A.C. Banntjer, Dekok and the Dead Harlequin

Baantjer is a prolific Dutch writer and Dekokis the archetypal Dutch cop.  It is a slightly old-fashioned style but is clever in plot and pretty good on characters

Ermesto Mallo, Needle in a Haystack

Set in Beunos Aires of the bad days when “disappearances” were rife, this follows good cop Inspector Lascano in solving some extra-judical killings.  It has a series of stories skilfully interwoven, and develops some really distinctive characters

Teresa Solana, A Not So Perfect crime

This is a terrific read, set in barcelona with a couple of hustlers (who happen to be brothers but they have not even told anyone, including their partners) cruising around in uper social and political circles, identifying dirty linen but airing it only slectively.  This is well above the normal crime stuff and should be on the “read” list.

Ian Rankin, The Impossible Dead

This is the follow up to the excellent The Complaints, the post-Rebus book that introduced us to Malcolm Fox of The Complaints division of the Lothian and Borders police force, the cops who police the cops.  The reviews have been stellar, and it is good: Fox and his colleagues venture outside their normal territory following up on a corrupt cop case.  It leads back to days of revolutionary groups seeking the separation of Scotland from England, uncovering a complex trail of police corruption that exposes Fox to some dangers.  Twitter subscribers can now “follow” Rankin (@beathhigh) and through 2011 it was possible to trace th evolution of the book and the subsequent promotion tours.  He is now just beginning work on the next so again it is possible to follow his work cycle.  Is the Impossible Dead as good as the reviews suggest?  In my view close, but not completely – there is a touch of the formula about it, but there is no doubt Fox is emerging as much of an enigma as the enduringly popular Rebus.  Worth the read

Philip Kerr, Prague Fatale

If you are a crime fiction fan and have yet to read any of Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels, then buy Berlin Noir, the opening trilogy then work you way down to this one.  The novels are set in Nazi Germany and after, with Gunther being in the Berlin police before having to leave, become first a hotel then later a private detective before ending up in the army and undergoing all the horrors of Eastern Europe and Russia.  This latest is one of the best, and certainly better than Field Grey which it follows.  Gunther is called to see his old boss Heydrich who is by now running the show out of Prague, but is troubled by a possible leak.  Gunther arrives, one of the house guests is murdered, and the story runs from there through some complex Nazi politics and personality differences.  Kerr knows his Nazi history, can write, and Gunther is an intriguing character.  This is among the best of the modern series.

Fred Vargas, An Uncertain Place

Vargas is a French academic as well as a writer, and she is vaunted as the new great thing in French crime writing.  Here Commissaire Adamsberg begins with a conference in England, a place he does not understand, and is taken to a scene at Highgate cemetery where several shoes have been arranged, complete with severed feet.  The story wends its way through Paris and ultimately to Serbia.  There are some neat touches in all this, notably with Adamsberg’s mangling of English and the wonderful reverse of the normal in the form of his assistant, Donglard, who would quite like to be English.  In parts it is perhaps a touch too laboured and, dare it be said, academic, but it captures something of Paris and Adamsberg becomes an attractive character.

Conor Fitzgerald, The Dogs of Rome

Fitzgerald is of Irish ancestry but born in Cambridge but has now lived in Italy for over twenty years.  Like that other great English writer in Italy, Tim Parks, he combines writing with translation.  His hero, Alec Blume, is an American-born detective in the Rome forces.  His parents were on sabbatical in Rome when they died in a car crash so that the young Alec grew up as a bit of a wild child before joining the force.  So he is the outsider now on the inside.  Blume is called to a murder where the victim happens to be the wife of a minor but connected politician, so Blume’s bosses want the matter cleaned up fast and quiet.  Inevitably it gets more complicated than that.  Blume promises to become a good figure in crime fiction, some likening him to Michael Dibden’s Aurelio Zen – well, he is not there yet, but this is a good start.

Conor Fitgerald, The Fatal Touch

This is the second in the Blume series, and a down and out forger dies on the street, starting a series of unravellings that goes into the art world and specifically that of forgery.  It is more textured than the first and has some excellent twists.  Blume is coming along nicely!

Magdalen Nabb, Vita Nuova

Magdalen Nabb was an English potter who moved to live in Florence where her house was near the Carabienere station where she made friends.  Vita Nuova was the last book she wrote before her death in 2007, in the series featuring Marshal Guarnaccia.  The Marshal gets dragged into a somewhat “off the books” investigation by a journalist and dsicovers a major prostituion and people smuggling ring run by a local bigwig who turns out to have cover from figures high up in the justice system.  The Marshal prevails, but not without stress.  The book is a little slow moving, but balances the hero’s official work with an unfloding of his internal doubts  and his day to day worries, notably his wife’s desire for a new apartment.  The book covers what is a now familiar view of Italy as having complex social networks in high places that operate outside the normal boundaries, but is reasonably evocative of Florence.  It also has the burgeoning theme of Italian noir that tourists are a pest!

Peter May, Dry Bones

This is the first in a crime series featuring Enzo Macleod, a Scot with a French connection now based in provincial France as a biology professor, but one with a penchant for solving crimes.  This one sees Enzo and associates charging about France following an elaborate set of clues to an old murder  effected on a professor at the elite school for administrators.  It is clever and well paced, but Macleod comes across as a bit of a caricature (long ponytail, tall and big, dogged and determined,  tragic loss of second wife and trying to connect with earlier alienated daughter).  Unlike most “crime and place” works this one might well be set anywhere because while the France it locates is particular and specific, it is not warm like Montalbano’s Sicily or Brunetti’s Venice, for example.  I read this in the Kindle version, and it is good for a plane ride

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