Crime leads: Walter Presents + V&Q books + 2022 crime fiction in translation

Introducing Mrs Peabody’s ‘crime leads’: an occasional feature rounding up the best of international crime fiction news.

I’m not sure how many crime fans realise that Walter Presents which made its name by bringing a curated selection of TV dramas to our screens — has forged a partnership with Pushkin Press. I certainly hadn’t…

At the moment there are four crime novels in the ‘Walter Presents’ series, by Flemish, French and Italian authors, and if they’re anything as good as the crime dramas dear Walter picks out (such as the superlative Deutschland ’83) then we’re in for a major treat. The one that’s particularly caught my eye is Roberto Perroni’s The Second Life of Inspector Canessa, with this lovely noir cover.

Here’s the blurb: “Annibale Canessa was a legend: the most notorious cop during Italy’s brutal Years of Lead, he hunted down terrorist suspects with unmatched ferocity. But then the fighting stopped, and suddenly Canessa was a soldier without a war.

30 years later and he’s settled into a life of calm by the sea – until some shattering news pulls him back in. His estranged brother has been found dead; lying beside him, the body of an ex-terrorist, a man Canessa himself caught.”

The Bookseller reports that V&Q Books — headed by translator-publisher Katy Derbyshire — has bought the rights to Sally McGrane’s thriller Odessa at Dawn. The book follows ex-CIA man Max Rushmore on a trip to Odessa that veers badly off course… His journey leads him to dubious businessmen, corrupt officials, catacomb dwellers, scientists, pastry-chefs, poets, archivists, cops – and killers. Described as a ‘surreal contemporary spin on the classic spy novel’ that pays tribute to past Odessa residents like Babel, Gogol, Pushkin and Chekhov, it’s also an ode to the city itself. Sounds mighty intriguing – and highly topical given the current situation in Ukraine.

As it happens, I’m just reading a comic novel/mystery caper from the eclectic V&Q list: Isabel Bogdan’s The Peacock, deftly translated from the German by Annie Rutherford. It’s set a long way from Odessa – in the Scottish Highlands no less – and features a hilarious ensemble cast including the eponymous, rather cross peacock. Think Monarch of the Glen sprinkled with P. G. Wodehouse and Hamish Macbeth – a wonderful balm if you’re feeling a bit frazzled with the world.

And finally, if you’re one of those crime buffs who likes to look ahead and possibly even compile spreadsheets of your reading for the year, then here are two very useful lists:

Fiction from Afar: ‘Unmissable Crime Fiction in Translation due in 2022’

Euro Crime: ‘Releases in 2022’

Because we obviously don’t have enough crime novels already 🙂

Love and Friendship: Eduardo Sacheri’s The Secret in Their Eyes, tr. John Cullen (Argentina)

Eduardo Sacheri, The Secret in Their Eyes, tr. from the Spanish by John Cullen,(Other Press, 2011 [2005])

First line: Benjamin Miguel Chaparro stops short and decides he’s not going.

I don’t often re-read crime novels. This is largely because crime is so plot-driven: once you know the ‘solution’, you’ve got less reason to return. But naturally there are exceptions – crime novels which tell their story in such a way that you’re drawn to them repeatedly, perhaps because you love the company of the characters or the setting, or because the book tells you something new each time you read it.

Eduardo Sacheri’s The Secret in Their Eyes is one such novel. I’ve read it three times now and I’m sure there’ll be a fourth. It’s been on my mind lately because it celebrates love and friendship in adversity, and so feels timely in spite of its setting – Argentina in the second half of the twentieth century.

Benjamin Chaparro is freshly retired from his position as Deputy Clerk of an investigative court in Buenos Aires. Now a man of leisure, he decides to write a book about a case that’s haunted him since 1968 – the murder of a young woman, Liliana Colotto, at home one summer’s day. Oscillating between the past and the present, and spanning twenty-five years, the narrative tells the story of the murder and its repercussions for those left behind: grieving husband Ricardo Morales, investigator Benjamin – and the murderer.

While undoubtedly crime fiction, The Secret in Their Eyes is also a historical novel, exploring the time before, during and after Argentina’s Guerra Sucia or Dirty War (1976-1983). This period saw a state-sponsored campaign of violence against ‘politically subversive’ citizens, resulting in the ‘disappearance’ of 10,000 to 30,000 Argentinians. Both of the novel’s strands – the criminal and the historical – focus on the nature of justice and on the impact of a justice that is delayed or denied.

