SummerCrime: Holiday reads for 2013

Crime novels, with their abundant local colour and detail, are excellent travel companions. If you’re heading to a popular holiday destination this summer, why not load up your Kindle (or your suitcase) with some crime fiction set in the place you’re going to? We’ve picked out eight of the top places travellers are visiting this year, and chosen two crime novels for each. Whether you’re seeking a light holiday read, lashings of atmosphere and culinary tips, or the grittier side of your vacation spot, you should find something to suit your tastes below…

THAILAND: The heat of the night

BehindNightBazaarBehind the Night Bazaar by Angela Savage
There aren’t many female PIs in exotic locations, so Angela Savage’s gutsy Australian expat Jayne Keeney is one to look out for on the streets of Bangkok. In this first book of the series, Jayne is shaken by an incident relating to a woman she was surveilling, so heads north to visit her friend Didier in Chiang Mai. There is no respite for her there, however, as murder comes calling. The local police appear to have no interest in justice. This is a crime fiction novel which is deceptively humorous and light, yet touches on very serious international issues including the sexual exploitation of children, HIV, sex tourism and corrupt officials. Savage’s own experience of living and working in Asia informs her novel and the culture clashes within expat life sound very authentic.
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bangkok8Bangkok Eight by John Burdett
Burdett, a Brit who has spent most of his adult life in the Far East, is even more merciless and hardcore in describing the lurid, sleazy underbelly of Krung Thep, which means City of Angels in Thai. Meet detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, half-American, half-Thai, whose Buddhist beliefs are as important to the storyline as his forensic abilities. When his partner is killed by a cobra bite following a police chase, he swears to avenge his death. Sonchai is surrounded by a roster of colourful characters. His mother Nong is a former prostitute turned go-go bar madam, and his superior Colonel Vikorn is a corrupt cop. Meanwhile he has a transsexual colleague called Lek. It’s safe to say that Bangkok Eight is the best book in the series, but it will never gain the approval of the Thai Tourist Board.
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AUSTRALIA: Crocs and coke deals? Crikey!

CocaineBluesCocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood
If it’s escapism you’re after, you’ll love this charming cosy series about a 1920s English flapper who emigrates to Melbourne. Phryne Fisher is a female James Bond. She’s fashionable, glamorous and handy with a pistol, but also completely at odds with her background and the social expectations surrounding women at the time.  Independently wealthy, witty and fearless, she seems to have it all, and battles her way through a swathe of disreputable characters with aplomb and humour. Implausible, but fun, the first dozen or so books have just been turned into a TV series Down Under.
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deepwater100Deep Water by Peter Corris
Peter Corris is regarded by many as the godfather of Australian crime fiction and has the Ned Kelly lifetime achievement award to prove it. His long-standing series featuring PI Cliff Hardy started in 1980, but appeared to have drawn to a close back in 2008, when Hardy gets stripped of his detective licence and loses his partner Lily. Corris stated Open File was last in the series, but a year later he wrote Deep Water, which begins with Hardy in a US hospital after having a quadruple bypass. An expat Australian nurse looks after him and asks for his help in investigating the mysterious disappearance of her geologist father back in Sydney. The theme of the novel – the search for sustainable water sources – and Corris’ writing give this book a distinctive Australian flavour. It’ll take you around the streets of Sydney as well.
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SOUTH AFRICA: Blood and hope

