What do you do when your TBR pile is so vast it defies all hope of control? Answer: give up and read what you want.
In that spirit, I picked up Eva Dolan’s Long Way Home (Vintage, 2014). Lots of people had told me about this debut and as soon as I started reading, I could see that the praise for the novel was justified: it’s a beautifully written police procedural, which explores migrant experiences in the UK in a realistic and very sobering way. Its main investigative protagonists, Detectives Zigic and Ferreira of the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit – with Serbian and Portuguese heritage respectively – are both extremely well drawn, and the story, which starts with the discovery of a body in a burned-out garden shed, is gripping and believable. It’s a hugely accomplished first novel, and I’m already looking forward to the second in the series, Tell No Tales.
While researching my article on post-war justice in crime fiction this week, I came across the German crime novel Auge um Auge (Eye for an Eye), which explores how doctors involved in medical crimes under National Socialism often went unpunished.
Auge um Auge is part of a remarkable historical crime series called ‘Es geschah in Berlin’ (‘It happened in Berlin’), which uses the cases of policeman Hermann Kappe to trace German history from 1910, before the collapse of the German empire, through to the Cold War era. To date, there are 26 novels set at two-year intervals from 1910 to 1960 (nephew Otto Kappe takes over the investigative reins in 1956):
The image above shows how the novels are packaged, with the series title and year highlighted on the cover, together with a striking abstract design. It also shows that the novels – rather unusually – are written by a collective of authors. Horst Bosetzky, a well known German crime author since the 1960s, conceived the series in 2007 with publishing house Jaron, and the other writers work under his overall guidance.
The series has also been called a Kettenroman or ‘chain novel’, which is a neat term. At the moment, ‘Es geschah in Berlin’ is the most ambitious use I’ve seen of a crime series to ‘investigate’ twentieth-century German history and I’ll definitely be checking out the other novels. Hopefully they’ll make their way into translation too.
In other news:
I’ve been flying the flag for German crime in the Times Literary Supplement, with a review of a fascinating volume called TATORT GERMANY: The Curious Case of German-Language Crime Fiction (Camden House), which is edited by Lynn M. Kutch and Todd Herzog. Unfortunately the review’s behind a paywall, but I bought a copy of the TLS yesterday, and was delighted to see a whole page dedicated to German literature.
Most interesting find of the week: a 2015 Penguin Special by Erich Schlosser called Gods of Metal, an essay exploring America’s nuclear capacity and the frightening ease with which a high-security weapons complex in Tennessee was breached in 2012. Schlosser meets members of the Plowshares movement, who break into nuclear facilities as a form of civil protest, and are subsequently branded as criminals by the state. Thought-provoking stuff, timed to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima.
That’s really interesting, Mrs. P., to see how one can use a series – a package – to explore a set of issues. What an innovative approach! Glad to hear too that you’re making progress on your article; I’ll be interested in your findings! And it’s good to hear that you enjoyed the Dolan as much as you did. It’s always nice when an author hits it squarely on the head, so to speak. All very good indeed.
Yes, I’ve not seen a series being used/constructed in quite that way before – although there are lots of German historical crime series that focus on the 20th century. Multiple authors also mean that the novels can be published really quickly (26 since 2007). It’s quite an undertaking.
Dolan’s definitely one to watch 🙂
I’ve just finished reading the first of Robert Constantin’s trilogy, ‘The Deliverance of Evil’ recommended by you some weeks ago and immediately ordered the 2nd in the set. It is an amazingly complex story wit a very believable, flawed main character . Gripping and intelligently written.
I’d not heard of him before.
Thank you so much for introducing me to his books!
You’re very welcome, Jean! I’m really glad you enjoyed.
I’ve just had the second one through as well (saving it up for my hols in a couple of weeks). I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it’s as good as the first…
You keep me going to our local library, and ordering hard-to-find-books off the web! Thank you for keeping me moving and sharing my small amount of wealth with others…..not a sacrifice.
You’re very welcome, jotsfromasmallapt. That’s what I love about our literary/criminal blog-o-spheres: a non-stop cycle of giving 🙂 Long may it last…
oops I quickly scanned that review in TLS & was going to recommend it to you!! Didn’t realize it was by you! Will have to read it on Tuesday when I’m in Bromley house, we are lucky, they take the 3 literary papers, TLS, LRB, NYTB, & The Literary Review, which has a crime section at the
That German crime series sounds fascinating, are any in English yet? Will have to put a recommendation in at BH for the Dolan one.
That recommendation would have been fun, Brian!
Bromley House: this is why libraries and cultural centres are so important. We may be in the online era, but if materials are behind paywalls, then libraries are *essential* in terms of letting everyone have access.
Didn’t realise the Literary Review had a crime section – will have a look next time I’m in my library 🙂
None of the Kappe novels are in translation as yet, but who knows, perhaps a publisher on the hunt for an interesting historical crime series will read the post…
Found one on Amazon ‘Cold Angel’. Published 2012. Set in 1948 in Berlin, very good customer review, seemed to think it’s based on true events, so not sure if it’s part of that series, but sounds very interesting. Let’s face it who can resist Berlin 46/49!.
