The Dogs of Riga – Henning Mankell

April 6, 2013

I enjoyed Henning Mankell’s first Kurt Wallander novel, Faceless Killers, for its realism and gimmick-free protagonist.  So, when I was having a tough week at work that put me in the mood for some absorbing crime fiction, I happily picked up The Dogs of Riga.  Unfortunately, everything that the first book got right, its follow-up gets wrong. Read the rest of this entry »


Arsene Lupin, Gentleman-Thief – Maurice LeBlanc

May 11, 2012

Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Burglar by Maurice…

Arsene Lupin!  Gentleman Thief!  Hyperbole!  Ridiculous plot contrivances!  Exclamation points!  But fun!  Fun!  FUN!

A good holiday read, especially if your holiday is in France.

Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer

April 3, 2012


A couple of weeks ago, ABC2’s Sunday Best aired Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer.  It’s second documentary by British filmmaker Nick Broomfield on Aileen Wuornos, often billed as America’s first female serial killer and subject of the 2002 hollywood movie Monster.

Broomfield formed something of a friendship with Wuornos, and this unique relationship provided him with access to her right up until the day before her execution in 2002.  His interviews with her are at once captivating, disturbing and saddening.  Wuornos is compelling from the moment she comes on screen.

There is her physical presence – a battered face, swept back blond hair and piercing, wild eyes.  Her large frame is hidden in prison orange, but it is hard to imagine a more formidable, frightening woman.  She is frank, prone to outbursts of rage and clearly delusional, becoming more and more convinced over the course of her incarceration that the police allowed her to kill as part of a conspiracy to make money off her story.  But her trust in the filmmaker also provides glimpses of a woman who, despite being hardened by a tragic life, is hungry for friendship. Read the rest of this entry »

Confessions of a Yakuza – Junichi Saga

January 29, 2012

Confessions of a Yakuza: A Life in Japan's…

Describe it

A well-written biography of an old-school Yakuza, providing an unvarnished account of the underworld and the underclass in early 20th century Japan.

What I loved

A lot of history focuses on leaders or the elite, whose names are committed to the ages by circumstance, ability or privilege.   Confessions of a Yakuza provides a window into the lives of the other half: the poor, the outcasts and the criminals, who inhabit a world where the importance of guts and luck are less veiled, and where it is harder to hold illusions about human nature.

It is the biography of Ichiji Eiji, as told to a country doctor, Junichi Saga.  Eiji is not an overly complicated character: he is tough, amoral and self-serving.  He upholds a sense of yakuza honour, but mostly out of self-interest.  At the age he recounts his tale, he is unconflicted about his past and given to only occasional reflection.  He also has a weakness for woman, which, throughout his storied career, causes him to lop off a few fingers in penance, as per the yakuza code. Read the rest of this entry »

Farewell, My Lovely – Raymond Chandler

September 2, 2011

Near the end of Farewell, My Lovely, a beautiful woman gazes up at Chandler’s legendary shamus, Phillip Marlowe, and says:

“’You’re so marvellous… So brave, so determined, and you work for so little money.  Everybody bats you over the head and chokes you and smacks your jaw and fills you with morphine, but you just keep right on hitting between tackle and end until they’re all worn out.  What makes you so wonderful?’”

It’s a question that you could ask not only about the prototypical hard-boiled detective, but about the author himself.  What is it that elevates both the character and the writer into a league of their own? Read the rest of this entry »

Faceless Killers – Henning Mankell

February 2, 2011

Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

Faceless Killers stands out from other crime thrillers by avoiding gimmickry.  Its detective character doesn’t have the quirky genius of Sherlock Holmes, the try-hard edginess of Lisbeth Salander, or the hard-boiled wit of Philip Marlowe.  Instead, Mankell’s protagonist, Kurt Wallander, who goes on to star in eleven more stories, is an everyman, an experienced but unexceptional cop.

At the opening of the novel, his wife has left him, he is estranged from his daughter, and his father is going senile.  His borderline alcoholism and diet of hamburgers and pizza have left him with seven unwanted kilos that he repeatedly resolves to shed, only to fail due to the stress of his job.  Apart form his abilities to go without sleep for long stretches and take a few more knocks than the average person, there’s nothing extraordinary about him. Read the rest of this entry »

The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler

August 10, 2010

Review by Gabriel

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

There’s a famous story that, during filming for the 1946 film adaptation of The Big Sleep, the director and screen writers couldn’t figure out if one of the characters in the novel had committed suicide or been murdered, so they contacted the novel’s author, Raymond Chandler, to seek clarification.  It was only at this point – seven years after the novel had been published – that Chandler realised that he didn’t know the answer.  The plot was so convoluted that even its author had trouble keeping up with it.

But The Big Sleep railroads over any faults with sheer style, thanks to its ultra-cool protagonist, colourful characters, sense of place and humour.  A warning though – because everyone has things that they can’t forgive – it’s also one of the more misogynistic books you’ll read. Read the rest of this entry »