But the novel is also a love story – that of a husband and wife (Ricardo and Liliana), and of long-time co-workers (Benjamin and his boss, Irene) – as well as the moving chronicle of a friendship (Benjamin and his colleague Sandoval). Beautifully written, with complex and often endearing characters, the novel is a rich, satisfying read – a multilayered narrative of genuine humanity and warmth.

I first read The Secret in Their Eyes after seeing Juan José Campanella’s film adaptation, El secreto de sus ojos, which won the 2010 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. What a fabulous adaptation this is, especially in its use of the visual to bring out key themes: close-ups of eyes and gazes, for example, and the symbolism of the colour red – look out in particular for Irene’s roses. The acting is superb, and the wittiness of the script really captures the dynamics of Benjamin, Irene and Sandoval’s relationships.

But there are also some modifications to the plot: Irene is much more present in the film than in the novel (which I liked), and there were a couple of other changes towards the end designed to provide some extra drama (which I wasn’t so keen on). However, the latter certainly aren’t deal-breakers. It’s rare that a novel and film adaptation complement each other so well, and I hearily recommend both.

Don’t bother with the later Hollywood adaptation starring Julia Roberts et al. It got a 39% rating on Rotten Tomatoes – ’nuff said.

Meet the Gang: Anna North’s Outlawed (USA)

Anna North, Outlawed, Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2021 (USA)

First line: In the year of our Lord 1894, I became an outlaw.

Anna North’s Outlawed treats us to a beautifully realised alternative America of 1894, where seventeen-year-old Ada lives with her sisters and midwife mum, Evelyn, in the Dakota town of Fairchild.

The town’s name is a clue to the novel’s subject: around 60 years earlier, the Great Flu swept through the land, decimating the population and creating what is effectively a religious cult of the child. Grief, trauma and the need to reproduce has made fertility and child-bearing an obsessive social focus, and young wives are watched like hawks in their first year of marriage to see if they can successfully conceive. If they can’t, they risk being deemed ‘barren’, and possibly, if things go badly, being branded a witch — with deadly consequences.

When Ada finds herself in this tightest of spots, her mother is able to get her to safety. But one thing leads to another, and soon she’s on the run with the intriguing Hole in the Wall Gang, whose charismatic leader, the Kid, has a utopian dream that’s going to need the heist of all heists to finance it.

So what we have here is a feminist Western that’s a rollicking read (bombs made of horse dung!), but that also explores complex themes: the social fallout of a pandemic; how ignorance and fear leads to catastrophic scapegoating; the paths taken by individuals who are criminalised through no fault of their own; the alternative communities and alliances that such individuals forge; the resilience and collective action that may occasionally win the day.

The characters – from Ada and Evelyn to the Kid, Texas, Elzy, Lark and Amity the Dappled Grey Mare – are plucky, complicated and engaging, and the descriptions of the American Wild West – all searing red rock and herds of buffalo – are sumptuous.

But it’s Ada who is the standout star. Her intelligence and determination to follow her own path reminded me of other spirited female narrators undergoing rites of passage, such as Mattie in Charles Portis’ True Grit and Ree in Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone. There are, of course, also shades of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian Handmaid’s Tale (but things thankfully never get quite as grim as they do in Gilead). Outlawed is a splendidly enjoyable and thought-provoking read.

In other news: I’ve now set up a Pinterest HQ for Mrs. Peabody Investigates, where I’ll pin reviews as they go live. This will hopefully give you all another, more visual way of dipping into or returning to reviews over the year. We’ll see how it goes! Feedback very welcome 🙂

A Swiss gem: Hansjörg Schneider’s Silver Pebbles, tr. Mike Mitchell (Switzerland)

Hansjörg Schneider, Silver Pebbles, tr. from the German by Mike Mitchell, Bitter Lemon Press 2022 [1993]

First lines: The Frankfurt-Basel Intercity – a sleek, streamlined train – was crossing the Upper-Rhine plain. It was the middle of February, and there were fingers of snow along the bare branches of the vines going up the slope to the east.

I read Silver Pebbles at the end of last year, thanks to an advance copy from Bitter Lemon Press, and enthusiastically included it in my best-of-year round up. But I want to give the novel a bit more breathing space here in a post of its own, as it’s just out in the UK now and will be out in the US in February.

