Category Archives: iceland

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

 

review roundup and a new version of Macbeth

Ms. Wordopolis reviews the first book in Mari Jungstedt’s Anders Knutas and Johan Berg series, Unseen, finding the series characters and their stories more interesting than the fairly predictable serial killer storyline. All in all, she reckons it’s time to read something other than police procedurals.

Previously, she reviewed the latest in the Carl Mørck Department Q series by Jussi Adler-Olsen, The Purity of Vengeance, which left her with mixed feelings: “I feel strange saying that the book was written well or that I was interested in the ongoing storylines of Mørck and Assad when the main plot was so horrible to women,” she writes, Like the first novel in the series (The Keeper of Lost Causes, also published under the title Mercy), the plot focuses on people who hate women. How that focus is handled (and for what purpose) is one of the biggest open questions in this genre, in my opinion.

She was also not entirely satisfied by Helene Tursten’s The Fire Dance, but for different reasons. She felt there just wasn’t much in the story to grab her interest and hold it, concluding it was a so-so entry in a series that promises more.

The Indian Feminist, who has written about Scandinavian women detectives in the past, was likewise disappointed in the latest English translation in the Irene Huss series, The Fire Dance,  which she found slow paced and uninvolving.

The Fire DanceNancy O. had a different reading experience with this book, as she explains at The Crime Segments. She counts Tursten’s series as one she deeply enjoys, and a Scandinavian author who stays on her to-be-read list as others disappoint and drop off. Her verdict: “for those who enjoy solid police procedurals with a personal twist.” She still counts The Torso as her favorite in the series, being “edgy and solid.” This entry, while a solid police procedural, has a bit less edge.

Meanwhile, in paradise, Kerrie enjoyed reading the previous book in the series, The Golden Calf, which she felt had a nice balance of action, the personal lives of the series characters, and police procedure. She sums up the series as “basically police procedurals, planted in a modern world, with plenty of human interest.”

Glenn Harper at International Noir Fiction reviews Leif G. W. Persson’s tome, Free Falling as if in a Dream, part of a series drawn from the unsolved murder of Swedish prime minister Olof Palme. Though it’s very long, he says it’s “gripping all the way through, as well as comic in some sections, through the ironic and simultaneously arrogant and self-deprecating voice of Johannson and the appearance of the ridiculous detective in many of the author’s books, Evert Bäckstrom.” However, he doesn’t hold out much hope for the US television adaptation that’s out next year. In his review, he looks at how this novel and Magdalen Nabb’s The Monster of Florence handle actual unsolved crimes, finding that both propose in their fiction plausible and disturbing solutions.

He also reviews Jan Costin Wagner’s Light in a Dark House, and has a great description of its trajectory: “meditative rather than propulsive in terms of its pacing.” He considers the non-linear, poetic approach a plus, but knows it’s not for everyone: “For me, the moody pace works, but it could be frustrating for some readers.” This story brings the series’ Turku detective, who is looking into the murder of an unidentified woman, together with Helsinki investigators looking into a series of murders, with several narrative threads that, in the end, are knitted together.

Traveling to yet another Nordic country, Harper reviews Quentin Bates’s Chilled to the Bone, the latest in a series focusing on an Icelandic investigator, Gunna Gisladottir, and it in his opinion the best in the series. Among its virtues, “lots of ethical and literary ambiguity, a plot that moves rapidly along, and a cast of interesting characters.” Though he considers it less dark than Arnaldur Indridason’s Erlendur series, it’s both grim and entertaining.

At Euro Crime, Rich Westwood reviews Carin Gerhardsen’s The Gingerbread House, advising those looking for a new Scandinavian crime series to give it a try. The main plot, about man who endured horrific bullying as a child and the various violent ways in which his former schoolmates are being murdered, seems less compelling to him than a subplot about one of the police team who believes she’s been drugged and raped after a casual encounter and is determined to find justice. Westwood thinks the admixture of personal stories of the investigating officers will remind readers of Camilla Lackberg, mixing violent murder and cozy scenes of domestic life.

Also at Euro Crime, Michelle Peckham praises Arnaldur Indridason’s Strange Shores, the eleventh novel in the Erlendur series. We and Erlendur finally grapple with the detective’s Strange Shorespersonal quest to understand how he survived being lost in a storm that killed his brother. He approaches this quest by investigating another event, the disappearance of a young woman he learned about as a child. He probes the secrets and memories of those still alive who can help him put the pieces together. She calls the book powerful, emotional, and a beautiful exploration of how trauma can shape a life.

Amanda Gillies also uses the term “beautiful” for Derek B. Miller’s Norwegian by Night, a novel that makes her fall in love with its prickly 82-year-old protagonist. Though it had a slow start for her, she pronounces the story about an American Jew haunted by his wartime experiences and his son’s death in Vietnam who sometimes is confused but manages to evade villains to save a small boy, “quite simply brilliant.” 

Mrs Peabody investigates some dystopian crime fiction, including Antti Tuomainen’s The Healer, which she finds “a gripping and quietly powerful read” which interrogates (as dystopias do) how people find meaning in situations where social structures have broken down and disaster is impending – in this case a poet searching for his missing wife, a journalist who has been writing about a Finnish eco-warrior who is taking violent action as climate change changes everything. Like Bernadette, she finds it a curiously uplifting read.

