and installed him in his flat, he kits him out:

I was spoiled rotten. I got to know about haute couture. And that wardrobe was an essential part of the way that Harry operated. Being so well dressed was the cutting edge of intimidation. A sort of decorative violence in itself.

Harry owns the Stardust Club in Soho. The walls are covered in photos of him with minor celebrities, showbiz pals, boxers – he idolises Judy Garland. He rakes in protection money and is always on the look-out for opportunities to expand, whilst being careful not to annoy the Krays too much!

It is after Terry has the audacity to walk out on Harry after one his moods (Harry is bipolar) that Terry’s fate is sealed. Fooled into thinking that all was straight between them, Terry is employed by Harry as foreman at his electrical goods warehouse – it appears legit, but it’s all a scam, ‘a long firm’. Rather than be a patsy, Terry does a deal on the side, which is why he ends up tied to a chair …

Terry’s story is the first of five that make up the novel. Five people who have been involved with Harry each tell their tale.

The second segment is told by Lord Thursby, a new peer who is unhappily married, a closet homosexual and on his uppers. He is introduced to Harry by Tom Driberg (a former MP who in real life was an acquaintance of the Krays).

‘Harry,’ he said, ‘let me introduce you to Lord Thursby.’

His joined-up eyebrows raised as one. I could see he was impressed. Probably took me for full-blooded aristocracy instead of just a kicked-upstairs life peer. There’s a strange sort of bond between the lower-class tearaway and the upper-class bounder. A shared hatred of the middle classes I suppose. He shoved out his hard, adorned with chunky rings and a big gold wristwatch.

Thursby lets himself get flattered into being a consultant on a scheme to build a new town in Nigeria – and naturally it all goes pear-shaped. Along the way, we learn all about demurrage – the cost associated with storing things, and that there are scammers the whole world over. Thursby’s segment is told as diary entries and is blackly comic in tone.

Jack the Hat, a speed-addicted drug-dealer and Ruby Ryder, tart with a heart and wannabe actress, take on the third and fourth parts of the story by which time the character of the West End is beginning to change with the arrival of LSD and hippies, the old-style gangster is not so fashionable any more. Loyalties change and one other constant of this story – Mooney, the bent vice copper becomes a real problem. When other mobsters have to turn Queens Evidence, Harry is soon implicated and ends up in jail. The last section is told by Lenny – a sociology professor who meets Harry in jail where Harry is getting all the education he can to keep his grey matter functioning at the highest level.

Each of the five tales has its own style and each of the five narrators has a clear voice making their experience of dealing with Harry a distinct and personal story – yet the portrait of him is remarkably consistent throughout. Each will see his different moods – mercurial, philanthropic, violent, loving, romantic, thinking, manic and depressed, and ever the boss to be crossed at your peril. Arnott gets the language of each narrator just right – even down to Jack the Hat always getting his grammar wrong saying ‘should of’ not should have!

It is a very violent world, full of sex, drugs … and Judy Garland, naturally Harry adores her. Real characters from the 1960s flit through the novel, other characters are fictional homages to figures such as Kenneth Williams. Together with all the period references, the 1960s is brought to life with tremendous seedy detail. This novel has it all – and I loved it. I’m glad to have read Arnott – he was the perfect start to my project. (10/10)

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Source: Annabel’s Shelves! To explore further on Amazon UK please click below (affiliate link):
The Long Firm by Jake Arnott. (1999) Sceptre paperback, 352 pages.
The Long Firm [DVD] [2004]

Now help me choose a ‘B’ book…

P1020488 (640x480)

I have two and a third shelves of authors beginning with B. Sorry, you probably can’t read them very clearly in the photo, but apart from Pat Barker, Nicola Barker and Christopher Brookmyre of whom I’ve read several, I’ve not read most of the others there. Suggestions welcome!

Irene – Alex – Camille: The Verhoeven trilogy comes full circle.

Camille by Pierre Lemaitre

camille

I was meant to be reviewing this for Shiny New Books‘  in the ‘Extra Shiny’ edition (coming to you on May 12th).  I loved it, it is definitely a ‘Shiny’ book, but it is the final part of a trilogy and I felt it would be too difficult to write at length about it without spoilers of the whole trilogy – although if you were to read each book’s blurb, you would get the main gist of what happens!

