2014 Global Reading Challenge

Wrap-Up Post for 2014 Global Reading Challenge

global reading challenge 2014_2I completed the Global Reading Challenge with a few weeks to spare. I only took on the easy level this year, meaning one book for every continent, and that was the right level for me. I could spend enough time trying out books set in different countries without feeling like I was scrambling to meet the requirements. For my “seventh continent” I chose a historical crime novel.

And here are my reads. I’ll save my favorite reads of the year for a separate post.

1. Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland (Australia)

2. All She Was Worthy by Miyuki Miyabe (Asia)

3. Only the Dead by Vidar Sundstol (South America)

4. Devil’s Peak by Deon Meyer (Africa)

5. Red April by Santiago Roncagliolio (South America)

6. Don’t Look Back by Karin Fossum (Europe)

7. Present Darkness by Malla Nunn (Seventh Continent- historical)

2014 Global Reading Challenge · Australia · review

Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland

Gunshot Road by Adrian HylandGunshot Road by Adrian Hyland

Soho Crime, May 2010

I borrowed this book from the library.

Gunshot Road is one of my favorite reads of the year. It took me a bit by surprise because I don’t remember loving the first installment in the series, Moonlight Downs, nearly as much as I loved this one. The writing, the plot, and the intelligence of Hyland shine through in this book. I felt like he was very respectful of Aboriginal people, which was evident from his background working in the Northern Territory.

Emily Tempest begins the book with her new job as an Aboriginal Police Liaison, and she works for a boss who is new to the area after the man who hired her is injured on the job. She’s a bit uncomfortable in the position, as to be expected, and her first day on the job involves the apparently-open-and-shut case of the stabbing of Doc, an eccentric geologist in Bluebush. She’s convinced she was not stabbed by his drinking companion, and her investigation proceeds from there.

The action is quite good. A significant part of the novel felt like a thriller, but there are some times to catch your breath and get a better sense of these character’s lives. A trip Emily takes with the troubled teenager Danny stands out.

The characters aren’t caricatures, and they could have easily been: the mob at Bluebush, Jet the artist from Tibet, Cockburn the new boss who’s a stickler for regulations. It’s a long-enough story that Hyland had time to round the characters.

I could go on: the crime felt significant and I felt the effect it had on everyone involved in the investigation. I learned quite a bit about geology. And, finally, it’s a beautifully written book. I’ll close with one of my favorite passages of the book:

We made our farewells. Or I made my farewells–Jet just stood on the side of the road in her skinny singlet and big boots, shaking her head and muttering, ‘Aiee…This Emily Tempest.’

You can talk, I thought. Jet was taking to the relentless chaos of the borderlands– and there were all manner of borders out here: between black and white, the organic and the mechanical, the random and the damned–like a cockroach to a grease trap.

We left her in a cloud of dust. (p. 313)

Other reviews appear in Reviewing the Evidence, Reactions to Reading, The Game’s Afoot, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, and crimepieces.

2014 Global Reading Challenge · Japan · review · Translated

All She Was Worth by Miyuki Miyabe

all she was worth

All She Was Worth by Miyuki Miyabe
Translated by Alfred Birnbaum
Kodansha International, 1996
Originally published as Kasha, 1992
I borrowed the book from the library.

It took quite awhile for me to find a translated crime novel from Asia I’d like to finish for the Global Reading Challenge– a problem I ran into last year as well. First of all, there aren’t so many crime novels written by Asians that are translated into English. Secondly, I tried a few novels I just wasn’t in the mood to read because their tone was too noir (Yoshida) or or something I can’t quite label (Higashino).

Despite the very disturbing cover, I liked this book. The story centers on a missing persons case: injured and recuperating police detective Honma investigates his cousin’s son’s fiancee’s disappearance, and the story revolves around overextended consumer borrowers who are harrassed by legal and yakuza bill collectors. From the description, the cover image seems a little on-the-nose.

The story is a bit slow and the plot relies a bit heavily on coincidences, complaints I feel like I make with other missing-persons novels, but Honma is an engaging character. Since he’s on leave from the police department, the book doesn’t get into office dynamics and instead focuses on his homelife with his young son and nanny (he was widowed a few years before the novel takes place).

Two aspects of the story make it feel particularly Japanese, one major and one minor: first is the background of the Consumer Finance Scare of the 1980’s, and second is Honma’s reliance on bullet trains. The easy credit part of the story is crucial to the missing persons case, and it sounds an awful lot like the housing bubble of the 2000’s. And the existence of bullet trains and the communities that grow around them stands out for me since I live in a part of the world without widespread train service.

Finally, I want to include the funniest bit from Miyabe’s author bio, “In her spare time, she enjoys playing video games and singing karaoke.” It reads a little like,”Authors: they’re just like us!”

