Tag Archives: Maj Sjowall

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.

notes from the “stormakstiden”

The dust is just starting to settle on the whirlwind that is the semester’s start, so am taking a deep breath and combing through my alerts and blog feeds to see what I’ve been missing . . .

Quite a lot!

Ali Karim has a two part interview with Swedish authors Anders Rosland and Börge Hellström at The Rap Sheet – part one and part two. They have this to say about the climate for the genre:

Swedish publishers have for many years nurtured and treated crime fiction as a strong, independent genre … We share this ethos that the crime-fiction genre is not just “pulp.” The best crime fiction’s duty is to entertain and tell a good story, but [it should also be] imbued with knowledge and question what we see around us.

Writing crime fiction is something that we take very seriously and put our whole hearts into; it is, and should be, just as difficult and demanding as writing any other kind of novel … And when you see it like that, and those around you recognize that genre fiction is as relevant (and important) as literary fiction, then good results are entirely possible. And of course it helps that as Scandinavians, we have so much darkness, so many long dark nights, snow and cold, lack of daylight, that actually the environment is conducive to crime fiction.

In Publishing Perpectives, Lasse Winkler offers an appreciation of how Stieg Larsson’s success has provided entree to US markets for Swedish genre writers and mentions how much Swedish publishers are culling their lists, publishing more domestic crime fiction and less in translation.

Norm (aka Uriah) reckons this might just be a “stormakstiden” – a golden age for crime fiction that we might in future find dominated by Scandinavian authors.

The British version of Wallander is running in its second season on PBS in the US, and I am woefully late in letting folks know. Janet Rudolph was not so tardy in her appreciation. Kenneth Branagh speaks about his role in an interview.  Keep watching Sunday evenings between October 3 – October 17.

Bernadette has finished the Scandinavian crime fiction challenge launched by Black Sheep Dancing, and has a handy set of links to her reviews, the most recent of which is of Jo Nesbo’s The Redbreast.

Geoffrey McNab interviews Henning Mankell for the Dublin Herald.

An interview with Camilla Lackberg is available at the Explore West Sweden blog. (And oh, yes, I would like to explore west Sweden.)

Glenn Harper reviews the television version of the Irene Huss series by Helene Tursten – and in the comments, there is the very good news that Soho will be publishing more of the series – yippee!

And on to reviews:

Maxine reviews Silence by Jan Costin Wagner, a German writer who lives and writes about Finland. She finds it “quietly compelling” and helpfully links to reviews by Karen Meek at Euro Crime and Norm at Crime Scraps.

Bookaholic of the Boston Book Bums reviews Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Last Rituals, “a quick read that blended the macabre with the academic.”

Martin Shaw, a bookseller in Australia, reviews Anders Rosland and Börge Hellström’s Three Seconds and calls it “stellar.”

Karen Meek reviews Postcard Killers, the collaboration between James Patterson and Liza Marklund, which has the trademarked pace uninterrupted by social commentary or much about Sweden that couldn’t fit on a . . . well, a postcard.

Carly Waito has good things to say about Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Martin Beck series and has a lovely photo of them, too.

Karen Russell of How Mysterious! reviews Karin Fossum’s Don’t Look Back, which she decided would be the first of many Fossums she would like to read.

Peter reviews Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment, which he thinks shows promise.

Now I feel a bit caught up; if I can just find a moment to read . . .

reviews and what-not

Peter finds Leif GW Persson’s Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End “deliciously told, with lots of humor and with live, fallible and flawed characters.” I admit that I was completely unable to read the advanced reader copy I was sent. The translation by Paul Norlen seemed quite good, but the total absence of sympathetic characters and the piecemeal structure (no chapters, but lots of short passages from a multitude of points of view) coupled with an extremely cynical view of police work kept making me find excuses to put it down, even though it is a fictional account based on the investigation of Olof Palme’s assassination and the investigation that never went anywhere. Peter felt differently.

Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End is at the same time fascinating and shocking. We embark on a journey deep into the underbelly of the Swedish police force, and meet lazy, incompetent and perverse police officers concerned mostly with position, power, pay, comradeship, drinking and sex. We meet cynical politicians and spin masters in controlling positions.

It’s a dark novel and a dark journey which not only seems very realistic but also masterfully recreates the blanket of uncertainty, the multiple ways insights get lost in huge and complex organizational environments where most actors have their own agendas. Fortunately there is also sarcasm, black satire, dark humor, mind boggling insights, and dialogues that make you laugh out loud. It is a wonderful novel, a riveting anti-procedure police procedural, a psychological drama, and an adventurous journey into a murky landscape we can perhaps only hope doesn’t exist but most likely does. The publication of Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End by Leif GW Persson is one of the major crime fiction events of 2010!

The World Socialist Web Site has an article on the Stieg Larsson phenomenon and criticizes the trilogy for feeding vengeance fantasies and treating right and wrong in the same dualistic way that right-wing demagogues do, concluding that (in contrast to Sjowall and Wahloo’s more complex view) Larsson is guilty of “middle class ‘leftism’.” Whether you agree or not with the author’s conclusions, the appeal that the trilogy has for people who more typically enjoy books in which representatives of the law and/or libertarian crusaders triumph through responding to violence with violence is thought-provoking.

The Times of Johannesburg (I think – it’s hard to tell from the site, but it has a South African URL) offers reviews of three thrillers, including Jo Nebso’s The Snowman (“Scandinavian crime fiction at its best – nutritious dollops of social introspection skilfully intertwined with sheer terror.”) and Henning Mankell’s The Man from Beijing (“a political discourse on colonial exploitation in Zimbabwe and the tensions inherent in the modern Chinese Communist elite. Yawn.”)

Xanthe Galanis gives Camilla Lackberg’s The Stonecutter high marks and calls it “great entertainment.”

The Boston Book Bums think Yrsa Siguradottir’s Last Rituals is fun to read, “a quick read that blended the macabre with the academic. Smart and engaging, while not pace set by violent action, Last Rituals moves along with rapidity because Sigurdardottir shows patient skills with characters and setting.”

Larissa Kyser likes Ake Edwardson’s Sun and Shadow a great deal, even though he does things she usually doesn’t like. A substantial and very thoughtful review by someone who thinks deeply about what she’s reading.

The Guardian has a fascinating look at the far right in Sweden and its current position in national politics – fascinating background for some of the themes encountered in crime fiction from Sweden.

Another newspaper article expresses astonishment that there is life after Wallander, though illustrating the point with a photo of Kenneth Branagh.

Norm (aka Uriah) thinks the two Swedish films of the Larsson books are terrific and he can barely contain his impatience to see the final film in the trilogy. He takes a brief break to take issue with a Beatrice article that  calls Larsson’s trilogy “exploitive trash” (The essay is titled: “Stieg Larsson Was a Bad, Bad Writer.” Two bads in one headline.)

Dorte reviews Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s My Soul to Take and thinks it’s a good, good book. Though she is far more eloquent than that as she explains why it worked so well for her.

Karen posts a newsflash to the crime and mystery fiction room at FriendFeed: “Waterstones Picadilly reports sightings of two women foisting The Redbreast instead of The Snowman on unsuspecting purchasers of Jo Nesbo’s books.” Who could that be?

Janet Rudolph reports that Sweden is putting its popular crime fiction writers on stamps. How novel.

a model of order, or a dystopia? how about both?

Maxine reviews Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo’s Cop Killer, the penultimate volume in the Martin Beck series. Originally published in 1970, she finds it still fresh and insightful.

Jose Ignacio reviews Karin Alvtegen’s Missing at The Game’s Afoot. He offers evidence of how suspenseful he found it: he read it in one sitting.

Glenn Harper has a lengthy review of Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment, which he gives high marks. The ensemble procedural cast is well done and the story is realistic. Along the way, he also demonstrates that knowledgeable  bloggers can more than make up for the drop in mainstream media reviews in terms of insight, clarity, and perceptiveness.

