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Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Novel set in Gibraltar and Morocco (sleuthing in Europe)

Shadow of the Rock by Thomas Mogford, set in Gibraltar and Morocco

Spike Sanguinetti can happily find his place alongside other European sleuths, and probably (we believe) is the first to be based on the Rock of Gibraltar. But he isn’t a detective, he is a tax lawyer who is a compelling character on a mission to defend his friend of many years, Solomon Hassan.

Solomon stands accused of murder of a young woman, across the water in Tangiers and Sanguinetti travels there to try and delay Solomon’s extradition to stand trial – he is Jewish and fears incarceration in North Africa.

Tangiers is very different to the Rock, that “magical island for the idle English’ as Mogford describes it at one point, (and amazingly is apparently only the size of Hyde Park – the things you learn!).

From Gibraltar dive right into the melee, then, that is Morocco. The pace is generally languorous so that the reader is given time to assimilate the landscape, as Sanguinetti ploughs back and forth between contacts and suspects and gradually begins to explore the links that feed back to a big multinational specializing in solar energy. He soon hooks up with Zahra, a young Bedouin woman, who is looking into the disappearance of her Father, who owned the land where the multinational concern is building.

The author has really captured the feel of these two contrasting land masses, separated by the stretch of water, known as the Gut (so-called because of the dangerous cross currents feeding in and out of the Mediterranean). The Rock feels sedate and British, with names like Tank Ramp, Bedlam Court, Devil’s Tower, yet preserves its own patois, yanito, comprising Spanish, Genoese, English and Hebrew (there, yet another interesting snippet of life on the Rock gleaned from the novel!); Tangiers feels very different, hot, bustling and so very chaotic.

Throughout there are the sonorous notes of Paganini as Sanguinetti turns to his music to soothe and enjoy. This is the first novel featuring the lawyer, and he is not particularly knowable. We learn a few facts – he has a dog and a Father who has concoction of pills to swallow, but as a character he is still lean, he is not yet of the caliber of Brunetti (busy in Venice) or Montalbano (busy in Sicily). But I anticipate that he will develop over time as more books are added to the series.

Following sleuths around their locale is a great way to enjoy a good story and get to know the area. So we have cherry-picked a couple of books set around Europe for you to enjoy.

For Bordeaux we suggest Allan Massie's Death in Bordeaux set during the time of the Vichy Government during WWII.

For Florence Michele Giuttari is perfect, and we suggest A Florentine Death

Venice is unquestionably the territory of author Donna Leon who has written the hugely popular series of sleuthing novels with Guido Brunetti as the hero About Face

Sicily is brought to life by author Andrea Camilleri through his hero Inspector Montalbano, many to choose from - perhaps August Heat

Tina for the TripFiction Team.

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Monday, 24 February 2014

Novel set in London (and a bit about book sales)

It is a sobering thought that a lot of authors actually sell only a limited number of books, and as I read The Marrying of Chani Kaufman - long listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2013 - I reflected on the situation. At TripFiction we come across a phenomenal number of books that have massive merit in their own right, are beautifully written, tick so many boxes, yet just never make it to prime position in a bookshop. Talent and a bit of luck just don't seem to be enough these days.

India Knight in an article entitled Ambushed in the Old Sentimentality Shop in the Sunday Times of 11.11.12 was in part discussing the Booker Prize of October 2012. It emerged, she says, that sales figures for the shortlisted books, before the announcement of their inclusion on the list, were pitiful: Alison Moore's The Lighthouse, for example, had sold 283 copies, Jeet Thayil's Narcopolis 100 and Tan Twan Eng's The Garden of Evening Mists had had 174 buyers. Naturally sales went up after the shortlist was announced. 

Her sentiments were further echoed by Ian Rankin on Twitter 14.7.13, where he opined that a debut novelist, garnering good quotes from famed authors for the cover, plus good reviews, can still expect to sell only a few hundred copies. He was specifically referring to Robert Galbraith (who we now know to be J K Rowling). The Sunday Telegraph on 10.7.13 said that until the real author was revealed, that Galbraith had only sold 449 copies, according to Neilson Bookscan. 

What are we to make of this? Sales, whether in a bookshop or via the internet are how an author makes his/her living (just see author, Dan Smith's, recent piece entitled A Victimless Crime) so buy books. Another thing we can all do, as readers, is to write reviews, because reviews help garner new readers and new sales. There are plenty of places you can write your reviews - Goodreads, Amazon and of course here at TripFiction. And often processing thoughts and channelling them into a review is quite an interesting and rewarding exercise. Give it a go, you, too, can help authors get their works out there!

The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris set in Golders Green/HendonLondon

A tender, and at times frank peak behind the Scheitel (wig) culture of the Ultra-Orthodox community in the Golders Green/Hendon area of London.

It is a brave thing that a non-Haredi chooses to write about a culture that keeps its doors firmly closed to the outside world of modern Western culture. But I think the author has really achieved a good balance of insight, empathy and reality (as far as one can tell, of course), and for this she was rewarded by being included on the Man Booker Longlist of 2013. 

