An Interview with Vidar Sundstøl

When the Norwegian author of the Minnesota Trilogy was in the U.S. as the third book was released, I was lucky enough to ask him some questions at my favorite bookstore, Once Upon a Crime, as I once did with Jussi Adler-Olsen. Here are my notes from that conversation.

Minnesota Triology

Can you tell us about yourself and your writing career? How did you come to write the Minnesota Trilogy?

The Minnesota Trilogy started because I met a woman and I liked her and she, for some reason, liked me and she turned out to be American, so I moved to the States. I found myself living in Kentucky. My wife was applying for jobs all across the country. She is a biologist . She applied for jobs with the forest service and got a job offer in the northeast corner of Minnesota on the north shore, Superior National Forest, at the Tofte ranger station. So I ended up among the Norwegian

Tofte ranger station

Tofte ranger station built in the 1930s, now used for seasonal housing. Photo courtesy of the National Forest Service.

Americans. When I came up there, it was very tempting for me as a Norwegian writer. I came across something that was both very familiar and very exotic. There were several things I recognized very well from Norway, not just names but the way of thinking, the way of speaking – or not speaking. It was on the other side of the globe, and there were the Ojibwe people and the history of the French fur traders. There were a lot of things going on, so I felt very early on that I wanted to write something substantial.

For several years I had been wanting to write a crime novel that would include more than just a plot – who killed Mr. X. I wanted to write a crime story that includes the whole community and the history of the community and the landscape, and nature, the bonds between the people and the landscape. Living on the North Shore I realized I had the perfect setting.

On the fourth of July, 2004, my wife and I drove up to Canada. We drove along the shore on highway 61 going to Thunder Bay to buy . . . I don’t know what. Prescription drugs. Canadian bacon. On the way we passed this little motel called The Whispering Pines and my wife said “doesn’t that look like the murder scene from a mystery?” Death at Whispering Pines. We started musing just for fun about who might have gotten

Lake Superior

photo of Lake Superior courtesy of fritzmb

killed there. Perhaps a Norwegian tourist who had come to visit his distant cousins and had been killed in some eccentric Norwegian-American way – poisoned by lutefisk or something, And then we started to imagine what kind of policeman might start to investigate the murder on the North Shore. We based these musings on our own experience with a male of the North Shore, so to speak, and we went on doing this every time we went on a road trip, which we did quite often because my wife had never lived in Minnesota. We explored the state and every time we ran out of something to talk about we picked up the thread and began talking about this policeman again and asked each other questions. Would he be married? Divorced? Does he have children? What does he like, does he hate, what kind of food does he eat, does he drink, does he smoke? And not least, what would his name be? That sounds like a simple thing, but it took a long time. A colleague of my wife’s had a cute little boy, four or five years old. When heard his name was Lance I thought: that’s his name – Lance Hansen.

After a year or so of talking about this shadowy character we had built a whole world around him, his relatives, his background story, his family’s immigration from Norway. I could pretty much start writing when I came back to Norway. My wife did most of the work, though I did write the books. That was my first crime story.

photo of the author courtesy of Shea Sundstøl

All three books follow “forest cop” Lance Hansen’s determination to solve two crimes – first, the murder of a Norwegian tourist, bludgeoned to death while camping on the shore of Lake Superior, and the other the possible murder of Swamper Caribou in the late 19th century. Most mysteries are self-contained. Readers have a sense of resolution by the end of a book, but this is really a trilogy. Why did you decide to tell these stories in a trilogy rather than as a single big fat mystery?

I could have written it as one big fat mystery, but then I really wanted . . . the middle book is very different. It’s very short, it’s intense, and it takes place over one or two days, and I really wanted to do that, I think the crime genre needs more than any other genre to be challenged on the narrative structure. Obviously there are some ground rules you have to follow when you write about crime, but within that framework you can do quite a lot, things that people haven’t come up with before. So it was partly that I wanted to do something a little bit different but mostly because when I started thinking about this story up on the North Shore it crystallized that way, with a very intense hunting scene in the middle of everything. I could have sold more books and made more money if I had written a more traditional trilogy. I think a lot of people thought when they opened the second book, “what on earth is this?”

Can you tell us about the titles of the three books – how did you decided on them; what do they mean?

The Land of Dreams – it was the land of dreams to immigrants, and it was the land of dreams in the sense that it was once inhabited by the Ojibwe whose culture is very much focused on the interpretation of dreams. And also when I started thinking about this, I thought I would create a very masculine policeman in a blue collar, rural environment, but I wanted to give him some kind of handicap, one that he couldn’t speak about to others. It struck me that if he couldn’t dream, he couldn’t complain to his colleagues about it. They would ridicule him. So he longs to dream again. Only the Dead (In Norwegian “the dead” in plural) I wanted to send this man through the valley of death. The middle book is the lowest point of this valley of death.  It’s also the ice-cold heart of the whole trilogy. The third book, The Ravens – I couldn’t come up with a title. We had a competition at the publisher’s and people were writing long lists of titles. At the end I just had to call it something. There are quite a few ravens in the book, and it sounds gothic.

Both murders have intimate family connections for Lance. There are some real tensions in this family – particularly between Lance and Andy – but also a kind of fierce connection and protectiveness. Can you talk a bit about these relationships and how they shape the story?

It’s kind of a Cain and Abel story. I have two brothers and I have good relationships with both of them. I don’t go hunting with them, though.