Jose Ignacio Escribano reviews Karin Fossum’s The Indian Bride (also published as Calling Out for You), in which a naive Norwegian man impuslively travels to India to find a bride. When she arrives in Norway, she disappears. And Fossum’s quiet menace does the rest. As Jose Ignacio observes, “she is able to develop a particular atmosphere that can become frightening, using only elements taken from our daily lives.” Here, in this small Norwegian town, the well-meaning and wholly wholesome Scandinavians seem all too comfortable seeking silence when the subject of race enters the picture – and Fossum is not willing to leave us content with the knowledge that justice, in the end, will be done.

At the Independent, Barry Forshaw reviews Hans Koppel’s You’re Mine Now, which once again You're Mine Nowfeatures a man who hates women, though this time the woman confronted by a stalker is in a better position to fight back than in his previous novel (which Forshaw puts in a nutshell: “ritual sexual debasement and torture visited upon the luckless heroine, kept captive in a house where she could still see her distraught, unknowing family,” Yes, that’s wny I didn’t read it.) Koppel is apparently very good at ratcheting up tension, not so good at giving us any reason why we shouldn’t just give up on the human race altogether.

Keishon is avid about reading Asa Larsson’s mysteries, but found The Second Deadly Sin disappointing in the end. There are various timeframes and one becomes a bit of a slog. Office politics among the main characters is about as appealing as . . . well, office politics. And the pacing overall, she felt, was off in an over-long novel. She recommends her other books, though.

Norm, at Crime Scraps, reviews Mari Jungstedt’s The Double Silence, a new entry in the Anders Knutas series set on Visby Island. In addition to a crime, the story involves the lives of its ongoing cast of characters. While Norm recommends this series, he felt this story jumped too often from one point of view to another and often left him mystified in ways the author likely didn’t intend.

And now for something completely different, The Wall Street Journal reports that Jo Nebso has been signed on (along with other authors) to write prose versions of Shakespeare’s plays running up the bard’s 400th birthday. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he will be taking on Macbeth and, in an interview, ponders whether he’ll make him a man vying for the position of police chief in a throughly corrupt city in the 1970s. That cauldron the weird sisters are stirring? It just might be brewing some kick-ass meth. The story is likely to keep relationships and themes but perhaps not much else. I must say I’m particularly intrigued about what Margaret Atwood might do with The Tempest. 

weird sisters and cauldron

Finally, if you are fortunate enough to be in northern California on February 2, Janet Rudolph invites you to join her and fellow fans for a lecture on Swedish crime fiction by my fellow Minnesotan, Jim Kaplan. He’s very wise to be somewhere other than in the Polar Vortex that keeps on turning the upper Midwest into an arctic knockoff.

a belated roundup of reviews and news

It’s been quite a busy semester and a long time since I’ve updated this blog. There has been no shortage of reviews and news in the interim . . .

UrbanIndianWoman is a fan of Scandinavian crime fiction and at her blog, Indian Feminist 101, she sometimes muses on its feminist aspects. (This is something I’m also very interested in, so yay!) She has recently shared her thoughts on Asa Larsson’s The Second Deadly Sin by Asa Larsson and also posted a round up of women detectives asking “Is it the densely dark atmosphere and snowy landscape and morose environment? Is it the fact that since in reality there is so little crime there that the Scandinavians’ imagination is more fertile when it comes to fictionalising it? Is it their innate sense of justice and fairness that finds voice in crime fiction?” Whatever it is, she likes it.

Reading is a popular pursuit in all of the Scandinavian countries, but according to the BBC, writing may be more popular per capita in Iceland, which has a thriving book culture for its small population of roughly 300,000. One in ten Icelanders will publish a book, according to the story, and the biggest genre at the moment is crime fiction. Sales double those in other Scandinavian countries, which also have healthy sales. What is particularly insteresting to me is that Arnaldur Indridason had virtually no company when he began to write crime stories not too long ago. He told me that his series tapped a thirst for crime fiction which had barely been published in Icelandic and with an Icelandic setting, though mysteries in English were popular among Icelanders. Takk fyrir, Arnaldur, for your books and others coming from your small island.

Euro Crime’s Laura Root reviews Vidar Sundstol’s The Land of Dreams. I abosolutely concur with her conclusion that some readers who expect resolution may be disappointed – but others (including Laura and me) will simply want to read the rest of the trilogy. 

Glenn Harper also reviews The Land of Dreams at International Noir Fiction, finding it repetetive at times (but not in an aggravating way) and, like me, is interested in what comes next in the trilogy.

Kerrie in Paradise reviews Derek Miller’s Norwegian by Night which takes an American to Norway. She gives it high marks and suggests it would make a cracking film. It was the winner of the CWA new blood dagger this year, so she isn’t alone in thinking it’s a good read.

At Petrona Remembered, Jose Ignacio Escribano features Gunnar Staalesen’s Cold Hearts, He recommends it highly and wishes the author was better known. Do you have a mystery you enjoyed and would like to share? Why not submit it to the site? It’s a celebration of Maxine Clarke aka Petrona, who loved a good mystery and is much missed.

At Crime Scraps, Norman reviews Liza Marklund’s The Long Shadow, warning readers that it’s important to read Lifetime first. This entry in the Annika Bengtson series takes her to the Costa del Sol and is not, in Norm’s estimation, the best of the bunch. I’m afraid I find her taste in men deeply irritating! Flawed heroines are right up my alley, unless they have a soft spot for controlling idiots. Is “stupid” a flaw? If so, not the kind I like.

One of Sarah’s Crimepieces is Anne Holt’s Death of the Demon. She found it a bit disappointing compared to other books in the series, with a not-terribly-gripping or complex plot. (I’ve just finished it myself and found it more of an issue-driven book than a real mystery, featuring a troubled child who we get to know a lot about but not to understand.