A business blogger for the Economist wonders how Sweden can be a model for social programs and such a hotbed of crime. Should the UK really adopt education policies from “a dystopia where racism is rampant, public housing is squalid, dehumanising and graffiti-covered, schoolchildren are alienated, bored and drug-addicted, women are brutalised, business people are in the habit of keeping murdered corpses in their basements and the government is in league with neo-Nazi white slavers.” Well, when you put it that way . . .

Eva Gabrielsson (Stieg Larsson’s partner) is interviewed by Melissa Thompson of the Mirror. She thinks many of the decisions made about the wildly popular Millennium Trilogy would not have been allowed by Larsson (such as ditching Men Who Hate Women as a title for the translations). She says the proceeds from the three books would provide a retirement fund (though they had no idea they would be so popular and wouldn’t have had any reason to spend as much as the books have actually generated), the fourth book would support his muckraking publication, Expo, and the rest . . . that hadn’t been decided. She is holding onto a partially drafted fourth novel, which is her bargaining chip in negotiating with Larsson’s legal heirs, his father and brother.  Ironically, the article is published as part of a publicity push for the second film’s release in the UK; I have a feeling Larsson would be distressed by the commercialization of his relationships and the public airing of personal differences. In fact, had he lived, I wonder if he could have challenged the way we treat books as commodities.

film and fiction in review

A quick round-up before the craziness of the fall semester starts up . . .

A graduate student in computational linguistics named Joshua points out that there is too much variety among Swedish crime writers to consider Swedish crime fiction a genre, and he offers this comparison as evidence: “in the schoolyard of Swedish crime fiction, Theorin is the studious nerd and Mankell and Larsson are the big kids.” He thinks Theorin’s books are not nearly as engaged or challenging as those that offer more social critique and are more or less harmless entertainments. (Or, to put it bluntly, “beach reads.” While I like social critique, I think Theorin’s just dandy without that element, myself.)

In a previous blog post, the blogger has very positive things to say about the film version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  And they’re smart and thoughtful comments well worth reading.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (”Men Who Hate Women” in the original) is basically the perfect movie at this point in time. It’s socially conscious without being PC, it’s atmospheric but not artsy, it’s an intelligent thriller that’s neither ironic, nor overly reliant on plot twists. It’s a genre film that’s about more than genre commentary. I loved it.

I loved it because it’s slow. It doesn’t seem like it will be just at first: you’re plunged down into the middle of a libel suit with a helpful reporter narrating the setup on the evening news. But from there we see a bunch of seemingly unconnected scenes, so it’s alright. We trust they’ll get around to having all these people meet each other – and they do.

I loved it because it’s fun. The protagonist (erm, one of them) basically gets hired to solve a locked room mystery involving a bunch of rich people who live on an island. Why not? Why should we be above these things?

I loved it because it has a fetish chick. Tough bisexual biker girl hacker with nose rings and spiked collars and Black no. 1 hair. Which of us born in 1975 hasn’t wanted one of those?

I loved it because it’s graphic without being indulgent. All together now: the violence we see is realistic and in the service of a theme, not there merely for shock value.

I loved it because the characters are believable stereotypes . . . [here follows an intriguing discussion of how plausible and how enlightened - or not - the romantic relationship between Blomqvist and Salander is, and then] . . .

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo succeeds because it’s politically aware only to the extent of wanting to do the right thing, and metafictionally aware only to the extent of picking out the workable formulas and giving credit to their sources. It’s a film that shouldn’t be too hard to deconstruct, and I’m sure that’s just around the corner. But now, while it’s fresh, I’m enjoying just having enjoyed it.

Well, I must say I enjoyed the review.

Carla McKay reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman for the Daily Mail and points out he’s not the next Stieg Larsson. (We knew that.) She apparently liked the book, though most of the review is a synopsis.

Keishon also reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman and, while she’s an admirer of the series, feels this one is not the strongest.