You have to remember that I’m Norwegian, so I know a lot about the law of silence, there are certain things you don’t speak about, which also goes for a lot of Norwegian Americans. That’s the bad side of the heritage. The reason I felt capable of portraying people on the North Shore – I only lived there for two years and I didn’t really speak to too many people because, well, they don’t speak much. So I sat indoors writing other books, but I had this feeling that I knew who they were intuitively, that these were my people. I know the types, I know why they don’t speak, what they aren’t saying. I could just has well have written the book about Norway, where I come from. My family has never been as burdened as this family, but here is the same dynamic of covering up things, not talking about things and then finally, one day, everything unravels because of it. That combined with a strong sense of family loyalty can make the knot very hard, very tight.

At one point in The Ravens, Lance thinks, “Deciding not say anything was always the preferred solution to every problem.” Lance has become almost a Hamlet figure. He’s obsessed and feels compelled to confront his brother with his suspicions, but he faces paralyzing dread. He’s afraid of his brother, but seems more afraid of the shame that his family will experience. What’s going on with Lance?

The thing is that it’s through this introspection that he manages to solve the case. That was something I wanted to do, write a murder mystery and portray a man in his full inner life. His life is like a shipwreck when it starts. By the end he has a chance to start anew.

The violence in these books, while not gruesome by standards of the genre, is quite shocking in part because it seems to come out of some primitive part of people who feel a strange sense of release as they bludgeon someone to bits. Can you talk a bit about writing those scenes and what you think about graphic violence in crime fiction?

When I decided to write this murder mystery I wanted to have just one murder (though there is also one in the past). That’s one too many. It’s a tragedy, and I wanted to keep the focus on what a complete tragedy it is, not just for the one who dies but for everybody who was in the magnetic field around that murder and get their lives turned upside down. I’m not going to turn it into entertainment at all. The violence in these books is just in a couple of places, but I describe the violence in the same way that I would try to describe like a . . . like a love scene (which is very difficult to write, a physical love scene. If you want to make a fool of yourself, just write a sex scene).

If you want to do it, you have to do it right and in such a way that it actually imitates real violence, that a little bit of the original real life intensity is captured instead of just painting and painting and turning it into pornography. I wanted to do the same thing with these very few scenes of violence, that it’s really what it looks like and how it feels. Something that is very typical for violence – it’s over very soon, but afterwards is so completely shocking. You have to write it in such a way that the reader doesn’t get all caught up in the graphic descriptions of blood and gore but afterwards thinks, “ugh, what is this? It feels really unpleasant.” Because it does feel unpleasant.

There’s also a sense of sympathy for that experience in that Lance hits a cat with his car and has to kill the badly injured animal, and by putting him in that position it almost humanizes that experience.

Yes, and it also says something about how stressed he is and what kind of pressure he is under. My wife didn’t like it. My wife is very fond of cats.

The setting of these books is a huge factor – both the language you use to describe the North Shore and the lake, but also the mood and the presence of the lake in the story. What drew you to the setting and how does the lake in particular figure in the trilogy?

I remember when we first went to Minnesota, driving up from Lexington Kentucky. There’s a certain point when you come over the hill to Duluth and you see the whole expanse of the lake. It was such a surprise. I guess I’m sensitive to landscape, really tuned into that frequency, so it really stuck with me. In a way it started there – not the idea of a murder mystery, but that as I writer I wanted to write something huge and substantial about it. The whole structure, the form of this trilogy – so long, so slow – I wanted the whole thing to reflect the lake, this Minnesota landscape. You can’t have a lot of guys shooting with machine guns – well, you could, but it doesn’t suit the landscape. It’s like putting on a completely wrong dress or suit. The lake plays a significant role both on the surface of the text but also when you come to the structure of the trilogy.

And the interior life of Lance, because the lake plays such a role in his imagination and his confronting the unknown or what’s missing inside of him.

It becomes sort of – I never thought of it as symbol of anything, but I was very well aware of it as something you could put anything into (literally!).

One of the family secrets that Lance uncovers is that he has some Ojibwa ancestry. That family history that he cares so much about turns out to be full of holes and mistakes. The intersection of indigenous culture and European immigrants comes up again and again. What drew you to this combination of cultures?

When I decided to write something from the North Shore, I knew that it would include the Norwegian-Swedish immigration and the local history. Then I started to read the history of the area and didn’t have to read many pages before realizing the Ojibwe people have been there all the time and are still here and it would feel wrong for the project if I took a big piece of reality and brushed it under the carpet in the Norwegian way.

Ojibwe family, 1900

Ojibwe family circa 1900, courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

I started to read a lot of Ojibwe mythology and folk tales, and I since I didn’t know any Ojibwes I wondered how to open a gateway. I came up with the character of Willie Dupree, an elder who had been a postman. I modeled him after my maternal grandfather. I grew up in the countryside of Telemark (a southern Norwegian county) and my mother’s family had always been closely connected to the forest. My maternal grandfather owned some forest land and had worked in the woods. I spent evenings with him listening to stories from his days as a logger and a hunter. Sometimes he would tell a story he’d told ten times before. He had the same relationship to the forest as a fisherman has to the ocean. I realized that might also be true for an old Ojibwe. So I based him on my grandfather and gave him a different set of stories. I sure my grandfather would have loved being portrayed this way.

Did you start writing the first book while you lived in the states?

No, in Norway. I was aware that I needed a certain distance to it. Sometimes as a writer reality gets in the way of the writing, so I knew the right time would be as soon as I was back in Norway when everything was fresh in my memory but I had the Atlantic ocean between me and the actual place. That way it became about my memories more than about the actual North Shore. I think that was perhaps one of the ways the whole trilogy got a sort of dreamy air to it. The North Shore was a place I really liked, and I missed it for several years, so it’s also a labor of love, a way to process the fact that I really missed it.

I had recently been on the North Shore before reading Land of Dreams and enjoyed encountering recognizable places and people. That’s fun for people here.  

