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

 

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.