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Crime Beat

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A fine bunch of krimis

the girl who played with firecomfort to the enemydirty moneymanual of detectionthe redeemeri shot a man in renoThis bunch of krimis is reviewed on Fine Music Radio this afternoon during the book slot between one and two p.m. There’s also a giveaway of my novel Payback and a meal voucher to Cafe Paradiso to be won, so if you’re in the Cape Town area, listen up. The association with Cafe Paradiso is simply because it’s a favourite haunt of the fictional hardboiled scene.

My two previous reviews of crime novels were almost totally devoted to South African crime fiction which is as good an indication as any of the thriving local genre – but this month I have a clutch of five wonderful, well, mostly wonderful, bar a few quibbles, international publications.

To start with there is the huge – as in door-stopper – The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson. This is the second in Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy – the first, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo appeared last year and was a major seller worldwide. The twosome from that novel, the girl with the dragon tattoo Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist the investigative journalist, are back to deal with a double murder and some nasty people involved in the sex trade. Salander is set up as the murderer but Blomkvist believes in her innocence and supports her as the plot gathers its dark strands. To be honest I thought The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was fine but certainly not as hot as everyone made out. As for The Girl Who Played with Fire – if you’ve got a long holiday coming up then take it with you but if you’re looking for something different and stylish and with no tedious stretches then look elsewhere. On the strength of this book I’m not sure I’ll bother with number three.

If you want stylish then definitely get Elmore Leonard’s Comfort to the Enemy – two longish stories and a novella. The central character is Carl Webster who first appeared in The Hot Kid and, in fact, the first story is a rewrite of some of that book and works much better in this shortened version. The other two stories are entirely new and the novella alone –about a German POW in the US during the Second World War – is worth the price of the book.

Though not in Leonard’s class as a storyteller although he is a mean stylist is Richard Stark (aka Donald E Westlake) who created a particularly blunt badman known as Parker. Parker features in a string of novels including the one I’ve got here, Dirty Money. As a character he is not given to much introspection and tends to be a man of action which in his nasty and savage world is an advantage. The upside of the Parker novels is that they are strong on plot, the downside is that they race along with no time for asides and no interest in resonance beyond the page. Despite that you can’t help but like Parker simply because he is such a bastard. At the end of Dirty Money one of the villains is lying wounded on the floor. You can’t leave me here, the guy whinges, they’ll kill me tomorrow. Parker looks at him and says, ‘So you’ve still got tonight.’ Which I thought was a classy thing to say.

If you’re looking for something absolutely different then try the rather surreal and somewhat Kafkaesque The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry. It is slow and leisurely and takes some getting into but it is worth persevering. This is a crime novel in the traditional sense – involving a detective, murders, gunmen, molls, mysteries, unsolved crimes, an evil mastermind – and a crime novel in the post-modern sense in that it is highly aware of itself and cocks a snook at all the krimi’s conventions. Because of this a cautionary: if you’re a die-hard fan of Richard Stark you will not like this book. You may even throw it in the fire.

And then for the police procedural fans comes another Harry Hole investigation from the series written by Norwegian Jo Nesbo. This one is called The Redeemer and I must admit I was hooked partly because of Harry, partly because the setting is a snowed-in Oslo and partly because it’s a damn good story of brotherly hatred. Police procedurals aren’t at the top of my crime list but when I come across one that is more than Mr Plod with questions, I’ll willingly surrender to the investigation. Also if I had to choose between Nesbo’s The Redeemer and Larsson’s The Girl who Played with Fire I wouldn’t hesitate in picking The Redeemer.

Finally for pop music fans seek out Graeme Thomson’s fascinating history of murder, suicide, fire, destruction and drugs in popular songs. It’s called I Shot a Man in Reno after the Johnny Cash song and is filled with arcane references, insight and not a little humour.

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson (Macklehose Press)
Comfort to the Enemy by Elmore Leonard (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)(
Dirty Money by Richard Stark (Quercus)
The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry (William Heinemann)
The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo (Harvill Secker)
I Shot a Man in Reno by Graeme Thomson (Continuum)


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Chanette</a>
    September 7th, 2009 @07:57 #

    Ek voel dieselfde oor die Larsson boeke. Die eerste een het my reeds teleurgestel, maar moes ek myself dwing om die tweede een klaar te lees.


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