Other reviews appear in Complete Review, Petrona, and Black Plume.

 

 

2014 Global Reading Challenge · review · U.S. · USA Fiction Challenge

Only the Dead by Vidar Sundstøl

only the deadOnly the Dead by Vidar Sundstøl, translated by Tiina Nunnally

University of Minnesota Press, September 2014

Minnesota trilogy book 2

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

Only the Dead is a short sort of thriller that feels very different than the first book in the Minnesota trilogy, The Land of Dreams. It works best if you’ve read the first book in the trilogy, which involves U.S. Forest Service officer Lance Hansen’s  investigation into the stabbing death of a Norwegian tourist at Baraga’s Cross at the Cross River on the Northern Shore of Lake Superior, but if you’re one for taut thrillers, I’d skip the first lengthy book and start with this one. He believes it to be the first murder ever in the county until he suspects one of his ancestors of having murdered Swamper Caribou, an Ojibwe settler. The two stories alternate in this book as well as in the first book, and they take on a sort of hallucinatory quality.

So what exactly goes on in Only the Dead is a series of hunting trips with Lance and his brother Andy, whom he suspects murdered the Norwegian tourist. Lance is fueled by guilt because another man is in jail facing murder charges, but he can’t prove that his brother is the murderer. Andy in turn is suspicious of his brother, and their hunting excursions in increasingly dire weather in early winter are very suspenseful.

I read this book because I’m invested in the case of the dead Norwegian kayaker, and I’m glad this book felt like a surprise compared to the first one. It’s a thoughtful book as Lance tries to come to terms with his family’s past and his ancestor’s past (he discovered he has Ojibwe ancestors in the last book). I wonder how the case develops in the next installment, entitled Ravens, and I wonder what kind of format that book will take: meditative crime story or a thriller?

2014 Global Reading Challenge · review · South Africa

Present Darkness by Malla Nunn

present darknessPresent Darkness by Malla Nunn
Atria, June 2014
DS Cooper book 4

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

 

Malla Nunn is an Australia author who was born in Swaziland, and she writes the DS Cooper series set in South Africa in the 1950’s as apartheid was enacted. The present darkness of the title alludes to, in part, the historical moment South Africa was in, and the mood of the book is quite grim. Nunn does a great job of showing how crime and the background of emerging from World War II played into the development of apartheid and how individual police officers did their jobs while very affected by their pasts.

The story revolves around the investigation into the violent assault on a white schoolmaster and his wife, and the accused is a black student who spent the evening with the family for dinner. He also happens to be the son of one of Cooper’s colleagues. The story takes place both in Johannesburg and a remote part of the Northern Province, and Cooper himself is an outsider in Johannesburg (he’s on assignment there).

I don’t typically read historical crime fiction, but I’m a fan of this particular book. I’m thankful for the many bloggers and commenters who have recommended this series! Cooper is such an interesting character in such an interesting moment in the political history of South Africa and in such an outsider position in the police force as well that it was a great hook for me. I’m also counting this book as my wildcard entry in the 2014 Global Reading Challenge for the seventh continent, which I’m classifying as historical crime fiction.

Other reviews appear in Book’d Out (Shelleyrae), Fair Dinkum Crime (Kerrie), and Aunt Agatha’s.

2014 Global Reading Challenge · review · South Africa

Devil’s Peak by Deon Meyer

devils peakDevil’s Peak by Deon Meyer, translated by K. L. Seegers
LIttle Brown, 2007
Originally published as Infanta, 2004
Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Deon Meyer has been on my list of authors to read for quite a long time now, and I chose to start with Devil’s Peak because it’s the first of the Benny Griessel series. It does feature a character from an earlier novel in a central role, so my plans to be unspoiled by starting with this book were foiled. I was very impressed with the beginning: the writing was good, the characters were very complicated, but by the end I was disappointed with the plot.

Griessel is an inspector leading an investigation into the murders of people accused of hurting children. He’s an alcoholic policeman with marital troubles, which is a story I’ve read before, but his experience as a policeman both before and after apartheid and the differences in those organizations (it was the Force during apartheid and the Service after) made the novel stand out to me. Meyer divides the story among Griessel the investigator, Tiny Mpayipheli the killer, and a young woman who is a sex worker who is making some sort of confession to a minister.

It’s an interesting structure with interesting characters, but a couple things bothered me: First, it’s a vigilante story. I’m not very interested in this theme (I’m almost as tired of vigilantes as I am of serial killers) even though this book features the twist that there is a vigilante in a country that recently abolished the death penalty. Second, the final fifty pages falter plot-wise. It features a plot twist that I see all too often in thrillers (I’m trying to avoid spoilers), and the last batch of antagonists is a very cruel and violent crew who aren’t really developed as characters.

