review round-up

It has been quite a while since I’ve done this, and many fine books have been translated. Here are some of them . . .

The Petrona Award shortlist has been announced, and there are some familiar names on it as well as new ones. I have some good reading ahead of me . . .

Sarah Ward reviews new books by Helene Tursten, Gunnar Staalesen, and Katja Kettu. And another of her blog posts reviews books by Kristina Ohlsson, Kati Hiekkapelto and Gunnar Staalesen.

At Novel Heights, a new translation of a classic Norwegian crime novel, Stein Riverton’s The Iron Chariot, gets a review and thumbs-up for being both well-translated by Lucy Moffatt and ahead of its time. (The original publication date was 1909.)

Mrs. P. investigates Thomas Enger’s Cursed and pronounces it enjoyable and satisfying. As one of the judges for the Petrona Award, she got her hands on lots of new books translated from Nordic languages and gives us a heads up – including the exciting news that Arnaldur Indridason has a new series.

She also reviews books by Finnish authors Minna Lindgren (Death in Sunset Grove) and Antti Tuomainen (The Mine) both of which sound interesting and Hellfire by Karin 1910633534-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Fossum, which she deems “simply outstanding.” And she takes a look at Kjell Westö’s The Wednesday Club, which sounds fascinating. She concludes, “its depiction of 1938 as a moment of great social and political uncertainty also feels resonant now, given that right-wing populism is once again on the rise. The whole novel is beautifully written, and Neil Smith’s translation communicates the measured and occasionally humorous tone of the original extremely well.”

Raven has also read Enger’s Cursed, the fourth in what she calls a “superlative” series. She praises it as a particularly well-paced story.

Bernadette reacts to Jørn Lier Horst’s Ordeal, the fifth in the William Wisting police procedural series, finding it a particularly well-balanced and suspenseful entry. She also reports that she enjoyed Chameleon People by Hans Olav Lahlum which, though set in the past (during Norway’s entry into a precursor of the EU), feels very fresh. The complicated plot and the personal relationships of the characters got high marks in what has become one of her favorite series.

Bernadette also enjoyed Leif G. W. Persson’s The Dying Detective – rather more than other books by this author. It offers great character insight if not lots of action. She concludes it’s “an excellent example of crime fiction that mixes the personal and political with police procedure in a very compelling way.”

From her perch in paradise, Kerrie reviews Karin Fossum’s Hellfire, which has a complicated timeline and stories with bits left out, while remaining extremely readable.  She’s less enthusiastic about Mons Kallentoft’s Summertime Death, which combines gristly crime with a paranormal touch that she found a bit hard to swallow.

Glen Harper reviews Helene Tursten’s Who Watcheth at the LA Review of Books, pointing out how much this author owes to Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s police procedural tradition (and 10aab8b0d706198596835466d77444341587343to Ed McBain, who pioneered the genre), portraying a middle-class and mostly functional society that finds the crimes in its midst an aberration that must be confronted. I think he nails the tone of this long-running series.

Cathy of Kittling Books reviews Johan Theorin’s The Voices Beyond, the final book in the atmospheric Öland Quartet. She found this entry a bit too slow, but still recommends the whole quartet as “not to be missed.” She also enjoyed Ragnar Jónasson’s Blackout, which also isn’t especially fast-paced but has vivid character development.  She writes, “All these characters’ secrets form one huge magma chamber that’s ready to erupt, and I wasn’t content until every bit had been revealed. If you like vivid, atmospheric storytelling, treat yourself to Ragnar Jónasson’s Dark Iceland mysteries.” Nice description of a volcanic story!

Auntie M. was impressed by the way Jorgen Brekke pulled together the threads in the “outrageously plotted” and ambitious thriller, The Fifth Element. She also praises Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s The Undesired, which she says has a “a slow, psychological build to a chilling and inexorable climax.” She also reviews Ragnar Jónasson’s Snow Blind: “A classic whodunit set in a stark place with a twisted ending.” Exactly.

Ms. Wordopolis reviews Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolitto, a courtroom drama that she felt bogs down a bit during the teenage narrator’s long backstory; she compared it to 1590518578-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_the work of Laura Lippman.

