Jussi Alder-Olsen and More

Will you be anywhere near Minneapolis on June 1st? Then you should head over to Once Upon a Crime at 7pm where Jussi Adler-Olsen will be making a rare appearance and signing his third Department Q book to be translated into English (titled A Conspiracy of Faith on this side of the pond and Redemption in the UK. The Danish title, which means Message in a Bottle, is better, but unfortunately a lesser author with a big reputation has already used it.)  Once Upon a Crime is always worth a visit, whatever the date is. This is a special gig for a special store – Alder-Olsen will only be appearing at four bookstores on this tour. I’m so happy my local is one of them.

I hope to have a review of A Conspiracy of Faith posted here soon. I enjoyed it very much for the same reasons I enjoyed The Keeper of Lost Causes.

Karen Meek has compiled a terrific list of books that will be eligible for the next Petrona award. Lots to look forward to. I’m particularly happy to see another Gunnar Staalesen novel translated, as well as another book by Jorn Lier Horst (an author Maxine particularly enjoyed, as I recall). And there are some new-to-me authors as well.

At the sibling blog, Petrona Remembered, I run through Asa Larsson’s series, culminating in my favorite of her books, Until Thy Wrath Be Past. Norm reprises his review of Red Wolf by Liza Marklund and compares Marklund’s heroine and the Girl of the Millennium Trilogy.

At Crime Scraps, Norm reviews Liza Marklund’s latest novel, Lifetime, and finds it an exciting read with a very human woman protagonist (who he wishes had better taste in men).Lifetime

Sarah also reviews the novel at Crime Pieces, and loved both the storyline, the diversions into the newsroom where Annika works and its troubles, as well as further developments in the reporter’s complicated home life, writing “ultimately Annika is the reason, I suspect, a lot of people read Marklund’s books and I think she fast becoming one of my favourite characters in crime fiction.”

Whereas I find her chaotic home life a bit exasperating, and say in my review at Reviewing the Evidence, “in the end, the prickly, emotional, and vulnerable Annika takes a back seat to her identity as a confident and professional journalist. Similarly, the novel is at its best when the mystery nudges the personal drama into the background and takes center stage.” Which is a much more measured way of saying that I just want to smack her.

Charles Finch at USA Today does not roll out the welcome mat for Jo Nebo’s The Redeemer, finally hitting shelves in the US. He calls it both plodding and interminable, and confesses right up front, “I can’t stand Nesbø’s books. That includes The Redeemer, which, like his earlier novels, strikes me as pat, lurid and, above all dull, moving at a fatally sedate pace.” He acknowledges that his opinion is not shared by all. (That includes me. He thinks The Snowman is the best, and I thought it the least imaginative and interesting. I liked The Redeemer much better. Also, why would you assign a review to someone who doesn’t like an author’s work? It’s a mystery.)

Glenn Harper at International Crime Fiction reviews Mons Kallentoft’s Summertime Death, which he finds rather annoying for a variety of reasons, including the irrationally dreadful behavior of the police (which is less convincing and interesting as another book in which the police behave rather appallingly, Lief G. W. Persson’s Linda, as in the Linda Murder.) He has also had enough, already, of those loquacious dead people.  

For contrast, see his previous review of Linda, as in the Linda Murder, which focuses on the most appallingly awful of his detectives, Ewart Bäckström, who takes very little interest in the Linda, as in the Linda Murdercrime he’s investigating, though other detectives nudge the case forward. He advises,

One of Bäckström’s spectacular failings is his attitude toward women, sometimes kept to himself and sometimes revealed openly. If you find his attitude more annoying than comic, trust me–you should stick with the book. Increasingly through the last third of the novel and with considerable impact at the very end, the author brings the story and Bäckström’s sexism (and not only his sexism) into stark focus.

In the end, the book is long, non-linear, a bit demanding, but extremely rewarding. i may have to give Persson another chance.

Jose Ignacio Escribano reviews Hakan Nesser’s Borkmann’s Point at The Game’s Afoot. Esta entrada es bilingüe, which I believe means “Jose Ignacio is far cleverer than I am.” He enjoyed it a great deal and recommends the entire series, particularly for its dialogue.

Ms. Wordopolis reads Anne Holt’s Blessed are Those Who Thirst, The story is a high-energy look at both the affect of a rape on the victim and police work in a time of austerity, when the system is swamped and angry citizens are tempted to take things into their own hands. She writes, “sometimes in the course of a police procedural I lose sight of the crime at the center of the novel and become more wrapped up in the chase for the perpetrator, but that didn’t happen while I read this novel.” She adds that Holt did a great job of portraying the work of civil servants in a realistic way.

