It’s snowing again on WordPress, which means it’s time for some eclectic Christmas recommendations. These might be useful when gift shopping for the crime lover in your life…or for yourself if you need a little treat. Many are new to the blog (I’ve linked back to existing reviews), and have been picked on the basis that 1. they would make lovely presents and 2. be a good read during the festive season. Enjoy!
Lesley Thomson, The Detective’s Daughter (Head of Zeus, 2013)
Stella Darnell runs a London cleaning agency called Clean Slate. When her estranged father Detective Chief Superintendent Terry Darnell dies, she discovers files relating to an unsolved case – the murder of young mother Kate Rokesmith – in the attic of his house. Gradually, against her better judgement, Stella finds herself being drawn into the investigation.
This is an ambitious, gripping and atmospheric novel. Stella’s a great creation – a prickly and emotionally guarded figure, whose professional thoroughness and tenacity make her more like her policeman father than she would care to admit. The stories of Kate’s murder in 1981 and her son Jonathan’s subsequent life – told in flashback – are also very well delineated. I particularly enjoyed the author’s observational gifts and the way she captures the small, sometimes absurd details of everyday life (‘Terry had died fifteen minutes after the parking ticket expired’).
Hans Olav Lahlum, Chameleon People (trans. from Norwegian by Kari Dickson, Mantle, 2016 )
It’s 1972. Norway is preparing for a referendum on its membership of the EEC, when Centre Party politician, landlord and businessman Per Johan Fredriksen is murdered in Oslo. A youth is apprehended with a bloody knife, but did he really do it? Inspector Kolbjørn ‘K2’ Kristiansen and Patricia Borchmann are once more on the case in this witty, beautifully written homage to Agatha Christie. There’s a cast of intriguing suspects, including a number of tricky ‘chameleons’, and an earlier, unsolved murder that may or may not be linked… You can read an extract from this hugely entertaining page-turner here.
Chameleon People is the fourth in the series, but works well as a standalone and would make a great-looking present (the hardback is lovely, with a bright orange flyleaf). Earlier installments, which I’d also recommend, include The Human Flies, Satellite People and The Catalyst Killing.
Claudia Piñeiro, Betty Boo (trans. from Spanish by Miranda France, Bitter Lemon Press, 2016 
A Buenos Aires industrialist is found murdered at his expensive home in the gated community of Maravillosa. Author Nurit Iscar (nickname ‘Betty Boo’) is asked to cover the story by a national newspaper, and moves into the community to write a series of pieces from the scene. Before too long, she’s begun investigating the case, aided by a former colleague, the now rather jaded crime reporter Jaime Brena, and her friends.
Piñeiro is South America’s bestselling crime writer, and this novel is an excellent standalone with wonderfully realised characters. A scathing dissection of the fortress lives the rich build for themselves, Betty Boo is also a warm, humorous tribute to the importance of friendships in middle age.
Leif G.W. Persson, The Dying Detective (trans. from Swedish by Neil Smith, Doubleday, 2016 )
The opening of The Dying Detective shows Lars Martin Johansson, a retired Swedish Police Chief, suffer a stroke after a lifetime of unhealthy excess. Frustrated by his physical limitations and slow recovery, he’s drawn into investigating a cold case, the murder of nine-year-old Yasmine Ermegan in 1985. Before long, he’s assembled a team of old police contacts and lay-experts to help him crack the crime.
On the face of it, this novel doesn’t sound very festive, given the state of our poor lead investigator’s health. But the narrative is strangely uplifting, and the plotting and writing are sublime. It’s one of my favourite novels of the year, and you can read the full review here.
Like Chameleon People, The Dying Detective is part of a larger series, but can definitely be read as a standalone. Earlier novels featuring Johansson include Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End and Another Time, Another Life. These are also marvellous, but have the feel of intricate political thrillers.