Chani, in her late teens, is waiting to be approached by the shadchan (the matchmaker) with a proposition from a potential husband, just to meet and spend a little time together. Her suitor is Baruch who espied her at a wild wedding celebration.

The story line is interwoven with the stories of others, all of whom have a connection to the couple, and through their eyes we glimpse a little of what life can be like in the Orthodox community. Like any of us, the individuals are trying to find their way through life, deflecting the bad, and embracing the good. There are a huge amount of strictures to observe in everyday life for those who aspire to be frum (religious/observant) - from food preparation, to interaction between the sexes, attire, you name it. There seems to be an overriding sense of monochrome 'colouring' their lives, a touch lacklustre, and a depressing lack of information when it comes to sex (so it was interesting to see such a brightly coloured cover on this book). But who are any of us to judge a choice of lifestyle, one which clearly becomes deeply ingrained in each new baby that arrives, and is clearly based on a very strong sense of community.

If you are not familiar with the ways of the Ultra Orthodox community, it will certainly be a revelation. It is beautifully written, well observed and for the most part sensitively written. 

And if you enjoyed this move, then we suggest Reva Mann's book The Rabbi's Daughter which will offer further insight.

Tina for the Tripfiction Team

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Friday, 21 February 2014

Novel set in Northern Europe (and certainly up there with the Nordic Noirs)

The Strangler’s Honeymoon by Håkan Nesser set in Northern Europe

The Strangler’s Honeymoon starts and finishes on a sunny Greek Island – but the bulk of the book (and there are 600+ pages of it…) is pure Scandinavian Noir, set in the fictitious North European city of Maardam. The Strangler’s Honeymoon was first published in Swedish in 2001, but the English translation (and an absolutely excellent one at that…) did not appear until last year. Indeed I think I am correct in saying that Nesser has written eleven Van Veeteren mysteries, but that only six of them have to date been translated. 

That would seem a bit of an error to me. Nesser is every bit as accomplished a writer as either a Stieg Larsen or a Jo Nesbø. I am sure he deserves, and will get, their fame in due course. I truly hope so – if all his books are as accomplished as The Strangler’s Honeymoon (and I am told they are).

Van Veeteren is a somewhat grumpy 60+ retired detective who has bought an antiquarian bookshop to fill his twilight years with a hobby he loves. But he is never far from the force he used to work for – and the current crop of detectives still call him Chief Inspector and seek his wise intuition in solving crimes. And ‘intuition’ is the key word… Van Veeteren works with a combination of the evidence placed in front of him plus his instincts. He is drawn into The Strangler’s Honeymoon by the visit, just as he about to go on holiday, by a priest to the bookshop – a priest who senses foreboding and who wants to talk to him ‘as a policeman, but not as a policeman’. Van Veeteren is too rushed to talk then, but promises the priest a meeting on his return. When he returns Van Veeteren finds the priest killed in an ‘accident’ and a teenage girl brutally murdered. His suspicions and his involvement begin to grow as he works with the police (and in particular Eva Moreno) to track down the murderer – a man they also suspect of other crimes.

The fictitious Maardam is core to the story from the smart middle class areas to the seedier parts of the city. As you read you can sense the deprivation that some people have to survive – and the weather fits in perfectly. It is grey and dispiriting… and ties in neatly with the sick violence of the crimes. A truly ‘noir’ setting for the story…

The Strangler’s Honeymoon is very certainly a ‘page turner’, but it is a great deal more. The characters are well drawn, sympathetic, and believable. The relationship between Van Veeteren and the current members of the police force is not straightforward but it comes through in a way with which one can identify and empathise.

All in all The Strangler’s Honeymoon is an excellent book, and one that I would very certainly recommend.

Tony for the TripFiction Team

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Monday, 17 February 2014

Novel set on The Isle of Harris (A magical story)

Secrets of the Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford set on the Isle of Harris, Scotland

Our review is now on our new website and you can find it here

Friday, 14 February 2014

Novel set in California, Maui, Bali, Western Australia (Sisterly Love)

The Sea Sisters by Lucy Clarke, set in California, Maui, Bali, Western Australia

This post can now be found on the new TripFiction website here

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Novel set in Berlin - a quintessential read

The Innocent by Ian McEwan set in Berlin

The blogpost is now on our new website and you can find it here

Friday, 7 February 2014

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

THAILAND - island life (Ko Phi Phi)

Cross Current by John Shors, set on Ko Phi Phi, Thailand now appears on the new TripFiction website

Saturday, 1 February 2014

GERMANY - a destructive mother-daughter relationship

"Magda is a portrayal of a destructive  mother-daughter relationship over three generations' Meike Ziervogel

This blogpost can now be found on the new TripFiction website here

Tina for the TripFiction Team

- The Observer’s Books of the Year
- Shortlisted for the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize
- Featured on BBC Radio 4 – Woman’s Hour

Come and join TripFiction on Twitter and Facebook - help us build this into an even more valuable resource for both actual and armchair travellers "see a location through an author's eyes"