Raven Crime reads Quentin Bates’s third Gunna Gisladottir mystery, Chilled to the Bone. Chilled to the BoneThough the author, Quentin Bates, no longer lives in Iceland, he does a great job of creating the sort of woman who might actually investigate crimes there, a down-to-earth mother and soon-to-be grandmother who, quoth the Raven, is “defined by her professionalism and absolute determination to get to the heart of the investigation, but carries an aura of calmness and self-deprecation which instils confidence in her colleagues and victims alike.” She finds the balance of police procedural, personal life, humor and seriousness to be just right.

Sarah at Crimepieces points out that Gaute Heivoll’s Before I Burn is about a crime, but isn’t crime fiction. It’s the fictional memoir of a Norwegian whose village was torched by an arsonist. In adulthood, he moves to Oslo, but is drawn home when his father is taken ill. She says it’s beautifully written and thought-provoking. Just don’t expect it to be shelved in the crime fiction section.

Col adds Camilla Lackberg’s The Stranger (apa The Gallows Bird) to his criminal library at the urging of his wife, who liked it quite a bit more than he did. He found some of the characters cliched and (like me!) dislikes hooks inserted at the end, lures for the next book. I particularly like the way he concluded his review: “my 2012 edition states that the author was the 9th best-selling author in Europe in the previous year. She must have a very big family, I reckon.”

At Euro Crime, Susan White reviews a new book by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom, Two Soldiers, which portrays the rise of youth gangs and how membership in the gang family distorts young lives. It sounds quite as harrowing as their previous work.The Weeping Girl

Previously at Euro Crime, Raven Crime (aka JF) reviewed The Weeping Girl by Hakan Nesser, Though it continues the van Veeteren series, he steps aside and lets Ewa Moreno take the lead, which she does without missing a step. Great characters, just the right amount of humor, and an involving case make it a book worth reading.

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filling our existential gaps

Peter Rozovsky is starting to read Sjowall and Wahloo’s Martin Beck series (though why we always consider it Beck’s series I don’t know – it has a strong ensemble cast). I predict he will enjoy the humor as well as the social criticism.

Crime Beat, the excellent South African blog, has some interesting things to say about the genre in general, and Scandinavian crime fiction in particular: “there is a mood that is pure Scandinavia in these books, a kind of existential landscape that fills some deep gap in the psyche of the international crime junky. And on top of it, Scandanavians buy more books per capita than anyone else in the world.” The author, Joe Muller, points to the essential morality of the books which are in tune with the element of redemption that Chandler located in the hero of the mean streets. He also discusses the brio of Italian crime fiction and Dutch split pea soup.

The Curious Book Fans blog has a review of Arnaldur Indridason’s Arctic Chill. The reviewer, Mary Bor, feels it’s a slight disappointment in a series that sets a very high bar. She misses the specific sense of place that sets the books apart:

This is a story that could have taken place in any European country: it doesn’t reveal anything new or surprising about how Icelanders feel about immigrants, especially at a time of financial crisis in that country. The previous books have at their core some topic that is intrinsically Iceland, perhaps based on a cultural or historical detail that roots the story firmly in Iceland and no other place.  Although Indridason does his usual fine job of depicting Iceland and, this time, what it is to live there during the long harsh winters, there was little of the essence that sets his books apart from those of other Scandinavian crime fiction writers.

It’s an interesting critique. Perhaps the fact that the setting feels like the rest of Europe actually does tell us something about Iceland – as its wave of new wealth changed its culture, some of its insular individuality behind as it joined the wider world. Personally, I thought the Icelanders’ reaction to immigrants was well depicted in this story, with people expressing their thoughts to the investigators in terms that were reserved, conflicted, full of awkward concern that the homogeneous society they had grown up with had changed, but either too fair-minded or too cautious to express resentment openly. I liked the shades and nuances of race relations painted here in something other than black and white.

Attitudes and demographics have likely shifted in response to the little country’s massive financial meltdown, but that happened after this book was written, which was first published in Iceland in 2005. The year after, when I interviewed Arnaldur, he talked about this book’s themes and how the new wealth in the country was altering attitudes and lifestyles in ways that his hero, Erlendur, a fan of rugged rural landscapes, traditional cuisine, and simple living would not appreciate.  The author told me nobody could figure out where the money was coming from, just that it had made everyone want more. The story of the decade.

I can’t remember what television program I was watching when I heard an Icelander comment on the financial mess. She said that those who think of Iceland as being cautious, safety-conscious, and well-regulated as other Scandinavian countries. “We are marauders,” she said, quite seriously. I am not sure how accurate that is, but I will be interested to see how the aftereffects of this extraordinary collapse looks over the shoulders of Erlendur’s investigative team in a future volume of this series.

