The Wilder Aisles 

Janice Wilder has been a legend of Sydney bookselling for over 40 years.

June 2018

 - Monday, May 28, 2018
Ngaio Marsh, the New Zealand crime writer, who died in 1982, left a few chapters for a new book she was working on—and Stella Duffy, a well-known New Zealand  writer, was asked to finish the story. The result is Money in the Morgue. Duffy said she was both delighted and daunted to be approached by the publisher. I have been a great fan of Ngaio Marsh, and at first, I felt Duffy’s attempt didn’t work—but before too long I became involved in the story. It features Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn, one of my favourite detectives. The action revolves around the Mount Segar Hospital, in a remote part of New Zealand. The hospital is full of soldiers returned from WW2, and is run by Matron Ashdown and Sister Comfort. The Matron is a very stern character who brooks no nonsense from her nurses. A heavy rain has taken out the telephone lines, and the bridge is down. Mr Glossop discovers that the payroll is missing, murder ensues, and the matron disappears. Alleyn, at Mount Segar on a different matter, is drawn into the case. Cut off, he must work without his offsider, Inspector Fox, but finds the local Sergeant Bix a willing substitute. Of course there are many suspects—including  three disreputable men who are up to no good, and a femme fatale who is involved with one of the men under suspicion. What role does the Vicar, Father O’Sullivan play, and why did it take Sydney Brown so long to visit his dying father at the hospital? And what with the weather, secret tunnels, hidden caves, some mysterious Maori beliefs and myths, and the two story lines merging—the real reason Alleyn is there and the murder/theft—it was a really good read. Very entertaining. As the back cover says ‘I defy you to see the join’. Val McDermid.

There seems to be no end to the number of Scandinavian writers on the crime shelves, and this month I have two to write about. The first is by someone new to me—Karin Fossum. Her book, Calling out For You is set in a small town in Norway. Gunder Jomann is a quiet, self-contained man, who on seeing a picture of an Indian woman in a book called People of all Nations, decides to go to India and marry a woman, resembling the one in the book, whose smiling face reaches out to him. All goes well—he meets Poona and they are married in her village. As Gunder must return earlier, he makes arrangements for Poona to follow—plane tickets and money. But on the day of Poona’s arrival Gunder receives a phone call that changes everything and shatters his life. The shock of Gunder’s marriage to a woman from so far away—and of her not arriving electrifies his small village. When things are discovered that may point to foul play, Inspectors Konrad Sejer and Jacob Skarre are called in to assess the situation. Sejer, who has a much loved dog, called Kollberg, much to everyone’s amusement, I don’t quite know why. I don’t want to say too much, but I can say that this is a thoroughly convincing tale of what can happen in a small place, where despite everyone knowing everyone, there are still dark secrets kept close. I loved this book, and I am looking forward to reading others by this writer. Fortunately, there are plenty more for me to read and enjoy.

The second book is a Nordic Noir thriller by Yrsa Sigurdardottir—the author of The Silence of the Sea, one of my favourite Icelandic crime novels. I have read others by her and I think she is very good. The Reckoning follows on from The Legacy, which I loved, and it features the same police officers, Huldar and Freyja—both now demoted from their previous positions due to events that took place in The Legacy. Huldar believes that he only gets the cases that no one else wants, and Freyja has been reduced to the lesser role of child psychologist, rather than the director of Children House, run by The Child Protection Agency. The chilling opening scenes are set in 2004—a small 8 year-old girl, Vaka is waiting for her father to collect her form school. It is freezing and Vaka huddles on the school steps—in vain she bangs on the doors, and as she is banging a small, quiet voice says that the door is locked and everyone has gone home. The girl, who is nameless, and like Vaka an outsider at the school, offers to let Vaka use the telephone in her house—a  very big mistake. Now in 2016, Huldar and Freyja are contemplating what is left of their careers. Huldar is given a case involving a time capsule found buried in a school yard, which contains a note with the initials of people who will die in 2016. Surely, this is a hoax. More mysterious events follow, and Huldar begins to take the threat seriously—especially when a man who bears one of the sets of initials is found murdered. Huldar requests the help of Freyja to try and understand the mind of the child who wrote the note. They join together in a race to find those whose initials are in the note. This is a great read. Very entertaining and though provoking. The editors have very kindly provided a list to help with the pronunciation of Icelandic names—unfortunately, I can never remember them from one page to the next and read them as written, but for those of you with a good ear...  

Janice Wilder