Reviewing the Evidence: Marklund’s The Long Shadow

Congratulations to Reviewing the Evidence, which in this issue posts its 10,000th review! I’m pleased that I have had a chance to contribute reviews to a site that has been taking mysteries seriously for a dozen years. I’m also pleased that the site has an editor who not only keeps it all running, but catches my mistakes (like forgetting to include the translators credit when I send her my draft.) When I hear that saw about the Internet allowing us to “do big things for love,” this is the kind of project that comes to my mind.

Yvonne Klein, the site’s eagle-eyed editor, recently said that it was okay to repost reviews so long as RTE is credited and not scooped – so here is my latest. Go to the site to read about other books – or search for reviews of more than 10,000 of them.

THE LONG SHADOW 
by Liza Marklund and Neil Smith, trans 
Emily Bestler/Atria Books, April 2014 
520 pages 
$15.00 
ISBN: 1451607032

Annika Bengstzon has been battling her bosses, struggling to balance her demanding career as a journalist and motherhood, and dealing with a troubled marriage through a series that started in 1998 with THE BOMBER. This eighth entry takes on those issues and more in story that follows closely on LIFETIME. Since it involves some of the same characters and conflicts, it may be a bit baffling to readers coming to the series for the first time. But for veterans, this entry will be a pleasure.

As the book opens, a ruthless band of criminals led by women prepare to use gas to rob a house in Spain belonging to a former sports star and his family, a method of robbery that is popular on the Costa del Sol, where many wealthy Swedes have settled. The sports star, his wife, and two small children are killed. The thieves make off with a safe and number of valuables, and Annika Bengtzon picks up the story from Stockholm, where another story is unfolding. A man imprisoned for murder in a case she previously reported is being released from prison after his conviction is overturned. Annika has a feeling that story isn’t over.

When she travels to Spain to learn more about the murders, she meets a handsome undercover detective who is investigating drugs that travel through Spain on their way to Scandinavia, has to deal with a newspaper photographer who is more interested in art than in photojournalism, and copes with mixed messages from her ex-husband. As usual, she pieces together things about that nobody else has uncovered. We get a close up look at how a journalist who has both an itch to get to the bottom of things and a competitive streak does her work in a stressed and commercialized newsroom as she tries to find time for her children.

These issues have always been part of the series, but Spain seems to suit Annika, who sometimes comes across as whiney and self-centered. Here, she is self-critical, but also professional and capable and the leisurely pace of the story seems to have taken the series on a refreshing holiday. It’s a long book, full of detours and rambles, and the heroine seems improved by them. The tension picks up toward the end as several threads tie together in a knot that needs to be sliced through with dramatic action. While perhaps not the best place to start the series, this is a book that series fans will enjoy, both for the way it plays variations on two previous books in the series and to see Annika come to terms with herself without losing any of her prickliness.

 

an update – with a little help from my friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

why Scandinavia? why now?

Julia Keller of the Chicago Tribune takes a good look at the appeal of Scandinavian mysteries.

It is a world of bleak twilights and tortured souls. A world of cold dawns and dour sleuths. A world of frozen lakes and repressed detectives.

A world of winters and losers.

Yet as grim, glum and downright depressing as a Scandinavian setting for a mystery novel can be — and those adjectives also could describe January in Chicago — something remarkable is afoot: Such novels continue to be fabulously popular in the United States . . .
There is a deeply unique resonance to places, a stubborn aura; one region is not the same as another. As much as we proclaim in noble speeches that the world is just one big homogenized blur, that differences don’t matter, the truth is otherwise: The ground beneath your feet dramatically affects your worldview — especially, perhaps, if you’re a homicidal maniac or a detective in charge of catching one.

Why Scandinavia, and why now? ….

Sarah Weinman, author and critic who writes a renowned blog on mystery fiction, “Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind,” notes that Scandinavian mysteries fill a gap left by some American writers who moved away from the police procedural: “Scandinavian crime novels, in a way, hearken back to more traditional types of crime fiction.” Indeed, fictional detectives such as Mankell’s Kurt Wallender, Fossum’s Konrad Sejer, Dahl’s Frank Frolich and Nesser’s Van Veeterenmethodically track down the bad guys (or gals) clue by clue, visiting one dank, run-down location after another.

Scandinavian mysteries also tend to use criminal investigations as a way to explore pressing social issues such as immigration, economic inequities, the treatment of the elderly and impoverished, and sexual mores.

Thompson, whose “Snow Angels” introduces a Finnish police inspector named Kari Vaara, was born and raised near Ashland, Ky. He believes the singularity of Finnish culture accounts for Americans’ enthrallment with it. “Finland is an eccentric country,” he says. “It hasn’t been exposed to the world that much. It’s cold and dark, and the people are fairly silent.”

Fortunately, however, the writers aren’t silent at all. As more and more Scandinavian crime fiction is published in English, another reason for its popularity becomes clear: It’s great stuff. “The quality of the writing of those authors who do cross over (to the English-speaking world),” declares Weinman, “is by and large very good.” . . .

Cheering news on the Liza Marklund front from Euro Crime – several of her Annika Bengtzon novels will be released in the UK, starting with Red Wolf. (Oh, and that Patterson thing, too. Yo, James – you got her back on the scene; your work is now done.)

A short article in Oregon Live alerted me to this feature in which Henning Mankell describes the seven wonders of his life (and says sweet things about his wife). Apparently Mankell will be touring in the UK — and be still my heart — Jo Nesbo will tour in the US this year. (He has one of the most sophisticated and graphically lovely sites, by the way. Not that he’s exactly hard on the eyes.)   More on Nesbo from Peter’s  Nordic Book Blog.

The Irish Times has an interview with Henning Mankell, “A Radical in Two Worlds,” providing a detailed profile of his theatre work in Maputo as well as the tidbit that though they’re on the same side – that of social justice – Mankell doesn’t really click with Wallander.

“I came to Africa when I was 20, 40 years ago,” he says. “I wanted to see the world from a different perspective.”

I asked him if he had difficulty in keeping his work with Teatro Avenida separate from his work in Sweden. “I don’t think I do keep them separate,” he says, seeming a little taken aback by the suggestion. “I write when I’m in Africa and when I’m in Sweden.”

Mankell once admitted to being a very radical person, explaining that “my books all have in common my search for understanding of the terrible world we are living in and ways to change it. Wallander wants to engage with life and change it. We know that if the system of justice doesn’t work, democracy is doomed. Wallander is worried about that, and so are many people in democracies. Maybe that’s why he is so popular.”

Speaking of Wallander, I ask whether there isn’t a temptation to make Wallander reflect his author’s concerns regarding Africa. But Mankell puts paid to any future connection between his famous protagonist and Africa: “As long as I’m in control of him, which, being his author, is always, Wallander will never come to Africa. He has no reason to.”

Clearly Wallander is no simple projection of his creator. “Wallander and I have only three things in common: our age, our belief that no one is born evil, and our love of opera. If he were a real person, I don’t think that we would be friends. I don’t really like him, and that’s the way I like to keep it.”

More on the Mankell/Wallander dynamic in the Times.

Finally, the Material Witness has reopened an investigation into Wallander’s elusive ringtone … and Maxine proposes a theory. Any one with further information is encourage to submit their evidence to the blog forthwith.