CWA International shortlist – choices, choices!

Thanks to my FriendFeed friends, I was alerted to the shortlist announcement of the Crime Writer’s Association International Dagger for the best book in the realm of “crime, thriller, suspense or spy novels which have been translated into English from their original language, for UK publication.” The winner will be announced July 15. And good heavens, the Scandinavians are dominating, with three Swedes, one Norwegian, and one Icelander on the list; one Frenchwoman rounding out the pack.

Karin Alvtegen, Shadow, translated by McKinley Burnett, (Canongate)
Arnaldur Indriðason, Arctic Chill, translated by Bernard Scudder and Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker)
Stieg Larsson, The Girl who played with Fire, translated by Reg Keeland (MacLehose Quercus)
Jo Nesbø, The Redeemer, translated by Don Bartlett (Harvill Secker)
Johan Theorin, Echoes from the Dead, translated by Marlaine Delargy (Doubleday)
Fred Vargas, The Chalk Circle Man, translated by Siân Reynolds (Harvill Secker)

Congratulations to the nominees, to their translators, and to the publishers who trust us to be interested in non-English-speaking parts of the world.

all kinds of krimi for alle

Sunnie wonders what’s up in Scandinavia that leads to such a large concentration of crime fiction writers. Is it the long winters that give time for imaginations to churn? Whatever the cause, she recommends Arnaldur Indridason’s Arctic Chill. It’s “a very solid police procedural indeed. But he has done much more than that. He also explores the issues of immigration and racism. Indridason also strikes a nice balance between the work of the detectives and their lives outside of their work.”

Peter Guttridge thinks Yrsa Sigurdardóttir’s My Soul to Take is a winner – “both frightening and funny – a terrific trick if you can pull it off.”

DJ reviews Anne Holt’s forthcoming (to the US market) crime novel, Death in Oslo which concerns America’s first female president. (Well, we got pretty close, but we have another first instead…) Anyway, she concludes,

This could easily have been a hardboiled thriller about politics and international crime, but Anne Holt has turned it into a story about human beings, especially by virtue of her engaging descriptions of some outstanding women. “We women and our damned secrets, she thought. Why is it like this? Why do we feel shame whether we have a reason or not? Where does it come from, this oppressing feeling of carrying around guilt?”

DJ goes on to say this is a book is one that fits her current “crime for all” project, a fascinating examination of femikrimi and machocrimi (themes at her blog for February and March) and books that are not specifically geared to men or women but appeal across the board (April’s theme). It has been a fascinating discussion – and one that has me thinking in new ways about books I’m reading. Some seem very deliberately pitched to a single sex by either emphasizing lots of action, large trucks, and explosions or by dwelling almost entirely on interpersonal relationships, sometimes with female leads who are either highly vulnerable and unable to protect themselves (as a rather lame ratchet for suspense) or dithering about romantic relationships (leading to book-shaped dents in my walls).

It seems to me that a lot of Scandinavian crime fiction manages to emphasize both relationships and a kind of tough-minded realism, a balance that sees crime itself as a manifestation of social relationships, an emphasis that goes back to Sjowall and Wahloo. And that’s most likely one of the reasons I find it so satisfying.

Crime for all – including the best impulses of the feminist turn in crime fiction from the late 70s – early 80s. Works for me!

review soup

More reviews of Swedish crime fiction. First, the much-awaited publication of Girl Who Played with Fire gets further notice. From the Times

The essential first step to appreciating Stieg Larsson is to rid yourself of any fixed image you have of Swedish crime fiction. Yes, Larsson is a Swede, as is Henning Mankell and any number of other first-class spinners of mysteries. But the adventures of Inspector Kurt Wallander are far away from Larsson’s novels. If Mankell is Swedish gloomy, Larsson is Swedish noir. Very. . . .

[Salander is] unbelievable. All her attributes are exaggerated, at times veering to fantasy; her mental and physical strengths are beyond those of ordinary humans. Yet Larsson’s writing manages to make her intriguing, admirable and even – though this is an effort – sympathetic. . . .

The novel is complex in plot and characterisation, perhaps unnecessarily so. But the urgency of Larsson’s prose prevents boredom in reading a book that would otherwise be regarded as over-long and over-crammed. Somehow, Larsson has managed to write a riveting read.

