In January I managed to make a reasonable start on keeping to my reading targets for the year. In all I got through seven books, three in audio format. As usual the majority, five of the seven, were crime novels. All were enjoyable and all were by authors pretty familiar to me. Buried Angels is the latest in Camilla Läckberg’s series set in the little town of Fjällbacka. More mysterious murders for Patrick and Erica to solve. The Bomber is the another of Liza Marklund’s novels to feature intrepid reporter Annika Bengtzon. I have now read four of this series, though the Bomber was the first to be written. Here, Annika finds herself unintentionally wrapped up in the mysterious murder of the boss of the Olympic stadium in Stockholm. The Twilight Time is the first of Karen Campbell’s Glasgow set series. I have previously read the third title, Shadowlands, so it was good to start at the beginning. This one introduces us to the rather aggressive and not very likeable main character, Anna Cameron, a police sergeant in a seedy part of Glasgow with its very own twilight zone, full of prostitutes and some very nasty criminals. Chilling stuff.
I was particularly pleased that I managed to read a novel in Spanish this month. Another crime novel, Serpientes en el paraiso, the fifth in Alicia Giménez Bartlett’s delightful series featuring Inspector Petra Delicado and her sidekick, Fermín Garzón. In this one the duo have the task of solving the mysterious murder of a well-known lawyer. He, his wife and two close couples, live in an exclusive, gated residential community just outside Barcelona. As the pair begin to dig below the beautiful surface of this little set, dark secrets slowly emerge. An entertaining read as usual from Alicia.
The pick of the crime novels was Cobra by Deon Meyer, the wonderful Afrikaans writer from Cape Town. This is another thriller to feature the white, Afrikaans speaking detective Benny Griessel, who was a policeman in the old apartheid days. Now Griessel has as his key colleagues a Zulu woman and a Cape Coloured. In Cobra they have plenty of work to do, trying to work out who has kipnadded an English mathematics academic, and why. The academic was in hiding in an out of the way villa and his three bodyguards were all killed in a very professional manner. Deon Meyer maintains a fast pace in the novel and things get very tense, the closer Griessel gets to solving the case. Very good writing and a very good tale.
I got in one non crime fiction novel, The House by the Fjord, by Rosalind Laken. This is a fairly standard romantic novel, which is enlivened by the setting, Norway, and the time, just after the end of the 2nd World War. A young English woman, the widow of a Norwegian pilot, goes to Norway to visit the parents of her deceased husband. Things do not go exactly as planned, romance is in the air, and there is a bit of wartime mystery thrown in for good measure.
The non fiction book was a scholarly study of life during the 1st World War. This time though from the perspective of the peoples of Germany and Austria-Hungary. The title of the book, Ring of Steel, refers to the ever tightening blockade that the Allies enforced on the two Central Powers. Alexander Watson has written a well researched and readable account of the travails and sufferings of ordinary people in these two empires. There is a brief discussion of why they went to war and the various stages in the war are also outlined. But the book is less about the battles of the war and more about how people responded to the decision to go to war and how they survived the war years. Many of course did not. Non combatants were at great risk throughout the war years from famine, forced displacement, exhaustion and disease. There was great suffering in Germany, though it was the Hapsburg Empire which undoubtedly suffered the more. Significant parts of the Empire were invaded and occupied and this loss of agricultural land made the blockade much harder to endure. Hundreds of thousands of Hapsburg subjects were reduced to surviving on little more than dirt. The incompetence and cruelty of the Hapsburg commanders was another contributing factor in making living conditions there far worse than in Germany. The 1st World War was hard for all the peoples in the participating countries. But as this book makes clear it was much worse for ordinary people in both Germany and Austria-Hungary. Very good addition to our knowledge about that tragic war.