Although the Bitter Lemon website describes the novel as the second in the acclaimed ‘Inspector Peter Hunkeler’ series, it was actually the first of the novels to be published in the German-speaking world back in 1993. This makes it an especially good place to start if you’ve not yet read The Basel Killings, which came out last year.

Silver Pebbles introduces us to jaded Basel police inspector Peter Hunkeler, who’s nearing retirement, and treats us to a wonderfully absorbing case.

When elegantly attired Lebanese smuggler Guy Kayat flushes some diamonds down a station toilet to evade the police, he sets off a chain of bizarre events. The diamonds are found by Erdogan Civil, a sewage worker called in to clear a blockage, who immediately thinks his dream of opening a hotel back in Turkey is about to come true. But of course, life is infinitely more complicated than that, as Erdogan’s supermarket-cashier girlfriend Erika Waldis realises straight away…

This is a very human tale, told in a way that reminded me a bit of Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s ‘Martin Beck’ series – the novel has a matter-of-fact style leavened with genuine warmth and a dry sense of humour, not to mention the odd Keystone Cops moment when the police tie themselves up in knots. But it’s Erika who is the slow-burning star of the show, with a perceptiveness and intellect to match the police inspector’s own.

Silver Pebbles still feels remarkably fresh today, probably because it has some universal truths to share with (middle-aged) readers. It’s no surprise to find that Schneider is a famous playwright and essayist back in Switzerland, or that his 10-novel crime series has won major awards such as the Friedrich Glauser Prize. And translator Mike Mitchell does a particularly lovely job of capturing the novel’s humour and Inspector Hunkeler’s grumpiness.

And speaking of Swiss crime fiction… if you haven’t yet read Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Pledge (1958), then you’re in for a treat. It remains one of my all-time favourite crime novels, and has to be one of the cleverest Krimis ever written, especially in terms of subverting genre conventions. You can read my (updated) post on it here…

And finally, a topical crime oddity…

Many of you will know the British TV police series Line of Duty, which features the iconic AC-12 unit carrying out internal investigations into potentially corrupt members of the police.

Yesterday, the satirical campaign group Led by Donkeys released a spoof video that features AC-12 (Ted Hastings, Kate Fleming and Steve Arnott) interrogating Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the political scandal dubbed #PartyGate – as part of ‘Operation BYOB’!

Now, I’m a keen crime drama and politics watcher, but I’ve never seen anything like this before: a cult TV series that pulled in 12.8 million viewers for its last season finale being used to intervene directly in a political situation, and instrumentalising crime fiction conventions (in this case the classic ‘police interrogation scene’) in order to expose a politician’s ‘crimes’.

Leaving the politics of the matter aside, can anyone think of a similar kind of intervention in the past? A political statement made using a TV drama in ‘real time’, as opposed to being incorporated into an episode after the fact?

The video was posted yesterday and has had 7.2 million views on Twitter to date… You can read all about it here.

Homage to Sidney Poitier: In the Heat of the Night (1967)

The actor Sidney Poitier, who appeared in a number of groundbreaking films in the course of his long and illustrious career, has died at the age of 94.

The news made me revisit Norman Jewison’s 1967 crime drama In the Heat of the Night – both to watch the great man in action and to marvel that a film dealing so overtly with racism could have been made in 1967, let alone received the Oscar for Best Picture that year. It’s an extraordinary and enduring achievement, and feels freshly relevant in the context of America’s current divisions.

Do avoid watching the dreadful MGM trailer, which fuses all the shouty bits together in rather a crass way. The film is capable of significantly more nuance, as the outstanding scene below shows…

Here we see Virgil Tibbs (Poitier) – guilty of nothing more than waiting for a train to Philadelphia – being brought to the sheriff’s office in the town of Sparta, Mississippi on suspicion of having killed a businessman. Why? Because he’s black and has money in his wallet, which strikes the white arresting officer as a category error. The push-and-pull of Tibbs’ relationship with racist Chief Gillespie (Rod Steiger), who quickly realises he’ll need the black man’s expertise to solve the murder, is immediately on display. The two deliver a masterclass in acting to the fortunate audience.

