“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

Weekend Reading – From Scotland to Scandinavia and Back to Scotland

Posted: July 31st, 2010 | No Comments »

It’s been a while since I noted a crime writer on these ‘Weekend Deviations’.And I will, after a bit of a ramble.

As I’m on holiday at the moment the summer books bag was deliberately China-lite (never quite managed to make it China-free sadly as Andrew Fields’ Shanghai’s Dancing World crept in as a bit of background research for a new book project and Langdon Gilkey’s Shantung Compound memoir of internment also got brought along as someone commissioned a rather long review of it to be done by the end of the summer).  The summer book bag then mostly contains non-China stuff I’ve been meaning to read for ages – Elif Batuman’s The Possessed (which might just be the smartest and funniest book of the year), Thomas Keneally’s The People’s Train (Russian revolutionaries fleeing the tsar via Shanghai to Brisbane and back again to 1917), Tracy Chevalier’s Burning Bright (late eighteenth century Lambeth by the pool!!), Graham Greene’s Travels with my Aunt ( I’ve never read it, which is disgraceful) and Tim Rob Smith’s The Secret Speech (it’s hot here in Taiwan and I need some cold Russian scenes to cool off). I’ve also succumbed to what I suspect a lot of people do on their holidays – reading the books everyone else seems to have already read and gone on about interminably but I haven’t. In my case Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna.

What I swore I wouldn’t do this summer was read anything in the crime genre by a Scandinavian of any description. Like most people I’ve been reading way too much Scandi-derived crime fiction and spending too much time in Reykjavik courtesy of Arnaldur Indridason, Ystad courtesy of Henning Mankell and half a dozen others (while resisting the publishing marketing onslaught of Stieg Larsson so far). This shift to Scandi-Crime came after overdosing on Scottish crime (I’ll annoy every Scottish writer by using the term ‘Tartan Noir’ which I know they hate). But this year I’ve started to drift back to the Scots – Louise Welsh’s excellent Naming the Bones, Rankin’s non-Rebus The Complaints (like he needs a plug!!) and now Lin Anderson.

Anderson fell into my summer book bag by mistake – a last minute purchase at a book sale in Shanghai. Embarrassingly I’d never come across her books before and her series character, Glasgow forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod. Apparently there’s seven of them in the series so far and I grabbed Dark Flight which turned out to be a pretty absorbing, well crafted, solid crime story set in Glasgow and the West of Scotland with all that you expect from a half-decent Tartan Noir – hard drinking coppers (of both sexes), people who always sleep with the wrong people, the social divide of Scotland from posh to schemes, neds (this book actually has one blessed with the ultimate Glasgow ned name –  ‘Malchie’), deep fried food and cans of lager, parents who’ve fucked up the main characters in some way(usually drink and rage related), crap weather and a dark sense of humour that’s ingrained in the Scots and invariably totally lacking in the Scandi’s. Perfect holiday page turning fodder. And so by a rather long detour through my holiday reading and from Scotland to Scandinavia and back to Scotland this is really a plug for Lin Anderson and her Rhona MacLeod series (which, Wikipedia tells me, is coming to TV soon).

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