Tag Archives: Gunnar Staalesen

a belated roundup of reviews and news

It’s been quite a busy semester and a long time since I’ve updated this blog. There has been no shortage of reviews and news in the interim . . .

UrbanIndianWoman is a fan of Scandinavian crime fiction and at her blog, Indian Feminist 101, she sometimes muses on its feminist aspects. (This is something I’m also very interested in, so yay!) She has recently shared her thoughts on Asa Larsson’s The Second Deadly Sin by Asa Larsson and also posted a round up of women detectives asking “Is it the densely dark atmosphere and snowy landscape and morose environment? Is it the fact that since in reality there is so little crime there that the Scandinavians’ imagination is more fertile when it comes to fictionalising it? Is it their innate sense of justice and fairness that finds voice in crime fiction?” Whatever it is, she likes it.

Reading is a popular pursuit in all of the Scandinavian countries, but according to the BBC, writing may be more popular per capita in Iceland, which has a thriving book culture for its small population of roughly 300,000. One in ten Icelanders will publish a book, according to the story, and the biggest genre at the moment is crime fiction. Sales double those in other Scandinavian countries, which also have healthy sales. What is particularly insteresting to me is that Arnaldur Indridason had virtually no company when he began to write crime stories not too long ago. He told me that his series tapped a thirst for crime fiction which had barely been published in Icelandic and with an Icelandic setting, though mysteries in English were popular among Icelanders. Takk fyrir, Arnaldur, for your books and others coming from your small island.

Euro Crime’s Laura Root reviews Vidar Sundstol’s The Land of Dreams. I abosolutely concur with her conclusion that some readers who expect resolution may be disappointed – but others (including Laura and me) will simply want to read the rest of the trilogy. 

Glenn Harper also reviews The Land of Dreams at International Noir Fiction, finding it repetetive at times (but not in an aggravating way) and, like me, is interested in what comes next in the trilogy.

Kerrie in Paradise reviews Derek Miller’s Norwegian by Night which takes an American to Norway. She gives it high marks and suggests it would make a cracking film. It was the winner of the CWA new blood dagger this year, so she isn’t alone in thinking it’s a good read.

At Petrona Remembered, Jose Ignacio Escribano features Gunnar Staalesen’s Cold Hearts, He recommends it highly and wishes the author was better known. Do you have a mystery you enjoyed and would like to share? Why not submit it to the site? It’s a celebration of Maxine Clarke aka Petrona, who loved a good mystery and is much missed.

At Crime Scraps, Norman reviews Liza Marklund’s The Long Shadow, warning readers that it’s important to read Lifetime first. This entry in the Annika Bengtson series takes her to the Costa del Sol and is not, in Norm’s estimation, the best of the bunch. I’m afraid I find her taste in men deeply irritating! Flawed heroines are right up my alley, unless they have a soft spot for controlling idiots. Is “stupid” a flaw? If so, not the kind I like.

One of Sarah’s Crimepieces is Anne Holt’s Death of the Demon. She found it a bit disappointing compared to other books in the series, with a not-terribly-gripping or complex plot. (I’ve just finished it myself and found it more of an issue-driven book than a real mystery, featuring a troubled child who we get to know a lot about but not to understand.

She felt more positive about Jo Nesbo’s Police, which is a “huge” book with complexity to spare. There is a plot strand she found annoying – and (having just read it myself) I was annoyed, too.

Marilyn Stasio at the New York Times says its nervewracking and disturbing and you really ought to read the previous book in the series, Phantom, first. She applauds Nesbo for taking Harry off stage and letting other characters have a chance to shine.

At Novel Heights, Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s ghost story, I Remember You, gets middling marks for characters (who tend to get into scrapes more often than they should) but top marks for tension – and for its clever resolution.

There you will also find a recent review of Quentin Bates’s Iceland-set mystery, Frozen Out (apa Frozen Assets) which has a lot going on but a terrific lead character. (I’ve just started reading the third in the series and am enjoying spending time with Gunna Gisladottir.)

Barry Forshaw reviews several mysteries, including Arnadludr Indridason’s Strange Shores and Arne Dahl’s Bad Blood.  He thinks Erlendur’s return is well handled, but reports that it’s the final book in the series, which makes me sad. Arne Dahl, he says “writes crime fiction of genuine authority with a sinewy, uncompromising structure.” To be honest, I’m not sure what it means, but I think it’s a compliment.

Karen Meek, the heroic mastermind behind Euro Crime, reviews Karin Fossum’s I Can See in the Dark. It’s not in the Sejer series, but rather is a psychological crime novel rather in the mode of Fossum’s recent work. Not one of her favorites.

She also reports the intriguing news that a UK publisher has acquired a new novel by Finnish author Antti Tuomainen. I enjoyed The Healer quite a bit.

Another Norwegian author is also due to appear in English, according to Crimficreader’s blog. Tom Johansen’s Blood on Snow is due in 2014 and will be followed by a sequel. Both will no doubt have an instant following, given that Tom Johansen is a pseudonym for the very busy and popular Jo Nesbo.

recently reviewed . . .