13hoursThirteen Hours by Deon Meyer
“South Africa is just not as sexy as Scandinavia,” claims Deon Meyer. We think his tough yet tender and complex thrillers are giving Nordic crime authors a run for their money. He offers you an unsparing yet nuanced picture of the tensions and contradictions of post-apartheid society, against the picturesque backdrop of Cape Town, one of the world’s  most beautiful cities. There are no graphic scenes of torture or gratuitous violence in his books. Instead, you will come across detective Benny Griessel, a recovering alcoholic and doting middle-aged father, together with his strange ethnic mix of colleagues – evoking the Rainbow Nation – steadily and doggedly pursuing leads and managing their personal dislikes in order to solve the case and save an American girl who is being chased by a mysterious gang.
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zuluZulu by Caryl Férey
Harder to find and even more difficult to read, Zulu by Caryl Férey won the French Grand Prix for Best Crime Novel of 2008 and was translated into English in 2010. The Zulu of the title is a chief of homicide by the name of Ali Neuman, a survivor of inter-tribal brutality between Xhosas and Zulus. Férey’s depiction of Cape Town is much bleaker and more violent than in Meyer’s novels. We never get a feel for the beauty of the city. Instead, we get to know its shantytowns and streets saturated with drugs and gang warfare. Neuman and his team discover a new meth-based drug being introduced into the city, which seems to provoke a no-holds-barred murderous frenzy in users. Who is producing this drug and for what purpose? Questions, false leads and corpses start piling up. The book has just been turned into a film, so I suspect Férey will soon be better known outside his native France.
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GREECE: Traffic jam of the Olympians

CheCommittedSuicideChe Committed Suicide by Petros Markaris
Markaris is the ultimate reporter on life in Athens during these difficult times, often quoted in the papers as a social commentator of the crisis. His philosophical, endlessly patient Inspector Kostas Haritos navigates Greek traffic jams, casual corruption, family worries and the constant complaints of his colleagues. His only solace is his beloved dictionary. Sadly, Markaris’ most recent books, in which murderers target bankers and tax-evaders, are not yet available in English, so you will have to make do with this earlier book. The plot is labyrinthine and somewhat implausible, involving corruption in the building industry in the run-up to the Athens Olympics, illegal immigrants and repercussions from the time of the military dictatorship. But if you want an accurate picture of a country struggling to understand what is happening, this is a great introduction.
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FeastArtemisThe Feast of Artemis by Anne Zouroudi
Understandably, you may prefer to bypass Athens and head straight for the picture-book beauty of the Greek islands. Anne Zouroudi will accompany you there – she conveys all the charm, heat and colour of a Greek summer in her Aegean island series based on the seven deadly sins. The author does not regard herself as a crime writer, but rather a writer of morality tales, heavily influenced by by Greek mythology and Agatha Christie. Her detective, if you can call him that, is Hermes Diaktoros. He always wears white tennis shoes, and is meant to be the Greek god Hermes reincarnated. The Feast of Artemis is the final book on the series, focusing on gluttony, and concerns the seemingly accidental death of a young man at an olive harvest festival.
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ITALY: Crime al dente

DeathEnglishmanDeath of an Englishman by Magdalen Nabb
Although never quite in the best-selling lists alongside Michael Dibdin, Andrea Camilleri and Donna Leon, some critics believe that Nabb deserves to be right up there with them. In fact, Simenon was a great fan from the outset. All her stories take place in Florence, which she describes as a very secret city. All of the stories are based on real crimes in Tuscany, including the notorious serial killer called the Monster of Florence. Marshal Salvatore Guarnaccia, chief of the carabinieri, is the quiet hero of these solid police procedurals. In a neat reversal of northern and southern Italian stereotypes, this calm, introspective detective is actually a Sicilian transplanted into Tuscany and often feels himself to be an outsider. Hence his sympathy and compassion for the many foreign victims in these stories. Death of an Englishman is the first book in the series, but several others also stand out, such as Some Bitter Taste and The Marshal and the Murderer.
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dulldayAt the End of a Dull Day by Massimo Carlotto
If it’s Mediterranean noir that appeals to you, you will be intrigued and amused by Carlotto’s hardboiled writing style in this novel about a retired criminal and terrorist forced back into business and, against all odds, deciding to take on the mafia. This has been one of my favourite discoveries of the year so far: a Ripley-esque mix of exuberance, wry humour and absence of morals. Read our review here.
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FLORIDA: The sun made us zany