That makes me very happy. That’s probably the biggest compliment I’ve ever received as a writer is to meet people who say you got all these things – not just the geography.  I met when I spoke at the American Swedish Institute I met a man who lived on the North Shore. Actually, his brother worked with my wife; it’s a little world. He said “you are the first one who has captured in words the eccentricity of the North Shore communities.” It was an enormous compliment to me and I thought that was probably the word for the trilogy – eccentric.

You had a terrific translator for this series, Tiina Nunnelly. Can you tell us a bit about the process of working with a translator? Were the books translated before the University of Minnesota press got involved?

The press got a sample translation, probably done by Tiina. When she had translated the first book I got an email from my editor at the press and he asked if I wanted to read through the whole manuscript. I’m a lazy person, so I try to find strategies to not have to work too much. I knew there was one page in the manuscript, where Lance has gone down to the lake the night after the murder. He stands there he looks at the lake, and there’s a description of the moonlight on the water and the rippling surface and how the moonlight is being broken up into many little pieces, and I knew that if she could translated that both to maintain the content but also the musicality and the flow of it . . . I think it was better, actually, than the original Norwegian!

How have Norwegian readers responded to the trilogy and has it differed from the ways Americans have responded?

It was very well received in Norway –

The Land of Dreams received the Riverton Prize, the most prestigious crime fiction prize in Norway.

So people liked them a lot but the big difference for Norwegians is that the environment is exotic. Everybody knows about Norwegian Americans. A majority of Norwegians have distant relatives here and a lot have kids who are studying here. There are a lot of bonds between the two peoples, but they found it pretty eccentric and exotic. But they really loved it. Here people feel that I am writing more about them, that’s the big difference. I must say I really enjoy talking to readers here. It’s something like I’m bringing this story about Lance home. On so many levels it means so much to me, both professionally but even more so personally, really. The only sad thing is that this is the last book, so probably the last chance I have to come here and talk to people.

What are you working on now?

I published a thriller in 2013, an archaeology thriller that takes place in Italy and Egypt, and now I’ve just finished a novel that will be out in August or September. It’s the first in a series. This time there will be a closed case in each one, but it won’t be set on the North Shore because I can’t afford to got here every time I want to check out something. So it’s set in Telemark, my home in Norway, which has a certain standing in Norwegian cultural history. It’s the heartland of everything that’s core Norwegian: the majority of Norwegian folklore and folk music and superstitions, such as the belief in little people. I’m taking that mythological dimension of Telemark, which is the mythological foundation of Norway, and making it the foundation of a mystery-crime universe.

That sounds . . . eccentric.

It is eccentric. It’s a bit like the Minnesota Trilogy in that it’s focused on the bonds between the landscape, the people who inhabit it, and the history of the landscape. In a way you can say the role that is played in the trilogy by the ghost of Swamper Caribou, the Ojibwe culture and dream interpretations, is played now by old Norwegian folk beliefs and superstitions.

Thanks to the author for letting me record this conversation and indulging my questions, to Once Upon a Crime for hosting the event (and by the way, you can support independent bookstores by buying all the mysteries you want there – they will happily mail books to you, hint, hint), and to the University of Minnesota Press and Tiina Nunnelly for bringing this award-winning work to American readers.

I have previously reviewed The Land of Dreams, Only the Dead, and The RavensYou may also be interested in a post by the author about the special landscape of the North Shore at his publisher’s blog.

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a few bits and bobs for the ScandiFan

Thanks to Urbanomic’s Yarnwork podcast series there’s a really wonderful in-deph interview with Norwegian crime writer Gunnar Staalesen, whose Varg Veum series is a long-running and much-beloved private detective series that gives the American PI tradition a Nordic twist. Though there were not a lot of private eyes at work in Norway when the series started in the 1970s, this character was able to solve the kinds of crimes that fit Norwegian society from then to the present, winning a pasionate audience. It’s delightful to hear from the author and also to hear him read from his books. Brilliant.

Jørn Lier Horst is joining the group blog, Murder is Everywhere, where he will join a number of writers who take us to various interesting parts of the world.

Novelist and reviewer Sarah Ward of Crimepieces compiles a good list of Scandinavian crime novels in translation for W.H. Smith booksellers.

Another novelist and reviewer, Margot Kinberg, takes a spotlight to Carin Gerhardsen’s The Gingerbread House, giving it a thorough and thoughtful analysis.

In other not-really-news, I’m still very slowly updating my site. So happy that there are people who are more on top of new things like Karen Meek of Euro Crime and the dynamic duo, Lucinda Suber and Stan Ulrich, who are behind the Stop You’re Killing Me Site. I don’t know what avid readers would do without you and other Internet-based forms of perpetual motion.

perpetual motion machine

Norman Rockwell Popular Science image courtesy of Wikipedia.

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.

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.

An Interview with Jussi Adler-Olsen

ouac

There was a great turn-out for Jussi Adler-Olsen’s stop at Once Upon a Crime in Minneapolis this weekend. I had the pleasure of interviewing him and he graciously allowed me to record it all. What follows is a more or less accurate transcript.

You’ve written a lot of books, including two books on Groucho Marx, an encyclopedia of cartoons, and three thrillers, one about two British pilots who landed behind enemy lines in World War II Germany, one about a Dutch character who goes to Indonesia –

Yes, made in 2000, one year before nine-eleven, and the subject was about an airplane falling into a high tower and distributing anthrax letters. [expressions of awe and astonishment from the audience]

And you wrote one about an American president –

Yes, this one – it could be today it was published. It’s very controversial.

So you have a crystal ball. And now you have started the Department Q books. What led you start writing a police procedural series set in Denmark?