Agree whole hearted about libraries.
Hi Brian – I think that Cold Angel is a standalone ‘Dokukrimi’ of Bosetzky’s rather than part of this series. He’s done quite a few fictionalisations of true crimes. Before that, he was well known as a ‘Soziokrimi’ (social crime novel) author in the 1970s.
I love that description of your TBR pile. I have the same problem but it is exacerbated by books that I have committed to read by the end of the year (promises to myself, not to outside agencies). But I still add in some unplanned books on a whim to stay sane.
That German series you discussed sounds interesting and I do wish some of them would be translated.
On the TBR pile: I think it can become a problem if you begin feeling oppressed by all the books you’ve still got to read. I’ve made my peace (for now) with not getting through all of them as fast as others might like. Reading for yourself shouldn’t get lost in the process 🙂
It would be great to see some of the Kappe series translated, although 26 novels may be too big a commitment for publishers. I’ve finished the one I mention in the post now: it’s very good at recreating Berlin in 1954 and does reflect on some substantial issues, but the characterisation felt rather wooden in places. It’ll be interesting to read some of the others in the series by different authors, to see whether they have the same tone.
Unfortunately I wasn’t blown away by Long Way Home. I enjoyed the writing but found the mystery lacking. Will skip her next one.
BTW – wish I could read Gernan 😊
Ah, interesting! I’m looking forward to seeing how the investigative duo develops in the second novel…
It’s never too late to learn a language 🙂
On the learning languages late topic, my dad (83 this year) started learning Finnish five years ago, and now reads crime novels in Finnish and translates them into English one chapter a week for his teacher every week.
Hats off to your dad, Quimper Hitty. That’s an amazing achievement and I love that he uses crime novels as translation material. Has he tried Kati Hiekappelto or Antii Tuomainen yet?
Yes very good review, although at £60 don’t think I’ll be buying it any time soon! Can’t even get BH
to get it at that price. Re translated German crime, I really enjoyed the Gerhard Self books by Bernhard Schlink, you don’t normally get a 70 year old private eye! Ordered the Bosetzky ‘Cold Angel’ let you know what I think.
Forgot about Egon! starts 2/09/15, will give it a go. According to Amazon ‘Backstrom 3’ is released
21-23/01/16, also ‘The Dying Detective’ 17-19/03/16.
Just listened to a review of the new ‘ Girl in The spiders web’ on Front Row, interesting, got a very
good review. Seems he intended to write 10 books in this series before he died, like you know who! Never read any of them but saw all the Swedish films, might give this one ago.
That’s a very fair comment, Brian. This kind of volume is geared towards the academic market and university libraries, which is why they are so expensive. It’s a problem that the ‘open access agenda’ is trying to tackle – the idea is to make as much academic material as possible easily accessible and free to the public – although there are obstacles that need to be acknowledged and overcome, such as the traditional reliance of small academic presses and academic journals on those higher prices to keep them afloat. I was very aware of all these issues when discussing the pricing of the forthcoming Crime Fiction in German volume with the University of Wales Press. The end result of those discussions is an expensive hardback for the traditional market and a less expensive paperback/e-book that non-uni libraries should be able to afford and that individuals with a strong interest in German crime will hopefully consider buying (http://www.uwp.co.uk/editions/9781783168170?language=en). I’m also working on an open access idea in relation to the volume…more on that further down the line!
I quite liked the Schlink trilogy too, although I found the ending of the first novel oddly illogical. But yes, the 70-year-old PI is well drawn 🙂
Very much looking forward to the new Perssons. It’s been too long!
I’ve seen two reviews of The Girl in the Spider’s Web and both were very good (Jake Kerridge’s review in The Telegraph is here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/what-to-read/stieg-larsson-girl-with-dragon-tattoo-spiders-web-review/). Looks like they have a winner on their hands. I’m glad that Salander gets to live on.
Really like the look of that German series – are they easy to find even in Germany nowadays, though? Perhaps in some old library. I wish I lived in a German-speaking country at times…
Glad you liked Eva Dolan, I was really impressed by the maturity and depth of the writing and I liked the second one very much too.
Hi MarinaSofia – if you mean the Kappe series, then you shouldn’t have any difficulty getting hold of them online, as they started being published in 2007 and the series is still ongoing (…is that the one you meant…?).
Great to hear that you liked Eva Dolan’s second novel. I agree about the maturity/depth of the writing and am looking forward to reading lots more by her.
Ah, yes, have some problems getting books in German online, as I am ‘based in the UK’ and so I keep getting the message that this is not available in my geographical region. That would be ebooks, I mean. As for getting them all as physical books – although it sounds appealing, I doubt my bookshelves could cope.
Hi MarinaSofia – I found a Kindle version of Auge um Auge on the UK site of the Monster Retailer beginning with ‘A’. Would that work for you? (I should add that the book was rather uneven in places….!)