SanibelFlatsSanibel Flats by Randy Wayne White
Marion ‘Doc’ Ford is a tall, athletic marine biologist who has retired to Florida, running away from his treacherous past as a covert government assassin. The author introduces a wide range of interesting and quirky characters, and his mysteries do a good job of keeping you guessing. The real star of the show, however, is the State of Florida itself, perfectly captured here in all its brooding beauty and richness of wildlife. Sanibel Flats is the first in the Doc Ford series and was chosen by the American Independent Mystery Booksellers Association as one of its 100 favorite mysteries of the 20th century.
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BAD MONKEY by Carl HiaasenBad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen
For a zanier but more up to date view of Florida, Hiaasen’s novels are full of clever plot twists, crazy characters, and laugh-out-loud humour. The plotlines are all relatively similar: a rollicking misadventure, usually ending in theft and murder, resolved by a handful of upright heroes, thereby exposing a tangled web of greed and corruption in South Florida. Environmental issues are usually at stake, and there are serious themes of land grabs and over-development underlying the sarcasm and jokes. Bad Monkey is the latest installment in what may loosely be called a series, but you can read them in any order. Read our review here.
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FRANCE: Le noir, c’est chic!

MarseillesThe Marseilles Trilogy by Jean Claude Izzo
Mediterranean noir doesn’t get much darker than this. The author, who died in 2000, is often cited as the father of  the sub-genre. Marseilles born and bred, he describes a city on the verge of breakdown, prey to greediness and rampant over-development, teeming with immigrants, pollution, drugs and criminal gangs. Yet there is much to love about this city as well, and Izzo does a fantastic job of describing its music, and the huge variety of sights, smells and bustling vivacity. The main protagonist, ex-cop Fabio Montale, is a flawed human being, quick to pass judgement, far too susceptible to female charms, overindulging in food and drink… and ultimately powerless, unable to help his friends or to rewrite the past. The three books – Total Chaos, Chourmo and Solea are currently being reissued by Europa Editions.
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Resistance-ManThe Resistance Man by Martin Walker
This is the sixth novel in the hugely popular series featuring Bruno, chef de police in a village in the Perigord/Dordogne region of France, which has led to a bit of a tourist boom for that picturesque area. Local customs and characters, quaint historical villages and mouth-watering recipes are all lovingly recreated in a series which deals with serious crime, even terrorism, but in a gentler way which will not put you off visiting France. You may prefer to start at the beginning with the first volume in the series, Bruno Chief of Police. Be warned: it’s an addictive read! Read our review here
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SPAIN: More than matadors

Montalban10Pepe Carvalho series by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán
Pepe Carvalho is another gourmand detective, who appreciates fine food on board the Mediterranean, and who cannot resist amorous interludes. His stamping ground is Barcelona but, despite the local colour pervading the books, this is not the Barcelona beloved of tourists. Instead, it’s a tricky, difficult town, full of conflicting belief systems. Carvalho himself is a paradox: a former cop and ex-Marxist disillusioned by politics, he is tough-minded, unconventional and relentless in the pursuit of justice, but also capable of violence, misogyny and – horror of horrors – burning his books. Love him or hate him, he is an indispensable guide to post-Franco Spain and Catalonia. The earlier novels follow the crime genre conventions more closely, while the later ones (the author died in 2003) become polemical at times.
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the-sound-of-one-hand-killing-borja-and-eduard-book-3-28592-pThe Sound of One Hand Killing by Teresa Solana
If you are up for a mad caper and plenty of satire, The Sound of One Hand Killing sees the return of Barcelona-based non-identical twins, Borja and Eduard. They scrape by, running an unlicensed PI firm. However, the credit crunch is hitting them hard so Borja has a sideline as a courier in stolen goods. Along comes best-selling author Teresa Solana, who  hires the twins to do some research into alternative medicines. The duo check into an exclusive meditation centre in the ritziest part of town, and soon become involved in a murder. Meanwhile, Borja’s activities are catching up with him in the shape of some thugs, while a neighbour turns out to be a CIA agent. Unflinching in her portrayal of bored rich people and fake New Age claims, Solana is also compassionate about ordinary people desperately trying to carve a life for themselves at the poverty line.
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Of course there are many more wonderful and popular holiday destinations we have not covered. Where are you going, and what will you be reading? Let us know by commenting below.

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2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Kitchen Cupboard Cleanout | findingtimetowrite

  2. Moira Reply

    What a great post Marina, a mixture of old favourites and new names to me. I am not going to any of those exotic places just yet, but have made some notes anyway.

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