Forbrydelsen (Eng. The Killing) (2007) by Soren Sveistrup

My attention span for watching TV programmes has become progressively worse since the advent of easily portable internet capable devices but remembering the hype about this show from almost 10 years ago, I decided that something with subtitles would force me to concentrate 100% on what I was watching and stop me being distracted.

Episode 1 of 20 begins with DCI Sarah Lund’s final day on the Copenhagen police force before she is due to move to Sweden with her son Mark to start a new life with her boyfriend Bengt. However the finding of a video store card (remember those?) and a woman’s underwear leads to the discovery of a vicious rape and murder. Initially forced to stay on by her boss, she ultimately becomes obsessed with the case, with serious ramifications for both her professional and personal life.

Her partner, Jan Meyer, is the man who was due to replace her, which gives their relationship a distinct edge, exacerbated by the fact that he is a heavy smoker and she is trying to quit.

The story unfolds primarily around three groups of people: the police, the victim’s family, and, for reasons which quickly become clear, those involved in the election for city mayor.

For fans of the Golden Age, there is a neat dying message clue – which I think an observant person may be able to make use of, not that I did – and a most unusual alibi.

Each episode ends in some form of cliffhanger and after watching an episode every day I binged the last eight over three evenings so it definitely does draw you in. Unbelievably when originally screened in Denmark, there was a six month break half-way through!

It hasn’t done much for my Danish – I could say thank you, wife, and answer the phone – but if you’re looking for something to wile away the long winter nights of lockdown phase 2 you could do a lot worse than give this a go and attempt to work out who killed Nanna Birk Larsen.




Mystery on Southampton Water (1934) by Freeman Wills Crofts

A number of GAD authors could start a book with a board meeting but when the directors work for the Joymount Rapid Hardening Cement Manufacturing Company you know you’re reading Freeman Wills Crofts.

JRHCMC had been recovering from the Great Depression but now a close competitor, Chayle’s, is undercutting them and the future is bleak. Their chemical engineer, King, has analysed Chayle’s product and found that it contains an additional element. If he can identify how it is made then the firm may be able to save themselves from ruin.

King makes insufficient progress in his experiments and determines to gain the secret of the new process by illegal means and persuades Brand, the finance director, to help him, overcoming his argument that what he intends to do is plain theft by saying:

“And what about their stealing our jobs? They were doing quite well out of their concern. We were all making our living comfortably and satisfactorily. Then they see how they can make some more. Do they think about us? No, we may starve, so that they can double their share. What about that? Do you think it’s not legitimate to protect ourselves against that sort of thing?”

Their scheme does not go according to plan but after a bad night of unpleasant work they believe they have successfully covered their traces. Enter Chief Inspector Joseph French who will meticulously follow every lead until he brings his men to justice.

This is very much a morality play as we see the consequences for the weak Brand of one bad decision that leads inevitable to greater wrongdoing. The third quarter adds in an additional moral dimension from which none escape unscathed.

I haven’t read “Crime at Guildford” yet but of the other five recently reprinted French cases this is the top of the pile. It is a well structured inverted mystery which then throws a few curve balls at the reader in the second half. There was one aspect that I wasn’t happy with at the time but which was later satisfactorily explained.

Here’s hoping that HarperCollins treat us to another half-dozen Crofts’ sometime soon!



#58 – 4.50 from Paddington

“Oh, Jane,” she wailed. “I’ve just seen a murder!”

True to the precepts handed down to her by her mother and grandmother – to wit: that a true lady can neither be shocked nor surprised – Miss Marple merely raised her eyebrows and shook her head, as she said:

Most distressing for you, Elspeth, and surely most unusual. I think you had better tell me about it at once.”

During the short time that her train was running alongside another, the blind opposite popped open, allowing Mrs McGillicuddy to have seen the back of man as he strangled a woman. Neither the railway authorities nor the police are interested in her story, particularly when no body is discovered.

Miss Marple however knows that Elspeth McGillicuddy is the last person to have invented such a scenario and determines that she will try to find out the truth of the matter.

With information gathered from various sources she is able to reconstruct the crime and finds that there is one area where a body may have been disposed of, near to Rutherford Hall. She persuades super servant Lucy Eyelesbarrow to take a position there with instructions to search the neighbourhood for a corpse, which she duly finds.

These opening chapters are the strongest aspect of the book – Miss Marple is very Inspector French-like in her method of checking train timetables and embarking on several journeys herself to figure out how a body could have been removed from the train unseen.

We then move into a typical Christie family situation when the men of the Crackenthorpe family all assemble at Rutherford Hall and the police investigate whether anyone has any knowledge of who the dead woman may be.

The story moves upon nicely until we get to a pair of somewhat unnecessary late murders before a set-piece denouement which is almost as good as the opening scene but the identity of the killer comes straight from Miss Marple’s intuition and their motivation has been made known to the police but not really hinted to the reader. And whilst coincidence often plays a role in GAD fiction, there is a massive one involved here, which surely could have been handled better.

