Review Round-Up

Belated news: As anyone who has been paying attention knows, Liza Marklund’s Last Will was awarded the first annual Petrona Award, presented at Crimefest. I’m chuffed, because I remember how much Maxine enjoyed this novel and the entire Annika Bengtzon series. She particularly appreciated the way it depicts the challenges professional women face balancing their work, their families, and the barriers that discrimination erects against women. Since Maxine was so extremely good at managing a demanding career at the most respected journal in the sciences, along with her family life and her prolific contributions to the crime fiction genre, she always made me reconsider my feeling that Annika is a bit of a whinger.  More reactions to the news from Euro Crime, The Game’s Afoot, and Crime Scraps.

Bernadette at Reactions to Reading predicted the results accurately, but wouldn’t have minded having four winners, since she thought they were all deserving (with her personal favorite being Leif G. W. Persson’s Another Time, Another Life. 

At Petrona Remembered, Ali Karim offers an appreciation of the work of Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom and recalls meeting them at the launch of Three Seconds, with Maxine and Karen Meek also present.

Laura Root reviews Thomas Enger’s Pierced for Euro Crime, second in a series that she calls “top notch,” which is quite long but generally well-paced and which concludes with “a humdinger of a cliffhanger”

Sarah at Crimepieces reviews Lotte and Søren Hammer’s The Hanging, which treats a the Hangingdistressing topic (vengeance against paedophiles) with a cool dispassion that nevertheless gets across how fraught such cases are. This is the first in a series, and she thinks it will find a wide readership.

Ms. Wordopolis enjoyed reading Anne Holt’s Death of the Demon,  another entry in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series, finally marching its way into English. Though the solution to the mystery was a bit of a let-down, but the characters are well-drawn and affecting.

She also reviewed Mons Kallentoft’s Summer Death, which has a lot of hot weather in it that slows down the story (which is awfully long at over 400 pages) – though the pace picks up for the final section of the book. She plans to continue with the series, but thinks the books could be trimmed to a more effective length. (I concur!)

And (while on a Nordic roll) she reviews More Bitter Than Death by Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff, which doesn’t involve a lot of actual detecting, but does build some psychological suspense and provide interesting vignettes of patients in therapy. Ultimately, thought she felt it was a fast read, it was something of a disappointment.

And finally, she thinks The Redeemer  is the best of Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole books so far, with Harry in a not-so-self-destructive mood solving a not-too-convoluted crime that doesn’t involve any serial killers. She recommends it highly.

The Devil's SanctuaryIn Paradise, Kerrie reviews Marie Hermanson’s The Devil’s Sanctuary, When a twin brother agrees to swap places with his inpatient brother for a few days, he’s not ready for the ordeal he will go through, trapped and being treated for mental disorders that are not his. Kerrie found it a “most peculiar novel” that she enjoyed reading.

Bernadette reacts to reading Liza Marklund’s Lifetime,  finding India Fisher’s narration of the audiobook particularly well done. She does such a good job of explaining why this series is worth reading, you really should go read the review. She does recommend reading at least the previous book in the series (Last Will) before this one, as it follows immediately on the events depicted there.

Col digs into his criminal library to find Leif G. W. Persson’s Another Life, Another Time, which he finds a somewhat easier but rewarding read than the first in the series, writing “Persson expertly knits together a narrative that had me constantly marvelling at the skilful way in which he layers detail into his plot. It was an interesting and educational read,” I really must try to give him another chance.

Keishon, who has Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog (and it’s a good thing, too), enjoyed the third Department Q novel, Jussi Adler-Olsen’s A Conspiracy of Faith (apa Redemption) – particularly compared to the second, which didn’t work for her at all. Still, it doesn’t come up to the standard of the first, which she enjoyed tremendously.

Glenn Harper at International Noir Fiction reviews Jo Nesbø’s The Bat, the first book in theThe Bat Harry Hole series finally available in English, which he recommends for its background information on Harry and for its story, which has an Australian setting and an Aboriginal focus.

Karen Meek shows us the cover of a Gunnar Staalesen Varg Veum novel, Cold Hearts, coming in July.  Earlier volumes in the series will be reissued with covers that fit the same aesthetic, all being published by Arcadia.

She also reviews Invisible Murder by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis, the second in the Nina Borg series from Denmark. She writes “The authors weave politics into their characters’ lives, from the issue of immigration in Denmark to the racism and prejudice faced by the Roma and this is what makes this series of books an interesting as well as an exciting read. This is crime fiction with a heart . . .” (I agree!)