She felt more positive about Jo Nesbo’s Police, which is a “huge” book with complexity to spare. There is a plot strand she found annoying – and (having just read it myself) I was annoyed, too.

Marilyn Stasio at the New York Times says its nervewracking and disturbing and you really ought to read the previous book in the series, Phantom, first. She applauds Nesbo for taking Harry off stage and letting other characters have a chance to shine.

At Novel Heights, Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s ghost story, I Remember You, gets middling marks for characters (who tend to get into scrapes more often than they should) but top marks for tension – and for its clever resolution.

There you will also find a recent review of Quentin Bates’s Iceland-set mystery, Frozen Out (apa Frozen Assets) which has a lot going on but a terrific lead character. (I’ve just started reading the third in the series and am enjoying spending time with Gunna Gisladottir.)

Barry Forshaw reviews several mysteries, including Arnadludr Indridason’s Strange Shores and Arne Dahl’s Bad Blood.  He thinks Erlendur’s return is well handled, but reports that it’s the final book in the series, which makes me sad. Arne Dahl, he says “writes crime fiction of genuine authority with a sinewy, uncompromising structure.” To be honest, I’m not sure what it means, but I think it’s a compliment.

Karen Meek, the heroic mastermind behind Euro Crime, reviews Karin Fossum’s I Can See in the Dark. It’s not in the Sejer series, but rather is a psychological crime novel rather in the mode of Fossum’s recent work. Not one of her favorites.

She also reports the intriguing news that a UK publisher has acquired a new novel by Finnish author Antti Tuomainen. I enjoyed The Healer quite a bit.

Another Norwegian author is also due to appear in English, according to Crimficreader’s blog. Tom Johansen’s Blood on Snow is due in 2014 and will be followed by a sequel. Both will no doubt have an instant following, given that Tom Johansen is a pseudonym for the very busy and popular Jo Nesbo.

recently reviewed . . .

It has been ages since I tallied up some of the new reviews appearing here and there. While I am too full of beginning-of-term tasks to do a full round-up, here are some recent ones.

Cold Hearts coverAt irresistible Targets, Michael Carlson reviews Gunnar Staalensen’s Cold Hearts, finding Varg Veum more like Ross Macdonald’s hero Lew Archer than Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. The theme of the book has to do with Norwegian social institutions being ill-suited to addressing serious crime and the chilliness of many Norwegian’s inner souls.

He also reviews Arnaldur Indridason’s Strange Shores, which sounds like a tour de force as Erlendur returns as protagonist. He comments that while many works of Scandinavian crime fiction concern the shift from a general social sense of responsibility to individualism, opening a gap through which crime can slip through, there is also a long tradition of exploring an individual “battling alone in a dark and cold world.” Which is a tradition our traditionalist Erlendur honors regularly.

At Euro Crime, Lynn Harvey does a brilliant job reviewing Savage Spring, the fourth book in Mons Kallentoft’s seasonally-themed police procedurals featuring the troubled Malin Fors. She finds it a compelling book, though the Alice-Sebold-like inclusion of the voices of the dead is something that might not suit every reader. (This time, it’s two children who have been killed in an explosion.) Fractured family relationships are examined keenly. As Harvy puts it, “like debris from the explosion in the square,fragments of parent/child relationships are examined throughout the book . . . [which] turn it from a police procedural into a much deeper story which is precisely what drew me to read Scandinavian crime fiction in the first place.”

Bernadette at Reactions to Reading wonders if she’s read too much crime fiction – or if Jussi Adler-Olsen is seeing just how far he can push cliches and readers’ patience with his latest, Redeption (apa A Conspiracy of Faith). Too much action, drama, and shallow psychological trauma; too many coincidences, too many pages! Though she enjoyed the first in the series, she may be giving this one up.

At International Noir Fiction, Glenn Harper reviews two books that take on the increasingly porous borders between Scandinavian nations and greater Europe. Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis look at the present-day legacy of the painful history of Ukraine in a tightly-plotted, tense, and dark mystery, Death of a Nightingale. Less successful in his estimation is Strange Bird by Anna Johnsson, a newly-translated entry in the Maria Wern series which concerns an epidemic of bird flu that has entered Sweden via Belarus.

Jose Ignacio Escribano reviews Finnish author Pekka Hiltunen’s Cold Courage, a pschologicalcold courage cover thriller set in London, the first in a series. Though a fairly compelling read, he found aspects of the plot (which concerns sexual violence, human trafficking, and the rise of far-right political parties) far-fetched and had some reservations about ethical issues addressed in the conclusion,

And at Crimepieces, Sarah reviews German author Jan Costin Wagner’s Light in a Dark House, the latest in his Finnish-based series which she admires very much, calling it “a slow but reflective series” that may not be for everyone, but is from her perspective among the best in the genre.  She certainly makes me want to give it a try.

Petrona Award and more

It’s official: The Petrona Award for the best Scandinavian crime novel of the year has announced its very first shortlist and judges. The finalist will be announced at Crimefest.  From the press release:

The Petrona Award has been established to celebrate the work of Maxine Clarke, one of the first online crime fiction reviewers and bloggers, who died in December 2012. Maxine, whose online persona and blog was called Petrona, was passionate about translated crime fiction but in particular that from the Scandinavian countries.
The shortlist for the 2013 award, which is based on Maxine’s reviews and ratings is as follows:
PIERCED by Thomas Enger, tr. Charlotte Barslund (Faber and Faber)
BLACK SKIES by Arnaldur Indridason, tr. Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker)
LAST WILL by Liza Marklund, tr. Neil Smith (Corgi)
ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER LIFE by Leif GW Persson tr. Paul Norlen (Doubleday)
The judges are an erudite and very well-read group – Barry Forshaw, Kat Hall (aka Mrs. Peabody), and Sarah Ward. Find more about the award at Petrona Remembered.
Sarah Ward reviews Sjowall and Wahloo’s The Locked Room at Crimepieces. It’s the eighth in the series and perhaps not the strongest, but Sarah enjoyed the sly ending. She also reviews Leif G. W. Persson’s Linda, as in the Linda Murder, which features Evert Backstrom, who is “compelling and abhorrent. Sexist, racist, homophobic, facetious, work-shy, dismissive of his team . . . and very, very funny,” making her predict readers will either love or loathe this unusual novel.

