so many books, must make time

Peter, as usual, is ahead of the game and gives us an early glimpse of the fifth book in Camilla Lackberg’s series, The Hidden Child, which takes a look at wartime secrets and makes the pages turn quickly.

He also catches us up with Norwegian author Thomas Enger and his new book, Burned, which he finds fascinating, convoluted, and with a terrific ending.

Ben Martin at the Advocate has some stern things to say about crime fiction that is stooping too low – he’s quite cross about Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotist and Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman.

What made Mankell and Larsson so compelling was the determination by their protagonists to master the evil. Without this moral dimension, such tales are merely horrific. . . .

The Hypnotist, by a Swedish couple writing under the pseudonym Lars Kepler, is a repellent book. Its special nightmare quality is the involvement of children in crimes of murder, kidnapping, rape and mutilation, either as victims or perpetrators. . . .

Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman, inspires similar dread . . . As the chapters proceed, the means of death grow more gruesome, the motives more obscene.

But he praises Hakan Nesser and especially Arne Dahl, whose Misterioso is finally going to be available in English. He says is “truly fine” and the first translation in a series that is a worthy successor to Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series.

Lucky Bernadette has already read Johann Theorin’s The Quarry, which is set on his favorite island, this time in the spring. She writes:

As has been the case with the previous two novels of this series I was once again enveloped by the atmosphere Theroin, ably aided by his translator Marlaine Delargy, has created here. It didn’t feel like I was just reading about the island’s slow awakening from it’s harsh winter to spring: I lived through the lengthening days, the appearance of the first butterflies, the people getting to know each other and themselves. I loved every moment of this book from its first word to its excellent closing line.

As these are seasonal books, and we’ve had three, I’m afraid we have only one more left.

Keishon, the avid mystery reader/blogger, thinks highly of Theorin’s Echoes from the Dead, saying, “I always find myself thoroughly immersed in his stories. To me Johan Theorin is a natural-born storyteller whose novels are often described as “chilling” and “atmospheric.” He has a strong authorial ‘voice.'” She also does her part to combat grade inflation, causing a bit of controversy.

Maxine Clarke reviews Arnaldur Indridason’s Outrage at Euro Crime; this ninth volume in the Erlendur series is much more about his colleague, Elinborg, who investigates a murder the old-fashioned way, teasing out every clue and learning as much as possible about the victim. As Maxine points out, procedurals that avoid technical gee-wizardry are less likely to date themselves. All around, a good mystery, though the who dunnit aspect is less successful than the overall depiction of an investigation and the people involved in it.

Peter Rozovsky reviews a dark and violent crime story – Harald’s Saga, one of those early Icelandic thrillers that (along with Ed McBain) influenced Arnaldur Indridason’s style.

In the Wall Street Journal, Tom Nolan reviews The Hypnotist, finding it (appropriately) mesmerizing and (perhaps less appropriately) grisly. Though, he concludes, when you live in the wild north “sometimes you need an ax.”

Norm reviews Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment at Crime Scraps and wonders if mysteries today aren’t indulging in a bit too much backstory. If the review had to be summarized in one syllable, it might be “m’eh.” Meanwhile, update your RSS feeds, as Crime Scraps has finalized its divorce from Blogger.

Elaine Simpson-Long, Opera Lover, also loves Henning Mankell’s elegaic coda for the Kurt Wallander series, The Troubled Man, though she’s sorry it’s the last one.

I find when reading Mankell’s books that the narrative style and flow is very even and balanced, no sharp, short sentences or any breaks.   The reader is gently taken along and after a while it is almost a soothing experience to read this author and this ebb and flow reflects the character of Kurt Wallander himself, it is almost hypnotic . . . A thoughtful quiet read and well worth it.

BBC’s World Book Club offers a lengthy and informative interview with Henning Mankell. Hat tip to Mediations for the link.

The Material Witness reviews Sofi Oksanen’s Purge and gives it high marks for psychological stealth and subtlety. For some reason, I hadn’t realized she’s Finnish, so belongs here (though the setting is Estonia, and there is some dispute over whether this book can properly be called crime fiction).

Barry Forshaw has a lengthy and interesting essay in The Independent  about Norwegian crime writers and their thoughts about the genre, making a brief stop on his way to publishing a book on Scandinavian crime fiction to be titled Death in a Cold Climate. Peter Rozovsky writes about it at his blog with a pun clever enough to cause toothache.

And if you haven’t had your fill of The Girl, Variety has an article about David Fincher’s US remake of the Millennium Trilogy films; all the Swedes interviewed seem to be pleased with it, where apparently Fincher has fans. They are also relieved that it hasn’t been moved from Sweden to a US setting or filmed on location in the nearest Ikea store to Hollywood.

