Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Japanese crime

I have recently come across some crime stories written by Japanese authors.  I first read a book called "The Tokyo Zodiac Murders" by Soji Shimada and published in 1981. My impression was that this was one of the earliest Japanese crime stories, so I guess I was beginning at the right place.  Its format was very unusual - more of a puzzle than a story by Western reckoning.  It came with illustrations of crime scenes and other visual clues, and the reader was openly invited to work out who the murderer was.  You are even told that all the clues are present in order to solve the puzzle.  A sort of super Sudoku in a way!  I was intrigued.
My next excursion was a more recent novel, originally published in Japan in 1999, though it didn't appear in the UK until 2015.  It is "Journey Under the Midnight Sun" by Keigo Higashino.  This is in a more recognisable format to Western readers than Shimada's, with characterisations and complex story lines.  I confess I got a little lost with the Japanese names, confusing some characters.  But no more so than when I am reading some Scandi noir!  A little concentration and flicking back through pages is all that is required.  This novel is definitely in that category of 'unputdownable' reads.  Stretching over twenty years, it tells the tale of the murder of a pawnbroker, and the persistence of an Osaka police detective obsessed with solving this case.  The personal lives of those involved branch out from the original murder, and the book tells how they are affected by the incident.  It is still quite clue led, like its predecessor "The Tokyo Zodiac Murders", but is much more full of insight into the individuals concerned.  It's not so much a 'whodunit' than a how and why in the American tradition.  Read it for yourself.
Oh, and did I solve the puzzle of the "Tokyo Zodiac Murders"?  No, but then I was never any good at Sudoku either.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Hooptedoodle

I have been reading a lot of thrillers and crime stories recently, and several of them made me think of Elmore Leonard's sage advice about writing.

Elmore's rule number 10
Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn’t care. I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.

I read Matt Hilton's "Rules of Honour" (Hodder, 2013) intrigued by the blurb on the front that said "If you like Jack Reacher, you will love Joe Hunter".  Now, I know from experience that an author does not control what the publisher puts on his or her book - my first Falconer book got compared favourably to Ellis Peters and I was embarrassed.  Hilton's character was good but didn't outshine Jack Reacher.  And often the narrative flow was impeded by hooptedoodle.  Towards the end of the story, there was a fist fight described in over ten pages.  I think Hilton is a martial arts expert, but it is fatal to overuse one's specialist knowledge.  The excitement of the ending died in those ten pages, and I skipped them.
I have also recently read Chris Pavone's "The Travelers".  That was a good read where I didn't know who was working for whom until the end.  Ah, the internecine world of the CIA and its adversaries.  Give it a go.
But the best find I have made recently is "Darktown" by Thomas Mullen (Little, Brown 2016).  It is a story, based on fact, of the first eight black police officers appointed to work in Atlanta.  The dire situation of black people in the South is harshly depicted with sharp directness.  Even the black police are shunned by their fellow white officers, and are not allowed to arrest a white man.  When the case of a murdered black girl is shelved by the police department, a couple of black officers and one rogue white officer are determined to follow through the matter.  In the case of this book, one of the blurbs is justified, it says "This page-turner reads like the best of James Ellroy"  It does.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Holy City: book review

What have I been reading recently?  An Argentinian novel actually.  I picked up Holy Land by Guillermo Orsi because, set in Buenos Aires, it seemed as if it was going to be a noirish, hard-bitten detective novel.  The start of an Argentine equivalent of Scandi-noir perhaps.  Argie-noir?  It turned out to be more than a detective novel though.  It is a political and social critique of Argentine society, wallowing in corruption at every level from criminal drug cartels through police who are not averse to kidnapping wealthy tourists, and ordinary citizens fighting for survival every way they know how.  Even the one honest cop – Walter Carroza – is not averse to handing out summary justice.
At first I revelled in this brilliant account of a once rich country reduced to penury and chaos by corrupt politicians.  But gradually I began to sink in the mire of greed, and lost track of who might be honest and who not.  You might say that this was the purpose of Orsi’s writing, and I agree to a point.  But the chaotic jumps from backstories to the present left me uncertain as to what point in time I was at.  And soon everything simply became confusing and somewhat irritating.  I ploughed through to the end and yet I remain uncertain whether this novel is brilliant or merely pretentious.  I leave it to you to decide where you stand.
Just one more point.  Perhaps the parallel universe concept carried through to the real world, because the book is promoted as being the winner of the Dashiell Hammett Prize in 2010.  I have looked at all the Hammett Award listings online and cannot find Orsi or Holy City mentioned.  Maybe someone can enlighten me.

Holy City by Guillermo Orsi, Quercus, 2012

Friday, 17 March 2017

New Year Reviews

The reprints of my last three Falconers with Ostara Publishing has been delayed slightly but should happen soon!  In the mean time, I thought I would write some reviews of books I have been reading.  They are not neccessarily new, but just books I have picked from the shelves at my local library.  Here are the first two.

The Templar Succession by Mario Reading (Corvus, 2016)
When I picked this up at the library, I thought it was probably one of those thrillers mixing all-action stuff with Dan Brown-style resurrection of a shadowy knightly order set on saving the world from destruction.  I was pleasantly surprised.  The Templar connection is a minimal one – the main protagonist, John Hart, has a Templar ancestor, but appears to have been given the nickname of Templar with a sense of irony.  But this is the third book in a series and I can’t vouch for the strength of the Templar connection in the others.
John Hart is a photojournalist, who in 1998 stumbles on a house in the Balkan Conflict which is used by violent Serbians to rape young Muslim women.  The group of soldiers is led by The Captain, who keeps one of the young women, Lumnije, for himself.  When Hart finds the house, the soldiers are not there and he persuades Lumnije and a few other women to escape with him.  The Captain returns and hunts the escapees down.  Only Hart and Lumnije finally escape.
In 2015, Hart’s world is turned upside-down when he finds himself caring for Lumnije’s daughter.  He is forced to embark on a journey to find the girl’s father – the rapist and war criminal, The Captain.  The reader is not spared any of the brutality of the Kosovan conflict, nor the effect is has upon those involved with it.  It is a compelling read that draws you onwards through brutality and almost inconceivable evil.  It has left me wanting to seek out the earlier two stories in the series, and read them too.
Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz (Orion, 2014)
Horowitz is of course an acclaimed author and writer of television series, including Midsomer Murders and Foyle’s War.  Here he takes up the baton of Arthur Conan Doyle and gives us a view of a Victorian world after the presumed death of Sherlock Holmes and his arch-rival Professor Moriarty.  In true Conan Doyle style, Horowitz writes in the persona of a Dr Watson-type protagonist called Frederick Chase.  We, the readers, are led to believe that all that is conveyed to us is true – in the same way that Conan Doyle’s stories grew in the public’s eyes to blur the edges of fiction and reality.
Chase, a Pinkerton agent, has come all the way from the USA in pursuit of Clarence Devereux – a fiend in the mould of Moriarty, and who appears to be filling the void in England left by Moriarty’s death.  He meets up with Inspector Athelney Jones from Scotland Yard and helps identify the body of Moriarty.  Sherlock Holmes’ body, of course, has disappeared.  On the body they find a cryptic message from Devereux to Moriarty, and so begins a journey through the darkest corners of London in a hunt to find the evil American.  Inspector Jones, once a stumbling policeman humiliated by the brilliance of Sherlock (in a Conan Doyle story), has now modelled himself on Holmes.  So we have Jones and Chase instead of Holmes and Watson.

There is, of course, a magnificent and unexpected twist.  But I will not tell you what that is.  You will have to read Moriarty for yourself.