Right at the end of the School Holidays I succumbed to ‘The bug’.
Temperature, shivers, face-ache, sneezing, splutterings, sore throat, several hot-water bottles, over the counter meds and copious amounts of tea/coffee/honey, lemon and ginger combos later, I am now dealing with a more head cold-like scenario. What really upset me is my diligence in having the Flu Jab appears to have been for nowt!! Swiftly moving on …
Streaming eyes and almost constant nose-blowing meant that the only source of entertainment I could tolerate was talking-books … Plug in and LISTEN. So I did.
First offering from OverDrive audiobooks was Round the Horne Movie Spoofs. In my weakened state I managed several wry smiles – OK 1960s British ‘camp’ humour admittedly, but quite clever for all that although one offering was sufficient as smiling wasn’t helping the face & teeth-ache symptoms!
Second offering was The Captive Queen the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine – wife of two kings – King Louis VII of France and King Henry II of England, and mother of such notables as Richard the Lionheart and King John (of ‘Magna Carta’ fame). I just thanked my lucky stars that I didn’t live in huge, draughty castles and gratefully placed my hot water bottles in my ‘nest of rest’ set-up for the requisite warmth and comfort.
Third offering I had picked up from the library prior to being ‘felled’ – I persevered, but really CDs don’t work in a sick-room environment. The constant getting up to change the discs is tiring. It takes forever to rearrange yourself back to that exact comfortable position you had previously discovered. But then, adding insult to injury, just as you start to feel relaxed and drowsy, the sonorous tones of the narrator announce that ‘this ends Disc xx’. Do this manoeuvre fifteen times and you are ready to hurl said CD Player through the bedroom window. Common sense prevailed as this would have left me both freezing cold and wet as rain lashed down the east coast of the South Island. Sufficed to say I can remember little of the plot or characters.
Final offering is a BBC Radio dramatization of an Ellis Peters ‘Cadfael’ mystery and will keep me going until I feel ready to open the physical pages of a book.
My listening choices will, in all probability, not be yours, BUT the variety that is available is a fantastic resource to have with just a library card and a Pin/Password.
If you were out taking an evening stroll along the streets of north central Christchurch in March 1894 then there is a good chance that you may have seen a ghost.
For that is what a young man named Cunningham initially thought that he had encountered on the night of March 9.
At 11pm Constable Isherwood was performing his evening rounds north of Cathedral Square. Being a Friday, the policeman was no doubt anticipating a night of drunken brawls and other misdemeanours. Yet when he was approached by a panic stricken Cunningham he could not have imagined that the young man would tell him such a bizarre tale.
Shortly before, Cunningham had learned from some children that something frightening was lurking in the grounds of St Matthew’s Church. As he approached the church, a figure clothed in white had suddenly leapt over the fence. At first the figure had proceeded to leap up the street towards a group of people. Then, to Cunningham’s dismay, it turned and bore down on him. His courage failing him, Cunningham did not stay to confront the figure but instead ran in the direction of Cathedral Square.
After telling Isherwood, he was directed by the policeman to give a statement at the nearest station. At first the police may have been sceptical of his claims. Only a week earlier there had been reports of women and children in Opawa being frightened by what they had believed was a ghost but which the local police insisted was simply a case of a girl in a white apron being misidentified. Yet as the police were soon to learn, Cunningham was not the only person to have encountered the strange figure that evening.
Earlier, at 9pm, two women had been returning home from a visit to Papanui. Making their way towards the provincial buildings on Durham Street, they had been startled by the appearance of a figure in white. When the figure started to follow them they ran screaming towards Gloucester Street Bridge. There the figure overtook them and blocked their path before escaping into the grounds of the provincial buildings.
An hour later, a number of distressed children residing in Victoria Street had told their mothers that they had seen a ghost. Although these reports were initially dismissed, their mothers were surprised to later learn that there had been some truth to their children’s stories.
The police step in as attacks increase
The matter soon caught the attention of Inspector Thomas Broham. Recognising that someone was purposefully making an effort to disturb the peace, he ordered his men to apprehend the individual.
The next recorded sighting occurred on March 12. At 8pm two girls, Lizzie Smith and Bella Leith, were sent to deliver a message. As they passed a side street on Papanui Road the figure, now known as “the ghost”, jumped out at them.
