For various reasons, among them the holiday time, I only managed to complete six books last month, though each one was a pleasure to read in its own way. I say read, but I only read two books, the other four were audio versions. In addition to the demands of the holiday season, my other excuse for only six books was that one was in Spanish and a long – over 500 pages – one at that. It can be hard enough reading in another language so I usually try and read books of around 300 pages. As usual crime novels dominated, with four books in this genre and all translations. Three of them were by Nordic authors. The Inspector and Silence was another in the Van Weeteren series by Håkan Nesser. Though Nesser is Swedish the novels are all set in a fictional country that looks and sounds a lot like the Netherlands. In this novel a strange religious sect provides the background for the crimes. Anne Holt is a Norwegian writer and her novels are set in Norway, at least this one is. 1222 is a murder mystery in the frozen mountains in deep midwinter. A train crash forces the survivors to hole up in luxury hotel and in a nod to Agathe Christie, murdered bodies begin to pile up. Luckily retired inspector Hanne Wilhelmsen is on hand to sort things out. Operation Napoleon is an unusual murder mystery, set in Iceland, by Icelandic writer Arnaldur Indridason. The remains of a German plane from World War 11 are found on a remote mountain and some American military officials are desperate to keep this a secret from the Icelandic government. Their efforts to do so lead to mayhem and murder. The final crime novel was An Uncertain Place by French writer Fred Vargas. This was a very strange novel as it involved someone seeking out and killing the descendants of a vampire. Not entirely convincing.
The two non crime novels were the most interesting highlights of the month. Stonemouth by Ian Banks is set in a fictional town of the same name which is located somewhere in the north east of Scotland. It is to Stonemouth that the main character and also the narrator, Stewart Gilmour returns after an enforced absence of five years. He returns for the funeral of grandfather Murston, one of the main crime families in the area. His stay is a rather edgy one as it was the Murstons who enforced his absence from Stonemouth. The reasons for this become clear as the novel develops. Stewart uses his return to catch up on old friends and some not so friendly people and all the while he is beginning to re-evaluate his life.
Una Comedia Ligera by Eduardo Mendoza is a complex comedy of manners set in Barcelona in the summer of 1948. The novel revolves around the amorous adventures and intrigues of Carlos Prullàs, a writer of old fashioned comedies for the theatre. His world is turned upside down with the murder of an acquaintance, when Prullàs suddenly finds himself the main suspect. This is a delightful novel, which vividly brings to life the post civil war world of Barcelona from the high bourgeoisie to the lowest of the low. In part this is done through the use of some of the flowery language of the period. The novel is also available in English as A Light Comedy.