Ah, many things. First of all, a Danish film producer called me and asked me if I wrote the best books in Denmark, and I said “certainly, yes, I do.” [audience laughter] He said “I would like you to do the follow-ups to the old Sjowall and Wahloo series. He asked me to do the follow-ups to them because he hated to work with Swedish people, and I understood him so perfectly. [more audience laughter] So I came to this company and he said to me, “I would like you to do police stories.” And I said “I’m not interested. I hope you would make grand thrillers with, you know, supertankers being smashed in the open sea . . . you can’t afford what I’m doing.”  “Well, but I can see you are interested” – but I wasn’t. He didn’t know the difference between a crime story and a thriller. You do, of course. Crime stories, solving a crime and that’s – pfah! – but a thriller, trying to prevent a crime from happening – that’s another thing, then you are turning the pages quicker. I like the old stories, old stories, real stories, the bible: did Abraham kill Isaac? The Red Sea, did he cross it? So these are the real stories, like Victor Hugo and The Count of Monte Cristo – we want to know the end. In Denmark, you have to work with specific regions and specific types of crimes, and I said no. I wanted to be free. I’d had great success with the first three novels, bestsellers all over Europe, so why should I?

Anyway, I wondered “could you do this? Could you be free and still do this? So I invented a police officer who didn’t care, pardon my French, a shit about being fired. So he’s doing whatever he likes, and there’s the story. He sits in the cellar being lazy, smokes cigarettes, everything I would like to do. But I don’t allow him to do that very long because there’s another guy, Assad – well, I guess I answered your question.

Yes. So it took that to get you to stay home in Denmark.

It’s true, because the reviewers, everyone was so annoyed that nothing happened in Denmark and no Danish characters at all in my books. I wanted to go to America. I started film in university and wanted to make a Hollywood movie with Daniel Day Lewis and Ralph Fiennes in the two parts of the pilots [in his first thriller], I wanted that – but in Hollywood, with CinemaScope, you know, everything. It didn’t happen, but it will, I know it will.

I wouldn’t mind seeing the Department Q books in film, too.

They are going to be. The first one will come out in the autumn, [Here we had some top-secret off-the-record discussion of other film possibilities. My lips are sealed.]

Your father worked as a psychiatrist and you and your sisters lived in hospitals around Denmark.

Yes. That’s why . . . [audience laughter]

So how did that influence your career as a writer?

Well . . . in 1955 I was five years old. There psychopharmica [pharmacological treatments for mental illness] hadn’t entered the world. So you could strap down people, you could give them shock treatment and stuff like that. It dropped them totally down, but they couldn’t come back to reality. So therefore they were in cages. In the summertime, the women here, the men over there – screaming and spitting at us. And my father said “you must realize, those people were like you, once.” And that made a big impression on me. I learned a lot about empathy for weird and odd people. You should see my friends, for instance. They are very odd. I had a shop like this with comics – you can imagine. My friends are like you! [audience laughter]

In 1956 we moved to another hospital and there they had psychopharmica. We had a very nice patient there. He wasn’t that nice, actually, because he killed his wife. My father said, to undramatize it, “you know, they fought like dog and cat. He was a dog, and he won in the end.” He wasn’t insane before, but he became insane after the murder, Having psychopharmica after ten years in the hospital, he came sort of back to normal. This person was called “Mørck .” Do you know what “mørck ” means in Danish? Dark. This is a coincidence, but I learned a lot from him because in him I could see good and evil very well combined, and I see that, in fact, in every person. So I learned empathy, i learned every aspect of human beings.

My best friend . . . he was very tall. A very strong man who had killed a man with one blow. I was impressed by that. He was my body guard in one of the hospitals. I was five or six and I could walk around like this [he holds his arm up, as if holding the hand of a giant] and no one would interfere. I learned a lot. I learned to be afraid of authority. I wasn’t afraid of the patients, but the doctors – they were scary. The ones with rubber stuff and pills and could press the button and not all of them in the fifties had empathy at all. My father, he had it, and I learned a lot from him.

Can you tell us a little bit about the Department Q series? There are three now in English. Are there more to come?

Yes, I am writing number six now,  This started as an experiment. First of all, could I find a way to do what he wanted, this producer, without working together with him. (I never saw him again, actually). Then I thought, maybe I should do the longest story ever made in the world, 5,000 pages. I know people here would say “oh, Raymond Chandler, he wrote that many books,” but we’re talking about one story with one plot line for each main character, being well combined and stretched – and we’re not talking about being divorced or having children, Real stories. Those were the first I made, the stories of Carl Mørck, Assad and Rose. Every book is one chapter, every book is part of the dramatic curve, and this one, number three, it’s a little up; the next one is a little down.

You know the first one, that’s a platform, right? Therefore the case must be very simple: the woman in the cage. Number two, there you can show the borderlines of how violent you can be, It must be number two. If you’re going to write [he’s confiding in the audience, now], number two must be the violent one. No splatter – no, no.  Number six is hard, because the stories are coming to an end. Number seven, you have the story of Rose. Rose is two-dimensional, we are not in her head, so we have to wait for number seven, and eight is Assad. [Much audience commotion: “we have to wait until number eight?!”] Oh, you know what’s going to happen! And then number nine, it’s the story of Carl, and then number ten is fireworks. [From the audience: “Are they all going to live through it?”] Shhh! Are you someone who reads the ending first? Okay, I’m not going to tell, and I’m the only person in the world who knows, so if I’m doing a Stieg Larsson . . . [he shrugs; audience laughter] We have the storylines put in a safe in Denmark and I’ve already appointed my successor if something should happen to me, like being shot here in Minneapolis or something.

Also sometimes known as “muderapolis” . . . 

Murderapolis? Oh, it’s only the tenth murder, I think. We can do much better in Denmark.

