Tag Archives: James Thompson

is this a dagger I see?

The International Dagger shortlist is out and three of the six contenders are from you-know-where.  (And oh! one of the judges is You Know Who! What an inspired choice.) Kerrie has already read the half, and gave two of them top marks. Norm’s handicapping the race at Crime Scraps and thinks two are long shots.

Karen (aka You Know Who!) points out a July 4th interview with Henning Mankell at BBC’s Open Book.

Beth at Murder by Type found that James Thompson’s Snow Angels was violent, disturbing, and includes “the repeated use of a term most Americans shun” – and she couldn’t put it down. The harsh setting and the ways Finns deal with the cold and dark provides a compelling setting, and while she averted her eyes from some bits, she concludes “this is going to be a series well worth following.”

Glenn at International Noir Fiction has a detailed review of Lief G. W. Persson’s Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End, soon to be released in the US by Pantheon, translated from the Swedish by Paul Norlen. It sounds like a cynical and sometimes comical book about cold war politics with a side of misogyny. (I will be reviewing it myself by the end of summer, which is when it’s due for release.)

Steig Larrson’s biographer, Barry Forshaw, reports on a panel at the Swedish ambassador’s residence in which he asked Hakan Nesser and Johann Theorin about Larsson’s picture of modern Sweden as a country riddled with corruption and high-level conspiracies rather than the socially equitable, sexually unfettered, and rather earnest place that most non-Swedes imagined before reading the Millennium Trilogy.

“Larsson’s is not really the Sweden I know,” said Håkan Nesser. ‘But if you dig deep it gets very dark sooner or later. On any soil, in any country.” So is Nesser unsympathetic to Larsson’s paranoid view of Sweden? “No,I’d say that Stieg wrote with a certain poetic licence. On the other hand, he was more deeply involved with clandestine aspects of the Swedish society than I am, where the high and mighty are the worst of crooks…’ He smiles: ‘Well, it’s nice to read about conspiracy theories — it’s the poor man’s justification. It feels good to watch your rich neighbour’s fall from grace, doesn’t it?”

Johan Theorin, a more laid-back personality than Nesser, concedes that “The characters, the sexuality and the violence are, of course, over the top; as to the characters, I’ve met men whose personalities remind me a little of Mikael Blomkvist, though I have never even heard of anyone in Sweden who is similar to the fearsome Lisbeth Salander (another major character, a violent and autistic young woman). . . . We have a free press who are always hungry to expose any kind of government corruption, however small. But Stieg Larsson was an integral part of that press which constantly scrutinised the government, so perhaps he concentrated on the small misdemeanours of politicians instead of seeing that – generally — everything works quite well.’

Though Forshaw feels the critique of Sweden’s society in the trilogy is contentious among his compatriots, the writers’ diplomatic remarks seem anything but – until the end of the essay, in which Nesser says Swedes are proud of Larsson’s international success, but then, they’re also proud of Abba. (Ba da BOOM!)

reviews, favorites, and editorial suggestions

Michael Carlson has a thorough review of Johann Theorin’s The Darkest Room up at Irresistible Targets, which he considers “an incredible mix of ghost story, thriller, and very subtle whodunit.” The sense of place also plays an important role.

Like his exceptional debut novel, Echoes From The Dead, Johan Theorin’s story is deeply woven into the landscape of the Baltic island of Oland (in Swedish literally, Island Land), one which is considered unique by the island’s residents (which included my grandmother), and by Swedes in general. It’s not just a sense of setting, as it is in Mari Jungstedt’s novels set on Gotland, the next island to the east. It’s more a sense that the land itself is a force, if not a character, in the story. In his first novel, it was the bleak Alvar, and now it is the equally bleak eastern coast, and the dangerous blizzards, which in the flatness of the island, can take away one’s sense of location, sense of being, with fatal consequences.