Ben Hunt reviews Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment and says it’s a very good debut, though he advises readers to take the hype on the book jacket with a grain of salt. It’s an ably plotted story with a vivid setting and characters that are somewhat typical, but well-drawn. He also proposes a theory:

If anything defines the extraordinary and apparently relentless rise of Scandinavian fiction, for me it is these three qualities, and in particular the plotting.

It would be easy to draw cheap stereotypical conclusions about ordered minds and ordered societies producing writers with organized minds who produce impeccably plotted and well executed novels. Cheap maybe, but the more Scandinavian fiction I read the more I am drawn to this idea.

Bernadette reviews Sjowall and Wahloo’s first book in the Martin Beck series, Roseanna, and is interested to find in it so many of the elements that have become part of Scandinavian crime fiction.

Martin Beck too is realistic, perhaps a little too much so. If the phrase ‘dour Swede’ has been over-used since Scandinavian crime fiction has become flavour of the month then surely the blame must lie mostly at the feet of the rarely smiling, crowd hating, always ill, never wanting to go home Martin Beck. As a characterisation I think he’s marvelous but as a human being I’d rather not be stuck in an elevator for any great length of time with him . . .

In Roseanna the authors tackled the nature of bureaucracy, the rise of consumerism and even used the nature of the crime itself in a country that prided itself on being the kind of place where such things did not happen with a subtlety that I would dearly love to see more of in modern fiction.

Margot Kinberg also puts Roseanna “in the spotlight.”

Peter explores the “bloodthirsty femmes” of Scandinavian crime fiction: Swedish writers Karin Alvtegen, Kerstin Ekman, Inger Frimansson, Mari Jungstedt, Camilla Läckberg, Asa Larsson, Liza Marklund, and Helene Tursten; Norway’s Anne Holt and Karin Fossum; Tove Jansson (Finland) and Yrsa Sigurdardottir (Iceland).  He looks at their protagonists and finds a great deal of variety. He promises more on the subject anon . . .

CrimeFic Reader reviews Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Ashes to Dust, which (how very topical) involves a volcanic eruption, though in this case it’s to do with bodies buried for decades in ash from a massive 1970 eruption. She likes the book, but wishes the translation weren’t so Americanized.


Nordic, like the Netherlands

Maureen Corrigan annexes the Netherlands as part of the Nordic world and ponders the stylistic difference between the Martin Beck series and the Millennium Trilogy.

The Independent has a story on how publishing Stieg Larsson’s trilogy moved Quercus from small publisher to major player.

Peter raves about the fifth Annika Bengtzon mystery by Liza Marklund, Red Wolf. It sounds quite action-packed.

Maxine offers a tour of her favorite Swedish haunts, which are numerous, along with a handy listing of her reviews of books from that country.

She also reviews Hakan Nesser’s The Inspector and Silence and thinks it’s excellent, though it sounds relatively pensive as the hero contemplates doing anything but the frustrating work of detecting.

At last! Martin Edwards had teased us by mentioning an intriguing little book on the Swedish crime story. He has now returned with a report. The first Swedish crime story was by Prins Pirre in 1893; early practitioners studied Doyle, Poe, and Christie; and the author of the small tome, Bo Lundin, divides the newer folks (up to 1980) into those afflicted with “the Trenter Syndrome” (those like Stieg Trenter, a writer who used Stockholm as a backdrop) and “the ulcer syndrome” for books that, like Martin Beck, suffer from the disappointments of modern life. Thanks for the report, Martin, and may we all enjoy the ulcer syndrome without any troublesome symptoms.

Though it’s a bit BSP-ish to link to this article I wrote for Spinetinger, the closing paragraphs deal with why I think Stieg Larsson has taken a worn-out trope – violence against women – and handled it in an unusually affirming way.

reviews and interviews

The three top selling books in April at Abebooks were a Larsson trifecta:

1. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson
2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
3. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

Ali Karim interviews the author of a new biography of Stieg Larsson at The Rap Sheet. Barry Forshaw, author of The Man Who Left Too Soon, warns that his literary biography contains (as one would expect) spoilers and that he thinks the author’s heavy smoking and generally punishing lifestyle were more likely to blame for his premature death than a conspiracy (though fellow chain smoking writers would have it otherwise…) He also has this interesting thing to say in response to a question about Larsson’s feminism.

