#BookReview Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov

Death and the PenguinAbout the Book

Viktor is an aspiring writer with only Misha, his pet penguin, for company. Although he would prefer to write short stories, he earns a living composing obituaries for a newspaper. He longs to see his work published, yet the subjects of his obituaries continue to cling to life. But when he opens the newspaper to see his work in print for the first time, his pride swiftly turns to terror. He and Misha have been drawn into a trap from which there appears to be no escape

Format: Hardback (240 pages )     Publisher: Vintage
Publication date: 28th April 2022 Genre: Contemporay Fiction, Literature in Translation

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My Review

Death and the Penguin was the May selection for the book club run by Waterstones in Reading. Although the book is available in paperback, most of us chose to purchase Waterstones’ special edition containing a new introduction by the author and with £10 from each copy sold being donated to Oxfam’s Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal.

First published in 1996, Death and the Penguin has been described as ‘a chilling black comedy’ and there are definitely moments of surreal humour; Misha the penguin’s funeral attendances spring to mind.  And anyway how often do you come across someone who has a penguin for a pet, especially when that person lives in an apartment? However it does show that, although solitary by nature and with a history of keeping other people at arm’s length, Viktor can show affection. Touchingly when Misha falls ill, Viktor seeks out a penguinologist (who knew there was such a thing) to advise him on what to do and, as a result, enters into an agreement that will have quite incendiary results.

Through a series of chance events and quite without knowing how it happened, Viktor acquires what he regards as the requisites of a ‘normal’ life: wife, child, pet penguin. Set largely in the city which we now know to call Kyiv, there are occasional glimpses of Ukranian lifestyle such as when Viktor travels to a friend’s dacha for New Year celebrations.

Though he doesn’t comprehend it for a long time, Viktor has become entangled in what turns out to be a web of corruption run by some very shady individuals. When he finally puts two and two together, he realises he knows too much. ‘This isn’t a film, it’s for real.’  But has that realisation come too late?

Although all the book club members enjoyed the whimsical nature of the book, we were left with the feeling that we’d missed something and that perhaps you had to be Ukrainian to really appreciate the satirical element of the book.

In three words: Quirky, playful, charming

Try something similar: Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar

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Andrey KurkovAbout the Author

Andrey Kurkov was born in St Petersburg in 1961. Having graduated from the Kyiv Foreign Languages Institute, he worked for some time as a journalist, did his military service as a prison warder in Odessa, then became a writer of screenplays and author of critically acclaimed and popular novels, including the bestselling Death and the Penguin which was first published in 1996.

Kurkov has long been a respected commentator on Ukraine for the world’s media, notably in the UK, France, Germany and the United States.

#BlogTour #BookReview Little Drummer by Kjell Ola Dahl @RandomTTours

Little Drummer Graphic 1Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Little Drummer by Kjell Ola Dahl, translated by Don Bartlett. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to Orenda for my digital review copy.

Do check out the post by my tour buddy for today, Monika at Monika Reads.


About the Book

When a woman is found dead in her car in a Norwegian parking garage, everyone suspects an overdose… until a forensics report indicates that she was murdered. Oslo Detectives Frølich and Gunnarstranda discover that the victim’s Kenyan scientist boyfriend has disappeared, and their investigations soon lead them into the shady world of international pharmaceutical deals.

While Gunnarstranda closes in on the killers in Norway, Frølich and Lise, his new journalist ally, travel to Africa, where they make a series of shocking discoveries about exploitation and corruption in the distribution of foreign aid and essential HIV medications.

When tragedy unexpectedly strikes, all three investigators face incalculable danger, spanning two continents. And not everyone will make it out alive…

Format: Paperback (276 pages)    Publisher: Orenda
Publication date: 26th May 2022 Genre: Crime

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My Review

My first introduction to Oslo detectives Gunnarstranda and Frølich was in Faithless which I read back in 2017. (I also read the author’s historical crime novel, The Assistant, last year.) Although Little Drummer is the fourth book of the author’s Gunnarstranda and Frølich series to be published in English, it was first published in 2003 – hence the reference to passengers on an airplane watching films on overhead screens! It therefore pre-dates events in Faithless and the other two books in the series published by Orenda – Sister and The Ice Swimmer. (Do try to keep up.)  Although you would miss out on learning more about the backstories of Gunnarstranda and Frølich by not having read previous books (personally I remain unsure about the nature of Gunnarstranda’s relationship with Tove), I certainly think Little Drummer can be enjoyed as a standalone crime novel.

Initially an investigation into an apparent suicide that turns out to be murder, and a separate missing persons enquiry, it’s not long before Little Drummer is transformed from police procedural to international thriller as the action moves from Oslo to Kenya. Whilst pursuing separate lines of inquiry Gunnarstranda and Frølich gradually unearth a web of financial corruption involving insider dealing, the use of shell companies and speculation on risky ventures. When individuals are playing for such high stakes, those who might threaten their enterprise are expendable.

Gunnarstranda and Frølich slowly gather together the pieces of what becomes a frustratingly complex jigsaw. As Gunnarstranda remarks, ‘Following clues after a murder is like gathering the fragments of a dream. It’s all about finding pieces of some surrealistic act and trying to make them fit into a comprehensible picture’. It’s a puzzle which sees them forced to co-operate with others whose motives are not always clear. Frølich in particular finds himself in unfamiliar territory – and unexpected company – when he flies to Kenya to follow leads about the missing scientist.

What I really enjoy about the books is the partnership between Gunnarstranda and Frølich, both on a personal and professional level. Frølich, whilst pondering on his history of failed relationships, always keeps an eye out for his boss, trying to persuade Gunnarstranda to modify his unhealthy habits (even hiding his tobacco at one point). Little Drummer finds Gunnarstranda in particularly melancholy mood, pondering on his own mortality as his lifestyle shows signs of taking its toll. As he admits, he’s ‘a neurotic, work-obsessed, socially dysfunctional man with poor self-knowledge’, not to mention a chain smoker and a whisky drinker.

Although Gunnarstranda and Frølich’s investigation goes to some dark places, exposing some of the inequalities that exist in the world, there are also moments of humour. For example, when Frølich observes a guest at his hotel who is so drunk he passes out with his face in a plate of spaghetti or, my absolute favourite, the incessant, inane chatter of Frølich’s mother and her friend Edna when he gives them a lift in his car.

With its combination of intricate plot and exciting moments of drama, Little Drummer is a skilfully-crafted crime thriller that will keep you turning the pages.

In three words: Tense, dark, compelling

Try something similar: The Dark Flood by Deon Meyer

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DahlKjellOlaAbout the Author

One of the fathers of the Nordic Noir genre, Kjell Ola Dahl was born in 1958 in Gjøvik. He made his debut in 1993, and has since published thirteen novels, the most prominent of which is a series of police procedurals cum psychological thrillers featuring investigators Gunnarstranda and Frølich. In 2000 he won the Riverton Prize for The Last Fix and he won both the prestigious Brage and Riverton Prizes for The Courier in 2015. His work has been published in 14 countries, and he lives in Oslo.

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