Reading Round-Up

Diction, a translation service based in Copenhagen has created an infographic showing the ten most translated Danish authors. Hans Christian Andersen tops the list. A bit further down, crime fiction fans will see a a familiar name . . .

The 10 most translated Danish writersI imagine we may someday see other crime fiction authors making the grade. (Jussi Adler-Olsen? Sara Blaedel?) I wonder who where Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö or Henning Mankel or even Camilla Läckberg might appear on a similar Swedish list – or Arnaldur Indriðason for Icelandic translations.

And now onto a variety of reviews appearing in recent months . . .

Becky who reads a lot of books and is part Finnish enjoyed The Exiled by Kati Hiekkapelto and hopes more books in this series will be turned into audio books. In 15cd4ef0649476b597339476e67444341587343particular she found the protagonist to be a “great character.” (I read it, too, and quite a lot of the story sticks with me as the Serbian woman who now works as a police detective in Finland goes home, has her purse stolen, and gets into a lot of trouble as she insists on finding out more than the local police want to know about the Roma people they despise and the refugees who aren’t wanted. It makes for an interesting commentary on Finnish culture, too, as the protagonist contrasts her Finnish assumptions with her homeland’s.)

Cathy at Kittling Books thought the prologue to Karo Hämäläinen’s Cruel is the Night was fantastic. Alas, the rest of the book did not appeal to her, given what she found were unlikable characters and a glacial pace. She hopes you might feel differently (though I admit, I didn’t care for it either).

She had similar issues with Agnete Friis’s What My Body Remembers – a slow pace and a character who doesn’t endear herself to the reader. (I quite liked the book, but Cathy had encountered one too many unlikable protagonists in a row.)

Margaret Cannon, who reviews mysteries for the Toronto Globe & Mail, had feelings closer to mine about Agnete Friis’s novel. “This is an excellent character study of a woman in extreme crisis,” she concludes.

At Euro Crime, reviewer Lynn Harvey introduces us to the first crime novel by a Danish journalist with a British connection – Fatal Crossing by Lone Theils. She deems it “an accomplished and exciting crime novel” that kept her up all night. Raven also gives the book a thumbs-up review, writing “With an intriguingly dark, well-plotted investigation, and the shadow of a notorious serial killer looming large within Sand’s quest for the truth, there were enough twists and tension to keep me reading.”

1910633275-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Raven has also read the latest by Kjell Ola Dahl, Faithless, and deems it “flawlessly plotted, with a beautifully nuanced translation” and urges us all to pick it up immediately.

Carrying on with her Scandinavian reading selections, she finds Gunnar Staalesen’s Wolves in the Dark quite stunning if darker than the previous books in this long-running series.

Staalesen’s Where Roses Never Die was the recipient of the 2017 Petrona Award, and Bernadette at Reactions to Reading says it’s well-deserved, even if PI sleuths in the American hard-boiled tradition aren’t generally her favorite. “Everything else about the book was terrific . . . Staalesen does a great job of peeling away the layers of secrecy that might easily build up in any group of people and result in an impossible to predict disaster.” Kerrie who reads mysteries in paradise (which is located not far from where Bernadette shares her reading reactions) also gives it a strong review. Obviously I must catch up on this series.

Bernadette found herself “completely hooked” by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s standalone, Why 151a6891f27803e596732566e67444341587343Did You Lie, in which the author subtly builds suspense as three seemingly separate plot strands develop toward connections.

There’s lots of suggestion and doubt and misdirection too so that even the savviest of crime fiction readers will not be able to predict everything that happens . . . The psychological thriller label is used too often but in the case of WHY DID THEY LIE? it is apt. It is unsettling rather than bump-in-the-night scary but that’s just what I like.

This book is going right on my TBR list just as I’m reminded that Bernadette is one of the best reviewers on the planet.

Of course, it helps that our tastes align so well. She had very much the same reaction as mine to Samuel Bjork’s I’m Travelling Alone” which to her “seemed as if it had been penned by someone more familiar with a “10 tips for great thriller writing” checklist than actual crime fiction of the kind I like.” The difference is that she had the stamina to actually finish it, whereas I bailed early.

But no worries – I now have a list of several books to add to my TBR, and hope you discover some, too.

 

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What My Body Remembers by Agnete Friis

161695602x-01-_sx175_sclzzzzzzz_Reposted with permission from Reviewing the Evidence

Many thrillers are focused on the future: something terrible is about to happen; someone has to stop it. The clock is ticking, and the fuse is growing shorter, minute by minute. Then there are stories that are focused on something terrible that happened in the past, an event that left the potential for violence hidden below the surface like a land mine. You know it’s there, somewhere, and every step you take could trigger the detonator and set it off. That’s the animating tension in the first adult novel by Agnete Friis, who previously co-authored the Nina Borg series with Lene Kaaberbøl.

