I’m well behind on my Scandi crime reading, and even further behind on reading. Maybe I’m suffering from a bit of a reading slump; a lot of books just haven’t hit the spot for me lately, so I’m guessing it’s more me than the books. Regardless, here are thoughts on a couple of books I read recently.
The Ice Swimmer by Kjell Ola Dahl, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett. Orenda, October 2018.
This is the sixth English translation from a police procedural series set in Oslo. For those who’ve followed the series, the ensemble of characters and their relationships is likely familiar. The lead protagonist this time is Lena Stigersand, who’s tidying up the probably accidental death of man who toppled into the harbor. A few too many drinks, a brutally cold night . . . but something’s going on, because a politician is furious when Lena asks her about the dinner she had with the victim, and the higher ups want her to back off. Meanwhile, a drug-addicted woman has died in a train tunnel, evidently a suicide that . . . isn’t. It turns out she was pursued into the tunnel, and she likely knew something about how the man ended up in the harbor. Along with putting together the case, there are some dynamics among the detectives that factor into the story, and Lena herself has quite a lot going on in her personal life.
I found the book a bit of a plod, though that was probably my mood, not the book – Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review. I was also (unreasonably?) irritated with Lena for being attracted to and quickly involved with a journalist who seemed to be obviously in it for himself. It seemed immature and he was not portrayed as being so clearly attractive that I was persuaded a cop would fall for him so easily. The final pages, that explain the title, seemed different in tone and a bit tacked-on, but that’s just me being grumpy.
The Darkness by Ragnar Jónasson, translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb, October 2018.
My grumpiness continued! I actually enjoyed most of The Darkness by Ragnar Jónasson. It introduces a new series, and apparently is a trilogy told in reverse order. In this first book, we meet Hulda Hermannsdóttir, a 64-year-old detective in Reykjavik who is suddenly told she’s retiring. Time to use up her vacation and put her feet up. That’s not at all what she wants to do. She lives in a barren apartment and has no friends or family – nor does she have good relationships with her fellow detectives. The good news is she’s a fine detective who won’t go out without a fight. She picks up a cold case – a Russian woman who disappeared from an asylum shelter – and has only a few days to solve it, even though nobody else has the slightest interest in the case.
The title is apt. It’s a really dark story – not because the case is especially gruesome or twisted (though we do get some of the story from the perspective of a Russian woman who faces danger in a snowy, remote, bitterly cold place) but because there’s nothing much redeeming in Hulda’s life. Gradually we come to learn the family tragedy hinted at throughout the story was particularly awful, so no wonder there’s so little light in Hulda’s life, but if it weren’t for her detecting, she’d be pretty dour company. The ending is a shocker – and though I can’t say much without a spoiler, I actually hated it, partly because I had just read another book with a similar ending. (I should probably add that the reviews I’ve seen think the ending is stunning. For me, not in a good way.) Hopefully it was just a chance thing, reading two books back to back that had a similar twist at the end, but if this is a trend I’m going to be really grumpy.
The next books in the trilogy step back by the decade – to a case when Hulda was in her fifties (The Island), then one in her forties (The Mist). You can read more about this trilogy in an article in The Reykjavik Grapevine.