p/review of Death of a Nightingale

I’ve added the P because this book won’t be on the market until November, but having read an advanced copy, I wanted to make sure that those who will be interested have this release on their radar. So here’s a preview-review.

DEATH OF A NIGHTINGALE
By Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis
translated by Elisabeth Dyssegaard
Soho, November 2013

The prickly, principled, and not-very-personable nurse, Nina Borg, who featured in The Boy in the Suitcase and Invisible Murder appears again in a story that not only crosses borders (as Death of a Nightingalethe previous stories in this excellent Danish series did) but time periods. The authors have carried off this difficult task with brio. How two writers can put together the many pieces of such a tricky narrative suggests they’re very good at plotting and at the finer-grained finishing work of sanding and smoothing the edges so that they are imperceptible. They respect their readers enough to assume we can play a part in putting the pieces together, too.

Nina Borg has a penchant to put her patients’ welfare above her family’s needs, partly because she’s strongly and rather irritatingly principled but largely because she is emotionally unable to allow herself to connect with her husband and children; she inevitably lets them down so that they will reject her and she won’t have to confront her own vulnerability. As this story opens, she’s living apart from her family but seeking a bit of human company with a co-worker who is as messed up as she is.

But wait a moment: it actually starts with the transcript of an audio file. Someone is interviewing an elderly woman about something that happened in the past, something painful. She’s irritated by his eagerness to probe into the pain, but decides to tell it as a fairy tale, a grim and dark tale about jealousy, vengeance, and violence visited on entire generations of a family. It’s a fairy tale, she says, from Stalin land. This scene is brief, but is the first bit of a strand that threads its way through the novel.

There is another short scene before we get to Nina. A woman named Natasha is being taken by kind and boring Danish policeman to a building where eventually her fate will be decided and she will most likely be sent back to Ukraine, but not just yet. As she climbs out of the police car she overhears two men speaking her language and, with little warning and a lot of cunning, manages to attack her police escort and make a run for it.

Natasha’s daughter is staying at the Coal-House Camp, a Red Cross camp for asylum seekers and detainees awaiting deportation. She has been separated from her mother, who had put up with abuse from a Danish fiance until he made moves on her daughter, at which point she stuck him with a knife and landed herself in prison and her daughter in official limbo.Nattergalens død

Natasha wants her daughter with a visceral, mother-tigerish passion, but so does someone else, someone willing to do violence to the girl. Nina finds herself, once again, responsible for a child whose safety is imperiled and who cannot count on the state’s protection because her status as a non-citizen leaves cracks for her to slip through.

Another story unfolds in parallel to Natasha’s desperate efforts to be reunited with her daughter. It’s a disturbing, difficult story about a painful part of history we’d rather forget or measure out in safely dispassionate numbers: six million, maybe seven. Or perhaps that’s an exaggeration, maybe only 2.5 million or 3.3.

In this story, we don’t know about millions, we only know a few of these people, Ukrainians who have little to eat, who are instructed to shun those who have fallen afoul of Stalin’s rules and have been declared “former human beings,” a designation that renders them insignificant as they starve to death in their midst, outcasts for political reasons.

It would be so much easier if we were allowed to take a wide-angle view where people become small, mere specks in a set of numbers. We see it from the perspective of a girl who has known no other way of life, whose sister is a true believer, whose father gets caught up in the brutal machinery of power, whose family is torn apart while facing starvation. At times the story seems from centuries ago, or from one of the grimmest of Grimm’s fairy tales, where suffering is epic and retribution unabashedly brutal. There’s something folkloric, yet inescapably horrifying about these 20th century  experiences that force us to acknowledge on a human scale the suffering of some of the millions of Ukrainians who were condemned to starvation because of ideology.

In modern Denmark, an asthmatic child, a principled if neurotic nurse, a single-minded mother, a compromised Ukrainian journalist, a Danish law enforcement officer, and an old woman who posesses mythic properties all play out their roles in a conflict that has it origins in the human costs paid by two sisters during a cruel and epic tragedy that played out not so long ago and not so far away.

Kaaberbøl and Friis have taken as their series subject the ways that conflicts in European history reverberate in the present as the borders are erased and redrawn. They introduce us to people who experience prejudice, poverty, and desperation in a modern European state where people expect comfort and safety and are weary of being hospitable to strangers who bring trouble with them.