It has been ages since I tallied up some of the new reviews appearing here and there. While I am too full of beginning-of-term tasks to do a full round-up, here are some recent ones.

Cold Hearts coverAt irresistible Targets, Michael Carlson reviews Gunnar Staalensen’s Cold Hearts, finding Varg Veum more like Ross Macdonald’s hero Lew Archer than Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. The theme of the book has to do with Norwegian social institutions being ill-suited to addressing serious crime and the chilliness of many Norwegian’s inner souls.

He also reviews Arnaldur Indridason’s Strange Shores, which sounds like a tour de force as Erlendur returns as protagonist. He comments that while many works of Scandinavian crime fiction concern the shift from a general social sense of responsibility to individualism, opening a gap through which crime can slip through, there is also a long tradition of exploring an individual “battling alone in a dark and cold world.” Which is a tradition our traditionalist Erlendur honors regularly.

At Euro Crime, Lynn Harvey does a brilliant job reviewing Savage Spring, the fourth book in Mons Kallentoft’s seasonally-themed police procedurals featuring the troubled Malin Fors. She finds it a compelling book, though the Alice-Sebold-like inclusion of the voices of the dead is something that might not suit every reader. (This time, it’s two children who have been killed in an explosion.) Fractured family relationships are examined keenly. As Harvy puts it, “like debris from the explosion in the square,fragments of parent/child relationships are examined throughout the book . . . [which] turn it from a police procedural into a much deeper story which is precisely what drew me to read Scandinavian crime fiction in the first place.”

Bernadette at Reactions to Reading wonders if she’s read too much crime fiction – or if Jussi Adler-Olsen is seeing just how far he can push cliches and readers’ patience with his latest, Redeption (apa A Conspiracy of Faith). Too much action, drama, and shallow psychological trauma; too many coincidences, too many pages! Though she enjoyed the first in the series, she may be giving this one up.

At International Noir Fiction, Glenn Harper reviews two books that take on the increasingly porous borders between Scandinavian nations and greater Europe. Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis look at the present-day legacy of the painful history of Ukraine in a tightly-plotted, tense, and dark mystery, Death of a Nightingale. Less successful in his estimation is Strange Bird by Anna Johnsson, a newly-translated entry in the Maria Wern series which concerns an epidemic of bird flu that has entered Sweden via Belarus.

Jose Ignacio Escribano reviews Finnish author Pekka Hiltunen’s Cold Courage, a pschologicalcold courage cover thriller set in London, the first in a series. Though a fairly compelling read, he found aspects of the plot (which concerns sexual violence, human trafficking, and the rise of far-right political parties) far-fetched and had some reservations about ethical issues addressed in the conclusion,

And at Crimepieces, Sarah reviews German author Jan Costin Wagner’s Light in a Dark House, the latest in his Finnish-based series which she admires very much, calling it “a slow but reflective series” that may not be for everyone, but is from her perspective among the best in the genre.  She certainly makes me want to give it a try.

Review Round-Up

Belated news: As anyone who has been paying attention knows, Liza Marklund’s Last Will was awarded the first annual Petrona Award, presented at Crimefest. I’m chuffed, because I remember how much Maxine enjoyed this novel and the entire Annika Bengtzon series. She particularly appreciated the way it depicts the challenges professional women face balancing their work, their families, and the barriers that discrimination erects against women. Since Maxine was so extremely good at managing a demanding career at the most respected journal in the sciences, along with her family life and her prolific contributions to the crime fiction genre, she always made me reconsider my feeling that Annika is a bit of a whinger.  More reactions to the news from Euro Crime, The Game’s Afoot, and Crime Scraps.

Bernadette at Reactions to Reading predicted the results accurately, but wouldn’t have minded having four winners, since she thought they were all deserving (with her personal favorite being Leif G. W. Persson’s Another Time, Another Life. 

At Petrona Remembered, Ali Karim offers an appreciation of the work of Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom and recalls meeting them at the launch of Three Seconds, with Maxine and Karen Meek also present.

Laura Root reviews Thomas Enger’s Pierced for Euro Crime, second in a series that she calls “top notch,” which is quite long but generally well-paced and which concludes with “a humdinger of a cliffhanger”

Sarah at Crimepieces reviews Lotte and Søren Hammer’s The Hanging, which treats a the Hangingdistressing topic (vengeance against paedophiles) with a cool dispassion that nevertheless gets across how fraught such cases are. This is the first in a series, and she thinks it will find a wide readership.

Ms. Wordopolis enjoyed reading Anne Holt’s Death of the Demon,  another entry in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series, finally marching its way into English. Though the solution to the mystery was a bit of a let-down, but the characters are well-drawn and affecting.

She also reviewed Mons Kallentoft’s Summer Death, which has a lot of hot weather in it that slows down the story (which is awfully long at over 400 pages) – though the pace picks up for the final section of the book. She plans to continue with the series, but thinks the books could be trimmed to a more effective length. (I concur!)

And (while on a Nordic roll) she reviews More Bitter Than Death by Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff, which doesn’t involve a lot of actual detecting, but does build some psychological suspense and provide interesting vignettes of patients in therapy. Ultimately, thought she felt it was a fast read, it was something of a disappointment.

