Tag Archives: My Soul to Take

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.

Belated Backlog of Blogging Bits

There’s a fascinating interview by Lasse Winkler of Stieg Larsson translated in the The Telegraph. It’s apparently the only interview Larsson gave before his untimely death.  I found this bit especially interesting:

What, I asked, was the source of his inspiration? The basic idea had been knocking around for a while, he said. He’d been toying with it back in his days at the Swedish TT news agency where he worked as a graphic designer and occasional writer, from 1977 to 1999. At some point in the early to mid-Nineties, he and a fellow journalist, Kenneth Ahlborn, were working on an article about the classic detective stories that were popular with young readers in Sweden in the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies.

“We were kidding around, talking about how you could write about those characters in their forties, when they were facing one last mystery,” he said. “That planted the seed, but nothing materialised back then.”

It was not until 2001 that Larsson stumbled upon the spark that would bring the Millennium trilogy into being. “I considered Pippi Longstocking,” he said, referring to the most famous creation of the Swedish children’s author Astrid Lindgren, a girl so strong she could carry a horse. “What would she be like today? What would she be like as an adult? What would you call a person like that, a sociopath? Hyperactive? Wrong. She simply sees society in a different light. I’ll make her 25 years old and an outcast. She has no friends and is deficient in social skills. That was my original thought.” That thought evolved into Larsson’s formidable heroine, Lisbeth Salander.

But he felt Salander needed a counterweight if his story was to be a success. Once again he turned to one of Lindgren’s characters, this time to Kalle Blomkvist, boy detective. “Only now he’s 45 years old and a journalist [called Mikael Blomkvist]. An altruistic know-it-all who publishes a magazine called Millennium. The story will revolve around the people who work there.”

Larsson was well-versed in the mechanics of crime fiction. Every spring and autumn, back when he worked for the news agency, he was assigned to write reviews that summed up the season’s releases of translated crime fiction. “I’d include the top five crime novels at that particular time,” he said. “Some of the writers I’ve praised are Sara Paretsky, Val McDermid, Elisabeth George and Minette Walters. Strangely enough, almost all are women.”

(I had to share that last comment with my colleagues at Sisters in Crime.)

Another interesting factoid in the interview is that Larsson hadn’t planned a particular number of books for the series (though it’s often said he had planned to write 10) but that he’d continue to write them so long as people wanted to read them. They were to be his retirement fund, since activist journalism wasn’t a secure income. How sad that he never got to enjoy the books’ success; it would have been fascinating to see how he responded to it.

Elsewhere, Peter points out that the CWA International Dagger shortlist is long on Nordic authors – Arnaldur Indridason (Hypothermia), Stieg Larsson (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest), and Johann Theorin (The Darkest Room).  Personally, I’m guessing of the non-Nordic half of contestants,  Deon Meyer has a pretty good shot.  But I’m almost always surprised by awards, so it’s a good thing I’m not a gambler.

And I’m used to Henning Mankell being in the news – but not this kind of news.  Mankell related his experience in The Daily Beast. More from Salon and The Guardian.

Lots of reviews to catch up on:

Kerrie reviews the audio version of Mankell’s The Fifth Woman from her perch in paradise; she gives it top marks.

Peter reviews Henning Mankell’s Before the Frost, which he considers good, if not the best in the series.

Pat Gray, who blogs under the moniker of Excitable Rat (the RATS are a group of librarians on a Reader’s Advisory Team) recommends Johan Theorin’s The Darkest Room and says something I agree with: “I find the subtle, quiet tone of this book a delightful change from some of the American mysteries and thrillers with unending, screaming-level action from start to finish.”  She adds that this isn’t to say there isn’t action – it’s just not the main attraction.

Crime and Publishing reviews Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s My Soul To Take and likes the main character, though she somewhat overshadows her male counterpart. He concludes “a fine mixture of sombre landscapes, gruesomely inventive violence and sharp wit. A highly enjoyable read.”

A woman who reads a lot – and then reads some more – has some entertaining things to say about Henning Mankell’s The Man from Beijing. A sample: “things start to get scary. They also get implausible.” On the whole she finds the book a mix of entertaining and tedious, but just the job when it’s handy on the library display shelf and “even tilting my head to read book spines on a shelf means I’m distracted enough to have my devil child run straight out of the library and into the road, and we don’t want that, do we.”

