Friday, 31 May 2013

Roseanna by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

Roseanna is the first book in the Martin Beck police procedural series published in Swedish in 1965 and translated in English by Lois Roth. I read The man who went up in smoke , The Fire Engine that Disappeared and The Man on the Balcony in this series. Planning to read all the other books in the series, I read the first one at last.

The body of a woman in her late twenties is found while dredging of Lake Vattern. The local police at Motala headed by Ahlberg and Martin Beck from Stockholm police try to find out about the woman. There is no missing woman report identical to the woman found dead. Who is the woman? How did she end up in the canal? Why is nobody looking for her?

The story uses a matter-of-fact narration and is very straightforward and engaging, starts with the finding of the body in a lake to the apprehension of the perpetrator of the crime. The following monologue by Martin Beck gives an insight into Martin Beck and sets the tone not only for this novel but also the other books in the series, at least the ones I have read.

'You are stubborn and logical, and completely calm. You don't allow yourself to lose your composure and you act only professionally on a case, whatever it is. Words like repulsive, horrible, and bestial belong in the newspapers, not in your thinking. A murderer is a regular human being, only more unfortunate and maladjusted'

Martin spends sleepless nights trying to find out about the dead woman and her killer. As in real life, things don't happen in a jiffy. It takes time to get the first break. They learn that the victim is Roseanna, an American travelling alone in a cruise ship, limiting the suspects to the eighty-five passengers and crew of the ship. Did one of the eighty-five people kill her? Or is it somebody else? To track eighty-five people is no easy job, especially when the passengers belong to different countries, but with the help of authorities in other countries they track them. After the first break there is some activity and then again there is a lull and finally the case is solved. The case takes months to solve but Martin and Ahlberg are determined to find the culprit and find they did.
A great beginning to a great series.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

G is for Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn


On their fifth anniversary, the wife disappears and husband doesn't care. The first half of the story comprises of the first person narration by the husband from the day of the wife's disappearance and the wife's diary from the day they met each other to her disappearance. As the piece fall into place, we realise all is not as it appears. 

I read a story with a similar premise sometime back and I knew what to expect up to a point so the twists and turns in the first half were predictable but the second half is really the clincher for me. Gillian Flynn toys with the idea how much do we know our spouses. 

 Here is my full review. 

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

F is for The Fire Engine that disappeared by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

This is my post for Letter F for Crime Fiction Alphabet 2013

Life is full of small mysteries. More so when there is a little child at home. Things go missing and missing things suddenly appear. So what happened to your little boy's favourite little red car? One minute he is playing with it. The next it goes missing. Is it behind the tv stand? Maybe underneath the bed? Maybe in the trash can? You search and search. You find everything else except the little red car. The little one insists that he needs the car. You can't really engage the detective, can you? Do you think a detective can find it? 

In 'The Fire Engine that disappeared', Ronn, one of the officers in Martin Beck's team, gifts his son a Fire Engine which also disappears. The boy has been unwell and did not leave the home for a while but his foot long fire engine has disappeared. Fortunately for him, he gets the help of a detective to solve the case, one who is observant and works methodically. Do they find the fire engine? 

Well, well, this is not the only mystery in this book. There is a fire in Stockholm and the fire Engine takes forever to reach the spot. The Fire Engine seems to have disappeared. A policeman who notices the smoke calls for the fire Engine and he is told that the emergency services were already informed and the fire engine is on the way. The Fire engine materialises only after the policeman makes a call again after some time. What happened to the fire engine? If it was already on the way, why didn't it reach the spot sooner ? Will Martin Beck and his team solve the mysteries of Fire Engines that seemed to have vanished into thin air?

If you like your police procedurals with a sprinkling of humour, Martin Beck series are a treat. 

Here is my full review. 
                       The Fire Engine that hasn't disappeared, Yet! 

Sunday, 12 May 2013

The Child's Child by Barbara Vine

The Child's Child by Barbara Vine uses the story within a story format. Grace and her brother Andrew inherit a house in London. As the terms between them are very good, they decide to share the six-bedroom house, three-bedrooms for each with a common kitchen. They do not think of the possibility that at some point one of them would like to bring their partner home to live with them and then all may not be well. Grace is working on her PhD on the portrayal of unmarried mothers in fiction. Andrew is working with the marketing department of a publishing house and suggests Grace read a manuscript of a novel based on true incidents about a single mother and homosexuality to see if it is fit for publication. This manuscript is The Child's Child. 

Meanwhile Andrew brings home his new boyfriend novelist James Derian. Grace finds him attractive and at the same time Grace does not like James views on her thesis. James believes that being a Single mother was hardly an issue in the society in past or in present whereas homosexuals were criminalised and they suffered a lot. He is not ready to listen to Grace's argument that unmarried mothers were sent off to mental institutions and their child taken away from them at birth. Grace suggests that it was probably in the 1960s both homosexuality and unmarried mothers were accepted by society- at least homosexuality was legalised in Britain. She also finds James insufferable. Grace is now tormented with thoughts that James may come to live with her brother, and make her life miserable. Turn of events make her take solace in the manuscript. 

The manuscript narrates the story of fifteen year old Maud and her older brother John set in between the two World wars era.  John decides to give up his relationship with Bert not only because it is a criminal offence and the society would never understand their relationship, but also because he feels it is a sin, and moves from London to a small village near Bristol. His fifteen year old sister finds herself pregnant and is unsure what to do. When the secrecy of her pregnancy explodes at home and her father is ready to send her away to a workhouse, and John comes up with a solution. A solution that haunts him for life, and makes his life miserable. 

The Child's Child is an interesting portrayal of how society treats those who break its norm, even one's own family, mother, father, may not be at one's side. While John accepts her and provide her a home, Maud cannot tolerate the fact that her brother is a homosexual and makes his life miserable. Is her intolerance because she is just a child? Though there is no usual hook that we find in Barabra Vine/ Ruth Rendell books here, I was interested. But half-way through I was wondering, 'Will there be a crime? Will somebody get killed?" And there is a crime and somebody dies. The events that follow lost my interest. 

I am a great fan of Ruth Rendell and books under the pseudonym Barbara Vine are more psychological and dark but they also contain an element of mystery and crime. For example, in 'A Dark-Adapted Eye', we know Vera is the killer from start, but who did she kill is not revealed for more than half of the story and there is  also another mystery  and the inevitable final twist. I like the way Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine drops hints and creates suspense and hooks us. 

There is no mystery or the final twists or the suspense hook, ' what is going to happen now' element in this book, which was very disappointing to me. As a study of taboos in society in the past and present, it is interesting but as a mystery novel, as a Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine fan, I find this book disappointing.