Hang onto your wallets: the tireless sleuth, Karen Meek, has uncovered new publications coming out in August in both the UK and US markets, including some newcomers to English translation: Norwegian Jørn Lier Horst, Swedish Stefan Tegenfalk, and Finnish Monika Fagerholm (who has one other book that has been translated into English previously).

Lotsa Links

 

 

Oh, my – what a lot of links have been collecting in my inbox since I last rounded up reviews and articles.

 

Peter reviews The Gallows Bird, the fourth book in Camilla Lackberg’s series set in picturesque Fjällbacka, and finds it’s satisfying, if not the best in the series. He also has a look at The Tattooed Girl, a collection of essays about the Millennium Trilogy which turns out to be more interesting than it looks at first glance, being put together by someone who previously revealed the secrets of Dan Brown for obsessives who can’t get enough of their favorite books. (I am reviewing this for Reviewing the Evidence; I agree with Peter, it looked awful but has some interesting material.)

Writing in the Saudi Gazette, Susanna Tarbush reads Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy with particular interest in the Syrian immigrant who becomes the hero’s assistant, Assad.

Keith of Books and Writers found Kari Vaara, hero of James Thompson’s Snow Angels, a compelling protagonist that he hopes to see more of.

Maddy Van Hertbruggen reviews K.O.Dahl’s The Last Fix for Reviewing the Evidence and finds it well-plotted and engaging.

Keith Walters at Books and Writers likes Karin Alvtegen’s Missing and mentions there’s a film adaptation.

Jose Ignacio Escribano reviews Johann Theorin’s Echoes from the Dead – bilingually!

Keishon reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Redeemer and makes it sound so good that several commenters indicate they’ll be including Nesbo in their future reading.  (Good call, by the way.)

At Bookgasm, Mark Rose is not impressed by Lars Keppler’s The Hypnotist.

Nor is Bernadette by Roslund and Hellstrom’s Three Seconds, which she reckons would be more accurately titled 56,820 seconds. Score! (I admit, I also found the first half very slow going, and had trouble finding any characters who were sympathetic. It picked up in the second half, but likeable characters were still thin on the ground. I liked Box 21 a great deal more.)

A blogger named Susan has coined a new sub-genre: Snoir, featuring dark themes in a cold and icy setting.  Brrr.

There’s an interesting comparison of translations at To Be Read in two parts, comparing the first English translation of Liza Marklund’s Studio Sex (Studio 69) with a new one by Neil Smith, now titled Exposed. It’s quite surprising to see the variations alongside the original Swedish.

Swedish Book Review takes a look at the last Erik Winter novel, titled appropriately Den sista vintern (The Final Winter). Though Ake Edwardson has said in interviews that he is turning away from crime fiction, the reviewer, Irene Scobbie, hopes he will be tempted to continue writing about a newly-introduced character who could carry further stories.

Also in Swedish Book Review, Tom Geddes reviews Björn Larsson’s Döda poeter skriver inte kriminalromaner (Dead Poets Can’t Write Crime Fiction), a spoof on the popularity of crime fiction, including a book within the book with the title The Man Who Hated the Rich.

At the site you will also find a review of Johann Theorin’s next book, The Quarry, somewhat unusually written by Theorin’s English translator, as well as reviews of new books by Camilla Ceder and Lief G.W. Persson.

A Work in Progress reviews Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment and considers Ceder a writer to watch.

Maxine Clarke reports at Euro Crime that she very much enjoyed Mari Jungstedt’s The Dead of Summer, fifth in the author’s Gotland-set series. Norm also liked it quite a lot.

She wasn’t as enthusiastic about Danish author Sissel-Jo Gazan’s first foray into English translation, The Dinosaur Feather, which suffers from a surfeit of backstory but picks up in the final 200 pages.

A blogger who is reading a book a week has mixed feelings about Henning Mankell’s The White Lioness, which has interesting things to say about race and politics but strays far afield from the main character.

Kim Forrester (Kimbofo) thinks Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen, is terrific. Norm is hoping the translator is hard at work on more in the series.  Rob Kitchen also reviews the first of the Department Q series and concludes that, though it’s melodramatic and implausible in places, it’s generally a good read and just the job before a trip to Denmark. And Ali Karim, our enterprising super-fan, is interviewed at Pulp Pusher about Mercy and other books that he is excited about.

Rob also reviews Leif Davidsen’s The Serbian Dane, which he feels has good character development but not much tension.

Mrs. Peabody thinks there’s a touch of melodrama in Karin Alvtegen’s Shadow but nevertheless recommends it.

Leslie Gilbert Elman gives Camilla Lackberg a strong endorsement, recommending her to readers whose only exposure to Scandinavian crime fiction is through Stieg Larsson, whose work she doesn’t admire.