Although Alex was published first in the UK, the trilogy begins with Irène, then Alex and is concluded by Camille, (links to my reviews). All three have been translated by Frank Wynne, and he’s done a wonderful job.

One character dominates throughout – Commandant Camille Verhœven, the pint-sized detective in the Paris Brigade Criminelle, and as Camille starts the scene is set for us with the calm assurance that when we turn the page all hell will be let loose:

10.00 a.m.
An event may be considered decisive when it utterly destabilises your life. … This decisive, disorienting event which sends a jolt of electricity through your nervous system is readily distinguishable from life’s other misfortunes because it has a particular force, a specific density: as soon as it occurs, you realise that it will have overwhelming consequences, that what is happening in that moment is irreparable.
To take an example, three blasts from a pump-action shotgun fired at the woman you love.
This is what is going to happen to Camille.
And it does not matter, whether, like him, you are attending your best friend’s funeral on the day in questions, or whether you feel that you have already had your fill for one day. Fate does not concern itself with such trivialities; it is quite capable, in spite of them, of taking the form of a killer armed with a swan-off shotgun, a 12-gauge Mossberg 500.
All that remains to be seen is how you will react. This is all that matters.

Camille’s lover Anne Forestier is in the wrong place at the wrong time when she gets caught in a raid on a posh Parisian jewellery shop. Beaten and badly injured, she survives, but she may have seen the assailant’s face – and they’ll be coming for her.  Camille should declare a conflict of interest, and hand over the robbery and assault to another investigator – but can’t. He can’t let history repeat itself and is prepared to break all the rules …

I’m not going to say any more about the plot specifics.  It careers along taking place over three days with the time given at the start of each section. We’re constantly wrong-footed and it’s clear that Camille is out of control – yet knowing what happened before, we can’t blame him for it. Thank goodness his assistant Louis and boss Le Guen are still around to help where they can, but it’s all about Camille, Anne and their adversary, the others are secondary characters to this case which is so personal, not a team effort.

A crime trilogy is rather a daring thing these days, when detective series seem to run and run. I liked the finality that announcing that Camille is the final part of a trilogy brings. The anticipation of how it could all end was palpable from the start. You feel Camille’s pain, anger and desire to avenge so acutely this time – these strong emotions have been there from the first book, but come to a head at the end.

I can’t think of a series of crime novels that have so engaged me before that I’ve given each volume 10/10 – but the Verhœven trilogy gets exactly that, I can’t recommend them enough – but do start with Irène.  (10/10)

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Source: Publisher – thank you!

To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Camille (The Camille Verhoeven Trilogy)by Pierre Lemaitre, pub March 2015 by Maclehose Press, hardback, 320 pages.
Irène and Alex , paperbacks.

 

Scandi-crime time…

Spring Tide by Cilla & Rolf Börjlind

spring-tideOn Thursday 23rd April, it is World Book Night. Once again, I applied to be a ‘giver’. I picked a book from the list, and wrote my case for being awarded a batch of copies to give out. I was delighted to be accepted and even more pleased to get my first choice of book – Spring Tide – the first in a Scandi-crime series by the husband and wife scriptwriting team behind some of Swedish TV’s biggest hits (including adaptations of Martin Beck, Arne Dahl and Wallander).

I had the immense pleasure of meeting Cilla & Rolf Börjlind last summer at an event hosted by their UK publisher Hesperus, and somehow I didn’t get round to writing about it at the time. Cilla & Rolf were absolutely charming and despite my not having watched much of their TV work, they chatted about how they work together – if I remember correctly, they alternate chapters writing and editing, but also one of them will take the lead on a particular character.

Spring Tide is their first novel together and a second featuring the same team, Third Voice, was published last month and is waiting its turn to be read on my bedside table.

Needless to say, given the Börjlinds’ pedigree, Spring Tide arrives fully formed with a fascinating plot full of twists and turns and a pair of investigators that are totally original. But before we get to them, the novel begins back in 1987 with the spectacularly gruesome murder of a pregnant woman, who is buried up to her neck on a beach on the night of the spring tide – she essentially drowns. It’s witnessed by a boy hiding behind the rocks up the beach. It’s a bold start!