Interestingly, Miss Marple feels too old for any more adventures and takes a back seat in proceedings, so she must get a second wind when she later takes a trip to the West Indies and then traipses round the country on a coach tour – perhaps the spirit of Nemesis has a rejuvenating effect!

Recurring character development

Miss Marple

Her current maid is described as “elderly”.

Makes her own cowslip wine.

Her nephew Raymond West had retained Lucy’s services to look after Miss Marple when she was recovering from pneumonia. He has two sons; David, the younger, works for British Railways.

She is often invited to the vicarage for Christmas dinner. This is still home to the Clements who were central characters in “The Murder at the Vicarage”.

Her handwriting is “spiky and spidery and frequently underlined”.

Supports capital punishment, at least in this case, and laments that is has been abolished. This is not strictly true as the Homicide Act 1957 allowed for the use of the death penalty for six types of murder, one of which was committing two murders on separate occasions in Great Britain.

Signs of the Times

The murder takes place on Friday 20th December which places the start of the story in 1957, the year of publication. The investigation takes place in January 1958, so when Alexander talks about Stoddart-West’s parents taking him out to see the Test match in Australia next year, he is referring to the 1958-59 Ashes series, which England would go on to lose 4-0.

Alfred Crackenthorpe worked for the Ministry of Supply during WWII. This ministry was created in 1939 to co-ordinate the supply of equipment to all three forces of the British military. It was abolished in 1959.

References to previous works

The business at Little Paddocks is mentioned a number of times which was documented in “A Murder is Announced” and there are some vague spoilers towards the end of this book about that case.

The Blue Hammer (1976) by Ross Macdonald

I only read this because I picked it up as part of a job lot of the “Library of Crime” series but thought I’d briefly post about it as it tied in nicely with JJ’s latest podcast.

Although it was written in the Seventies and is actually the last of the Lew Archer novels in a series that began in 1949 it begins with two classic GAD tropes: a stolen painting which may have been painted by a man who disappeared twenty five years ago never to be seen again. This is followed by murders in the present day which may have a connection to a thirty year old murder. The solution itself is as twisty as anything from the Golden Age and yet it’s not a book that I can imagine re-reading.

I think this book has helped to clarify why I generally don’t like private eye stories. Like many this is told in the first person and I think having the detective as narrator is a problem because they often keep their cards close to their chest both from other characters and the reader and they tend to work alone. The classic detective either has their own Watsonesque sidekick or works alongside the police and so you get a back and forth of ideas generally culminating with a big reveal and explanation. In this book you don’t get that sense of progression of the detective’s ideas, any idea of how they have built a case – events happen, people talk, and the truth is found, but not really through any deduction on the part of the detective which to me is unsatisfactory.

Having said all that, this afternoon I picked up an omnibus of Dashiell Hammett’s “The Dain Curse” and “The Glass Key”, but as it was an Everyman Library hardback for just £1, what else was I supposed to do? Here’s to detective fiction in all its guises!

Roseanna (1965) by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo (translated by Lois Roth)

Following the publication in 1948 of their novel “The Toys of Death”, G.D. H. and M. Cole retired from the field of detective fiction. Their mantle of partnered-socialist-crime writers was not taken back up until 1965 when Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö wrote “Roseanna” the first installment of a planned ten part saga, to be known collectively as “The Story of a Crime” which would shine a light on their belief that “there’s something rotten in the state of Sweden”.

Fortunately you don’t have to be a fellow-traveller to enjoy this series which traces the career of their central character, Martin Beck, over a period of ten years.

Beck is almost an anti-Maigret: Maigret is a happily married man, slightly regretful that they have been unable to have children, but generally content with his lot, whereas for Beck:

“One year after the birth of their daughter, there wasn’t much left of the happy and lively girl he had fallen in love with and their marriage had slipped into a fairly dull routine.”

Maigret is constantly eating and drinking but Beck can barely stomach any kind of food. Fate smiles upon Maigret and gifts criminals into his hands but for Beck, this particular case at least, is hard and misfortune dogs his steps, particularly when his trap is eventually sprung.

This book begins when a dredger unearths the body of a young woman from the Göta Canal. No one of her description has been reported missing and so it takes some time before she is identified as the titular “Roseanna”. Even this is scant information and it takes even longer before Beck comes up with a means that might, just might, give them more information on who her killer was. This is followed by a tense scene as we see the police reviewing key pieces of evidence, praying that it will give them what they are looking for. More dogged police teamwork finds a suspect but can they bring him to justice?

This is definitely a police procedural rather than clued whodunnit, but through the series we do see nods to the Golden Age. The next book “The Man Who Went Up In Smoke” if I recall correctly has a Croftsian style plot, “The Laughing Policeman” includes a variant of a well-worn trope and there is even the ironic “The Locked Room” which amused me although not recommended for those seeking an innovate howdunnit.

You may not like the torrent of Scandi-noir that has appeared since Sjöwall and Wahlöö started their series, but there is no denying the influence that they have had on the direction of crime fiction and it is worth reading at least one Beck just for that.