Susan White enjoyed Henning Mankell’s The Man from Beijing, now out in paperback, and reviews it for Euro Crime, where Maxine Clarke also reviews Jan Costin Wagner’s Finnish-set Winter of the Lions, recommending it for those who have already read and enjoyed Ice Moon. Mrs. Peabody fills in the gaps by reviewing the middle book in the series, Wagner’s Silence, and rates it very highly.

Darrel Squires recommends The Snowman to readers in Newfoundland and Labrador, calling it a good choice for “fans of dark, atmospheric crime fiction.” The Winnipeg Free Press reports Nesbo as “a bit annoyed” at being compared to Larsson on the cover of his latest book because he thinks their styles are different. (Also, he’s not Swedish – but I’m being picky.) And in the U.S., the Fredricksburg (Virginia) Free-Lance Star has a short and positive review of The Snowman.

Carrying this comparative nonsense to its logical extreme, The Mark proclaims Norwegian fiction is the new Swedish fiction. This is actually just a way to introduce a short video interview with Nesbo, who doesn’t say anything you don’t already know, except that Norway has a lot of serial killers (said with a straight face).

NancyO has lots of praise for Nesbo’s The Leopard, though some of it is over the top and other parts are slow-moving (“to the point where you think you might be trying to crawl through jello”). Still, she rates it her favorite in the series.

Wendy Lasser wrote at length about Nesbo at Slate a month ago. She opens her essay with speculations about the overall excellence of Scandinavian crime fiction and the way it combines cat-and-mouse detection with social critique and proposes some possible reasons for the Nordic countries’ high crime fiction rate:

Perhaps we can attribute this in part to the small size of these far northern countries, their relatively homogenous populations, their stable cultural traditions—a setting, in short, in which murders (and especially serial murders) stand out starkly and beg for analysis. Or maybe this wider focus is connected to the firmly if mildly socialist perspective of even the most conservative Scandinavian governments, a view in which individual behavior contributes to or detracts from the public welfare. Possibly the dark, cold, long winters also have a role: With those extreme alternations between everlasting night and midnight sun, the Swedes, Danes, and Norwegians may be more likely than the rest of us to reflect on the role of environment in shaping character. The citizens of these countries also seem unusually alert to their own national pasts (unlike Americans, say, for whom the mid-twentieth-century is already History), and this in turn makes them more likely to seek cause and effect in these collective historical influences. In any event, what all these factors add up to is a worldview that places the criminal at the center of a social web. This is not necessarily what makes Scandinavian mysteries addictive—that can probably be attributed to the typical thriller qualities of suspense and surprise—but it is what makes them remarkably satisfying.

She goes on to discuss the Harry Hole series and concludes that while his latest novels are compelling and fun, they are more focused on furiously-paced fun than on developing a solid story. Commenting on The Leopard, Lasser speculates that Hole’s multiple near-death experiences bespeak the author’s wish to kill him off, and “the increasingly ludicrous violence makes the plot seem like something made for TV.”

I haven’t read The Leopard yet, but I tend to see the same trajectory, finding both The Devil’s Star and The Snowman as less rewarding than the earlier books in the series, though it seems a large number of readers feel the opposite and enjoy the recent books the most.

Metro has a short interview with Henning Mankell; the most interesting bit is that he once lived in an unfurnished flat and sat on the floor, using his oven door as a desk (and the oven light as a desk lamp); that’s rather clever. Ikea should look into it.

Rick Salutin of the Toronto Star thinks about Canadian politics from a Scandinavian crime perspective – seeing a willingness to examine society, not just individual culpability.

Norm considers the features of a newly-named species, the Scandi-book fan, of the genus Chattering Classes.

The Hollywood Reporter covers the presence of three directors from Nordic countries at the Cannes film festival – all with films in non-Nordic languages. It’s not just book labels touting the Next Stieg Larsson: “Post-Millennium, everyone is hunting for the next big Nordic crime franchise.” Oh dear.

Pan Macmillan has bought rights to a novelization of the popular television series, The Killing.

And speaking of Denmark, the Copenhagen Post has a profile of several Danish writers whose work will be released in the US this year – Jussi Adler-Olsen (whose Department Q kick-off will be called The Keeper of Lost Causes in the U.S. instead of the British title Mercy; it will appear in the US in August), Sara Blædel (Call Me Princess, also in August) and the co-authors Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis (The Boy in the Suitcase, to be released in November).