We then return to the present and meet Olivia Rönning. Olivia is a police student in Stockholm; her supervisor gives them all a project – to examine a cold case and report back. Olivia chooses the beach-murder – a case her late father had been in charge of; her supervisor isn’t surprised at her choice. It’s hard to get anywhere on the case though, as most of those involved are gone, dead or disappeared. If only Olivia could find Tom Stilton, her father’s colleague, a policeman who dropped out.Meanwhile, there has been spate of attacks on homeless people in Stockholm. The attacks are filmed and posted online. In the latest, they go too far and their victim, known as One-eyed Vera, dies. Her friend Jelle, a homeless man, vows to uncover her killers. Is there a link with Olivia’s case? Olivia, as you might expect, gets totally emotionally involved in the case and begins to investigate it, at great personal risk and we are taken on a roller-coaster ride through the less acceptable sides of Swedish life – from high-class prostitution and corrupt businessmen to the fate of the homeless.

There are certainly echoes of the Martin Beck books by Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö (my review of the first, Roseanna, here). The Martin Beck books are famed for their emphasis on justice and exposing the bourgeois underbelly of Swedish society. However, whereas Sjöwall & Wahlöö get their cases solved by dogged detective work the Börjlinds, with Olivia and Stilton (once she finds him) being outside the formal police system, are not bound by procedure and consequently the action moves at a greater speed and in a more exciting way, although being over 450 pages long. Rönning and Stilton make a fascinating coupling as an investigating team. Both are damaged in their own ways but are totally different to the usual maverick cops – very refreshing indeed.

Spring Tide was translated by Rod Bradbury who is well-known for translating the best-selling  The 100 year old man… and there was no jarring – I was hooked on this novel from the outset with the result that Spring Tide is probably the best Scandicrime novel I’ve read. I’m looking forward to reading the next in the series, and I can hand out my copies on World Book Night knowing that I loved reading it. (10/10)

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Source: Publisher – Thank you! To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below (affiliate link):
Spring Tide by Cilla & Rolf Börjlind. Hesperus, 2014. Paperback, 476 pages.
Third Voice (Ronning & Stilton 2) – Hesperus, March 2015. Paperback, 464 pages.

The return of Camille Verhoeven

Irène by Pierre Lemaitre

irene-pierre-lemaitreIrène is chronologically the first novel in Pierre Lemaitre’s trilogy featuring Parisian police detective Commandant Camille Verhœven, yet in the UK it was published second, after Alex and is followed this spring by the third volume, Camille. I reviewed Alex in 2013 (click here) and it was the best crime thriller I read all that year. It had pace, twists and turns, some really stomach-churning nastiness and a fantastic lead in Verhœven, the four foot eleven detective with a big character.

Although Alex refers obliquely to the events of Irène, I can understand why the publisher chose to bring it out first, because it does stand alone as well as being either the middle or the start of a trilogy. You don’t need to know what happened in Irene at all. If you’ve read Alex, you’ll know what I’m referring to in Irene, but I’ll try and be as spoiler-free as I can!

It’s another evening at the brigade criminelle, Paris’s murder squad, and Camille is called out by his team-member Louis to what he described as ‘…a clusterf**k out in Courbevoie.’  When Camille arrives, he finds a murder scene unlike any other he’s seen:

Camille had no time to worry about the strange atmosphere that pervaded the room as his gaze was immediately arrested by the head of a woman nailed to the wall.
Hardly had he taken three paces into the room that he found himself faced with a scene he could not have imagined even in his worst nightmares: severed fingers, torrents of clotted blood, the stench of excrement and gutted entrails. Instinctively, he was reminded of Goya’s painting, “Saturn Devouring His Son”, and for a moment he could see the terrifying face, the bulging eyes, the crimson mouth, the utter madness. (p25)

Sorry for that awful image, but it gets worse, believe me – the crimes depicted in these novels are not for the faint-hearted. On the wall, written in blood using the severed fingers, is the message ‘I AM BACK’ with a fingerprint carefully pressed at the end – these murders have been staged. Perhaps predictably, the press arrive before they’ve even managed to get the bodies out of the building. It will take days for the scene to be completely analysed, but one thing comes through – the fake fingerprint relates to a cold case from 2001 which the press had dubbed ‘The Tremblay Butcher’. They will need to reopen the file.