And finally, she thinks The Redeemer  is the best of Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole books so far, with Harry in a not-so-self-destructive mood solving a not-too-convoluted crime that doesn’t involve any serial killers. She recommends it highly.

The Devil's SanctuaryIn Paradise, Kerrie reviews Marie Hermanson’s The Devil’s Sanctuary, When a twin brother agrees to swap places with his inpatient brother for a few days, he’s not ready for the ordeal he will go through, trapped and being treated for mental disorders that are not his. Kerrie found it a “most peculiar novel” that she enjoyed reading.

Bernadette reacts to reading Liza Marklund’s Lifetime,  finding India Fisher’s narration of the audiobook particularly well done. She does such a good job of explaining why this series is worth reading, you really should go read the review. She does recommend reading at least the previous book in the series (Last Will) before this one, as it follows immediately on the events depicted there.

Col digs into his criminal library to find Leif G. W. Persson’s Another Life, Another Time, which he finds a somewhat easier but rewarding read than the first in the series, writing “Persson expertly knits together a narrative that had me constantly marvelling at the skilful way in which he layers detail into his plot. It was an interesting and educational read,” I really must try to give him another chance.

Keishon, who has Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog (and it’s a good thing, too), enjoyed the third Department Q novel, Jussi Adler-Olsen’s A Conspiracy of Faith (apa Redemption) – particularly compared to the second, which didn’t work for her at all. Still, it doesn’t come up to the standard of the first, which she enjoyed tremendously.

Glenn Harper at International Noir Fiction reviews Jo Nesbø’s The Bat, the first book in theThe Bat Harry Hole series finally available in English, which he recommends for its background information on Harry and for its story, which has an Australian setting and an Aboriginal focus.

Karen Meek shows us the cover of a Gunnar Staalesen Varg Veum novel, Cold Hearts, coming in July.  Earlier volumes in the series will be reissued with covers that fit the same aesthetic, all being published by Arcadia.

She also reviews Invisible Murder by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis, the second in the Nina Borg series from Denmark. She writes “The authors weave politics into their characters’ lives, from the issue of immigration in Denmark to the racism and prejudice faced by the Roma and this is what makes this series of books an interesting as well as an exciting read. This is crime fiction with a heart . . .” (I agree!)

At The Crime Segments, NancyO reviews Johann Theorin’s The Assylum, which she didn’t feel lived up to his previous books. Atmosphere there is in large amounts, and tension, but the ending was a let down, being both predictable and implausible – disappointing, because she loved his other books.

Peter at Nordic Bookblog reviews Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom’s Two Soldiers, a bleak portrait of youth who are alienated and find in violent gang life their only sense of belonging.  The fifth of the pair’s books to be translated into English, it continues their project of tackling difficult social issues. He calls it “a difficult but intense and thought-provoking read.”

Finally, Adrian McKinty, Irish author of The Cold, Cold Ground and other fine novels, speculates on why Iceland has more creativity in all kinds of areas per capita than other countries and suspects it has something to do with their generous supply of bookstores and libraries. He also has a lovely, trippy, “trolly” animated music video from the group Of Monsters and Men.

Linkfest

Time to catch up on what has been happening while my nose was to the grindstone at work.

Bill Ott reflects on Henning Mankell’s tenth and final Wallander novel. So does translator Anna Patterson in The Independent, Marilyn Stasio in The New York Times Book Review, Andrew Brown in The Guardian (more of a summary-cum-parody than a review) and a proper review by Karen Meek of Euro Crime.

Declan Burke goes one better by interviewing the author. So does John Preston in The Telegraph.

John Lloyd of the Financial Times looks at Mankell’s Troubled Man, the Danish television sensation The Killing and the appeal of dark Scandinavian crime in general.

Maxine Clarke reviews Gunnar Staalesen’s Yours Until Death, first published in Norwegian in 1979 and showing its age, though still an interesting read.

Bernadette reviews Liza Marklund’s Red Wolf – and enjoys the commentary on politics and the press as much as the mystery.

The Scotsman has an interesting interview with Jo Nesbo, who goes rock-climbing in Thailand to relieve the pressure of being a wildly successful writer, musician, and former footballer. Seems when talent was handed out one Norwegian got a bit greedy.

Keishon reviews Nesbo’s The Leopard and thinks it’s better than his last, and another good entry in a great series.

The Telegraph has an interesting essay by Anne Holt about a crime that changed the way Norwegians looked at violence; crime can be banal, brutal, and not clearly solved.

With the popularity of the complex television series The Killing in the UK, the Guardian catches up with Danish culture – food, style, couture, travel, and yes – crime fiction. Added to the usual Nordic noir lineup is a bit about Jussi Adler-Olsen, whose first novel in a cold-case trilogy will be released in English in May.

More on The Killing from Areopagitica. Note the Pamphleteer’s final sentiment: “There also a new US TV version of this drama. We can ignore that!” That’s how I feel, though you can read this Wall Street Journal analysis and see if you are tempted by the Seattle-set version. Glenn Harper is intrigued, but he’s watching the original first.

