Monthly Archives: March 2010

Fire and Ice

Yrsa Sigurdardóttir chats with Sydney Jones at his blog devoted to crime fiction’s relationship to settings, Scene of the Crime. She gives some coordinates for her next book to be translated into English, Ashes to Dust:

It takes place in a small fishing village on the Westmann Islands off the south coast of Iceland, an island on which a volcano erupted with much ado in 1973. Being pretty used to lava and seascapes it was an archeological dig called Pompeii of the North that intrigued me the most. The dig involves excavating houses from underneath massive layers of ash to showcase them in situ, while my story adds a fictional twist when something other than broken roof beams and rusted iron is unearthed. On every visit to the dig I was just as impressed as the first time I laid eyes on the huge, deep canal, as the blackness of the all-encompassing ash and the effect it had on sounds was intimidating, not to mention the graphic reminder of nature’s not so gentle treatment of the houses we intend to keep us safe from the elements.

For more from Yrsa about Iceland and volcanoes, see her most recent post at Murder is Everywhere, a joint blog of several authors who set mysteries outside the US.

In the Going Backward Department, the Salomonsson Agency’s newsletter reports that the first of Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole series, titled The Bat Man, will be published in English in 2012, after The Leopard, which is number eight in the series. Will we get the second in the series eventually? Fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, Glenn Harper at International Noir Fiction gives us a preview of his experience reading Nesbø’s The Snowman.

Nesbø writes beautifully, with a style that seems simple but is interlaced with humor, metaphor, character, and menace. Though many readers will figure out who the killer is long before Detective Harry Hole does, the fun in reading the book really comes in reading the prose and watching the plot twist and turn through numerous red herrings and false leads until it reaches its inevitable conclusion.

Ali Karim reports thoroughly from the evening at the Swedish Embassy in London where distinguished guests were invited to discuss “Crimes of the Millennium.” One interesting tidbit: about half of the 44 (!) translations of what is called in English The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo used a literal translation of the original title: Men Who Hate Women. Ali’s report is followed by a short essay written by Barry Forshaw, author of the forthcoming biography of Stieg Larsson, The Man Who Left Too Soon.

Maxine, who picked up a copy of Swedish Book Review at the big do, reports on a preview published there of Henning Mankell’s The Troubled Man written by its translator, Laurie Thompson, and reminds Maxine that she much prefers the books to any of the television adaptations. The final Wallander novel will be published in the UK in 2011.

Reviews and Nesbo Plus Yet More Larsson

NancyO reviews Hakan Nesser’s Woman With Birthmark and finds it cerebral, subdued, and very good: “What drives the killer is what slowly unravels throughout the story, teased out a little at a time. As in all of his Van Veeteren books, Nesser’s writing, his plotting genius and his characterizations all speak for themselves”

Tulsa People has its take on the “great write north” featuring the usual suspects.

R.T. reviews Kjell Eriksson’s The Demon of Dakar and recommends it.

The Independent reviews Camilla Lackberg’s The Stonecutter and says she’s very good at the job “to make the reader pleasurably uncomfortable.”

New Nesbo Reviews are up at USA Today,The Oregonian, The Washington Post (Patrick Anderson calls it “a big, ambitious, wildly readable story”) and  The New York Times (Marilyn Stasio thinks The Devil’s Star lacks some of the issue-related heft of other books in Harry Hole’s series). Simon Parker at BookGeeks reviews The Snowman. The Dallas Morning News has reviews of The Devil’s Star and Henning Mankell’s The Man from Beijing.

Peter Rozovsky introduces Nesbo and gives us an interview in two parts, here and here. More interviews at the Globe and Mail, and The New York Times.

And there are lashings of Larsson:

On the radio – The Stieg Larsson Story.

Shots Magazine covers “Crimes of the Millennium,” a conference on the Larsson phenomenon held at the Swedish Embassy in the UK. Maxine was there, too.

Books to the Ceiling reports on an “immersion” experience in the Millennium Trilogy via book club discussions.

In “Obama, Lehman, and ‘The Dragon Tattoo,” Frank Rich, a political columnist for The New York Times, points out how prescient Stieg Larsson was in finding the manipulations of bankers traitorous and malicious. He also suggests that the techno-wizards who created some of the complex computer programs that were used to shift vast amounts of money around in ways that nobody really understood, but seemed to keep beating the odds, are a peculiarly American version of Lisbeth Salander, not interested in justice or revealing the true scope of evil but in hacking the system to make themselves rich without moral (or legal) consequences. Rich (who is on the left side of politics) warns that we’d better take Stieg’s warning and deal with popular anger against rewarding big failures. Readers of popular fiction have spoken.

