Books in Translation Mystery

The Angel Maker by Stefan Brijs

The Angel Maker Translated from the Dutch by Hester Velmans

Five words from the blurb: return, Doctor, children, suspicion, past

I first became aware of The Angel Maker when Shannon wrote a compelling 5 star review for it. We often share a taste in books so I immediately ordered a copy from the library.

The Angel Maker has the feel of a Gothic mystery, but it is set in a small Belgian village and contains a wonderful mix of intrigue, science, and religious debate. If any of those don’t appeal, please don’t let that put you off as I know this book will be enjoyed by a wide-cross section of readers. It reminded me of The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, but The Angel Maker contained a greater number of themes and I thought it was the more accomplished of the two.

The book begins in 1984 with Dr Victor Hoppe returning to his childhood home with three baby boys. The doctor has been away from the village for many years, researching at a University, and is reluctant to talk about the children. He hides them inside his house and the villagers gossip, becoming increasingly curious about the boys. They do everything they can to spy on the household and their efforts are rewarded by occasional glimpses of the family and an increasing list of suspicious actions.

Helga Barnard, on the other hand, had been passing around an article from Reader’s Digest about people who were allergic to sunlight, and had to live their entire lives in the dark… It wasn’t until September of 1986 that the truth came out – at least in part.

The narrative flipped forwards and backwards in time, revealing what happened in Victor’s childhood, during his time as a research scientist, and eventually the truth about the baby boys. It is very difficult to review this book without spoilers (most reviews give away too much for liking) so I’m afraid I’ll keep things a bit vague and encourage you to find out for yourselves!

The pacing of this book was fantastic. I loved the way little hints were dropped through the text, giving the reader a wonderful sense of foreboding. This made the plot particularly compelling and it felt much shorter than its 440 pages suggest.

One of the things I liked best about this book was the science. It all appeared accurate and the author wasn’t afraid to include complex (but brief, so don’t worry if you don’t know much about it) explanations of biological research.

The other was the realistic mention of Asperger’s syndrome. I loved the fact that Asperger’s didn’t dominate the book, but added depth and insight into the behaviour of one character.

The only reason this book didn’t get a higher rating is because I correctly guessed the main mystery very early on. I spotted some ambiguous wording and after that my eyes were peeled for similar hints. These were repeated subtlety, but once noticed these reinforced my idea. It was cleverly done, but I wish I hadn’t been so eagle-eyed!

Recommended to anyone looking for a wonderfully creepy read, with some original ideas on medical research and religion.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

…(an) exciting book on  a difficult subject, with many twists and turns along the way. A Common Reader

The exploration of what happens when Faith and Religion mix with a man who’s more logical than emotional is a disturbing read. Gav Reads

 …a fascinating, if somewhat unrealistic, look at what could happen as a result of a gifted/disabled child being misunderstood and mistreated. At Home with Books

2012 Crime Mystery

Every Contact Leaves a Trace by Elanor Dymott

Every Contact Leaves A Trace

Five words from the blurb: wife, murdered, Oxford, mystery, past

Every Contact Leave a Trace is an atmospheric murder mystery set within the grounds of an English University. The book begins with Alex discovering the body of his wife, Rachel, by a lake in Worcester College, Oxford. Access to the college is restricted so only a limited number of people were capable of committing the crime, but police investigations draw a blank. Stricken with grief, Alex sets out to discover the truth behind her death, leading him to realise that he knew far less about his wife’s life than he thought.

The enclosed setting reminded me of The Moonstone; the pace and writing style also shared similarities with this classic piece of crime fiction. Anyone looking for a fast paced thriller will be disappointed as this is a carefully constructed book that demands concentration.

The majority of the plot is revealed through Alex’s interviews with the other characters. The reader must decide whether discrepancies between the stories are due to lies, attempts to protect others from hurt, or simply different perspectives of the same event. The solution to the crime isn’t really the point of this book, the main emphasis is on relationships formed at university and how people can display different aspects of their personality depending on which situations they are faced with.