For all the painful reality this novel explores, it does so in a way that doesn’t lecture and doesn’t forget that stories matter. How can I put this? It seems wrong to say it’s entertaining or a pleasure to read, because it will make you sad and angry and ache with sympathy. Yet it’s a story that you will care about and the plot will propel you forward.

Perhaps the most accurate words for it are “thrilling” and “unforgettable.”  It’s a very good book.

recently reviewed . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking forward to . . .

Fire DanceI just got the Soho fall catalog in the mail and two books are ones of particular interest to anyone who reads Scandinavian crime. The sixth book in the Irene Huss series, The Fire Dance, will be published in January 2014. It involves Huss in the investigation of the arson murder of a young dancer who, it turns out, had been involved in an earlier homicide case, when Huss was just starting out. The description ends with the intriguing question: “can a child be responsible for the cold-blooded murder of an adult?”

The other forthcoming book, due out in November, is the third book in the Nina Borg series from Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis, Death of a Nightingale. In this novel, Nina Borg (the prickly Red Cross nurse with a social conscience and a death of a nightingaletalent for torpedoing her domestic life) wonders if a Ukrainian immigrant who has escaped the police who want to interrogate her in connection with her abusive Danish fiance’s murder could possibly be a killer – a question that grows urgent when the woman’s young daughter is abducted. The answer to that puzzle has its roots in the terrible famine in 1930s Ukraine. I remember the authors speaking about this book and the research it involved when they were in Minnesota last fall.

 

I’m looking forward to both books.

Two Reviews – Fear Not and Invisible Murder

I recently finished Anne Holt’s 2009 novel, Fear Not, translated by the always excellent Marlaine Delargy. What a fun ride, blending a puzzling plot with serious social issues. When the bishop of Bergen is stabbed to death late at night at Christmastime, her husband and son seem able or unwilling to explain why she was alone at night outdoors. Adam Stubo tries to sort out the high-profile case, unaware of the related cases unfolding around him. Because the deaths are explained as suicides or drug overdoses or inexplicable but unremarkable acts of violence visited on people on the margins, nobody connects the dots until Stubo’s wife, Johanne Vik, meets with an American friend who fills her in on a new kind of hate crime.

This is a deeply involving novel with a big cast of characters whose stories are skillfully interwoven. As in the preceding book in the series, Death in Oslo, things hinge on a coincidence of sorts, but it’s not at all hard to go with the story, which is absorbing. One interesting technique Holt uses is connecting each new scene with the previous one with a phrase, an image, or a thought. I began to enjoy looking for these little narrative hook-and-eye features. Another feature that seems a common thread in her books is the uncovering of a conspiracy, which in this case is fairly fanciful but an interesting way to think through the implications of religious fervor and bigotry. The final pages include a touching, if unusual, alternative depiction of religious faith. I thoroughly enjoyed this complex and well-plotted mystery.

It has been a few weeks since I read Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis’s second Nina Borg mystery, Invisible Murder (translated by Tara Chace), which I also enjoyed very much. (Full disclosure: right after I read the book, the authors spent three days on our campus. They are interesting and charming people and I enjoyed spending time with them; that said, I know a lot of authors who are charming people whose books are not to my taste, and have occasionally met an author whose books I like much better than them. In this case I like both the books and the authors. Whew!)  As in The Boy in the Suitcase, the story involves multiple points of view and locations. The authors have enough respect for their readers to assume they will be able to put the pieces together.

Invisible Murder  begins when a boy in Hungary finds something in an old, abandoned hospital that he thinks he can sell; his half-brother is a law student in Budapest facing a major exam, a test of his ability to blend into Hungarian society. Each is in his own way desperate because they are Roma (or Gypsy), an ethnic group that is badly discriminated against. The boy, whose family needs money for the most basic things, arranges a sale with someone in Copenhagen, but once there, he gets sick before he can hand off the mysterious package. His older half-brother gives a brilliant oral exam, but his professor fails him anyway, because . . . well, we can’t have Roma earning law degrees. He follows his brother to Copenhagen and is caught up in the mess that ensues.