At The Crime Segments, NancyO reviews Johann Theorin’s The Assylum, which she didn’t feel lived up to his previous books. Atmosphere there is in large amounts, and tension, but the ending was a let down, being both predictable and implausible – disappointing, because she loved his other books.

Peter at Nordic Bookblog reviews Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom’s Two Soldiers, a bleak portrait of youth who are alienated and find in violent gang life their only sense of belonging.  The fifth of the pair’s books to be translated into English, it continues their project of tackling difficult social issues. He calls it “a difficult but intense and thought-provoking read.”

Finally, Adrian McKinty, Irish author of The Cold, Cold Ground and other fine novels, speculates on why Iceland has more creativity in all kinds of areas per capita than other countries and suspects it has something to do with their generous supply of bookstores and libraries. He also has a lovely, trippy, “trolly” animated music video from the group Of Monsters and Men.

Carnival of the Criminal Minds, No. 27

After visiting the southern hemisphere, courtesy of Karen’s blog, it’s time to head north, to the part of the world where death-defying young female acrobats serve saffron rolls while singing and wearing lit candles on their heads – yes, it’s time to celebrate the Carnival in Scandinavia. (But kids – don’t try this at home. Your hair may catch fire.)

The rollercoaster economy has many of us wondering where the book business is going, (though some of us are more intrigued by what kind of plot Arnaldur Indridason will concoct out of the banking mess in Iceland). Many commentators were mulling over the significance of Google’s settlement in November, though how helpful their registry for orphaned books will be for crime fiction fans is unknown; the university libraries being digitized don’t tend to collect as much popular fiction as many of us would like. The puzzling news that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has halted acquisitions (sort of, maybe, unless they change their minds) sparked some commentary, including the head-scratcher that nobody told Otto Penzler, who apparently gets to keep blithely buying books. Unfortunately, that does not include the next Declan Burke title. Fans are certain that crime will pay for another publisher, and HMH will be kicking itself in the arse for being so myopic.

But meanwhile . . . many bloggers are doing their bit for the industry with a “buy books for Christmas” meme.  And while many bloggers are standing ready to recommend current books, some old favorites are being systematically and lovingly rediscovered every Friday thanks to Patti Abbott’s Forgotten Books project, avidly adopted by The Rap Sheet and others.

Spinning the coin a bit differently, Toni McGee Causey writes about why it’s important to tell stories in these difficult times.

The glorious thing is that the world is full of stories, and through crime fiction that we can discover the world in all its seamy, sordid glory.  Scandinavia is producing an astonishing output of fine crime fiction, celebrated at this blog. Norm (alias Uriah) is a bit peeved at the moment by the way British television reviewers are covering the release of BBC’s version of Wallander. Not only do they come up with headlines like “Inspector Morose” but they assign reviews to people who cheerfully confess “I must be honest, I hadn’t been optimistic about the prospect of a Swedish detective. My only knowledge of the country came from watching Bjorn Borg playing tennis at Wimbledon, and reading about Ulrika Jonsson’s latest baby/divorce/lover.” Given the collective knowledge base of the crime fiction blogging community, this insouciant ignorance is  . . . well, grounds for justifiable homicide?

Over at my place, Adrian Hyland kindly agreed to answer a flock of questions from students in a first term seminar course on international crime fiction. We had just read his marvelous book, Diamond Dove, retitled Moonlight Downs in the US. If you want to understand the Aboriginal perspective, through the extraordinary voice of a mixed-race heroine, give it a read. And for a slightly more risque interview, see what madman Stuart McBride tossed Adrian’s way over at Shots.

Peter Rozovsky’s Detectives Beyond Borders is a constant source of intelligent recommendations and commentary on the world of crime fiction. Admitted into evidence, Exhibit A: guest blogger Mike Nichol of Crime Beat South Africa who offers a marvelous capsule history of crime fiction in SA – including the impact Deon Meyer has had on the genre.

Despite the vibrancy of thriller and crime fiction elsewhere, not much has happened in SA crime fiction over the last five decades. Until recently that is. This isn’t exactly surprising as the cops have been more or less an invading army in the eyes of most of the citizenry since forever. Certainly, come the apartheid state in the late 1940s no self-respecting writer was going to set up with a cop as the main protagonist of a series. It was akin to sleeping with the enemy. . . . The 1990s, however, were to see a number of changes, not least the change in the country to a democracy with the 1994 general election that ended the apartheid state. Overnight, well, almost overnight, the cops became the good guys and our literature started taking on a different perspective. But it takes some time for a country to mature and give itself permission to write and read escapist books, especially as we’d been used to writing and reading as an act of protest. . . .

