Monthly Archives: November 2010

so many books…

Norm (aka Uriah) reviews Red Wolf by Liza Marklund, a follow-up to The Bomber that has finally been translated. He thinks, like Maxine, that if anyone deserves the “next” nod following the Larsson success, it’s Marklund.

Norm also turns to the Martin Beck series for a pick-me-up and describes the pleasure of reading Murder at the Savoy. A quote he provides to illustrate the rule that one needs a good plot, a solid cast, and descriptions of food is making me very hungry.

Glenn Harper reviews Camilla Lackberg’s The Stonecutter and concludes that, though she is not his favorite Swedish writer, it’s well constructed, with a nice contrast between the “cozy” setting and the dark storyline.

Jose Ignacio wonders which of his Scandinavian crime fiction books to read next. The general consensus seems to be “read them all.”

Maxine reviews Harri Nykanen’s Raid and the Blackest Sheep which is now available in the UK as a Kindle e-book. She enjoyed it very much, particularly the police side of the story, though Raid is a trifle superhuman (yet still likeable).

Bev Vincent reviews the extra volume tucked into the Millennium Trilogy boxed set coming out from Knopf in time for Christmas, which appears to have some interesting material from his publisher, an editor (including e-mail exchanges between Larsson and her), and a friend and co-worker who knew him well. Only 96 pages, but worth a read. Apparently Larsson took well to being edited, only insisting on keeping the original title for the first volume, Men Who Hate Women.

In an interview with the director of the Swedish films of the trilogy, Niels Arden Oplev discusses the appeal of Lisbeth Salander.

When we screened it for the first time, during the scene where Lisbeth gets raped, you could hear a pin drop in the theater. Then when she goes and rapes him back, I swear to God it was like being in the stadium when Denmark scored in the World Cup. I didn’t know that many women could whistle like that. It was a war cry.

Mary Bor, one of the Curious Book Fans, raves about Three Seconds by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom, writing “neither fine writing nor solid characterisation have been sacrificed to make room for hard-hitting authenticity. The action is at times painful but always compelling; the sense of drama is superb.”

Maxine Clarke enjoyed K.O. Dahl’s The Man in the Window, which like many Norwegian novels revisits Norway’s past under German occupation. She gives the translator, Don Bartlett, high marks, too.

Translator K. E. Semmel interviews Ake Edwardson for “Art and Literature,” a blog associated with Raleigh’s Metro Magazine. It’s a good interview, which includes this:

You know, there is not any genre but crime fiction where anybody anywhere can stand up and generalize and say anything, “crime fiction is this, crime fiction is that”… Everything put into the same mass grave. A lack of nuanced perspective.

Having said that, I do believe there are a lot of bad and cynical crime writers out there who are only in it for the money. To hell with them. I have written 20 books of fiction, roughly half of them crime novels, and I will say that writing a good crime novel is about the hardest thing. It’s not in the first place the plot, though a crime novel is about the last epic still standing in contemporary fiction. No, the challenge is about the attitude of the writer: Why am I writing this, why am I writing about crime, how am I writing? You know, if the writer doesn’t put in a sound of empathy and humanism in the story, then it will only become cynical and cold entertainment . . . the simple way of the absolute and excessive evil, where the writer doesn’t take any responsibility for the writing . . . I have spent all my writing years contemplating evil, and one thing I do know is that it isn’t something in its own, like a “thing.” It is very complex behavior, and it always has to do with humans, with people. Nuances. The overall “truth” of my crime novels is that you can never escape the shadows of your past; they will track you down wherever you hide. And it’s all about human behavior.

Right now there is a kind of Klondyke-like flood of crime writing and novels around, especially from Scandinavia, and I can only hope that readers will find the good stuff and that the bad stuff will fall to the ground and turn to dust and blow away in the wind.