The film is an adaptation of John Dudley Ball’s 1965 crime novel In the Heat of the Night, which won the 1966 Edgar Award for best debut by an American author and was the first in a series featuring homicide detective Virgil Tibbs. Ball worked for a while as a deputy in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office and clearly drew on this experience when writing the novel, which rings true both in terms of police procedure and law enforcement working culture.

The plot of the novel differs from the film in some respects: Tibbs is from California rather than Philadelphia, the murder victim is an Italian-American conductor organising a music festival in the town, and there’s a storyline involving policeman Sam Wood which doesn’t completely make it into the film. But lots of the film dialogue is taken directly from the novel, such as bits of the exchange between Tibbs and Gillespie in the scene above, and the iconic line ‘They call me Mr. Tibbs’.

The novel also does something extremely valuable: it gives us access to the minds of Gillespie, Wood and the other townsfolk, so that we can observe the workings of racist thought processes up close – along with the strategies Tibbs employs to overcome the many obstacles placed in his path.

In the Heat of the Night does fall down in one key respect: its depictions of gender and class are often stereotyped. But the novel is still very much worth reading and is widely available, most recently in the handsome 50th anniversary Penguin Modern Classics edition.

I’ll leave you with Ray Charles singing the soulful, gospel-inflected ‘In the Heat of the Night’ (Quincy Jones/Marilyn & Alan Bergman), which plays during the opening credits of the film. Thank you, Mr. Poitier.

Sound of the 70s: Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Velvet was the Night (Mexico)

Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Velvet was the Night, Jo Fletcher Books 2021

First line: He didn’t like beating people.

Mexican-Canadian writer Silvia Moreno-Garcia is one of those ridiculously talented authors who can turn her hand to any genre. She’s probably best known for her novel Mexican Gothic (it does what it says on the tin), but describes her latest novel as ‘noir/pulp fiction’, albeit with an unusual historical twist.

Velvet was the Night is set in 1970s Mexico during the ‘Guerra sucia’ or Dirty War, which saw the right-wing government abduct, imprison and often murder those viewed as a threat to its ideology and power – especially left-wing students and working-class activists. Audaciously, one of the novel’s main characters is a member of Los Halcones – the Hawks – a shadowy group of heavies trained by the government (with the covert backing of the CIA) to disrupt student demos and worse. The codename of the young man in question is El Elvis, after his musical idol, and it is through his eyes that we observe both the internal workings of the group and the psychology of an individual who’s got himself into a serious fix.

Velvet‘s other key figure is Maite Jaramillo, a secretary terrified of spinsterhood, who escapes the everyday grind and turbulent politics around her through a love of music and Secret Romance magazines. She also harbours a grubby secret of her own: she likes to steal small items from her neighbours’ apartments while pet-sitting for them. It’s when beautiful, bohemian student Leonora disappears –  and thus fails to reclaim her cat – that Maite’s humdrum world gets turned upside down.

Along with the characterisation, a key strength of Velvet was the Night is its tightly plotted narrative. Its ending feels satisfying and complete, but could also serve as an intriguing beginning to a whole other story. Another very nice touch is the playlist at the back of the novel, which showcases the songs woven into the text – a clever nod to the subversive status of certain kinds of music in 1970s Mexico. You can find it on Spotify here.

True crime tidbit: many who work in the world of publishing, like my good self, have been following a bizarre, long-running case involving fake identities and a phishing scam whose aim was getting hold of valuable manuscripts prior to publication. News comes this morning that the FBI has made an arrest… Innocent until proven guilty, of course, but it’s quite a breakthrough in what’s an absolutely fascinating case for bookish types – not least in relation to the question of motivation. It’ll make a great podcast.

Sisterly devotion: Kwon Yeo-sun’s Lemon, tr. Janet Hong (South Korea)

Kwon Yeo-sun, Lemon, tr. Janet Hong, Head of Zeus 2021 [2019]

First line: I imagine what happened inside one police interrogation room so many years ago.

This opening line is narrated by a young woman called Da-on, as she reflects on her beautiful older sister’s murder in Seoul on 1 July 2002.

There are two prime suspects, both of whom attended the same high school as victim Hae-on: Shin Jeongjun, the privileged son of wealthy parents, and Han Manu, the son of an impoverished single mum. But while the mystery of what happened to the nineteen-year-old girl is a powerful component in the narrative, its main focus is the impact of Hae-on’s death on those closest to her – her sister, her mother, her classmate. We are shown events unfolding largely through female eyes, in eight pithily titled chapters spanning from 2002 (‘Shorts’) to 2019 (‘Dusk’).