P.D. James, The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories (Faber & Faber, 2016)
P.D. James, queen of crime fiction, sadly died in 2014, but four of her Christmas stories – written between 1969 and 1996 – have now been gathered in this beautiful little hardback volume.
Not all writers are able to pull off the short story form, but P.D James does so with some style. Her deliciously dark morality tales involve a country-house Christmas gone wrong, an illicit affair, and two mysterious murders to test a young Adam Dalgliesh. The volume is a treat for all lovers of crime fiction, and has a forward by Val McDermid.
Joe Flanagan, Lesser Evils (Europa Editions/World Noir, 2016)
Lesser Evils is one of those exceptional debuts that punches well above its weight. Set in the summer of 1957, in the quiet Cape Cod town of Hyannis, the novel uses its investigation into the murder of a young boy to provide an authentic portrait of a small coastal community. World War Two veteran and police chief Bill Warren is a likable, nuanced character, who does his best to deal with an extraordinary case while parenting a son with learning difficulties. This is noir with a heart; a beautifully written and highly absorbing tale.
Lesser Evils would make another good-looking present. Like all Europa Editions paperbacks, the novel has an attractive, sturdy cover and flyleaf.
David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (Sceptre, 2010)
This historical novel opens in 1799 as young Dutchman Jacob de Zoet arrives at the Dejima trading post near Nagasaki to make his fortune with the Dutch East India Trading Company. While not explicitly a crime novel, a terrible crime does shape the narrative, and it also features an incredibly ingenious murder.
Mitchell spent four years writing the novel, and does a remarkable job of evoking life in Japan at a time when foreign contact was highly restricted and often deemed criminal. The depiction of the growing, sometimes illicit relationship between Europeans and the Japanese – mainly via translators and interpreters – is fascinating, and shows a gradual transfer of knowledge taking place (for example about midwifery techniques). The figure of Orito, a Japanese midwife constrained by the gender expectations of the time, is particularly well-drawn. A long, satisfying read with plenty of memorable characters, this novel will transport you to another time and place.
John le Carré, The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life (Penguin, 2016)
This is the one I wish I’d read, but that got away, so I hope I’ll find under the Christmas tree *hint hint*. Here’s the tantalising blurb:
From his years serving in British Intelligence during the Cold War, to a career as a writer that took him from war-torn Cambodia, to Beirut on the cusp of the 1982 Israeli invasion, and to Russia before and after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, John le Carré has always written from the heart of modern times. In this, his first memoir, le Carré is as funny as he is incisive – reading into the events he witnesses the same moral ambiguity with which he imbues his novels. Whether he’s writing about the parrot at a Beirut hotel that could perfectly mimic machine gun fire, or visiting Rwanda’s museums of the unburied dead in the aftermath of the genocide, or celebrating New Year’s Eve with Yasser Arafat, or interviewing a German terrorist in her desert prison in the Negev, or watching Alec Guinness preparing for his role as George Smiley, or describing the female aid worker who inspired the main character in The Constant Gardener, le Carré endows each happening with vividness and humour, now making us laugh out loud, now inviting us to think anew about events and people we believed we understood. Best of all, le Carré gives us a glimpse of a writer’s journey over more than six decades, and his own hunt for the human spark that has given so much life and heart to his fictional characters.
You’ll find an extract and lots of related content here.
Deutschland 83 (Universal Pictures UK, 2016; German with English subtitles)
This Cold War spy drama was one of my stand-out viewing experiences of 2016, and went down extremely well with UK audiences (better than in Germany, in fact).
Jonas Nay stars as young East German border-guard Martin Rausch, who is blackmailed by the Stasi into spying for West German military secrets. How will he fare, and will he manage to resist the seductions of a capitalist lifestyle? Written by Anna and Jörg Winger, a talented German/American husband-and-wife team, D83 is a genuinely thrilling ride that provides a brilliant portrait of Cold War tensions in 1983. It’s also very funny, with a killer 80s soundtrack.
See my review of the entire series here (warning – spoilers!)