Camille goes home, his head full of images from the cases. It is that night when his wife Irène tells him that she is pregnant. He finds it hard to keep the two things separate in his brain:

However it had come about, they had been mutilated by men whose only desire was to dismember young women with smooth, pale buttocks, who had been unmoved by the pleading looks of these women when they realised they were going to die, they may simply have excited them, and so these young women who had been born to live had somehow come to die in this apartment, in this city, in this century where he Camille Verhœven- an utterly unremarkable policeman, the runt of the brigade criminelle, a pretentious, love-struck troll – was stroking the beautiful belly of this woman who was constantly new, a miracle. Something was awry. In one last, weary flicker he saw himself devoting every outce of his strength to two goals: first, to cherish this body he was stroking from which, in time, would emerge the most astonishing gift; second, to hunt down the mend who had mutilated those women, who had fucked them, raped them, killed them, dismembered them, splattering the walls with their blood. (p71)

Inspiration will strike to progress the case. I wasn’t going to say, but it is clearly stated on the back cover – there turns out to be a literary connection between the murders, each being staged in homage to a classic crime novel. Dubbed ‘The Novelist’, which book will he use next? It will become a classic chase between the serial killer and his hunter. A race against time, and the press don’t help.

Of the classic murders from fiction reproduced by this serial killer, I’ve actually read three but wasn’t prepared enough to recognise the first two mentioned, I was with the game on another and have added a fourth to my wishlist! Funnily enough, I was contemplating re-reading one of the books referenced anyway – I read this novel when it was first published in 1991 and think it will shock me much more now to read it. It was controversial then, and remains so now, but I’m not going to tell you which book it is, tease that I am, although you might guess from its notoriety. Frank Wynne’s translation is, once more, truly excellent and seamless given all the extra reading he’ll have had to do. The French feel is there, without the need to insert French words everywhere except for police ranks and department titles.

The relationship between Camille, his boss and his team are all part of the narrative. It is Louis whom we get to know particularly well in this novel. From a rich family, Louis is always impeccably attired, there is no need for him to work as a junior detective, but he is clever and extremely good at detail earning Camille’s almost fatherly respect.

I enjoyed reading Irène hugely, and read Camille back to back (but am saving that to talk about for another time and place).  If you enjoy crime novels of the serial-killer variety, I urge you to steel yourself to see past the depravity of the murders in these books and instead read them for the characterisation of Camille Verhœven and his colleagues, for the twists and turns and cleverness of the plots, and for the sheer thrill of the chase. They are truly unputdownable. (10/10)

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon (affiliate link), please click below:
Irène (The Camille Verhoeven Trilogy) by Pierre Lemaitre, trans Frank Wynne. Maclehose press 2014, paperback, 400 pages.

The first in a long line of crime novels

Naked in Death by J.D.Robb

naked in deathLast week, Victoria over at Tales from the Reading Room wrote a post about Obsession in Death, the latest in J.D.Robb’s long-running crime series featuring detective Eve Dallas. In fact, it turns out that Obsession in Death is the fiftieth in the series! I knew that I had the first novel in the sequence somewhere on my shelves, and felt compelled to dig it out and see how Dallas began…

As Victoria said, Robb/Roberts is known for her philanthropy which is lovely. She is also known for being a writing machine, producing countless novels each year, romances as Roberts, crime as Robb. Naked in Death was published in 1995 – the first of fifty, so that’s two or three per year of this series alone.

Eve Dallas is thirty. She’s a Lieutenant in the NYPSD (the ‘S’ is for Security). At the start of the novel she is called out to a murder – it turns out to be the grand-daughter of a senator who is running for his party nomination on a ‘moral’ ticket. His grand-daughter in one of those f***-you type career choices has been working as a ‘licenced companion’ – a prostitute. The scene is grisly – she was killed with 3 bullets from a hand-gun. There’s a note under the body saying 1 of 6.