Read this with your eyes closed if you haven’t caught up with the series. Only Mrs. Peabody actually doesn’t give away the end, but says there will be a series two. Really? Now if we could only get the real deal here in the U.S. …

A writer in the Wall Street Journal thinks Scandinavian crime fiction is all political and Marxist and stuff. Also it’s not Strindberg. No comment.

A travel piece in The Guardian on “Larsson-land” talks about how literary tourists should check out northern Sweden but somehow fails to mention the other Larsson – Asa Larsson – or Liza Marklund, whose Red Wolf happens to be set in the town being profiled.

The Random Jotter likes Jo Nesbo’s series.

Hersilia Press thinks highly of Nesser’s The Inspector and Silence.

Mike Ripley talks about crime fiction in general – his own and his reflections based on his long-running column for Shots magazine – at The Rap Sheet. Once again, he goes on record to say the current crop of Scandinavian crime fiction (and Stieg Larsson in particular) is overrated. He thinks they lack heart and generosity of spirit and believes that Lisbeth Salander is not all that original:

Call me old-fashioned and patriotic (or just old), but I reckon Lisbeth Salander owes an awful lot to feisty, kick-ass, computer-literate, sexy heroines of British crime fiction of the late 1980s/early 1990s created by writers such as Val McDermid, Sarah Dunant, Denise Danks, Lesley Grant-Adamson, and Stella Duffy.

NancyO reviews Sjowall and Wahloo’s Murder at the Savoy at her Crime Segments portion of her literary blogging. Though she thinks it’s a bit less intense than previous entries in the series, she gives it high marks and writes:

As with the other books, there are memorable moments of humor during a serious investigation, and the characters continue to grow and change, acting very human all of the time. And another hallmark of this series continues here: the crime, the investigation, the characters’ lives and the social commentary all occur succinctly within a relatively short amount of space with no superfluous distractions.

NancyO also reviews Sjowall and Wahloo’s Cop Killer, and is sorry that having read the ninth, she’s nearly at the end of this fine series.

Sarah Weinman addresses in her Dark Passages column for the L.A. Times what she calls “post-misogyny” – cultural demonstrations of male responses to waves of feminism. (As I write this I am musing over the presence in this morning’s New York times front section 1) a front-page story on how middle-school sexting affects girls, 2) a harrowing story about a woman who finds reporters in Libya and tells them she has been gang-raped by pro-government thugs and is dragged away for more and 3) a story about how rape is becoming a common occurrence in India at the interface of traditional and modern societies. Which is to say “post” does not mean “over”.)  Anyway, here’s how Sarah frames the essay:

I speak, of course, of Stieg Larsson. No introductions are necessary for his now-iconic, soon-to-be-Fincherized-heroine Lisbeth Salander. As I’ve said elsewhere, the key to why the books have sold close to 50 million copies worldwide is that the hyperkinetic, Asperger-esque, quasi-sociopathic amalgam of archetypes that is Lisbeth leads the reader through teachable moment after teachable moment of violence against women until the culminating, and cathartic, trial sequence in “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest” — and we, the readers, are redeemed by and are complicit with Lisbeth’s resultant triumph.

She goes on to review some new books by women that play with similar tropes. At least a couple have gone on my “to be read” list.

Joan Acocella has a different explanation for the popularity of the trilogy: “cheap thrills.” In this analysis in The New Yorker, Larsson is an unskilled writer, but “a very good storyteller.” And yes, The Girl is at the center of Larsson’s success.

The woman warrior has become a beloved feature of the movies, from Nikita to Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft, and beyond. It is also, reportedly, a sexual fantasy popular with men—something else that may have helped to sell the books… [but Larsson is not merely trading in cliches because Salander is] a complicated person, alienating and poignant at the same time . . . She operates outside society but not outside morality. She is an outlaw, or a sprite—a punk fairy.

Speaking of L.A., I’m going to be part of this – squee!

(Sorry for the random placement of italics in this post – WordPress is suddenly sprinkling ems everywhere when I try to tilt a title, so some are italics and some are not.)

Leopards and Seconds and Danes, Oh My!

Time for another round of catch-up.

At Euro Crime, Karen Meek reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Leopard, which she found absorbing, thrilling, and full of twists and turns. Meanwhile, Peter provides an update on Nesbo’s writing and film projects at the Nordic Book Blog.

Also at Euro Crime, Maxine Clarke reviews Arnaldur Indridason’s standalone thriller, Operation Napoleon. She reports it’s a fast-paced adventure yarn that contrasts the reliance on technology of (mostly villainous) Americans at a base in Iceland and Icelanders who are more reliant on their wits and understanding of a challenging landscape.

Declan Burke reviews Anne Holt’s 1222, finding it rather derivative, but with vivid weather and surprising staying power.

Glenn Harper reviews Three Seconds by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom at his International Noir Fiction blog. As usual, it is a thoughtful, intelligent, and detailed review of the sort you rarely find in print these days. The sort version: it’s a very good book, well worth reading.