The Library Suicides [Y Llyfrgell] (Soda Pictures, 2016; Welsh with English subtitles; based on the novel by Fflur Dafydd)
The Library Suicides stars Catrin Stewart (Jenny in Doctor Who) as twin sister librarians Nan and Ana. Following the apparent suicide of their mother, famous author Elena Wdig, they become convinced that she was murdered by her biographer Eben. The film plays out over a long and bloody night in the National Library of Wales as they seek their revenge.
This clever, stylish thriller would make perfect Christmas viewing. The film moves seamlessly from high tension, as the twins track Eben through dark corridors, to laugh-out-loud black comedy, and makes ingenious use of the library’s secret spaces as a setting. As well as exploring the effects of grief and loss, the film examines the ways in which we remember, create and tell stories about ourselves, and the effects these stories have on others.
You can read a fuller review of the film and a Q&A with Fflur here.
If you’re looking for further ideas or inspiration, then I can heartily recommend the following publisher websites. All have lots of excellent international crime fiction on offer.
Wishing you all a very happy festive season!
Ohh, thanks, a great list – I’d love any of these for Xmas 🙂
Perhaps a hint or two in the right quarters would do the trick? 😉
Intriguing and off-the-beaten path choices.
The algorithm (with the exception of le Carre) was what I’ve read/viewed + what I’ve loved + what I think would make a good Xmas gift (and ideally look nice too). Other lists, like a ‘pure’ best of 2016, might look a little different 🙂
Thanks Mrs P i’ll check these out. Chris
Happy browsing, Chris. Hope you find one you really like.
You make some excellent suggestions here, Mrs. P.! I’m especially keen to read the Piñeiro, the Persson and the Lahlum (although the rest look very good, too). Thanks for pointing these out.
Thanks, Margot. Getting lots of ideas for reading from other people’s lists as well. A fertile time of year for the TBR pile!
My dad recently bought Betty Boo, but in Spanish, drat. I like the look of some of these very much, especially the thousand Autumns..will have to see if I can track it down for a particular someone to wrap up for me…not my dad, he’d probably try to get it in Japanese, or Dutch or something, just so he could borrow it back and translate it for me to keep his 80+ year old mind sharp!
I like your dad’s style! I’m sure you’d enjoy Thousand Autumns – it’s packed with all sorts of fascinating detail and is beautifully written. I imagine you should be able to get hold of it as David Mitchell has had quite a lot of international success (he’s the author of Cloud Atlas). The audiobook was very good as well – that one got me through a whole scarf!
Thank you for these enticing suggestions. Lesser Evils sounds instantly tempting and also Chameleon People, I enjoyed the extract you linked. Happy Christmas Mrs P xxx
Happy Christmas to you too, Blighty!
I found Lesser Evils a really satisfying read – and it was nice to escape to the past for a bit…
I’m glad you liked the Chameleon People extract. Lahlum is a very engaging writer, and has maintained an impressively high standard throughout the whole ‘K2’ series. I love the way he riffs on the Christie/classic crime novel model, but gives it a more contemporary feel as well.
Dear Mrs Peabody,
Could you please give some recommendations for Danish crime, ideally set in Copenhagen ( where I’m currently having the most wonderful birthday weekend!)? Thank you.
Hello, Sue. Happy birthday!
Now here’s an odd thing: there are actually very few Danish crime novels I’d consider to be truly outstanding. The Danish strength seems to be TV crime drama – the excellent The Killing (especially series 1), and The Bridge (Danish-Swedish co-production).
The two crime novels that spring to mind and that I’d recommend are:
Peter Hoeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, published back in 1992, which is arguably a bit overlong, but remains one of my all-time favourite crime novels. Part of it is set in Copenhagen, but it also looks at the very interesting relationship between Denmark and Greenland (a former Danish colonial possession).
The other is Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy, the first in the ‘Department Q’ series (2007), which I thought was excellent (have been disappointed by the others in the series). It’s set in and around Copenhagen.
