call for contributions to Mystery Readers Journal

Janet Rudolph has just issued a call for contributions – reviews, short essays, or author reflections – for a forthcoming issue on Scandinavian crime fiction. Here are the details:

The next issue of Mystery Readers Journal (Volume 30:4) will focus on Scandinavian Crime Fiction. Looking for reviews, articles and Author! Author! essays. Books can be written by Scandinavian writers or set in Scandinavian countries (or both). Reviews: 50-250 words; Articles: 250-1000 words; Author! Author essays: 500-1500 words. Author essays should be first person, about yourself, your books, and the ‘Scandinavian connection’. Think of it as chatting with friends and other writers in the bar or cafe. Add a 2-3 sentence bio/tagline. Deadline: January 10. Send to: Janet Rudolph, Editor. janet@mysteryreaders.orgMRJ 2007 cover

I’m sure some of this blogs’ readers have good things to share. If you’re not familiar with this publication, you may want to browse past issues or check out the 2007 issue devoted to Scandinavian crime fiction.

Strange Shores by Arnaldur Indriðason – a review

I wrote this review for Reviewing the Evidence some time ago and then forgot to repost it here, so here you go. More on the way . . .

STRANGE SHORES
by Arnaldur Indriðason and Victoria Cribb, trans.
Minotaur Books, August 2014
296 pages
$25.95
ISBN: 1250000408

Iceland is a small and peaceful country where murders are infrequent and the Reykjavik Instagram account is full of photos of police officers holding puppies or eating ice cream. But some years ago Arnaldur Indriðason put it on the crime fiction map when his third mystery, JAR CITY, became an international phenomenon. Since then, his novels featuring the dour detective Erlendur Sviensson have gained a loyal worldwide following. The protagonists of his two most recently translated novels were Erlendur’s colleagues Elinborg and Sigurdur Oli, who were holding the fort as their boss conducted personal business in the east. Erlendur resumes center stage in this novel as we finally discover what he has been up to.

Throughout the series, readers have learned two things about the laconic inspector: he finds Strange Shoresmodern-day Reykjavik a foreign and uncomfortable place and he is dogged by survivor’s guilt because, when he was ten years old, he and his younger brother were caught in a blizzard. Erlendur barely survived, but his brother was never found. His lingering sense of guilt has shaped his character and from time to time he has returned to the rural landscape of his youth in eastern Iceland where he sleeps in the ruins of his family home and wanders the hillsides.

This time, even the east is changing. A giant aluminum smelter and a hydroelectric dam are altering the landscape and crowding the fjord with freighters. Some of the residents are pleased with the changes, but many old-timers, like a hunter who Erlendur meets early in the story, share the inspector’s opinion. “He couldn’t understand how on earth an unaccountable multinational, based far away in America, had been permitted to put its heavy industrial stamp on a tranquil fjord and tract of untouched wilderness here in the remote east of Iceland.” The hunter, it turns out, was involved in the search for Erlendur and his brother many years ago. Now he’s tracking a fox that has been worrying sheep. When he mentions that foxes conceal all manner of things in their earths, Erlendur wonders if he might find some relic of his brother, missing all these years.

Descending from the moors, he asks the hunter about a case that he’d read about, a woman who disappeared in another storm, her body never found. Erlendur’s mother knew Matthildur casually, and he’d always wondered about the case. He begins to ask the elderly residents about it, people whose stories will soon be lost forever like the landscape he grew up in, and gradually he pieces together what happened to her. It’s not a police investigation. It’s a long-term interest in the fates of people confronting the wilderness – and the cruelty of others, which is as old as the hills.

The narrative structure of this novel is similar to other books in the series, particularly SILENCE OF THE GRAVE, in which two stories unfold. It’s not clear who is involved in one of them, whether they are chronologically synced up, or how exactly the stories are related until, toward the end, the two narratives click together. In its quiet, thoughtful, and understated way, this novel explores the tragedy of unfinished stories and the fact that even when a mystery is solved, it leaves many fundamental questions unanswered.

Readers of the series will be pleased to learn that another volume in the series, a prequel set in the 1970s, has been published in Iceland. Let’s hope it will be translated into English before too long.

some good news for Jørn Lier Horst

The past few days haven’t been good ones in my country, but I’m cheered to learn about something to celebrate.

Jørn Lier Horst’s THE HUNTING DOGS is the winner of The Martin Beck Award 2014 given by the Swedish Crime Writers’ Academy (Svenska Deckarakademin) for the best crime novel in translation. It is one of the most prestigious international crime-writing awards. The Jury says; “An original, thrilling novel about a policeman’s struggle on the edge between disaster and restoration of justice.

