Belated Backlog of Blogging Bits

There’s a fascinating interview by Lasse Winkler of Stieg Larsson translated in the The Telegraph. It’s apparently the only interview Larsson gave before his untimely death.  I found this bit especially interesting:

What, I asked, was the source of his inspiration? The basic idea had been knocking around for a while, he said. He’d been toying with it back in his days at the Swedish TT news agency where he worked as a graphic designer and occasional writer, from 1977 to 1999. At some point in the early to mid-Nineties, he and a fellow journalist, Kenneth Ahlborn, were working on an article about the classic detective stories that were popular with young readers in Sweden in the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies.

“We were kidding around, talking about how you could write about those characters in their forties, when they were facing one last mystery,” he said. “That planted the seed, but nothing materialised back then.”

It was not until 2001 that Larsson stumbled upon the spark that would bring the Millennium trilogy into being. “I considered Pippi Longstocking,” he said, referring to the most famous creation of the Swedish children’s author Astrid Lindgren, a girl so strong she could carry a horse. “What would she be like today? What would she be like as an adult? What would you call a person like that, a sociopath? Hyperactive? Wrong. She simply sees society in a different light. I’ll make her 25 years old and an outcast. She has no friends and is deficient in social skills. That was my original thought.” That thought evolved into Larsson’s formidable heroine, Lisbeth Salander.

But he felt Salander needed a counterweight if his story was to be a success. Once again he turned to one of Lindgren’s characters, this time to Kalle Blomkvist, boy detective. “Only now he’s 45 years old and a journalist [called Mikael Blomkvist]. An altruistic know-it-all who publishes a magazine called Millennium. The story will revolve around the people who work there.”

Larsson was well-versed in the mechanics of crime fiction. Every spring and autumn, back when he worked for the news agency, he was assigned to write reviews that summed up the season’s releases of translated crime fiction. “I’d include the top five crime novels at that particular time,” he said. “Some of the writers I’ve praised are Sara Paretsky, Val McDermid, Elisabeth George and Minette Walters. Strangely enough, almost all are women.”

(I had to share that last comment with my colleagues at Sisters in Crime.)

Another interesting factoid in the interview is that Larsson hadn’t planned a particular number of books for the series (though it’s often said he had planned to write 10) but that he’d continue to write them so long as people wanted to read them. They were to be his retirement fund, since activist journalism wasn’t a secure income. How sad that he never got to enjoy the books’ success; it would have been fascinating to see how he responded to it.

Elsewhere, Peter points out that the CWA International Dagger shortlist is long on Nordic authors – Arnaldur Indridason (Hypothermia), Stieg Larsson (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest), and Johann Theorin (The Darkest Room).  Personally, I’m guessing of the non-Nordic half of contestants,  Deon Meyer has a pretty good shot.  But I’m almost always surprised by awards, so it’s a good thing I’m not a gambler.

And I’m used to Henning Mankell being in the news – but not this kind of news.  Mankell related his experience in The Daily Beast. More from Salon and The Guardian.

Lots of reviews to catch up on:

Kerrie reviews the audio version of Mankell’s The Fifth Woman from her perch in paradise; she gives it top marks.

Peter reviews Henning Mankell’s Before the Frost, which he considers good, if not the best in the series.

Pat Gray, who blogs under the moniker of Excitable Rat (the RATS are a group of librarians on a Reader’s Advisory Team) recommends Johan Theorin’s The Darkest Room and says something I agree with: “I find the subtle, quiet tone of this book a delightful change from some of the American mysteries and thrillers with unending, screaming-level action from start to finish.”  She adds that this isn’t to say there isn’t action – it’s just not the main attraction.

Crime and Publishing reviews Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s My Soul To Take and likes the main character, though she somewhat overshadows her male counterpart. He concludes “a fine mixture of sombre landscapes, gruesomely inventive violence and sharp wit. A highly enjoyable read.”

A woman who reads a lot – and then reads some more – has some entertaining things to say about Henning Mankell’s The Man from Beijing. A sample: “things start to get scary. They also get implausible.” On the whole she finds the book a mix of entertaining and tedious, but just the job when it’s handy on the library display shelf and “even tilting my head to read book spines on a shelf means I’m distracted enough to have my devil child run straight out of the library and into the road, and we don’t want that, do we.”

