First Saturday of the month and new year too, time for the super monthly tag Six Degrees of Separation, which is hosted by Kate at Booksaremyfavouriteandbest, Six Degrees of Separation #6degrees picks a starting book for participants to go wherever it takes them in six more steps. Links to my reviews are in the titles of the books chosen.
This month our starting book is… The book you finished 2023 on, or the last book you read. I’ve gone with the latter at the time of writing this post, which allows me to give an extra shout out to its publisher, Corylus Books, co-founded by blog friend Marina Sofia.
The Dancer by Óskar Guðmundsson
Translated by Quentin Bates, this novel is the first in a new series by the Icelandic author and features veteran detective Valdimar and his new young assistant Ylfa. A gruesome and murderous opening gives way to a story of a troubled young man, brought up by his alcoholic mother, a former ballerina who projected all her disappointments onto her son. It’s unusual to have a crime thriller that features ballet! One of the joys of this novel was the well-worn trope of the older detective giving the benefit of his years to a younger colleague. This is also the case in…
The Mind’s Eye by Håkan Nesser
The first mystery by the Swedish author introduces us to the grumpy Inspector Van Veeteren, who arrives fully formed. I was really taken with this older, well-worn, grumpy detective with baggage who rather resembles Maigret in his detection style and methods. He may be grumpy, but the relationship with his younger colleague Münster is superb. As is often the case in series of translated novels, The Mind’s Eye wasn’t translated first, that was Borkmann’s Point, the second in the series. This was also the case for my next pick…
Irène by Pierre Lemaitre
Irène is chronologically the first novel in Pierre Lemaitre’s trilogy featuring Parisian police detective Commandant Camille Verhœven, yet in the UK it was published second, after Alex, later followed by the final part, Camille. I did read Alex first, and it was the best crime thriller I read all that year. It had pace, twists and turns, some really stomach-churning nastiness and a fantastic lead in Verhœven, the four foot eleven detective with a big character. Although Alex refers obliquely to the events of Irène, it does stand alone well. Irène though has a unique serial killer that will appeal to readers of literary crime novels. Another first book in a crime trilogy is:
The Rabbit Factor by Antti Tuomainen
You do, however, need to read the three books in Tuomainen’s dark yet hilarious crime trilogy in order, as they follow on from each other. The Rabbit Factor is the first, introducing us to actuary Henri Koskinen, who is never happier than when dealing with numbers, shut away in his office. Forced out of his company when it modernises (goes open-plan), he comes into a timely inheritance. His brother Juhani dies and leaves him ownership of his failing adventure park – and Henri is forced out of his cocoon into a world that is the antithesis of his comfort zone. Needless to say, Juhani had built up bad debts, and the holders of them are out to recover their money – by any means. This series is a total delight from start to finish. An actuary is a type of accountant which is my link to:
Injury Time by Beryl Bainbridge
Bainbridge’s 1977 novel Injury Time is a tale of adultery and an exquisitely ghastly comedy of manners. It is also, to use a footballing phrase that matches its title, a game of two halves – both of which go into injury time.The first half kicks off with us meeting Edward and Binny, he a moderately successful accountant and she, his mistress. Binny is not a typical mistress though, she has three children and lives in a rather run-down area of North London. They make an odd pair, and she is happy that Edward won’t leave his stifling marriage to Helen. However, Edward does give in to Binny’s request to meet some of his colleagues, and they host a dinner party at Binny’s house. But, in the second half, it turns into a siege when, by sheer chance, they find themselves taken hostage by some bank robbers who pick her door to burst in through. Classic dark and hilarious Beryl! The siege is my link to:
All That Follows by Jim Crace
Jazz saxophonist Lennie will be 50 tomorrow. Tonight on the telly, he sees a news report on a siege happening in a nearby town, and then he sees a photo of the hostage-taker; it’s a figure from his past. It’s Maxie – Maxim Lermontov! Leonard used to aspire to be radical like Maxie, back in their student days but he never went through with it. Rather than ring the police, Leonard sets off to visit the siege and bumps into Maxie’s estranged daughter; this is the start of getting himself into some serious hot water, which is compounded by him not being truthful with his own wife Francine. Less of a thriller and more a relationship drama suffused with jazz, this 2010 novel by Crace is one I’d like to revisit. My final link is jazz which takes us to:
Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovich
This is the second of Aaronovich’s Peter Grant series, which began with 2011’s Rivers of London, and frankly in this case it would be best to read the first book first so you understand about DC Grant, a trainee wizard under DCI Nightingale at ‘The Folly’ – the Met Police’s secret magical crimes unit in Bloomsbury. In this case, Grant is called out to look at the body of a saxophonist who dropped dead after a gig in a Soho jazz club – there’s a definite aura of magic, ‘vestigium‘ in the air, typified by riffs from jazz standard Body and soul. Grant will find that a suspicious number of jazz musicians have died in suspicious circumstances during the past years. Great fun.
My six degrees have taken us around some Nordic authors, plus French and British this time, a tighter geographical formation than normal for me, and they’ve stayed quite dark too – with murders aplenty, older detectives, sieges, magical crime – and accountants! Where will yours take you?