On the following evening, at 11pm, Alfred James DeMaus, a machinist who lived on Montreal Street, was walking with several women near the vicinity of today’s Knox Church. DeMaus was already aware of the supposed ghost and after one of the ladies caught sight of a white cloth beneath a nearby tree, he went over to investigate. There he found two young men hiding. DeMaus reprimanded them for their behaviour and in response one of them struck him on the head, knocking him to the ground. His attackers quickly ran off when the women came to his aid.
The confrontation with DeMaus did not deter the perpetrator, as the next evening the ghost struck again.
This time the victim was Albert Bellamin, a compositor who lived on Armagh Street. That night, as he walked home, his route took him past a paddock on the corner of Armagh and Madras streets. Nearing the paddock, he saw a figure dressed in white tights and wearing a mask illuminated by phosphorous (a chemical which glows when exposed to oxygen) which, was behaving erratically. Unsettled by the sight, Bellamin crossed the street. The figure, however, leapt out at him and proceed to dance around him in an attempt to prevent him from going on his way. Bellamin tried to force the figure aside but as he did so it grabbed him by the arm and kicked him into a gorse fence. By the time Bellamin had pulled himself out of the hedge the strange figure had vanished.
Hysteria grips the city
The threatening behaviour of the ghost worried Inspector Broham. People were afraid to go out for evening walks. Reports of the attacks were printed in The Press, and with each repetition the stories became ever more fanciful. The ghost was credited with the ability to make unnatural leaps and was said to have been seen in various locations at once. Some of these sightings, which ranged from Opawa to Addington, could no doubt be attributed to nervous people assuming that any figure they saw at night who happened to be wearing an item of white clothing was the ghost.
Another location for sightings of the ghost was Hagley Park. There its victims were often nursemaids and unattended ladies. A pair of lovers, who had met in the park, were also subjected to a terrifying experience. While they had been sitting on a bench the ghost had crept up behind them and thrust its face, with its fiery eyes, between theirs.
The pretence of apprehending the ghost was even used by some citizens to commit crime. On March 17, after going home with Annie Davis, Andrew Galletly found that his money was missing. Upon leaving her house, he encountered a man who told him that he was a detective hunting for the ghost. The supposed detective warned him not to lay a complaint against Annie and took Galletly drinking at a hotel on Cashel Street. It was later discovered that the “detective” was a local rogue, John Carey Dudfield, who worked with Annie Davis to commit crime.
By the beginning of April the hunt was for the ghost was still continuing, as Inspector Broham had issued orders for his officers to collect legitimate claims of sightings in order to differentiate them from the embellished tales.
After a month of suspense the reports of the ghost suddenly disappeared from the newspapers. People assumed that the police had made an arrest but were puzzled as to why it had not been announced. Then, in a column of the Observer on 28 April 1894, it was revealed the reason for the sudden silence. As well as being the son of a well-known local doctor, the culprit was also a mental patient who had escaped from his carers. The fiery eyes which had given him a supernatural appearance were attributed to the use of rings made out of phosphorous material.
We may never know the identity of the perpetrator. It is possible that he was committed to Sunnyside Asylum to prevent any further escapes. Although a few similar ghost scare cases appeared in other South Island towns in the months that followed, the disturbance was not repeated in Christchurch by any imitators. With months of dark winter evenings on the approach, this must have brought relief to both Inspector Broham and the people of Christchurch.
It’s wintertime and darkness is falling
Crime is thriving and the body count’s high.
Your neighbour’s dead
and your boss is in prison
So hush your mouth or you might die.
This pretty much covers it if you read or watch Scandi Noir (Dark Scandinavian fiction) which, unlike those early raiders from Northern Europe, has quietly snuck into our consciousness. The translators have been busy and we’ve got Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish and Danish books and DVDs on our shelves for those keen to part company with their wits. Up to now my fave mystery writers have been British for a bit of the dastardly, but I love a bit of scarily dark and god knows these people seem to spend a lot of their time in deep blackness, so no wonder they’re good at maliciously murderous moments mostly occurring in the long, long nights. These days it’s Håkan Nesser, Jo Nesbø, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Karin Fossum, Åke Edwardson that have me peeking through the curtains, locking the doors…
Stieg Larsson‘s Millennium series (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc) were the books that initially took me over to the dark side. In Swedish unsurprisingly the original title was Men Who Hate Women. Undoubtedly nasty, but utterly readable and unputdownable. There is a good reason they shot to number one in the bestseller lists. The main character, Lisbeth, a survivor, does her damnedest to balance out the injustices done to women in this series. I was rooting for her the whole way through. They’re violent but I still fully recommend them if you haven’t already been tempted. This despite being a complete wimp who would normally hide under the bed from such fiction.