At Reviewing the Evidence, Yvonne Klein also reviews Quicksand and concludes it would be a prime pick for book clubs as it contains “a great deal of serious content along with a sympathetic portrait of a contemporary young woman who, though very privileged, is subject to the expectations and demands that still afflict women even now and even in liberated Sweden.” She also notes “the book was named Best Swedish Crime Novel last year and should be a serious contender for a CWA International Dagger for 2017.” And in the same venue, Rebecca Nesvet reviews Ragnar Jónasson’s Snow Blind and declares it “riveting” and an atmospheric, invigorating start to a promising series.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Petrona Award

. . .  for 2015 has gone to Silence of the SeaYrsa Sigurðardóttir’s The Silence of the Sea. A particularly wonderful aspect of this year’s award is that it was presented by Maj Sjöwall, who attended CrimeFest this year and was interviewed quite brilliantly by all accounts by Lee Child. I appreciate the Twitter stream that kept me apprised of all things CrimeFest, particularly tweets from @Mrs_Pea68 and @eurocrime.

In many ways this is like the triple crown for me. I’ve enjoyed Yrsa’s books for years, I’m (like most folks) a fan of the Martin Beck series and grateful to Maj Sjöwall for co-authoring it, and the award is named for a friend who was also an insightful critic who built a lot of community around reading mysteries and sharing our thoughts online. She is missed, but the award is a brilliant way of remembering her.

Thanks to the judges, the authors, the translators, the publishers, and the folks who put on CrimeFest. Wish I could be there.

review of Someone to Watch Over Me by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Here’s another review reposted from the long-running review site, Reviewing the Evidence, a good place to find over 10,000 reviews of books that in some cases might otherwise get overlooked. Thanks to them for allowing me to repost this one here.

SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME
by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir and Philip Roughton, trans.
Minotaur Books, February 2015
328 pages
$25.99

For such a small country, Iceland has an unusually high rate of crime – though only in fiction. In the fifth book featuring lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttor, quite a lot is going on. A young man with Down Syndrome is locked up in an institution for

Someone to Watch Over Me coverthe criminally insane after being convicted of setting fire to his assisted living home, killing five people. His mother is convinced he couldn’t have done it. So is a creepy and deeply disturbed man named Jósteinn, who hires Thóra to reopen the investigation for reasons she doesn’t entirely trust. But times are dire after the great financial crash and Thóra reluctantly takes the case.

But that’s not all! A young mother living at home with a toddler believes her house is haunted. A radio talk-show host is getting strange threatening calls on-air, a hit-and-run incident that killed a young girl has gone unsolved, and one of the survivors of the arson attack has experienced a trauma she can’t explain because she suffers from locked-in syndrome. Add to that, Thóra’s home life has grown complicated when her parents are forced to move in (to a house already crowded with her two children, her son’s girlfriend, and an unexpected grandchild). Her pleasant but unemployed German boyfriend Matthew might grow weary of life in post-crash Iceland and decide to return home.

There’s more than enough plot in this story and, while the author does a good job drawing memorable characters, there are a lot of them to keep track of. Bit by bit, Thóra gathers together the pieces of an extremely complicated puzzle. The author, fond of ghost stories (and her standalone novel, I REMEMBER YOU, is an excellent one) adds a bit more than a touch of the supernatural to this tale, but most of the plot revolves around the motivations of the assisted-living home staff, the experiences of the residents and their families, and Thóra’s growing conviction that her Down Syndrome client is truly innocent, all with the economic ruin of the small nation as backdrop.

Though the author throws too many puzzle pieces on the table, patient readers who enjoy a complex plot may well enjoy helping an appealing protagonist work through them, connecting bits together, looking for the piece that will fill that oddly-shaped hole, watching the whole picture emerge.

Strange Shores by Arnaldur Indriðason – a review

I wrote this review for Reviewing the Evidence some time ago and then forgot to repost it here, so here you go. More on the way . . .

