Since Hollywood typically takes the week off between Christmas and New Year's, so will Media Murder for Monday. Hope everyone has a very Happy New Year!
Now that snow has arrived in many parts of the country, I thought this little "rerun" might be appropriate for the season. Hope everyone is having an enjoyable holiday, and I'll be back with a new "Forgotten" Book next week.
Before the recent Scandinavian crime fiction invasion, before even Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, there was Kerstin Lillemor Ekman (born August 1933), whose debut crime novel, Thirty-Meter Murder (30 meter mord), was published in 1959. Her first few mystery novels grew out of her background as a documentary filmmaker, and she wrote seven crime fiction books in all before turning her hand to more general psychological and social themes (and one book that's a history of Sweden told from the POV of a troll). She did later return to the genre, with the detective novel Blackwater (Händelser vid vatten) in 1993, which won the Swedish Crime Academy's award for best crime novel.
Eckman's novel Under the Snow (De tre små mästarna) from 1961 is set in the harsh, distant landscape of the Arctic Circle's Lapland in the town of Rakisjokk during the extended darkness of winter. Or as one character notes, "You might say this is where the world comes to an end." A drunken evening ends in the death of a local artist and teacher named Matti Olsson, but when Constable Torsson sets out to investigate (a 25-mile trek on skis across a frozen lake), he is met with a conspiracy of silence, mismatched stories and only a single clue: a bloodstained mahjong tile. His efforts aren't helped by the fact that the locals are part of the ethnic Sami group who speak Finnish and don't think very highly of Swedes. Torsson has no choice to close the case. That is, until David Malm, an eccentric redheaded painter and friend of Matti's, arrives in town to investigate the truth on his own and runs into beautiful teacher Anna Ryd who is caught with a bag containing a bloody noose with a human hair clinging to it.
Eckman maintains the dark atmosphere of the unrelenting subzero cold and sunless days (followed by nights where the sun never sets) where nearly everyone has secrets, but still manages to inject bits of humor and her trademark irony: the super-fit younger colleague decked out in the 1960 version of chic Gore-Tex gear who turns an ankle in the first few yards during his first attempt on skis; a language professor who happily scribbles down the ferryman's epithets; a elkhound that barks nonstop. One unusual technique: Ekman wrote Under the Snow almost completely in the third person except for Chapter 12, where Matti's killer explains how the murder was committed. Of her writing influences, Eckman has said "I live in a small village and I have been living in two other small villages far up north in Sweden. Very close to the forest, the mountains, the waters. They have had a great impact on me, melting into my language."
Under the Snow remained unavailable in English from the time of its publication until the translation by Joan Tate in 1996, 35 years later. Entertainment Weekly called Eckman "Striking...a sort of Graham Greene meets Dean Koontz," and the Library Journal added that "Ekman's brilliant evocation of a place and culture above the Arctic Circle is as compelling and mysterious as the crime itself." Ekman was elected member of the Swedish Academy in 1978, but left in 1989 when the academy didn't take a strong stand after the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. She also turned her hand back to the screen with a Swedish TV movie based on one of her books and appearances as herself in documentaries.
Due to the hectic holidays, I'm re-posting a previous FFB featuring some Christmas-themed anthologies. For some more thoughts and suggestions in that vein, Patti Abbott recently solicited more ideas via her blog, which you can read here.
Starting in chronological order, there's Christmas Stalkings, collected by Charlotte MacLeod and dating from 1991. The anthology includes 13 tales in all, mostly in the "cozy" or traditional vein, perfect for cuddling up with some hot chocolate and gingerbread. MacLeod contributes one story, and there are others from Reginald Hill, Margaret Maron, Eric Wright, Bill Crider and Elizabeth Peters, et al. Evelyn E. Smith's offering features her humorous series character in "Miss Melville Rejoices," where philanthropist/assassin Miss Melville vows to rid the world of a sadistic dictator at a Christmas Eve party.
Mystery for Christmas from 1994 is edited by Richard Dalby and features mostly British stories of "ghosts, murder, strange disappearances and journeys through time." Offerings range from works by Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy to a John Glasby whodunit; a "Christmas Carol" updating from H.R.F. Keating; and one Sherlockian pastiche by Ron Weighell.
Tim Heald edited 1995's A Classic Christmas Crime, with 13 tales ranging from Yorkshire on across the Pond to south Florida. P.D. James contributes a wartime country house mystery, Catherine Aird writes of "Gold, Frankincense and Murder," and Simon Brett takes "Political Corrections" to a twisty end. The stories range in tone and mood "from the light to the disturbing," putting plenty of diabolical presents in your reading stocking.
Carol-Lynn Rössel, Martin H. Greenberg and Jon L. Lellenberg edited two anthologies of Sherlock Holmes pastiches, the first in 1998 titled Holmes for the Holidays. Anne Perry is the headliner with her story "The Watch Night Bell," in which Holmes and Watson must foil a foul murder scheme taking place midnight on Christmas; Loren D. Estleman's story puts the sleuth duo into a real life-murder perilously paralleling Dickens Christmas Carol; and Reginald Hill sets Holmes in Rome for the holidays, matching wits with an ambitious rival.
