Tag Archives: Ashes to Dust

A Scandinavian Tour in Reviews

It has been a month since I made the rounds to see what has been reviewed lately. I thought I’d better organize them somehow, so have listed them by country. Sweden, I’m afraid, gets the lion’s share of attention. My Norwegian grandfather could have predicted that.

Finland

Bernadette reviews Harri Nykanen’s Nights of Awe, finding the lead character intriguing but the plot a bit too Hollywood.

Peter Rozovsky also reviews it for the Philadelphia Inquirer and also questions the plausibility of the story, but enjoys Nykanen’s wry humor.

I am looking forward to getting my hands on a new translation of one of the Raid novels, also by Harri Nykanen, as well as Seppo Jokinen’s Wolves and Angels, which will be coming out next month from Ice Cold Crime. It’s always wonderful to have authors leave my “wanted” page once they are published in English translation.

Iceland

The Day is Dark by Yrsa Sigurdardotter was a bit slow for Sarah Hilary’s tastes, writing at Reviewing the Evidence, with an interesting take on masculinity but, she feels, too much exposition that slows momentum.

At the San Francsico Chronicle’s book blog, P.G. Koch finds Yrsa’s Ashes to Dust an intricately plotted thriller with the thought processes of an anorexic woman particularly chilling. Kirkus also gives the book a strong review.

Norway

Kerrie reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Phantom, which she finds bleaker and darker than previous Harry Hole books. She writes, “an interestingly structured, but very noir book, with the dominant narrator a boy who is already dead. And a rat with a problem.” I would add, a review that intrigues.

Mary Whipple also reviews The Phantom, finding it complex, full of plot twists, at times over the top, but certain to appeal to fans of the Harry Hole series as it builds on all the groundwork the author has laid in creating his brilliant and troubled hero.

And to round it out, Maxine reviews it at Petrona, finding Hole a bit too much of a superman, able to leap implausibilities with a single cinematic bound, but praises the book for its compelling and relatively uncluttered plot and what it has to say about the wages of addiction.

Kerrie gives Karin Fossum’s The Caller top marks and reckons that if you haven’t read any of the Konrad Sejer series before, this is a grand place to start.

Margot Kinberg puts Fossum’s Don’t Look Back “in the spotlight” finding it an unsettling and realistic depiction of the effects of a tragedy on a small community.

Sweden

Vicky Albritton takes a fascinating look back at an early crime novel, Hjalmar Söderberg’s Doctor Glas, a 1905 novel about science, sexuality, and an ethical bind created when a woman tries to escape the sexual oppression of her odious husband. Albritton mentions that a 2002 edition of the English translation has an introduction by Margaret Atwood,  an excerpt of which was published in The Guardian. She wrote, “Doctor Glas is one of those marvellous books that appears as fresh and vivid now as on the day it was published.”

Closer to the present time, Sjowall and Wahloo’s Martin Beck series is tempting Sarah at Crimepieces to drop everything and read. She reviews the 1966 novel, The Man Who Went Up in Smoke, in which Beck travels to Hungary in search of a missing journalist.

At Euro Crime, Rich Westwood reviews Camilla Lackberg’s The Stranger which is a new title for the previously-published Gallows Bird. He thinks the domestic bits are more convincing than the murder bits and prefers the original title.

Bernadette found Lackberg’s The Drowning disappointing, with a predictable plot that was not as interesting as in previous books, the cozy domestic scenes and ho-hum mystery formulaic. Since she has enjoyed other books in the series, she hopes this is a temporary aberration.

Sarah reviews Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment at Crimepieces, saying it was “a very interesting, albeit slow read where the isolated, icy community dominated the narrative descriptions.” It seems a good sign that the story stayed with her long after she put the book down.

She also reviews Hakan Nesser’s Hour of the Wolf, a very good entry in the series in her estimation in which a drunk driving incident triggers a string of violent acts. Though the wry humor of the series is not as much in evidence as usual, the tone is appropriate for the events of the story.

Nancy O tries to find nice things to say about She’s Never Coming Back by Hans Koppel, but dealing with a story that involves an imprisoned woman and repeated sexual assault is an uphill battle that ends up with an exasperated “jeez!  Enough already.” Or perhaps way too much.