There is no question that he was genuinely a feminist who celebrated strong, capable women. But it has to be said that his strong, capable female protagonist [Lisbeth Salander] is also a disturbed sociopath who is psychologically damaged. What do we read into this? Is it simply a novelistic imperative to render his heroine more vulnerable? My own personal jury is still out on the graphic descriptions of sexual abuse in the novels. I can’t see an argument for Larsson describing such things in a discreet, mealy-mouthed fashion–and I would have thought it would be difficult (except for certain individuals) to find these passages erotically exciting. Basically, Larsson provides us with a remarkably high number of male scumbags to function as antagonists for his vengeful heroine. And I think–in the final analysis–he does it in a (largely) responsible fashion. But it’s a difficult call … Sorry if that sounds like fence-sitting.

I have to agree that it’s hard to imagine the sexual violence in these books as titillating; at any rate, if it is, that’s more the reader’s problem than the author’s – which one can’t say for the large number of thrillers that use violence against women in an obviously exploitative manner.

The Guardian takes a break from the election to report on various entertainments, including a Nordic film festival in Edinburgh.

Perhaps it’s the long winter nights, perhaps it’s their excellent road-safty record, perhaps it’s the satanic strains of Roxette, but stereotyping aside, Scandinavian crime fiction seems to have taken over the world – first as books, now as movies. So if Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo whetted your appetite, head for the fresh imports on show here. Norwegian crime writers Karin Fossum and Gunnar Staalesen are represented by adaptations of their noir-tinged novels The Girl By The Lake (which was actually made in Italy) and Varg Veum: Bitre Blomster (Bitter Flowers) respectively. Alternatively, you can compare the Swedish Wallander with the UK version in a double bill, or revisit such overlooked cult gems as Jar City, Just Another Love Story, The Ape and Erik Skjoldbjærg’s original version of Insomnia.

Who said they were allowed to have so much fun!? Then again, the election is so much not fun, I shouldn’t begrudge them a break.

The Viking invasion of India continues to get press coverage; this week brings an interview with Hakan Nesser in the Business Standard. The Swedish writer thinks the boom in Scandinavian crime is caused by Germans reading such a lot of it.

Nesser is sceptical about the existence of any such thing as a “Swedish tradition” in crime writing. “The only thing [Swedish crime writers] have in common is that we write in Swedish,” he says. Fans, however, will point out that the tradition goes back to the 1960s, when the husband-wife team of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö wrote their Martin Beck series. Nesser (whose best-known character is the philosophical detective Chief Inspector Van Veeteren) counters with the observation that since Sjöwall-Wahlöö no Swedish crime writer had gained worldwide recognition until Henning Mankell (creator of Inspector Kurt Wallander), Nesser himself and a handful of others shot to fame in the 1990s.

“When critics try to scrutinise the Swedish crime fiction situation,” he says, “they look for patterns… and find, because they want to find it, this or that which is rotten in the state of Sweden, and thus has caused this explosion of crime writing… Since Sweden used to be a kind of model society in the latter part of the 20th century, [they] like to link our literary hype to a fall from grace of the country.” Nesser does not consider his own books to be making any kind of social criticism, though he agrees that some authors do. This is not a Swedish specialty, he insists. “You can hardly write a realistic contemporary story, crime or not, without involving the society where it takes place.” . . .

“Right now,” says Nesser, “we probably have the world’s largest number of good crime fiction writers per capita, but please be aware that we also have the world’s largest number of bad crime fiction writers.”

Maxine points out that Swdish Book Review has just published an issue devoted to Kerstsin Ekman, whose crime novel Under the Snow and Blackwater have been translated into English. It has been a long time since I read them, but I loved the latter and didn’t so much love the former. I look forward to the issue since my library (on Maxine’s advice) has just started a subscription to this publication.

