The ultimate Christmas gift: an international crime novel!

For what could be finer than giving or receiving a crime novel set in foreign climes? Especially handy for those whose families are driving them bonkers by Boxing Day: just channel those murderous desires into crime fiction!

Here are some present ideas, which happen to be ten of my favourites from this year, ranging from police procedurals and detective fiction to historical and hybrid crime. Some I’ve reviewed (just click on the link), others I haven’t (so many books, so little time). All are undoubtedly available from your local, friendly, independent bookseller!

Ioanna Bourazopoulou, What Lot’s Wife Saw, translated from Greek by Yannis Panas (Black and White Publishing, 2013 [2007]). Winner of the 2008 Athens Prize for Literature, this is a dazzling, hybrid crime novel that takes readers on an extraordinary journey of the imagination. Set in the future after a devastating tsunami, its reluctant investigator is Phileas Book, who works for The Times compiling Epistlewords, a three-dimensional crosswordA brilliant, freewheeling narrative for those who like puzzles and substantial reads. Full review here.

Gillian Flynn, Dark Places (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2009). For my money, Flynn is one of the most original and daring crime writers out there, but her novels have polarized readers, so handle with care! Dark Places tells the story of a family massacre and its aftermath from the perspective of survivor Libby Day and other family members. It’s by turns harrowing, moving, blackly humorous and redemptive. My favourite of Flynn’s novels so far. Full review here.

Eugenio Fuentes, At Close Quarters, translated from Spanish by Martin Schifino (Euro Crime/Arcadia, 2009 [2007]). Captain Olmedo, a high-ranking army colonel, is found dead at his home. The authorities say it’s suicide, but daughter Marina has her doubts and hires P.I. Ricardo Cupido to investigate. This is the first novel I’ve read by Fuentes (the 5th in the series), and I was impressed both by its depth of characterisation and by its illumination of different political attitudes/mindsets in Spain.

The original Spanish cover for At Close Quarters

Arnaldur Indriðason’s Strange Shores, translated from Icelandic by Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker, 2013). The ninth in the Reykjavik series and by all accounts the last (*sob*). Detective Erlendur returns to his childhood home to face the trauma that shaped his life – the disappearance of his little brother in a snowstorm. While there, he investigates another disappearance, of a young woman in 1942. A thoroughly engrossing novel with a powerful ending. But make sure the other eight have been read first! Full review here.

M.J. McGrath, White Heat and The Boy in the Snow (Mantle 2011/2012). These are the first two novels in the Edie Kiglatuk series, set in the chilly realm of the Arctic. Edie is a wonderful protagonist, and through her investigations we gain a tremendous insight into life in the frozen north – not least its cuisine. There are maps at the front of each novel, which provide a new perspective on a world in which Alaska is ‘down south’. Absorbing and entertaining reads.

Derek B. Miller, Norwegian by Night (Faber and Faber, 2013). I adored this book and haven’t met anybody who didn’t love it. It stars (and that really is the correct term) Sheldon Horowitz, a recently-widowed Jewish-American octogenarian living in Oslo with granddaughter Rhea, who makes a crucial decision after witnessing an appalling crime. An absolute joy from start to finish. Full review here.

Angela Savage, Behind the Night Bazaar (Text Publishing, 2006). The first in the Jayne Keeney series by Australian author Savage, this novel was shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Best First Book Award in 2007. Jayne is a highly engaging private investigator based in Bangkok, whose investigations offer readers an escape to sunnier climes, and provide a vivid and insightful portrait of Thailand. Full review here.

Simon Urban, Plan D, translated from German by Katy Derbyshire (Harvill Secker, 2013). It’s 2011 and the Berlin Wall is still standing. Welcome to the alternative world of Plan D, in which the reunification of Germany never happened, and fifty-six year-old East German Volkspolizei captain Martin Wegener is about to embark on the strangest investigation of his career. An admirably bonkers alternative history that will appeal to those with an interest in 20th-century Europe and the Cold War. Full review here. A handy GDR glossary is available too.

Ben H. Winters, The Last Policeman and Countdown City (Quirk Books 2012/13). The first and second of a trilogy set in an America of the near future. Asteroid Maia is on a collision course with earth, and with just six months to impact, society is beginning to disintegrate. Why, given that they’ll all be dead soon anyway, does Detective Henry Palace of the Concord Police Department bother to investigate a suspicious suicide? Because that’s the kind of dogged guy he is… Sharp, funny and brilliantly observed.

Daniel Woodrell, Winter’s Bone (Sceptre, 2007). When sixteen-year-old Ree Dolly’s father disappears, she needs to find him again quickly to prevent the loss of her family home. Set in the Orzark Mountains of Missouri during an unforgiving winter, in a closed community that has its own laws, this is a tough but beautifully-written novel. Ree is a memorable protagonist, who reminded me a little of Mattie Ross in Charles Portis’ True Grit.

Winter’s Bone was turned into an acclaimed film starring Jennifer Lawrence

38 thoughts on “The ultimate Christmas gift: an international crime novel!