Dorte reviews the Swedish-language thriller Jeg ser dig (I See You) by Camilla Grebe and Asa Traff and and says it’s “well-written and absorbing from the first page . . . a convincing debut” and predicts it will be translated into English.

She also reviews Agnete Friis and Lene Kaaberbøl´s thriller Drengen i Kufferten and says it’s the best Danish thriller she’s ever read. (These Danes must be very peaceable people to have so many writing collaborations.)

And she reports on a Faroese novel (what a novel idea!) by Jogvan Isaksen, Kormesse, which deals with environmentalists clashing with islanders trying to preserve a way of life.

She was busy during the month of May with the Scandinavian Reading Challenge (though she points out that what I’ve been calling Scandinavian is more properly called Nordic in her part of the world; Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are the purist’s Scandinavia.  The Scandinavian Reading Challenge continues – and it’s not too late to join.

Glenn Harper is disappointed in several books, including Christian Jungersen’s The Exception. Though he thinks the premise is brilliant, he found it hard to stick with the characters and the way they rub up against each other in the workplace.

Martin Edwards watches an episode of the Swedish Wallander series and uses it as an opportunity to ponder the balance that needs to be struck between plotting and preaching.

Zee who blogs at Notes from the North weighs in on the frequency of coffee-drinking in Stieg Larsson’s trilogy and points out it’s nothing out of the ordinary for Swedes, who use fika - a coffee break – as a way to socialize and relax momentarily during the word day.  Sounds very civilized.

Sara, a journalism student in Helsinki, hasn’t generally been much of a reader of crime fiction, but was blown away by Jo Nesbo’s Panserhjerte (The Leopard) and is happily diving into the rest of the series.

Jane Sullivan of the Brisbane Times suggests what to read when you’ve run out of Larsson and haven’t read any other Swedish crime fiction.  I keep forgetting there are people who have read no Scandinavian crime other than what’s currently on the bestseller list.

At last, with the semester over and the workshop I gave this week in Chicago in the past, I hope I can begin blogging more regularly. My equally belated review of Hornet’s Nest should be online before too long, but long after everyone else has reviewed it.

tell me about the rabbits, Karin

Dorte at DJ’s Krimiblog reviews Karin Fossum’s Don’t Look Back. I agree with her, it’s a terrific book and as with most of Fossum’s stories it makes you think hard about our definition of “normal.” There’s also an unsettling quality to the final pages that is very like The Water’s Edge.

Lynn Harnett reviews two second acts,  The Girl Who Played With Fire and Yrsa Sigurdarsdottir’s My Soul to Take in the Porstmouth, New Hampshire Seacoast Online. She recommends reading both Stieg Larsson books (just because) and says “Sigurdardottir’s second Thora Gudmundsdottir book evokes the long days, crisp air and craggy coast of Iceland in spring and should appeal to readers of Scandinavian mysteries who prefer a little less brooding.”

The Bookish Kitty thinks Irene Huss is a good strong female lead for a series. She reviews Helene Tursten’s The Glass Devil:

Tursten strikes a nice balance between the inspector’s work and personal life. As the mother of twin daughters who recently turned 18 and a husband who has a demanding job if his own, she has much to juggle in her life. Tursten does a good job of showing the realities of such a struggle, including the compromises that sometimes must be made.

Personal and work lives are not the only things being juggled throughout the novel. Irene Huss and her colleagues have their hands full, often short-staffed and with other cases to investigate. The author captures the necessity of teamwork in the law enforcement world, whether it be staff from the same office working together or connecting with other authorities outside of the district or even abroad.

True to its title, The Glass Devil is not always what it seems. Tursten takes the novel in unexpected and sometimes very dark directions. The wrap-up of the crime seems to be a little too pat, but it is a satisfactory ending nonetheless. This is my first, but definitely not my last, Helene Tursten novel.

Sadly, Soho will not be publishing more English translations of this series. (Barbara shakes fist in the direction of New York.)

reviews and comparisons

Marilyn Stasio provides reviews of The Girl Who Played With Fire and Karin Fossum’s The Water’s Edge. She advises impatient readers to cut to the chase and skip the first 124 pages of Girl, when the story really starts, and admires Fossum’s ability to examine every character touched by a crime with humanity in this “exceptionally fine story.”

At Euro Crime, Maxine reviews Ake Edwardson’s Frozen Tracks, the third Erik Winter novel to be translated though it is the sixth in the series. (The first will be published in a couple of months.) This is a very long book – over 500 pages – but she finds it overall a satisfying procedural involving two seemingly unrelated sets of events.