So is Nina Borg, though she knows helping a group of immigrants will put her marriage to the test again. She is under strict instructions to think of her children first, but she has a hard time turning away when nobody else is available to help. When she goes to a garage, she finds a large group of undocumented Roma, many of them suffering from a mysterious illness. In both books in this series, the authors show how inequality and desperation don’t observe political borders. Victims are not all angelic, and bad guys are not without their reasons. As in the previous book, the motive behind the crime is surprising. I am very much looking forward to reading the third book in the series, this one partly set in the Ukraine. (The authors are considering taking their research somewhere warmer, perhaps with nice beaches, next time.)

Notes from Our Beyond the Girl Event

Well, that was fun!  I will try to share some of what I heard from our visiting Scandinavian authors, now that I’ve had a good ten days to recover.

Unfortunately, Kristina Ohlsson was unable to attend, having caught a bad cold. It’s never a good idea to fly overseas when you’re sick, so while we were sorry to miss her, staying home was  the right call. According to Helene Tursten, a lot of Scandinavian authors were coughing and sneezing after mingling with 100,000 people at the Gothenburg Book Fair. (Helene was recovering from a cold, herself.)

Though we were sorry to miss Kristina, we had a wonderful time with Helene Tursten and her husband, Lene Kaaberbol, Agnete Friis, and scholar Kerstin Bergman of Lund University. They visited several classes (a creative writing class, a first term seminar, a gender, women’s, and sexuality studies colloquium, and a class on Scandinavian life and culture). Kerstin gave a fascinating lecture on the rise of women’s crime fiction in Sweden, she and the authors held a great panel discussion for the St. Peter community. On their final day, the authors mingled with members of our library friends group at a wine-and-cheese reception and then gave another wonderful panel discussion at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. The turnout for each public event was terrific. I’m so glad we were able to do this, as there is clearly a lot of interest.

So here are few of my random notes from the classes and events.

Getting Started in the Crime Fiction Genre

Helene Tursten, who has a lovely Lauren Bacall voice (though perhaps her cold played a role in that), told us that she became a writer after working as a nurse and then a dentist. (She met her husband in dental school. He had previously worked as a policeman. How very handy! Though he told me it was not as interesting as being a dentist.) Because she came down with a serious illness, she had to abandon her work as a dentist and, after writing some articles and translating medical articles into Swedish, she got an intriguing idea for a story, and decided to turn her hand to fiction. She also was motivated to write about a woman police detective, and particularly about the kinds of women officers she knew – women who saw awful things on the job, but managed nevertheless to have normal, happy lives. Her stories are hardboiled, but her  protagonist is not as dysfunctional and depressive as many male fictional detectives. She’s a strong person and a very good detective.

Lene Kaaberbol is a very experienced writer, having had her first book accepted by a publisher when she was only 14 years old. Her publisher read a second manuscript and accepted it, too – on the condition that she rewrite the first book. That was not something a 14-ear-old in a hurry was happy to hear, but he reasoned “I’ve read your second book; you’re getting better. You owe it to yourself to make your first book as good as it can be.” As she told our students, “I became a writer when I rewrote my first book” (which, given how often we ask them to revise their papers, is an excellent message to hear). She had published dozens of books – children’s books, fantasy, and YA, before she started a life of crime fiction. She didn’t decide to write in this genre and then come up with a story – she was chosen by the story, or rather “attacked by an image,” as she put it, the image of a boy in a suitcase, unconscious and folded up like a shirt. Clearly, it wasn’t suitable material for a children’s book. Because she hadn’t written in the genre before, she asked a fellow writer to collaborate on the story.

Agnete Friis – who also hadn’t written any crime fiction – hasn’t been writing for as long as Lene, and though she was an experienced journalist who had published some children’s books, she was a bit intimidated about joining forces with a well-known author. But though the two women make a running joke out of their differences of opinion, they clearly have the right chemistry to work together, and it has been a fruitful collaboration that was fascinating to hear about.

The Writing Process

Helene Tursten has published ten books in the Irene Huss series (a fifth will soon be available in English translation) and has been involved in a dozen television adaptations. Her process is fairly straightforward for the books. She gets an idea, figures out the beginning and the end, and then writes a book she would like to read. She does a lot of research, only a small portion of which ends up on the page. But the research gives her an immersion in the world of the story. She writes for herself, in part because she can’t worry about pleasing the audience, given she is published in so many countries. Writing for film is a bit more complicated, but something she has enjoyed thoroughly. She comes up with the story ideas then works with a lot of people, including a scriptwriter, the director, producers, a whole team. The amount of time allowed for telling the story is also a constraint that is much stricter than when writing a novel-length story. She agreed with me that the actress, Angela Kovaks, does a great job portraying Irene Huss.

