more authors to watch for

Tonica, our Scandinavian talent scout, profiles two more favorite writers who have not yet been published in English.

Leena Lehtolainen is a Finnish mystery writer, who writes about female cop Maria Kallio. Maria is married and has a little daughter (and a cat), but sometimes glances at other men . . . Finland is in many ways like Sweden, but in other ways different and it’s those differences that fascinate me. [Note: me too!]

Anna Jansson is a nurse who turned to writing mysteries. Her books are set on the island of Gotland. The setting is one reason I find these books so interesting. Gotland is a very special place, with a fascinating history. Her heroine is female cop Maria Wern. She seems quite intelligent, but not particulary tough, not like the tv version, played by Eva Röse, who is an excellent Swedish actress.

Thanks again for the heads up on books we’d like to read if only we read Swedish (or Finnish).

Reg takes a break from translating to give us the backstory on Stieg Larsson’s titles.

Meanwhile, John Dugdale rounds up summer “thrillers” in the Times (UK) and is disappointed in Karin Fossum’s The Water’s Edge.

Fossum is usually ranked with the best of the Scandinavian crime invaders, but here it’s a little hard to see what the fuss is about. Sejer is almost parodically colourless, the writing is merely functional, and The Water’s Edge is only half-heartedly a whodunnit. But if you’re in search of an ­antidote to the in-your-face energy of ­American crime fiction, this quiet, ­slender, bracingly bleak tale could well be it.

Er, well, that’s actually the point. It’s about the most shocking and hot-button issue, the ultimate crime, pedophilia. But rather than indulge in Every Parent’s Worst Nightmare or putting us Face to Face with Pure Evil, this book is about ordinary people and the way that evil isn’t pure at all. I take issue with the claim that “the writing is merely functional.” It’s understated on purpose in contrast to the usual “let’s throw more fuel on.” There’s a place for expressive prose and in-depth character analysis, but not if you’re telling this story, this way.  It’s an artful choice, and it’s carried off skillfully.

7 thoughts on “more authors to watch for

  1. I’m wondering if you’ve taken a look at the Swedish mystery classics? My mother and grandmother were members of a book club and our house is full of older mysteries, by people like Maria Lang (Dagmar Lange), Stieg Trenter and others less known authors (less known today, I assume they were popular back then). Since I’m interested in history (including modern history) I mainly read Maria Lang’s mysteries to learn more about life in the 1960’s, but I recall that the Trenter mysteries as well as the ones by someone named H K Rönnblom, were actually quite good, even by today’s standards. Stieg Trenter and his wife Ulla who also wrote mysteries, had a daughter, Laura, who is writing children’s mysteries.
    In case you’re not familiar with these writers, here are some links with a bit more info:

    • What a living encyclopedia you are, Tonica! thanks for all this information.

      Maria Lang was translated into English (though I’ve not read her). She was pretty prolific and seemed to have had a fairly strong audience in the UK / US. However, she seems to have been largely forgotten, while Sjowall and Wahloo are being republished and written about. Sometimes it seems as if Swedish crime fiction was invented by those two – but you’re right, there were others who came earlier. Now I have more names to watch out for. Tusen takk.

  2. I could have sworn I’d mentioned Leena Lehtolainen in a comment somewhere before, but never mind. Can only second the suggestion (I read her in German, so that’s another option) and agree about the differences between Finland and Sweden. I wonder if the feminist heroine (and it’s not terribly subtle – part of why I like the books though!) may put off male readers. I think this is one author whose audience would skew female even more than Camilla Lackberg.

    Anna Jansson is on my Amazon wish list (also in German – must admit when I started my PhD I didn’t think I’d be using my language skills for this sort of thing) but based on this I’ll move her up a few places.

    Re: Fossum, frankly, I’m of the opinion that the nastier the crime, the less I want the detectives to be traumatised and central to the plot, unless we’re moving into a more cartoonish realm. If you’ve got a missing child; a serial killer on the loose; something truly nasty in the woodwork, well, a main character agonising over their divorce more than their job might be realistic-ish, but I feel uncomfortable. (Particularly as the personal problems are rarely of the sort that would justify the ensuing mayhem!)

  3. Leena Lehtolainen did sound somewhat familiar, so you may indeed have mentioned her previously, Lauren.

    I totally agree with you about protagonists’ personal lives taking a back seat to particularly traumatic crimes. I really like the low-key Sejer simply because it’s refreshing to have someone so balanced and modest in the detective role for a change. (Then again, I love Harry Hole, and he can’t really be called either of those things.)

  4. I just remembered Danish author Gretelise Holm. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with her. Her books don’t exactly belong to my favorites (I find them a bit depressing), but they’re well written and interesting.

  5. I am reading Asa Larsson’s Sun Storm right now in my attempt to bone up on Swedish mystery writers. (I read Maj Sjowall/Per Wahloon years ago and more recently Mankell but until Steig Larssen appeared had forgotten about the Swedes.) There is definitely a different mood to these Scandinavian novels (remember Smilla’s Sense of Snow!) that should be depressing but somehow seem intriguing instead.
    What is it that we like about them? Is it the moodiness of the setting as well as the characters?

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