Archive for November 2018

Book review – The Frozen Dead

The Frozen Dead (2011), by French author Bernard Minier, was recommended to me by the same individual who recommended The Axeman’s Jazz.  Having thoroughly enjoyed the latter, I had high hopes therefore for The Frozen Dead.

We find ourselves in a small village in the Pyrenees, which just so happens to be located in close proximity to an asylum housing France’s most dangerous criminals.  Our first victim is a horse, whose method of death was decapitation.  So far, so gruesome.  The horse’s owner is one Eric Lombard, one of France’s wealthiest and well connected individuals, which means that the police are throwing all the resource they can at solving the case.  Enter our protagonist-in-chief, Commandant Servaz, who, while vexed at being called out to investigate the death of an animal, suspects that there is more at hand than might first appear. Servaz’s hunch is, as you’d expect, proved right.  DNA is found at the crime scene belonging to one of the inmates of the asylum, Julian Hirtmann, a Hannibal Lecter-type and former prosecutor.  Moreover, other bodies (human this time) start turning up, or, more accurately, hanging down…

I’ll get right to it and say that I really enjoyed The Frozen Dead (TFD).  Commandant Martin Servaz, with whom we spend most of our time, is a likeable and engaging character.  He’s not a super-cop, just a regular detective who’s very good at his job, similar in a way to Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus but with a lot less attitude.  We also spend time with Diane Berg, a psychiatrist who arrives at the asylum the same day the murdered horse is discovered.  Like Servaz, Berg begins to have suspicions of her own and conducts her own informal investigation from within the asylum.  While important to the plot as a whole, I found this subplot a little distracting and drawn out.  The book has plenty of other characters, all of whom are perfectly serviceable but perhaps a little two-dimensional.  That being said, it left me wanting to find out more about them and I’d hope to meet some of the characters again.

If you enjoy thrillers with lots of twists, turns, and red herrings then TFD has plenty to offer.  Some events, including the denouement, are a little over the top but perhaps this is to be expected in the first of any series of novels.  But there’s a good balance between these events and the good old fashioned investigative work that makes the reader feel part of the investigation.

Despite its 478 pages, which could easily be trimmed, I whizzed through TFD and recommend it.  At the time of writing the Commandant Servaz series is up to five books and I certainly plan on reading the second installment.

Book review – Standing in Another Man’s Grave

Ian Rankin’s Rebus is one of my favourite literary creations.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve read as many books by any other author.  Standing in Another Man’s Grave (2012) (363 pages), the 18th novel in the Inspector Rebus series, takes the total to an unsurprising 18.  It’s been about ten years since I read Exit Music (2007), which at the time was supposedly Rankin’s final Rebus novel, what with Rebus’s imminent retirement.  I only recently became aware that Rebus had returned to the book shelves and, moreover, that Rankin published the 21st Rebus novel in 2016.  So it was with a combination of curiosity and a little reticence that I picked up where I left off…

We find Rebus retired from the policy force but employed as a civilian in Edinburgh’s cold case unit.  By chance Rebus answers the door of the cold case unit to the mother of a girl who had gone missing years ago.  Another girl has recently gone missing and the mother suspects that the two are linked.  Rebus is convinced that there’s something to the hypothesis and drags the cold case into the middle of the more recent investigation and the limelight, and in true Rebus style, stepping on a few toes in the process.

I hadn’t expected Rebus to have changed: he’s still the proverbial dog with a bone; never shy at telling senior officers the truth as he sees it; and willing to bend a few rules here and there.  So far, so Rebus.  We’re also in familiar company with the likes of “Big Ger'” Cafferty and DI Siobhan Clarke.  ‘Standing’ also introduces us to a few new characters, including James Page (Siobhan’s DCI and love interest), Malcolm Fox (a detective in Internal Affairs who’s gunning for Rebus), and villains in the shape of Frank Hammell (an old associate of Cafferty’s) and Darryl Christie (who’s not yet out of his teens and I suspect a future thorn in Rebus’s side).  A handful of officers add to the mix but they don’t quite have the relationship that Rebus would have had with others, for example, the pathologist Dr. Curt.  Other trusted objects of Rebus’s, and our, affections remain, such as the musical references, Rebus’s Saab, and The Oxford (Rebus’s local).

It’s all there but perhaps not quite.  The plot feels like a typical Rebus one but there’s something missing.  Perhaps it’s the lack of banter Rebus has with other officers, despite Malcolm Fox being a welcome addition.  Or perhaps it’s the lack of an intimate relationship which we’d usually find in a Rebus novel. Regardless, the book is as well written as I’d expect and reading it felt like putting on an old pair of shoes.  For its shortcomings. it’s still a Rebus book which means that it’s better than most things out there.

Rebus 19 here we come!

Songs from the Vault

When I pull Songs from the Vault together I often have a sense of what I want to do, such as a particular theme or genre that I want to delve into.  Sometimes themes emerge as I put pen to paper as in this instance.  So without further to do welcome to this edition of SFTV and to a female artists special…

First up is a tune I first heard on David Holmes’ Essential Mix album from 1998 (which is a truly great mix album), Marlena Shaw’s California Soul.  Featuring on a 1969 album by Shaw and written by Ashford and Simpson you know within the first few seconds that you’re in for something special.  I’m sure you’ll agree…

Our next track finds us in the same decade but a couple of years earlier, in 1967.  The Fairest of the Seasons is the first track on Nico’s Chelsea Girl album, which followed her collaboration a year earlier with the Velvet Underground (on the famous Andy Warhol ‘banana’ album).  Like California Soul, Fairest was written by a famous tune smith, Jackson Browne (with Gregory Copeland), who plays guitar on the track.  Nico (real name Christa Päffgen) has such an identifiable voice given her provenance (she was born in Cologne) and the decision to have strings on the track was a stroke of genius…

We’re jumping to 1993 now for You’re in a Bad Way by Saint Etienne, featuring the vocals of Sarah Cracknell.  I was never a big fan of the band but you’ve got to give credit where credit’s due.  The song is a tip of the hat to the 1960s, which you can hear from the instrumentation of the tune, or at least see from the video.  It’s a perfect slice of pop music that sounds as good now as it did 25 years ago…

I recently saw Baltimore’s Beach House play at London’s Troxy.  The only thing missing from the gig was perhaps a tune or two without the dense wave of sound that washed over the venue and audience.  One song in particular that I was hoping the band would play (but didn’t) and which ticked this box is On the Sea.  So here it is and if ever a band’s name, song title and sound ever came together it’s this…

Last up is Galang from 2003 by Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam, more commonly known as M.I.A.  The Hounslow-born rapper wasn’t on my radar until I heard a cover of Galang on the Vijay Iyer trio’s 2009 album Historicity.  If I had to pick a preferred version it’d be Vijay Iyer’s every time. If you don’t listen to jazz, check it out, it may well change your perception of what jazz is.  So here are both versions…

I hope you enjoyed this edition of SFTV and let me know what you think of this selection of tunes, espeically M.I.A. vs. the Vijay Iyer trio.