Jose Ignacio Escribano offers a bilingual review of Anne Holt’s The Blind Goddess, which was the first in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series, though he points out there really are multiple protagonists, rather like the Martin Beck series (a very interesting parallel). Originally published in 1993, this novel won the Riverton prize as best Norwegian crime novel of the year.

Glenn Harper has some good things to say about Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotist, and some criticism, particularly of the flashbacks that bog down the pacing and some cliched characters.

Bernadette reviews Mons Kallentoft’s second seasonally-themed procedural, Summertime Death, and reports that the weather is frightful – hot, muggy, and very well-depicted, as was the cold in the first book. However the novel doesn’t score as well on plot, character development, or plausibility and the inclusion (once again) of voices from beyond the grave doesn’t help.

She fares better with Arnaldur Indridason’s Black Skies, which uses the sidekick Sigurdur Oli as its main character, with Erlendur off somewhere for reasons unclear. Though Sigurdur Oli is a pretty average bloke, he turns out to be quite complex – as does that plot, which appears fairly straightforward until you try to summarize it, at which point the author’s narrative skills in layering lots of material without cluttering things up becomes apparent. (I so want to read this book!)

Col (who has decided to review at least on Scandinavian mystery a month – hurrah) has high praise for an earlier book in the series, The Draining Lake, which does a good job of layering stories from different time periods.  

Col adds Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Played With Fire to his criminal library and gives it mixed marks, with the action-packed second-half making up for a slow and plodding start. He liked it enough to read the third.

NancyO reviews Helene Tursten’s The Golden Calf, which she felt was a bit disappointing in the end, though the pacing and the character of Sana, a spoilt child-woman who doesn’t help the police figure things out, was well drawn.

Raven Crime Reads also has review of the book, and now plans to catch up on the earlier volumes, having found it a well-crafted procedural that is less gloomy than many Nordic novels.

Harry Hole gets around. There’s a review of The Phantom in the Philippine Daily Inquirer by Ruel S. De Vera, who finds it darkly intoxicating.

Marilyn Stasio of the New York Times was not terribly impressed by Alexander Soderberg’s The Andalusian Friend, which she thinks might have been amusing if written by Donald Westlake rather than treated seriously.

The New York Public Library has a roundup of the usual suspects of Nordic crime fiction, with links to audio pronouncing names that I know I mangle often enough. Especially Sjowall and Wahloo! (Hat tip to Sarah Ward.)

The Guardian reports that a series based on Arne Dahl’s Intercrime series will be broadcast in the UK by the BBC. Let’s hope this will spur on translations. It took years and years for Misterioso to finally appear in English.

Bitch Magazine has an interesting article by Soraya Roberts on the Scandinavian-feminist take on the standard tropes of film noir, including in her analysis the Millennium Trilogy, Forbrydelsen (The Killing), Borgen, and Bron/Broen (The Bridge).  She concludes

The importance of noir heroines like Lisbeth Salander, Sarah Lund, Saga Norén, and Birgitte Nyborg Christensen is not only to put women on an equal footing with men—we can be just as work obsessed and as socially inept as you—but, more important, to change the traditional view of women as victims. By updating the women in noir from sex objects and victims to protectors—of both women and men—Nordic noir series are setting a precedent for other genres to accept. If the trench coat fits, a hero is a hero regardless of gender.

An article in Slate by techno-skeptic EvgenyMorozov tipped me off to an intriguing website that eschews algorithms and instead asks various prominent folks for their book recommendations, humanizing curation and perhaps doing it better. FiveBooks asks Jo Nesbo which novels he recommends and the answers are interesting (and not what one might expect. Or perhaps even find particularly rewarding in every case. Rivington, for example, is … well, for example may be exactly how to put it, as an important historical contributor to Norwegian crime whose stories, according to Nesbo, very much reflect the tastes of his time. (NB: quite a few of us use humans as curators. I suspect most readers are far more responsive to and satisfied by “you might also like” statements when they come from friends.)

A Scandinavian Tour in Reviews

It has been a month since I made the rounds to see what has been reviewed lately. I thought I’d better organize them somehow, so have listed them by country. Sweden, I’m afraid, gets the lion’s share of attention. My Norwegian grandfather could have predicted that.

Finland

Bernadette reviews Harri Nykanen’s Nights of Awe, finding the lead character intriguing but the plot a bit too Hollywood.

Peter Rozovsky also reviews it for the Philadelphia Inquirer and also questions the plausibility of the story, but enjoys Nykanen’s wry humor.

I am looking forward to getting my hands on a new translation of one of the Raid novels, also by Harri Nykanen, as well as Seppo Jokinen’s Wolves and Angels, which will be coming out next month from Ice Cold Crime. It’s always wonderful to have authors leave my “wanted” page once they are published in English translation.

Iceland

The Day is Dark by Yrsa Sigurdardotter was a bit slow for Sarah Hilary’s tastes, writing at Reviewing the Evidence, with an interesting take on masculinity but, she feels, too much exposition that slows momentum.