Naturally, the senator is all over the department wanting to keep things closed down, but Dallas knows there may be more deaths – and there will be.  The killer seems to be expert at bypassing security systems and leaving no trace, but in true psychopath style he sends Dallas videos.

One of the immediate suspects is Roarke, an Irishman. He’s a tycoon, he owns the building she was killed in, he collects guns – which are now antiques. He has to be a suspect – if only he wasn’t so sexy – because you just know that Dallas and him will end up in the sack for some truly purple prose – lancing spears and all that!

Enough of the plot, for it was entirely predictable, I guessed whodunnit halfway in, but the pieces didn’t fall into place until later.

You don’t really read series like this for the crimes. They’re incidental, you read them for the characters. You hope for some development – and reading between the lines in Victoria’s review I can surmise that apart from Dallas and Roarke ending up married, that little has changed in fifty books. However: Naked is set in 2058; Obsession is set in 2060. So these fifty books move forward just two years.  My – that’s a full case-book of murders for anyone!

Note that near-future timeline. In 2058, guns have been outlawed, become collectors items only. Prostitutes have become legal, licenced. Various gadgets make modern life easier, but as far as I could see offer no improvements in quality of life. None but the rich can afford real coffee. Roarke is planning a space resort – so Richard Branson may continue to dream on. Yet, it’s all too familiar – in a way it’s not futuristic enough in its detail. Apart from the guns, there seemed no need to set it in the future, and even now there are collectors of old firearms – the perp could have used contemporary collectibles.

What of Dallas and Roarke? Well she is of course a feisty superwoman, and Roarke may as well be a superman, not so much Clarke Kent, but Bruce Wayne – his money can buy him anything.  Dallas is damaged goods, abused as a child – holding it all in ever since. Roarke is a chancer who hit lucky and made enough money to go legit.  She is a good policewoman with the appropriate contempt for authority and is not afraid to bend the rules. He is just sickening – too handsome, too rich, too lovey, too much!

So there we have it. Naked in Death combines crime with a steamy romance.  I liked the crime part, and squirmed a bit with the romance. As a whole, I enjoyed reading Naked in Death in exactly the same way as I enjoyed reading The Da Vinci Code. With no expectations, it was very easy to read throwaway grisly fun. (5.5/10)

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Source: Own copy.
To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below (affiliate link – thank you):
Naked In Death: 1Glory In Death: 2 etc by J.D. Robb. Piatkus paperbacks, around 400 pages.

 

 

Charlie Mortdecai, volume two

After You With The Pistol by Kyril Bonfiglioli

mortdecai 2
This is going to be a quick post, as you shouldn’t read the second novel in this delightfully Un-PC comedy crime series until you’ve read the first – they follow directly on from each other, but I’m not giving anything away with this quote from near the beginning…

To this day I still do not know where it was that I awoke nor, indeed, how long I had been separated from my cogitative faculties, bless them. But I think it must have been somewhere awful in the North-West of England, like Preston or Wigan or even Chorley, God forbid. The lapse of time must have been quite three or four weeks: I could tell by my toenails, which no one had thought to cut. They felt horrid. I felt cross.

BonfiglioliCharlie Mortdecai, art dealer and aristo-gentleman bon viveur, all-round reprobate and womaniser, first appeared in Don’t Point That Thing At Me which I reviewed over at Shiny New Books – so head on over there to get a feel for it in detail.

First published in the late 1970s, if you crossed Jeeves and Wooster with James Bond, extra double-entendres and a total disregard for political correctness, you’ll get the idea. If you’re easily offended, these books are probably not for you…

The second novel sees Charlie Mortdecai, art dealer and aristo-reprobate forced to get married, thus getting into even more improbable scrapes, this time involving the a spy school for women and Chinese tongs…

You can also learn a surprising amount from Charlie – the following is actually true – I checked:

‘Please salt the eggs for me,’ I said by way of conceding defeat, ‘I always overdo it and spoil them. And do please remember, the fine, white pepper for eggs, not the coarse-ground stuff from the Rubi.’ (Cipriani of Harry’s Bar in Venice once told me why waiters of the better sort call that huge pepper-grinder a ‘Rubi': it is in honour of the late, celebrated Brazilian playboy Porfirio Rubirosa. I don’t understand it myself because my mind is pure.)