Peter also reviews the thriller at the Nordic Bookblog. He concludes:

And as very good books do – along the way it raises some pertinent, important and exceedingly difficult questions in a painful way, by shining that brilliant light which art can shine on some quite unsettling facts we all know but prefer to not think too much about. This is a serious, one-of-a-kind crime fiction novel. Three Seconds is one of the best crime five fiction books in English in 2011. You can take my word for it: It is stunning.

And so as not to be left out, I review the book, as well, at Reviewing the Evidence. (Though I am a bit out of sync as I found Box 21 more involving.)

Incidentally, Three Seconds has spent four weeks on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list, currently taking the 15th spot. Stieg Larsson’s Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest has been on the list for 36 weeks, currently at number two. (The first two volumes of the trilogy are on the paperback list.)

Also at Reviewing the Evidence, Susy Puggioli reviews Karin Fossum’s Bad Intentions, which she describes as “a study of guilt, guilt and compassion.”

Laura Wilson reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Leopard at The Guardian and admires the pacing and plotting but recommends suspending disbelief to enjoy the ride.

Paul Binding at The Independent also reviews the book, praising its intricacy and fast pace, but finds the events a bit too thrillerish, arguing that Nesbo really doesn’t need to resort to crowd-pleasing antics. He writes

Nesbø’s imaginative preoccupation with division, above all in the individual, makes him a distinctively Norwegian writer. His mentors – Ibsen, Hamsun – have magisterially contrasted the wild with the harmonious, the lover or explorer with the conscientious citizen, the stern moralist with the easy-going hedonist. This distinguishes him from the Swedes Mankell and Larsson, to whom he is so often compared.

A reviewer for the Irish Independent reports “Nesbo writes smart blockbuster fiction but with a melancholy and intelligent edge.”

Popular blogger Dorte Hummelshoj Jakobsen, whose new e-book of humorous flash fiction, Candied Crime, has just been released, is getting some local press coverage (in Danish). She may release a somewhat darker second volume – if we’re lucky. (Just don’t make the mistake of calling her Dørte. That’s for Clint Eastwood.)

There’s a new website on the block – Scandinoir - that describes itself as

the site dedicated to Scandinavian crime novels, where all those who love reading thriller books will find useful information and interesting news from the amazing world of Scandinavian detective novels. On our site you will find continuous updates on the latest news from the exciting world of Scandinavian crime novels. In the “news” section you will find information about the latest published or translated books, the last award-winning writers and so on.

It’s a multi-lingual site so in some cases includes materials not normally found in places like . . . uh, this blog, which is less well-versed in languages other than English.

Zach O’Yeah, India-based Swedish author of Once Upon a Time in Scandinavistan, gives his list of favorite crime novelists – both world-wide and Scandinavian – at the Tender Leaves blog. (I must say, I wouldn’t peg Zach O’Yeah as a Swedish name.)

There’s a lengthy article about Stieg Larsson the journalist and chronicler of the Swedish right wing in The Walrus, a Canadian magazine. Paul Wilson visits Stockholm to see the Expo offices where Larsson worked and compares the laws relating to journalism in Sweden and Canada. Sweden, it seems, has a long tradition of protecting journalists and their sources – dating back to 1766.

According to the Nordic Noir Book Club blog, Gunnar Staalesen will be in London on March 3rd, appearing at the Willesden Green public library, which is also holding a writing competition to determine who might be the next Mankell or Larsson, all part of their Scandinavian Camilla Ceder has written the opening lines for the story. The blog also gives a bit of a preview to an English translation of Danish author, Jussi Adler-Olsen, whose Department Q series is massively popular in Denmark but also in Germany, where his books have held the top three spots on the bestseller list for weeks. His first book in English translation should appear in the UK this coming May.

Becky Toyne of Open Book Ontario describes the way that the popularity of the Millennium Trilogy has led to a “crossover” effect – people who don’t usually read crime discovering not just Larsson but Mankell and others. She quips that she almost expects local Canadian authors to be listed in catalogs as “Linwöød Bårclay and Giles Blönt.”

 

Three Seconds, many reviews

Three Seconds, Roslund & Hellstrom’s gritty thriller (with a slow fuse), is getting a lot of attention as it is released in the U.S. A sampler:

The Booklover loves it – though if you haven’t read it yet, the review has a bit of a spoiler (though to be honest, so does the cover description on the book).

USA Today deems it “as good if not better than Larsson’ and concludes “gun play, explosions, betrayals and the ingenious ways drugs and weapons are smuggled into prisons give this novel, Roslund & Hellström’s fifth, an eau de testosterone level that’s through the roof.” Sounds terribly Hollywood in their description.

Janet Maslin of the New York Times is uncharacteristically snarky, writing that the authors “know how to deliver the kind of stilted, world-weary verbosity that somehow quickens the pulses of this genre’s readers. Even better, they are on a first-name basis with the Seven Dwarfs of Scandinavian Noir: Guilty, Moody, Broody, Mopey, Kinky, Dreary and Anything-but-Bashful.” She admires the “devilishness” of drug-smuggling plot details, but dislikes “the tiresome, vaguely flawed character development that comes with them.”