There’s a lot of Scandinavian heritage here, so –

And they’re the ones killing each other, yeah? You know, this is Viking blood [pointing to himself]; this is a Dane. The Swedes? Phht. The Norwegians? [shakes his head] It’s us! We own all the stuff there. And that’s why we’re such good storytellers. Because we have nothing to do. And that’s the same for Wallander, you know, and Jo Nesbo and all. We had nothing to do, it’s simple. The Vikings, they’re good at murders, they killed people just to keep warm.

Some really terrible things happen to people in your books. When I started the first one I thought, Oh my god, where are we going with this? A woman in captivity, and it’s a very long book – but they’re also very funny.

We are funny in Denmark. That’s the difference between Swedes and Danes. The Swedes, they are so formal on the outside. I am a very big success in Europe, most of all in Germany. And I thought “Germans, that’s a problem.” Because how can you enter that formal society, with Herr Professor and Zie and Doktor, even if they were acquainted for many, many years. But I found out that inside they were like Danes in disguise. That’s not the same with Swedes. You read Henning Mankell, that’s funny?  And the Norwegians, they’re just crazy. Jo Nesbo – nice guy, but crazy. No, he’s sweet.

Hakan Nesser –

He’s Swedish.

I know, but he’s funny.

No. [there is absolutely no room for debate in his voice.] I met him again at Frankfurt last autumn. We had always been sitting down. This time he rose to embrace me. And he rose and rose and rose . . . He’s like [indicates a giant size].

This mix of humor and darkness, how do you combine them? How do you keep it from being violence as entertainment? Is there a way to balance that?

Yes, there’s a way to balance everything. I am a former publisher. I was a publisher at the biggest publishing company in Scandinavia, and I’ve been everything in this business, even a bookseller and a printer, an editor and a publisher. Do you know what I know? Readers. They are wiser than most authors think. They are much cleverer and you have been reading much more than the authors. So you have to respect that you want specific stuff to happen in specific places, but not too much of it. The first mantra of mine is what I call “the missing voice.” If you see a painting, most of them are lousy to be frank, but if you melt into it, then there’s a missing voice. If you listen to music – I love classical music. If you listen to Beethoven, my  god, after two hours you are tired. It’s good, but overproduced. Every line in the composition is there. But Mozart, he took two or three voices out, and he knew which. Those are the voices you hum, and you can listen to him for hours and hours. In stories, in literature, that’s you. That means to treat the fantasy of the reader, to treat certain elements, like being scared, sorrow, laughing, The first goal of an author should be to respect the readers.

I write in a system you all know. WordPerfect 5.1. [audience laughter] It’s quite old. I know every other system, but WordPerfect 5.1, you don’t have to move the mouse, so therefore you don’t lose your concentration, just write, write, write, and ten hours – that’s it. Blue screen and white letters, you can do that forever. In Word, you write and after ten minute it looks marvelous. “This is a book I made, fantastic!” I know mine is shit. I meet with other authors to read from our work, and I can’t be hurt because know mine is shit, but they are hurt because they don’t know theirs is, too. The difference between me and them is that I am changing, changing, changing and they are not. Then I convert it to Word, and suddenly I see it in another way. I throw a lot over the shoulder. The third time I convert it to PDF, and it looks like a book. And I try to imagine you, the reader, lying in bed (because you are) and you are reading, and after five minutes your head is falling down, and I put in such a short sentence you can read it and then you can take one more half page and . . .  you’re doing it again and again. Sometimes its very necessary to use humor and sometimes you just must be scared. I can so clearly see what is necessary when I’m reading it in PDF.

Carl Mørck: why did you choose that person for a hero? He sits around, he puts his feet on the table, he doesn’t want to do any work.

No. He’s totally free to do nothing.

So, he’s liberated?

He’s liberated. He’s liberated from the standards of the police story, right? I didn’t know of cold cases when I wrote this. Later on, I found out there are 2, 450 series about cold cases. I didn’t know, actually. I never read thrillers and crime stories anymore. I haven’t done that for ten years, so I know nothing. I’m just scared of being influenced. I want to feel original. We are making a main character and a sidekick. Do you know who’s Watson and Sherlock Holmes here? [audience laughter] Because they don’t know. Assad is very skilled and has a lot of secrets, and Carl does as well, so the interaction between them can be quite a lot, but it’s not enough. After a few books, every couple like that, they become stereotypical. So therefore I had to place secrets so that they can use different parts of their personalities to be different to each other. But I knew this wasn’t enough. We needed something totally chaotic – and that’s Rose. Rose is pure anarchy. With those three persons, it’s endless, the possibility of interactions between them, and that’s what I wanted. So – and Carl, of course, is a combination  of this insane person and this fantastic writer – me, called Carl Waldemar Jussi Adler- Olsen, this is my real name – very short and clear. The part  of me in Carl is, of course, very obvious. He’s humorous, nice . . . no. [laughter]. He came from William H. Gaines. Do you remember him? Mad magazine? The owner himself? He was a very dear friend of mine, because I published every magazine in Scandinavia including Mad magazine and he said once – well, he said many things. He said once, “do you want to have a really nice and lucky life? Please buy 400 pairs of socks that are the same. Then you don’t have to look for the one that’s missing.” He said to me, “Jussi, please remember ‘the shadow knows.'” It was made by Sergio Aragonas and it was a little comic strip at the side of the pages and [he acts out] “Oh, Barbara, how nice to see you” but the shadow knows [he acts out a crazed attack]. And this Carl. He’s so frank, It’s not very practical for the boss, but he doesn’t care. That’s me. Do you know how I invented Assad, by the way?

No,  I was going to ask.

