Saturday, March 27, 2010

2010 Global Reading Challenge: interim report (Australasia, Europe, etc)

As promised yesterday, today I will share my progress in the 2010 Global Reading Challenge, in terms of the other four continents (Australasia, Europe, South America, Antarctica).

As I've previously said, I'm aiming for the 'Expert' level - to read two novels from each of the six continents, trying to read and review novels from 12 different countries if possible (and new-to-you authors), as well as two novels set in Antarctica.

As I said yesterday, almost three months into the year, I'm going along okay with the Expert Challenge, having tried several new authors, and books from or set in several countries. I have however been a little slack on posting reviews thusfar, so I thought I'd do something of an interim round-up yesterday and today, with longer reviews and commentary on each book to follow in due course.

Europe (continent completed)
I usually read quite a bit of British crime anyway, and last year I also read novels from Irish, Swedish, and German authors. So I decided to stay away from UK-set stories for my two 'official' entries for the European continent in the 2010 Global Reading Challenge - although no doubt I will read several such books over the course of the year anyway (e.g. Mark Billingham's upcoming FROM THE DEAD, etc)

So, so far this year I have read two books set in continental Europe, both from authors that are new-to-me; SELF'S MURDER by Bernhard Schlink (translated from German, set in Germany), and THE BLACK MONASTERY by Stav Sherez (set in the Greek Islands).

Retired German judge and law professor Bernhard Schlink is an award-winning crime writer, but for the wider public outside of Germany he may be best-known as the author of THE READER, which was of course adapted into an Oscar-winning film starring Kate Winslet. His series of crime novels star Gerhard Self, a philosophising senior citizen private detective with a fondness for sweet cigarettes and liqueurs, and a desire to atone for his links to his country's troubled past.

I thought SELF'S MURDER was good, but not great. It was reasonably enjoyable, but at times seemed a little pedestrian. There were aspects I really enjoyed, but overall it was just, for me, 'so-so', which is a shame. You can read a more in-depth review I wrote for EuroCrime, here.

THE BLACK MONASTERY is Stav Sherez's second crime novel, following his debut THE DEVIL'S PLAYGROUND, which was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey Dagger back in 2005 (there was a five-year gap, and a change in publishers, between Sherez's first and second novels).

Faber & Faber's blurb for THE BLACK MONASTERY says, "People used to come to the small Greek island of Palassos for the historic ruins. Now they come to take drugs and party all night. But the horrific ritual murder of a boy in the grounds of an old monastery brings back memories of two similar deaths in the mid-1970s, and of a mysterious cult who once dwelt in the island’s interior, memories the island has tried hard to forget.

As Nikos, the police chief who has been persuaded back to his home island for the final years of his career, begins his investigation, two Brits arrive on the island: the bestselling crime writer Kitty Carson, on a break from the pressures of work and her strained marriage, and Jason an aspiring writer with a secret of his own. When a second body is discovered - further endangering the island’s lucrative tourist trade - these three characters are thrown together, as the gruesome secrets of the past begin to emerge."

Sherez's style leans towards literary at times, perhaps even becoming over-wordy occasionally, but I really enjoyed the read. He evokes a nice sense of the Greek Island setting, and the changes some such places have endured in the past decades, shifting from history-filled rural getaways to booze and drug-filled party places for yobbish British tourists. It's a good mystery, but I will be writing a longer review elsewhere in the near future, so won't preempt that here (I will of course post a link when that review is published).

AUSTRALASIA/OCEANIA (continent completed)
I have of course read several New Zealand books this year, including the latest from Paul Cleave and Paddy Richardson, and older tales from the likes of Laurie Mantell, amongst others. I also have several Australian crime novels in my TBR pile, from the likes of Barry Maitland, Tara Moss, Peter Corris, Michael Robotham, and others.

But in terms of the two 'official' Australasian/Oceanian books for the challenge, I will focus on Laurie Mantell's A MURDER OR THREE and Leah Giarratano's BLACK ICE, both of which I have read in the past couple of weeks or so.

In A MURDER OR THREE, which was published back in 1980, three women are murdered, each with a pair of pantyhose. Detective Sergeant Steve Arrow knows the first victim, a shy teenager who has already told the police of a flasher seen in nearby bush. The body of the second victim, older, extremely attractive, is found in this same bush, and, later, a flirtatious wife dies in her own home with the tell-tale pantyhose around her throat. Residents are in near panic...