The process Lene and Agnete use to collaborate is fascinating, and very different than their personal writing processes. They map out the story ahead of time, writing character studies and developing a detailed storyboard. They do a lot of research, including traveling to see the places where things happen (so far, stories taking them to Lithuania, Hungary, and the Ukraine) to absorb the sights and smells and sounds of the places they will write about. In once case (for Invisible Murder) they were a bit worried that their story might over-emphasize prejudice against the Roma, but almost immediately encountered someone who had an experience almost exactly like the one they had invented. (Having read the book, that makes me sad!) They advised young writers that it’s worthwhile asking strangers for help with research, however intimidating that may feel. It’s best to prepare specific questions and scenarios that the specialists can comment on. Surprisingly, people almost always are happy to help. 

When they are ready to start writing, they have already gotten to know the characters and their voices so well that it isn’t hard for them to blend their writing together. It’s actually a great kind of discipline to talk through a book before it is written, far more intense than working with an editor after the fact. It forces them to pay attention to characters’ language and the ways they will experience their part of the story. Once it’s all worked out, they choose which chapters they want to write, and work in whatever order they like. Because of all the advance work, they find the pieces fit together smoothly. Amazing.

Themes and Issues 

We had a terrific three hours with the Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies colloquium (with a lively detour as we discussed the significance of Lisbeth Salander’s boob job) but I didn’t take any notes and can’t say much more than what readers of Tursten and Kaaberbol/Friis already know – that they use their novels to explore social issues and the effect that crime and injustice have on individuals and communities. We also talked about what these stories say about contemporary Scandinavia, including the profound effect that the opening of Eastern Europe has had on countries that for centuries had a shared history (particularly in the case of the Baltic countries), but which had then been separated and isolated for many years, and after taking such different social and economic paths were suddenly slammed back together again. That culture shock has had all kinds of effects, but it was also clear that both Denmark and Sweden are mostly well-functioning, democratic, and all around good places to live. Apparently, though, Denmark scores better than Sweden on the happiness index!

Kerstin Bergman on Swedish women writers 

Sadly, my notes on Kerstin’s lecture are really awful – bits and pieces of sentences, nothing terribly coherent. So let me just recap her topic and put together what I can recall based on my scribbles.

Her title was “The Women Strike Back: The Rise of Women Crime Writers in Sweden, 1997-2012” and she outlined developments from the pioneering status of Helene Tursten’s popular police procedurals and Liza Marklund’s intrepid journalist, Annika Bengtzon, to the present time. She sketched out trends, including the development of  series with strong domestic themes in picturesque rural settings (including Mari Jungstedt’s series and especially the extremely popular series by Camilla Lackberg – “anyone who doesn’t like children is likely to be the villain”), the writers who create psychological studies and focus on individuals going through a crisis (Inger Frimansson and Karin Alvtegen were mentioned particularly), and Kerstin Eckman, who has written a number of mysteries before gaining critical praise for other kinds of novels, earning a literary reputation that sets her apart.

Though women have made varied and significant contributions to the genre, there has been a tendency to lump them together and trivialize them as “queens of crime” rather than take them individually on their own merits.

A newer generation of women writers have created a strong place for women in Swedish crime fiction and have also established a world presence for Swedish women crime writers. The earlier writers gave us strong women protagonists who wrestled with the problems of establishing a work/life balance. More recently, protagonists of the newer women writers are generally more lonely and tormented than in the past. (Kerstin mentioned that Liza Marklund’s heroine is joining this trend, leaving her domestic scenes behind in more recent books, becoming more isolated and eccentric.)

Writers she highlighted include Asa Larsson, whose series features two strong women characters who are in many ways opposites, creating interesting contrasts and questioning expectations about how women should behave. The natural world is important to Larsson, and her works are extremely well-written. The female protagonists in the works of Carin Gerhardsen, Kristina Ohlsson, and the writing team of Grebe and Traff all depart from normative family situations. In The Gingerbread House, Gerhardsen’s female police officer protagonist is drugged and raped and a thread of the first book in the series involves her trying to independently build a case against her assailant while another criminal attacks women with increasing violence. Her second novel is particularly interesting, according to Kerstin, from a feminist perspective. Kristina Ohlsson’s female lead in a procedural ensemble has a relationship with a much older married man, having to sort out her desire to become a mother without a marriage, and Grebe and Traff’s lead character is a psychologically scarred therapist, whose interactions with patients provide a parallel exploration of psychological trauma.

