After a break from Man Booker International Prize shadowing duties last month, I have returned to reading translated fiction with ‘Based on a True Story’ by Delphine de Vigan translated from the French by George Miller. It is about a middle-aged Parisian author, Delphine, who is befriended by a woman known throughout only as “L.” who claims to be a professional ghostwriter. L.’s presence gradually takes over every aspect of Delphine’s life to the point where their close friendship turns into something far more sinister.
It’s easy to see how politics can provide ripe subject material for novelists. From Whitehall to the White House, the settings of these stories are inevitably concerned with power, money, intrigue and risk-taking, all excellent topics for dark humour and high drama. Given that recent political developments in the United Kingdom have become stranger than fiction, it seemed like an appropriate time to read ‘House of Cards’ by Michael Dobbs. Originally published in 1989, the story follows chief whip Francis Urquhart who will stop at nothing to become Prime Minister, getting rid of his potential opponents in any way possible, mostly by orchestrating various scandals for them to fall into. However, tenacious journalist Mattie Storin is getting closer than she realises to uncovering his web of lies and deceit. Continue reading
‘Blood Wedding’ by Pierre Lemaitre and translated from the French by Frank Wynne tells the story of Sophie Duguet, a nanny who is becoming increasingly forgetful and paranoid. When the child in her care Leo is found brutally murdered, she has no recollection of what happened and goes on the run fearing that she killed him during one of her frequent blackouts. However, it soon becomes clear that something very sinister has been causing Sophie’s alarming behaviour and changing her identity won’t be the solution to her problems. Continue reading
Last year, I went to an event in London to celebrate the work of classic crime fiction novelists Eric Ambler and Margery Allingham and I’ve finally got round to reading two of Ambler’s best known novels ‘Epitaph for a Spy’ and ‘Journey into Fear’, reissued as Penguin Modern Classics for his centenary in 2009. ‘Epitaph for a Spy’ tells the story of Joseph Vadassy, a Hungarian refugee and languages teacher who is on holiday in the south of France. When his camera is swapped with one whose film contains sensitive photos of secret naval installations in Toulon, Vadassy comes under suspicion of being a Gestapo agent. To convince the police that he isn’t guilty of espionage, he must find out which of the guests staying at the Hôtel de la Réserve is the real spy. Continue reading
Last week, I attended another bloggers event at the Groucho Club in London to celebrate the work of classic crime writers Margery Allingham and Eric Ambler with short talks delivered by Barry Pike, a founder and Chairman of the Margery Allingham Society, and Simon Brett, a crime writer and Ambler expert. I developed an interest in classic crime fiction after reading Martin Edwards’ compendium of the genre The Golden Age of Murder last summer which outlined the lives and works of key members of the Detection Club in the early 20th century including Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley among others. I was therefore very keen to learn more about two other crime writers whose names were familiar to me but whose novels I had never read before.
‘I Am Pilgrim’ by Terry Hayes opens with an elite intelligence agent codenamed Pilgrim being brought out of retirement to investigate the brutal murder of a woman in the rundown Eastside Inn in New York whose identifying features have all been dissolved with acid. Meanwhile, Pilgrim is also attempting to track down a Saudi Arabian doctor known as the Saracen who was radicalised after his father was publicly beheaded and is seeking revenge by unleashing a deadlier version of smallpox on the United States. It later transpires that the two investigations are closely linked. Continue reading
‘Disclaimer’ by Renee Knight tells the story of Catherine Ravenscroft, a woman who starts reading a book entitled ‘The Perfect Stranger’ which she doesn’t remember buying and has mysteriously turned up on her bedside table in the chaos of moving house. However, although supposedly fictional, the story is about a real life-changing event which happened to Catherine twenty years ago. Neither her husband Robert nor her son Nicholas know about it and the words in the disclaimer “any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is unintentional and purely coincidental” have been deliberately crossed out in red ink. The author of the book is Stephen Brigstocke, a retired teacher who wants to make Catherine pay for what happened all of those years ago. Continue reading