I really enjoyed this book, as I did Mantell's MURDER TO BURN, which I read the week before (another Detective Steve Arrow tale). I probably liked this one a touch more, or perhaps I'd just settled more into Mantell's style - which is of the classic Agatha Christie/Ngaio Marsh 'cosy' style, although its late 1970s/early 1980s New Zealand, rather than mid-war Britain. Mantell writes good 'puzzle' books in the classic sense, and conforms to the 'Malice Domestic' style on the sex/blood front as well. I will be writing some longer reviews in due course, and I am also looking forward to reading MURDER IN FANCY DRESS, which I have also acquired for my ever-increasing crime fiction collection.

In BLACK ICE, Giarratano's third novel, her recurring heroine Detective Sergeant Jill Jackson is working undercover in Sydney's murky drug world, where glamour and seedy underbelly collide.

The publisher's blurb states: "Living in a run down flat and making unlikely friends Jill sees first hand what devastation the illegal drugs scene can wreak. Jill's sister Cassie has a new boyfriend Christian Worthington. Like her, he is one of the beautiful people of Sydney, rich, good looking, great job, great car and seen in all the right places. He is a high flying lawyer doing pro bono work to keep a drug dealer out of gaol. He is also Cassie's supplier, keeping her supplied with cocaine and ice. When Cassie overdoses and is dumped at the hospital her life begins to spiral out of control. Seren Templeton is just out of Silverwater Women's Correctional Centre. Two years in gaol away from her son for something she didn't do. And now she is ready to get her revenge on the man responsible. Things start to go awry when these worlds collide and Jill and Cassie meet on opposite sides of the law."

I really enjoyed this book, and I found myself enjoying it more and more as it went on. Initially I wasn't that enamoured with Jackson as a main character, but she grew on me throughout, and I liked Giarratano's mix of setting (the scabby urban Australia underbelly), good dialogue, interesting plot, and some unique and memorable characters. At times I could see the psychologist in her coming through a little too much, especially when it came to 'excusing' or mitigating the actions of some characters (particularly any female character - whose flaws always seemed to come down to how badly she'd been treated by some man in her past) - but this was a minor quibble in an otherwise great read. I will post a longer review in due course.

SOUTH AMERICA and ANTARCTICA (0 of 4 completed)
As I noted earlier in the week, up until recently I hadn't been doing to well at getting my hands on crime fiction from either South America, or set in Antarctica. I have recently partially rectified this, although I haven't got around to reading and finishing any of the books yet.

I bought a copy of Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza's SOUTHWESTERLY WIND from Unity Books earlier in the week, so that will be one of my two South American books (Brazilian author, set in Brazil). In SOUTHWESTERLY WIND, Chief of the Copacabana precinct Espinosa is more than happy to interrupt his paperwork when a terrified young man arrives at the station with a bizarre story. A psychic has predicted that he will commit a murder, it seems, and the prediction has become fact in the young man's mind. It's a case more appropriate for a psychiatrist or philosopher, but, rising to the challenge as usual, Espinosa slowly enters the web of a psychologically conflicted man. As the weather changes and the southwesterly wind - always a sign of dramatic change - starts up, what at first seems like paranoia becomes brutal reality. Two violent murders occur and their only link is the lonely, clever man who has sought Espinosa out a few days earlier for help.

I had actually just ordered another book in the Espinosa series (THE SILENCE OF THE RAIN) from the library the day before, but as I want two different authors from two different countries in South America for the 2010 Global Reading Challenge, I won't be using that for the challenge itself. So I'm still on the lookout for another good South American-set (and preferably, written by a South American) crime novel - not from Brazil. Any ideas or recommendations?

In terms of Antarctica, I have ordered a couple of books from my local library; THE ICE LIMIT by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, and ICE STATION by Matthew Reilly - the authors being from different countries as well.


So that's where I'm at, in terms of the other four continents for the 2010 Global Reading Challenge. In total, 9 of 14 books down. Two each from South America and set in Antarctica, and one from/set in Asia, to go.

Have you read any of these books or authors? Thoughts and comments welcome.


  1. for the American continent would recommend The Thursday Widows Club by Claudia Pineiro (Bitter Lemon Press) set in Argentina or any of the Havana quintet by Leonardo Padura (also Bitter Lemon Press) set in Cuba.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I was thinking about Padura, but unfortunately the way it's been set up, Cuba and the rest of Central America counts as North America, rather than South America (going with FIFA groupings rather than language/Latin American ones)