I managed to miss an interesting review posted last month by crimeficreader of Yrsa Sigurdarsdottir’s second novel, My Soul To Take. She thinks there hasn’t been much accomplished in the character development department from the first in the series, but finds it the plotting and tone to be very successful:

There are so many red herrings it’s like being asked to locate the one whitebait in a fish market.  Sigurðardóttir doesn’t just wrong foot the reader, she has you in the wrong footwear to deal with the terrain.  We again have the dark balanced with the light, pulled off in a rather unique and skilful way.  Watch out for a sex therapist and her tools of the trade as this element covers both those aspects.

If that isn’t a hook, I don’t know what is.

And finally – Seamus Scanlon, a guest on Declan Burke’s Crime Always Pays blog, offers an overview of the “Story of Crime” – an overarching title for the Martin Beck series by Maj Swowall and Per Wahloo. The ten books are “all written with aplomb and honesty and set the standard for all police procedurals that followed.” The Swedish series is able to write about crime and society in a way that reflects the authors’ Marxist views without becoming overly didactic.

Scanlon mentions a debt owed to Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series; in fact, the athors translated McBain into Swedish, but weren’t yet familiar with his work when they started writing about Martin Beck and his colleagues. This seems more like a Liebnitz/Newton moment, when people in two countries working with similar materials happened to invent something very similar – calculus and the Hogarthian police procedural that reflects the urban experinece in all its grimy glory – at roughly the same time. (McBain started his series nearly a decade before Roseanna was published.)

Scanlon also points out the ways in which Mankell and those who followed him into the crime writing trenches owe a debt to Sjowall and Wahloo. “Mankell’s Inspector Wallander, an existential warrior battling crime and his own melancholia, closely resembles Beck.” But that suggests a tonal similarity that, I think, is not entirely true. Martin Beck would probably be taken aback to be called a “warrior” and while he has a dose of melancholia (as well as frequent colds) the books themselves are hardly gloomy – they’re shot through with humor and irony. Which is another way in which they resemble McBain more than Mankell.

This photo from Flickr’s Creative Commons pool was taken by Jickel, who comments “The tape seems to be the kind the police use to mark out crime scenes.”

links from friends

I know I rely entirely too much on the FriendFeed Crime and Mystery Fiction room for the tidbits I harvest for this blog. It’s far more productive than the Google alerts I have set up. But really, if you want to know about Scandinavian crime fiction – and every other kind of crime fiction – you should sign up. It’s addictive.

Norm (aka Uriah) comments on Karin Alvtegen’s Shadow, saying. “the sharp use of language and metaphor in Karin Alvtegen’s Shadow to depict a bleak loveless world is quite brilliant. It might have a little bit to do with the translator McKinley Burnett.” A few posts later, he provides a full review.

This is a complicated and complex novel which paints a very bleak picture of humanity with its cast of socially damaged characters . . . The book succeeds on many levels but especially as a lesson that once you take that first shaky step away from the straight and narrow you have no idea where it may lead. This book like the other Alvtegen novel I have read Betrayal is brilliantly written and plotted; but it is very dark definitely not a cheerful read.

He also provides a much-appreciated service by putting Harry Hole in order (particularly useful given the books have been translated out of order – though Harry himself would probably resist anyone trying to organize him).

The Brothers Judd review Henning Mankell’s The Man Who Smiled, pointing out that the hero, Kurt Wallander, is not the subject of the title; they find the story a bit didactic.

The Spectator reviews a handful of mysteries, including My Soul to Take by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, saying it is “spooky and gruesome . . . both chilling and witty — an agreeable combination.”

Cathy of Kittling Books reviews an intriguing book that is more speculative fiction than mystery, but it certainly sounds interesting – The Unit by Swedish author Ninni Holmqvist, which deals with biomedical ethics in a dystopian world. (Incidentally, one of the things Cathy does in her review that I love is quote the first line.) She also provides her take on Anne Holt’s What is Mine, saying “this book is an ardent commentary on parenthood and an absorbing mystery with a nice little twist at the end.” She also says, “try as I might, I just can’t ignore these wonderful mysteries that keep coming my way from Scandinavia!” Hey, to paraphrase P.D.Q. Bach, if it reads good, it is good.

Maxine has an excerpt from Matti Joensuu’s To Steal Her Love that includes a rather endearing image of a man apologizing to a rabbit: “each time the rabbit finished eating its dandelion leaf Harjunpää quietly apologised and fetched him a fresh one growing by the wall.” And she adds another excerpt, with a promise of a Euro Crime review forthcoming.

