The Forest Lake Mystery, by Palle Rosenkrantz

I actually finished this book a couple of weeks ago. I have not yet written about it because I don’t really know what to say.

It’s ok.

This is “the first Danish crime novel” . Written in the early years of the 20th century, and before the Great War, it says more about class and attitudes to class and women than it does about detection. Army officers are taken at their word – an officer was a gentleman, after all. The female characters are thinly drawn and tend to be sensitive souls. And a number of things are done by the detective that do not really ring true.

It’s not a bad book, but not a great one either. 5 out of 10.

The Lost Man, by Jane Harper

I listened to The Dry earlier this year, and rated it 10 out of 10. Reviews of her other books suggested that I should read The Lost Man rather than Force of Nature, the second novel featuring Aaron Falk, the detective from The Dry. So I bought this paperback, earmarking it for a break we were due to take in May (Covid-19 put paid to that trip).

Anyway, I have just finished this novel. I started it a week ago, but read about 90% of it in just two days. So it is very easy to read.

Another story set in the blistering heat of the Australian Outback, in a small remote community. Yes, there is a death, and yes, there are hidden family secrets to be worked out and resolved.

A well plotted and satisfying book. There is an oblique connection to a couple of the characters in The Dry, but this is quite unimportant, and you do not need to have read that book.

And ultimately, I was left wondering if the title, The Lost Man, is about the man who died, or about the man who has come some way towards finding himself.

I can certainly recommend The Lost Man. But it did not, however, hit the heights of The Dry. 8 out of 10.

Death In Ten Minutes, by Fern Riddell

Death In Ten Minutes is a biography of Kitty Marion, militant suffragette and campaigner for birth control.

In this book, Fern Riddell tells a story that seems to have been largely brushed under the carpet, not least by leading suffragettes who sanitised the movement’s history after they had achieved their objective of getting women the vote. I was not previously aware that in the years before the First World War a branch of the suffragette movement had been carrying out what we would describe as acts of terrorism. There was arson, there were bombings. Emily Davison throwing herself under the King’s horse in the Derby was far from the worst act of this provisional wing.

Kitty Marion was a leading militant. She was imprisoned several times, and brutally force fed when on hunger strike.

Her story has additional interest. Being of German parentage, she was deported in the war, and went to New York, where she became a campaigner for the growing birth control movement.

Fern Riddell writes Kitty’s story as part of the story of feminism. As a music hall artist, Kitty had experienced sexual harrassment from impresarios and agents. Ms Riddell is able to relate this to the current “Me Too” movement.

This is a very interesting and readable book, a very accessible piece of history writing. 8 out of 10.

Your Face Tomorrow – 1: Fever And Spear, by Javier Marias

My wife says she has never known me be so down on a book as I was as I was reading this one.

I bought this book 7 or 8 years ago, after reading a very favourable review. At that time I read about 20 pages before giving up. Then a few weeks ago I decided to pick it up again…

This writer and this book have won prizes. Apparently it will be no surprise if he is awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Look at the blurb quoted in the image above (the cover of the edition I have just finished). Sorry, but it did nothing for me. Well, actually, it provoked some fairly strong negative reactions.

Very little happens. That is not a problem: I enjoyed The Remains Of The Day, notwithstanding the lack of ‘action’. Most of this is conversation over the course of a weekend.

Unfortunately, this writer likes extremely long sentences – some were over a page long. I found myself spending so much time trying to work out and make sense of the long sentences, with all their semi colons, brackets and digressions, that I lost track of where the book was going. And the conversations were wordy and verbose in the extreme, filled with thesaurus phrases – endless series of words all meaning the same or similar things. People who speak like that are pompous bores.

The book itself appears to be a study of human character, and how by observation it is possible to deduce whether another person is capable of killing, or is likely to betray trust.

Funnily enough, there was only one paragraph in the entire book that properly engaged me, and had me wanting to read more. That was the very last paragraph.

My conclusion: an over-hyped disappointment. 0 out of 10 (as I am not going to start giving negative marks).

The Wanderer, by Michael Ridpath

This crime thriller set in Iceland and then Greenland is the 5th in Michael Ridpath’s ‘Fire and Ice’ series. Previously Magnus, the Icelandic born but American raised homicide detective seconded from Boston to Reykjavik has solved 4 murders, while at the same time over those 4 novels resolving the unsolved mystery of who murdered his father (the genre requires this kind of old family mystery).

Her we are a few years later. Magnus had gone back to Boston, but has now returned to Iceland.