James Thompson, American resident of Finland and author of Snow Angels, speculates about American roots of Scandinavian crime fiction in his blog, Jimland. He writes that he was not particularly aware of the Scandinavian wave until his work, first published in Finnish translation, was picked up in English. He’s more interested in American noir than Scandinavian crime fiction, which has a setting that to him is ordinary. (Oddly, the  evocative setting and the way Finns in a small northern community interact was what interested me most about Snow Angels; the plot . . . m’eh. Call me jaded.)

Anne Cleeves picks her favorite Scandinavian crime fiction, and so does Jo Nesbo, who discusses five Norwegian crime writers–including Stein Riverton, who published mysteries over a century ago.

Dorte reviews Ake Edwardson’s Nearly Dead Man, which hasn’t been translated into English yet. She reckons it could benefit from some pruning of the personal life histories and philosophy.

Maxine reviews The Woman from Bratislava by Lief Davidsen at Euro Crime and recommends it with some reservations. The bits others might prune, she feels, do pay off for the committed reader, though some parts of the book are stronger than others.

Laura Miller thinks Stieg Larsson should have pruned things, too, and is pretty snarky about it, but somehow manages to let admiration leak out in spite of her annoyance at lists and details.

What keeps Salander from turning into a cartoon like the Bride from “Kill Bill” is the unedited-documentary-footage texture of the novel’s narration. It’s this integration of the mundane and the mythic that enables the trilogy to hold its readers in thrall.

The antagonists in the first novel were corporate; in the second they were organized criminals and their accomplices. “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” beards the ultimate villains in their den: abusers of legitimate state authority, specifically the Swedish Security Service, or Säpo, the national police. “I don’t believe in collective guilt,” says Blomkvist, that authorial sock puppet, and so Larsson takes great care to illustrate that the “system” isn’t inherently to blame, but rather individuals who warp it for their own ends.

The climax of “Hornet’s Nest” is, naturally, a trial. Salander, who long ago (and with good cause) lost any faith in institutions or official authority, is vendetta personified, confronting the Enlightenment institution of the rule of law. One side is so satisfying, so charismatic, so immediately appealing to our instinctive sense of right and wrong; the other, as Larsson himself was no doubt aware, is the only thing keeping us from descending back into the bloody world of the Icelandic sagas. It’s a contest that still captivates us because we all feel those warring impulses within ourselves. The story may be ancient, but somehow it never gets old.

image courtesy of johany

bits and bobs

James Thompson gives Snow Angels the Page 69 test. (For the uninitiated, this is a blog where authors discuss what turns up on page 69 and what it reveals about the book; it’s part of an ambitious web of blogs that are on a Campaign for the American Reader. There is no need to wonder “what should I read next?” ever again. Ever!!!!)

Apparently Hakkan Nesser never did make it to India for the planned week focused on Scandinavian crime fiction. A certain volcano in Iceland is to blame. The party in Bangalore went on regardless and it sounds as if everyone had a good time hearing, among other things, from a Swede living in India writing a novel about Scandinavistan.

There’s a nice piece on “what I know about Iceland now that I’ve read Arnaldur Indridason” from a blogger at the Calgary public library.

And Norm (aka Uriah) reports in on his relationship with The Man from Beijing.

reviews, recipes, and tours

After being too busy at work to post, I have lots of links backed up to share …

Barry Forshaw reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman for The Independent and calls it his most ambitious book.

What sort of issues do you expect your crime fiction to cover? If you feel that personal responsibility, cracks in the welfare state and the problems of parenthood are fair game for the crime novel, then Jo Nesbø is your man. All of these (and many more) are crammed into his weighty latest book, The Snowman.

If, however, your taste is for tough and gritty narratives with a relentlessly page-turning quality, well… Jo Nesbø is still your man. That he is able to combine the urgency of the best storytellers with a keen and intelligent engagement with social issues may well be the reason why Nesbø is shaping up to be the next big name in Scandinavian crime fiction, now that Mankell is on the point of retiring Kurt Wallander and Stieg Larsson is hors de combat.