And a nicely-calibrated review at Euro Crime – where, again, Salander’s major role is given some scrutiny:

There is also a strong element of male wish-fulfilment running through the book. Lisbeth is almost a Modesty Blaise-like figure at times, having her breasts enlarged, living off junk food yet remaining “anorexically thin” (as we are often reminded), and enjoying lusty sex with men and women. The Millennium journalists are similarly idealised, being portrayed as liberal-thinking, high on integrity and very highly sexed. On the other hand, most of the other men in the book are either decent enough yet bland (the police chief) or pure evil – rapists, abductors, child abusers and “men who hate women” to name but a few of the types in the pages. Most of these aspects add to the overall excitement, but they also create a slightly comic-book atmosphere.

Nevertheless, despite these flaws (some of which the author might have revised before publication had he lived) this book is truly powerful. The criminal investigation turns out to be directly related to the events in Lisbeth’s horrific past, and the way in which old events are gradually revealed in order to explain how the crimes occurred is very cleverly done, with a stunning, emotionally draining climax.

Sounds like the first installment – not without some outsized flaws and even more outsized virtues.

Meanwhile, over at Reviewing the Evidence I review Johan Theorin’s Echoes of the Dead and Sarah Dudley finds favor with Henning Mankell’s The Pyramid. And the Wheredunnit blog finds Arnaldur Indridason’s Arctic Chill a “compelling police procedural.” Steph Davies (the genius behind the Wheredunnit enterprise) also has this interesting news:

The next Erlendur novel, Harðskafi, promises much. It apparently takes the detective back to his childhood home (see below) deep into his soul and the defining trauma of his youth, the loss of his younger brother. Released in Iceland in 2007, it is due to be published in English in the Autumn of 2009 under the provisional title Hypothermia.

Exotic?

I guess it all depends on your perspective. Scandinavian crime fiction to me seems very solid, down-to-earth, and insightful about the everyday. But at least Joan Smith of the Times (London) thinks they’re good. In a round-up of five crime fiction novels set outside the UK, she includes Arnaldur Indridason, Henning Mankell, and Hakan Nesser. A sampling:

Iceland is famous for stunning scenery, collapsing banks and now a world-class crime writer called Arnaldur Indridason. His novels feature a detective who rivals Henning Mankell’s Inspector Wallander when it comes to gloomy introspection, but his plots and layering of past and present are hauntingly original. . . .

. . . The idea behind this collection of Wallander stories is brilliant but simple: it consists of Wallander’s earliest cases, beginning with a period in his life when he was still in uniform. . . . As well as filling in gaps in Wallander’s biography, the book reveals Mankell’s sense that something has gone wrong in Sweden’s model social democracy and identifies some of the causes of the malaise. . . .

The Mind’s Eye by Hakan Nesser (Macmillan £16.99, translated by Laurie Thompson) is a psychological thriller in a class of its own. . . . This stunning novel by one of Sweden’s foremost crime writers might have been written as a script for Alfred Hitchcock.

Also recommended: Teresa Solana’s A Not So Perfect Crime, Catherine Sampson’s The Slaughter Pavilion, Aly Monroe’s The Maze of Cadiz, and PJ Brooke’s Blood Wedding.

Wait, that’s more than five. So maybe five are exotic and . . . well, never mind. They all sound worth reading.

Uriah on Arctic Chill

Arnaldur Indridason gets another nod over at Crime Scraps – in a review that includes some commentary on the current economic meltdown that has destroyed Iceland’s go-go financial markets.

It reminds me that, two years ago when I spoke to the author, he commented that until recently Iceland was a very poor country. The new wealth was causing some upheaval in the culture, with more urbanization and the risk that the Icelandic language and traditions might get diluted as the island nation’s isolation ended. (Erlendur’s preference for traditional Icelandic cuisine and irritation when the language is misused is a kind of protest against change.) When I asked Arnaldur what accounted for the new wealth, he said it was had to do with banking, but that nobody really knew what it was all about or how it made so much money. Apparently neither did the bankers!

Uriah comments –

If Iceland’s banking system and financiers have proved unreliable, that cannot be said for their crime writers.

I have just finished reading Arnaldur Indridason’s  police procedural Arctic Chill in which Erlendur, Sigurdur Oli and Elinborg investigate the death of a young Thai-Icelandic boy, whose Thai half brother has gone missing.

This superb novel gives us an account of the investigation while identifying the tensions that exist  between new immigrants from Asia and the small Icelandic indigenous population. Many of the Icelanders feel that their culture will be destroyed by the incomers who themselves find it hard to cope with the language and the harsh weather. Other issues are introduced with the possible presence in the vicinity of a paedophile, marital infidelity,  and the death of Erlendur’s old boss Marion Briem. . . .

This is crime fiction at its best . . .

Oh, go ahead – read the whole thing. And then place your order for Arctic Chill. I’m particularly interested in comparing its themes with those in Karin Fossum’s The Indian Bride, which I’m finally reading.