Ikea – not

SXW 2010 in Austin, Texas, includes a film component; here’s a review from the screening of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Jo Nesbo is touring the US (particularly parts with Norwegian immigrant populations, including the Ballard district of Seattle) with the belated release of The Devil’s Star. The Seattle Times recommends his books and I agree with Mary Ann Gwinn when she says “somehow, thanks to the author’s feel for his hometown, these gritty stories made me want to flag down the next plane to Norway.”

The Telegraph takes its turn at exploring the popularity of Scandinavian crime fiction, but in the larger context of a discovery that Sweden is not all Ikea. Or rather, that Ikea’s founder has recently fessed up to having joined a neo-Nazi group in his youth. “Everywhere you turn – in film, music, literature, fashion and design – there’s a powerful Swedish presence,” the article says, then discusses the film release of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It gives Henning Mankell the last word:

So have we got Sweden all wrong? Is it still essentially a nation of Vikings? Mankell bristles at the suggestion. “I would like to emphasise that Sweden is a very decent society to live in,” he insists. “It would be ridiculous to say anything else. But we could have been better today if we had been different before – if we hadn’t thrown a few babies out with some of our bathwater. I would like to change that and we can only change by discussing. We know that if our system of justice doesn’t work, democracy is doomed. I think we are worried about that, so maybe that is why detective stories are so popular in Sweden.

“Until recently it was a very cold isolated culture. Our art can’t bring about social change, but you cannot have social change without arts.”

Actually, if you want a taste of the dark side, read the comments. It would be impossible to publish a crime story with so much conflict, bitterness, and xenophobia since it would be considered completely over the top.

economic indicators

Bernadette finds after reading Christian Jungersen’s The Exception that she wants to read more – though not necessarily more by that author.  “This turned out to be one of those books that, for several reasons, sounded like a better idea than it turned out to be in reality. . . .” The subject of genocide, however, intrigued her enough to want to find some non-fiction on the topic.

Peter recommends The Postcard Killers, a serial-killer collaboration between James Patterson Inc. and Liza Marklund. He reports it has Patterson’s signature “blistering pace” and short sentences, and plausibility and character development take a back seat to twists and turns, but it turned out better than he anticipated.

The Economist is the latest mainstream publication to ponder the popularity of Scandinavian crime fiction. After reviewing the sales figures for Stieg Larsson’s books, the analysis asks once again “why Scandinavia?”

Three factors underpin the success of Nordic crime fiction: language, heroes and setting. Niclas Salomonsson, a literary agent who represents almost all the up and coming Scandinavian crime writers, reckons it is the style of the books, “realistic, simple and precise…and stripped of unnecessary words”, that has a lot to do with it. The plain, direct writing, devoid of metaphor, suits the genre well.

The Nordic detective is often careworn and rumpled. Mr Mankell’s Wallander is gloomy, troubled and ambivalent about his father. Mr Indridason’s Inspector Erlendur lives alone after a failed marriage, haunted by the death of his younger brother many years before in a blizzard that he survived. Mr Nesbo’s leading man, Inspector Harry Hole—often horribly drunk—is defiant of his superiors yet loyal to his favoured colleagues.

Most important is the setting. The countries that the Nordic writers call home are prosperous and organised, a “soft society” according to Mr Nesbo. But the protection offered by a cradle-to-grave welfare system hides a dark underside. As Mary Evans points out in her recent study, “The Imagination of Evil”, the best Scandinavian fiction mines the seam that connects the insiders—the rich and powerful—and the outsiders, represented by the poor, the exploited and the vulnerable. Larsson is a master at depicting the relationship between business, social hypocrisy and criminal behaviour, and his heroes do not want to be rescued through any form of conventional state intervention.

The article mentions that Leif G.W. Persson’s “Fall of the Welfare State” is due to come out in English, though  no publisher, translator, or date is mentioned. The title, though, will be changed to avoid it being confused with an economics textbook.

reviews, recipes, and tours

After being too busy at work to post, I have lots of links backed up to share …

Barry Forshaw reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman for The Independent and calls it his most ambitious book.

