Friday, March 26, 2010

2010 Global Reading Challenge: interim report (Africa, Asia, North America)

Like almost 100 other book bloggers and keen readers around the world (most of them crime and thriller fiction afficianados), I am participating this year in the 2010 Global Reading Challenge, a web-based initiative sparked by fellow crime fiction enthusiast and blogger Dorte Jakobsen of Denmark-based DJ's Krimiblog.

The aim of the 2010 Global Reading Challenge is to encourage participants to read books from (or set in) a wide variety of countries, in the coming year. Participants sign up on the website - here - and then attempt one of three levels of reading challenge over the next 12 months:
  • Easy Challenge: read one novel from each of six continents (Africa, Asia, North/Central America, South America, Europe, Australasia) in 2010 - trying to find novels/countries/authors that are new to the reader;
  • Medium Challenge: read two novels from each of the six continents, trying to read and review novels from 12 different countries if possible; and
  • Expert Challenge: as above, plus two novels set in Antarctica.
Three months into the year, and 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 today, with longer reviews and commentary on each book to follow in due course.
AFRICA (continent completed)This year I have read two books set in Africa, both from authors that are new-to-me; THE ANUBIS SLAYINGS by PC Doherty (set in Ancient Egypt), and A DEADLY TRADE (set in modern-day Botswana).
PC (or Paul) Doherty is the author of several acclaimed mystery series set in different historical periods, including the Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan, the Hugh Corbett Medieval Mysteries, and the Canterbury Tales of Mystery and Murder. I picked up a copy of THE ANUBIS SLAYINGS, the third book in Doherty's Ancient Egypt series starring Lord Amerotke, while travelling through Egypt in January, from a bookstore in Luxor (ancient Thebes).
In THE ANUBIS SLAYINGS, a series of grisly slayings ignite passions in Pharoah’s Egypt. Then there is a daring theft of Egypt's most valued national treasure. Is it the work of humans or has the god Anubis come to earth intent on sabotaging peace negotiations with the dreaded Mitanni? Only Amerotke, wise and trusted judge of the powerful female Pharaoh, Hatusu, can sort through the tangle of intrigue that surrounds the killings and discover the truth.

I enjoyed this book a lot, and will be looking to read more of Doherty's Ancient Egypt series. I was reading it in Egypt, having just travelled through many of the areas mentioned in the book, and having just learned quite a bit about the Ancient Kingdoms, hieroglyphics, gods, traditions etc - so it was great to see the accuracy in Doherty's work, and they way he wove quite a lot of setting and history in, without overwhelming the reader with detail, or suppressing/slowing what is a well-plotted story. In comparison, I also picked up another Ancient Egypt-set book, THE TREE OF LIFE by Christian Jacq, and found the writing far inferior (I haven't actually finished it yet, putting it aside and not yet getting back to it).

Michael Stanley is the pen name of the crime-writing tag-team of retired South African-born professors Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, and A DEADLY TRADE is their second novel. Set in Botswana, and bringing back their food-loving Detective "Kubu" Bengu, this book is sold as THE SECOND DEATH OF GOODLUCK TINUBU in North America.

A mutilated body found at a tourist camp near the Namibian border becomes even more of a mystery when Kubu and his fellow policeman discover the victim, Goodluck Tinubu, was killed during the Rhodesian war thirty years before. Trying to solve this modern-day murder entwined with the past becomes even more complex for Kubu and his colleagues when hints of international drug-running, horrific war crimes, and political pressure, all arise. Then the criminals turn their attentions to Kubu’s own family, and the rotund detective realises that the stakes are much higher than just closing the case.

I really enjoyed this book, and gave it a 3 1/2 star rating (3 stars is 'enjoyable') for a review appearing in the April issue of Good Reading magazine. Kubu (nicknamed because his manner and build resembles a hippopotamus - seemingly slow and serene but deadly when roused) is a delightful main character, and I'm looking forward to going back and reading their debut, A CARRION DEATH, when I find the time.

ASIA (1 of 2 books read)
For my first book in the Asian leg of the 2010 Global Reading Challenge, I purchased a copy of John Burdett's BANGKOK EIGHT from the Kuala Lumpur airport, when on a stopover on the way home from Cairo to Auckland in January. I'd been looking for some Malaysian crime, given my location at the time, but Thailand was the best I could do from the airport bookstore.

In the end, I was stoked that I ended up picking up Burdett's debut, which introduces his unique hero, Thai police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, a fair-skinned Thai and a devout Buddhist who commutes daily between the sacred precepts of his religion and the profane delights the city has to offer.

In BANGKOK EIGHT, Jitpleecheep's partner and 'soul brother' is killed when the pair come across an African-American marine sergeant locked inside a Mercedes with a maddened python and a swarm of cobras. Sworn to vengeance, Jitpleecheep, works his into the moneyed underbelly of Bangkok, where desire rules and the human body is as custom-designable as a raw hunk of jade - and where Sonchai eventually tracks the killer, a predator of an even more sinister variety.