STRANGE SHORES
by Arnaldur Indriðason and Victoria Cribb, trans.
Minotaur Books, August 2014
296 pages
$25.95
ISBN: 1250000408

Iceland is a small and peaceful country where murders are infrequent and the Reykjavik Instagram account is full of photos of police officers holding puppies or eating ice cream. But some years ago Arnaldur Indriðason put it on the crime fiction map when his third mystery, JAR CITY, became an international phenomenon. Since then, his novels featuring the dour detective Erlendur Sviensson have gained a loyal worldwide following. The protagonists of his two most recently translated novels were Erlendur’s colleagues Elinborg and Sigurdur Oli, who were holding the fort as their boss conducted personal business in the east. Erlendur resumes center stage in this novel as we finally discover what he has been up to.

Throughout the series, readers have learned two things about the laconic inspector: he finds Strange Shoresmodern-day Reykjavik a foreign and uncomfortable place and he is dogged by survivor’s guilt because, when he was ten years old, he and his younger brother were caught in a blizzard. Erlendur barely survived, but his brother was never found. His lingering sense of guilt has shaped his character and from time to time he has returned to the rural landscape of his youth in eastern Iceland where he sleeps in the ruins of his family home and wanders the hillsides.

This time, even the east is changing. A giant aluminum smelter and a hydroelectric dam are altering the landscape and crowding the fjord with freighters. Some of the residents are pleased with the changes, but many old-timers, like a hunter who Erlendur meets early in the story, share the inspector’s opinion. “He couldn’t understand how on earth an unaccountable multinational, based far away in America, had been permitted to put its heavy industrial stamp on a tranquil fjord and tract of untouched wilderness here in the remote east of Iceland.” The hunter, it turns out, was involved in the search for Erlendur and his brother many years ago. Now he’s tracking a fox that has been worrying sheep. When he mentions that foxes conceal all manner of things in their earths, Erlendur wonders if he might find some relic of his brother, missing all these years.

Descending from the moors, he asks the hunter about a case that he’d read about, a woman who disappeared in another storm, her body never found. Erlendur’s mother knew Matthildur casually, and he’d always wondered about the case. He begins to ask the elderly residents about it, people whose stories will soon be lost forever like the landscape he grew up in, and gradually he pieces together what happened to her. It’s not a police investigation. It’s a long-term interest in the fates of people confronting the wilderness – and the cruelty of others, which is as old as the hills.

The narrative structure of this novel is similar to other books in the series, particularly SILENCE OF THE GRAVE, in which two stories unfold. It’s not clear who is involved in one of them, whether they are chronologically synced up, or how exactly the stories are related until, toward the end, the two narratives click together. In its quiet, thoughtful, and understated way, this novel explores the tragedy of unfinished stories and the fact that even when a mystery is solved, it leaves many fundamental questions unanswered.

Readers of the series will be pleased to learn that another volume in the series, a prequel set in the 1970s, has been published in Iceland. Let’s hope it will be translated into English before too long.

review roundup

At Crime Scraps, Norm reviews Liza Marklund’s latest Annika Bengtzon thriller, Borderline which involves international intrigue and a hostage situation. Does it make me a bad person to be pleased that Annika’s annoying ex is a hostage? It sounds very good (and not just because Thomas is in trouble.)

At Petrona Remembered, there’s a fascinating email exchange/converation between Neil Smith and Liza Marklund about The Long Shadow and its translation and possible reception by English readers. Fascinating! And it ends on a cliffhanger . . .

The Guardian credits the popularity of Scandinavian crime for a boom in translated fiction in the UK.

Crime Fiction Lover provides a lovely tribute and overview of the Martin Beck Series written by Jeremy McGraw

At Crime Review, Tracy Johnson reviews Aren Dahl’s To the Top of the Mountain, who feels the humanity of the characters adds to their appeal.

At Reviewing the Evidence, Yvonne Klein unpacks the multiple plot strands and global locations for Jussi Alder-Olsen’s latest entry in the Carl Mørckseries, The Marco Effect, making it sound very well worth reading.