Euro Crime has an update on the Dagger polls – you’d think it was the Booker Prize in the old days, making book on books.

Peter reviews K. O. Dahl’s The Last Fix – a bit pedantic for his tastes, but with some good psychological insights and dry humor, all well translated by Don Bartlett.

DJ reviews Liza Marklund’s Studio Sex, apa Studio 69. She reckons it’s perhaps her best.

With friends like these, I’ll never run out of things to read next.

…and more links

PBS highlights international crime fiction with a rather sophisticated site – Both Karin Fossum (Norway) and Arnaldur Indridason are featured.

Glenn Harper reviews Yrsa Sigurdardóttir’s My Soul to Take – and wonders which is the better cover at representing the Icelandic setting. He prefers Arnaldur’s series, but says this second book in the Thóra Gudmundsdóttir series “revisits the Gothic realm and revivals of myth in contemporary life, but in a lighter, frequently comic, and rural vein.”

He also says “I’m hoping that Árni Thórarinsson’s urban noir novels, very succesful in Europe, will soon make their way into English.” Fingers crossed.

Peter reviews Henning Mankell’s One Step Behind at Nordic Bookblog.

Shaz wonders (toward the bottom of this Dead Guy post) “Are there any humorous Scandinavian crime novels? If not, would someone like to remedy the situation to save what’s left of my sanity?” No worries, Sharon – there’s plenty of humor in there. Just ask Peter Rozovsky. He has some insightful things to say in a 2007 interview with Julia Buckley:

I do notice a common theme of sympathy in the work of Swedish crime writers, a concern for investigators, criminals, suspects and friends, relatives and lovers of all the above. Håkan Nesser shares that sympathy and also the proverbial Swedish concern for social justice. His novels also have a playful sense of humor, which is probably not a generalization many people would make about Swedish crime fiction.

Michael Walters writes about Jo Nesbo’s excellent series featuring the complicated hero, Harry Hole. Walters comments on the translations (by Don Bartlett, who recently spoke at CrimeFest and caused a bit of swooning in the audience), their out-of-order publication in English, and Harry’s “dry-as-dust, sometimes bitter irony.”

all kinds of krimi for alle

Sunnie wonders what’s up in Scandinavia that leads to such a large concentration of crime fiction writers. Is it the long winters that give time for imaginations to churn? Whatever the cause, she recommends Arnaldur Indridason’s Arctic Chill. It’s “a very solid police procedural indeed. But he has done much more than that. He also explores the issues of immigration and racism. Indridason also strikes a nice balance between the work of the detectives and their lives outside of their work.”

Peter Guttridge thinks Yrsa Sigurdardóttir’s My Soul to Take is a winner – “both frightening and funny – a terrific trick if you can pull it off.”

DJ reviews Anne Holt’s forthcoming (to the US market) crime novel, Death in Oslo which concerns America’s first female president. (Well, we got pretty close, but we have another first instead…) Anyway, she concludes,

This could easily have been a hardboiled thriller about politics and international crime, but Anne Holt has turned it into a story about human beings, especially by virtue of her engaging descriptions of some outstanding women. “We women and our damned secrets, she thought. Why is it like this? Why do we feel shame whether we have a reason or not? Where does it come from, this oppressing feeling of carrying around guilt?”

DJ goes on to say this is a book is one that fits her current “crime for all” project, a fascinating examination of femikrimi and machocrimi (themes at her blog for February and March) and books that are not specifically geared to men or women but appeal across the board (April’s theme). It has been a fascinating discussion – and one that has me thinking in new ways about books I’m reading. Some seem very deliberately pitched to a single sex by either emphasizing lots of action, large trucks, and explosions or by dwelling almost entirely on interpersonal relationships, sometimes with female leads who are either highly vulnerable and unable to protect themselves (as a rather lame ratchet for suspense) or dithering about romantic relationships (leading to book-shaped dents in my walls).

It seems to me that a lot of Scandinavian crime fiction manages to emphasize both relationships and a kind of tough-minded realism, a balance that sees crime itself as a manifestation of social relationships, an emphasis that goes back to Sjowall and Wahloo. And that’s most likely one of the reasons I find it so satisfying.

Crime for all – including the best impulses of the feminist turn in crime fiction from the late 70s – early 80s. Works for me!