A television crew is filmng a documentary series about Guðríðr Þorbjarnardóttir, who about 1000 years ago sailed from Iceland to Greenland and then somewhere in North America, and later visited Rome*. Of course there is a murder. As Magnus investigates, there is another, and then after the tv crew has moved on to Greenland, a third. There is also a (recent) historical element to the story, but this time not involving Magnus’ family.

The plot and the narrative develop well. This is certainly a page-turner, although I felt that it wasn’t quite as strong as the first four, set in Magnus’ first stint in Iceland. Thie difference is small, however: only 1 mark on my scale.

I’m giving this 8 out of 10.

*Read a little more about Guðríðr Þorbjarnardóttir here . I have also bought Valkyrie, Women of the Viking World by Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir so as to read more about Guðríðr and other viking women.

In The Far Lands, by O. Huldumann

This is an interesting little book, set in an alternative version of reality. The setting is a small group of islands (possibly the Faroes, I had that impression) in some alternative reality or possibly post-apocalyptic future. I only cottoned on to what an “Errid Shelter” might be after the reference to “guess masks”.

This is another book where the characters seem charmingly simple and naive. Possibly there is an element of Aspergers, particularly in the character who sees the number of everyone and everything.

I don’t really know how to describe this other than to say it is a sweet little book.

7 out of 10.

Lockdown, by Peter May

Someone suggested to Peter May that he ought to write a thriller set in the Coronavirus/Covid-19 lockdown. It turned out that he had written just such a book, about 15 years ago. He had predicted a very dystopian locked down London in the midst of a pandemic – but the publishers had thought it unlikely. Well, now it has been published.

Lockdown is set in a dystopian London, the centre of the pandemic of a highly virulent and lethal mutation of the H5N1 flu virus. The army is on the streets, Battersea Power Station has been brought back into use as a crematorium.

I read the passage in which the death of the Prime Minister is reported on the day our PM went into intensive care.

In the midst of this all, a bag of human bones is found. Our detective hero investigates. He is hampered every step of the way by people who don’t want him to uncover the truth. It’s all a bit James Bond like, with plenty of action and lots of violent deaths. In the denouement our hero rescues the girl.

This is an early Peter May, not up to the standards of his more recent novels. A good romp, but I’ve read better. 5 out of 10.

We Are Animals, by Tim Ewins

We Are Animals is a fun little book. 99p from Amazon as a kindle e-book.

The story is about Jan (‘Manjan’) and how he met Jan (‘Ladyjan’). And lost her. And found her. And lost her again. And spent his life searching.

Jan’s story is full of coincidences. The novel is punctuated by the stories of various animals with whom the characters do not really interact.

There is a charming naivety to the main characters. I was reminded of The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson.

A sweet little book. 6 out of 10.

The Fire Pit, by Chris Ould

My last review was of The Killing Bay, and I said I was going straight on to this final part of Chris Ould’s trilogy set in the Faroe Islands. Please don’t read or listen to this book without having first read or listened to The Blood Strand, and The Killing Bay (in that order). This is a trilogy of books that develop the story, and I think a good deal is lost if you don’t follow the sequence.

But, that said, what a trilogy! I really cannot recommend too highly this series about Jan Reyna, a British DI of Faroese parentage, and the crimes on the Faroes. The author widens the net of characters, so that we also follow the Faroese detective Hjalti Hentze and Lisbeth Salander clone Tove, as well as others. The action in this third part moves to Denmark. The story line hangs together well across the three books, leading to a climax, that as the cliche goes, is certainly explosive.

There is definitely an 8 or 10 part TV series in these 3 books. I will be hooked to it.

The narration by Matt Addis is equally flawless. I assume that his Faroese and Danish pronunciation is perfect, and he has a convincing different voice for each character.

If you are at home in the Covid-19 lockdown, why not binge listen to these 3 audiobooks?

Mark for this book: 10 out of 10.

Mark for the series: 10 out of 10.

The Killing Bay, by Chris Ould

This is the second in Chris Ould’s trilogy of crime novels set on the Faroe Islands, coming after The Blood Strand. I am not sure how well it works as a stand alone novel; this book comes across very much as part 2 of 3.

That said, it is a very good continuation of the story of English DI Jan Reyna, and his return to the islands where his mother was born. Of course there is a murder, this time the victim is one of a group protesting the slaughter of whales. Reyna is not centrally involved in the investigation this time, that is left to Faroese detective Hjalte Hentze while Reyna digs into his mother’s story, although the strands of the various parts of the story seem likely to come together in the third part. That third part is set up in the final scenes of this book.

I was so enthralled by the story that when I got to the end of this audiobook on my drive to work I bought and downloaded the third in the series to begin listening on the drive home.

An obvious comparison is with Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series.

I will write more when I have finished The Fire Pit, the third in the series. I’m giving this 8 out of 10.