If you don’t mind subtitles (and the brain adapts remarkably quickly to reading the screen and watching at the same time), The Killing could keep you awake for a while. But for me The Bridge is the best. Only two series so far. A body is discovered on the exact half way mark on the bridge between Sweden and Denmark, which brings in a police team from each country. Good characterisation of the cops and the villain, and the storyline moves well with twists enough for me to have accused all and sundry of being the murderer. I’m hoping like mad there will be a third. Excellent entertainment.
Not scary, but equally entertaining is a Danish TV political series, Borgen. Never dry, it’s a behind the scenes machination of several political parties and their leaders jostling for the best position and attempting to form a government after an election too close to call. Birgitte Nyborg, leader of one of the small parties, becomes the first woman Prime Minister of Denmark. A tough job and hard on the family life and relationships. She is dealing with crises, making policy, pondering who to trust, and handling the media. It certainly rang bells as we watched our various small parties jockeying to be the party that joins the big guys in Government. Compulsive viewing once you get who’s who, and what they want, sorted out.
Do you like your books and viewing slightly chilling and grisly? Is your current reading and watching becoming a bit tame? Fancy seeing something of Scandinavia (mostly in the dark)? Check out these titles and let me know what you think. Any other books / authors in the Scandi Noir genre that you’d recommend?
As a girl I enjoyed Nancy’s confident, curious sleuthing abilities both in book form (Password to Larkspur Lane being a favourite, if I recall) as well as the 1970s TV series which also introduced me to the charms of The Hardy Boys.
It was unusual to find a female teenage protagonist who was so self-assured, knowledgeable, canny, and well-financed as Nancy Drew in the 1980s let alone in the 1930s. Apparently Wirt was not pleased with the “namby-pamby” style of books for girls at that time and was looking to create a somewhat more “feisty” character. This is almost certainly why Nancy and the series has continued to be popular.
Her influence on popular culture cannot be underestimated. The name “Nancy Drew” is nearly synonymous with “sleuth”, and I can’t help but wonder – without Nancy, would there have been any Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars, or Scooby Doo’s Velma?
The books have been ghostwritten by numerous authors over the years and are published collectively under the name Carolyn Keene.
I’ve been feeling like a bit of travel lately. Alas my wallet is empty. So instead I decided to travel virtually by reading detective novels set in other countries. I find it a particularly interesting way of travelling because of the glimpses I get into another society.
I went to Italy via The Crocodile by Maurizio de Giovanni, a bestselling whodunnit recently translated from Italian. A Sicilian detective finds himself exiled to Naples after being named as a Mafia informer. He is of course innocent. He’s supposed to spend the day pretending to work but gets himself involved in the investigation of a series of murders. It’s a book full of very Italian preoccupations and attitudes.
Then I was off to China with Don’t Cry, Lake Tai part of an excellent and evocative series written by a former resident of Shanghai. They feature Inspector Chen, poet and policeman. Being a police officer in China it seems, is as much a political job as a police job. Guessing how much of the truth your superiors will tolerate you finding and who you can arrest without losing you job, is as big a part of the investigation as finding the culprit.
Further west I alighted in Istanbul with Deadline by Barbara Nadel. I always enjoy my visits to Istanbul with Nadel, feeling convinced I have just gotten off the plane when I finish the book. In this case she sets her story in the historic Pera Palas Hotel. This sumptuously decorated hotel really exists and was built in 1892 to host passengers from the Orient Express. The narrative unfolds during a charity fundraising banquet in the newly renovated building.
Then 1222 by Anne Holt took me to an old hotel in the wintery high mountains of Norway. Stranded after a train crash and huge snow storm, the train passengers make the perfect “country house murder” participants. In a very Scandinavian way of course.
