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Tuesday, 16 March 2010


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I had planned to buy that Swedish chap's book - the one you raved about recently - for my wife, for her birthday. But I was incapacitated. It proved lucky - at breakfast on Sunday she read out part of a review of it and said that it was obviously not her sort of thing. Can you recommend something for a woman who likes historical fiction and 'tec stories, but isn't too keen on thrillers? (Oddly enough, she's a great fan of the Le Carre spy stories.) There's no hurry - in spite of all I say, she's not got round to Wolf Hall yet.

Hmmmn! Tricky, 'DM', choosing a book for someone you don't know. However, I did rave about le Carre's latest (I think) here:

The Memsahib is utterly hooked on Diana Gabaldon's books but tells me that it is essential that you begin with the first and work forward. They are historical but follow the fortunes of one family. She is also a great fan of Philippa Gregory who specialises in the Tudor era. If Mrs. 'DM' has read those let me know because the Memsahib has a long list of others - she devours historical romances the way I devour 'pulp fiction'.

If she likes early le Carre she will definitely enjoy Alan Furst's books. He sets his tales in the 1930s/40s usually in obscure parts of central Europe. His 'heroes' are all too human and end up embroiled on the fringes of espionage. His research on the period is superb, you can almost smell the Gaulloise, the absinthe, the boiled cabbage and the goulash! Again, start with the first and work forward.

Also, I can't give you a definite recommendation because I only have the middle book of a trilogy by Robert Harris ("Lustram") set in Caesar's Rome. It has been highly praised but I can't read it until I get the first book.

Hope that helps. Incidentally, 'DM', if you and yours ever find yourself 'down Dorset way' do let me know, here at Chateaux Duff the coffee's fresh, the food's not bad and the Scotch is excellent!

Also, 'DM', tell her not to be too hasty in rejecting 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'. It is terrific, based on a sort of variation of 'the locked door murder mystery' but with a difference. Complex plot, fascinating characters, particularly the eponymous heroine, more of a novel than a thriller. One of the most original I have read in ages.


Ma femme (she's a Huguenot, you see) says that it's the gore that puts her off many books. She's happy that the sleuth has a body to fret about, but she doesn't want to read all about the gruesome murder itself, and the preceding terror. Of course, if it's a nice, clean, quick dispatch, that might be OK.

Ah, Madame is obviously somewhat different from the Memsahib who has a weakness for what I call 'pathological porn'; those stories, usually written by female Americans, whose heroines are forensic pathologists and who delight in spelling out the details of what goes on in the 'slicin' and dicin' department. I tend to tread very carefully whenever she's using the kitchen knives!

Tell Madame to try Alan Furst, especially the earlier ones. The Memsahib would urge her on to Diana Gabaldon - her all-time favourite.

She's missing Rebus, that's the problem. Bloody Rankin retired him.

Talking of Rankin, WKPD reports:-

In 2007, Rankin was criticised for saying, "the people writing the most graphic violence today are women. They are mostly lesbians as well, which I find interesting."

Rebus! Yes, the Memsahib has just got hooked on him. I tried him once but Brit cops don't do it for me. The difference between the policemen invented by authors and the reality of the average Insp. Plod is too evident for me to suspend judgment. (G.F.Newman's 'Law and Order' from the '70s/'80s is an exception.)

But Rankin is probably right about women writing graphic violence. It all began, I suspect with Patricai Cornwall (a lesbian) and her fictional female forensic doctor, Scarpetta. I enjoyed her first couple of books as being decent police procedural tales but there-after she, and they, went downhill in my opinion.

I can recommend the now quite old Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow which is a Danish thriller set partly in Greenland. A lot of people didn't like it, probably because it starts better than it finishes, but I enjoyed it. It is kind of a mix between Gorky Park and Polar Star, both of which I absolutely loved.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was reviewed in The Economist a few months back, but they said whilst the bits set in Sweden were very good the bits set in China were as cliched as hell, which put me off.

Thanks, Tim, I'll look out for that one.

The Economist frequently produces rubbish and here is another example. There are no scenes set in China, the entire story takes place in Sweden! Buy it, Tim, the 'D&N' Money Back Guarantee if not Satisfied still applies - until midday today - oops, it's ten to!!!

Incidentally, have you tried the Alan Furst books?

Actually, I tried to double check the Economist review but found it behind a subscription barrier, so it might have been about a different book. But something about a body being found in Sweden, something to do with the Chinese, and the Chinese being cliched. But I'll give it a go, on your recommendation!

No, I've not read the Alan Furst books, in fact the only modern (as in, writing now or the last few years) I read is James Lee Burke, who is a great writer.

I couldn't get on with Burke, not his fault, it's just that a writer either presses your own personal buttons or not. Mind you, I must confess that I don't often buy 'pulp fiction' for pure writing style, just a good, complex story, interesting characters and a bit of action. Furst is probably one of the most 'literary' of the writers I read - although the latest le Carre is also superb and I gave it a punt here:

I suppose with your new-found, but hopefully not too long-lasting, idleness you have plenty of time to read these days. Also, good to see your blog fired up again.

Okay, I've taken your advice and bought both The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and A Most Wanted Man to read whilst I am lying by the pool in Bali for the next 2 weeks.

I'll let you know what I thought.

Also, I owe the Economist an apology: the Millenium Trilogy comes highly recommended by them, and they call them a masterpiece. It must have been another review I was thinking of.

Yes, it was this one I was thinking of:

Oh God, I spend all this time here 'mouthing off', so to speak, on this book or that and urging others to go and buy them and when they do, I lose my bottle and start to worry. Let me know what you think in due course.

Again, I couldn't get on with Mankell and his miserable hero Wallander. I don't even like Brannagh's depiction of him which are running on Brit TV and which seem to me to demonstrate an inherent thinness in plot. Oddly enough, I spotted in my TV guide that there is a Swedish TV/film version of one of the Wallander stories so I might give it a go and report back.

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