What sort of issues do you expect your crime fiction to cover? If you feel that personal responsibility, cracks in the welfare state and the problems of parenthood are fair game for the crime novel, then Jo Nesbø is your man. All of these (and many more) are crammed into his weighty latest book, The Snowman.

If, however, your taste is for tough and gritty narratives with a relentlessly page-turning quality, well… Jo Nesbø is still your man. That he is able to combine the urgency of the best storytellers with a keen and intelligent engagement with social issues may well be the reason why Nesbø is shaping up to be the next big name in Scandinavian crime fiction, now that Mankell is on the point of retiring Kurt Wallander and Stieg Larsson is hors de combat.

NancyO, who blogs at The Year in Books, Reviews Box 21 and finds it a great read, but nothing like Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (as it is being marketed in the US) – rather it’s “a dark book all the way through to the last page, which actually made my blood run cold. There are no feel-good or warm fuzzy moments here, no happy endings, and you will definitely have food for thought after you’ve finished.”

The Globe and Mail has a review of Henning Mankell’s Man from Beijing. The crimes that open the book turn out to be less important to the story than “the history of Chinese enslavement in America, the course of communism in China and, in the grand scheme of things, the relationship between East and West. And in those terms, it’s a great read.”

Mack captures Camilla Lackberg’s Ice Princess and pronounces it gripping and written in a style that he enjoys.

Peter reviews Liza Marklund’s Paradise and recommends it highly. He also finds The Stonecutter by Camilla Lackberg very entertaining. And at another blog (Peter gets around) he also has some words of praise for Kirsten Ekman’s Blackwater.

Camilla Lackberg names her five favorite mysteries by Scandinavian writers.

Norman (aka Uriah) is intrigued by the regional accents that define differences in Scandinavian mysteries. He also has a handy list of Harry Hole videos.  And announces an award for The Leopard which, one hopes, will be translated into English eventually.

Cathy of Kittling Books is underwhelmed by Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Last Rituals but likes the lead character.

Skye isn’t reading much lately, but she enjoyed the Branagh version of Wallander is looking forward (a bit nervously) to the film version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. She writes of the BBC series

…the three mysteries that make up the mini-series all take place around midsummer, so instead of suffering from a lack of light like so much Swedish crime fiction, they suffer from an, assumedly, intentional overabundance. The films seems hyper-saturated with light, and the irony, that even at the height of midsummer with light radiating from every crack, crime still abounds, is not lost.

Nicholas Wroe profiles Henning Mankell in The Guardian.

WETA has an interview with him.

J. Sydney Jones interviews Norwegian author K. O. Dahl at the “Scene of the Crime.”

At Euro Crime, Maxine reviews Lackberg’s The Stonecutter;  she also reviews Sjowall and Wahloo’s The Locked Room, and Michelle Peckham reviews Mankell’s The Man Who Smiled.

As she nears the end of the “alphabet of crime fiction,” Maxine discusses James Thompson’s Snow Angels finding things to like, but a denouement that didn’t hold up.

The Hypercrime blog rounds up several stories about Scandinavian crime fiction.

Ian MacDougal writes a lengthy review and analysis of the Millennium Trilogy for n+1, “The Man Who Blew Up the Welfare State,” (prompting the FriendFeed room to wonder when the fascination with Larsson will blow over). He writes that the trilogy has two themes: “the failure of the welfare state to do right by its people and the failure of men to do right by women.” And he tackles them with a kind of optimistic idealism.

The typical Swedish detective solves the crime but leaves intact what facilitates it—the broken institutions of the welfare state. The castle in the air, the delusion of a perfect progressive utopia, persists after the case is closed. For Larsson the story’s not over until the state’s blown up, if only in the reader’s mind.

Although there is an obvious analogy to recent American forays into the crime genre, like the HBO series The Wire, this only points to what sets Larsson apart—a particularly Scandinavian optimism that insists it’s never too late to effect real change. Larsson, unlike David Simon, doesn’t see institutional dysfunction as a tragic wheel driven around by some essential human flaw. Larsson the idealist believes that an opposing force, if applied strongly enough, can slow that wheel, if not bring it to a grinding halt.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel suggests some enticing recipes to go with Scandinavian crime fiction, in which too many of its heroes live on a diet of pizza.

The Times takes a Larssonized view of Stockholm. A Swedish website offers a crime-flavored tour of Sweden. And this link dates back to the blizzards that have long since melted away. A writer for the Washington Post took the Millennium Trilogy tour of Stockholm, had to buy boots for a bit of snow. Then returned home to a blizzard.