I knew him, but I knew there was something missing. Who is he, actually, I can give you a tip. If you really want to know a person, have a single sentence that tells everything about him.  I have this sentence from an American translator. His name is Steve Schein. He lives in Denmark and has been there many years. He doesn’t translate my books, but he helps with the translations. I said to him “Steve, I have missed you. I think of you all the time.” And he said (in his San Francisco accent) “What a coincidence. I also am always thinking of me.” [laughter] So, take this sentence and think of Assad. He doesn’t think so much of himself, but he’s quite unexpected. And then Steve said another thing that characterizes Assad quite well. I said “How are you, Steve?” and he said “Actually, I’m quite fine. But that will pass, I’m sure.”

Assad is a very cheerful person, he’s always eager to please –

He makes Carl think he’s eager to please.

Ah. He’s a hard worker, and he’s always cooking odd-smelling food. And he’s from the Middle East –

Maybe.

He’s not Danish born.

Who knows?

He’s a man of mystery.

That’s true.

But he doesn’t appear that way. He seems very, he’s always so pleasant, cooking some food or “I made some tea; here, have some.” But every now and then he comes up with something amazingly intelligent.

He’s not dumb.

No, he isn’t, but in some ways he’s a stereotypical immigrant figure who’s Danish isn’t terribly good, who makes funny mistakes, who drives badly. How do Danes respond to this character as an immigrant? 

They love him completely. They took him so much to heart. Also, the immigrants. “Oh, I’m so much like Assad.” This year in Frankfurt [the international book fair] two tall Egyptians surrounded me like a sandwich. I was a little hesitant about that because being published in Muslim countries can sometimes be a little bit problematic when one of your main characters is named Hafez el Assad. [pause, followed by audience laughter] I said “you know, you don’t know why he’s called that, and you will learn later on, but if you must, you can call him something else in Egypt. And they said “oh, we already have reflected about that, and we’ve decided we are going to call him Mubarak.” I didn’t answer. I escaped.

A lot of people have immigrated to the Scandinavian countries, and there are tensions – 

We have a problem. It’s not like in the United States where anyone can come but they must take care of themselves. In Denmark  we have a health care system – I am playing 68 percent in tax myself – please clap – and that means anyone comes to our country and we will help them in any way. If they are unemployed they will get support and if they are sick, we will get them well again. It’s very, very expensive. Nowadays, I feel so fantastically happy about the immigration because suddenly Denmark is a little more colorful than it used to be. We are the Latinos of Scandinavia in Denmark. We are the ones who can tap dance and do the flamenco. We perhaps didn’t need the color, but . . .

There is a big gap in Denmark now, politically, disagreements. People are shouting over this gap, and I realize – and this is why I use humor so often. You know how when you are discussing with your family and suddenly your finger is raised, right? Then they don’t listen anymore. So I don’t point fingers. I tried to make a little bridge across this gap of laughter. And it worked. Now we can discuss it a little better.

Should we read a bit from your new book?

[Here I read the first paragraphs in English. “This is very close to Fifty Shades, isn’t it?” he joked before picking up the Danish version. “Now you are going to hear a very old language. Lots of words in English are Danish.  It’s a German language, or so they say. I’m very popular in Germany, but I try to explain, “listen here, this is the original German.” He thumped his book. “To prove it to you, it’s without grammar. No grammar in this language at all.”  He began to read, then paused. “Listen to those nice vowels. I’m sorry for you that you don’t have them anymore.” He came to a recognizable word in the passage: “shit!” and added, “a good Danish word.” He asked if anyone in the audience was Danish and had a short conversation with a woman in Danish before saying “then I have to take a little care.” He added, “It’s very important to know that you can be more scary in other languages. If you take the first sentence of the first book . . .” He recited it in Danish. “Now in Norwegian.” He read it again, emphasizing the rising and falling pitch characteristic of Norwegian. “It doesn’t work! But in German . . . ” He recited it, playing up the sinister sibilants. “Now you know why I’m a great success in Germany.”]

A Conspiracy of Faith involves people with fundamentalist religious beliefs, involved in sects and very deeply involved in religion, and I’ve noticed that quite a few writers from Scandinavia have an interest in fundamentalist religion such as Asa Larsson, Anne Holt, Camilla Lackberg’s Preacher; one of the killers in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a bible-thumping serial killer. Yet my sense is that Scandinavian countries on the whole are fairly secular societies compared to the United States. Why did you decide to bring religion into this book? 

It’s not. It’s about misuse of power and it is only by coincidence it is this setting, In my opinion, people can believe in what they want. If they aren’t proselytizing me, please do. No, this is about misuse of power. And a funny thing about this, it could have been Microsoft, for instance, Apple. Whatever company we are talking about, having power. Because if you have power in a sect or in a company, then you can use the power in the company itself or in the outside world. But what’s interesting in my book, this guy is using the power of the company against itself. That’s like judo, right? That was what I wanted to describe. Most of the sects in the story doesn’t exist, and I’m so sad I used the term “Jehovah’s Witnesses” because I have no problem with them, no problem. So that was a mistake of mine. I admit it. They should have been “the Jehovah’s Funny Guys” or something like that, something different anyway. The Mother Church in this book, it’s actually the Father Church in Denmark – clever choice, you couldn’t recognize that, eh? So I’m not aiming at that specific stuff.

It’s more someone who knows that culture being able to get inside it to do mischief. 

Yes, that’s a theme.

Scandinavian crime fiction, which I gather you have not read – 

No. Not recently.

It’s usually thought of as being gloomy, with glum detectives . . . 

That’s Henning Mankell.

Okay, that’s Swedes. But also serious about social issues. 