At the San Francsico Chronicle’s book blog, P.G. Koch finds Yrsa’s Ashes to Dust an intricately plotted thriller with the thought processes of an anorexic woman particularly chilling. Kirkus also gives the book a strong review.

Norway

Kerrie reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Phantom, which she finds bleaker and darker than previous Harry Hole books. She writes, “an interestingly structured, but very noir book, with the dominant narrator a boy who is already dead. And a rat with a problem.” I would add, a review that intrigues.

Mary Whipple also reviews The Phantom, finding it complex, full of plot twists, at times over the top, but certain to appeal to fans of the Harry Hole series as it builds on all the groundwork the author has laid in creating his brilliant and troubled hero.

And to round it out, Maxine reviews it at Petrona, finding Hole a bit too much of a superman, able to leap implausibilities with a single cinematic bound, but praises the book for its compelling and relatively uncluttered plot and what it has to say about the wages of addiction.

Kerrie gives Karin Fossum’s The Caller top marks and reckons that if you haven’t read any of the Konrad Sejer series before, this is a grand place to start.

Margot Kinberg puts Fossum’s Don’t Look Back “in the spotlight” finding it an unsettling and realistic depiction of the effects of a tragedy on a small community.

Sweden

Vicky Albritton takes a fascinating look back at an early crime novel, Hjalmar Söderberg’s Doctor Glas, a 1905 novel about science, sexuality, and an ethical bind created when a woman tries to escape the sexual oppression of her odious husband. Albritton mentions that a 2002 edition of the English translation has an introduction by Margaret Atwood,  an excerpt of which was published in The Guardian. She wrote, “Doctor Glas is one of those marvellous books that appears as fresh and vivid now as on the day it was published.”

Closer to the present time, Sjowall and Wahloo’s Martin Beck series is tempting Sarah at Crimepieces to drop everything and read. She reviews the 1966 novel, The Man Who Went Up in Smoke, in which Beck travels to Hungary in search of a missing journalist.

At Euro Crime, Rich Westwood reviews Camilla Lackberg’s The Stranger which is a new title for the previously-published Gallows Bird. He thinks the domestic bits are more convincing than the murder bits and prefers the original title.

Bernadette found Lackberg’s The Drowning disappointing, with a predictable plot that was not as interesting as in previous books, the cozy domestic scenes and ho-hum mystery formulaic. Since she has enjoyed other books in the series, she hopes this is a temporary aberration.

Sarah reviews Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment at Crimepieces, saying it was “a very interesting, albeit slow read where the isolated, icy community dominated the narrative descriptions.” It seems a good sign that the story stayed with her long after she put the book down.

She also reviews Hakan Nesser’s Hour of the Wolf, a very good entry in the series in her estimation in which a drunk driving incident triggers a string of violent acts. Though the wry humor of the series is not as much in evidence as usual, the tone is appropriate for the events of the story.

Nancy O tries to find nice things to say about She’s Never Coming Back by Hans Koppel, but dealing with a story that involves an imprisoned woman and repeated sexual assault is an uphill battle that ends up with an exasperated “jeez!  Enough already.” Or perhaps way too much.

Leif G. W. Persson’s Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End gets a mixed review at To Be Read . . . as character development and pacing takes a back seat to its broad canvas examination of Sweden’s recent history, though the reviewer finds it on the whole successful.

Shannon Sharpe thinks Persson’s approach to complex plotting with unsavory characters and lashings of dark humor lifts the novel far above the more popular Millennium Trilogy.

Laura Root reviews the next book in the series at Euro Crime. Another Time, Another Life is a complex and skillfully crafted novel with a dry narrative style and characters that are more sympathetic than those in the first book.

At Nordic Bookblog, Peter reviews Liza Marklund’s Vanished (previously published in a different translation under the title Paradise. He recommends it as a fast-paced story with an intriguing lead.

BookGeeks reviews Dark Angel by Mari Jungstedt, finding it “a well written and superbly plotted mystery” that does a good job balancing thriller elements and social background.

The Local (Sweden’s News in English) has a profile of defense lawyer Jens Lapidus, whose trilogy beginning with Easy Money focuses on the lives of criminals.  He is particularly interested in the parts of Stockholm where the residents are not blond and blue-eyed and in the perspective of people for whom crime is just another line of work.

In a review of Easy Money at Reviewing the Evidence, Chris Roberts calls it “a remarkably accomplished debut,” with a well-paced plot but characters who are not easy to like.

Peter of Nordic Bookblog reviews Ake Edwardson’s Sail of Stone, which he feels is an excellent entry in the excellent series, particularly strong for character development and writing style.

I also reviewed the book at Reviewing the Evidence. If you’re looking for fast-paced action and a tightly woven mystery to solve, look elsewhere. But if you can take the scenic route, this well-written and well-translated novel might fit the bill. I agree with Peter that “character study” is an apt description of Edwardson’s style.

Review of Cold Comfort by Quentin Bates

The second volume in the Gunhilder Gisladottir series set in Iceland, this complex story focuses on  the murder of an enterprising woman who has set up her own escort service, with a handful of wealthy men as her clients in a kind of time-share arrangement. The men have various positions that are all, one way or another, affected by the financial crash that has thoroughly shaken the small and highly independent island nation. Gunna also has to investigate the escape of a dangerous prisoner who is capable of significant violence. In addition to these two twisty plot lines, we follow the disintegrating life of a desperate man who has lost everything in the crash and who is building up to something dramatic.

