Prim and Improper

Joanna Moorhead, The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington (2017, revised edition)

The journalist Joanna Moorhead knew that she had an older cousin, Prim, who was estranged from the rest of her family and was some kind of artist in Mexico. At a party, she discovered that Carrington was not only an artist, but one of the most respected artists in Mexico and was still alive. Moorhead decided to travel across the Atlantic to meet her and the two became friends, with Carrington agreeing that she could write a biography.

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Oslo Blues

Anne Holt, 1222 (2007, translated by Marlaine Delargy)

Anne Holt, Salige er de som tørster (Blessed Are Those Who Thirst, 1994, translated by Anne Bruce)

Anne Holt, Demonens død (Death of the Demon, 1995, translated by Anne Bruce)

Anne Holt and Berit Reiss-Andersen, Løvens gap (The Lion’s Mouth, 1997, translated by Anne Bruce)

I prefer, where possible, to read series in order — but not all novels necessarily get translated and I found a copy of 1222 so figured I should go for it, although this is several titles after the first. So, the detective Hanne Wilhelmsen is in a wheelchair, she seems to have split from her girlfriend and a minor character has been killed off. I’ve missed a lot.

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To Tie Firmly

Daphne Du Maurier, Rebecca (1938)

Rebecca (Alfred Hitchcock, 1940)

Rebecca (Ben Wheatley, 2020)

It may be, of course, that I read Rebecca years and years ago — I know I started it and I studied the opening paragraph, the dream of the Manderley mansion from years later, but I’m not sure I got much further. And when I bought two Du Maurier boxsets, I don’t think Rebecca was part of them. It took me a while to track down a copy — although naturally I found several since, as a battered paperback 1992 reprint got more battered as it got carried around.

The conceit should be familiar: lady’s companion Rebecca meets aristocratic widower Maxim de Winter in Monte Carlo and the two have a whirlwind romance, before returning to the ancestral pad in … where we take to be Cornwall but it isn’t named in the book. The new bride finds life at Manderley difficult and the ghost of the dead Rebecca hangs over her, especially through the behaviour of housekeeper Mrs Danvers. A ball would be useful, perhaps, but Mrs Danvers persuades her to wear the same costume as Rebecca had and then it seems as if a wedge has been driven between the loving couple. Then a body is discovered in a sunken boat… Continue reading →

Justitia or Dike

Anne Holt, Blind Goddess (Blind Guddine (1993), translated by Tom Geddes)

I’ve temporarily stopped reading Kjell Ola Dahl’s Gunnarstranda and Frølich novels — which I wasn’t writing up — but then I’ve only read about two books this year, both catalogues. Noodling around Bigsouthamericanriver.con I found Anne Holt, who wrote the books (including Frukta inte, on which the Copenhagen-set Modus was based). A ex-lawyer, ex-journalist, ex minister of justice in the Norwegian government, this is her first novel.

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Sister see, sister do / She’s got to save me

Gunnar Staalesen, Big Sister (Storesøster (2016), translated by Don Bartlett (2018))

Big Sister

He automatically stepped back and tried to close the door, but I could be the pushy salesman if I wanted, so I leaned against it and followed him in before he had a chance to complete his action.

A trope of the series detective is to suddenly find a sibling, never mentioned before, from whom he is estranged. The sibling is in trouble and/or committed a crime and frankly should wearing a red jumper. Continue reading →

Wife Killers

Gunnar Staalesen, The Consorts of Death (Dødens Drabanter (2006), translated by Don Bartlett (2009))

Consorts of DeathHigh above the mountains, the moon had appeared, the earth’s pale consort, distant and alone in its eternal orbit around the chaos and turmoil below. It struck me that the moon wasn’t alone after all. There were many of us adrift and circling around the same chaos, the same turmoil, without being able to intervene or do anything about it. We were all consorts of death.

There are two things to notice about this entry in the Varg Veum series – first, it is the debut of Don Bartlett as translator; two, it is not set more or less contemporaneously with publication. Continue reading →

Privat Øye

Gunnar Staalesen, Yours Until Death (Din, Til Døden, 1979, translated by Margaret Amassian, 1993)

YoursSome crime novels don’t age well.

Too long ago for liking, I bought a boxset of all the Morse novels dirt cheap from a charity shop, and began reading them in order. I’d not seen more than one of the TV versions – ironically, when staying in Oxford with a friend who was busy working – and so all I knew was beer, crosswords, Jaguar, solving the crime having accused everyone else and dubious geography. I read about three, starting with the first, and paused when I decided I didn’t like the way Morse looked down the blouses of his interviewees.
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A Palpable Hytte

Jørn Lier Horst, The Cabin (2018, Det Innerste Rommet, translated by Anne Bruce, 2019)

cabinSo, it has to be said, the original book is called something closer to The Innermost Room, rather than The Cabin, but the cabin seems to be the must-have accessory of your upper middle class Norwegian. The title, I would argue, has a certain amount of ambiguity as to [spoilers!] which room it is.

But maybe it’s Norwegianer.
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The Dull American

Joseph Kanon, The Good German (2001)

I’m not sure why I bought this, although this edition ties into a Steven Soderbergh which I recorded off the telly and still didn’t watch. It has been kicking around for five or six years, and went to America and Ireland and back, with no more than eighty pages read.

So it’s the dying days of the Second World War and the journalist Jake Geismer returns to Berlin in search of a final story and an old girlfriend, Lena, whose husband is a rocket scientist and engineer who both the Americans and Russians want on their side. When a young American is found shot dead in the river in the Russian zone, Geismer begins to investigate who is behind this. And then a female press photographer is shot dead, with Geismer suspecting he is the intended target.

The Guardian compares it to Graham Greene’s The Third Man, a novella about a tenth of the length dealing with some of the murkier business of the war, and a classic film full of memorable moments. This book is, alas, unmemorable, whose titular German I had to double check the identity of. Whilst Geismer is in every scene, it is written in the third person and the shocking revelations seem rather flat. We know the ambiguity of Werner von Braun, and have since before Tom Lehrer satirised it. Here, however, I just wanted them to get on with it. I think this will go back to a charity shop.

No Place Like Holmes’s

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of the Four (1890)

May contain spoilers

If I could bothered to stand up and move a pile of books and a chair, I could probably tell you when I bought or was bought my Penguin Complete Sherlock Holmes — I suspect it would have been toward the start of the Jeremy Brett adaptations although I suspect I read The Hound of the Baskervilles from the library at around the time of the Tom Baker one. I associate reading the complete poems of William Blake with waiting for A Level Results; I suspect reading Holmes coincided with my O Levels, and I risked bringing with it the same degree of geekishness I had brought to reading Tolkien — I knew that Watson seemed to have had two wives, his wound was through his leg into his shoulder* and he even seemed to change names. The continuity of “The Final Problem”, “The Empty House” and The Hound of the Baskervilles cause problems as during the period of real people thinking him dead, the fictional characters would know Holmes was actually alive (and the dates of the novel don’t work for its year or … something).

I’m less clear when I bought a pile — I think two piles — of Oxford Sherlock Holmes volumes, which presumably were busting UK copyright. I’m not sure I have a complete set of these, but I did find the second novel that is set in September 1887.

This is possibly a problem. Continue reading →