reviews and resolutions

Karen reviews Death in Oslo by Anne Holt at that magnificent site, Euro Crime. It sounds good, in spite of a somewhat annoying lead character and one plot-driven bit of mind-lapse. “My enjoyment of this series increases with every book and I hope the fourth book, now out in Norwegian, will reach us in English soon” Karen writes. “Also the intriguing character of Hanne Wilhelmsen has a fairly large role in this book and it would be lovely if the other books featuring her were to be translated into English at some point.” I’ll second that. She sounds much more interesting than another (yawn) profiler.

Bernadette points out an article in the mainstream press on 2009’s “bumper crop of crime fiction.” The author has good taste and highlights both Jo Nesbo’s The Redeemer and Larsson’s The Girl Who Played With Fire. However his taste, sadly, is not matched by a grasp of geography. Back to the fourth grade for you.

Melanie whose blog is titled “It’s a Mystery … What I Should Read Next” knows one book she’s going to read as soon as possible: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest. She may be standing in line a la Harry Potter the day of the release in the US. Maybe she’ll have company outside the bookstore.

The Independent takes a look at the television versions of the Wallander books and their appeal – as well as the differences between the Swedish and BBC productions.

BBC4’s decision to broadcast several episodes of the hit Swedish Wallander series has given British audiences the chance to compare and contrast Wallanders. How does the original, local, Swedish series stand up to the award-winning detective dramas starring Kenneth Branagh?

“They are quite different,” the series’ Swedish producer Ole Sondberg says. “Where they’re really different is that Branagh really focused on the dark side of the character, whereas if you see the Swedish series, we are trying to achieve more humour, more lightness, We were very afraid that the character would be too dark.”

So the Swedes are not so gloomy after all! Yet in spite of different approaches, theses popular crime stories transcend borders.

Audiences in Sweden, Britain and elsewhere, respond to Wallander because he does seem such a vulnerable and grounded figure. He is a middle-aged man whose life is always at risk of falling apart. The detective is estranged from his wife and has a tempestuous relationship with both his daughter and his elderly father.

In the wake of the success of the Wallander TV dramas and of the Stieg Larsson film adaptation, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (made by the same production company), there has been much speculation about why the world is currently so obsessed with Scandinavian crime fiction. Is it the light? Is it the long winters, or the tendency toward introspection? Is it the interior design?

The irony, as far as Ole Sondberg is concerned, is that, in the Swedish Wallander, there has been a self-conscious attempt to introduce more humour and to escape from the stereotype of gloomy Swedes. He suggests that the two series work best in very different markets. For example, the US has no interest in the Swedish Wallander whereas the much darker Branagh version has done extremely well with American audiences.

Arguably, the success of the Mankell and Larsson books isn’t really to do with Sweden at all. The themes and characters have a universality of appeal.

Though a small correction: some cable channels are running the Swedish version, as Glenn Harper can attest – he’s been reviewing Norwegian and Swedish television adaptations at International Crime Fiction. Jut not my cable provider. (Sniff.)

Finally, have you made you new year’s resolutions yet? No fear, it’s not too late to join Dorte’s Global Reading Challenge.

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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!