I chuckled all the way through this book, and shall be reading the rest in the series before the film comes out in the spring.  Yes, if this sounds like your kind of thing, you need to get cracking in case the film is a dud. (9.5/10)

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Don’t Point That Thing at me: The First Charlie Mortdecai Novel (Mortdecai Trilogy 1)
After you with the pistol: The Second Charlie Mortdecai Novel (Mortdecai Trilogy 2)
Something Nasty in the Woodshed: The Third Charlie Mortdecai Novel (Mortdecai Trilogy 3)
All by Kyril Bonfiglioli, Penguin paperbacks – around 200 pages.

A Walk Among the Tombstones: Book v Film

The recently released movie A Walk Among the Tombstones starring Liam Neeson is based upon the 10th in the series of Matt Scudder books by Lawrence Block. I’ve read the first twelve – and have enjoyed them all, with a few more still to read one of these days. I read this back in 2006, and my capsule review from my master spreadsheet reads thus …

Scudder 10This is the tenth in the series of Matt Scudder novels from Block, and they keep on getting better. The subsidiary characters are starting to have lives of their own, and Scudder, the ex-police, ex-drunk, maverick detective is getting more complex a personality with each novel. This one sees him finally establishing a firm relationship with ex-hooker Elaine, which makes a good sub-plot. The main story this time is the hunt for a particularly gruesome kidnapper and serial killer whose latest victim is the wife of a rich drug dealer. The dealer pays the ransom demand, and his wife is returned to him – dismembered! He can’t go to the police, so persuades Scudder to take up the chase to avenge his wife’s death. Absolutely gripping. (9/10)

Naturally I was keen to see the film…

The critics have been divided over it – I’ve seen reviews giving it 4/5, Mark Kermode only gave it 1, describing it as ‘head-bangingly dull’!

a walk among film poster

There has only been one previous outing for Scudder on screen – Jeff Bridges played him in a 1986 film based on the fifth novel in the series. I’ve not seen it, but IMDb suggests it’s not brilliant.

If you except Neeson’s dodgy American accent (and wig in the flashback), I felt he fitted the role rather well, inhabiting Scudder’s melancholy, downbeat style with the right amount of world-weariness.

The film starts with a flashback shoot-out – we have to set Scudder up for why he’s no longer a cop. He gets the bad guys, but a riccochet kills a bystander – a young girl. He was drunk – he left the force.

Cut to several years later, and what I didn’t mention above, was that there is a pair of sicko sadistic killers who are preying on the wives and girlfriends of drug dealers – the one Scudder takes the case for turns out to be the latest in a series…  In these days when the internet was only just starting to take off, and cell-phones were not ubiquitous – the investigation means shoe-leather and pay-phones for Scudder. You know they’ll get the guys in the end.

However, and this is where the critics probably were split – all the way through the film, Scudder goes to his AA meetings – they keep him on the straight and narrow. It’s character-building, but doesn’t provide action – and lately, of course, Neeson has primarily been seen in action roles. Anyone who has read any of the novels will realise that AA is an important part of the sober-Scudder’s make-up.

A_Walk_Among_the_Tombstones_1I can’t remember exactly which of the Scudder books he first appears in, but he often gets some help from a smart street-kid called T.J. – particularly when confronted with technology. However T.J. wants to be a detective and always ends up getting involved – indeed without his help, they wouldn’t have tracked the bad guys down so quickly. He’s played by Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley, and although it gives Scudder the chance to play Dad when T.J. has a sickle-cell episode, it does hold up the plot.

A_Walk_Among_the_Tombstones_3The film definitely shows the grubbier side of New York – Carrier bags stuck in a chain-link fence of a dis-used lot. This contrasts with the nice pads of all the dealers whose wives have been targeted. Dan Stevens, (yes, Matthew from Downton Abbey) plays Danny Kristo the dealer whose case Scudder takes. He may have dark hair and a moustache here, but you can’t mistake those eyes.