Will keep an eye out for others… I possibly need to up my quota of Dansk crime!
Have a lovely weekend 🙂
Morning Mrs P, and a very cold and frosty morning it is too 😄.
What a wonderful selection of books I can get my teeth into. I especially like the sound of The Detectives Daughter and Chameleon. And the Le Carre, and the P D James, in fact most of them. That’ll keep me occupied for a while with just the odd break or two for turkey sandwiches etc.
I love the photo of the Barter Books Xmas tree. It really brings home the fact that Xmas day is only three weeks away today. So I’d better get a wriggle on.
Have a merry Xmas and a happy new year.
Hello Kathy P – wishing you a very Happy Christmas too, and enjoy your reading (I confess I sneak away from the festivities at times for a bookish breather…). Love that Barter Books tree and wish I didn’t live so far away. It’s an absolute treasure trove and a temple to all things literary – does the soul good just to be there.
Better get a wriggle on with Xmas shopping myself (lovely turn of phrase!).
Mrs. Peabody, I love reading your recommendations. The problem is, they make me want to run out and read all of these at once. For now, I’ll maybe start with The Detective’s Daughter and Betty Boo.
Oh, and I agree with you on Deutschland 83. I loved that show so much I watched series 1 three times and told all my friends to watch it.
Hello Gillian – I know! I’m having the same problem with other bloggers’ lists. Way too much temptation around at this time of year. But on the bright side, at least we’ll have lots of great reading lined up for 2017. Hope you enjoy The Detective’s Daughter and Betty Boo.
It looks like we’ll be treated to at least one more series from the Wingers – Deutschland 86 and possibly Deutschland 89. Can’t wait.
I think the suggestions are great. I’ve read the Pineiro, liked it, and want to read The Detective’s Daughter, the Lahlum, the Persson and maybe others.
I would add on Danish crime the Nina Borg series by Kaaberbol and Friis, especially The Boy in the Suitcase and the next book.
Thanks, kathyd. Glad you liked the Pineiro. I think I’m attracted to crime novels with a bit of heart at the moment, and Betty Boo certainly fits the bill.
Thanks for the extra Danish recommendation!
These look great, thanks for the terrific roundup Mrs P – I always follow your suggestions at this time of you year to satisfy the crime fiction cravings of my sister-in-law 🙂 Much appreciated (especially considering the way things just went in Italy). Thanks, Sergio
You’re welcome, Sergio! I hope your sister-in-law enjoys, and can find some solace in reading when political realities get too much. Wishing you and yours a very happy Christmas.
And the same to you and yours Kat.
As always your recommendations made me add several books to my wish list! I spent two weeks near Hyannis this past summer so will go for the Flanagan first, and then the Detective’s Daughter.
Sheng danjie kuaile ! (Happy holy birth festival) 圣诞节快乐 from Beijing. 🎄🎄🎄
Hi herschelian – I hope you enjoy Lesser Evils. It’ll be interesting to see what you think of it having visited the area. Just re-reading The Detective’s Daughter (not something I do much) and am really enjoying it second time round.
Thanks for your festive wishes – Nadolig llawen in return from us here in Wales! 🙂
Many thanks for the incredibly thoughtful, comprehensive list! I’ve just been immersed in the P.D. James Mistletoe Murder and other stories. They pay homage to and turn Agatha on her head at the same time. Great fun. Thanks for all the effort!
Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)
You’re welcome, Judith! It was a very satisfying list to put together.
The P.D. James is wonderfully playful at times. Lovely to ‘hear’ her voice again too.
Like you, I was thoroughly delighted with The Dying Detective. That might be my book of the year, in fact. Thanks for the other recommendations – a couple had snuck by me, so I’ll take a look at them…
It’s an absolute cracker, isn’t it? Very high on my list too. The reading pleasure you get with Persson is very hard to beat.
And you’re welcome – will pop over to you and do the same 🙂
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