Marilyn Stasio, crime reviewer for the Sunday New York Times Book Review, is not so dismissive, though doesn’t really say whether she thinks the book was good or not.

ABC News pronounces it “highly entertaining.’

IUBookGirl thinks that Three Seconds starts off as slowly, as did the Girl Who Keeps Being Mentioned, but just as she was wondering whether to carry on, it  kicks in with a vengeance. “Three Seconds has a smart, intricate, well-written plot that I think any thriller or crime novel fan will enjoy.”

JC Patterson, book reviewer for the Madison County, Mississippi, Herald also gives it two thumbs up. He writes, “the second half of Three Seconds is psychological suspense on a grand scale.”  T. S. O’Rourke says the same thing. Literally. Word for word. I’m confused: which of these two writers said them first?  They were both posted on January 6th. Who done it?

Publisher’s Weekly interviews the two authors, who won’t say who does what in their collaboration.

In other news  …

There’s a new website on the block, scandinaviancrimefiction.com – “your literary portal into northern deviance.” So far there is information on 15 Swedish and Norwegian authors, plus links to articles on the Nordic crime wave. There will be more to come, it seems.

Australia and New Zealand are the market for the first English translations of Danish crime fiction author Elsebeth Engholm. I wonder if the UK and US will catch up? Everyone else seems to be publishing them [pout].

Kimbofo reviews Arnaldur Indridason’s Hypothermia and says something I thought when I read the book, but couldn’t put nearly so well:

…what made this book truly work for me was the way in which Indriðason makes you genuinely feel for the victims and the parents of the missing. How he achieves this is a kind of magic, because his writing style is so understated and sparse it seems devoid of emotion. And yet, by the time you reach the last page, it’s hard not to feel a lump forming in your throat…

Kerrie reviews Sjowall and Wahloo’s The Man Who Went Up in Smoke and gives it high marks.

Lizzy Siddal, inspired by the BBC Nordic Noir documentary, reports on her reading of Mankell and Nesser, and finds Nesser’s Woman With Birthmark more enjoyable than The Pyramid (partly because she finds Wallander annoying). She’s currently reading Staalesen, so we can hope for a “part two” post.

God, Sweden sounds gruesome,” writes David Blackburn in the Spectator’s Book Blog, where he reviews the forthcoming and final volume of the Kurt Wallander series, The Troubled Man. He thinks highly of Mankell as a writer:

Mankell’s stylistic poise survives translation. His prose’s quiet brilliance is reminiscent of Coetzee’s easy precision; and there is something persuasive and seductive about both at their best. The plots aren’t too shoddy either. The descriptive passages and attentive structure provide long hits of suspense for those who won’t follow Mankell into demanding territory. Anything Steig could do; Mankell can still do better.

Martin Edwards isn’t sure he likes the Rolf Lassgard version of Kurt Wallander being broadcast on BBC, but enjoyed the episode, “The Man Who Smiled.”

Peter Rozovsky asks about Sjowall and Wahloo’s habit of featuring protagonists other than Martin Beck, and sets off an interesting conversation (as always).

Hat tip to Nordic Noir (online home for the Nordic Noir book club is organized by staff in the Department of Scandinavian Studies at University College London) for this interview in the Scotsman of Gunnar Staalesen, which I had missed. He says, of his hero, Varg Veum, “Varg is my take on Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer and Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, the holy trinity of American crime writers, who have really inspired me, particularly Chandler, whose writing I admire very much.” The character ages in real time, so he is nearing retirement of the permanent sort. Staalesen discusses the direction his possible demise might take and how it might lead to a fork in the series’ road.

And finally …

Lucky Londoners! Hakkan Nesser will be speaking at “Shadows in the Snow,” part of the Nordic Noir book club’s series of events. Mark your calenders for February 3rd, 6:30-9:00 if you are fortunate enough to attend.

“we ignore the wider world at our peril”

Yrsa Sigurdardottir makes her first contribution to a group blog with an international flavor and charms everyone with her modesty and humor. She says,

If you are wondering what country I do call home, imagine a tiny island way up north where the only banking institution not humiliated and disgraced is the national blood bank. If this does not help, imagine a country obviously named by someone intent on keeping people out. If still at loss, imagine a war with no prisoners and absolutely no opportunity of placing landmines as it was fought at sea, on fishing boats, over cod. There will be no more clues.

But a commenter adds some additional hints:

It’s also a country with the oldest parliamentary system in western europe–and probably the longest continuous one in the world. It’s a country that keeps adding to its territory without war. And it’s a country with one of the most moving collections of epic literature, poetry and prose.

To which she charmingly responds “true, true and thank you for reminding me. Lately it has all been doom and gloom despite this being a great country, I needed the reminder.”
Maxine, at her Petrona blog, has a wonderful blog post about Stieg Larsson, recapping some articles and quoting from an e-mail message that Larsson sent to his publisher in which he said,
I’ve tried to create main characters who are drastically different from the types who generally appear in crime novels. Mikael Blomkvist, for instance, doesn’t have ulcers, or booze problems or an anxiety complex. He doesn’t listen to operas, nor does he have an oddball hobby such as making model aeroplanes. He doesn’t have any real problems, and his main characteristic is that he acts like a stereotype ‘slut’, as he admits himself. I’ve also changed the sex roles on purpose: in many ways Blomkvist acts like a typical “bimbo”, while Lisbeth Salander has stereotype ‘male’ characteristics and values…..

