out of order

Maxine, aka Petrona, reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Redeemer which she finds not perfect, but still top notch. As she puts it, “the Harry Hole books comprise one of the top police-procedural series being written today. Although the books have flaws, they are flaws of ambition – the plots are very clever, and if perhaps they are sometimes a bit too clever, that’s better than the opposite. These novels are thoughtful, intelligent, exciting and above all, have a great central character.” This astute comment comes on the heels of a Nesbo binge. She recommends reading the series in order, which is difficult unless you read Norwegian or have a lot of patience waiting for translations. Which brings me to our next item . . .

In her “Dark Passages” column for the L.A. Times, Sarah Weinman says what we all have been thinking: what is up with publishers issuing translations out of order, often causing appalling spoilers for series fans? She starts by analyzing the Scandinavian scene:

Lately, English-language publishers have developed an unfortunate habit with crime fiction in translation: Instead of starting at the very beginning of a series — as Pantheon did in bringing out the 10-book “Story of Crime” opus by Swedes Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo in the proper sequence — books appear out of order, in haphazard fashion.

Heads are still being scratched over why “The Man Who Smiled,” the fourth outing of Henning Mankell’s popular detective, Inspector Kurt Wallander, was the last to be published in America. Because Jo Nesbo’s Norwegian sleuth, Harry Hole, first showed up on British soil with “The Devil’s Star” — book five in the series — it spoiled important plot points in “The Redbreast” (book three) and “The Redeemer” (book four), published in subsequent years. And I can’t help but wonder if Stieg Larsson had lived to complete all 10 books he allegedly envisioned for his series characters Lisabeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” would have been published in English long after some mythical fifth or sixth volume took the entire world by storm.

Publishers choose the nonlinear approach for all sorts of reasons, such as commercial viability and what book in a series may grab reader attention best, so they will seek out earlier installments. “Jar City,” for example, was a smart choice to introduce Iceland’s undisputed crime-writing star Arnaldur Indridason because it was a major step forward, creatively and sales-wise, from the first two books featuring Inspector Erlendur (which remain untranslated). But readers who want to commit wholesale to a new series character and follow him or her through all manner of delightful and dangerous adventures are understandably frustrated at the disregard for series order.

Then she goes on to discuss the work of French writer Fred Vargas, also translated out of order, but with less unpleasant results for the reader. “Adamsberg himself is such a bizarre character, so off-the-charts in what he would deem logical deductive reasoning, that it makes perfect sense to meet him at different, random stages of the series.”

Maxine is also rather taken with Vargas, who’s up against a lot of Scandinavians for the International Dagger this year, and now that she’s read all the books on the shortlist she’s having trouble deciding where to place her bets.

And finally, Euro Crime offers an excerpt from Karin Fossum’s new English-language release, The Water’s Edge.

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