Sarah Weinman has written a surprising and rather scandalous profile of Niclas Salomonsson, the incredibly young agent to most of the biggest names in Scandinavian crime fiction. Like the sordid family squabble over Stieg Larsson’s fortune, it seems particularly shocking for Sweden. You couldn’t make this stuff up – though many of his clients do something fairly close.

thumbs up for two books and an arrgghh

Echoes from the DeadCaite at A Lovely Shore Breeze recommends Johan Theorin’s Echoes from the Dead. Here’s an excerpt from her excellent review:

The story is told in two time frames, the present, with Julia and her father perusing a mystery that has tentacles that reach far back into the history of the island and also with flashbacks to the story of Nils, from the time he was a boy, a creepy, evil little boy, and through the terrible misadventures of his angry, violent life. They are connected, in ways that will surprise the reader and endanger the lives of the characters in the present day searching for the truth.

As a mystery, it is an excellent story. The setting on the island of Oland, a sunny beach resort filled with visitors in the summer, cold and deserted and rather bleak in a beautiful way the rest of the year, is perfect. It seems that the author has, in real life, spent a good deal of time there and it is telling. As the story of a woman trying to heal both herself and her relationship with her father, it is totally believable and ultimately hopeful. Well, not quite as much when the author throws us the last, totally surprising twist at the end.

Jose Ignacio Escribano reviews Arnaldur Indridason’s Hypothermia, which he liked very much.

Although this book has a relatively simple plot it is superbly constructed and it is full of layers . . . I find it very difficult to explain why I like this book so much. Maybe because this is a book about sentiments and emotions. Sentiments and emotions are always very difficult to explain. All in all a fascinating book that makes a fascinating read. For me it is a very strong candidate to win the CWA International Dagger Award this year and, without question, one of the best books that I have also read this year. Indispensable. A must read.

Norm (aka Uriah) has finished the Scandinavian Reading Challenge and kindly posts all of his reviews in one handy place.

Karen held a couple of polls about the International Dagger and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest won both the “think will win” and “want to win” categories. Hypothermia was a close runner-up in the “want” category.

File under “AAAARRRRRGGGGHHHH!” Not only are they remaking a perfectly good movie, Variety reports “Sony hopes “Dragon” will launch a new franchise for the studio.” I want to reboot Sony and its franchise right down the stairs.

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.

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.

Glen Harper on Theorin

Over at International Noir Fiction, Glen Harper has a perceptive review of Johan Theorin’s Echoes from the Dead, which I am just finishing up myself. He points out that there’s a folktale element to the story in the way that the past and present stories are told.

Theorin is looking for an equivalent for the folk tale or ghost story within the framework of a realistic crime novel. The “troll” of the book is Nils Kant, a murderer who disappeared decades earlier but remains in the community’s memory as part ghost, part “boogey man,” and possible child murderer, with rumors that he is not actually buried in his coffin in the graveyard. Ghosts seem to occupy his deceased mother’s abandoned, decrepit house. The “alvar,” the grassy plain of the island, becomes a haunting character itself. The chapters of the book loosely alternate among the perspectives of the mother, the grandfather, and the troll. There are a number of references to second sight and other paranormal perceptions, but more as metaphor than as plot points. . . . Theorin’s tale is a complex intertwining of a straightforward story of loss, a rational investigation of the past, and a passage through the nightmare world of the old stories–it’s fascinating to watch the story twist and turn through all of its facets. Theorin is another in a seemingly bottomless pool of sophisticated and effective Scandinavian crime writers.

Bits and Pieces

Profmike reads Jo Nesbo’s Nemesis and pronounces it well worth the read. “What Jo Nesbo has also done – very cleverly, in my opinion  – is to introduce a larger, overarching narrative that spans across the series of Harry Hole novels. . . . This is writing that is far more complex that it at first seems, extremely readable, combining old-fashioned structures and the steady hand of the popular novelist with more contemporary perspectives and sensibilities.”

Becky, who reads A Book a Week, thinks Arnaldur Indridason has scored a hit. “I always like mysteries that are about something else besides the mystery. The Draining Lake is about a lot more than just who is the dead guy at the bottom of the lake. That’s why I think it’s the best Indriðason book I’ve read. He’s really hitting his stride as a mystery craftsman and as a novelist.”

Mark Rose at Bookasm thinks Johan Theorin’s Echoes from the Dead works very well and is a good example of the region’s crime fiction. “Some universal memes exist that seem to exemplify Scandinavian mystery fiction: They are all ineffably sad, they all seem to focus on domestic mysteries with crime close to home, there is a ton of self-contemplative navel gazing, and they’re not afraid to use less-than-glamorous characters as our main focal points.” (Hmm . . . one could also argue that Scandinavian mysteries are as likely to examine social issues as they are domestic crimes – if one can generalize at all. I wouldn’t say, for example, that Helene Tursten or Hakan Nesser write sad books . . .)

And finally . . . do you Facebook? Then join the new group, Fans of Scandinavian Crime Novels. And if you simply want to keep up with crime fiction from all over, check out the Crime and Mystery Fiction room at FriendFeed – thanks owed to Maxine Clarke for setting it up.