I first heard about this series from Maxine Clarke, who really loved the series. I’m pleased it’s finding an appreciative Swedish audience. It would be lovely if it were widely available in the U.S. Meanwhile kudos to Sandstone Press and a tip of the hat to Barry Forshaw and Lucy Ramsey for keeping me in the loop.

review roundup

At Crime Scraps, Norm reviews Liza Marklund’s latest Annika Bengtzon thriller, Borderline which involves international intrigue and a hostage situation. Does it make me a bad person to be pleased that Annika’s annoying ex is a hostage? It sounds very good (and not just because Thomas is in trouble.)

At Petrona Remembered, there’s a fascinating email exchange/converation between Neil Smith and Liza Marklund about The Long Shadow and its translation and possible reception by English readers. Fascinating! And it ends on a cliffhanger . . .

The Guardian credits the popularity of Scandinavian crime for a boom in translated fiction in the UK.

Crime Fiction Lover provides a lovely tribute and overview of the Martin Beck Series written by Jeremy McGraw

At Crime Review, Tracy Johnson reviews Aren Dahl’s To the Top of the Mountain, who feels the humanity of the characters adds to their appeal.

At Reviewing the Evidence, Yvonne Klein unpacks the multiple plot strands and global locations for Jussi Alder-Olsen’s latest entry in the Carl Mørckseries, The Marco Effect, making it sound very well worth reading.

She makes a reference to an interview with the author in the Huffington Post, which is also worth a read. The author mentions that in addition to a Danish film version of the first in the series, there’s talk of a U.S. television adaptation of the characters, possibly s Hmm…

Ms. Wordopolis reviews an earlier book in Arnaldur Indridason’s Erlendur series, Voices. She finds it’s not the best in the bunch, but it’s still a favorite series. “It’s a reminder to me to spend less time on new releases and catch up on older books.” I’m so glad you feel that way!

Ms. Wordopolis also thinks the second volume of the Minnesota Trilogy, Vidar Sundstol’s Only the Dead, is a much tighter, very different sort of book from the first. I agree with her that it will be interesting to see what the third and final volume is like.

Laura Root also reviews the book at Euro Crime, finding it both unexpected and gripping. (Ditto.)

Staci Alesi (“the Book Bitch”) also reviews that book for Booklist and says though it is short – almost a novella – it’s dark, beautifully written, and suspenseful.

Jose Ignacio Esrcribano reviews (in two languages!) Arnaldur Indridason’s Strange Shores, which finishes the Erlunder series (chronologically, at least). He enjoyed it very much, as did I.

At International Noir Fiction, Glenn Harper reviews Jo Nesbo’s Police, in which Harry Hole is off stage for a good bit of the action, and speculates whether the end is really the end – or not.

Sarah Ward reviews Black Noise by Pekka Hiltunen at Crimepieces and wonders whether it qualifies as Scaninavian crime, given it’s set in London. She finds it has a promising story about social media that unfortunately goes awry, becoming quite implausible. She hopes for better next time.

She also reviews Elsebeth Egholm’s Three Dog Night, a Danish novel about a recently-released convict who moves to a remote community only to meet a prison mate who is, unfortunately, dead. She says it has a well-constructed plot with a good ending though some of the characters in the fraying community can be hard to keep straight. She’s looking forward to the sequel, coming out in the UK soon.

Karen Meek reports on hearing two Danish authors interviewed by Peter Guttridge – Elsebeth Eghholm, Lene Kaaberbol, at the Manchester Literature Festival. Lots of insight into the authors and being translated, here.

Mrs. Peabody investigates a French thriller set in Norway, Olivier Truc’s Forty Days Without Shadow, likening it to M. J.McGrath’s Edie Kiglatuk series set in the Canadian artic. It’s a “cracking debut” that illuminates nomadic Sami culture in a world with borders.  It sounds like a strong nominee for the Petrona Award. Mrs. P. links to an interesting  interview with the author.

Gary Jacobson reviews Karin Fossum’s I Can See in the Dark and finds it creepy, chilling, and effective at portraying the inner life of a very unpleasant man who is guilty of many crimes except for the one he’s accused of.

At Euro Crime, Lynn Harvey reviews Jan Costin Wagner’s Light in a Dark House, the fourth in the Finland-set series, but the first she read.  She says it stands on its own, but she’s ready to go back and read the rest. She concludes, “if you love the mystery of character as much as the mystery of crime – set in a wintry Scandinavian landscape – then I think you will savour [it] as much as I did.

Arne Dahl’s To the Top of the Mountain

The recent issue of the extremely useful review website, Reviewing the Evidence, Includes a review of the third of Arne Dahl’s Intercrime series to be published in English translation. Thanks to RTE’s generous policies for reviewers, I can reprint it here. And thanks to the author, who donated a copy of the book to my library when he visited last spring.

