Book reviews: Scandi noir with a northern slant

Author and broadcast journalist Roisin McAuley has made her first foray into crime fiction


Bogman by RI Olufsen, published by Crux

WHY are Scandi noir thrillers so very dark? Could be the long winters, access to Aquavit or just a genuinely melancholy view of life (and death). This thriller, set in Denmark, opens with a kind of Northern Ireland reference – unsurprising when you discover, as I did after reading, that it's the first foray into the crime genre of Roisin McAuley, Co Tyrone-born author and well-known broadcast journalist, writing under a pen name.

The eponymous bogman – or rather his leathery old foot and other bits and pieces – are discovered in a scene that's rather Seamus Heaney and then the whole detective procedural kicks off with the shocking news that the bogman isn't ancient at all.

The author does it well, delivering the narrative as Tobias Lange, Danish chief inspector, who could easily be televised. He has the necessary attributes: a messy divorce, a grown eco-aware daughter and a liking for athletic blondes.

After the first body, more follow, some still just about alive. It's a grisly novel but funny too. At the start, you wonder about a woman writing as a man in the first person, but then Olufsen comes up with lines about Tobias rating a woman as high maintenance and wondering if he has the energy for her and you know it's going to work.

Jane Hardy

The Traveller's Guide to Love by Helen Nicholl, published by Blackstaff Press

UNTIL recently South African born author Helen Nicholl managed a charity bookshop in Belfast and this lends a lot to her first novel. There are two strands to the story; love – unsurprisingly; and a journey through Co Down, thanks to a book discovered in a charity shop in Botanic Avenue.

Not only does Johanna van Heerden find The Traveller's Guide to Ancient County Down on the shelves of Good Intentions but it's there she meets fellow browser Albert Morrow, “tall, thin and bald as an egg”. He turns out to be a soul mate, someone she can relate to, journey with through historical Down and eventually fall in love with.

However, Albert has baggage in the shape of a wife. They are separated but live in adjoining houses and it seems he's unable to commit. Johanna and Albert part, but in the end get together.

The descriptions of their travels are much like a tourist guide, from A to B and on to C. It's Johanna's everyday life that is most interesting, her ex-husband Socrates, Sticky Wicket and his cats and her sister Frederika.

Anne Hailes

How to Be Happy (Or At Least Less Sad): A Creative Workbook by Lee Crutchley, published by Ebury Pres

ONE in four of us will experience some sort of mental health problem this year. Although many people may only think of the extremes of mental health, it's clear from this statistic that anxiety and depression can be closer to home than we allow ourselves to believe.

Lee Crutchley doesn't claim to offer a cure, nor a fool-proof method for recovery. But while he claims this isn't a self-help book, it is exactly that in the literal sense of the words.

The book offers self-assessment questions and space to write how you feel, along with punchy quotes and inspirational advice. Crutchley never makes anything difficult to understand, and offers snippets of his own experiences to change his role from author to friend, confidant and teacher. The workbook doesn't tell you the answers, it offers you motivating ways of finding them for yourself.

He asks you to think about the simpler things in life, for example, by writing down good things that have happened to you that day, and helps you to realise how things that seem like the end of the world in fact aren't.

Rebecca Flitton

The Blackie Boys by Michael O'Hara, available at, Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich and The Blackie centre, Beechmount, Belfast

THE first book in a series of three based around a river in west Belfast and a group of boys who grew up alongside it, The Blackie Boys came about when 68-year-old Falls Road native Michael O'Hara's granddaughter Chloe asked him: “What was it like when you were a boy?”

Mick and Franky rule a gang of 10 mates, aged between seven and eight – and then there's Beano, who is only four-and-a-half and desperately wants to join them. The book catalogues their adventures and misadventures around the Blackie River, which flows from Divis Mountain through Beechmount. The characters are based on the author (and illustrator), his brother, cousin and childhood friends.

It's a delightful read for both children and adults, full of humour and innocence that will have you laughing out loud, the world as filtered by young boys' imagination brought vividly to life.

It also gives a unique insight into a part of Belfast that no longer exists, and an era, gone too, when mothers issued threats such as: “I'll get your da to put you in the home'!”

Nóirín Ní Ruaidhrí

Operation Thunderbolt by Saul David, published in hardback by Hodder & Stoughton

OPERATION Thunderbolt tells the story of one of the first, and still one of the most celebrated, modern military counter-terrorism operations.

After an Air France flight carrying 258 passengers and crew from Tel Aviv to Paris was hijacked by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and flown to Uganda's Entebbe airport in 1976, Israeli commandos flew 2,000 miles undetected to pull off a daring and successful rescue.

The story of how they caught the paramilitaries and their supporter, the brutal Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, completely off guard has been made into countless books, films and documentaries but military historian Saul David's book is a stylish addition to the canon.

Combining the pacing of a thriller with the attention to detail of a scholarly work, it draws on first-hand accounts and interviews to tell the story from the point of view of the terrified hostages, the commandos who carried out the raid (the brother of current Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the only soldier killed) and the Israeli politicians making the decisions behind the scenes.

David Wilcock


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