Reading Highlights – September 2015

September was not a good month for reading. At least not as far as numbers go. I only managed to complete four books last month. About the lowest total since I restarted reading on a regular basis a few years ago. Still they were all enjoyable and included works by two authors new to me. One of the new authors was Hans Ohlav Lahlum from Norway and I got so involved that I read two of his books. The first two in fact. Lahlum is a great admirer of vintage crime novels and of Agatha Christie in particular. HIs novels are in part his homage to Christie.

The Human Flies is the first of what has become a series of novels to feature young, inexperienced detective Holbein Kristiansen.  The story unfolds in Oslo in 1968 and concerns the mysterious murder of a well-known resistance hero, Harald Olesen. He is found shot in his flat in an apartment block. The mystery is that there is no murder weapon and the flat is locked from the inside. The culprit could only have been one of the other residents in the block. Seven people to investigate and no clues. The young detective charged with solving the crime, Holbein Kristiansen, is a bit naive and out of his depth. But assistance is at hand. Well not quite at hand, rather at several miles distance. In a clear reference to Miss Marple, the young detective gets the help of a rather precocious 18 year girl in a wheelchair. Paralysed from the waist down, due to an accident, Patricia Borchmann is the only daughter of a very rich father and a bit of an amateur sleuth. She becomes Holbein’s confidant and brains in the investigation. There is a lightness about the telling of the story, though it does involve casting a serious look at Norway’s murky past during the 2nd World War.

Satellite People is the second in Hans Ohlav Lahlum’s murder mystery series. Once again detective Holbein Kristiansen, with the invaluable assistance of Patricia Borchmann, is called upon to solve a mysterious death. In this case the victim is a wealthy businessman who dies from poisoning while celebrating dinner in his home with 10 guests. Another classic Who-dunnit mystery. Though with 10 possible culprits this time. To complicate matters even more, some of the guests are soon found dead. Lahlum has successfully brought new life to an old format and as with The Human Flies, Lahlum uses this novel to shed more light on some of the darker sides of Norway’s recent history.

The Secret Life and Curious Death of Miss Jean Milne is the second novel by local, local author Andrew NIcoll. What makes this particular novel even more interesting from my perspective is that the story is set primarily in Broughty Ferry itself. Miss Jean Milne of the title was a real person and the novel offers a fictional account of her murder. The action all takes place in the years just before the 1st World War, when Broughty Ferry was still a burgh in its own right.  So there is a lot about the rivalry between Broughty Ferry and Dundee. The main attraction of the novel is its portrayal of social life in the Edwardian era and the clash between the upper and lower classes. The story is told in the first person by the local constable who was involved in the investigation. To add to the mystery Andrew Nicoll adds an unexpected twist at the end.

The Boy in a suitcase is the first novel by Danish couple Agnete Friis and Lene Kaaberbøl. A three year old boy is discovered in a suitcase in Copenhagen railway station. The woman who makes this discovery realises that something nasty is afoot, and calls on her old friend, Nina Borg, a Red Cross nurse, for help. Nina too realises that this is no ordinary missing person and decides to hold on to the boy and not tell the police. Instead she tries to find out herself who he is and why he has ended up in Denmark. With The Boy in a suitcase, we are in the world of people trafficking and the wretched lives of many people in the former Soviet Union. The mother of the boy is Sigita Ramoskiene from Vilnius in Lithuania. She struggles to survive as a single parent and just about manages to keep afloat. Then one day her son goes missing. What can she do and who can help her? The story unfolds alternately from the perspective of the two woman as they each in their own way desperately seek to find out who is the boy in the suitcase. This is the first in a series of novels to feature Nina Borg, and I am already looking forward to the next one.  Happy reading!

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