TO THE TOP OF THEMOUNTAIN
by Arne Dahl and Alice Menzies, trans.
Harvill Secker, June 2014
390 pages
14.99 GBP
ISBN: 1846558085

Arne Dahl has likened the publication of his mysteries in English translation as a kind of time travel. He published his ten-volume Intercrime series in Sweden between 1998 and 2007. The third volume in the series is finally out in the UK, fourteen years after its original publication. Fortunately, readers will find it hasn’t gathered any dust in the meantime.

The A Team, a team created to investigate particularly complex crimes, was brought together in MISTERIOSO and disbanded at the end of BAD BLOOD. As TO THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN To the Top of the Mountain opens, familiar characters have been scattered to new assignments. Paul Hjelm and Kerstin Holm are investigating a stupid and all-too-predictable incident involving rival sports teams, too much beer, and a moment of rage-fueled violence. Arto Söderstadt is investigating an explosion in a high-security prison with Viggo Norlander, who is more occupied with his infant daughter, having become a father unexpectedly late in life. Jorge Chavez has hit the books and has become the most qualified policeman in Sweden to not get a promotion. Gunnar Nyberg has the most difficult assignment of them all: investigating child pornography rings. Their former leader, Jan-Olov Hultin, is pushing a lawnmower like Sisyphus, having been put out to pasture.

But when five men are slaughtered in an isolated industrial estate, three from an East European drug empire and two members of a rising neo-Nazi group, the team is brought back together to sort out what happened. The crime scene suggests a third party might have been involved, escaping with a briefcase that had been chained to one of the victim’s wrists, and an exotic explosive used at the scene matches that used in the prison. Clearly, there’s more here than meets the eye.

That is more or less the theme of the book. A simple bar fight turns out to be far more complicated. The pornography investigation unexpectedly offers a glimpse into unrelated crimes. Things that seem trivial hold layers within layers, and it’s only the intuition and the stubborn curiosity of the reassembled A Team that can tease out the meaning behind run-of-the-mill violence. Just as you think you’ve come to last layer of the onion, you discover something even more deeply hidden.

Every Swedish crime writer traces his or her lineage to Maj Sjowäl and Per Wahlöö’s ground-breaking Martin Beck series that the co-authors called “the story of a crime” – the broken promise of an equal and democratic society. Though the pair have many heirs, few writers are actually similar in style. Arne Dahl’s ten-book project with a similar collective protagonist mixes dry humor, irony, and seriousness as he uses criminal violence to illuminate the international complexities of modern-day Sweden. This isn’t to say his work is derivative. Rather, it’s awfully good as it provides a similar diagram of a crime that has gone global.

Only the Dead by Vidar Sundstøl

Only the Dead 
by Vidar Sundstøl
Translated by Tiina Nunnally
(Minnesota Trilogy #2)
University of Minnesota Press, September 1, 2014

In this second volume of the Minnesota Trilogy, Norwegian author Vidar Sundstøl continues exploring the rift between the past and the present, between European settlers and the native inhabitants of the Arrowhead region of Minnesota, and between two brothers living on the shores of Lake Superior in the present. Though I am not a series-order purist, this is truly a trilogy, not a series of mysteries with recurring characters. This story will make a great deal more sense if you’ve previously read the first volume, The Land of DreamsAnd if you haven’t, you might want to stop reading this review right now, because I can’t avoid serious spoliers for the first book. I’d turn back if I were you.

I'd turn back if I were you

Are we all right then? Ready to carry on? I did warn you.

Okay . . .

We know from the first volume that Lance Hansen, a “forest cop” who patrols Cook County, Minnesota’s national forest lands, discovered the body of a murdered Norwegian tourist. Officials from the state and a Norwegian detective take on the investigation. In parallel, Hansen comes to believe that one of his ancestors who came to Minnesota from Norway may have murdered a native man, Swamper Caribou, in 1892. Hansen is literally haunted by thLand of Dreamse past, since he keeps seeing a man who appears to be from another time. And he’s haunted, too, by his suspicion that his brother Andy may be the man who killed the Norwegian visitor. That seems impossible when the detectives make an arrest, until Hansen uncovers another family secret: DNA evidence that the murderer had Indian ancestry had ruled Andy out as a suspect. But Hansen discovers that he and Andy have Ojibwe ancestry.

The second book is quite different in tone. Though it’s short, it’s packed with a densely threatening atmosphere. The mood is obsessive, claustrophibic, and almost hallucinogenic at times. It opens as Lance and Andy are engaged in a Minnesota tradition: hunting deer. They take turns driving the deer and shooting. But it’s clear from their tense interactions that they’re really hunting each other.