NancyO, who blogs at The Year in Books, Reviews Box 21 and finds it a great read, but nothing like Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (as it is being marketed in the US) – rather it’s “a dark book all the way through to the last page, which actually made my blood run cold. There are no feel-good or warm fuzzy moments here, no happy endings, and you will definitely have food for thought after you’ve finished.”

The Globe and Mail has a review of Henning Mankell’s Man from Beijing. The crimes that open the book turn out to be less important to the story than “the history of Chinese enslavement in America, the course of communism in China and, in the grand scheme of things, the relationship between East and West. And in those terms, it’s a great read.”

Mack captures Camilla Lackberg’s Ice Princess and pronounces it gripping and written in a style that he enjoys.

Peter reviews Liza Marklund’s Paradise and recommends it highly. He also finds The Stonecutter by Camilla Lackberg very entertaining. And at another blog (Peter gets around) he also has some words of praise for Kirsten Ekman’s Blackwater.

Camilla Lackberg names her five favorite mysteries by Scandinavian writers.

Norman (aka Uriah) is intrigued by the regional accents that define differences in Scandinavian mysteries. He also has a handy list of Harry Hole videos.  And announces an award for The Leopard which, one hopes, will be translated into English eventually.

Cathy of Kittling Books is underwhelmed by Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Last Rituals but likes the lead character.

Skye isn’t reading much lately, but she enjoyed the Branagh version of Wallander is looking forward (a bit nervously) to the film version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. She writes of the BBC series

…the three mysteries that make up the mini-series all take place around midsummer, so instead of suffering from a lack of light like so much Swedish crime fiction, they suffer from an, assumedly, intentional overabundance. The films seems hyper-saturated with light, and the irony, that even at the height of midsummer with light radiating from every crack, crime still abounds, is not lost.

Nicholas Wroe profiles Henning Mankell in The Guardian.

WETA has an interview with him.

J. Sydney Jones interviews Norwegian author K. O. Dahl at the “Scene of the Crime.”

At Euro Crime, Maxine reviews Lackberg’s The Stonecutter;  she also reviews Sjowall and Wahloo’s The Locked Room, and Michelle Peckham reviews Mankell’s The Man Who Smiled.

As she nears the end of the “alphabet of crime fiction,” Maxine discusses James Thompson’s Snow Angels finding things to like, but a denouement that didn’t hold up.

The Hypercrime blog rounds up several stories about Scandinavian crime fiction.

Ian MacDougal writes a lengthy review and analysis of the Millennium Trilogy for n+1, “The Man Who Blew Up the Welfare State,” (prompting the FriendFeed room to wonder when the fascination with Larsson will blow over). He writes that the trilogy has two themes: “the failure of the welfare state to do right by its people and the failure of men to do right by women.” And he tackles them with a kind of optimistic idealism.

The typical Swedish detective solves the crime but leaves intact what facilitates it—the broken institutions of the welfare state. The castle in the air, the delusion of a perfect progressive utopia, persists after the case is closed. For Larsson the story’s not over until the state’s blown up, if only in the reader’s mind.

Although there is an obvious analogy to recent American forays into the crime genre, like the HBO series The Wire, this only points to what sets Larsson apart—a particularly Scandinavian optimism that insists it’s never too late to effect real change. Larsson, unlike David Simon, doesn’t see institutional dysfunction as a tragic wheel driven around by some essential human flaw. Larsson the idealist believes that an opposing force, if applied strongly enough, can slow that wheel, if not bring it to a grinding halt.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel suggests some enticing recipes to go with Scandinavian crime fiction, in which too many of its heroes live on a diet of pizza.

The Times takes a Larssonized view of Stockholm. A Swedish website offers a crime-flavored tour of Sweden. And this link dates back to the blizzards that have long since melted away. A writer for the Washington Post took the Millennium Trilogy tour of Stockholm, had to buy boots for a bit of snow. Then returned home to a blizzard.

polar reversals

Sarah Weinman rounds out her preview of promising debuts for 2010 with James Thompson’s Snow Angels:

Like other examples of the Scandinavian crime invasion, there’s a tortured cop (Inspector Vaara), a gruesome murder of a Somali immigrant acting as blunt metaphor for the erosion of society, and humdingers of plot twists that, in hindsight, play as they should.