One big thing that’s missing from this film is women in any major roles other than as victims or fellow alcoholics at meetings. There’s no girlfriend Elaine for Scudder – he lives on his own in a small appartment. Apparently, Scudder’s policeman friend Joe was changed into a woman cop for the film – but all her scenes were cut to keep the hardboiled noir feel. This is mens’ work. It may be wrong not to feature any strong women’s roles, but it does emphasise the brotherhood aspects. There isn’t enough time to give any of the guys a real home-life unlike in the books.

The violence, particularly against the victims is nasty, in book and film.  If you can stand the gore, Neeson is a suitably haunted and thoughtful PI, and I’d rather like to see more of him as Scudder.  (Film 7/10)

This will work either way – book then film, or film then book. I’d seriously recommend the books though…

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To explore the Matt Scudder books on Amazon UK, start here:
Sins of the Fathers (Matt Scudder #1)
A Walk Among The Tombstones (Matt Scudder #10)

Jumping into a new to me crime series…

Murder in Pigalle by Cara Black

Murder-in-Pigalle-397x600

I usually like to read a series of crime novels from the beginning, to get any back-story in the right order and to see how the recurring characters develop. Sometimes, however, it’s good to jump into a series knowing that if you enjoy a later volume, that you may have the pleasure of reading all the earlier ones to come. This is what I did with Cara Black’s latest crime novel – her fourteenth featuring chic Parisian P.I. Aimée Leduc.

Leduc runs her own detective agency, aided by best friend René and computer hacker Saj. They appear to specialise in cyber-crime, but there’s not much going on at the moment for Aimée is five months pregnant.  Her lover, Melac, doesn’t know – he’s in Brittany near his ex-wife, and where his daughter lies in a coma. Aimée, who has obviously had parent issues of her own, is confused by her own impending motherhood – the baby is beginning to really kick.

A quiet life is not going to be for her though.  In Pigalle, the night-life heart of Paris, a serial rapist is following young girls home from school and raping them, and one has died.  Aimée has been helping Zazie, the young teenaged daughter of her favourite café owner with a school project, and one day she disappears.  Zazie’s mother enlists Aimée’s help as the les flics won’t respond until she’s been missing for 24hrs and awash with hormones Leduc flings herself into the case with a passion and zeal that will land her in big trouble.  It appears that Zazie has been shadowing a man whom she thought was the rapist…

With a sub-plot involving a robbery gone wrong by one of the girls in danger’s fathers, things get quite complicated quite quickly. Leduc finds that none of the parents of the raped girls are telling the full story – whether from guilt, shame or ignorance, and her blundering in puts her in danger too.

It’s hard not to like Aimée.  Think of a pregnant and French V.I.Warshawski and you’re getting there with regard to her character, however she’s not as good a detective as Sara Paretsky’s V.I.  Like most Parisian women, she’s typically BCBG (Bon chic, bon genre) – well as a P.I. maybe less of the BG – but still wouldn’t dream of going anywhere under-dressed, (nearly) every item of clothing has its labels.

The Dior shirt stuck to her back. She had to change. In the back armoire she picked one of Saj’s gifts, a loose, Indian white-cotton shirt – the soft fabric breathed, thank God. She pulled her short jean jacket over it, stepped into an agnès b. cotton-flounced skirt with a drawstring waistband and slipped into a low-heeled pair of sandals.

Black clearly does her homework in Paris for these novels. The detail feels authentic, but using the odd French words and phrases scattered throughout feels a bit unnecessary – the police are nearly always les flics, a bloke is un mec, no-one ever says sorry – it’s always désolé and so on.  If it were a French novel translated into English a translator wouldn’t do this.

Thirteen year old Zazie, although better behaved in general and certainly less potty mouthed, has echoes of Raymond Queneau’s independent spirit of Zazie in the Metro from 1960 (my review here) – I don’t know if that was deliberate or a happy coincidence.