Kerstin mentioned several writers whose works I would love to read in translation, particularly Aino Trosell, whose crime novels (one of which was awarded the prize for best Swedish crime novel in 2000) feature working-class characters in gritty situations. It sounds as if she carries on the Sjowall and Wahloo tradition of social critique. She also mentioned Asa Nilsonne, a professor of psychological medicine at the Karolinska Institute who has written several crime novels, and Katarina Wennstam, whose work has feminist themes exploring violence and intolerance.

We had a lively Q&A following the lecture, and I’m happy to report that Kerstin is working on a book about Swedish crime fiction. You can see more about her scholarship, which is amazingly prolific, at her Lund University profile.

Before I put my messy notes away, I should thank my colleagues in the library and in the Scandinavian Studies department, including particularly Kjerstin Moody, Glenn Kranking, Jeannie Peterson and Jenny Tollefson; the faculty members who opened their classes to our guests, the Embassy of Sweden which supported the program, Sisters in Crime, and the American Swedish Institute, which not only provided the space for our Minneapolis events, but gave us a tour of the mansion, which has its own mysterious stories to tell.

Scandinavian Writers Coming to Minnesota

beyond the girl

We’re hosting four women writers and a noted critic in Minnesota from October 8-10, and have several free events that are open to the public, some in bucolic St. Peter, Minnesota and some in Minneapolis. I hope some of this blog’s readers can attend!

Our guests are Helene Tursten, Kristina Ohlsson (both from Sweden) and Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis (who write the Nina Borg series together and hail from Denmark). The critic is Kerstin Bergman of Lund University, who has written widely on the subject of crime fiction, including essays in Men Who Hate Women and Women Who Kick Their Asses: Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy in Feminist Perspective (Vanderbuilt University Press, 2012) and Scandinavian Crime Fiction (University of Wales, 2011).

They will be visiting classes on creative writing, gender studies, and Scandinavian studies and will also make these public appearances:

At Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter on Monday, October 8th

“The Women Strike Back: The Rise of Women Crime Writers in the Sweden 1997-2012” a lecture given by Dr. Kerstin Bergman at 4 pm in Confer 127

Author’s Abstract: The history of Swedish crime fiction was dominated by male writers, with only a handful of prominent women writers until the late 1990s. From the end of the 1990s, however, Swedish crime fiction has been characterized by a strong wave of women crime writers and an increasing number of women detectives. Liza Marklund and her first novel, The Bomber (1997) is often regarded a starting point for these developments, and today women writers hold a great share of the Swedish crime fiction market. In my talk I will describe these developments, addressing what brought this change along and what characterizes these women crime writers. Furthermore, I will bring up some of the challenges women crime writers in Sweden have faced and perhaps still face, and I will touch upon the role of feminism in recent Swedish crime fiction.

“Scandinavian Women’s Crime Fiction” Panel Discussion moderated by Barbara Fister and Dr. Glenn Kranking, with Dr. Kerstin Bergman (Lund University) and authors Helene Tursten, Kristina Ohlsson, Lene Kaaberbøl, and Agnete Friis, 7:30 pm in the Linnaeus Arboretum  Interpretive Center

At this event, the authors will discuss their work, how women are represented in Scandinavian crime fiction, what this genre has to offer, and what we can learn (for better or worse) by reading crime fiction from the Nordic countries.

In Minneapolis on Wednesday, October 10th 

Gustavus Library Associates Author Reception, 4:30-6:30 pm, American Swedish Institute (tickets required)

Wine and cheese and conversation with the authors and members of the library’s friends group, who regularly host author events and also raise funds for the library. There is a charge for this event.

“Beyond the Girl” public forum with Helene Tursten, Kristina Ohlsson, Lene Kaaberbøl, and Agnete Friis, 7:00pm, American Swedish Institute (free to the public, but reservations recommended by calling 612-871-4907.