Here’s Da-on, for example, on the early trauma of her sister’s death:

Since both Mother and I were falling at a very slow speed,
I didn't realise we were falling at first.

The women’s grief and their struggle to fill the gap left by the dead girl are very finely drawn. Da-on embarks on two highly original strategies in this respect, each of which ultimately comes with a price – both to her and others – in the seventeen long years following Hae-on’s death.

Interwoven with all this is the theme of class, which is front and centre in other recent examples of crime-inflected South Korean culture, from the Oscar-winning film Parasite to Netflix hits Squid Game and Signal. We’re shown a justice system that’s stacked against those from less well-off backgrounds, and how the rich have more options due to their connections and wealth.

Lemon is a beguiling, unsettling, worthwhile read, which also offers some fascinating glimpses into South Korean culture thanks to Janet Hong’s sensitive and attentive translation.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Kwon Yeo-sun’s work, there’s an interesting interview with her over at Korean Literature Now.

What next for Mrs. Peabody Investigates?

Happy New Year to you all! I hope you had a relaxing break and managed to squirrel yourself away for some of it with a good crime novel or two.

As is customary at this time of year, I’ve been doing a bit of a stocktake, particularly in relation to this blog. It’s been a sobering experience:

  1. It turns out I wrote a paltry five blog posts in 2021. FIVE! These consisted of one literary obituary, two Petrona Award posts, one set of summer reviews, and Mrs P’s Christmas recommendations. Spot what was missing: any semblance of regular crime reviewing. Hmmm.
  2. I managed to miss the 10th anniversary of Mrs. Peabody Investigates!!! I started blogging in January 2011, but that wonderful milestone just passed me by…

All of which tells me I can’t outrun the laws of time and space.

I won’t bore you with the details – just imagine a classic pandemic brew of extra work and family pressures. However, one thing is clear: something needs to change.

Option 1 is to say ‘it’s been a good run’ and let Mrs. Peabody bow out gracefully.

Option 2 is to say ‘must do better this year’, knowing that the end result is likely to be much the same.

Option 3 is to try a little experiment… And that’s what I’ve decided to do.

You’ll see there’s a jazzy new ‘donate’ button on the main menu bar at the top of the blog.

The idea is this: for those blog readers who can and wish to, there’s the option of donating a little something to help ‘power’ the blog. What this means in practice is that any donations will go towards buying me time to write reviews. Or to put it another way: as a freelancer with finite resources, they’ll allow me to liberate some precious hours to review and post more regularly.

BUT – and this is very important – there will never be any expectation on my part that readers should donate. The blog will always remain accessible and ‘free at the point of delivery’. No paywall for Mrs P! And you have my word that I’ll remain independent. ‘Mrs. Peabody Investigates’ will always review the best international crime fiction, TV and film without fear or favour.

As I say, all of this is an experiment and I’m very relaxed about the outcome. We’ll just see how things go…

So onwards and upwards, starting tomorrow with a review of Kwon Yeo-sun’s Korean crime novel Lemon!

Let it snow! Mrs. Peabody’s 2021 Xmas crime recommendations

Here are Mrs. Peabody’s 2021 Christmas crime recommendations! 

Treat others! Treat yourself!

Please support local booksellers while keeping yourself and others safe.

Belinda Bauer, Exit (Black Swan, 2021 – UK)

First line: The key was under the mat.

I adore pretty much everything Belinda Bauer has written – she seems capable of turning her hand to almost any kind of crime – and Exit is no exception. Mild-mannered pensioner Felix Pink is an ‘Exiteer’, one of a group of volunteers who keep the ill and infirm company when they decide they’ve had enough of life. But one day an assignment goes horribly wrong, and Felix finds himself needing to stay one step ahead of the police while frantically trying to work out what is going on. Exit tackles weighty issues of life and death with humanity, compassion and a lot of laughs. I’m not sure how Bauer pulls it off, but she emphatically does, and I don’t know anyone who hasn’t loved this impeccably constructed crime novel (including those who claim not to like crime).

Jane Harper, The Survivors (Little, Brown, 2020 – Tasmania)

First line: Kieran hoped the numbness would set in soon.