Dorte reviews the Swedish-language thriller Jeg ser dig (I See You) by Camilla Grebe and Asa Traff and and says it’s “well-written and absorbing from the first page . . . a convincing debut” and predicts it will be translated into English.

She also reviews Agnete Friis and Lene Kaaberbøl´s thriller Drengen i Kufferten and says it’s the best Danish thriller she’s ever read. (These Danes must be very peaceable people to have so many writing collaborations.)

And she reports on a Faroese novel (what a novel idea!) by Jogvan Isaksen, Kormesse, which deals with environmentalists clashing with islanders trying to preserve a way of life.

She was busy during the month of May with the Scandinavian Reading Challenge (though she points out that what I’ve been calling Scandinavian is more properly called Nordic in her part of the world; Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are the purist’s Scandinavia.  The Scandinavian Reading Challenge continues – and it’s not too late to join.

Glenn Harper is disappointed in several books, including Christian Jungersen’s The Exception. Though he thinks the premise is brilliant, he found it hard to stick with the characters and the way they rub up against each other in the workplace.

Martin Edwards watches an episode of the Swedish Wallander series and uses it as an opportunity to ponder the balance that needs to be struck between plotting and preaching.

Zee who blogs at Notes from the North weighs in on the frequency of coffee-drinking in Stieg Larsson’s trilogy and points out it’s nothing out of the ordinary for Swedes, who use fika – a coffee break – as a way to socialize and relax momentarily during the word day.  Sounds very civilized.

Sara, a journalism student in Helsinki, hasn’t generally been much of a reader of crime fiction, but was blown away by Jo Nesbo’s Panserhjerte (The Leopard) and is happily diving into the rest of the series.

Jane Sullivan of the Brisbane Times suggests what to read when you’ve run out of Larsson and haven’t read any other Swedish crime fiction.  I keep forgetting there are people who have read no Scandinavian crime other than what’s currently on the bestseller list.

At last, with the semester over and the workshop I gave this week in Chicago in the past, I hope I can begin blogging more regularly. My equally belated review of Hornet’s Nest should be online before too long, but long after everyone else has reviewed it.

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c’est dommage

Hot off the Rap Sheet – Fred Vargas won the International Dagger, facing a field of Scandinavian heavyweights. She was not my front runner, but then I am a bit biased (and a bit less taken with her eccentricity than most, I suspect). Kerrie had predicted Theorin, Alvtegen, and Indridason for win, place, and show, with Vargas bringing up the rear. Stieg Larsson’s Translator, Reg Keeland, is quite hot under the collar about it, since Vargas has won three out of the past four years. (Evidently he deleted the post once he cooled off.)  It certainly doesn’t conform to the “who should win” or “who is likely to win” polls at Euro Crime. C’est la guerre.

Meanwhile, let’s catch up on reviews and news . . .

nancyo (“who never stops reading no matter what”) thinks Hakan Nesser’s Mind’s Eye is brilliant. “I can very highly recommend this one to others who enjoy Scandinavian crime fiction, and to those who have read Nesser’s other books. Mystery readers who want something different than the usual stuff out there will also enjoy this book as well.”

Martin Edwards carries on with his Scandinavian kick, reviewing Missing by Karin Alvtegen, “a tense, atmospheric and extremely readable novel, with a clever and (to the best of my knowledge) original motive. Recommended.”

Kerrie reviews The Girl Who Played with Fire and points to several other reviews and Dorte’s investigation of sources posted to her blog previously.

Peter reviews The Beast by the writing duo Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom, a distrubing book that

. . . looks into a warped abyss of the human psyche and discusses a kind of crime that to most of us is one that we fear (if we have children) and are extremely disgusted by. It also illustrates the potentially serious consequences of letting people take the law in their own hands. This is a good book, but it is tough. It is a book you will either like a lot or not like at all. There is no in between with Roslund & Hellstrom’s The Beast.

I find this very interesting because I’ve just finished their other book, Box 21, soon to be released in the US, which deals with trafficking in women and with the corruption that supports it, and am currently reading Karin Fossum’s The Water’s Edge, which deals with the same subject, pedophilia that leads to murder, but in a very understated, pscyhologically sophisticated, and thoughtful way. Quite a contrast to Roslund and Hellstrom, though both good in different ways.