As the men track through the dense woods, we learn what happened in 1892 from the point of view of a young Norwegian immigrant as he crosses the frozen lake, hallucinating as he fights off hypotermia, frightened bOnly the Deady the world he’s in and its savage inhabitants, determined to get his own piece of the new world. His story is interwoven with the hunt, each narrative growing more intense, more disturbing, less connected to what we think of as reality with each turning page. The natural world itself is transformed as an ices storm descends on the North Shore, making the woods beside the vast frozen lake a labyrinthine and disorienting forest of ice. It’s in this weird, frozen world where the past and present touch, where the hunter becomes the hunted, where things are stripped down to their elemental essence.

This is not a comfortable book. Though it doesn’t take gruesomeness to the heights that the average serial killer thriller aspires to, the violence in it is far more real and much more disturbing. And because the story is so disorienting and unresolved, it doesn’t provide the usual resolution that readers expect from the genre, that at least justice is served in the end. Perhaps that will come in the third book, but I wouldn’t count on it.

At one point in the book, as Lance is following his brother into the woods, he thinks to himself:

. . . were the rules still valid after what had happened? Was it even possible to talk about things like rules anymore? Lance had broken the most important rule of all, which said that specific subjects were not to be discussed. Not under any circumstances. The world he knew was a world that was held together by keeping silent about certain things. These things were not clearly defined, but everybody who lived in the same world as Lance recognized them at once whenever they cropped up. As long as no one broke the rule, this world would continue to exist. It had already endured for a very long time.

Though this book is short, it’s packed with strangeness, The rule of silence, once broken, lets all kinds of weird things bubble up. I’m very curious to find out what will happen in the third book of the trilogy.

 

 

Swedish Crime Fiction by Kerstin Bergman: a Review

Swedish Crime Fiction: The Making of Nordic Noir 
by Kerstin Bergman 
Mimesis/DeGenere, 2014
ISBN 9788857519838

I have met Kerstin Bergman twice, once at a conference about Stieg Larsson at UCLA and again when she came to our campus as we held an event focused on women crime fiction authors from Scandinavia. She struck me as a person who knew a lot about crime fiction and was able to communicate her knowledge clearly. That quality is evident in her new book, a thorough scholarly examination of Swedish crime fiction published in English (by an Italian publisher! truly an international effort). Though Bergman is quite young, she has long established herself as a major scholar, writing many articles and a standard Swedish textbook on the topic, holding a research appointment at Lund University. She is also a member of the Swedish Crime Fiction Academy. So I was not surprised to find her new book an absolutely terrific contribution. 

Bergman begins the book by providing a history of crime fiction in Sweden from the late 19th century to the present, noting the changes it has gone through including the “breakthrough of the police procedural” with Sjowall and Wahloo’s ten-volume “story of a crime” in the vangard, the interest in the genre reignited with Henning Mankell’s success, and finally taking off like a rocket with the worldwide popularity of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy.  

She then provides several chapters in which she examines in greater depth the following:

  • the Martin Beck series and later police procedurals (“Sweden’s favorite kind of crime”)
  • Henning Mankell’s treatment of Swedishness and “the other” and how it has played out in other writer’s work
  • women authors, including Liza Marklund, who broke ground for women writers, and the women who have come since
  • the urban scene of crime (from Stieg Trenter to Jens Lapidus, who has done something quite novel with the genre
  • the neo-romantic countryside (from Maria Lang to Mari Jungstedt, with consideration of Camilla Lackberg and other popular writers who focus on the countryside and on a Sweden untarnished by change; these novels are not notably focused on social criticism but rather on local crimes that arise out of family disfunction. 
  • the Stieg Larsson phenomenon and how his mix of playful remixing of genre conventions and social critique became an international success that opened the door for many writers to reach an international audience while also enabling Swedish writers to try different kinds of crime fiction than the police procedural. 
  • the “Europeanization” of Swedish crime fiction in the works of Arne Dahl, who turned his focus from Sweden to Sweden in a more global context. 
  • and finally, a handy review of crime fiction in other Nordic countries, providing both a run-down of major authors but also a comparison of crime fiction traditions in the countries. 

This is a superb book that perfectly balances the interests of scholars and the passions of ordinary readers. Bergman is no slouch when it comes to critical theory, but I’m pleased that she chose to keep her focus firmly on the literature itself rather than on abstrations. Though this doesn’t diminish the scholarship involved, it makes the book accessible. It’s also unusually affordable for a scholarly book – which makes it a tempting purchase for readers who enjoy Swedish crime fiction as well as a gulit-free course adoption. Anyone teaching Scandinvian crime will want to assign this clear, well-organized, insightful book as a text. Those teaching Swedish literature or the crime fiction genre might want to consider it as a supplemental text. It should also find a home on the shelves of every academic library. It’s a very useful, well-done survey of Swedish crime fiction.