Two things drew me to this crime novel: its top-notch author and its setting – a little town on Tasmania’s wild coastline. Kieran Elliott is on a rare visit to Evelyn Bay where he grew up. His mother Verity is struggling to look after his father, who has dementia, and the absence of his dead brother Finn looms large both within the family and his wider circle of friends. When Bronte, a young artist working at a cafe, is found dead on the beach, unresolved questions from the past resurface, not least the disappearance of schoolgirl Gabby during the same big storm that claimed Finn’s life. The Survivors is a crime novel that delivers on a number of levels: superb characterization, an absorbing and gripping plot, and a sensitive examination of grief.

Jess Kidd, Things in Jars (Canongate, 2019 – England/Ireland)

First line: The raven levels off into a glide, flight feathers fanned.

Jess Kidd is one of the most original crime authors writing today, both in terms of her subject matter and her rich writing style. Things in Jars is her first ‘proper’ historical crime novel, set in and near London between 1841 and 1863. It features a number of formidable women, chief among them Bridie Devine, ‘the finest female detective of her age’, who begins investigating the kidnapping of a highly unusual child. Oh, and she can see ghosts – specifically, a heavily tattooed boxer (a ‘circus to the eye’) called Ruby Doyle, who claims to have known Bridie in life, and keeps her company through the ups and downs of the case. Filled to the brim with the eccentric, the otherworldly and the gothic, Things in Jars explores female oppression, survival, and how, with the help of allies, women can carve out a space for themselves in a hostile world.

John le Carré, Silverview (Penguin, 2021 – UK)

First line: At ten o’clock of a rainswept morning in London’s West End, a young woman in a baggy anorak, a woollen scarf pulled around her head, strode resolutely into the storm that was roaring down South Audley Street.

For le Carré fans, this is a poignant read – a final novel from the master of the spy genre. In many ways, this is a classic le Carré tale – a forensic deconstruction of one story among the many making up the intelligence world, and a scathing examination of the moral vacuum at the heart of foreign policy. We see events through the eyes of Julian Lawndsley, who has moved to a small seaside town in East Anglia to run a bookshop, and Stewart Proctor, senior intelligence troubleshooter, who gets word of a security breach in the very same spot. At the heart of it all: a mysterious Polish émigré living in ‘Silverview’, a grand manor house. It was a pleasure to be back in le Carré’s world and to spend time with his richly drawn characters. Happily, as with Agent Running in the Field, there are redemptive elements that temper the bleaker aspects of the novel.

Abir Mukherjee, Death in the East (Harvill Secker, 2020 – UK/India)

First line: I’d left Calcutta with a grim resolve, a suitcase full of kerdu gourd, and, in case of emergencies, a bullet-sized ball of opium resin hidden between the folds of my clothes. 

This is the fourth in Mukherjee’s ‘Wyndham and Banerjee’ series, and I think it’s my favourite so far: a rich historical crime novel that offers not just one, but several discrete murder mysteries, including two intriguing locked-room cases. The novel switches between 1922 Assam, where Captain Sam Wyndham is trying to conquer his opium addiction, and 1905 London, during the early days of his policing career. The link: a villain whose reappearance in Assam threatens Wyndham’s life. This is a beautifully plotted crime novel that offers atmospheric depictions of Assam on the one hand and London’s Jewish East End on the other. Gripping, entertaining, and with a nice line in Chandleresque humour, it also shows us the changing face of India – Sergeant Banerjee’s welcome appearance near the end of the novel marks an important shift in the relations between the two.

Hansjörg Schneider, Silver Pebbles, tr. from the German by Mike Mitchell (Bitter Lemon Press, January 2022 – Switzerland)

First line: The Frankfurt-Basel Intercity — a sleek, streamlined train — was crossing the Upper-Rhine plain.

Schneider’s Silver Pebbles was originally published in 1993, but feels remarkably fresh today. The first in the acclaimed ‘Inspector Peter Hunkeler’ series, it introduces us to the jaded Basel police detective and treats us to a wonderfully absorbing case. When Lebanese smuggler Guy Kayat flushes some diamonds down a station toilet to evade the police, he sets off a chain of bizarre events. The diamonds are found by Erdogan, a sewage worker called to clear a blockage, who thinks his dream of opening a hotel back in Turkey is about to come true. But of course, things get complicated… A very human tale, told in a way that reminded me of Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s ‘Martin Beck’ series – a matter-of-fact style leavened with genuine warmth and a dry sense of humour. Erika Waldis, Erdogan’s long-suffering girlfriend, is the slow-burning star of the show.

