Friday, September 25, 2009

Mass Shadow Walking

My editor at Berkley Prime Crime, the ever-enthusiastic Leis Pederson, has just been kind enough to send me an advance sighting of the cover of the forthcoming US mass market edition of The Shadow Walker.  All of the Berkley covers have been terrific and this, as you can see, is no exception - I think it's quite superb.  And it's fascinating to see yet another different visual interpretation of the book. 

The new edition is due for publication in March next year. 

Friday, September 18, 2009

More men who hate women

Not long after making my slightly bemused way through Steig Larsson's The Girl Who Played with Fire, I read Denise Mina's splendid first novel, Garnethill.  I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to get round to Denise Mina.  I have a horrible feeling it may be because, somewhere in the back of my mind, I had her rather pigeonholed as a woman's writer (not, as Jerry Seinfeld would say, that there's anything wrong with that. And maybe at that point I should stop digging).

Certainly, there are strands to Mina's writing which might (very unfairly) be characterised as chicklit noir. But by that I mean only that she writes superbly well about young women, their relationships (with each other and with men), and their problems.  But in Mina's writing the problems tend to be more profound than just looking for the new Mr Darcy - sexual and physical abuse, poverty, alcoholism. 

That makes the book sound depressing - and in some ways it is - but what I loved about Mina's writing is the wit and warmth.  She is particularly good at presenting the mutually supporting relationships between her heroine Maureen and her closest friends and her brother.  But there's nothing cosy or sentimental about Mina's world - one of Maureen's closest confidents apparently betrays her, her mother is a manipulative alcoholic, and her other siblings are best loved from a continent away. 

The book explores some of the same territory as Larsson's books - sexual abuse, violence against woman - but their styles are very different.  I was intrigued by a piece by Nick Cohen in last Sunday's Observer, which highlighted Larsson's revolutionary socialist background.  Larsson treats politics, including sexual politics, as a crusade - his approach is worthy and well-intentioned but often feels to me patronising (with the emphasis on the 'patr-') and didactic.  Mina, by contrast, just presents us with life, in all its messiness and confusion.  Like Lisbeth Salander, Maureen is a victim of sexual abuse.  But Maureen isn't a brilliant kick-boxing computer hacker.  She's just a young woman in a dead-end job who drinks too much, has a history of depression, and gets into messy relationships with married men.  She gets things seriously, even fatally, wrong even when she thinks she's being smart.  But she has enough bottle, resilience and street-nous to get to places the police can't. 

Mina's world doesn't divide, on the whole, between good and evil, but between those who are messed up and those who are even more messed up.  Few escape unharmed and many end up harming others, however decent theirintentions.  But the characters and dialogue sparkle, carrying us through the grimmest moments, buoyed up on a tide of wine, whisky and weed. 

There were lots of things I loved about this book.  Not least, whereas most crime fiction gives us police procedure from the police's point of view, here we see things through Maureen's eyes, as the detectives shift from seeing her as a potential suspect, then as an unhelpful witness and, finally, as a resented ally.  The interview scenes are terrific - truculent deadpan dialogue with neither side sure what the other is up to. 

It's not a perfect book - the plot perhaps eventually stretches credulity a notch too far and, for those inclined to such things, it's probably not that difficult to guess who done it.  But those are minor quibbles - what lingers are the characters, the settings and the dialogue.  I can't wait to read more. 

I notice that Mina's recently been in the usual spat with James Kelman about the relative merits of Scottish crime and literary fiction.  Having now read both authors, i know which I'd pick.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mongolian morsels

Apologies - I've been a little quieter than planned on here lately, just because various other commitments have been taking up my time.  I'll try to make up for it over the next couple of weeks.  In the meantime, here are a couple of stories relating to Mongolia.  The first is an interesting overview of the Mongolian media scene from the South African Independent On-Line.  The second story isn't really about Mongolia at all, but I draw it to your attention only because the journalist for the Times, the paper of record, appears to think that Mongolia is part of China. 

Oh, and you may recall that a few weeks ago I mentioned a proposed expedition in search of the legendary Mongolian death-worm.  You've no doubt all been on the edge of your seats wondering how that turned out.  I'm pleased to report that the intrepid explorers came back safely, but the evidence for the creature's existence still seems rather inconclusive...