I saw a lot of promise in the first half of the book, and I hope that other Meyer books don’t use such overused plots.

 

2014 Global Reading Challenge · Peru · review · Translated

Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo

red aprilRed April by Santiago Roncagliolo
Translated by Edith Grossman
Pantheon, 2009
Originally published as Abril rojo, 2006

I’m a bit ambivalent about reviewing this book because I nearly gave it up after the first 200 pages (there’s a big shift in tone then), but ultimately I decided to finish it to see what the book was trying to do as a whole. I think Roncagliolo intended the book to be so brutal for a reason, but it made for an uneasy read.

I chose to read this book because it’s hard to find books about or from Peru translated into English, because it’s won a couple big literary awards, and because it was billed as a sort of crime novel. Conspiracy thriller actually seems a bit more accurate because the murder near the beginning of the novel seems like a small part of the story until the final section of the book.

But this is most definitely not crime novel. The main character is a prosecutor who willingly left Lima for a provincial town of Ayacucho, and he deals with a stifling bureaucracy to investigate a murder in an area where Shining Path is supposedly inactive. This book is about the crimes perpetrated by the terrorists and the government trying to quash them, and along the way there are also a series of murders in the region.

The novel is horrifying in terms of the bureaucratic obstacles to Chacaltana’s investigation into the murders, it’s horrifying in terms of the remnants of the 20 year conflict between Shining Path and the Peruvian government, and it’s brutal in terms of the series of murders that Chacaltana investigates. The action is a bit strange and unbelievable, but the aura of violence feels real. I think my real ambivalence about the book comes from the fact that I didn’t expect there to be any hope at the end, and my assumption was correct. I’m glad I read it, but I’m ready for something less serious and brutally violent next.

Other reviews appear in Novel Insights and Reading Matters.

2014 Global Reading Challenge · Norway · review · Translated

Don’t Look Back by Karin Fossum

dont look backDon’t Look Back by Karin Fossum, translated by Felicity David
Harcourt, 2002
Originally published as Se Deg ikke Tilbake!, 1996

I chose to read the second Inspector Sejer novel because I wanted to try a new-to-me author of a well-reviewed series, and I’m glad I did despite being burnt out by police procedurals in general in the last several months. The first novel in the series, Eva’s Eye, also published as In the Darkness, was published in 2013 in the US, but I’ve had book 2 waiting on my shelves for awhile so I chose to read it first.

Sejer is a widower still mourning the loss of his wife to cancer, and in this novel he works with Skarre, a young policeman half his age. Their district is large, covering a population of over 100,000 people, while the scene of the crimes at the heart of the novel take place in an incredibly small mountain town.

The subject matter of the book is pretty off-putting: a very young girl is missing in the first chapter of the book but found safe, and in the second chapter of the book a teenage girl is found dead by a mountain lake. Because the crimes took place in such a small community, there’s a bit of a locked-room feel, and there’s a bit of peeling away of people’s facades as Sejer and his colleague Skarre interview lots of residents. The stories Sejer and the rest of the police uncover are quite sad, and they lend emotional depth to the investigation.

Despite the sadness of the story, Sejer himself doesn’t seem overly gloomy, which is appealing in a protagonist. He feels empathy for the people he interviews not only because they were touched by the crimes at the center of the novel but because of their lives together in their small town. I’m glad I have several more novels in the series to get to soon.

Other reviews appear in Confessions of a Mystery Novelist and Reactions to Reading and The Crime Segments.

2014 Global Reading Challenge · USA Fiction Challenge

Reading Plans for 2014

Every six months or so I like to check in with my reading and posting plans for the blog, so here are my thoughts:

  • I’m joining the 2014 Global Reading Challenge at the easy level (one book from each continent), and I’ll try to read from as many countries as I can throughout the year, regardless of the continent. I’ve added a countries visited page to keep track of how diverse my reading is by setting. Now I need to get to updating the page.
  • I’m also joining the 2014 USA Fiction Challenge, and I’ve added a states visited page to track my progress over the coming years. My main goal for this challenge is to read books that don’t take place in New York and California.
  • My two reading challenges for the year are perpetual challenges for me because I’d like to add a bit more flexibility to my reading choices than I had last year. I’d like to return to some favorite authors I’ve discovered since I started blogging and reading crime blogs, I’d like to dig into my own bookshelves a bit more, and, like I mentioned last summer, I really want to read more books published for 2000.

So what can you expect over the next few months? Lots of translated crime novels, the occasional non-crime novel because I’m getting a bit burned out by crime reading, some authors I first read in 2012, and nothing too noir.