She makes a reference to an interview with the author in the Huffington Post, which is also worth a read. The author mentions that in addition to a Danish film version of the first in the series, there’s talk of a U.S. television adaptation of the characters, possibly s Hmm…

Ms. Wordopolis reviews an earlier book in Arnaldur Indridason’s Erlendur series, Voices. She finds it’s not the best in the bunch, but it’s still a favorite series. “It’s a reminder to me to spend less time on new releases and catch up on older books.” I’m so glad you feel that way!

Ms. Wordopolis also thinks the second volume of the Minnesota Trilogy, Vidar Sundstol’s Only the Dead, is a much tighter, very different sort of book from the first. I agree with her that it will be interesting to see what the third and final volume is like.

Laura Root also reviews the book at Euro Crime, finding it both unexpected and gripping. (Ditto.)

Staci Alesi (“the Book Bitch”) also reviews that book for Booklist and says though it is short – almost a novella – it’s dark, beautifully written, and suspenseful.

Jose Ignacio Esrcribano reviews (in two languages!) Arnaldur Indridason’s Strange Shores, which finishes the Erlunder series (chronologically, at least). He enjoyed it very much, as did I.

At International Noir Fiction, Glenn Harper reviews Jo Nesbo’s Police, in which Harry Hole is off stage for a good bit of the action, and speculates whether the end is really the end – or not.

Sarah Ward reviews Black Noise by Pekka Hiltunen at Crimepieces and wonders whether it qualifies as Scaninavian crime, given it’s set in London. She finds it has a promising story about social media that unfortunately goes awry, becoming quite implausible. She hopes for better next time.

She also reviews Elsebeth Egholm’s Three Dog Night, a Danish novel about a recently-released convict who moves to a remote community only to meet a prison mate who is, unfortunately, dead. She says it has a well-constructed plot with a good ending though some of the characters in the fraying community can be hard to keep straight. She’s looking forward to the sequel, coming out in the UK soon.

Karen Meek reports on hearing two Danish authors interviewed by Peter Guttridge – Elsebeth Eghholm, Lene Kaaberbol, at the Manchester Literature Festival. Lots of insight into the authors and being translated, here.

Mrs. Peabody investigates a French thriller set in Norway, Olivier Truc’s Forty Days Without Shadow, likening it to M. J.McGrath’s Edie Kiglatuk series set in the Canadian artic. It’s a “cracking debut” that illuminates nomadic Sami culture in a world with borders.  It sounds like a strong nominee for the Petrona Award. Mrs. P. links to an interesting  interview with the author.

Gary Jacobson reviews Karin Fossum’s I Can See in the Dark and finds it creepy, chilling, and effective at portraying the inner life of a very unpleasant man who is guilty of many crimes except for the one he’s accused of.

At Euro Crime, Lynn Harvey reviews Jan Costin Wagner’s Light in a Dark House, the fourth in the Finland-set series, but the first she read.  She says it stands on its own, but she’s ready to go back and read the rest. She concludes, “if you love the mystery of character as much as the mystery of crime – set in a wintry Scandinavian landscape – then I think you will savour [it] as much as I did.

Mark Your Calendars: Finns in Minnesota, Crime in Iceland

Three Finnish crime authors will be in Minneapolis in August to participate in Finnfest USA an annual national gathering for all things Finnish.

They are participating in FinnFest USA, an annual event that is being held in Minneapolis this year (fittingly, since the first Finnish communities were established in the US 150 years ago by Finns who arrived in Red Wing with the intent to settle and retain their Finnish Finnish flagcultural identities in an area that was being settled by many Nordic immigrants).

For those who aren’t registering for the entire Finn-o-palooza, you will have an opportunity to meet the Finnish authors at the wonderful Once Upon a Crime bookstore, where they will be meeting readers and signing books between 11:00 am and 1:00 pm on Saturday, August 9th. The authors are:

  • Antti Tuomainen (author of the dystopian-romantic-noirish novel The Healer)
  • Jarkko Sipila (author of the Helsinki Homicide police procedural series, the latest of which, Darling, is about to be released)
  •  Jari Tervo (author of a number of novels, the first of which is just being published in English – Among the Saints; thanks to the publisher, Ice Cold Crime, I hope to have a review here soon)

This may be the only time three Finnish crime authors have appeared together in the US. They picked a wonderful store as their host.