  1. Mrs. P – Oh, these are all excellent gift ideas! I like the variety, too. Oh, and that ‘photo at the top is terrific!

    • Thanks, Margot – it was fun putting them together. I was aiming for a fair bit of variety (type of crime, subject matter, setting and so on), to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. Ours is a broad church, isn’t it?

      There are lots of ‘book Christmas trees’ around this year. If you use google images, you’ll find some corkers. Wonderful idea that I’m tempted by myself.

  2. Oh wonderful list, thanks Mrs. P, I hope “Norwegian” is available in Canada! It would be a perfect gift for my Finnish octogenarian dad, who adores all scandinavian crime fiction

    • Thanks, Quimper Hitty, and I do hope that you can get your hands on Norwegian by Night. If not, let me know, and I can export a copy!

      I wonder how many octogenarians have read that novel *muses*. Reckon it should be required reading.

  3. Great list! I’ve read White Heat, Behind the Night Bazaar and Norwegian by Night. The last one almost knocked me over I was laughing so hard. New York Jewish humor was what I was raised on and I love it, as well as all of Sheldon Horowitz’s foibles.
    I’ll list several others on my TBR list (sigh). It reproduces like rabbits, and never seems to decrease.
    Strange Shores is on my actual TBR mountain range, so I will get to it.
    Have a great holiday season.

    • Sheldon is my favourite protagonist of the year 🙂 And I absolutely agree with you about the humour – just wonderful.

      Perhaps we have to make our peace with the TBR piles. They’re never going to go down, are they?! Wishing you a wonderful festive season and lots of lovely reading.

  4. Mrs P, you are a delight. I have read a couple of your choices and totally agree with you, so the others will slot nicely into my Christmas and new year reading. What a lovely gift! Thank you!

    • You’re welcome, Tracey! It was a fun list to put together and has reminded me how many fantastic crime novels there are out there. Looking forward to finding some new gems in 2014. Have a wonderful Christmas with lots of reading time x

  5. I really enjoyed this list Mrs P, am adding Night Bazar and Winter’s Bone to my Pinterest To Read list; the others are already there! Oh and Close Quarters, that sounds great too! Have just started the last Kayankaya, loving it. Am hoping to finish it before the dog gets it…his last foray into German detective novels cost me £8 but luckily one of the librarians also has a Border Terrier with the same name as mine (Monty) and the Chief Librarian was not there, so I did not get the Librarian Look of Disapproval. I expect the half eaten book will now be used in library training exercises: Key Indicators of Canine Abuse of Library Property.

    • Thanks, Blighty!

      Monty, Monty, Monty! What a naughty boy! I guess it could have been worse: unique medieval manuscript for example…

      Enjoy Brother Kemal – I thought it was a lovely conclusion to the series – and of course especially poignant given Arjouni’s premature death.

      • Just noticed Radio 4’s Afternoon Play this week is a spin off of Borgen – may be of interest to you and your followers – Borgen Outside the Castle, think it’s called

      • Thanks for letting us know, Blighty. Had heard this mentioned at the end of the TV series and will check it out. I feel a slight resistance because it’s not ‘properly’ Danish, but promise to give it a go!

  6. This is a terrific list Mrs. P. I appreciate you putting it together. I haven’t read any translated crime fiction in quite sometime but this list should get me started again. Thanks!

  7. Thanks for this and maybe someone can help on a similar theme. I thought I heard on BBC Radio 4 “Open Book” last Sunday a list of crime fiction with Christmas presents in mind. I was driving at the time so could not note down a book set in Bruges by Peter A???? Can’t seem to find it on the website so can anyone help me . It sounds like the present for a crime loving friend who is to re-visit Bruges where she and her husband honeymooned some 40 years ago.

  8. When I see a list of potential books for Christmas gifts, I just want to buy them for myself. I do hope to buy and read Norwegian by Night in 2014, and I have Behind the Night Bazaar. I will keep this list for other ideas. Thanks.

  9. Pingback: How crime writers get into the Christmas spirit | Angela Savage

  10. Thanks for the shout out, Mrs P. Thrilled to be included in such company. I love the sound of What Lot’s Wife Saw. And while I haven’t read A Winter’s Bone, I thought the film was exceptional.

    • You’re welcome, Angela. I haven’t seen the film of Winter’s Bone yet, but am hoping to get my hands on it soon. I’d thoroughly recommend the book – the use of language is wonderful.

  11. A reader can’t go wrong with any of the three Jayne Keeney books by writer from Oz, Angela Savage. They’re witty and feature a very feisty, bold protagonist and lots of interesting information on the flora and fauna of Thailand. Also, they deal with some very weighty social issues, which can anger readers, but may spur some on to action. All good.
    By the way, a dog that chews up German crime fiction sounds like my kind of pet. Not Norwegian or French, but German. Yes!

    • Already looking forward to reading the next Keeney novel, Kathy. A Christmas treat.

      In this instance, the dog had remarkably good taste, as the novel was one of the Arjouni Kayankaya series 🙂

    • Hello Karen. To be honest, I don’t think that you do. It’s probably helpful to have read some of them, to have a bit of knowledge about Erlendur’s backstory and the series’ key themes, but I don’t think reading each and every one is essential. I’m guessing that you’ve read some others from the series already?

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