Well, we have social issues. Compared to many other countries, we have some. Political and social topics being blended with very fine dialogue and humor we learned from Sjowall and Wahloo. They taught us in the seventies that this combination is usable, very, very fantastic. The fifth book I wrote, it’s called The Marco Effect, the reviewers said “well, it’s gorgeous, this book, but it’s actually Oliver Twist, with Fagin and everyone. This is down the line of literature, what you’re doing, combining The Count of Monte Cristo or Les Miserables. Jean Valjean, he has to know what happened and who’s following him and so forth. It’s the same stuff. Real literature, that’s what you’re reading, not the kind like Hemingway – oh, sorry, sorry! I didn’t say that.

But in a way, this makes sense because what you are saying is that these are the big nineteenth century novels –

Yes, classical novels being converted into WordPerfect 5.1.

Some people have said the social novel of the nineteenth century has become the crime novel of the twentieth century. 

Yes, it’s so true.

So you can do this entertaining engagement with social questions. 

The fantastic thing about a thriller is that you can write about everything. You can do whatever you like, and therefore I prefer it. John Irving is a favorite writer of mine. He wrote The Cider House Rules. It’s a good thriller, yeah? Who raped whom and what is going to happen in the end? Even Forrest Gump, that’s a thriller. [audience laughter]

You were involved in publishing before you started the writing part of your career. Why do you suppose the British and the American titles are so totally different? 

Like always, the British and the American publishers think they are much wiser than the other. The Keeper of Lost Causes – the original title was The Woman in the Cage. It’s a boring title, they said quite openly. Thank you.

And the British title is Mercy. 

Yes, what a swell title. I found more than twenty books with the title Mercy, ten movies, and a lot of lyrics. Did they listen at Penguin? No. They want to have one word titles in Britain these days, and in Germany. Here in America you just want to have literary titles. How can you remember after ten books what is what? The second book in Danish is called The Pheasant Killers.  And what is that? It’s a symbol of the ruling class – killing for fun. Number three – yes, I know there’s a novel called A Message in a Bottle, but mine was called A Message in a Bottle from P. That’s better. But it’s called A Conspiracy of Faith. I think they are good titles, anyway, though I can’t remember what’s what.

I was wondering, since you have this publishing background, what do you think about the current state of publishing, what the future holds? 

Oh, it’s so problematic. I am fighting so much for what it takes to survive a few decades more. I’m fighting mostly for the bookshops in Denmark and Germany. In Denmark, we don’t have fixed prices. That means everyone can compete on prices, and the supermarkets, they love people to come in and buy my books. Even though they lose money on them, they love people to come in, and that means in the end that bookshops in Denmark will disappear. I have fought hard for fixed prices, and I think I am going to lose the battle. Then there’s the e-books. I don’t mind the e-books, it’s okay, but it’s a little problematic for the booksellers to sell e-books and if it hadn’t been for the booksellers, I wouldn’t be here today. My first book, The Alphabet House, the first edition sold 1,800 copies. That’s very good in Danish, but it’s not very good for survival. They hand sold it, mouth by mouth, slowly, and suddenly there was an audience there that I could live from. So we need the booksellers very much. Walking around, I signed a lot of books lately. Barnes and Nobles, they are totally empty. Not here in Minneapolis, but in the other cities. No one. “Oh, you are coming here for signing. Take two copies of this and one of that. That’s all we have.” And I understand they can’t have stock. I fear very much for the chains. It’s good for you, my dear Gary [points to Gary Shulze, who with Pat Frovarp owns Once Upon a Crime], but it’s not good for small authors. I can’t live without reading the small authors. I’m not reading crime and thrillers, but I’m reading a lot of absurd literature, and there is a lot of absurd literature in the world.

And then the publishing houses. They are a little arrogant. They believe that they can survive without the booksellers. But we can survive, we bestselling authors, without the publishers. J. K. Rowling, she did it. She took away a lot of sales from the publisher who helped her up. I’m never deserting the ones who helped me up and I’m fighting very heavily for that, so I’m trying in the different unions in Denmark to let them speak a little better to each other and to find solutions with consensus, and that means totally new solutions. Fixed prices for a period of time. And I tried even to say that there must be a gap between the printed book and the e-book, three or four months, to keep a little space for the booksellers of the printed books. It was in Germany I tried that. I’m selling 1.3 million of each book in Germany and 300,000 e-books, so I took a chance, and within three days I had many, many emails saying “you are disloyal to your readers and we hate you for that. We don’t want to read you anymore. We are not waiting. That’s discrimination.” And they are right, it is discrimination. And then they phoned me from the publishing house to say the book had been scanned and there were 400,000 downloads within four days, so I had to say “okay, I understand the message.” So now it’s like it was before. It’s very, very difficult. But then you are there, you lovely people who buy the books and pass the word.

[A question from the audience: “How do you feel about the people who get the book from the library and then tell everyone to get it?”] 

I love them. Libraries, that’s a blessing. So if we have the libraries, that’s all right.

The interview was followed by some excellent questions from the audience, stories from Alder-Olsen about growing up on hospital grounds and being able to peer through the basement windows with his friend Erling to watch autopsies, his father sending them out to look for a missing patient who was suicidal and his friend finding him by walking into the dangling feet of the hanged man. (“That’s my daddy!”)  In response to a question, Adler-Olsen said that it was a good idea to start the series with the first book, but after that it didn’t matter – until book four. Though it was clear from the questions that many members of the audience were well up on the stories and had filled in some of the gaps about Assad’s background, Adler-Olsen closed by indicating that he has things up his sleeve that will slowly be revealed. His final word on that subject was “Hah!”

All in all, it was a delightful evening with an author who is entertaining and funny and sometimes a bit serious – just like his books.

jussi and me

Five Books, Two Interviews, and Several Reviews

Photo courtesy of teosaurio.

