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.

notes from the “stormakstiden”

The dust is just starting to settle on the whirlwind that is the semester’s start, so am taking a deep breath and combing through my alerts and blog feeds to see what I’ve been missing . . .

Quite a lot!

Ali Karim has a two part interview with Swedish authors Anders Rosland and Börge Hellström at The Rap Sheet – part one and part two. They have this to say about the climate for the genre:

Swedish publishers have for many years nurtured and treated crime fiction as a strong, independent genre … We share this ethos that the crime-fiction genre is not just “pulp.” The best crime fiction’s duty is to entertain and tell a good story, but [it should also be] imbued with knowledge and question what we see around us.

Writing crime fiction is something that we take very seriously and put our whole hearts into; it is, and should be, just as difficult and demanding as writing any other kind of novel … And when you see it like that, and those around you recognize that genre fiction is as relevant (and important) as literary fiction, then good results are entirely possible. And of course it helps that as Scandinavians, we have so much darkness, so many long dark nights, snow and cold, lack of daylight, that actually the environment is conducive to crime fiction.

In Publishing Perpectives, Lasse Winkler offers an appreciation of how Stieg Larsson’s success has provided entree to US markets for Swedish genre writers and mentions how much Swedish publishers are culling their lists, publishing more domestic crime fiction and less in translation.

Norm (aka Uriah) reckons this might just be a “stormakstiden” – a golden age for crime fiction that we might in future find dominated by Scandinavian authors.

The British version of Wallander is running in its second season on PBS in the US, and I am woefully late in letting folks know. Janet Rudolph was not so tardy in her appreciation. Kenneth Branagh speaks about his role in an interview.  Keep watching Sunday evenings between October 3 – October 17.

Bernadette has finished the Scandinavian crime fiction challenge launched by Black Sheep Dancing, and has a handy set of links to her reviews, the most recent of which is of Jo Nesbo’s The Redbreast.

Geoffrey McNab interviews Henning Mankell for the Dublin Herald.

An interview with Camilla Lackberg is available at the Explore West Sweden blog. (And oh, yes, I would like to explore west Sweden.)

Glenn Harper reviews the television version of the Irene Huss series by Helene Tursten – and in the comments, there is the very good news that Soho will be publishing more of the series – yippee!

And on to reviews:

Maxine reviews Silence by Jan Costin Wagner, a German writer who lives and writes about Finland. She finds it “quietly compelling” and helpfully links to reviews by Karen Meek at Euro Crime and Norm at Crime Scraps.

Bookaholic of the Boston Book Bums reviews Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Last Rituals, “a quick read that blended the macabre with the academic.”

Martin Shaw, a bookseller in Australia, reviews Anders Rosland and Börge Hellström’s Three Seconds and calls it “stellar.”

Karen Meek reviews Postcard Killers, the collaboration between James Patterson and Liza Marklund, which has the trademarked pace uninterrupted by social commentary or much about Sweden that couldn’t fit on a . . . well, a postcard.

Carly Waito has good things to say about Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Martin Beck series and has a lovely photo of them, too.

Karen Russell of How Mysterious! reviews Karin Fossum’s Don’t Look Back, which she decided would be the first of many Fossums she would like to read.

Peter reviews Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment, which he thinks shows promise.

Now I feel a bit caught up; if I can just find a moment to read . . .

can’t get no instant gratification

Books to the Ceiling (what a charming image) has a thorough and thoughtful review and appreciation of Karin Fossum’s The Water’s Edge.

Bernadette reacts to Don’t Look Back, also by Karin Fossum. This is the first in the Sejer and Skarre series, but you don’t have to read them in order. Both books have the same quiet but intense suspense that comes from the slow fuse smoldering in a very believable situation. “Without car chases or guns blazing,” Bernadette says, “the story managed to be suspense-filled and captivating from beginning to end as Sejer and Skarre teased out important details about village life from its inhabitants . . . Don’t Look Back has all the things I love most in crime fiction: interesting, believable characters, a puzzle-like plot, a setting I can get lost in and a tangible credibility that sometime somewhere that exact scenario has played itself out in reality. Or will one day.”

Norm (aka Uriah) has been trying to put off reading the last chapters of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest because, well, they are the last. Period.

And Harvill Secker will release an e-book version of Henning Mankell’s The Man From Beijing before they release the hardcover. The prices will be the same, though – no deep discount  for the e-book as Amazon has been doing.

I find myself wondering about the old practice of expecting people (in the US, at least – not sure what the practice is in the UK) to wait a year for a relatively inexpensive  paperback edition of a book to be published. That once made some kind of sense; it was generally timed to promote a new hardcover title of the same author. If you wouldn’t pop full hardcover price, you could indulge in the mass market younger sibling. But books have a notoriously short shelf life (Michael Korda said it was shorter than yogurt many years ago – it’s certainly no longer now) and inexpensive editions are available online almost immediately because of the ubiquitous used book market. When to release the e-book is a new dilemma – early on, for early adopters? A few weeks later, so traditional booksellers will have a slight edge, briefly? From the reader’s perspective, it would make much more sense to have a choice of formats right away. I know a lot of older readers whose wrists hurt if they have to hold a hardcover. I, on the other hand, don’t much like mass market because I have to wrestle the books to stay open and the type is often too small. Then again, a lot of new books are being released in trade paper only, which annoys people who are serious about buying books. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to have not only a format choice, but a price-point that suits you? Right now?

Telling consumers to wait a year to have a choice of formats seems unlikely to be sustainable in an era of purchasing songs one at a time,  Tivo-ing your television so you aren’t tied to a network’s schedule, and streaming films to your computer just as soon as the popcorn has popped. Maybe it’s time to give readers some control over their timing and preferences, too.  Really, wouldn’t it be wise to make your audience happy? Right now?

tell me about the rabbits, Karin

Dorte at DJ’s Krimiblog reviews Karin Fossum’s Don’t Look Back. I agree with her, it’s a terrific book and as with most of Fossum’s stories it makes you think hard about our definition of “normal.” There’s also an unsettling quality to the final pages that is very like The Water’s Edge.

Lynn Harnett reviews two second acts,  The Girl Who Played With Fire and Yrsa Sigurdarsdottir’s My Soul to Take in the Porstmouth, New Hampshire Seacoast Online. She recommends reading both Stieg Larsson books (just because) and says “Sigurdardottir’s second Thora Gudmundsdottir book evokes the long days, crisp air and craggy coast of Iceland in spring and should appeal to readers of Scandinavian mysteries who prefer a little less brooding.”

The Bookish Kitty thinks Irene Huss is a good strong female lead for a series. She reviews Helene Tursten’s The Glass Devil:

Tursten strikes a nice balance between the inspector’s work and personal life. As the mother of twin daughters who recently turned 18 and a husband who has a demanding job if his own, she has much to juggle in her life. Tursten does a good job of showing the realities of such a struggle, including the compromises that sometimes must be made.

Personal and work lives are not the only things being juggled throughout the novel. Irene Huss and her colleagues have their hands full, often short-staffed and with other cases to investigate. The author captures the necessity of teamwork in the law enforcement world, whether it be staff from the same office working together or connecting with other authorities outside of the district or even abroad.

True to its title, The Glass Devil is not always what it seems. Tursten takes the novel in unexpected and sometimes very dark directions. The wrap-up of the crime seems to be a little too pat, but it is a satisfactory ending nonetheless. This is my first, but definitely not my last, Helene Tursten novel.

Sadly, Soho will not be publishing more English translations of this series. (Barbara shakes fist in the direction of New York.)