I obviously took my eye off the ball on this one. I have been busy looting my “for later shelf” in my library catalogue account for my reading and forgot to keep up with the latest releases.
Determined I shouldn’t miss out on this year’s gems I started looking at the Golden Dagger Awards which are always a good guide to those who like British mysteries. This year Gene Kerrigan carried it off with his novel The Rage. One of the emerging genre of Irish crime writers, Kerrigan’s writing has both depth and readability. The judges described The Rage as “a complex noir thriller that’s multi-layered and solidly written, with great style and pace”
The equivalent American mystery award is The Edgars, which was won this year by Mo Hayder, for her novel Gone. Hayder is a bit gritty for my tastes, so I probably won’t follow up on that on one. However the Scandinavian Crime writer Anne Holt was also nominated for 1222 and I’ll certainly be reading after seeing this review.
Old friends Jo Nesbo (The Leopard), James Lee Burke (Creole Belle), and Colin Cotterill (Grandad There’s a Head on the Beach) also appear on a number of different lists. I have read Grandad There’s a Head on the Beach, but I am still catching up on the back catalogues of both Nesbo and Burke, so I’ll save those for later.
I’m sorry to say that Cotterill’s latest lost me a bit. His gentle humour is still in evidence but I found Grandad There’s a Head on the Beach just too relentlessly bizarre. It features a family who have followed their dementia-afflicted mother to a crumbling resort she has purchased, located on a Thai beach that is rapidly being demolished by extreme weather. After finding a head on the beach, they become aware of the corruption and exploitation behind its non–investigation by the police.
Mysteries from my 2012 completed list:
Sixkill, the last novel Robert B Parker wrote before his death.
The Drowning by Camilla Lackberg, another excellent and readable offering from this Scandinavian author, part cosy mystery, part police procedural.
Yiddish Policemen’s Union is by Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon. It is set in an alternative history where Israel was over-run within a few years of its inception and the Jewish state ended up in a leased part of Alaska. The lease is about to run out. Quirky and satisfying.
Stagestruck, by Peter Lovesey starring one of my favourite detectives, Inspector Diamond.
Irish crime is considered the latest big thing in publishing circles and on its way to match the Scandinavians. This development has been fomented by the rapid social change and increasingly serious and widespread crime in Ireland, something which has been blamed on the Irish Tiger phenomenon.
It is a lot less easy to quantify than Scandinavian crime, being much more varied in style and content. It stretches from cosy crime to the sort of tough (and violent) noir that I associate with best-selling American crime authors.
The biggest names in Irish noir are Declan Hughes, Ken Bruen and Neville Stuart.
Declan Hughes has been compared to Raymond Chandler, Elmore Leonard and Donald Westlake, and admits to being influenced by all of them. His PI Ed Loy, both comic and dark, fits well into the classic noir tradition.
Ken Bruen features a hard living detective called Jack Taylor. He is known for both his gritty stories and his poetic language.
Stuart Neville’s first book “The Twelve” about hard man and ex-IRA killer Gerry Fegan was hailed – both as crime of the hard boiled variety, and as literature.
There are also some pretty good police procedurals. Some of the best known are:
Tana French, a multi-award winning writer of books which combined police procedural and psychological suspense.
Brian McGilloway whose skillful writing is full of social ambiguity and a cast of characters who are the part of the inherited history of a troubled society.
Gene Kerrigan, whose characters are often honest Garda at war with a corrupt system. His stories tend to be as much a portrayal of contemporary Ireland as they are crime stories.
And then there’s Benjamin Black, actually Booker prize winner John Banville. His well-reviewed series features a consultant pathologist in the Dublin City morgue. Quirke is a hard drinking loner, more at home with corpses than living people, but is driven to find out the truth.
What these books have in common is that they treat Ireland as such an integral part of their stories that they give a view into a modern Ireland with which many of us would not be familiar. In this they perhaps mimic the appeal of the Scandinavians, introducing us a to a new and yet familiar social milieu.
There is quite a lot of cosy Irish crime as well, some of it very witty and all of it good reading, but it tends to be more generic and won’t tell you as much about either the Irish, or Ireland.
You’ll find all of these and more in our booklist of Irish crime.
If you’re looking for some new crime authors give them a go and have some happy St Patrick’s Day reading.