On the negative side, I found the pacing uneven and the primary investigation both confusing and not terribly engaging. Though the murdered woman was in many ways emblematic of the changes in Iceland’s economy and culture, being a failed actress and fitness trainer – a far cry from the hardscrabble agriculture and fishing that once sustained Icelanders, with clients whose lives aren’t much more meaningful – I might have been more interested if I cared more about the victim or felt some suspense about the outcome.

On the positive side, the thread dealing with the escaped convict was more intriguing, but what I really found absorbing, and wanted more of, was the man at the end of his tether who we know is about to do something violent, and yet we come to care about him and his predicament.

As in the first book in the series, Gunna is both a smart detective and a winning character with enough of a home life that we get to know her well. The glimpses we get of Iceland’s burst bubble – tracts of outsized empty houses, underfunded social services, and families wrecked when they lost everything through no fault of their own – are compelling and sobering.

I’ll gladly try the next in this series, given its engaging heroine and interesting setting, but will cross my fingers for a brisker pace and a mystery that pulls me in.

What We’ve Been Reading

In the Washington Post, Richard Lipez reviews Kaaberbol and Friis’s The Boy in the Suitcase, and finds the interwoven tales of two mothers, both intent on a boy who is drugged and shipped to Denmark in a suitcase, “another winning entry in the emotionally lacerating Scandinavian mystery sweepstakes.”

At Petrona, Maxine reviews the book, finding many of the characters well-drawn, but herself not particularly drawn to Nina Borg. Despite a disappointing denouement, Maxine found the book “exciting and involving” as it sheds light on issues of social injustice.

Ms. Wordopolis thought it was the best of the Scandinavian crime she has read lately, with complex characters and a riveting story that never becomes manipulative.

At Eurocrime, Lynn Harvey reviews the new translation of Liza Marklund’s The Bomber,  which she found a fast-paced thriller with an appealingly strong heroine.

The Daily Beast interviews the authors about the choices they made in the book, including the portrayal of men who carry out violent acts. They find crime fiction that dwells on violence is too often about how crime is committed, not who committed it or why.

At International Crime Fiction, Glenn Harper reviews Johan Theorin’s The Quarry, writing that Theorin continues to combine an interesting plot structure, lots of the flavor of daily life for the characters, including the recurring figure of Gerlof, an elderly resident of the island of Oland, and a folkloric supernatural element – continuing the arc of a series that he feels is about as far from the style of Stieg Larsson as it is possible to get.

He also reviews Helene Tursten’s Night Rounds and compares it to the previously-filmed Swedish television version of the story. He praises Tursten for telling an interesting story with just the right amount of domestic backstory – and Soho Press for restarting their publishing of this seires, which was one of the earliest Swedish translations into English among crime fiction titles.

Jose Egnacio reviews Dregs by Jorn Lier Horst, and recommends the Norwegian police procedural highly.  While still in Norway (at least in a literary sense) he offers his comments on K. O. Dahl’s Lethal Investments, which he found enjoyable. Crossing the border into Sweden, he reviews Sjowall and Wahloo’s Cop Killer, a late entry into the Martin Beck series which he finds thought-provoking, with “a fine sense of humour.”

At Eurocrime, Laura Root also reviews Lethal Investments, concluding that plot is less the author’s strength than character and being able to poke society with a sharp, satirical stick.

Mrs. Peabody investigates Jan Costin Wagner’s The Winter of the Lions, another entry in a series she admires, writing “the value of the series lies less for me in the plot or investigative process and more in the novels’ use of the crime genre to explore human reactions to death, trauma and loss. Melancholy and beguiling, these novels are a wintry treat of the highest order.” (As an aside – are there many reviewers in the media who write mystery reviews as good as this?)

Sarah at Crimepieces also reviews it, noting that it has a slightly bizarre but not implausible plot, praising the author’s writing and ability to create intriguing characters.

At Petrona, Maxine has mixed feelings about Kristina Ohlsson’s Unwanted. She found it a quick, entertaining read, but short on emotional depth and rather predictable, though the writing was good enough that she hasn’t written off the author yet.

For the Sisters in Crime 25th Anniversary Challenge, Maxine (who has completed two levels of the challenge and is well on her way to completing the expert level) profiles Inger Frimansson and includes Camilla Ceder and Karin Alvtegen among her “writers a bit like Frimansson” list.

Michelle Peckham enjoyed Mons Kallentoft’s Midwinter Sacrifice, finding it a slow-burning story with an intriguing lead character.

Beth sums up her thoughts about the Millennium Trilogy as David Fincher’s new film version hits theatres. She writes, “the real genius of the Millennium Trilogy is that Lisbeth Salander is no less an unforgettable character on the page as she is on the screen.”She also reviews Anne Holt’s 1222 which she found atmospheric and evocative. This novel recently made new in the US as it was just nominated for an Edgar “best novel of 2011″ award

Keishon raises some excellent questions about “the commercialization of Scandinavian crime fiction” – in particular wondering if the trajectory of the Harry Hole series has been influenced by the demands of the American market for more violence done by armies of serial killers. The comment thread resulting is also well worth a read. She also reviews Asa Larsson’s The Black Path which she found an uneven entry in a strong series – making up for it in Until Thy Wrath Be Past, which she found “unputdownable,” full of strong scenes and unforgettable characters. 

Norm also gives Until Thy Wrath Be Past high marks – “refreshingly different and thought-provoking.”

Shadepoint names Leif G. W. Persson’s Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End the best book of 2011, which was challenging in its scope but in the end memorable and significant.

Kerrie in Paradise finds Jo Nesbo’s standalone Headhunters quite clever and advises readers to stick with it through its slow start.