Leif G. W. Persson’s Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End gets a mixed review at To Be Read . . . as character development and pacing takes a back seat to its broad canvas examination of Sweden’s recent history, though the reviewer finds it on the whole successful.

Shannon Sharpe thinks Persson’s approach to complex plotting with unsavory characters and lashings of dark humor lifts the novel far above the more popular Millennium Trilogy.

Laura Root reviews the next book in the series at Euro Crime. Another Time, Another Life is a complex and skillfully crafted novel with a dry narrative style and characters that are more sympathetic than those in the first book.

At Nordic Bookblog, Peter reviews Liza Marklund’s Vanished (previously published in a different translation under the title Paradise. He recommends it as a fast-paced story with an intriguing lead.

BookGeeks reviews Dark Angel by Mari Jungstedt, finding it “a well written and superbly plotted mystery” that does a good job balancing thriller elements and social background.

The Local (Sweden’s News in English) has a profile of defense lawyer Jens Lapidus, whose trilogy beginning with Easy Money focuses on the lives of criminals.  He is particularly interested in the parts of Stockholm where the residents are not blond and blue-eyed and in the perspective of people for whom crime is just another line of work.

In a review of Easy Money at Reviewing the Evidence, Chris Roberts calls it “a remarkably accomplished debut,” with a well-paced plot but characters who are not easy to like.

Peter of Nordic Bookblog reviews Ake Edwardson’s Sail of Stone, which he feels is an excellent entry in the excellent series, particularly strong for character development and writing style.

I also reviewed the book at Reviewing the Evidence. If you’re looking for fast-paced action and a tightly woven mystery to solve, look elsewhere. But if you can take the scenic route, this well-written and well-translated novel might fit the bill. I agree with Peter that “character study” is an apt description of Edwardson’s style.

film and fiction in review

A quick round-up before the craziness of the fall semester starts up . . .

A graduate student in computational linguistics named Joshua points out that there is too much variety among Swedish crime writers to consider Swedish crime fiction a genre, and he offers this comparison as evidence: “in the schoolyard of Swedish crime fiction, Theorin is the studious nerd and Mankell and Larsson are the big kids.” He thinks Theorin’s books are not nearly as engaged or challenging as those that offer more social critique and are more or less harmless entertainments. (Or, to put it bluntly, “beach reads.” While I like social critique, I think Theorin’s just dandy without that element, myself.)

In a previous blog post, the blogger has very positive things to say about the film version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  And they’re smart and thoughtful comments well worth reading.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (”Men Who Hate Women” in the original) is basically the perfect movie at this point in time. It’s socially conscious without being PC, it’s atmospheric but not artsy, it’s an intelligent thriller that’s neither ironic, nor overly reliant on plot twists. It’s a genre film that’s about more than genre commentary. I loved it.

I loved it because it’s slow. It doesn’t seem like it will be just at first: you’re plunged down into the middle of a libel suit with a helpful reporter narrating the setup on the evening news. But from there we see a bunch of seemingly unconnected scenes, so it’s alright. We trust they’ll get around to having all these people meet each other – and they do.

I loved it because it’s fun. The protagonist (erm, one of them) basically gets hired to solve a locked room mystery involving a bunch of rich people who live on an island. Why not? Why should we be above these things?

I loved it because it has a fetish chick. Tough bisexual biker girl hacker with nose rings and spiked collars and Black no. 1 hair. Which of us born in 1975 hasn’t wanted one of those?

I loved it because it’s graphic without being indulgent. All together now: the violence we see is realistic and in the service of a theme, not there merely for shock value.

I loved it because the characters are believable stereotypes . . . [here follows an intriguing discussion of how plausible and how enlightened - or not - the romantic relationship between Blomqvist and Salander is, and then] . . .

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo succeeds because it’s politically aware only to the extent of wanting to do the right thing, and metafictionally aware only to the extent of picking out the workable formulas and giving credit to their sources. It’s a film that shouldn’t be too hard to deconstruct, and I’m sure that’s just around the corner. But now, while it’s fresh, I’m enjoying just having enjoyed it.

Well, I must say I enjoyed the review.