Ella Nygaard is an unlikely heroine. She’s wary and cynical about the social system that provides her a place to live and counseling for her debilitating anxiety attacks, but strips her of her dignity and threatens, always, to take the one thing from her that matters: her son, Alex. She knows Denmark’s social system all too well, having been a ward of the state since she was seven years old. That was the year her father murdered her mother somewhere in the dunes on the wild north coast of Jutland. She was never able to reconstruct what happened, not in the days following the murder when police tried to coax an eyewitness account from a traumatized child, not now–but she feels it in her body, tension and tingling in her fingers, followed by a full-blown storm that knocks her off her feet. After one of those attacks, she is hospitalized and learns, on her release, that her son has been placed with foster parents in the countryside. She coaxes a neighbor to drive her to their farm, and then to help her and her son escape north, to the neglected seaside house her paternal grandmother has left her. It’s her only refuge, but it’s also the place where the knowledge of what happened when her father killed her mother lies buried.

We approach that moment from two directions: from flashback chapters about her father’s affair with a bewitching woman, and about her mother, who left a millennial religious sect to marry for love but can’t escape the deeply embedded belief that she is damned. In the present, Ella has met a childhood friend and acquired a strange acquaintance – an eccentric woman artist who is losing her home and moves in with Ella and her son, a temporary visitor who can’t be dislodged. The three of them create a strange sort of family haunted by a sense that something is deeply wrong.

Friis has stretched her neck out with a prickly protagonist who has resigned herself to life on welfare, always struggling to get by without money, often focused on getting a packet of smokes or a bottle of vodka. She loves her son fiercely, but does things that puts their future at risk–and puts her one step closer to triggering that buried memory. Though veteran mystery readers may not be entirely surprised by the denouement of this complex and multi-layered mystery, they may well be caught off guard by a character who stubbornly does everything she can to be unlovable, yet somehow becomes an enormously sympathetic guide to the experience of lives lived on the fringes of society.

review round-up

It has been quite a while since I’ve done this, and many fine books have been translated. Here are some of them . . .

The Petrona Award shortlist has been announced, and there are some familiar names on it as well as new ones. I have some good reading ahead of me . . .

Sarah Ward reviews new books by Helene Tursten, Gunnar Staalesen, and Katja Kettu. And another of her blog posts reviews books by Kristina Ohlsson, Kati Hiekkapelto and Gunnar Staalesen.

At Novel Heights, a new translation of a classic Norwegian crime novel, Stein Riverton’s The Iron Chariot, gets a review and thumbs-up for being both well-translated by Lucy Moffatt and ahead of its time. (The original publication date was 1909.)

Mrs. P. investigates Thomas Enger’s Cursed and pronounces it enjoyable and satisfying. As one of the judges for the Petrona Award, she got her hands on lots of new books translated from Nordic languages and gives us a heads up – including the exciting news that Arnaldur Indridason has a new series.

She also reviews books by Finnish authors Minna Lindgren (Death in Sunset Grove) and Antti Tuomainen (The Mine) both of which sound interesting and Hellfire by Karin 1910633534-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Fossum, which she deems “simply outstanding.” And she takes a look at Kjell Westö’s The Wednesday Club, which sounds fascinating. She concludes, “its depiction of 1938 as a moment of great social and political uncertainty also feels resonant now, given that right-wing populism is once again on the rise. The whole novel is beautifully written, and Neil Smith’s translation communicates the measured and occasionally humorous tone of the original extremely well.”

Raven has also read Enger’s Cursed, the fourth in what she calls a “superlative” series. She praises it as a particularly well-paced story.

Bernadette reacts to Jørn Lier Horst’s Ordeal, the fifth in the William Wisting police procedural series, finding it a particularly well-balanced and suspenseful entry. She also reports that she enjoyed Chameleon People by Hans Olav Lahlum which, though set in the past (during Norway’s entry into a precursor of the EU), feels very fresh. The complicated plot and the personal relationships of the characters got high marks in what has become one of her favorite series.

Bernadette also enjoyed Leif G. W. Persson’s The Dying Detective – rather more than other books by this author. It offers great character insight if not lots of action. She concludes it’s “an excellent example of crime fiction that mixes the personal and political with police procedure in a very compelling way.”

