Dorte reviews The Snowman and gives the entire Harry Hole series by Jo Nesbo an enthusiastic thumbs-up (and I second the motion).
Maxine likes it too, as she struggles to read the massive list of book eligible for the International Dagger (which is a fairly herculean task – there are 61 titles!) So far the Scandinavians are going for the gold: “of the titles I’ve read, which is my front-runner? So hard to say, as the standard is extremely high. So far, in my mind, it’s between The Snowman by Jo Nesbo and The Darkest Room by Johan Theorin, but I expect that will change. (Hypothermia by Arlandur Indridason is my favourite from the titles I’ve read so far for personal reasons, but these Nesbo and Theorin titles are, objectively, better crime novels as they have a broader canvas.)”
She also reviews Kjell Eriksson’s The Cruel Stars of Night at Euro Crime. She says, “Despite its almost completely depressing subject-matter, the book is appealing and involving – there is something about the imperfection of Ann and her colleagues that seems authentic and attractive. This author’s trademark seems to be to tell the stories of his characters’ lives (new ones in each book) alongside those of his detectives (regular series characters) – in such a way that the detectives, even if they solve all or part of a case, never know the full context that we, the readers, have been allowed to witness – an interesting perspective.”
And she reviews Hakan Nesser’s Woman With Birthmark. (I think some of her clever boffin friends must have come up with a solution to wasting several of the 24 hours of the day in sleeping.) She is amazed that the book can be both so grim and so very funny.
Not only is the story of this book, if extremely depressing, very well constructed and told, but the great dry humour and byplay between the detectives is hilarious. I can’t imagine how the author manages to make the reader laugh out loud so often while telling such a ghastly tale, but he does it. It’s also worth noting that no gruesome descriptions of dead bodies or other pathological details are used in creating this excellently compelling, lean novel, very ably translated by the ever-dependable Laurie Thompson.
Clea Simon has mixed feelings about Henning Mankell’s The Man from Beijing. She reports he has not lost his ability to create vivid characters, but “a kind of self-righteous didacticism sets in.” She feels his concerns with ethical issues are a strength of his writing, but here he overdoes it, and it overshadows both his gifts and his moral compass.
Andrew Brown of The Guardian is skeptical about Swedish crime fiction (and the general value of the entire country, in fact) but he seems to like The Man from Beijing, saying “it is a considerable achievement to have woven a discussion of Chinese foreign policy into a generally gripping thriller.” The solving of crimes pales in comparison to the audaciously large scope of the book. “But perhaps the point is the general mood of anxiety, modulating into terror, rather than any particular trigger. A lone assassin or a rising superpower: either will do to disrupt the neatly curtained domestic lives of the Swedish bourgeoisie. It is the disruption, the threat and the delicious chill of fear, all safely contained, that is the pleasure of all these books.”
That’s all very well, but I completely disagree with what follows:
There are crime novels that ask how ordinary people can do dreadful things. Nicolas Freeling, Barbara Vine and George Pelecanos all do this. But in Swedish crime fiction the most reassuring fact is that the villain is always very different from the reader. No matter how many bodies are hacked about, it remains a curiously innocent genre in the sense of the I Ching, whose definition of innocence is “misfortune comes from without”.
This seems entirely the opposite of nearly every Scandinavian work of crime fiction that I’ve read. But then Brown also says he can’t understand why this stuff is popular because Sweden is “a largely empty backwater about which the outside world knows little or nothing. Nor are these books laden with local colour (though perhaps this helps, in supplying a blank conventional stage for the drama).” And when he says “most recent Swedish crime novels have been about the breakdown of the old social democratic order” I wonder if he’s ever heard of Sjowall and Wahloo, or if his idea of “recent” includes the 1960s.
All of which makes me think take Clea Simon’s view far more seriously. I suppose I will have to read the book myself to make up my mind.