Interestingly, the first wave of new crime fiction focused primarily on what Nichol calls “crimes of deviancy” – serial killers and other departures from the norm were the subjects of choice for both English and Afrikaans writers, because they could be escapist.

Perhaps in this there was a desire to steer away from the political issues dominating a nation in transition, although this attitude is changing. Social and political concerns are back on the agenda, and the bad guys are now as likely to be politicians, business moguls, and figures of authority as perverts, drug dealers, serial killers and gangsters.

So, it seems these writers are giving murder “back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse” as Chandler so famously suggested in “The Simple Art of Murder.” As I’ve just finished reading an advanced copy of Roger Smith’s Mixed Blood and am halfway through Deon Meyer’s Devil’s Peak, I can serve as a witnessthis stuff is good!

We’ll close with a gift from Ali Karim, who was moved in a fit of enthusiasm for Steig Larsson, to put into words “The Importance of Crime and Thriller Fiction.” I hope he’ll forgive me for quoting it at length.

Camus stated that “A novel is never anything, but a philosophy put into images.” This line put some perspective into my thoughts, especially as Larsson’s journalism work was slanted toward revealing the evils of Neo-Nazism, as well the levels of brutality inflicted upon the most vulnerable in society, such as women, dispossessed, the marginalized, minorities and the underprivileged. Some of Larsson’s thoughts naturally found themselves into his novels as the line from Camus indicated. When looking at human beings we find that when we’re good, we can be truly remarkable, but when we’re bad, we can be horrifically evil. . . .

I guess I spend a lot of time contemplating life, death and society, from the mirror that is crime / thriller fiction; that’s why existential work strikes such a resonance in my psyche. I guess I am always looking for meaning, or purpose in the sheer randomness [or absurdity] of our existence. Every so often a line, a paragraph or perhaps a whole book has such insight. I consider as human beings, we are deeply flawed as I previous mentioned. Therefore crime / thriller fiction is a perfect art form to view [and reflect] the human condition; as crime novels link the good and bad within us all. The best fiction novels of crime offer the reader to take his/her own side of the moral compass. There are some novels that really help you understand the sheer comedy and tragedy of our existence. . . .

I guess I read so much; write so much; and observe life, trying to find out more about myself and the world that surrounds me. Every so often I discover something from the viewpoint of another person that makes me challenge my own thinking, and makes me look at the world in a different way. Larsson does that for me. He challenges me, and makes me see things from the prism of his mind, not mine. . . .

So what else could one ask for from one’s entertainment? And to add to my pretentious mood this morning I will quote Albert Camus again –

After all manner of professors have done their best for us, the place we are to get knowledge is in books. The true university of these days is a collection of books.”

That is why I spend so much time reading, and why I consider a life without books as meaningless, and why I get anxiety if not surrounded by books, and why crime thrillers reveal more about life than any other genre – In my very humble opinion [and I qualify that statement by making it clear that I do read widely, not just crime], in crime fiction I find all of life’s rich tapestry.

Thanks, Ali, for your enthusiasm and for your willingness to put it into words.

Next up – the Carnival will set up its tents at The Rap Sheet in a couple of weeks for a return visit. Meanwhile, you can find the carnival archives here.

photos courtesy of vovchechko & brewbooks

Ali on Arnaldur Indridason

There’s a warm appreciation of the work of Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason over at The Rap Sheet. Actually, Ali Karim is to crime fiction criticism as Vindaloo is to Indian cuisine. He isn’t just warm, he’s hot! hot! hot!

For me, [Boucercon 2008] was a magical moment to speak with a novelist whose wonderfully melancholic fiction has haunted me over the last few years–ever since that CWA awards ceremony, in fact. Right after that event, I bought Indridason’s first English-translated novel, Jar City (aka Tainted Blood), to find out what all the fuss was about. It turned out to be one of the greatest police procedurals I’ve ever read. Jar City introduces a captivating trio of investigators, led by Reykjavik Detective Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson but also featuring criminology graduate Sigurdur Óli and policewoman Elínborg. In Jar City, those three go hunting for the murderer of an old man named Holberg. But the yarn is not as simple as that, because Holberg was an evil man, with a legacy of harming many people within his insular community. Jar City, I should note in passing, is also one of the saddest and bleakest novels I’ve ever read.

Indridason’s subsequent works–including Arctic Chill (2008), The Draining Lake (2007), and Voices (2006)–have been quite brilliant, too. But like my first kiss, I still recall Jar City most vividly and fondly. It is one of the few books that actually made me cry.

Ali also has done us the favor of pointing out an article on Icelandic crime fiction in the Iceland Review – some of which is available online. It notes that seven of ten most circulated books at the Icelandic national library are by Arnaldur Indridason.