my Scandinavian challenge

There’s a challenge on thanks to The Black Sheep Dances to read Scandinavian fiction in translation, and I ought to be participating. But right now my Scandinavian challenge seems to be keeping up with this blog, and in fact with life in general. I can’t blame spring, though it has sprung splendidly here in Minnesota. See proof, attached. I’ve just been experiencing a silly combination of a heavy workload and general ineptitude. So here is a backlog of news and reviews about Scandinavian crime fiction.

Minnesota Public Radio chats with Gary Schultz (Once Upon a Crime) and some others about the popularity of Scandinavian crime fiction. Gary offers some offhand characterizations about snow and gloom that may annoy some fans. For the record, Gary lives in Minnesota and knows all about snow and gloom; besides, he is a god of all things mysterious, and his wife, Pat, is the goddess. Just sayin’. There’s also a bit about  local small press Graywolf acquiring Out Stealing Horses, having no idea they had a bestseller on their hands. They just like to publish good books. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer press.

Salon reprints a Barnes & Noble Review essay by Brooke Allen on “The Therapeutic Value of the Mystery,” in which she focuses on titles from Felony & Mayhem press, “founded by Maggie Topkis in 2005 in response to a problem she perceived in the book industry. Mass consolidations of publishing houses had forced many classic titles out of print, and Topkis conceived the idea of getting the rights to a number of these titles and printing them in attractive but inexpensive editions.” One of the titles Allen reviews is Karen Alvtegen’s Missing.

Probably the most interesting category at Felony & Mayhem is the Foreign section, which publishes authors highly esteemed in their own countries yet hardly known over here. . . . Alvtegen alternates remembered scenes of Sybilla’s traumatic, long-ago childhood with her suspenseful search for the true serial killer, making for a book that succeeds in being a real novel as well as a thriller. I am looking forward to reading “Shame,” another Alvtegen book published by Felony & Mayhem.”

Good for them!

In other news, Karen reports that there is a new English translation of a novel by John Costin Wagner forcoming. Like his previous Ice Moon, this book – titled Silence – is set in Finland. There’s also a US book deal for two more Erik Winter books by Ake Edwardson.

Maxine reviews The Unit by Ninni Homqvist – not a mystery, exactly, but not science fiction, either. “The events take place in some slightly futuristic or alternative reality, but if the reader accepts these terms of engagement, the novel is an Orwellian story about people, events and feelings, containing no artificial tricksiness and having far more in common with Karin Fossum than with Isaac Asimov.” She also reviews K.O. Dahl’s The Fix“easily as good as one of the Kurt Wallander novels of Henning Mankell.And – let’s not give her any rest, shall we? – she also reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman. (I so want to read this book!)

Norm (aka Uriah) points out it snows there. He also reads Karin Fossum’s The Water’s Edge for the Scandinavian Challenge. He’s also read Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman – “one of the most exciting, stimulating, brain teasing crime novels I have ever read with a great plot, fascinating characters and a brilliant climax.” Also for the challenge, Jose Ignacio Escribano reads Sjowall and Wahloo’s The Fire Engine that Disappeared, while Terry Halligan reviews The Locked Room for Euro Crime.

Bill Ott presents Booklists’ top ten mysteries of the year, along with another ten best debuts. The list includes The Darkest Room by Johan Theorin,  Stieg Larssson’s The Girl Who Played With Fire, and Jim Thompson’s Snow Angels.

As it happens, J. Sydney Jones interviews Jim Thompson at his blog, Scene of the Crime.

Bernadette reacts to Arnaldur Indridason’s Hypothermia and says “I can’t seem to explain why I found a book in which there’s not a great deal of action as quite as compelling and moving as I did.” I know exactly what she means.

Peter has been nimbler than I in reviewing Jarkko  Sipila’s Vengeance – which is next up on my review stack. He calls it “suspenseful, exciting, fast paced, and written in a crisp style, full of cynicism and dark humor.”

Henning Mankell’s The Man from Beijing is reviewed in January Magazine – “a brilliant work that’s both challenging and extraordinarily satisfying.”  A reviewer at the Cleveland Plain Dealer opens his review with “Birgitta Roslin is no Lisbeth Salander.” As it happens, that’ not a bad thing in his book. He gives Mankell’s triller a thumbs up and hopes Birgitta will return. Yvonne Klein agrees that Birgitta is a character worth meeting, but finds the translation seriously wanting and is both impressed and deeply frustrated by the book. She is (as always) worth quoting, even though she claims she doesn’t know how to approach this book:

The linkage Mankell makes between Sweden and the atrocities of 19th century racism is certainly an interesting one. Brigitta Roslin, the judge, though muted and rather sad, is still an attractive figure and the book would have been stronger had she played a larger and more central role. But the novel sags badly whenever Mankell is intent on making an ideological point. Worse, where we hope for an epic sweep through geographical and historical time and space, we get mere sprawl.

The strengths of this novel are where Mankell has always been strong – the opening scene in the tiny, terrible village, the baffled, blocked relationships among the Swedish characters, and the landscape of Sweden itself. But when Mankell ventures into Africa, even though he has been living there, off and on, for many years, it all seems to become abstract.

Nancy O reviews Arnaldur Indridason’s Arctic Chill and recommends it. “One of the themes prevalent in this novel is that of the problems of immigration in Iceland . . . Indridason shows the feelings on both sides of the issue, treating the subject with a great deal of fairness toward each.” I very much agree – a measured and thoughtful treatment.

Yrsa Sigurdardottir is quite tired of the ash raining down on Iceland from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

There’s an interview of Camilla Lackberg at Next Reads.

An American software developer who is learning Icelandic reports that fictional murder victims now outnumber the population of Iceland.

The newish blog, Nordic Noir, examines the impact of Olof Palme’s murder on Scandinavian fiction.

Hakan Nesser was on hand to kick off “Swedish Crime Fiction Week” in Mumbai.

At Forbes, an editor blogs about how publishing translated work in the US is worrying. I think she, like too many people in the business, take oral tradition too seriously. She says sales are often poor – but then, 7 of 10 books generally in the US fail to recoup costs. I’m not sure translation has much to do with it.

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3 thoughts on “my Scandinavian challenge

  1. Indridason is fine with me even if his books are not full of action, but a lot of introspection and thinking. His books are at the top of my favorites in Nordic crime fiction.

    Mankell’s “The Man from Beijing” was excellent. He had three good women characters and challenging topics ranging from the abuse of Chinese railroad workers in the U.S. to developments in China and Africa. Although I may not agree with all of what he says, he presented his points well–and, this is a crime novel, after all–and made the book a challenge to read, interesting as all get-out. It made me think throughout about global issues: why not?

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