Reading Highlights – May 2015

Last month I managed to read a few more books than previous months – seven in total. This included three audio books and five crime novels. A couple of the crime novels were by the same author, Kristina Ohlsson from Sweden. Unwanted is her first novel and Silenced is her second. Both are very good and feature the same key characters, detectives Alex Recht and Peder Rydh and civil researcher Fredrika Bergman. They all work for the same police team in Stockholm. Unwanted is mainly about the search for a missing girl, while immigration and family breakdown is the key focus for Silenced. A major part of both novels is the relationships among the three members of the police team. In particular the mistrust that the detectives have for Fredrika and her unorthodox methods. These were my first encounter with Kristina Ohlsson and I am sure it will be the first of many.

The Abominable Man is another Swedish crime novel, though this one dates way back to 1971. It is the seventh in a series of 10 books written by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. Widely regarded as the parents of modern Scandinavian crime novels, the series was immensely popular at the time. They are still quite popular and the version I read was part of a re-issue. All the books feature police detective Martin Beck as the main protagonist. In this one he has to find out who brutally killed a retired detective in his hospital bed. The Abominable man is not the killer, but the murdered detective. Much of the investigation is as much about discovering the truth about the victim as it is about discovering the identity of the killer. A very bleak and downbeat novel, apparently in keeping with the tenor of the rest of the series. I am glad I got round to reading this novel, as it is good to know a bit about the origins of Scandi crime, but I prefer the current generation of authors.

The other two crime novels were by Scottish writers. Random is the debut novel of Craig Robertson and a cracker it is. A violent serial killer is on the rampage in Glasgow. His leaving card is to send a cut-off pinkie from the victim to the police, in particular to detective Rachel Narey. The victims are selected purely at random, hence the title of the novel. What gives this novel its extra punch is that it is written by the killer himself. As the novel progresses we find out more about the guy and what has driven him to commit these killings. Very fast paced novel and throughout you are kept on tenterhooks as to how can it all end. Robertson has now published two more novels, both of which feature Rachel Narey. They are high on my list.

Ian Rankin is one of the best know of Scottish crime writers and his series featuring detective John Rebus was particularly successful. Rebus retired in 2006, but in this new novel, Standing in another man’s grave, he is back out of retirement as a civilian consultant to a new team, the serious crime review unit. Rebus is contacted by the mother of a daughter who went missing in 1999 near Aviemore. The mystery has never been solved and now there is another girl who has gone missing in the same area. Rebus decides to investigate and finds himself once again teaming up with his old sidekick, Siobhan Clark, who is now herself a detective. Their new relationship does not go smoothly, but then again nothing with Rebus ever did. Gripping tale and another novel featuring Rebus is out. I listened to this novel in its audiobook version.

The two general fiction novels from May were also audiobooks. We need new names is the first novel by Zimbabwean born writer NoViolet Bulawayo. The story starts in a very poor part of an unnamed African country, but clearly Zimbabwe. This part recounts the experiences of a group of young children as they struggle to make sense of the poverty and brutality of life in their shanty town. All this is told through the voice of Darling, a 10 year old girl. Despite the poverty and brutality there is an innocence and joyousness in the lives of these children. All are desperate to leave and Darling does manage to escape to America. She ends up with an aunt in Detroit and the second part of the novel is about Darling’s experiences of a different kind of poverty and brutality – modern, commercial America. She is much older and now has lost almost all contact with her former friends in Zimbabwe. There is a sense of loss in this part of the novel and I feel the author kind of lost her way too. The two parts did not tie together particularly well for me. Worth reading just for the scenes in Zimbabwe alone.

The Penelopiad is a delightfully inventive re-imagining of the story of Penelope and her long wait for the return of Odysseus. Margaret Atwood gives us a thoroughly modern, feminist take on this age old tale. Witty, funny and serious by turns, this short novel is a delight to read or better still, to listen to, as I did.

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