A Sleuth’s Tour of Europe

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Things have come a long way since Agatha Christie took crime fiction fans on the Orient Express and to the banks of the River Nile and the genre is now one of the most popular around. There’s a wealth of excellent crime fiction available in translation and in English, and the best authors manage to convey a sense of place as well as telling exciting, well crafted stories. If you’re looking for some ideas on what to pack this summer, look no further. I have some suggestions to take you around Europe.

Arabesk by Barbara Nadel - 9780747262190This year, in the light of the hit the Pound has taken, many holiday makers are looking to Turkey to make their money go further. While this might seem a very European country to those whose only experience is the busy coastal resorts, Turkey is a complicated and richly diverse country that does struggle at times to reconcile the old and new, modernisation and tradition. One author who does a great job of conveying this dichotomy is Barbara Nadel, an English woman with extensive knowledge of Turkey who created the Inspector Ikmen series. Try ‘Arabesk’ in which Ikmen has to investigate the mysterious death of the wife of a famous Arabesk singer. Not only is it a great story, but it’s a fascinating look at a very Turkish musical phenomenon.

Going back to Ottoman Istanbul, Jason Goodwin’s ‘Yashim the Eunuch’ series are entertaining and enlightening. In the first novel ‘The Janissary Tree’ (full review here), Yashim, who used to be a well respected guard for the Sultan’s mother, is asked to look into untoward events because he has inside knowledge of the Topkapi Palace and the workings of the court.

Over to the Italy now where two names stand out. Donna Leon and Michael Dibdin are both foreigners who have set their novels in Italy and both feature wonderful lead characters; Dibdin’s unorthodox Aurelio Zen features in ten novels, while the star of Leon’s series is Commissario Brunetti of the Venice police. The thing I really like about her novels is the way she provides each time an insight into some new aspect of Venice and the attitudes of Venetians. In ‘Death in a Strange Country’ (full review here) Brunetti has to look into the death of an American public health inspector from a military base in Vicenza, but found dead in a Venice canal. Brunetti is an engaging character but the real star is Venice and this is a great way for readers to really get under the skin of this amazing city.

An Olympic Death (Pepe Carvalho Mysteries):  Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Ed Emory: Books  Over to Spain and this time the unlikely pairing of food and crime in the Pepe Carvalho novels by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán. The quirky Carvalho is a private detective with a passion for food and the books are crammed with descriptions of the delicious dishes he and his sidekick Biscuter rustle up in their tiny office. My favourite is ‘An Olympic Death’ in which Pepe is asked to take on a case involving some foreigners hoping to cash in on Barcelona’s Olympics. It’s an eye opening look at what went on beneath the glitzy surface of the games.

Another foreigner writing in English but capturing the essence of a city is Robert Wilson who sets his novels featuring Detective Inspector Javier Falcon in sultry Seville. Check out “The Hidden Assassins” (full review here) which is a dramatic look at how Islamic immigrants and Spanish people live together in Andalusia. Often given to dark thoughts, Falcon is nevertheless an engaging character and Wilson has created for him a background that gives him a sense of reality but doesn’t overshadow the main plot.

Scandinavia is well known for a thriving crime fiction scene and is probably best known for Henning Mankell’s Ystad based Inspector Wallander. The Dogs of Riga: A Kurt Wallander Mystery (Kurt Wallander Mysteries) by Henning MankellIndeed his novels are rightfully cited as among the best of the genre and are guaranteed to get the brain cells of any armchair detective working over time.  In ‘The Dogs of Riga’ (full review here) the brooding Wallander investigates the deaths of two Latvian men found washed up in a life raft on Sweden’s coast and becomes personally involved in Latvia’s struggle for democracy. Of course, there are many other excellent writers producing quality crime thrillers in Scandinavia. I especially like Mari Jungstedt who sets her novels on the picturesque island of Gotland off the coast of Sweden; her debut novel ‘Unseen’ (full review here) is not without flaws but it is worth reading the novels in sequence.

Claude Izner takes readers back to fin de siècle Paris for a series of novels in which Montmartre bookseller Victor Legris is the sleuth involved in a variety of cases that often involve the artistic and cultural community. Claude Izner is actually the alias of two sisters who write in French but these novels have been expertly created, evoking time and place quite wonderfully. In ‘The Pere Lachaise Mystery’ Legris is forced to act when he hears of the disappearance of the widow Odette de Valois (a former lover of his) during a visit to Pere Lachaise cemetery. When Odette’s maid is found dead, Legris must act quickly.

Finally to Greece and the novels of Petros Markaris whose Costas Haritas is a detective in the Athens police. ‘Late-Night News’ is the first in the series and is a good introduction to this stubborn fifty-something policeman. There’s a strong feeling of ‘noir’ here and it’s a very atmospheric and satisfying novel. Here Haritas is charged with solving the murder of an Albanian couple found dead in their home and is pretty sure it’s a simple case until he hears of the suspicious death of a television journalist looking at the same case.

This is just a small selection of the great writing in this varied and exciting genre. I would love to hear your comments and suggestions for further reading.


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The Dogs of Riga
by Henning Mankell

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Written by Mary Bor