Rounding Up the Reviews, from Yuck to Yay!

Hans Koppel doesn’t sound like Swedish writer. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it as my excuse for neglecting to include Karen Meek’s Euro Crime review of his thriller, She’s Never Coming Back, in my last round-up of reviews. She does a good job of pointing out what the author does well while making me quite sure I don’t want to read it. (Woman is kidnapped and repeatedly assaulted in a hidden location right across the street from her distressed husband and child. Though publishers usually select glowing praise to turn into telegraphed blurbs, I will choose instead what I consider key words from Karen’s more diplomatic review: “imprisoned and tortured … 400 pages … empty.”

The Independent also reviews the book, concluding it’s both “ugly and gripping.” I think the dek for the review is a bit more direct: “When you can’t sink any lower, there’s always the basement.”

For further commentary see a review at Austcrimefiction – whose reviewer found it lacking in motivation or sensible plotting, saying it’s “for somebody looking for a film-styled thriller, with some carefully choreographed graphic cruelty and sexual violence, a blatantly manipulative happy ever after ending, built around a very current day scenario.  It was a undoubtedly a very quick read.  But for this reader (actually these readers) there were so many aspects of the plot and characterisations that were simply too far a stretch to be believable, plausible, justifiable or palatable.”

Patrick Anderson of the Washington Post calls Jo Nesbo’s The Leopard “a near-total disaster” full of cheap thrills, and urges Nesbo to return to his strengths as a top-notch writer. USA Today thinks it’s “halting” in comparison to earlier books. Laura Wilson at The Guardian thinks it’s good at ratcheting up suspense, provided you don’t mind suspending disbelief – and can handle the odd nightmare or two.

A review of  The Leopard by Susan Balée in the Philadelphia Inquirer finds is both very well done and very problematic.

The writing in The Leopard is awesome. The ironic deflations, twisty plot, and grisly action keep a reader riveted to the page. But in its treatment of female characters – especially in its systematic, baroque, Byzantine dismemberment and degrading of their bodies – the novel is, perhaps unwittingly, a moral slough . . .  the book exists partly to subject women to symbolic degradation, via plot device and harrowing precision of detail. It’s brutalizing, and even in this brilliantly plotted, exquisitely researched book, I can’t escape the conviction that nothing can really justify it.

Let’s climb to some higher ground, shall we?

At Reviewing the Evidence, Yvonne Klein reviews what she calls a “philosophical thriller,” Karin Fossum’s The Caller, in which a Norwegian community is shaken by random acts and a boy’s pranks get out of hand. She regrets the book was not translated by Charlotte Barslund.

Also at RTE, Larissa Kyzer reviews Sara Blaedel’s Call Me Princess, which she finds too reliant on coincidence and with a protagonist who is not empathetic to the victims she is helping and is difficult to like.

I believe I missed mentioning a positive review of Anne Holt’s Edgar-nominated 1222 in the Washington Post. The reviewer, Carolyn See, calls it goofy but also says “I really loved this snowbound book.”

Sarah at Crimepieces had mixed feelings about 1222, finding the atmosphere and setting compelling, but the ending “lame” and she didn’t take to the prickly narrator. She found another Anne Holt novel, The Final Murder, more to her liking.

At Euro Crime, Laura Root reviews Jens Lapidus’s Easy Money, a departure from socially-conscious crime fiction in that it focuses on the fast and furious lives of black-economists who do big business on the wrong side of the law. She found it gripping, authentic, and very well translated considering its use of street patios.

At the Guardian, John O’Connell also reviews Easy Money by Jens Lapidus, who thinks it’s so Americanized it could well be America (though the justice system is too orderly for that). He advises readers to stick with it, though, as “there’s much to enjoy.”

Mrs. Peabody investigates Finland, taking a look at the very different ways the country and its culture are represented in books by expat residents Jan Costin Wanger and James Thompson. Fascinating post.

Joanna Hines doesn’t have much to say about Liza Marklund’s Vanished. Her very short review in The Guardian says the story is intricately plotted but might have been written with a stubby crayon and, while competent, would be better as a film. To which I say – huh?

Carol Thomas reviews Helene Tursten’s Night Rounds and particularly praises the translation.

Dorte Hummelshoj Jakobsen recommends Matti Joensuu’s unusual novel, To Steal Her Love, if you are looking for something different. Sadly, Euro Crime alerted us to the fact that Joensuu – an important Finnish author of crime fiction and a police officer himself, working at both jobs for two decades before retiring from the police force – died this past December.

Happier news from Finland – Jouko Sipila, publisher of Ice Cold Crime, alerted me to the news that Amazon’s publishing program has bought the rights to Leena Lehtolaisen‘s Maria Kallio series, which I have been eager to read for years, as well as her Bodyguard trilogy (new to me). There are 14 books covered in the agreement, apparently to start appearing in the US this year.

3 thoughts on “Rounding Up the Reviews, from Yuck to Yay!

  1. Thanks for these comments and links to book reviews. I am definitely not reading She’s Never Coming Back. This is a disappointment about Nesbo’s The Leopard. To promote sales or produce a best seller, the method now is to brutalize women in the most degrading, violent, gory manner possible? Is this the author or publisher’s idea? I thought better of Nesbo.
    I thought I’d read this only minus chapter one, but I may skip it altogether now.
    What is going on now, with the focus on this violence against women? Time for women to push back, boycott books or publishers that promote this stuff?
    I am so glad, on the other hand, to see this news about Leena Lehtolaisen‘s books.
    I’d say I might only read books by women, but unfortunately some also write of gratuitous violence against women, and some male authors write clever, creative, intelligent mysteries without it. So, again it’s a case-by-case basis, but the growing trends are awful.
    Do we blame publishers? Advertisers? Buyers?
    Over here in the States, I just finished The Drop by Michael Connelly, a brilliant writer and a brilliantly written book. But there is a section that is so brutal and hard to take with descriptions of violence against children, that I had to skip much of it. I don’t get it.

  2. Thanks, as ever, for the round-up. I am looking forward to Night Rounds – we have to buy the US (Soho Press) editions of Tursten’s books over here and this one is not yet available, but will be soon.

    I do get the sense of dredging the bottom of the barrel so far as translated crime fiction (from Scandinavia) is concerned. I think that the better authors have now been translated and what we are getting are the B, C and lower authors, and some bandwaggoning.

    I disagree with Yvonne Klein about the translation of The Caller, seemed fine to me. And I am not “getting at” Charlotte Barslund who can be excellent, but the translation/text of The Dinosaur Feather by Sissal Jo Gazan is very poor – one can never know if this is due to the translator, editor or other, of course. Some other Quercus books (eg a couple of Roslund-Helstroms translated by Kari Dickson) suffer similarly. Somebody is not doing a good job at basic grammar, construction, etc.

    The Joanna Hines review (brief) was very odd. Did not mention that the book was originally published many years ago, when the concept was original. But apart from that, I thought her take odd, given that Paradise (now Vanished) is rather a well-written, thoughtful novel that, together with most other Lisa Marklund novels, deliberately turns away from the slap-bang filmic types of scenario.

    (I’m not going to be reading She’s Never Coming Back, by the way!)

  3. Thanks for this useful round up. I have ‘She’s never coming back’ on my bookshelves and think I will read it just to see if it has any redeeeming features. I really don’t like concept at all but as I have it I might as well give it a go.

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