The article that Maxine links to by Val McDermid is well worth a read. In “The Man Who Died Too Soon,” she concludes,

It’s a tribute to Larsson’s skill that he never allows his political concerns to dominate his desire to tell a cracking good story packed with dramatic incident and brimming with quirky insights. But without his personal commitment to taking a stand in support of what he believed in, I’m convinced these three novels could never have had so powerful an impact among readers.

Forty years ago, with their Martin Beck novels, the Swedish writers Sjöwall and Wahlöö blazed a trail that proved the crime novel provides the perfect vehicle to write stories that shine a critical light on the society we live in. Stieg Larsson demonstrated that this works just as well for present-day concerns, and his example should give aspiring writers the confidence to put their own beliefs at the heart of their work. Books like The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest remind us all that we ignore the wider world at our peril.

Glen Harper at International Noir Fiction reviews Gunnar Staalesen’s The Consorts of Death (and promises to say more about the Norwegian television series):

Staalesen shows great skill in keeping a very complex story coherent: characters and events weave in and out, with personal and metaphorical connections among them all along the way. There are some surpises at the end, as well, when Varg finally discovers what’s been going on in the several murders and in Johnny Boy’s life. Staalesen’s novels take on social issues, but there are many passages in this book that are right out of classic noir (though Varg isn’t the usual noir hero, he has too much hope for his clients’ fates). There’s a lot more Varg Veum in Norwegian, and I for one hope for translators and publishers to fill in the gaps in what has been translated.

There’s an article in The Prospect about the Stieg Larsson phenomenon that seems peculiarly off-base in almost every particular. The author says the Sweden portrayed in crime fiction “is the modern equivalent of the library in the country house of classic English detective stories: the conventional stage in which to find corpses surrounded by a selection of intriguing and sinister eccentrics. . . . The crimes are all solved by amateurs, and usually the punishment is dealt out by amateurs too.” Salander is a witch, and Blomqvist is “Philip Marlowe without the failures or the inner life.” He considers Sjowall and Wahloo as part of the same fantasy genre, and refers (quite snidely) to the “domestic Swedish detective novel, which Scandinavia women journalists in their thirties write instead of chicklit.” My favorite comment on this article comes from a friend at the FriendFeed  Crime and Mystery Fiction room, who feels the author was “jumping on a bandwagon and driving it into the nearest vacant column inches.” Really, it’s difficult to compete with the depth of knowledge and the sheer wit of the residents of this online community.

*The country in question is Iceland, if you haven’t guessed.

reviews and Hitchens on Larsson

Rhapsody in Books reviews The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest and gives it high marks as the best of the trilogy – and gives it a thematic tag: women warriors (which struck me as interesting right after reading a recent installment of Unshelved which is about a book of women warriors who are kind of scary but can provide a leadership lesson of sorts …)

Peter reviews Arnaldur Indridason’s Hypothermia, which he considers “the best novel so far in one of the best modern crime fiction series. A lovely book.”

Maxine’s review of Gunnar Staalesen’s The Consorts of Death has appeared at Eurocrime and says that, though most of the books in the series have not been translated and there are huge gaps between the volumes available in English, this is a fitting introduction to the main character, Varg Veum, since it provides his back story.

Norm has finished reading Hornets’ Nest and has plenty to say about the book and the entire trilogy.

And just as Stieg Larsson’s books are cropping up on “best of” lists, Christopher Hitchens offers a substantial appreciation (if that’s what it is … you can never quite tell with Hitchens) of Stieg Larsson’s Millennnium Trilogy, its author, and the neo-fascist movement in Sweden in the page of Vanity Fair. No, this Sweden is not the pacific and “herbivore” nation we imagine. And these stories are not heroic sagas, but modern and bleak.

Larsson is very much of our own time, setting himself to confront questions such as immigration, “gender,” white-collar crime, and, above all, the Internet. The plot of his first volume does involve a sort of excursion into antiquity—into the book of Leviticus, to be exact—but this is only for the purpose of encrypting a “Bible code.” And he is quite deliberately unromantic, giving us shopping lists, street directions, menus, and other details—often with their Swedish names—in full. The villains are evil, all right, but very stupid and self-thwartingly prone to spend more time (this always irritates me) telling their victims what they will do to them than actually doing it. There is much sex but absolutely no love, a great deal of violence but zero heroism. . . .  Bleakness is all. That could even be the secret—the emotionless efficiency of Swedish technology, paradoxically combined with the wicked allure of the pitiless elfin avenger, plus a dash of paranoia surrounding the author’s demise. If Larsson had died as a brave martyr to a cause, it would have been strangely out of keeping; it’s actually more satisfying that he succumbed to the natural causes that are symptoms of modern life.

reviews and views

Still catching up . . .