I hope to attend the event and report back. Meanwhile, here are my previous reviews of Tuomainen’s The Healer and Sipila’s Against the Wall, Vengeance, Nothing But the Truth, and Cold Trail.

In November, you can travel to Iceland for the second Iceland Noir festival of crime fiction. Along with a great many Icelandic authors and authors who set their books in Iceland, you can meet writers from as far away as South Africa. Johan Theorin of Sweden and Vidar Sundstol of Norway will also be on the program. There will also be a Snæfellsnes Mystery Tour with Yrsa Sigurðardóttir to the remote and Iceland flagsrugged setting of her ghost story, My Soul to Take

At this event, the first award for crime fiction translated into Icelandic (the “Icepick”) will be announced. Here is the shortlist, hot off the press release:

  • Joël Dicker: La Vérité sur l’affaire Harry Quebert [The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair] – Icelandic translation: Friðrik Rafnsson
  • Gillian Flynn: Gone Girl – Icelandic translation: Bjarni Jónsson
  • Jo Nesbø: Panserhjerte [The Leopard] – Icelandic translation: Bjarni Gunnarsson
  • Håkan Nesser: Människa utan hund [Man Without Dog] – Icelandic translation: Ævar Örn Jósepsson
  • Antti Tuomainen: Veljeni vartija [My Brother’s Keeper] – Icelandic translation: Sigurður Karlsson

Review of I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

The subtitle of this novel is “a ghost story,” and so it is. I can’t remember when I last read a novel that was so whole-heartedly about ghosts. Some books have a touch here and there of the supernatural – but this is flat-out a suspenseful horror tale with a touch of mystery. And it’s quite a lot of fun.

There are two major threads to the novel. In one, a group of ill-prepared citified Icelanders have decided to renovate an abandoned house in Hesteyri, a remote fishing village in the northwestern fjords of Iceland that is no longer inhabited except for occasional summer vacationers. They hope to make a go of it, hosting paying summer guests, but the three friends, a married couple and an urbane woman friend, have few skills and little money. After a boat captain leaves them there with supplies, promising to return in a week, they begin to realize how unprepared they are. The house is I Remember Youin much worse repair than they thought, the cold and the winter darkness is oppressive, and soon they realize they aren’t alone on the island. A strange, ragged child seems bent on destroying their dreams of turning the vacant house into a liveable holiday home.

Meanwhile, in the remote port of Ísaforþur, the closest town, a psychiatrist is treating a troubled old woman in a nursing home while trying to forget the fact that he lost his young son, something that drove a wedge between him and his wife (who can’t put it behind her). “Lost” isn’t a euphamism. The child disappeared without a trace, and the police can only surmise that he somehow wandered down to the sea and was drowned, his body never recovered. There is also the strange case of vandalism in a school which seems strangely like an incident decades ago.

These things, of course, are hardly random. The malevolent spirit haunting the abandoned fishing village must surely have some connection to the doctor’s missing boy, and photos defaced at the school seem strangely connected to a string of deaths . . .

Hesteyri

A great pleasure of this story is the drawing together of these threads as the author gives us a glimpse here, a hint there of how pieces of the story connect – all with a background of impending dread. Things at the remote abandoned village go from very bad to even worse, and the pyschiatrist begins to wonder if he’s losing his mind.

I have never been a fan of ghost stories and am postiively allergic to horror as a genre, but I was surprised at how thoroughly I enjoyed reading this book, though it wasn’t always the right material to read in bed before drifting off to sleep. There are touches of humor here and there, well-drawn and sympathetic characters as well as some who are not, and a plot that keeps winding tighter and tighter. While these kinds of books are often thinly-disguised as morality tales – someone who has chosen to be evil or made a bad choice gets his or her comeuppance – the story behind the haunting places responsibility, as so often happens in Scandinavian crime fiction, on people who fail to care for the vulnerable and on indifferent social instutions that don’t live up to their responsibilities. As well as the actions of a certifiable pyschopath or two.

photo of Hesteyri by Yodod