From her perch in paradise, Kerrie reviews Karin Fossum’s Hellfire, which has a complicated timeline and stories with bits left out, while remaining extremely readable.  She’s less enthusiastic about Mons Kallentoft’s Summertime Death, which combines gristly crime with a paranormal touch that she found a bit hard to swallow.

Glen Harper reviews Helene Tursten’s Who Watcheth at the LA Review of Books, pointing out how much this author owes to Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s police procedural tradition (and 10aab8b0d706198596835466d77444341587343to Ed McBain, who pioneered the genre), portraying a middle-class and mostly functional society that finds the crimes in its midst an aberration that must be confronted. I think he nails the tone of this long-running series.

Cathy of Kittling Books reviews Johan Theorin’s The Voices Beyond, the final book in the atmospheric Öland Quartet. She found this entry a bit too slow, but still recommends the whole quartet as “not to be missed.” She also enjoyed Ragnar Jónasson’s Blackout, which also isn’t especially fast-paced but has vivid character development.  She writes, “All these characters’ secrets form one huge magma chamber that’s ready to erupt, and I wasn’t content until every bit had been revealed. If you like vivid, atmospheric storytelling, treat yourself to Ragnar Jónasson’s Dark Iceland mysteries.” Nice description of a volcanic story!

Auntie M. was impressed by the way Jorgen Brekke pulled together the threads in the “outrageously plotted” and ambitious thriller, The Fifth Element. She also praises Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s The Undesired, which she says has a “a slow, psychological build to a chilling and inexorable climax.” She also reviews Ragnar Jónasson’s Snow Blind: “A classic whodunit set in a stark place with a twisted ending.” Exactly.

Ms. Wordopolis reviews Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolitto, a courtroom drama that she felt bogs down a bit during the teenage narrator’s long backstory; she compared it to 1590518578-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_the work of Laura Lippman.

At Reviewing the Evidence, Yvonne Klein also reviews Quicksand and concludes it would be a prime pick for book clubs as it contains “a great deal of serious content along with a sympathetic portrait of a contemporary young woman who, though very privileged, is subject to the expectations and demands that still afflict women even now and even in liberated Sweden.” She also notes “the book was named Best Swedish Crime Novel last year and should be a serious contender for a CWA International Dagger for 2017.” And in the same venue, Rebecca Nesvet reviews Ragnar Jónasson’s Snow Blind and declares it “riveting” and an atmospheric, invigorating start to a promising series.

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond the Truth by Anne Holt

Another repost from Reviewing the Evidence.

1501123459BEYOND THE TRUTH
by Anne Holt and Anne Bruce, trans.
Scribner, December 2016
320 pages
$26.00
ISBN: 1501123459

The English-speaking world met Hanne Wilhelmsen first in a classic locked-room mystery, 1222, in which the ex-detective was stranded at the top of a mountain in a blizzard with a murderer, a body, and a trainload of suspects. Norwegians had gotten to know the prickly but gifted detective over the course of seven previous novels, now all available in English translation. BEYOND THE TRUTH, the seventh in the series, closes the gap with Holt’s usual mix of an intricate puzzle of a mystery and the longer arc of the complex protagonist’s life story.

The novel begins when a stray dog who has been skulking around a wealthy neighborhood for years, living off scraps and his wits, finds an open door into a warm place, where a meal is waiting for him: four dead bodies, smelling deliciously of fresh meat. It’s typical of Holt’s style that we see the action from the perspective of the homeless dog, so we come on the murder scene from a disorienting perspective.

Hanne is not far away from the scene of the crime. She’s back on the job after a sojourn in an Italian convent, prompted by the death of her beloved long-term partner. In the previous book in the series, NO ECHO, she had met and moved in with a new lover in the wealthy neighborhood, joined by an aging formerly homeless prostitute who insists on creating the kind of domesticity that Hanne has never experienced. The detective is relieved to escape from pre-Christmas preparations to investigate a quadruple murder.

And quite a tangled investigation it proves to be. Three of the victims were members of a dysfunctional family in which everyone has reasons to want their relations dead. They are a epically awful family, and the survivors are no exception. The fourth victim, a publishing consultant, seems to have simply arrived at their apartment at the wrong time. Given the publicity around the gruesome murder and the approaching holiday, everyone is eager to close the case. The evidence is shaping up nicely for a conviction. The only one who isn’t quite sure is Hanne, who has a feeling the fourth victim’s involvement isn’t as accidental as it seems. Or perhaps she is simply extending the investigation to avoid the people at home who want to surround her with love in ways that make her panic. By the time she solves the crime, she has also come to terms with her own difficult family’s past and the shadow it has cast on her life – until the story takes a sudden turn.