Marilyn Stasio reviews Box 21 by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom and finds it “a movie trapped in a book” – given the drama as a badly abused woman takes hostages in a hospital – but concludes “for all their cinematic hyperbole, the authors don’t contribute to any further degradation of Lydia, who makes a believably tragic model for all the real women exploited by human traffickers.” She seems as puzzled as I was that no credit is given for the translator.

Michael Carlson’s irresistible target is The Devil’s Star by Jo Nesbo, not flawless but very good indeed:

Nesbo has created one of the great detectives in Harry Hole, and what is most impressive is the way he’s able to make Hole seem like a different person as he’s reflected in the actions and vision of various characters. He is a sympathetic character who rarely asks for sympathy, a Wallander with a touch of Marlowe’s idealism, and a hidden resevoir of white knight charm. And Nesbo is very happy to work on complicated plots and old-fashioned, if un-traditional clues.

Maxine reviews Inger Frimansson’s Good Night, My Darling at Euro Crime – which she finds atmospheric, gripping, and haunting. She also, in her Petrona incarnation, finds Gunnar Staalesen’s The Consorts of Death, very good indeed. “As with the best of PI and other crime fiction, the appeal of the Varg Veum books is not only their plots and the gradual development through the protagonist’s life and times, but their sadness at the human condition, a strong sense of social justice, and their wonderful sense of place.” The review in the Independent would seem to agree.

The Guardian thinks Jo Nesbo’s The Redeemer is too long. I think the review is too short – barely over 100 words. What’s the point? Why not just tweet your feelings? No wonder book reviewing the “proper” way is going to the dogs.

The Economist reads the Millennium Trilogy and advises that we “don’t mess with her” – the “her,” of course, being Lisbeth Salander, a character who is the “most original heroine in many years.”

The trilogy’s success shows that complex characters, a fast-paced narrative and a dazzling mosaic of challenging plots and sub-plots can keep readers hooked. The books are long and profoundly political. The sinister conspiracy being played out in the dark reaches of the Swedish security services is an important ingredient in the alchemy that has made the books so successful. Swedish writers have extensively explored the frail heart of the Scandinavian social-democratic dream; Stieg Larsson’s cynical realpolitik carries him from the cold war to the present-day murder of inconvenient witnesses. . . .

Larsson’s knowledge of the inner workings of the Swedish police, intelligence service and private security companies bring an extra layer of texture and verisimilitude. There are occasional lapses into didacticism: Blomkvist probes the murky world of female sex-trafficking which readers already know is an evil and sordid business. There are also some wildly dramatic incidents—at the end of the second volume and the start of the third, for instance—that stretch credibility to the limit. But Larsson’s vivid characters, the depth of detail across the three books, the powerfully imaginative plot and the sheer verve of the writing make “The Millennium Trilogy” a masterpiece of its genre.

Glenn Harper of International Noir Fiction on The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest – “I’d still argue that the 10-volume Sjöwall/Wahlöö opus remains the pinnacle of Swedish crime, but Larsson puts his very individual stamp on the genre and also brings the form into the 21st century’s criminal, information, and political environment.”

Brought to you by the Letter D: Maxine highlights Danish author Lief Davidsen in her “alphabet in crime fiction.”

And now on to various opinions and thoughts about the genre….

Lots of kerfuffle about Jessica Mann’s decision as a reviewer to avoid misogynistic paint-by-numbers violence, peculiarly reported in the press as a decision to abandon book reviewing altogether or as an indictment of the entire genre – none of which is true, if you actually read her essay.  The F-Word, a British Feminist publication offers a lengthy discussion of why Stieg Larsson, professions of being a feminist notwithstanding, is actually a mysogynist because of “his explicit descriptions of sexual violence, his breast-obsessed heroine and babe-magnet hero.” I’ll grant you the babe-magnet Blomqvist being a bit of wishful projection, perhaps, but writing about violence against women doesn’t mean you actually enjoy it. I think Melanie Newman is off-base to compare the (admittedly somewhat over-the-top) gruesome sex abuse uncovered in the first book with James Patterson’s enormously popular if artless serial killer entertainments. Steve Mosby has a thoughtful (and yes, somewhat irritated) response to Newman’s article, as well as a longer examination of the wider issues which picked up quite a bit of traffic from readers of the New Yorker.

Paul Ames finds that “Sweden has Murder on its Brain.”

Within the 27 nations of the European Union, only Germany, Austria, Malta and Slovenia have lower murder rates than Sweden. In 2006 there were 91 murders registered in Sweden. In the same year, 84 crime novels were published in the country.

Peter Wahlqvist, a Goteborg-based lecturer in crime fiction, said the international success of Swedish thrillers results from a combination of good writing, a taste for the exotic and the contrast between the make-believe mayhem and common foreign perceptions of Sweden as a blond, healthy, welfare state utopia.

“It’s for real, psychologically about real people and about real life, real society,” said Wahlqvist.

Books to the Ceiling, in a series on “mysteries going global,” considers the popularity of Scandinavian crime.

And Glenn, via Petunia, has found a statue of Varg Veum leaning against the wall outside the office in Bergen where the fictional PI hung out his shingle.