Of course, I missed some of the back-story in her friendship with the dwarf René, her love Melac and her Godfather Morbier a Commissaire in the police, but even without that, this mystery stood pretty well on its own. I don’t know whether I’ll read the whole of the rest of the series, but I will look out for some of the previous titles as it would be fun to get to know Aimée Leduc a little better. (7/10)

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Source: Publisher – Thank you. To explore further on Amazon, please click below:
Murder in Pigalle: (Aimee Leduc Investigations) by Cara Black, pub Mar 2014 by Soho Press. Hardback, 310 pages.

Growing Old Disgracefully …

The Little Old Woman Who Broke All The Rules by Catharine Ingelman-Sundberg

the-little-old-lady-who-broke-all-the-rules-978144725061601Let’s get it out of the way. If you enjoyed The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson as I did, (my review here), I’m certain that you will enjoy this novel.

This is primarily because the two books have the same translator, Rod Bradbury, and the English editions thus share the same writing style.

It is a shame however that the (different) publisher went for a lookalike cover for The LoL, as I shall call it, because that did make me think it was going to be a total cash-in on the 100 YOM’s success, and frankly I was almost put off by it. The LoL, despite initial similarities however, is different enough that I really enjoyed reading it.

The LoL is the story of five old folk, led by 79 year old Martha, who are being shabily treated by the penny-pinching staff of their residential home.  Being kept lightly sedated, virtual prisoners, fed plasticky meals and with coffee and biscuit rations ever decreasing, Martha decides to led a rebellion. To do that they need money. Martha thinks they could hold up a bank initially, but research shows that’s a non-starter.

The next day, while the guests, or the ‘clients’, as they were now called, at Diamond House were drinking their morning coffee in the lounge, Martha thought about what she should do. In her childhood home in Österlen, down in the south of Sweden, people didn’t just sit and wait for somebody else to take action. … The murmur of voices rose and fell all around her as she surveyed the rather shabby lounge. The smell was decidedly reminiscent of the Salvation Army and the furniture seemed to have come straight from the recycling depot. The old grey 1940s building, with its asbestos fibre cement cladding, was like a combination of an old school and a dentist’s waiting room. Surely this wasn’t where she was meant to finish her days, with a mug of weak instant coffee to go with a plastic meal? No, damn it, it certainly was not! Martha breathed deeply, pushed her coffee mug aside and leaned forward to talk to her group of friends.
‘You lot. Come with me,’ she said and gave a sign to her friends to follow her to her room. ‘I have something to talk to you about.’

Martha tells them her plans – and they’re all in!  The first thing is to escape the home though. This achieved, they hole up in a couple of suites in the Grand Hotel (just like the cons in the BBC’s Hustle), where they plan to rob the rich clientele. Having worked out that this won’t generate enough dosh, instead they hatch a clever plan to ransom a valuable painting or two from the city’s art museum. Everything is planned to the last detail; Derren Brown, who used a gang of OAPs to steal a painting in his TV special before Christmas this year would be proud of this lot.

They realise that they may end up in prison, they’ve seen on the telly that in prison they wouldn’t be treated any worse than in their home, and at their age … The caper proves to be so much fun, even when things don’t go totally according to plan, that they get a taste for it and decide to grow old disgracefully.

The LOL is gentler than The 100 YOM. There are no hilarious and ingeniously gory deaths, for instance.  It is also told all the in present, there are no flashbacks to earlier in the gang’s lives – they are rebooting their lives in the here and now.

There is plenty to chortle about, especially in all the character traits of the quintet. Martha, the bossy one, is the natural leader, Brains (real name Oscar) is the – er- brains of the outfit, and inventor.  Rake, a former seaman, is stylish and very much a lady’s man. Then there are her two lady friends, Anna-Greta who is very thin, very tall and very old and Christina, the youngest, who was used to high standards and needs to be persuaded they’re doing the right thing.  Add to them, the sadist Nurse Barbara, an assortment of other criminals, and the bungling police inspector, natch, and our rich cast is near complete.

The central caper was well thought out and great fun. The lasting memories of this novel though will be of five people who had been made geriatric before their time, rediscovering their joie de vivre, alongside a cautionary tale for those with relatives in a home to monitor the home’s performance as well as their loved ones’ well-being. (8/10)

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Source: Review copy from Amazon Vine. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg. Pub 2 Jan 2014 by Pan Books, paperback 438 pages.
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, Quercus paperback.