Those who read the series as it was originally published may have felt stranded by the ending of this entry, but those arriving late can immediately find out what happens next by reading 1222. Then all they will have to do is wait for OFFLINE, the ninth and penultimate book in the series, to be translated.

The Hermit by Thomas Rydahl

Well, this is embarrassing. I’ve really let things go around here. You’d think I turned into a hermit. Well, in keeping with that notion, here’s my review of Danish author Thomas Rydahl’s first  novel, reposted from Reviewing the Evidence.

1780748894THE HERMIT
by Thomas Rydahl and KE Semmel, trans.
Oneworld, November 2016
469 pages
$21.99
ISBN: 1780748894

Readers of Scandinavian crime fiction, skimming through recent translations, may be thinking it’s nothing but clones of Mankell and Läckberg, a too-familiar choice between gritty social problem procedurals or convoluted crimes committed on scenic islands – yawn. Thomas Rydahl has written something different.

First, there’s no snow. THE HERMIT is set on one of the lesser-visited of the Canary Islands. That’s not entirely original; Mari Jungstedt has set a new series there, too, among the large Swedish expatriate community. But Rydahl’s protagonist is not your typical detective. Erhard Jorgenson lives in a shack with two goats for company, drives a rattletrap cab, and lives on next to nothing. He’s no longer connected to his native Denmark, where he left behind an estranged family and one of his fingers. (How exactly he lost that finger is a tease from the opening pages – but not particularly relevant to the plot, like so very much in this book.) There are police, but they are not dogged investigators so much as public servants sensitively tuned to the need for tourism and quickly-closed cases. And there isn’t any CSI wizardry. Not only does our hero lack access to forensic labs, he doesn’t know how to use a cell phone or a computer. He has left the world behind, apart from picking up fares when he feels like it, tuning pianos occasionally, and drinking with a happy-go-lucky couple.

Three things go wrong early on. First, Erhard comes on a fatal car accident where a pack of wild dogs is making a meal of the dead driver. Then a car is found on a beach, which has in it the body of an abandoned infant in a cardboard box, nestled in torn-up Danish newspapers. Finally, Erhard loses his drinking pals when the man disappears and the woman lapses into a coma after a savage beating.

Erhard’s response to these events is as peculiar as he is. He takes a finger from the man killed in the accident to replace his missing one. He thinks the police are covering something up about the dead infant, so he kidnaps the prostitute who is their prime suspect and holds her in chains to compel her to tell him the truth. And when he realizes his friend is gone and his wife is unconscious . . . well, explaining how he handles that conundrum would be a spoiler. Suffice it to say, this is an unusual book with an eccentric hero who wants very badly to know how that child ended up abandoned and, through a combination of persistence and intelligence, manages to untangle a complicated story.

This novel suffers from the acute global shortage of red pencils in the publishing world. Hundreds of pages relate Erhard’s shambolic daily life in detail, and the dialogue would be less exasperating to read if it were in quotation marks instead of being signaled with a literary dash, Cormac McCarthy-style. That said, readers who stick with it are likely to find themselves caught up in Erhard’s offbeat world view and in his quest to discover how that car and its tragic cargo ended up on a remote beach. S.E. Semmel’s translation of the first debut novel to win Scandinavia’s top award for crime fiction is excellent. Whether its enormous popularity in Denmark will travel is yet to be seen, but it certainly adds something new to the Nordic noir palette and is, in its weird way, compelling.

Review of The Father by Anton Svensson

Over at Reviewing the Evidence I reviewed The Father by two men writing under the name Anton Svensson. It would be a pretty good primer for robbing banks, but mostly it’s a family saga with crime and is based on a true story.

Publishers and librarians have designated certain kinds of books as “women’s fiction.” Though the definition of this genre is fuzzy, these books are typically focused on conflicts within relationships and the emotional journey of women characters. THE FATHER is in a way very much like “women’s fiction” with a large dose of testosterone. The heart of this story is family relationships among three boys, raised by an abusive father who emigrated0751557838-01-_sx175_sclzzzzzzz_ to Sweden from the Balkans. When Ivan isn’t working as a laborer, he’s drinking wine and training his boy to fight for their honor. The novel switches between “then” – the story of their fraught childhood – and “now” – when the three brothers and a childhood friend have formed a highly efficient team of bank robbers.