This should be a fun event – a conversation with the authors about their work, their motivation for writing in this genre, the themes that particularly interest them, and how they feel about the way popular crime fiction represents their home countries.

This program is being hosted by the Folke Bernadotte Memorial Library with support from the Embassy of Sweden, the Gustavus Scandinavian Studies Department, and Sisters in Crime. Additional assistance has been provided by Gustavus Library Associates and the American Swedish Institute.

tidbits and more reviews

Some tidbits . . .

There is a new imprint for translated fiction coming from Little Brown and Crown. From the press release:

Trapdoor will publish up to six commercial crime, suspense and thriller titles a year, all in translation, and will be launched with the publication of Sebastian Bergman by Hjorth and Rosenfeldt in paperback on July 5th. Spring 2013 will see the publication of the second title on the Trapdoor imprint, The Devil’s Sanctuary, a heart-stopping psychological thriller by Swedish bestseller Marie Hermanson.

Julia Buckley interviews Ake Edwardson at Mysterious Musings. He says “I’m a sad person, or melancholic, and down right pessimistic most of the time. Probably that’s why I laugh so much; you have to laugh at all the madness around you or you’ll go stark raving mad, start running screaming through the streets naked in the night with just your underwear in your hand.” He also says, when asked about the state of journalism,

“… the good and serious stuff goes slowly/fast down the drain, the horror of banality takes over, knowledge gets confused with information. Still there’s wonderful journalism out there; Sweden tries to maintain decent newspapers, and the best papers in USA, England, France and Germany are still worth reading/working for. The problem is of course that good journalism is expensive, objectivity is expensive, to send a reporter to the other side of the world is expensive, or have a team work on some investigation for a long time.”

Erik Winter, his police protagonist, is a “hopeful person” – making me think perhaps Edwardson, like many journalists, finds fiction a way to say what needs saying in a way that is an alternative to the underwear-in-hand approach.

Camilla Lackberg is profiled in SCANmagazine (thank you, Philip) as she publishes more of her popular Fjalbacka-based series in  both the UK and US.

Publishing Perspectives covers the Salomonsson Agency, a Swedish powerhouse that represents many of the most successful Nordic crime authors. It’s a far sunnier picture than Sarah Weinman’s profile of the agency’s head last year.

At the Telegraph, Henning Mankell says that Kenneth Branagh makes a good hand of playing Wallander and likes the BBC film versions of his books. The article has quite a few insights into the author as well (and has collected some remarkably hostile and silly comments).

American cable television station A&E (which does not stand for Accident and Emergency, contrary to UK usage) has acquired US rights to create a pilot of a series to be based on Elsebeth Egholm’s crime series.  Or rather based on a Danish television series based on the books. And probably moved to a US setting. There is a reason I prefer reading to watching television.

And now for the reviews . . .

Sarah at Crimepieces reviews Helene Tursten’s Night Rounds, finding it a well-done police procedural with a touch of the supernatural, which she enjoys, and a solid plot, though with some startling lapses on the part of otherwise competent police. She also reviews the second book in Thomas Enger’s Henning Juul series, Pierced, which she feels picks up the story about Juul’s dead son very movingly. Enger has become a “must-buy” author for her.

Maxine Clarke reviews Killer’s Island by Anna Jansson at Petrona and finds it a quick read that does more to develop the characters than to provide a realistic story line – mainly because all of the puzzle pieces snap together a bit too tidily, with none left over.  It’s altogether a rather old-fashioned read. Glenn Harper also reviews it, and a television series based on Jansson’s work. He finds it a bit overwritten in places, but predicts it will be of interest to those who enjoy getting caught up in the character’s personal lives, likening it to Camilla Lackberg’s work.

Maxine also reviews Ake Edwardson’s Sail of Stone, which she finds a good read, though not a very good mystery (and the second half, minus the not-very-satisfactory ending, is better than the first.)

And at Euro Crime, she reviews Camilla Lackberg’s The Drowning, which she feels has a good 250-page mystery hidden within its 500 pages, much of which is devoted to the domestic lives of its detective protagonist.

Peter Rozovsky reviews Lars Keppler’s The Nightmare for the Philadelphia Inquirer, then hosts a conversation at his Detectives Beyond Borders literary salon, asking whether it’s entirely a good thing to mix potboiler fun with serious social messages. On the whole, he finds this kind of “Larsson-y” an unhappy blend.