Incidentally, that periodical has published an article based on Selling Ice to Eskimos: Translated Crime Fiction and British Publishing, a dissertation by Paul Engles, who has kindly put it on the web. He looks at the market for translations, particularly in view of the recent popularity of Scandinavian translations, and compares the British market for Italian and for Scandinavian titles.

Maxine reviews Mikkel Birkegaard’s The Library of Shadows, and finds that it’s “fast-paced, exciting and readable, if a somewhat formulaic mixture of Harry Potter, Indiana Jones and Da Vinci Code-type themes,” including a fair amount of supernatural shenanigans, which means it’s not really her sort of book at all.

Rob Kitchen reads Roseanna, the first in the Martin Beck series, and wonder what it is about the book that gives Sjowall and Wahloo the reputation of being transformational. It has a much quieter, more leisurely pace than what we’re used to today.

There is a sense of progression, but it is not driven along at breakneck speed, with an endless succession of cliffhangers. Instead the story meanders along at a relatively sedate pace, detailing how the case is patiently and dogmatically investigated, eventually reaching a relatively understated climax. . . . I find it quite difficult to conceive Roseanna as a book that broke the mould and started a new way of writing crime fiction given the vast quantity of work that follows in their path, some of which advances what they started and branches off in new directions. That said, it is a fine piece of work that reads just as well now as it no doubt did forty years ago.

Bernadette reads The Serbian Dane by Leif Davidsen and finds it fits the bill very well indeed, giving high marks to both author and translator.

The suspense built in a gradual, quite understated way as the date for Santanda’s visit draws closer and you know that everyone will intersect somehow but are never quite sure how this will happen and what the resolution will be. The flow of the writing appears to have been expertly captured by Scottish born translator Barbara Haveland as the novel was a particularly easy and engaging read and I would recommend it heartily.

Dorte reports that another children’s writer has turned to crime, reviewing a book co-authored by Lene Kaaberbøl and newcomer Agnete Friis, The Boy in the Suitcase. She considers it the best Danish thriller she’s ever read and, while it’s not translated into English as yet, she was kind enough to translate her review.

Photo courtesy of Global X, who had to start reading the trilogy in French because it took so long for the English translation to come out.

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.

filling our existential gaps

Peter Rozovsky is starting to read Sjowall and Wahloo’s Martin Beck series (though why we always consider it Beck’s series I don’t know – it has a strong ensemble cast). I predict he will enjoy the humor as well as the social criticism.

Crime Beat, the excellent South African blog, has some interesting things to say about the genre in general, and Scandinavian crime fiction in particular: “there is a mood that is pure Scandinavia in these books, a kind of existential landscape that fills some deep gap in the psyche of the international crime junky. And on top of it, Scandanavians buy more books per capita than anyone else in the world.” The author, Joe Muller, points to the essential morality of the books which are in tune with the element of redemption that Chandler located in the hero of the mean streets. He also discusses the brio of Italian crime fiction and Dutch split pea soup.

The Curious Book Fans blog has a review of Arnaldur Indridason’s Arctic Chill. The reviewer, Mary Bor, feels it’s a slight disappointment in a series that sets a very high bar. She misses the specific sense of place that sets the books apart:

This is a story that could have taken place in any European country: it doesn’t reveal anything new or surprising about how Icelanders feel about immigrants, especially at a time of financial crisis in that country. The previous books have at their core some topic that is intrinsically Iceland, perhaps based on a cultural or historical detail that roots the story firmly in Iceland and no other place.  Although Indridason does his usual fine job of depicting Iceland and, this time, what it is to live there during the long harsh winters, there was little of the essence that sets his books apart from those of other Scandinavian crime fiction writers.

It’s an interesting critique. Perhaps the fact that the setting feels like the rest of Europe actually does tell us something about Iceland – as its wave of new wealth changed its culture, some of its insular individuality behind as it joined the wider world. Personally, I thought the Icelanders’ reaction to immigrants was well depicted in this story, with people expressing their thoughts to the investigators in terms that were reserved, conflicted, full of awkward concern that the homogeneous society they had grown up with had changed, but either too fair-minded or too cautious to express resentment openly. I liked the shades and nuances of race relations painted here in something other than black and white.