Though a great deal of this long novel is taken up with the planning and execution of a series of highly-organized and daring robberies, the emotional heart of the story is in the bonds of loyalty and closeness that grew out of a twisted view of fatherhood. In a particularly harrowing scene, Ivan takes his sons to the house where their mother had taken refuge. When she refuses to return to her violent husband, he forces one of the boy to throw a Molotov cocktail at the house. Though torn between his parents, the necessity to belong to the clan persists into adulthood when an increasingly reckless string of crimes challenges the brothers’ commitment to one another.

Anton Svensson is a pseudonym for Stefan Thunberg, a highly successful screenwriter, and Anders Roslund, an investigative reporter known for his crime thrillers written with ex-convict Börge Hellström. THE FATHER is the first in planned series with the title “Made in Sweden.” This Swedish bestseller, optioned for film by Steven Spielberg, is based on a notorious true story. In the 1990s, Stefan Thunberg’s brothers robbed several banks and became known as “the military gang.” THE FATHER is a fictional exploration of the intense relationship of three boys and their angry, explosive father that eventually led the eldest son to form a criminal gang. It’s not so much the technical execution of crimes that propels the story as the emotional relationships as the eldest son tries to create with his brothers and a friend the kind of blindly loyal clan that was his father’s ideal. Whether he can hold that group together while committing increasingly daring crimes keeps the pages turning in what is a highly masculine version of relationship-centered “women’s fiction.” It’s a shame the translator, Elizabeth Clark Wessel, isn’t named on the title page, as the translation is smooth and effective.

Silence of the Sea by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

Once again, I’m reposting a review that I wrote originally for Reviewing the Evidence. I must say, I really enjoyed this book.

It’s an eerie sight: people waiting on a dark night in Reykjavik for a luxury yacht to arrive1250051487-01-_sx175_sclzzzzzzz_ see it coming into port, but it unexpectedly scrapes alongside the harbor wall, finally crashes into a jetty. No, the captain isn’t drunk. He has vanished, along with his crew and the couple with two young daughters who were traveling home to Iceland. Nobody can understand how the ship arrived with nobody aboard. What’s happened to them all?

Lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir has a difficult case to handle. The elderly parents of the missing young father need to know where he is. They’re caring for the couple’s youngest daughter, and they’re worried that social services will take the child into care. They also wonder about the generous life insurance policy that their son had taken out not long before the fateful trip. Would that money go their granddaughter? How would things ever be settled when they couldn’t be sure if their son and his family are alive or not?

This is beyond Thóra’s experience, but she gamely does what she can to establish what happened to the missing family and crew. The missing son, Ægir, had taken his family aboard at the last moment. He’d been working for a bank, settling the financial affairs of a bankrupt man who had lost everything in the crash, and decided to make a family holiday out of a work trip to Portugal to reclaim the luxurious yacht. When one of the crew got drunk and broke his leg, Ægir volunteered to take his place, so long as his wife and daughter could come with him. The last they were heard of was shortly after leaving port, apart from a garbled message about finding a body aboard. It’s all very mysterious, made even more so when Thóra searches the ship to see if she can find any documents or personal effect that can shed light on her clients’ son and catches the glimpse of a phantom child out of the corner of her eye.

Alternating the efforts Thóra makes as she tries to establish what happened to the young family are chapters relating what happened on board. At first, the family is excited to have an unexpected voyage, but soon the risks of taking two small children to sea become a concern, particularly as none of the communications equipment seems to work properly and strains appear among the crew. There are strange sounds coming from the hold, and sometimes they can smell a whiff of the distinctive perfume worn by the wife of the former owner, a flamboyant Icelandic celebrity whose whereabouts are currently unknown. Before long, things go seriously wrong.

This is a departure for Yrsa Sigurdardóttir, but in a way is consistent with her style. There has always been a very light touch of the supernatural hovering over the books in this series, though always a plausible explanation made available for skeptics. The author has also written an accomplished ghost story, I REMEMBER YOU, a horror story with elements of a mystery. Here, we have a mystery, investigated by a down-to-earth lawyer and her rude, crude, but sometimes insightful secretary Bella. We also have the creepy suspense of being with a family trapped on a ship on an increasingly nightmarish voyage where we know things are going wrong and it will only get worse.

Perhaps it’s relevant that the real-life backdrop to the story is a crippling financial crash that followed years of glittering excess for a small island nation. The illusory wealth created by crooked financial schemes turned out to be hollow, leaving the city of Reykjavik surrounded by ghost estates and the economy and many lives shattered.

Or perhaps the author simply enjoys giving readers a good scare. It’s a compelling novel, spooky and disturbing, right up to the final unsettling pages.