If you’d like to browse a list of excellent reviews, you’ll find it at Reactions to Reading, where Bernadette lists the books she read for the Nordic Book Challenge of 2011. (She nearly reached Valhalla – as do I, reading her insightful comments on books.)

Some interesting feature articles to add to the review round-up:

Publishing Perspectives profiles Victoria Cribb, who translates Icelandic works into English and scrambles to keep up with Icelandic neologisms that are based on Icelandic roots rather than being merely imported from other languages. (Go, Iceland!) This small country, which publishes more books per capita than any other, was highlighted at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Dennis O’Donnell, book geek, reviews Barry Forshaw’s Death in a Cold ClimateForshaw himself blogs at Shots about covering the Scandinavian crime beat – and offers aspiring novelists a checklist of how to write a Nordic bestseller, among the tips changing your name to something like Børge Forshawsen.

Dorte contributes a wonderful survey of Danish crime fiction to Martin Edwards’ blog, Do You Write Under Your Own Name? including writers who are just becoming familiar to English-speaking readers as well as some we haven’t met (yet).

On the “in other news” front, Nick Cohen challenges Stieg Larsson’s claim to feminism, criticizing his (not translated) co-authored book on honor killings which Cohen says suffers from a left-wing abandonment of feminism when race enters the picture, using the issue to accuse leftists in general of waffling on women’s rights when it comes to immigrants.  The smoke is still rising from the comments.

review round-up

It has been a long time since I caught up on reviews and news about Scandinavian crime fiction. Lots to report . . .

Norm brings the news that Arne Dahl has won the Swedish crime fiction award with Viskelen (Chinese Whispers) which has not yet had rights sold to the US or UK. Let’s hope that happens. His first book in English, Misterioso, has only just been released after years of delay.

The Boy  the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis is among the mysteries reviewed in the Globe and Mail . Margaret Cannon says it has “a terrific central character and a great plot.”

At Reviewing the Evidence, Yvonne Klein has some reservations about the book – particularly its jumpy structure, leaping among points of view, and the withholding of information about Nina Borg until the final pages, a strategy that she found manipulative; still, she will read more as the series continues.

Marlyn Stasio of the New York Times Book Review gives it a strong review, saying “it packs an almighty punch.”

The Mumbai Daily News and Analysis reviews Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (apa The Keeper of Lost Causes) and calls it a “riveting read.”

At The Game’s Afoot, Jose Igancio Escribano reviews Arnaldur Indridason’s Outrage and finds it’s “an excellent contribution to an already superb series.”

At Euro Crime, Rich Westwood reviews Mikkel Birkegaard’s Death Sentence and finds that it’s closer to being in the horror genre than mystery. Amanda at Rustic Ramblings enjoyed it a good deal, though she agrees with Westwood that there’s a lot of graphic violence involved.

Peter at Nordic Bookblog reviews Anne Holt’s Fear Not, which he reckons is the best in the Adam Stubo and Johanne Vik series.

At Petrona, Maxine Clarke reviews The Hand that Trembles by Kjell Eriksson which is engrossing, with three investigations that are adroitly resolved, using a mix of “character, a strong sense of location, and narrative” rather than violence, high drama, and gore.

She also reviews K. O. Dahl’s Lethal Investments, the first of the author’s police procedural series featuring Gunnarstranda and Frolich. It’s very much a classic crime story – and was, in fact, published 18 years ago, a victim of a malady Maxine has dubbed the TOOO syndrome – translated out of order.

More from Maxine can be found at Euro Crime, where she reviews Hakan Nesser’s The Unlucky Lottery, which has the author’s “trademark bleak humor.”

Crime Fiction Lover has a review of Sara Blaedel’s Call Me Princess, which she found an enjoyable old-fashioned story with a contemporary twist.

Rob Kitchen at The View from the Blue House takes a look at Asa Larsson’s The Savage Altar (Sun Storm), which he give high points for characterization and its sense of place.

A reviewer for The Guardian has a rather peculiar response to the book: she thinks the things police think about are unsanitary and rather nasty. I think the book deserves a proper review.

Glenn Harper provides one at International Noir Fiction, finding it a very enjoyable read. He considers Dahl one of the best of Scandinavian writers.

Bernadette has a reaction to reading Jo Nesbo’s Headhunters: it’s not nearly as good as books in the Harry Hole series and doesn’t tick her boxes for her list of what makes a good thriller.

She also reviews Mari Jungstedt’s The Dead of Summer which she find enjoyable if not as thrilling as it might be if suspects emerged sooner and the ultimate solution to the crime less obvious.

Bibliojunkie (who seeks no cure for her book addiction) has an excellent review of Asa Larsson’s Until Thy Wrath Be Past, saying Larsson “juggles the balance of both horrifying crime and human drama beautifully” and finding in Scandinavian crime fiction a gratifying attention to character development.

Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom’s new thriller, Cell 8, is reviewed in The Independent, which finds it energetic and mesmerizing, if a bit heavy on the social issues.

Declan Burke at Crime Always Pays says “in essence, CELL 8 is a lecture on how the world would be a much better place if only we all conformed to the authors’ principles” and it’s “laughably preposterous” to boot. I wish he’d just tell us what he really thinks.

At The Crime Segments, Nancy O reviews Burned  by Thomas Enger, a book she enjoyed very much, particularly for its plotting and its journalist hero.

Craig of Crime Watch, the New Zealand guide to all things crime fiction, has a Q & A with Mons Kallentoft, author of Midwinter Sacrifice, as an appetizer for a Kallentoft feature forthcoming in his 9mm author interview series. (The real mystery: when does Craig ever sleep?)

