mixed metaphors Saturday

The Cricketing Librarian has been reading Scandinavian crime lately – giving an eloquent thumbs-up to Stieg Larsson, Johan Theorin, Arnaldur Indridason, and (not Scandinavian, but also recommended) Colin Cotterill.  Well played, sir.

Placelogohere at Live Journal makes note of the popularity of Scandinavian mysteries, but he (or she?) thinks Stieg Larsson’s trilogy is overrated, not matching Mankell’s subtlety. I prescribe equal parts Fossum, Alvtegen, Arnaldur, and Liffner if you want to increase your subtlety intake.

Bernadette in Oz reacts to Asa Larsson’s The Black Path. Whenever I hear about the death of professional book reviewing, I am comforted that people like Bernadette are the future. You can’t tell me any paid reviewer does a better job than she does. Or if you did, I would assume your logic board needed replacing.

Mike Shatzkin who is bullish on e-books makes some predictions for the near future. The one I agree with is “In the digital world, geographical territories will be found not to make much sense.” That’s already true for the reader and has been for years. My reading communities are without borders, and when I want to buy a book, those borders won’t stop me. (Thank you, Bookdepository!) Unfortunately, what makes sense and what corporations actually do rarely seem to coincide. Where once we had to choose between Beta and VHS, we now have one kind of DVD – but five regional codes to restrict the flow of those DVDs across borders. Somehow globalization gets all local when it comes to making money. So we have millions of workers having to leave home to survive because their local economy has been “globalized,” but unable to do so legally because their work permits have not been globalized. (I’m not sure how this works in the EU, but in the Americas, free trade has made a ginormous mess of things. By the way, I moderate comments so don’t bother going all Lou Dobbs on me.) While readership is increasingly global, and hallelujah for that, the corporations are trying to find ways to induce artificial regional scarcity. Thus doth craven commerce make pirates of us all.

By the way CNN is sounding the alarm on book “piracy”. The odd thing is, when I first started putting together a website on Scandinavian crime fiction, a lot of popular Swedish and Norwegian authors didn’t have websites. Maybe it’s a Scandinavian thing. People are modest. The first links that would come in a search were torrent sites. This does not appear to have destroyed the market for their books. William Patry challenges the whole rhetoric of this (and points out that both the film industry and the music industry are making plenty of money in spite of missteps and “piracy”) in a really interesting book, Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars, which I reviewed elsewhere.

I will now descend from my soapbox. As you were.

photo plucked from the Creative Commons pool at Flickr happens to be (!!) courtesy of swanksalot, a favorite Flickr contact of mine. In fact, one of his photos is going to be on the cover of my next book. How’s that for weird synchronicity?

5 thoughts on “mixed metaphors Saturday

  1. Thanks for the link to Bernadette in OZ. I posted as a comment to her review the comment/review on The Black Path I sent to Amazon.com in February, 2008, before it was published in English. Sharing with you:

    Just read the third of Larsson’s “Rebeka Martinsson” books, to be published in July of 2008. The first two were Sunstorm (in U.S.)/Savage Altar (in U.K.) and The Blood Spilt.

    Larsson holds on to her moody central character Rebeka, dispatching her back up above the Arctic Circle to her hometown of Kiruna; Rebeka, depressive after the events of The Blood Spilt, is recuperating both psychologically and physically (a facial scar mars her appearance now). But a local prosecutor recruits her for legal work, and with the discovery of a murdered body in an ice-fishing house, a long and involved story kicks off. Rebeka does not play that central a role here, although her wits and savvy about financial transactions lead her to suggest investigative technicques and to make some quite astonishing (and accurate!) conclusions about the international corporate dealings of Kallis Mining, a Swedish firm driven by upstart-from-nowhere Mauri Kallis.

    Her Internet investigations recall for me a similar technique used by Liza Marklund for her reporter Annika Bergson, especially in the latest novel Livstid (Life Sentence, not yet translated into English).

    In Larsson’s The Black Path the police team in Kiruna, Anne-Marie and Sven-Eric, are active in the investigations and sent south to the Stockholm area and injected into the grisly events of a large-scale final showdown. But Larsson’s story is not about them either — rather, she spends a great deal of loving time depicting the history and psychology of mining CEO Kallis and a brother-and-sister team, Diddi and Inna Wattrang, who are Swedish aristocrats of few means, expensive tastes, and few morals. And if that’s not enough, Larsson creates a half-sister to Mauri — get this: Mauri’s psychotic mother was eventually confined to an institution, was impregnated by an Indian (Hindu) attendant, and insisted on having the love child, Ester. Ester is of no world — so inhibited as to appear nearly autistic, she is a talented artist and a psychic who has inherited her powers from her Sami stepmother and stepgrandmother. Her stepmother dies and her extravagantly dreamy step-aunt manages to persuade Mauri’s buddy Inna to receive Ester into Mauri’s estate home.

    And I haven’t even gotten to the main intrigue, which is a messy Swedish imagining of how international mining companies conspire to try to overthrow President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda (incumbent today) and as a result become the targets of a hit team dispatched to Sweden.

    Larsson uses flashbacks constantly and dips into the consciousness of almost every character. Toward the middle of the book, one begins to wonder if this mess will ever hold together.

    Okay, far fetched, paranoid toward Africa, toward the upper class, and toward capitalism generally, and frequently dwelling on bleak moods. But Åsa Larsson does write focused, short chapters and creates distinct characters; she keeps these balls juggling between scenes and through unexpected time sequences. The final show-down is a nail biter, too. Most of the characters we really care about come through scathed but intact, while most of those who fall have been shown to us as morally repugnant.

    As entertainment: B+. As literature: B-. I’m looking forward to a future novel that will stick with the characters already developed — Rebeka, Anne-Marie and Sven-Eric.

  2. I am blushing but feeling very chuffed at your kind words Barbara. You’ve made my day.

    As for the world without borders thing – let us hope so. I go out of my way to buy movies and TV series through legitimate sources because I think it’s the right thing to do but it’s so much easier to head to channel bit torrent and download whatever I want and not worry a jot about whether I’ve remembered to check what region code it is before handing over my cash.

  3. Thanks for the perceptive review, Michael. You can share them here any old time! I do like Larsson’s style and characters though her endings don’t always work for me.

    Bernadette, I worry the book industry is learning all the wrong things from the other “content industries” and will try to build more digital walls. And then complain that not enough people are reading. (Picture steam coming out of my ears.)

  4. To put the multiple topics together, I would buy an e-reader in a flash for my fiction reading if I could guarantee a reliable supply of recent, non-English material. I read most of the new Scandinavian books in German, and while I have the budget for it, and the books are not hard to get (thanks to Amazon and various decent local bookshops – amazing number of non chain options around the distinctly nondescript region where I live), storage space becomes an issue very fast when you read at the rate I do. But so far I can only find things I don’t want to read! And I’ve asked circa 70 students this week about e-books etc, and not one had ever read one.

    And as an Australian living in Europe, I can only second the rant against digital borders. At least classic films are often released as region 0.

  5. Thanks, Lauren, for the global perspective. (You do get around!) In my experience avid readers of some maturity are the most enthusiastic about e-books and readers that can store lots in a lightweight package. I think it’s partly having sufficient disposable income that they are used to buying books they aren’t worried about reselling (unlike students who pay so much for textbooks that they don’t really want!) But it’s also the “what will I do with all this stuff?” problem. But I also find many students want “real” books and are less enamored of technology than we presume. At least that’s what I hear.

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