Review: Raid and the Blackest Sheep by Harri Nykanen

Raid is a criminal who slips back and forth across the Swedish/Finnish border, toying with the police, carrying out work for hire but adhering to his own moral code. In this entry in a long-running series that’s popular in Finland, the first to appear in English, Raid is assisting a fellow con, Nygren, who is old and sick and has scores to settle. He starts by accosting a preacher who manipulates the innocent for cash, informing his congregation  that their pastor is a fraud, “a ravening wolf in sheep’s clothing” and giving a sermon like none they’ve ever heard before. “Try not to be so gullible. The world is full of false prophets from the same stock as myself and this black-souled brother Koistinen. Be skeptical, but don’t stop searching. Maybe you’ll find a good shepherd yet. Remember that the tree is known by its fruit, and a bad tree bears no good fruit.”As he tells Raid afterward, “I didn’t read the Bible in prison for nothing.”

The pair moves on to put a violent drug dealer out of business, and tracks down a man who Nygren wronged many years ago to set things right. As they trek northward, toward the arctic circle, they are pursued by a couple of thugs and an ambitious and hard-nosed narcotics detective. Along the way we learn something about who Raid is through his dealings with both Nygren and with a police officer he trusts (whose story is interwoven with Raid’s). The hitman who is a deadly and competent killer as well as a man of conscience is something of a cliche, but Nykanen does a good job of bringing this stock figure to life. At one point, when a drunken Nygren tells his companion that he, too, will one day face a day of reckoning, Raid takes a shotgun outside to prowl the perimeters of their hideout, then lies on his back in an orchard and listens to the night, remembering how much he loved thunderstorms as a child. We never entirely get inside his head – he is an aloof and cautious man, not likely to let anyone inside – but the author manages to suggest there’s much more there than  the competent tough guy with a code. And he does it modestly, in spare but effective prose.

This new publication from a tiny publisher, Ice Cold Crime, brings another Finnish crime writer into orbit of the English-speaking world with a fine translation by Peter Ylitalo Leppa. I haven’t read enough Finnish crime fiction to draw sweeping conclusions, but what I have read suggests that Finns are interested in the dance between cops and criminals – not in the ghoulish “step into the mind of a serial killer” mode, or in the larger-than-life struggle between good an evil, but in  the people whose job it is to pursue criminals, the human beings who commit crimes, and the damage they do to society and to themselves. There’s a fascinating balance of sympathy and hard-headed realism in this story that I find refreshing.

more reviews and some thoughts on place

Peter Rozovsky connects the dots between John Connelly, James Lee Burke, and Arnaldur Indridason, then collects some suggestions for writers who evoke a strong sense of place.

Norm (aka Uriah) has some fascinating things to say about Leif G.W. Persson’s massive novel, Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End. I am grateful to him for reading and analyzing the  good points and the bad in his review (because I gave up on it, but am still very curious about it -tack så mycket.)

Glenn Harper thinks Ake Edwardson’s The Shadow Woman is a terrific novel. I agree – though it’s slow and circular and I’m not crazy about Winter as a character, I though it was thought-provoking. Glenn does have a plot point quibble, but his overall verdict is positive.

Two books about Stieg Larsson are reviewed in Ireland’s The Post. The reviewer finds Kurdo Baksi’s memoir self-serving and not particularly kind to Larsson; but she gives Afterword, a collection of essays by fellow journalists that is included in the new boxed set of the Millennium Trilogy, high marks.

Captain April reviews The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. One of the things she liked about it was that she wasn’t sure whether it would have a happy ending or not – and she wasn’t sure what sort of ending she would prefer. She also finds Salander fascinating and likes her working partnership with Blomqvist.

And Norm (aka Uriah) is reading Liza Marklund’s Red Wolf and making it sound very tempting indeed. Apparently both this book and to some extent Mankell’s The Man from Beijing deal with the fling that Westerners have had with extreme ideologies. There’s also a bit about the Swedish covers that is interesting. (Is that really the author on the covers? Yes, she is attractive, but appearing as part of your books seems a peculiar mix of postmodernism and merely modern branding.)