The Europeans Are Coming

2

September 23, 2011 by Ray Yanek

I’ve always been a Europhile. 

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved knights, castles, and Guinness.  As an undergrad, I took a discount version of “The Grand Tour.”  I started in London, flew home from Athens, and hit far too many fine places along the way to name. I spent a summer in Dublin as a grad student and, with the exception of getting married and the birth of my two children, found the experience one of the most defining of my life.

Maybe my love for all (or most anyway) things European stems from reading too much fantasy, mythology, and Shakespeare, and also from my admittedly skewed perception that Europe is, and always will be, Ye Olde World. 

Or maybe it’s because of the preponderance of quaint and comfortable pubs…

But one (among many) of the strange paradoxes of my life is that although I am that Europhile, I’ve read very few European writers.  Other than some Shakespeare courses,  I took one, maybe two, Brit lit classes in college.  My plan of study revolved around mostly American literature, and I’d be hard pressed to name more than five modern European authors that I’ve read.

After my experiences at Bouchercon, I think that will change, because the Europeans stole the show.  I expected great things from authors like John Connolly and Val McDermid (and I wasn’t disappointed) but what I wasn’t expecting was the introduction to some new authors.  Who were they?  What fired me up?  Well, let me tell you…

Colin Cotterill

Born in London, Cotterill has travelled the world over and currently resides in Southeast Asia.  He’s most well-known for his Dr. Siri books set in Laos. 

Dr. Siri is a 70+ year old coroner who lives and works in 1970’s socialist Laos, in a culture were coroners are hard to find due to traditional beliefs concerning the handling of the dead and a mistrust of science in general.  According to Laotian beliefs, anyone who handles the body of the deceased is bound to be infected by the evil spirits that caused that death.  Dr. Siri is no exception.  He sees these spirits and communicates with them regularly. 

Oh, and if having a 70+ year old protagonist who talks to spirits isn’t unique enough, Dr. Siri is also possessed by the spirit of a 1000 year old shaman.

Seriously, I can’t believe I’ve never read these books.

Reviews have stated that the books are fast-paced, filled with local color, satirical, and contain just the right amount of humor to off-set the sometimes darker subject matter.

Colin is currently at work on a series that follows a young female reporter in Thailand.

Eoin Colfer

I knew of Colfer.  I teach high school English, and I’ve seen more copies of Artemis Fowl peeking out of book bags than text books over the years.

I wasn’t aware however, that Colfer is giving adult crime fiction a try.  What I also didn’t know was that he was so damn personable, charming, and utterly hysterical.  He had stories upon stories, whether he was slamming Tom Cruise for his awful Irish accent in Far and Away, or opining that people, do in fact laugh during sex scenes, but it’s usually not him. 

His currently novel, Plugged, is about Irish bouncer Daniel McEvoy who works at a casino in New Jersey. The title is a play on the slang term for getting shot and also on the fact that a seedy cosmetic surgeon convinces the thoroughly Irish McEvoy he needs hair plugs.

Pretty easy to see why the LA Times called this novel a “comedic noir”.

At one of the Bouchercon panels, Colfer was asked to read a passage from one of his other YA titles titled Half-Moon Investigations, which tells the story of 12 year private investigator Fletcher Moon.  Colfer read the opening page that can be found here.  You may have to scroll down a bit.

I’m ordering  Half-Moon Investigations for my 10-year old daughter as soon as I post…and I’ll be reading it to her myself.

Chris Ewan

Ewan is the author of The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam which introduces Charlie Howard.  Ewan followed with  The Good Thief’s Guide to Paris; and The Good Thief’s Guide to Las Vegas.  Ewan is currently working on the The Good Thief’s Guide to Berlin.

Similiar to Colfer, Ewan’s series falls in the catagory of comedic caper novel.   

I think I’m seeing another trend in my likes here…

Anyway, the witty and charismatic Charlie Howard is a crime novelist, but when he’s not behind the computer he’s practicing that which he writes.  Charlie Howard is also a burglar.

I did know about Ewan, as well. But not much.  The settings of his novels alone always piqued my interest (see above note about my Europhilic tendencies)  but Charlie Howard seems to be the thing that will finally make me go out and buy it.

Sophie Hannah

If we were talking in literary terms, English writer Sophie Hannah would be the foil to the more humorous novels mentioned above.  Hannah writes poetry, children’s books, and general fiction.  She turned to crime fiction with Little Face in 2006.  Little Face is the first of seven novels to include the Detective Constables Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer.  After hearing her speak and reading some brief reviews of her work, the Waterhouse and Zailer novels seem to be a mix of detective/police fiction and psychological thriller, most of which is set in the domestic sphere.  In other words, although there is a police presence, her novels seem to follow in the “ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances” tradition.

 In an Telegraph news article found here, Hannah discusses how the idea for her newest novel Lasting Damage came to her while looking at property websites in the UK.  “A woman,” she says, “goes onto a property website to view a place that’s for sale just around the corner, and one of the photos of the property on the virtual tour is of a woman lying in a pool of blood on the living room carpet. She then gets her husband to come and look at the site but, when he does so, the picture of the living room is not of a corpse but of a spotless beige carpet. “

 Most of my own writing has that psychological lean, so I’m hoping to count Hannah as a mentor.

If anyone if familiar with any of these authors and/or titles, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

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2 thoughts on “The Europeans Are Coming

  1. Kristopher says:

    Ray,

    I can completely recommend Sophie Hannah’s books to you. I discovered her at Bouchercon Baltimore and now rank her books as some of my favorites. I love that they are stand-alone and series books all rolled into one. (The actual mystery of the novel always focuses on some domestic issue and is resolved by novels end; but we do see great development of the detectives as the series goes on). I do recommend reading them in order, if only because Charlie/Simon have such a unique relationship that it bears reading it as it develops to better understand where they are coming from.

    In St. Louis, Sophie’s panel was the only thing that could get me to skip the Val interview (which I then purchased on CD, so I could still hear it).

    Bouchercon is always one of the highlight weeks of the year.

  2. Stuart R. says:

    Ray!

    I am dumbfounded that you have just started to look into Colfer! Artemis Fowl is a thoroughly wonderful character, and my son and I both have eaten that series! I will definitely check out some of the other authors that you have mentioned. You know me, I am always looking for something good to read. Talk to you soon!

    Stuart

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