But “Snow Angels” is memorable as much for the reverse expatriate subplot — Vaara’s pregnant American wife, Kate, is the outsider barely managing with the country’s never-ending darkness around Christmastime — as it is for the wonderfully lurid quality of both the prose and revelations behind the initial and later murders. Vaara cautions his wife that “what you perceive as silence, we perceive as solitude,” but it’s the mix of both that provides the necessary ingredients for this stark page-turner.

Kirsten Tranter of The Monthly, an Australian magazine, writes about “Stockholm Syndrome” – profiling the character of Lisbeth Salander in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy and making an interesting comparison to Eli, the adolescent girl vampire in Let the Right One In. It’s quite a thoughtful analysis that raises some interesting issues.

Uncompromising, unsmiling, with the body of a teenage boy and the brain of a computer genius, Salander is the antithesis of every Swedish middle-class stereotype. The three books are peppered with references to her likeness to Pippi Longstocking: her superhuman strength, resourcefulness and cavalier attitude to social rules. It is always a sobering comparison, however, for Salander has little of Pippi’s joyful, playful spirit. . . .

Salander forcefully embodies the limitations of the benevolent Swedish state when it comes to taking care of its most vulnerable citizens, and it is through her that Larsson imagines the most appalling abuses of power by those in authority. It is somehow both pleasing and bracing to be reminded that while Sweden (the land of cheerful, sensible Ikea) is a world leader in gender equality, it has a much darker side: a history of Nazi sympathy and persistent far-right activism, political assassinations, violence against women (statistically higher in Sweden than in its Scandinavian neighbours) and sex trafficking.

Through Salander, Larsson channels his most cherished theme – misogyny – and offers us its avenging angel. . . . Swedish crime fiction is known chiefly for depressive male investigators such as Henning Mankell’s Inspector Wallander, but feral Swedish girls are definitely hot right now. Eli, the vampire at the centre of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel Let the Right One In (2004; better known here in its unsettling, beguilingly beautiful movie version) is another Salander-like figure. Socially alienated and ultraviolent when necessary, Eli and Salander – childlike, unemotional, taciturn – are seductive in entirely unconventional ways. . . .

The sexual politics of Larsson’s stories are complicated by the fact that Salander’s admirable strength as an avenger is predicated on her own horrific victimisation; she has to be raped and abused before the story of her revenge can be set in motion. This is the conundrum Larsson has confronted: how might it be possible to condemn men’s hatred of women without telling stories that illustrate it? And how might different kinds of writing – journalism, history, fiction – answer that question? His hero is a journalist, but the success of Larsson’s novels proves the role that imaginative literature – even in the little-esteemed genre of crime fiction – has to play in generating critical debate about the most serious social and political issues.

making distinctions about distinctiveness

You absolutely must read a post by Norm (aka Uriah) on the problems with the Unified Field Theory of Scandinavian Crime Fiction: It’s all dark. The detectives are  gloomy. Crime is extra shocking because Swedes are all blond and never would  hurt each other, ever. British crime fiction is summed up by listing  a few writers including a newcomer, Ruth Rendell. (New?!?) He adds a great anecdote about an exam question and delivers a fine moral to the story. (He also says nice things about this blog. Color me blushing.)

Publisher’s Weekly interviews Jo Nesbo just as the US finally gets caught up with The Devil’s Star.

Bookmooch now speaks Swedish. If it learns Norwegian will it speak Bokmål or Nynorsk?

Glenn reviews another Wallander episode, The Joker and recommends it highly.

I review James Thompson’s Snow Angels at Reviewing the Evidence. Loved the setting, didn’t think the race angle was handled as well as it might have been, but a promising first in series.

