Saturday, November 21, 2009

Hypothermia: Arnuldur Indridason

A woman wanting to get away from it all borrows her friend's cottage. It's a cold autumn night and she arrives to discover her friend hanging from a beam. Everyone believes it's suicide. The dead woman had been depressed since the death of her mother two years earlier. However the friend doesn't believe it and approaches Detective Erlandur.

Erlandur is interested enough to begin an unofficial investigation. At the same time he is haunted by the mysterious disappearance of two young people over thirty years earlier.

There is something very disconnected about HYPOTERHMIA which didn't quite work for me. For a start all Erlandur's investigations are unofficial. He isn't on vacation; so how is he allowed to take all this time to persue private interests? His colleagues make only the briefest of appearances at the beginning of the book and take no further part. In fact they aren't even mentioned.

Erlandur's daughter, Eva Lind then begins to nag Erlandur to meet up with his ex-wife and talk to her. He asks her why but she doesn't really give any answer. When they do meet there are recriminations on both sides. Nothing is really achieved. The thread is then dropped. It doesn't relate to anything else in the book; it just hangs there on its own without any resolution at all.

There is also a thread about Erlandur's childhood trauma of being lost in the snow with his father and brother. His brother was never found. Again it seems to be a thread hanging there and not connected to anything else at all.

The whole family is somewhat dysfuncational and Erlandur in particular has great difficulty communnicating. It can make for frustrating reading.

While the plot of HYPOTHERMIA is interesting enough, the disconnection of the plot threads and Erlandur from everyone around him, make the book less than satisfying.

Apologies to those who have left comments on my site recently.

I only just discovered a bunch of comments. It appears the comments notification gizmo isn't working and I haven't been getting emails when someone has left a comment. Off to find out why.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Review: ICE COLD - Andrea Maria Schenkel

Andrea Maria Schenkel's first novel, THE MURDER FARM won considerable acclaim for its clever orginality. While it's not exactly factual, it's not entirely fiction either. Rather it's the fictionalised story of a real case cleverly interwoven with witness statements taken at the time of the murder.

Schenkel's second novel ICE COLD does something very similar with the rape/murders of a number of young women in Munich just months before the outbreak of World War II.

The main focus of the book is Kathie. A young country girl who comes to Munich wanting to get away from the restrictions of her life with her family. She discovers getting a job is harder than she thought and finds herself in a somewhat sleazy world of late night bars, casual sex and occasional prostitution.

Kathie's story is the thread that ties the narrative together. In between learning Kathie's story is a series of witness statements taken from people who knew or had contact with other young woman who were murdered at the same time as Kathie is making her way in Munich.

Somehow the format that worked so well in "The Murder Farm" doesn't seem to have quite the same impact in ICE COLD. Whether it's because of the story of that the novelty of the unusual format isn't as fresh, I'm not sure.

Perhaps it was the blurb on the book jacket which asked the question, "but is he really guilty?" It is a question that maybe leads to false expections about the ending. I found myself none the wiser at the end of the book than I did when I first opened it. It could be more the fault of the publicists and powers that be who decide what goes on the blurbs, than the writer's. Whatever the reason I was left feeling quite unsatisifed by the ending of ICE COLD which wasn't present in "The Murder Farm".

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Review: MEANER THAN FICTION - edited by Lindy Cameron

The law is there to protect us, right? To bring justice to victims; to punish the wrong-diers. WRONG!

MEANER THAN FICTION is a series of pieces written by crime writers, lawyers, academics and those involved in the legal/justice system that demonstrates that the legal system doesn't always dispense justice.

Lindy Cameron writes about the doctor who was in the wrong place at the wrong time when a man who felt he was wronged by the medical profession, unable to find the doctor he was seeking, decided to take out his anger on the nearest medical professional. He was shot several times and the perpetrator spent less than two years in prison. Compensation for being a victim of crime, came too little, too late for the doctor whose subsequent ill-health and the long legal procedings took a high toll on his practice.

Or how about Shelly Robertson, the forensic pathologist, who is constantly being frustrated by constraints on her testimony? Her thoughts are that the oath should be changed from "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" to "the truth, those bits of it I'm allowed to give and nothing but the truth.". She claims that after the lawyers have finished, what the jury hears is far from the whole truth.

Leigh Redhead tells the story of her younger sister's encounter with a peeping tom/hidden camera pervert.

Robin Bowles recounts the long fight by Bernard Munro against bureaucracy to try and have the authorities reopen the inquest into his daughter's death. He encountered brick walls and backside covering.

Kerry Greenwood delves into the past and finds several instances of injustices done and the tenacious souls who worked tirelessly to right wrongs.

All these pieces add up to a compelling, if slightly depressing examination of the flaws in our legal system.

The title of the book, MEANER THAN FICTION is an apt one. If these stories had been crime fiction, readers would have been up in arms about unresolved plots and untidy endings. For many of the people in the book there is no happy ending, because this is life and it is MEANER THAN FICTION.