If you think you can whip up a devilish Christmas story in just two days, check out Chuck Wendig's "The War on Christmas" flash fiction challenge. The theme is literal - write a war about or against Christmas, or any other winter holiday (Hanukah, Solstice, Kwanzaa). Details are on his Terrible Minds blog link above.
Rhys Bowen, creator of the Royal Spyness and Molly Murphy mysteries, has been featuring her Twelve Days of Christmas blog posts, with the history and traditions of Christmas carols, Christmas trees, and more.
Want some fun ideas for Christmas treats? The authors at Mystery Lovers Kitchen has several for you, including Caramel Corn, a Christmas Cheesecake and Dark Chocolate Peppermint Oreos. (Until Nabisco makes gluten-free Oreos, I'll just have to watch the rest of you enjoy these!)
GalleyCat has assembled links to 25 Free Christmas eBooks, from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, to the "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry and more.
In-between shopping, decorating, cooking and traveling, why not read a Christmas-themed mystery story or novel? Janet Rudolph has updated her detailed bibliography of holiday books, which has gotten so large, she has to spread it out over several Mystery Fanfare blog posts. Check out the links for books from authors who last names end in A-D, E-H, I-N and O-R (with S-Z coming soon).
The Xmas version of Yellow Mama is out, with "twisted tales of Holiday Horror and Hardboiled Noir." Meanwhile, the latest issue of All Due Respect features the story "A Job for Two" by Eric Beetner. (Hat tip to Chris Rhatigan).
Although not specifically crime fiction-related, the editors of the anthology OH SANDY! An Anthology of Humor for a Serious Purpose, are seeking stories of humorous fiction, poetry and non-fiction of up to 3000 words that are about experiencing a disaster, surviving a hurricane, or living in New Jersey. All proceeds will go to benefit The FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties for Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. The deadline for submissions is the end of December.
It's never too early to plan ahead, especially if it involves a trip to CrimeFest 2014 in the U.K. The conference is sponsoring a Flashbang micro-fiction contest, with the winner receiving two weekend passes to the event (travel and accommodations not included). A panel of judges headed by author Zoe Sharp will pick the best 150-word story, with other prizes and website publications for finalists. The deadline is March 31, 2013.
The Q&A roundup this week includes Kate Stine, publisher of Mystery Scene Magazine, about the history and future of the magazine and how she found true love at a mystery convention; Quentin Bates takes volleys from Declan Burke; Lloyd Shepherd visits Scene of the Crime; and Thuglit's Todd Robinson takes the 10-Question Challenge.
A reminder: you still have time to comment on yesterday's blog post survey and/or send along an e-mail to email@example.com to enter the drawing for one of 2012's top 15 crime fiction novels.
Also: I'm participating in the blog meme for authors, "The Next Big Thing," and I'd love to have you join me for my answers to The Big Ten questions over at my BV Lawson blog.
British author John Herman Mulso Sherwood (1913 - 2002) was known primarily for his 11 cozy mysteries featuring amateur sleuth Celia Grant, a professional botanist and horticulturist who operates a retail nursery. Sherwood also penned half a dozen standalone crime fiction novels, including Undiplomatic Exit (1958), shortlisted for Gold Dagger Award.
Another series Sherwood created was the five-book series with Charles Blessington, an official with the Ministry of the Treasury. Blessington is a middle-aged civil servant who enjoys his sedentary lifestyle and dull routine in his drab, gray little office wearing his plain gray suits. However, his sharp intelligence, logical outlook, stubbornness and keen perception allow him to see clues others don't. He can even be deadly when he has to.
The 1952 installment Ambush for Anatol (also published as Murder of Mistress in the U.S.), is set in post-World War II Britain and follows young married couple Philip and Diana Abinger, who want to keep up appearances despite being strapped for cash. Philip, a dashing former Air Force piliot, is particularly desperate in his search for a job that isn't dull or routine like everything else in post-war Britain.
Their prayers seem to be answered when Philip and Diana bump into an old wartime flying acquaintance of Philip's, the Polish Count Jan Piatovksy, who is with his lady friend, Lena Watson. The Count has a financial proposition for the Abingers, and arranges for them to meet a man named Anatol on Bank Holiday Monday at Hampstead Heath. At the last minute, however, the Count has a change of heart and refuses to introduce the couple to Anatol.
Annoyed, Philip and Diana secretly follow the Count and Lena to some bushes in the Heath where they are seen meeting with the mysterious Anatol, although the Abingers wind up leaving empty-handed. Not too long afterward, the bodies of the Count and Lena are discovered behind those same bushes.
Blessington reluctantly gets dragged into the mess, leaving his quiet desk at the Treasury as his investigation uncovers currency fraud, illegal mercury trade, sexual deviance, kidnapping and ultimately involves a chase by train across Italy and France ending up at the Louvre.