Signal, by Kim Eun-hee, dir. by Kim Won-seok (Netflix – South Korea)

This 2016 South Korean crime drama – with shades of Life on Mars – has stolen my heart. I’m about half way through and love the way it’s developing the ambitious idea of a criminal profiler in 2015 who’s able to talk to a police detective in 1989 via a chunky old walkie-talkie. As well as working on cold cases together, the mystery of the police detective’s own disappearance in 2000 increasingly moves centre stage. Unbeknownst to profiler Park Hae-young, his boss Detective Cha Soo-hyun is also searching for Detective Lee Jae-han – he was her mentor when she was a rookie back in 1989. Along with the police-procedural elements and occasional slapstick humour, it’s Signal‘s wonderfully human characterization that stands out for me.

And here’s a trio on my own Christmas wishlist.

Mick Herron’s Dolphin Junction, a collection of short stories featuring, among others, Jackson Lamb, and Zoë Boehm & Joe Silvermann (the stars of his ‘Slough House’ and ‘Oxford’ series respectively). Expect brilliant storytelling and acerbic wit.

Katie Kitamura’s Intimacies, about an interpreter whose duties involve interpreting for a potential war criminal at the International Court in Hague.

David Heska Wanbli Weiden’s Winter Counts, a much-lauded debut that takes a hard-hitting, nuanced look at life on South Dakota’s Rosebud Indian Reservation.

********

There are some big changes coming to Mrs. Peabody Investigates in 2022: keep your eyes peeled for those!

Until then, wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!

The 2021 Petrona Award Winner!

We’re delighted to announce the winner of the 2021 Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year

The winner is….*drumroll*


TO COOK A BEAR by Mikael Niemi, translated from the Swedish by Deborah Bragan-Turner and published by MacLehose Press.

It is the first historical crime novel to win the Petrona Award.

Here’s what the judges had to say:

The judges adored TO COOK A BEAR, a historical crime novel set in northernmost Sweden in 1852, and were unanimous in our decision to select it as the Petrona Award winner for 2021. We were particularly impressed with the novel’s use of historical detail, its fascinating reimagining of a figure from history, the sense of location and atmosphere, the rumination on religion versus the natural world, and the depiction of early forensics. TO COOK A BEAR’s superb characterisation of the main protagonists Læstadius and Jussi, which is tinged with sadness yet hope, also allows the author to explore the issues of literacy and class with sensitivity and compassion. The beautiful translation by Deborah Bragan-Turner lets the novel shine for English-language readers around the world.

And here are reactions from the winning author, translator and publisher:

Mikael Niemi: I am very proud and happy to have received the Petrona Award and would like to thank my editor, Katharina Bielenberg, my translator Deborah Bragan-Turner, and my agency, Hedlund Literary Agency, who have made it possible for this novel to reach British readers. This happy news has brightened the growing winter darkness here in the very north of Scandinavia. I am sending my warmest thanks to all my British readers.

Deborah Bragan-TurnerI am absolutely thrilled and very honoured to receive the Petrona Award. It’s a great privilege to be in the company of such accomplished authors and translators on the shortlist. Many congratulations to you all. Thank you to MacLehose Press for your support and editorial advice, and to the panel of judges for your championing of and enthusiasm for Scandinavian fiction in translation. And of course thank you most of all, Mikael Niemi, for bringing the story of Jussi and the pastor to us in TO COOK A BEAR, an inspired novel and a joy to translate.

MacLehose Press: We are delighted that Mikael Niemi’s novel has been recognised with the Petrona Award. TO COOK A BEAR is immersive and transporting, historical crime fiction at its best, and it has been thrilling to watch it find its readers in English. Powerfully vivid and lush in its descriptions of Sweden’s very far north, and brilliant on literacy and the power of language, it has been beautifully and imaginatively rendered in Deborah Bragan-Turner’s translation. Congratulations to them both!

Huge congratulations to everyone! And heartfelt thanks to our sponsor, David Hicks, for his generous support of the 2021 Petrona Award.

And for all things Petrona, see http://www.petronaaward.co.uk/

The 2021 Petrona shortlist is available here.