The pace is very slow and I want to criticise this, but I grew to love its teasing nature.  The continual stalling lead to a gripping narrative, perfectly crafted to keep the reader hooked and guessing  until the final pages.

He asked me if I’d like something to eat with my tea before he began again, seeing as it was lunchtime, and when I said yes, he went off into his side room to prepare it. I sat back in my chair and listened to him moving about, clattering a knife on a plate and opening and closing the door of his fridge. I allowed my mind to become a blank canvas once more, ready for him to take his brushes to it.

The central characters all studied English so there are plenty of literature references to satisfy those looking for deeper symbolism, especially those with a knowledge of Robert Browning.

My only real criticism is that the book gives no real descriptions of Oxford. Trees are beautifully depicted, but the spires of Oxford are almost entirely ignored – the college setting being a convienient plot device rather than a vivid backdrop to the story.

On a more positive note, this book has a striking design and the deep red page edges are hard to ignore.

This is a compelling mystery and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for an intelligent page turner.



2010 2011 Books in Translation Chick Lit Mystery

Rendezvous – Esther Verhoef

Rendezvous Translated from the Dutch by Alexander Smith

Five words from the blurb: mother, life, unravels, tension, twists

Iris is holding A Month of Dutch Literature on her blog. I wanted to join in, but had nothing to hand. I then spotted this book in a little independent book shop and was drawn towards the following sentence in the blurb:

Rendezvous is an emotional rollercoaster from start to finish and an extremely powerful story about how dangerous getting what you want can be.

That is a bit of an exaggeration, but it was a gripping read with some degree of emotional tension throughout.

The book begins with Simone, a young mother, being arrested. Over the course of the book we see how she goes from being a caring wife and mother, to being at risk of losing everything.

Simone and her family move from Holland to a rural village in the south of France. They have to cope with living in the confines of a caravan whilst their house is being renovated, but also learn the numerous differences between their culture and French etiquette.

Simone’s character is very well developed and I had a great deal of sympathy for her, despite her flaws.

Unbelievable how I was able to lie to everyone, how naturally and easily it came to me. All my life I’ve hated that so intensely, that scheming, lying and deceit. Women who cheat on their husbands with their best friends, men who say they have to work late and are actually carrying on with their secretaries – there’s a reason those kinds of clichés are clichés; they’re far too commonplace, they seem to make the world go round.

This book could almost be described as chick-lit, but the mystery surrounding Simone’s imprisonment also gives it a crime/thriller edge.

I found the entire book to be very entertaining. It isn’t groundbreaking or particularly original, but it is perfect for when you need to read something a bit lighter.


2000 - 2007 Crime Mystery Thriller

In The Woods – Tana French

Five words from the blurb: detective, body, woods, family, secrets

Tana French is an author who has been raved about so much that I have forgotten where I first heard about her. I am often disappointed by thrillers and so was nervous about approaching this book, but I shouldn’t have worried – In the Woods is just as good as everyone says it is.

The book is set in Ireland and follows Detective Rob Ryan and his partner, Cassie, as they investigate the murder of a little girl. The case brings back difficult memories for Rob, as two of his childhood friends disappeared in the same wood twenty years earlier. The pair try to establish if the cases are linked, whilst trying to hide Rob’s connection to the previous investigation.

There was a time when I believed, with the police and the media and my stunned parents, that I was the redeemed one, the boy borne safely home on the ebb of whatever freak tide carried Peter and Jamie away. Not any more. In ways too dark and crucial to be called metaphorical, I never left that wood.

The book was gripping all the way through and there were plenty of twists and turns to entertain me. The pacing was perfect – keeping me hooked on every word at the beginning and then speeding up towards the end.

The writing was simple, but effective and I was especially impressed with the character development – all were well formed and I connected with them on an emotional level quite quickly.

