Out with the old, in with the new. Happy 2014!


I always love those quiet days between Christmas and New Year. They’re the perfect time for reading, and – for the bloggers among us – provide a great chance to tie up loose ends and plan ahead.

Some loose ends now neatly tied up in a bow:

  • I took part in two reading challenges last year, the 2013 Global Reading Challenge and the 2013 Translation Challenge. I completed both, and enjoyed the global challenge in particular, as it made me reflect on the geographical distribution of my reading (somewhat biased towards Europe and the US). You can see which books I read for the challenges here.
  • I’ve managed to finish my two Christmas reads, which complemented one other very well. Patricio Pron’s My Father’s Ghost is Climbing in the Rain is a literary memoir exploring a father-son relationship and the legacy of Argentina’s military dictatorship. It’s an interesting read, but took a little while to get going (it would probably benefit from a second reading, as the significance of earlier sections becomes clearer in the light of later ones). While not a crime novel, criminality is a key theme and the genre is frequently referenced, albeit in slightly contradictory ways. For example, the narrator comments: ‘I understood for the first time that the children of young Argentines in the 1970s were going to have to solve our parents’ pasts, like detectives, and that what we were going to find out was going to seem like a mystery novel we wished we’d never bought’ (p.152). But then a little later it’s suggested that exploring ‘social crime […] through the artifice of a detective novel’ is inadequate, because ‘the resolution of most detective stories is condescending, no matter how ruthless the plotting, so that the reader, once the loose ends are tied up and the guilty finally punished, can return to the real world with the conviction that crimes get solved and remain locked between the covers of a book, and that the world outside the book is guided by the same principles of justice as the tale told inside and should not be questioned’ (p.153). Of course that’s not always the case: lots of contemporary crime authors have pushed the boundaries of the genre to explore the absence of justice for state crimes. I wonder if Pron has read Ernesto Mallo’s outstanding 2006 crime novel Needle in a Haystack (see my review here), which examines the same historical period? It’s precisely the lack of a resolution/punishment for the crimes committed by the junta that gives the narrative its power.

  • My other Christmas novel was Jan Costin Wagner’s Light in a Dark House (Harvill Secker 2013), the fourth in the German/Finnish Kimmo Joentaa series, which was an excellent read. Even though each installment is made up of quite similar elements, the quality of the characterisation and narrative construction is such that they never appear formulaic. The starting points in Light in a Dark House are the disappearance of Kimmo’s secretive on-off lover, and the murder of a nameless, comatose woman in a hospital. Intriguingly, the only clue left by the murderer is ‘lacrimal fluid’, or tears.
  • And the connections between the two? The legacies of past violence, unresolved traumas, and the damaging effects of silence. These issues are presented quite differently in each, which makes them an interesting pair to read together.

Looking ahead:

  • Santa was kind enough to bring me a number of crime novels, including Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects (Phoenix 2007), Eduardo Sacheri’s The Secret in their Eyes (Other Press 2005/2011) and John le Carré’s A Delicate Truth (Viking 2013). I’m going to make the Sacheri my first crime novel of 2014, as I enjoyed the Oscar-winning film adaptation of 2010, and am keen to read the original novel. That’ll keep me going on my Argentinian reading path as well for now.
  • As a 2014 Petrona judge, I need to pick up the pace of my reading. Thus far I’ve read 20 of the submissions, which means I have rather a lot to go. (This is by way of a confession to Karen, Barry and Sarah, but I will get cracking now, promise…once I’ve read the Sacheri, that is).
  • More generally, 2014 is going to be different compared to other years, as I’m on research leave for a semester from the end of January *happy face*. More on my plans for that interlude another time…

Wishing you all a great start to the year and many hours of good reading!

Merry Christmas! Frohe Weihnachten!

So we’re about to head off on our seasonal travels. My brother is cooking the big Christmas dinner this year, while the rest of us chill out on the sofa. What a hero.

I’m packing a couple of novels to read over the Christmas break. The first is Jan Costin Wagner’s Light in a Dark House, the fourth in the German/Finnish Kimmo Joentaa series, and a submission for the 2014 Petrona Award (a list of all the eligible novels can be seen over at Euro Crime). The other is Argentinian writer Patricio Pron’s literary memoir, My Father’s Ghost is Climbing in the Rain, in which the author/detective investigates his family’s past. I’ve been saving both of these up, and look forward to reading them with a late-night glass of wine. How about you? What literary treats do you have lined up?

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Here are Gonzo, Rizzo the Rat, Kermit the Frog, Pepe the King Prawn, Miss Piggy and Fozzy Bear singing ‘It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year’. Enjoy! Viel Spaß!

#9 Jan Costin Wagner / Silence

Jan Costin Wagner, Silence, translated from the German by Anthea Bell (London: Vintage 2011 [2007]). The second novel in the Kimmo Joentaa series. An absorbing police procedural and a sensitive portrayal of grief  5 stars


Opening sentence: The time came when they got into the little red car and drove away.

I wrote a short but enthusiastic post on Jan Costin Wagner’s Ice Moon back in March. While German by nationality (and writing in German), Costin Wagner is an honorary Finn by marriage, and appears to have acquired the stylistic DNA of nordic crime in the process. His police detective Kimmo Joentaa convincingly goes about his business in and around the Finnish city of Turku, and little within the narrative hints at the fact that its author was actually born and brought up in Frankfurt, nearly 1500 kilometers to the south-west.

Silence is the second in the Kimmo Joentaa series. The first, Ice Moon, depicted the harrowing weeks following the death of Kimmo’s young wife Sanna, and his desperate attempts to manage his grief by throwing himself into police-work. Silence is set a year or so later, and continues the sensitive exploration of Kimmo’s grief, as well as other kinds of grief felt by those around him, such as the parents of those who have disappeared or been murdered, or the former work colleague trying to communicate with his gravely troubled child.

When I’ve read an outstanding first novel, I’m often a bit wary of reading the second in the series, in case it doesn’t live up to the high standards of its predecessor. But Silence does a fantastic job of picking up the threads of Ice Moon, while developing the characterisation of the investigative team and providing the reader with an aborbing new crime narrative. In particular, the developing relationship between Joentaa and his recently retired and rather curmudgeonly boss, Ketola, is very nicely handled.

The novel’s investigation centres on the sudden disappearance of a teenager on her way to volleyball practice. The girl’s bicycle is found in exactly the same spot where another girl was attacked and murdered thirty-three years earlier, raising the possibility of a belated copy-cat killing. The cold case, in particular, has haunted Ketola, who was involved in the original investigation at the beginning of his career, and who now employs some rather unorthodox methods in his attempts to uncover the truth. In common with Ice Moon, the narrative also shows events from the perspective of the perpetrator, allowing readers to gain insights into the circumstances of the crime that are denied even Joentaa and Ketola. By employing this dual narrative structure, the novel succeeds in both satisfying the reader and in providing a thoughtful, nuanced, and rather disturbing conclusion to the case.

The third novel in the series, The Winter of the Lions, has just been published in translation by Vintage.

Mrs. Peabody awards Silence a classy 5 stars.