Peter also reports that a new Wallander is soon to appear in 2009, Den Orolige Mannen (The Worried Man) which he describes thus:

A winter day in Sweden in 2008, a retired officer from the Swedish Navy, Håkan von Enke, disappears during his daily walk in the Lilljan forest. For Kurt Wallander this is a very personal affair – von Enke is the father in law of his daughter Linda and the grandfather of her little daughter.

And even though the case is handled by the police in Stockholm, Kurt Wallander finds himself unable to stay away from the case. And when von Enke’s widow, Louise, disappears as well, and like her husband without a trace and equally mysteriously, Wallander’s interest in the case increases even further.

As he moves back in time and starts connecting the dots, he finds that there are clues in the direction of the Cold War, political extremists on the far right, and a professional hitman from Eastern Europe. Wallander starts to suspect that he has stumbled upon a secret that lies at the core of the Swedish post World War II history.

Knopf is promoting the US release of  The Girl Who Played With Fire by involving bloggers in a contest. There are apparently dragon temporary tattoos involved. (I gave away dinosaur tattoos at my library’s birthday party for Darwin last February. They were almost as popular as the toy dinosaurs. And the cake; we definitely didn’t have enough cake to go around.) You can also “friend” Lisabeth Salander on Facebook. Somehow, I can’t imagine her wanting to collect facebook friends. And surely Ikea and Apple computers as interests suggests a doppelganger at work . . . with blond hair? Not sure what to make of this, but I think I will stick to friending charcters within their books for now.

random round-up

Peter beat me to reviewing a new English translation of Jarkko Sipila’s Against the Wall, just published this month by Ice Cold Crime, a new small publishing house in Minnesota that promises to bring more Finnish crime fiction into English. I am about halfway through it and hope to post a review next week, but so far agree with Peter that it’s a gritty procedural that doesn’t mince words but gets on with the story of petty criminals caught up in a dangerous trade – and the team of police who track them down.

An anonymous Australian bibliophile at The Genteel Arsenal samples Swedish crime fiction after reading about the BBC Branagh version of Mankell’s series and is favorably impressed when reading Sidetracked. She(?) picks up on several features that make it unique: a vulnerable hero who is dismayed by crime and has family issues, its insight into Swedish society as the police try to come to grips with the kind of violence they think only happens in America, and complex rendering of victims and criminals.

Wilda Williams of Library Journal has an interview with Sonny Mehta, publisher of the US edition of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy and Paul Bogaards, Knopf’s executive director of publicity.

Norm (aka Uriah) has now read all of the International Daggar contenders and is wondering how the judges will make their choice. He has so far winnowed Vargas and Arnaldur Indridason from the list, arguing the current nominees are not their strongest work, but is making us wait as he ponders the remaining four excellent Scandinavian contestants. Meanwhile, you can read his reviews of them all.

UPDATE: I’ve taken so long preparing this round-up that Norm has posted his hot tip. Or perhaps its a properly cold one. In any case, you must read his rationale, which manages to make all the contenders sound good.

Kerrie reviews Jo Nesbo’s Redeemer and gives it (and the translator) high marks. I especially liked this bit: “You can almost feel Nesbo building this book, layer on layer, investigating how events that took place over a decade before, can have consequences in present time.” What a great description. No wonder I love his stuff.

More on K.O. Dahl’s Last Fix from International Noir Fiction. Sounds like an unusual structure at work.

Martin Edwards talks about Hakan Nesser at his blog with the great title, Do You Write Under Your Own Name?

John Baker reviews Peter Høeg’s Borderliners, calling it “a difficult and inspiring novel, rich in meditations on the human condition.” Not exactly crime fiction, but mentioned because so many of us know the author via Smilla’s Sense of Snow.

And finally, my somewhat Scandinavian crime fiction-related news: I just signed a contract with a Finnish publisher, Nemo, who plans to publish a Finnish translation of my mystery In the Wind. I couldn’t be more pleased to have a chance to be part of the Scandinavian crime fiction scene, even if the book is set in Chicago. A great big kiitos to the Finnish reader who brought it to their attention.

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.