Thank you for looking into that for me. I got two of the 1930s ones (1934 and 1938) ordered from Germany – Medimops does a good job with second-hand books. I seem to get almost all of my books from them lately.
No problem and I’m glad you found a couple. I like Medimops as well 🙂
Thanks for that Mrs P, enjoyed reading about your book, nearer the time I’ll be putting in a request at BH for the paperback, look forward to reading it. Look forward to hearing more about open access. Quite often I read a review of a book in TLR that appeals to me, then you look at the price & publisher, usually OUP or Yale & it’s £60-90, so yes being able to read them on open access would be great.
More great news on Persson he has a new book out ‘The Bombmaker & His Woman Friends’ continuing his interesting titles! It seems to be an espionage one this time, all though he’s used that before. Found out about on his agents updated website, very snazzy! At the front features screenwriters & TV series, showing the strength of Scandinavia Drama. Great to see Beck getting
his moment ‘in the sun’! Looking forward to seeing how they conclude ‘The Bridge’. Sky describe
‘Backstrom’ as offensive, petulant & brilliant!! First two I can agree with, but certainly
not brilliant! At least they give a heads up to LG Persson, & they seem to be keeping some of the
characterization from the books, his lifestyle etc, but no mention of Egon!
Yes it was the guy from the Telegraph on Front Row, hopping they’ll review Backstrom. Lastly
a German film I ment to recommend ‘Phoenix’. It’s by the Director of the excellent ‘Babara’ stars the same actress as well, not as good as ‘Barbara’ but worth catching, set in Berlin ’46, just out on BFI Player & only £4.50, less if you are a member.
Thanks, Brian – I appreciate your support! There’s definitely a sea-change taking place in relation to academic pricing and open access, but it may take a little while to kick in as thoroughly as we’d like. In any case, we’re working on it!
Thanks for the detective work on Persson. In case others are interested, the agent’s website is here, and as Brian says, it a good place for updates on Scandi crime: http://www.salomonssonagency.se/leif-gw-persson.
Saw a brief Twitter review of Backstrom today that wasn’t overly complimentary, but reckon it’s definitely worth a watch, just from a point of view of seeing how they’ve gone about adapting such an usual character. For example, the novel shows us a lot of B’s thoughts directly, which will be tricky to deal with on film.
Thanks for the recommendation of Phoenix – I’d heard of it and have it on my list [not crime, but set in immediate post-war Germany and has had very good reviews].
Thanks again, Brian 🙂
I have not seen “True Detective” and decided that I will not be following up on this one as when I clicked on the trailer I got the same old thing; the females are all nude or in body revealing clothes while the men are in suits/full attire etc. It is just my own personal “I am fed up with this and I am saying so”. I have a lot on the TBR pile that do not have to rely on such publicity, and I suspect may be all the more rewarding to read if they do not immediately lend themselves to such a simplistic and patronising snapshot.
Fair enough, Lynne. I totally understand your point of view and agree that the gender stereotypes you describe can be extremely damaging. In the case of True Detective 1, I did feel that the series had a genuine depth and complexity, but frankly, life is too short to watch things you’d rather not (I felt the same about the TV series The Fall, which lots of people have praised, but I just couldn’t bring myself to watch). Thankfully, there’s lots of great crime drama out there featuring strong female leads, such as The Killing, Top of the Lake and Happy Valley. Very hard hitting, but with female investigators/female points of view.
The Bridge is also a terrific series (Danish) with strong females. No unnecessary female nudity that I can remember 😊.
Of course, the marvellous Saga Noren! And some other very strong women are featured in that series as part of the police teams. Looking forward to seeing them back on our screens shortly.
Glad you liked Eva Dolan’s first book. I did, too, and also liked her second book. I also hope to keep reading her books for years to come — and I hope she does not lose her political edge. We need more writing like this, not less. This is so crucial now because of the migrant crisis, the tens of thousands escaping war and poverty and ending up in awful situations, sometimes fatal, as we just saw in Austria and often see in the Mediterranean.
And as for the TBR pile — and the lists — I came to the conclusion months ago that I’m just going to read what I want to read, whether it’s on my stacks or on the lists or at the library or I have to buy it.
Other than reading one book from each continent with history making up for Antartica, which I aim for every year, the rest is my choice, whatever I enjoy. And this has worked out well this year. I’ve read a lot of books I’ve enjoyed, including Dolan’s. One was a DNF and one I gritted my teeth through but I couldn’t stop (won’t mention the name of that “best-selling thriller).
As a friend said to me, the older we get the less reading time we have, so just read what we enjoy.
Hello Kathy – thanks for your comment. I completely agree with you about the importance of authors (crime or otherwise) writing novels that go beyond the stereotypes so often attached to migrants. Dolan is very good at showing different characters’ perspectives – crucially those of migrants or minorities – and by extension at showing migrants as individuals rather than as a generic group with generic characteristics. Finnish writer Kati Hiekappelto is also excellent in this respect (The Hummingbird/The Defenceless).
I very much like your annual reading strategy!
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