Carla McKay reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman for the Daily Mail and points out he’s not the next Stieg Larsson. (We knew that.) She apparently liked the book, though most of the review is a synopsis.

Keishon also reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman and, while she’s an admirer of the series, feels this one is not the strongest.

Ben Hunt reviews Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment and says it’s a very good debut, though he advises readers to take the hype on the book jacket with a grain of salt. It’s an ably plotted story with a vivid setting and characters that are somewhat typical, but well-drawn. He also proposes a theory:

If anything defines the extraordinary and apparently relentless rise of Scandinavian fiction, for me it is these three qualities, and in particular the plotting.

It would be easy to draw cheap stereotypical conclusions about ordered minds and ordered societies producing writers with organized minds who produce impeccably plotted and well executed novels. Cheap maybe, but the more Scandinavian fiction I read the more I am drawn to this idea.

Bernadette reviews Sjowall and Wahloo’s first book in the Martin Beck series, Roseanna, and is interested to find in it so many of the elements that have become part of Scandinavian crime fiction.

Martin Beck too is realistic, perhaps a little too much so. If the phrase ‘dour Swede’ has been over-used since Scandinavian crime fiction has become flavour of the month then surely the blame must lie mostly at the feet of the rarely smiling, crowd hating, always ill, never wanting to go home Martin Beck. As a characterisation I think he’s marvelous but as a human being I’d rather not be stuck in an elevator for any great length of time with him . . .

In Roseanna the authors tackled the nature of bureaucracy, the rise of consumerism and even used the nature of the crime itself in a country that prided itself on being the kind of place where such things did not happen with a subtlety that I would dearly love to see more of in modern fiction.

Margot Kinberg also puts Roseanna “in the spotlight.”

Peter explores the “bloodthirsty femmes” of Scandinavian crime fiction: Swedish writers Karin Alvtegen, Kerstin Ekman, Inger Frimansson, Mari Jungstedt, Camilla Läckberg, Asa Larsson, Liza Marklund, and Helene Tursten; Norway’s Anne Holt and Karin Fossum; Tove Jansson (Finland) and Yrsa Sigurdardottir (Iceland).  He looks at their protagonists and finds a great deal of variety. He promises more on the subject anon . . .

CrimeFic Reader reviews Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Ashes to Dust, which (how very topical) involves a volcanic eruption, though in this case it’s to do with bodies buried for decades in ash from a massive 1970 eruption. She likes the book, but wishes the translation weren’t so Americanized.


daggers, bankers, and science in crime fiction

As anyone who follows crime fiction already knows, Johan Theorin’s The Darkest Room won the International Dagger, edging ahead a very strong shortlist with a heavy Nordic accent. In addition to Theorin, Stieg Larsson’s third and final book and Arnaldur Indridason’s Hypothermia were both on the list. There was nothing this time by Fred Vargas, however, so no trifecta for her.

I haven’t read all the books on the shortlist, but others whose tastes I trust have and I don’t think anyone is disappointed in this outcome. Congratulations to Karen and other judges who had a pleasantly difficult job of choosing among outstanding books. I gave the book a thumbs-up back in February. Other reviews include

Yrsa Sigurdardottir is interviewed in The Scotsman and is her usual charming self. One thing I didn’t know: she has a day job that sounds very demanding.

Yrsa Sigurdardottir doesn’t live by writing alone: her time isn’t all her own. Oh no: she also builds dams. And not just any damn dams. For her last major project she was technical manager on the Karahnjukar dam in remote east Iceland, the biggest of its kind in Europe and the largest construction project in Iceland’s history.

She is also angry with the bankers who infused so much money (and new class divisions) into their egalitarian society, and then let everyone down so badly in the crash that is called the “kreppa.” She’s so angry, in fact, that she won’t include them in her books, not even as victims.

A poor country until it discovered how to harness its natural resources in the 20th century, and until the Second World War highlighted its strategic importance, pre-kreppa Iceland seemed a relatively classless one too.

That’s how Sigurdardottir – who was born in 1963 – remembers it, anyway. Pharmacists were rich (not doctors or dentists) but that was about it. No particular Reykjavik suburb was more sought-after than anywhere else. “And now, with these bankers – there’s just 20 people, everyone knows who they are – everything’s ruined. Robbing charities, for God’s sake. And Britain using these laws against us like we’re terrorists.