Attitudes and demographics have likely shifted in response to the little country’s massive financial meltdown, but that happened after this book was written, which was first published in Iceland in 2005. The year after, when I interviewed Arnaldur, he talked about this book’s themes and how the new wealth in the country was altering attitudes and lifestyles in ways that his hero, Erlendur, a fan of rugged rural landscapes, traditional cuisine, and simple living would not appreciate.  The author told me nobody could figure out where the money was coming from, just that it had made everyone want more. The story of the decade.

I can’t remember what television program I was watching when I heard an Icelander comment on the financial mess. She said that those who think of Iceland as being cautious, safety-conscious, and well-regulated as other Scandinavian countries. “We are marauders,” she said, quite seriously. I am not sure how accurate that is, but I will be interested to see how the aftereffects of this extraordinary collapse looks over the shoulders of Erlendur’s investigative team in a future volume of this series.

Scandinavian bits & bobs

Dorte gives us English readers a sneak peek at a Hakan Nesser novel not yet translated, A Completely Different Story, which at first I thought was Dorte’s commentary on the book. It does sound quite different in tone than the Van Veeteren series. This is the second in a series featuring Gunnar Barbarotti as the detective. Six Swedish tourists and a local teenager go to an island and things beging to go all over Lord of the Flies, with the murderer writing to Barberotti ahead of each of several murders.  Dorte says “interesting and engaging characters and environment, plus a compelling plot that made me race through five hundred pages because I had to know …”

ProfMike reviews Sjowall and Wahloo’s The Fire Engine that Disappeared. As he works through the series he points out that the ten books form a whole and that the ensemble cast is the hero. He also reveals that Colin Dexter, who introduced this volume in the reprint series, hadn’t read a Martin Beck book before being asked to introduce it.

Dave White at Do Some Damage says James Thompson’s Snow Angels rocks. So does Cathy at Kittling Books, She gives the setting and protagonist particularly high points, though she would not like to spend time in Finland during the winter.

A Swedish crime novel by Jens Lapidus translated to the screen (but not into English, alas) is pointed out by a blogger who generally writes about music therapy, bioethics, and Judaism rather than crime fiction. I’ll look forward to the promised review. Meanwhile – has anyone read this Swedish author? I’d like to know more.

Here’s an interesting CFP for a collection of scholarly essays on rape in crime fiction, with a particular emphasis on Scandinavian authors (but Anglophone crime fiction is fair game, too).

Katarina Gregersdotter and Berit Åström of Umeå University in Sweden and Tanya Horeck of Anglia Ruskin University in the UK invite contributions for a collection of essays, which will discuss and theorise the various roles that rape plays in contemporary Scandinavian and Anglophone crime fiction. . . .

The tremendous international publishing success of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy is in no small part due to the power of his female protagonist, Lisbeth Salander. Described by Boyd Tonkin as ‘the most original heroine to emerge in crime fiction for many years,’ rape is central to Salander’s characterization; indeed, it is in response to the sexual crimes committed against her and other women that Salander derives her extraordinary mental and physical strength. What role does rape play in the formation of the contemporary female heroine of crime fiction? What role does it play in the formation of the contemporary male protagonist? How does Larsson’s work relate to female crime writers such as Val McDermid, Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky?

This groundbreaking collection will explore the connections between contemporary Scandinavian and Anglophone crime fiction by focusing on rape, a subject that has long been central to crime novels but that has yet to be sufficiently explored, especially in a cross-cultural study. In addition to the questions raised above, topics may include, but are not limited to:

• rape and the rise of the female protagonist
• rape, feminism, and agency in the contemporary crime novel
• victimisation and heroism
• the effects of rape on victim and perpetrator
•masochism, sadism and the body
• rape, emotion and affect
• rape and sexual, social and cultural politics.