Apparently Martin Scorsese might direct a film version of Nesbo’s The Snowman. Also, this is the first time I’ve encountered “helm” used as a verb.

And in The Guardian, Andrew Anthony interviews several Norwegian writers about their take on the terrible shootings last July. K.O.Dahl’s niece was  on the island where 69 people were shot dead, surviving by playing dead. It’s quite a harrowing story and a thoughtful article. In addition to Dahl, there are substantial interviews of Anne Holt, Jo Nesbo, and literary novelist Jan Kjaerstad. In a rather charming and very Norwegian moment, as Anthony talks to Kjaerstad in a restaurant and man stops to chat before sitting nearby. The crown prince of Norway, dining at one of his favorite restaurants.

an update – with a little help from my friends

Jane at the Madison (Wisconsin) public library reviews Jussi Olsen-Adler’s Keeper of Lost Causes (published as Mercy in the UK) and says it’s “a suspenseful, sometimes darkly funny, mystery thriller that is my number one book so far this year.”

Shelf Awareness dedicates an issue of its “maximum shelf” to it as well.

NancyO reviews Arnaldur Indridason’s Outrage, finding it a good addition to the series though, with its focus on Elinborg as the detective this time, she finds the domestic bits a tad overdone.

She also reviews Arne Dahl’s Misterioso, and recommends it, though it won’t deliver edge-of-the-seat thrills so much as solidly-assembled ensemble procedural work conducted by a large cast of police. She plans to read as many in the series as she can, though it has taken ages for this first English translation to actually appear.

Glenn Harper is not mesmerized by Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotist.

Peter, on the other hand, is enthusiastic about Asa Larsson’s Until Thy Wrath Be Past, the fourth book in her series about lawyer Rebecka Martinsson and Inspector Anna-Maria Mella. It also gets a thumbs up at The Bookbag, which says it’s “not strictly a police procedural, as we know pretty much what has happened from early on, but more of a psychological thriller and an intriguing mystery as to why two young people died.”

There’s an interview with Asa Larsson in The West Australian, in which she says her own past not only involves growing up in Kiruna and being a lawyer, like Rebecka Martinsson, but also a period of time involved with a fundamentalist church, which is interesting in view of the themes of her first two books.

He also gives Jarkko Sipila’s Nothing but the Truth high marks, saying it is “a very entertaining, suspenseful and excellently plotted crime fiction novel” that raises important questions about the role citizens play in criminal justice. I just recently finished this myself, and agree – review to follow soon.

Jose Ignacio Escribano thinks that Karin Fossum’s Bad Intentions is not the best of her books, but still worth a read, being disturbing, intense, and intelligent.

He also gives Arnaldur Indridason’s Voices high marks for being humane and well-written, as well as complex, dealing with the theme of stolen childhood sensitively.

Karen Meek reviews the audio version of Camilla Lackberg’s The Gallows Bird, which she feels has a rather disappointingly hole-prone plot but is nevertheless an entertaining story, nicely narrated by Eammon Riley.

Maxine Clarke thinks very highly of Johan Theorin’s third book in the Oland quartet, The Quarry, which is no doubt going to be a strong contender for the CWA’s International Dagger.

Quentin Bates has lived in Iceland, but is not an Icelander, yet makes it his fictional home. Crimeficreader (Rhian Davies) enjoyed his mystery, Frozen Out, particularly enjoying the strong female lead, ‘Gunna’ Gunnhildur Gisládottir.

Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen traveled in the opposite direction; this Danish author’s ebook mystery, The Cosy Knave, is set in Yorkshire, and has been discussed by two Australian readers, Kerrie and Bernadette, who has been in on the mystery from the start.

Bernadette also reviews Thomas Enger’s Burned, a “solid debut” that didn’t have its plot entirely under control, but has strong characters, even those that are not at all likeable.

Rohan Maitzen has a nice essay on the Martin Beck series and how it challenges those who persist in thinking crime fiction is good only when it “transcends the genre.”

Despite the persistent assumption that some literary forms are inherently more formulaic than others, all writing relies on genre markers, and “genre” itself is a notoriously unstable term, invoking categories that are both permeable and endlessly mutable. The real issue — the critical issue — is how form is used, what it enables us to discover. We shouldn’t ask whether crime fiction needs to transcend its traditional forms, but rather how those forms have evolved, and what they have made possible. . . . Sjöwall and Wahlöö are among those who show that, in the hands of visionary and capable writers, crime fiction can simply be great literature. The only transcendence required is the reader’s.

Norm and the new translator of the Annika Bengtzon series untangle the series order for us. It’s a bit unusual for a publisher to spring for all new translations of a previously translated work, unless you are Tolstoy. But, to stick to publishing tradition, they are giving books new titles to make it all more exciting to shop and are keeping the US and UK publications out of sync. Good to know they aren’t breaking all the rules.

Looks as if Leif G. W. Persson’s series about Evert Backstrom is destined for the American small screen.

Peter Rozovsky, always on the lookout for humor, finds some in Three Seconds. He also notes a lot of border-crossing going on in Swedish crime fiction that harkens back to the old days of the Hanseatic League.

Laura DeMarco rounds up lots of Scandinavian crime at the Cleveland Plain Dealer in a nicely detailed piece, with a sidebar on “ten essential authors.”

And finally, I’ve mentioned it before but I owe the Crime & Mystery Fiction friendfeed group, founded by Maxine Clarke, an enormous debt for finding and commenting on so many fascinating links related to the genre. Not only is it a good place to find out what’s going on, it’s inhabited by charming and well-read fans of the genre.