Kimbofo at Reading Matters reads The Caller by Karin Fossum. Fossum is one of her favorite authors, and this well-plotted, nuanced story is, to her mind, one of her best.  She also reviews The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis, which she finds a bit of a challenging read because of the multiple viewpoints, but feels it is “an intelligent, involving and compassionate read.”

Jose Ignacio Escribano reviews the final volume of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo’s “story of a crime” – The Terrorists, which he notes has not lost its relevance. He includes links to his reviews of other books in the series and says “I strongly recommend reading this series to everyone, in particular to all crime fiction fans and, if possible, in chronological order. It’s a highly rewarding read.”

Karen Meek, a true Queen of Crime if there ever was one (bringing us the amazing Euro Crime site) reviews The Gingerbread House by Carin Gerhardsen, which she finds a successful exploration of childhood bullying, though with a decidedly American translation.  She also reviews the very first volume of the Konrad Sejer/Jacob Skarre series, finally published in English translation. In the Darkness introduces Sejer with a bit more background that later books, and though published originally in 1995 it still works because, as Karen points out, Fossum’s work has something of a “timeless quality.”

Ms. Wordopolis reads Jo Nesbo’s The Redbreast, and though finding the wartime scenes confusing and not engaging, she ended up taken by the characters. Though it’s her first foray into the Harry Hole series, she puts her finger on one of the author’s characteristics: extremely intricate, even convoluted plotting.

Norm at Crime Scraps reviews Arnaldur Indridason’s Black Skies, the latest in the Erlendur series in which Erlunder is absent and the focus this time is on Sigurdur Oli. Though he was never my favorite character, Norm makes me impatient to read it. Rob Kitchin found it less successful, with the first half particularly hard to get into.

He also reviews another book I want to read badly, Anne Holt’s The Blind Goddess, which he thinks is quite good, featuring a character who has changed quite a lot (and not for the better) in 1222 – and he adds some intriguing commentary on what it says about the time period when it was originally published, 1993.

At Euro Crime, Maxine Clarke reviews The Blind Goddess, the first of Anne Holt’s Hanne Wilhelmsen series and (in her opinion) a better book than the previously translated eighth in the series, 1222. In addition to a plot that works well, this book includes strong characters and full of detail that reflects the author’s background in the Norwegian legal system.

Bernadette reviews Liza Marklund’s Last Will, and gives it high marks for the way it depicts the current world of the news media, treats several explosive issues with an even hand, and gives us a complex heroine. “I can’t say that I like Annika,” she writes, “but I like reading about her and find her a hundred percent credible.” One of the rather cliched baddies, not so much – but overall she gives the book top marks.

She also reviews Karin Wahlberg’s Death of a Carpet Dealer and finds it an engaging story which offers a trip to Turkey as an added benefit. Maxine also reviews it at Petrona, finding it readable, old-fashioned, and pleasant, if not a barn-burner of a story.

Kerrie in Paradise reviews Hakan Nesser’s The Mind’s Eye, the first of the Van Veeteren series, which she finds nicely compact in these days of over-long books.

Raven Crime Reads (a new to me blog) reviews Arne Dahl’s The Blinded Man (published in the US as Misterioso) calling it “taut and well-written” and the start of a series worth watching.

Cathy at Kittling Books reviews Sara Blaedel’s second book to be available in English (and third in its series), Only One Life, which she thought fell short of the mark. Though it has some interesting information about honor killings, she couldn’t warm to the characters, and felt as if from page one ” as though I’d missed my bus and kept chasing after it as it disappeared down the street.”

Glenn Harper thinks Carin Gerhardsen’s The Gingerbread House quite good (except for a bit where exposition bogs things down) and particularly handy with misdirection.  Jose Ignacio also reviews it, calling it a classic police procedural that is somewhat uneven in its execution.

And finally, Margot Kinberg takes a close look at Irene Huss, Helene Tursten’s series protagonist, providing quite a thorough biography of the character, one of my favorites.

Before I sign off, I must give credit once again to the place where I keep up with all things mysterious, the Crime and Mystery Fiction FriendFeed room. Many thanks to its founder, Maxine Clarke, and its regular contributors for filling me in. If you enjoy mysteries, this is a site to visit regularly.