“You see, that used to be the thing about being Icelandic. We don’t have an army, so we’ve never done anything to any other nation . . . We thought we weren’t a corrupt country, but it turns out that we were about the most corrupt one in Europe. Because we’re so tiny, you can’t find anybody who’s not involved so we’ve had to bring in someone from Sweden to investigate the banking collapse. Because they weren’t fools, these bankers: they brought all kinds of people onto the boards, like it was a way of getting themselves immunity.”

Her newest book to be translated into English, Ashes to Dust, has just been published in the UK.

As part of a project to examine the portrayal of science in crime fiction, Kerstin Bergman of Lund University looks at the work of Åsa Nilsonne, (who hasn’t been translated into English) and in the ways the books were promoted and received. She finds that Swedish writers are much less inclined than popular US books and television shows to highlight science, rather paying more attention to social issues as the backdrop and key to crimes.

An aside: as much as I find science fascinating, I am dismayed by the way it is often treated as the ghost in the machine, a deus ex machina that reduces tragic muddles and messes to a matter of clever tests and clear-cut results that are rare in actual criminal investigations (partly because science isn’t always clear in its results and largely because there simply aren’t the resources to spend such a lot of time and technology on cases; just this month Illinois passed a law that all rape kits must be submitted for DNA analysis – after thousands of kits lay on evidence room shelves for years). It leads people to expect certainty in situations where so often there isn’t any, and distracts them from social issues that are all to real.  This is particularly curious in the US, where in nearly every other situation science and scientists are viewed with a rather high level of skepticism. But when it comes to a choice between lab results and intractable social problems, the lab is a relatively clean, well-lighted place.

photo of a double helix made of books courtesy of inkyhack.

Fire and Ice

Yrsa Sigurdardóttir chats with Sydney Jones at his blog devoted to crime fiction’s relationship to settings, Scene of the Crime. She gives some coordinates for her next book to be translated into English, Ashes to Dust:

It takes place in a small fishing village on the Westmann Islands off the south coast of Iceland, an island on which a volcano erupted with much ado in 1973. Being pretty used to lava and seascapes it was an archeological dig called Pompeii of the North that intrigued me the most. The dig involves excavating houses from underneath massive layers of ash to showcase them in situ, while my story adds a fictional twist when something other than broken roof beams and rusted iron is unearthed. On every visit to the dig I was just as impressed as the first time I laid eyes on the huge, deep canal, as the blackness of the all-encompassing ash and the effect it had on sounds was intimidating, not to mention the graphic reminder of nature’s not so gentle treatment of the houses we intend to keep us safe from the elements.

For more from Yrsa about Iceland and volcanoes, see her most recent post at Murder is Everywhere, a joint blog of several authors who set mysteries outside the US.

In the Going Backward Department, the Salomonsson Agency’s newsletter reports that the first of Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole series, titled The Bat Man, will be published in English in 2012, after The Leopard, which is number eight in the series. Will we get the second in the series eventually? Fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, Glenn Harper at International Noir Fiction gives us a preview of his experience reading Nesbø’s The Snowman.

Nesbø writes beautifully, with a style that seems simple but is interlaced with humor, metaphor, character, and menace. Though many readers will figure out who the killer is long before Detective Harry Hole does, the fun in reading the book really comes in reading the prose and watching the plot twist and turn through numerous red herrings and false leads until it reaches its inevitable conclusion.

Ali Karim reports thoroughly from the evening at the Swedish Embassy in London where distinguished guests were invited to discuss “Crimes of the Millennium.” One interesting tidbit: about half of the 44 (!) translations of what is called in English The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo used a literal translation of the original title: Men Who Hate Women. Ali’s report is followed by a short essay written by Barry Forshaw, author of the forthcoming biography of Stieg Larsson, The Man Who Left Too Soon.

Maxine, who picked up a copy of Swedish Book Review at the big do, reports on a preview published there of Henning Mankell’s The Troubled Man written by its translator, Laurie Thompson, and reminds Maxine that she much prefers the books to any of the television adaptations. The final Wallander novel will be published in the UK in 2011.