The BBC magazine has another article on Steig Larsson, the messy state of his estate, and the possible contributions his partner made to his stories and a great finish provided by his English translator, Reg aka Steve. “They are addictively paced in spite of the many digressions, which most readers think just add to the appeal somehow. And I believe the pervasive moral view adds something that is missing in most thrillers.”

The trailer for the upcoming UK release of the film of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (with annoying American voice-over) is now on YouTube:

Compare to the Swedish trailer:

“no crime is an island”

Material Witness has high praise for James Thompson’s Snow Angels, saying it’s a cracking mystery with a vivid Finnish setting. Marilyn Stasio, who normally could conduct workshops on generosity to staffers at Kirkus, disagrees in an unusually dyspeptic New York Times review, giving him points for vignettes that bring the stark setting to life, but concluding, “Thompson’s skills desert him when he ventures beyond these realistic set pieces, and there’s nothing remotely believable about his outlandish plot.”

At the Telegraph, Mark Sanderson vents his spleen in a review of The Man from Beijing, calling it “a tiresomely didactic thriller . . . heartfelt but bloated.” And besides, the hero isn’t Wallander.

Boyd Tonkin in The Independent takes a very different view in a wide-ranging article. He begins with the news that the latest BBC Wallander episode scored over five million viewers, almost twice as many as Celebrity Big Brother. (Pleasing, but really – should I be surprised? I guess so. How sad.) It goes on to say quite a lot about the interest in crime fiction, the response of translators, the good news that Kirsten Ekman has  a new book coming out that “re-interprets one of the most famous dubious deaths in all Scandinavian literature, from Hjlamar Söderberg’s 1905 classic Doctor Glas.” The article ends with a lengthy discussion of Henning Mankell’s new global thriller, The Man from Beijing, after making a claim that the local appeal of Scandinavian settings is coupled with a sense of social responsibility that knows no borders.

Many readers relish Scandinaviancrime in part because of its densely realised local backdrops. In compact, often lonely communities, grim deeds suddenly erupt: the small islands of Mari Jungstedt and Johan Theorin; the fishing backwater of Camilla Läckberg; and, of course, Kurt Wallander’s own deeply provincial but now world-renowned town of Ystad.

Yet attentive readers will spot that the masters of this game often take pains to trace hidden links that bind cosy corners of the wealthy North with a bigger, and poorer, world. Cross-border trafficking of people, body-parts and drugs; neo-Nazi networks that stretch across Europe and beyond; migrants and asylum-seekers from Asia or Africa who risk violence from new neighbours or vengeance from old ones: Nordic crime at its boldest tends to act locally, but think globally. It gives a mighty voice to that deep-seated Scandinavian sense of a conscientious connection with the plight of humankind. This self-imposed duty has inspired initatives from the Nobel prizes through the Nansen refugee passport to peace missions in combat zones in the Middle East, Asia and South America.

Increasingly, I suspect, Nordic mysteries will travel as far as the region’s peacekeepers and aid workers.

He feels that The Man from Beijing is a natural development for the genre that may upset those who want their Scandinavian crime fiction to stick to its geographic limits.

To Mankell’s credit, all this wide-angle geopolitical debate somehow meshes with the slow unveiling of a motive for mass murder that lies deep in the past. A hectic plot that scoots from Copenhagen to Harare to Beijing finally reaches its climax in London’s Chinatown, among proud buildings that – to some Chinese ears at least – still echo to “the screams and pains of slaves”. Scandinavian crime writing has seldom shouldered the burdens of world history with such upfront ambition.

Some readers, for whom Nordic nastiness should unravel amid picturesque backwaters thanks to the deductions of endearingly flawed cops, will turn away in alarm at the big political picture Mankell presents here. But the international dimension has always been a factor in his work, as with Stieg Larsson and many of their peers. No man, and no crime, is an island – however charming the woods and coasts in the background of the murder scene.