Quite simply, BANGKOK EIGHT is one of the best debut novels I've read in a long time. Both the characters and the writing is fresh and original, and Burdett does a great job weaving both the halluconigenic and contradictory atmosphere of Bangkok, and some interesting philosophical questions, into the exciting storyline. On returning to New Zealand, I immediately went out and got my hands on some more of Burdett's series featuring Jitpleecheep; BANGKOK TATTOO and BANGKOK HAUNTS. I'm looking forward to reading them, but won't use them for my second Asian novel in the 2010 Global Reading Challenge, as I want to use a different country, and different author for the Expert Level.

I already have several other 'Asian' options in my TBR pile however, including: A BALI CONSPIRACY MOST FOUL , the Indonesia-set second 'Inspector Singh' novel from Singapore-based writer Shamini Flint; SINGAPORE SLING SHOT by Andrew Grant - a thriller set in Singpore written by a New Zealander who has spent a lot of time in the region; and THE CASE OF THE MISSING SERVANT by Tarquin Hall (India-set detective fiction).

NORTH/CENTRAL AMERICA (continent completed)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have read several North American novels already this year. The two I am using for the challenge are a thriller by Canadian author Linwood Barclay, and a detective tale set on the Navajo reservation, by the legendary Tony Hillerman - my first taste of Hillerman, who I had been meaning to read for a while. I wanted to pick a US setting and author that was new to me, rather than an LA or New York set novel.

I've also read great crime/thriller fiction from the likes of Robert Crais (THE FIRST RULE) and Lee Child (61 HOURS) so far in 2010, among other North American authors.

In NEVER LOOK AWAY, reporter David Harwood’s wife Jan vanishes from a popular theme park. As if that wasn't bad enough, when the police can’t find any evidence of Jan ever being at the park, the begin to suspect David. A body discovered in a shallow grave increases the pressure, and David must dig into an unclear past to uncover the perhaps unpalatable truth about the sedate life he thought he was living.

I thought NEVER LOOK AWAY was another great 'domestic thriller' from Barclay, who has shown a masterful hand with these 'everyday person gets the rug pulled out from under them' type of tales, over his past few books. You can read a short review I did of this book for Latitude magazine, here.

As I said above, Tony Hillerman's tales (featuring Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee) have been on my 'to read' list for a while. He is one of those modern 'classic' authors that I have been meaning to get around to, in amongst all of the new and recently-released books (others in that category for me include Joseph Wambaugh, Sarah Paretsky, Ed McBain, Walter Mosley, and Sue Grafton). I picked up a copy of A THIEF OF TIME from a second-hand store in my hometown of Richmond, Nelson, when I was back visiting family in January.

In A THIEF OF TIME, a noted anthropologist vanishes at a moonlit Indian ruin where pot hunters ("thieves of time") ravage sacred ground for profit. When two corpses appear amid stolen goods and bones at an ancient burial site, Navajo Tribal Policemen Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Officer Jim Chee plunge into the past to unearth the astonishing truth behind a mystifying series of horrific murders.

I really enjoyed A THIEF OF TIME, and was glad I'd finally got around to reading a book by Hillerman. It definitely won't be the last. I've always been interested in Native American culture, and I've travelled through Southwest USA, and visited Monument Valley and some of the surrounding area in Nevada, Arizona, and Utah - so I enjoyed the setting as well as the good mystery storyline. It was my first Hillerman novel, but definitely won't be the last.


So that's where I'm at, in terms of three of the continents for the 2010 Global Reading Challenge. I will post the second half of my interim update over the weekend.

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


  1. Interesting challenge - but why was the 7th Continent excluded?

  2. If you mean Antarctica - that is included in the Expert Level...

  3. thank you - I'll have to put my thinking cap on - I know I've read a number of crime novels set in various bases in Antarctica - trouble is trying to remember the titles - still that will be an enjoyable task I can set myself.

  4. Craig I agree with you about the superiority of Paul Doherty over Christian Jacq for mysteries set in ancient Egypt. In fact I must read some more of Doherty's - though like you I read my first when I was in Egypt and it's not quite the same reading them here.

    I just read the first Michael Stanley book and really enjoyed Kubu and the African setting - I love it when books have a strong sense of place. The plot wasn't quite as strong a feature and it could have done with some editing but there's lots to like about the book. I will read this second one in a few months (I don't like reading series books close together).

    You're doing well on the challenge so far - I've done one book for each continent except South America so far (I was trying to find someone other than Leighton Gage as that's what everyone seems to be reading but it's not easy).

  5. Impressive progress! And thank you for boosting the challenge!