At The Rap Sheet, Ali Karim interviews. Barry Forshaw about his guide to Scandinavian crime and asks him to recommend five books for the busy reader who wants to know what all the fuss is about. Jose Ignacio gathers alternative suggestions at The Game’s Afoot. Having given it a bit of thought, here is my list of five:

  • Anne Holt – 1222, because it’s fun and interesting and a bit outrageous. Also, very cold.
  • Liza Marklund – The Bomber, because this series offers a good example of the journalist as detective (though not sure this is the best of her books to read, as I’ve not read them all yet; maybe the newly translated Studio Sex, now known as Exposed would be a better choice).
  • Helene Tursten – The Torso, because it’s one of an excellent series of procedural mysteries and has a nifty cultural comparison of Sweden and Denmark.
  • Yrsa Sigurdardottir – Last Rituals, to demonstrate that Nordic writers can be gently funny and because of the Icelandic landscape.
  • Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis – The Boy in the Suitcase, which is narratively complex and socially aware, while also a fast-paced thriller about contemporary Denmark.

I could just as easily come up with five more lists of five! But I’ve been thinking about  women writers in particularly because I’m working on an event showcasing women crime writers from Scandinavia to be held in Minnesota next September if everything comes together.  Wish me luck!

Other commentaries on Forshaw’s Death in a Cold Climate can be found at Maxine Clarke’s Petrona and Martin Edwards’ Do You Write Under Your Own Name?

And Norm at Crime Scraps offers his list (now, with women!)

Catching up on reviews that have appeared in recent weeks . . .

Karen Meek of Euro Crime fame reviews Dregs by Jørn Lier Horst, giving it high marks (as has every reviewer I am aware of): “a very well thought-out plot, which keeps the reader and police baffled until the very end. The widowed Wisting is a steady, thoughtful detective with a wry outlook on life” – and she hopes there will be more in the series translated into English.

Karen also reviews The Phantom at the Euro Crime blog. I’m pleased to learn that it’s more like his earlier books than like The Snowman or The Leopard.

KiwiCraig also reviews The Phantom at Crime Watch, finding it “mesmerizing … Gripping, fascinating, highly recommended.”

And Sarah at Crimepieces rounds out the reviews with another thumbs up. The theme of the book, she writes, is the damage drugs can do, and the story pulls together many of the series’ threads.

At the Euro Crime blog, Karen notes a collection of Stieg Larsson’s journalism has been published in a volume titled The Expo Files.

At Euro Crime, Maxine reviews the latest Mari Jungstedt mystery, Dark Angel, which is a strong entry int he series, though with a somewhat wobbly ending.

At Reviewing the Evidence, Yvonne Klein finds Irene Huss a detective worth watching as she appears belatedly in the second of her series by Helene Turnsten. Night Rounds involves a ghost, a mysterious disease, and uncertainty about which victim was the murderer’s main attraction. Yvonne thinks the English translation is serviceable but thinks the series would have been better served if there wasn’t a different translator for each volume.

Norm reviews the new translation of Liza Marklund’s Exposed (formerly known as Studio 69 in the UK and Studio Sex in the US; he hopes this new version captures new readers for a series he considers a “must read.”

Per Wahlöö’s non-Martin Beck mysteries are not terribly well known; catch up by reading reviews of two of these political dystopias, Murder on the Thirty-First Floor and  The Steel Spring at To Be Read. Quite honestly, it sounds as if his writing is improved when liberally mixed with equal parts Sjöwall. There is an informative biographical sketch of the author, drawing parallels with Stieg Larsson (including, sadly, his untimely death) at The Independent.

Glenn Harper reviews Nights of Awe, the first in a new series by Harri Nykänen, featuring a Jewish detective, Ariel Kafka, working in Helsinki on a politically sensitive murder case, finding in it the same wry humor as in the Raid series. RebeccaK at the Ms. Wordopolis Reads blog, also recommends the book, though thinks Kafka has some irritating sexist habits; otherwise he is an interesting character in a story that sheds light on Finland and its relationship to Israeli/Palestinian affairs.

NancyO reviews The Torso by Helene Tursten, which she feels is the best of the series so far. She also reviews Tursten’s The Glass Devil. I heartily concur with her instructions to Soho, Tursten’s US publisher, when it comes to the yet untranslated entries in the series: nod nod, wink wink.

Jose Ignacio offers a bilingual review of the Spanish translation of Asa Larsson’s The Blood Spilt (apa The Savage Altar), which has elements like the first in the series, but is in the end quite different, and very good.

Bernard Carpenter of The New Zealand Listener has short reviews of several mysteries, including Mons Kallentoft’s Midwinter Sacrifice and the new translation of Liza Marklund’s The Bomber.

Beth at Murder by Type reviews Kristina Ohlsson’s Unwanted, which she finds a strong debut in a series worth watching. She also has high praise for Helsinki White, Jim Thompson’s third entry in the Kari Vaara series.

At Book Geeks, Mike Stafford has a thoughtful and appreciative review of Leif G. W. Persson’s Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End, warning readers it’s not an easy book to read, but ultimately is an impressive work. “While it places colossal demands on the reader,” he writes, “this is a book breathtaking in scope and majestic in execution.”  He concludes that it’s a trilogy that could rival Stieg Larsson’s – though I wonder if it might be better compared with the television series The Wire, with it’s broad canvas, vast cast of characters, and which could also be considered a complex “story of a crime” writ large.

And now, for a couple of interviews:

First, one with Denise Mina, who is working on a comic book adaptation of the Millennium Trilogy, which I must say was an awesomely smart decision.

Second, an interview with Jo Nesbo conducted by Craig Sisterson (aka KiwiCraig) published in a major magazine, New Zealand Listener. No surprise that it’s up to Craig’s usual high standard.

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.