There were a few moments when I had to suspend my disbelief as police procedure was abandoned for the benefit of a more thrilling plot. HIGHLIGHT TO READ SPOILER (for example the fact no-one searched the archaeological site or the tool sheds at an early stage in the investigation), but I was willing to overlook these minor problems as they did make the story more entertaining.

I loved the ending. It tied up many of the questions raised by the book, but left some things unanswered so that the sequel is now calling to me very loudly.

There isn’t anything profound or informative in this book, but as a piece of pure entertainment it is almost flawless. Recommended.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

The wonderful thing about this novel is that while it’s ostensibly a mystery, it’s really a character-driven story dressed up in a mystery’s clothing. Fyrefly’s Book Blog

Tana French is a goddess. Not just any goddess, but the Goddess of Mystery. You’ve Gotta Read This!

French’s writing is extremely evocative and effective at ratcheting up the suspense. Steph & Tony Investigate!

2009 Mystery

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie – Alan Bradley

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is a delightful cozy mystery. The book is set in a small English village in the 1950s and the story begins with 10-year-old Flavia de Luce finding a dead snipe on her doorstep. The bird has a postage stamp impaled on its beak and her father’s reaction to the discovery implies that this is a warning of worse to come. His fears are confirmed when a man is found dying in a cucumber patch.

Flavia de Luce is a budding chemist with access to a laboratory in her country house. She enjoys learning about poisons and other chemical reactions – I loved her! She was such a wonderful, quirky character and I liked reading about the preparation and effects of various poisons. She wasn’t entirely believable as a ten-year-old, but then much of the plot was a bit far fetched so I don’t think realism is the key aim of this book!

“I wonder, Flavia,” Inspector Hewitt said, stepping gingerly into the cucumbers, “if you might ask someone to organize some tea?”
He must have seen the look on my face.
“We’ve had rather an early start this morning. Do you think you could manage to rustle something up?”
So that was it. As at a birth, so at a death. Without so much as a kiss-me-quick-and-mind-the-marmalade, the only female in sight is enlisted to trot off, and see that the water is boiled. Rustle something up, indeed! What did he take me for, some kind of cowboy?

The plot was fast paced and entertaining. It needed little concentration – I read much of it on a train journey, a time when I find the noise prevents me from reading anything too deep. The ending wasn’t earth-shattering, but the light mystery was well resolved.

Overall I enjoyed my journey back into the charming life of 1950s England and while I won’t be rushing out to buy the next in the series (The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag ) I’m sure I’ll get round to it at some point.

Did you enjoy The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie?

Which is your favourite cozy mystery?

Books in Translation Chunkster Crime Mystery Thriller

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Steig Larsson

Translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland

I’m confused. Please could someone explain why everyone raves about this book; why it has sold millions of copies around the world and why people are describing it as the best crime novel ever. I just don’t understand it – I found it to be just average, with quite a few flaws.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo does have a reasonably complex plot, with several different threads running parallel to each other, but the basic premise involves solving a murder, which remained a mystery for almost 40 years.

My main problem with the book was that I guessed the ending very early on. In my view, a fantastic crime novel will leave little clues along the way, continually leading you to think one thing, then doubt yourself and guess again.  This book failed to do that – I just found my initial suspicions becoming stronger, until I was disappointingly proved right.

I also found the pace of the book to be slow. The beginning especially, contained far too many facts. I found myself becoming bogged down in the details, so was unable to find the reading experience enjoyable in several places.

I have heard a few people mention the negative portrayal of women in the book, and have to agree that this is another flaw. The original Swedish title can be translated as Men Who Hate Women, so I can see why it was changed for the international audience!  The poor treatment of women in this book was a minor problem, but I think that reading books like 2666 recently has dulled my sensitivity to these issues and other people may be far more offended than I was.

I did find the writing to be of a good quality, and the translation was excellent, but the plot was a big disappointment. It contained nothing ground-breaking, or particularly clever – it was just an average crime novel, no better than the thousands of other ones produced each year. Am I missing something? What makes this book so special?



Did you enjoy The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?

Are the sequels better?