More Reviews and Some New Writers on the Scene

Jan Wallentin is a newly translated author who undergoes torture at the Guardian where reviewer John O’Connell describes Strindberg’s Star (published in 2010 and apparently popular in Europe) as “post-Da Vinci Code assemblage of ancient artefacts, Norse myth, nazism, travelogue and secret societies.” He  finds the characters “almost as preposterous as the plot” and he’s not enthusiastic about the translation, either.

The site Crime Fiction Lover lives up to its name by loving it, however, saying it’s dark, unsettling, and compelling.

Glenn Harper reviews Ake Edwardson’s Sail of Stone and does a remarkable job of describing why he likes this author’s style so much. Since I have always had trouble describing Edwardson’s very particular style, I can’t resist quoting him:

The two stories hardly seem weighty enough for a crime novel, despite the considerable parallels between them, but in Edwardsson’s hands there is considerable tension and forward motion, as well as a pair of unconventional climaxes. A good deal of the novel is carried forward in oblique dialogue that’s frequently comic in its indirectness. Along the way there’s considerable discussion of music (Erik is a jazz fanatic who doesn’t care about any other music, while the other detectives have their own soundtracks) and vivid evocations of Göteborg/Gothenburg in Sweden and Scotland from Aberdeen to Inverness. We also get lively glimpses of Erik’s and Aneta’s private lives, without descending into soap opera.

Edwardsson is one of the best writers in the Swedish crime wave.

And I will add that Harper is one of the best reviewers.

He’s been quicker than I am to review one of the new Stockholm Text books, Anna Jansson’s Killer’s Island. He wasn’t taken with the writing style, but found it improved as the book went on. It has the same setting as Mari Jungstedt’s series and a preoccupation with personal lives of the characters that reminds him of Camilla Lackberg. He recommends the television series based on these books if you are lucky enough to catch it .

Philip at To Be Read … reviews one of my TBR books, The Murder of Halland by Danish author Pia Juul. Though it is fiction that includes a crime, he wonders whether it’s a mistake to consider it crime fiction as it is circuitous and more of a literary approach to a woman’s trauma than the sort of plot-oriented investigation crime fiction fans anticipate. I guess I will find out in due course how I come down on this issue. The review itself is intriguing, so I hope to enjoy an intriguing novel, whatever its genre.

He also reviews Stefan Tegenfalk’s Anger Mode, which sounds like a great deal of intelligent fun.

Bill Selnes reviews Helene Tursten’s Detective Inspector Huss at Mysteries and More and is eager to read more in the series. (So am I!)

Norm at Crimescraps enjoyed Jo Nesbo’sPhantom, but thinks (having set himself a very high bar) it’s not the author’s best. It does sound like quite a detailed ethnography of drug addition in a large European city, as well the development of Harry Hole’s paternal side.

He also reviews Hakan Nesser’s Hour of the Wolf, a Van Veeteren series book that won the Glass Key in 2000. He recommends it highly. Jose Ignacio also gives it high marks at The Game’s Afoot. Even though I’ve not yet read this book, I wholeheartedly agree with one line of the review: “Reading becomes an addiction.”

Margot Kinberg puts Camilla Lackberg’s The Ice Princess under the spotlight – particularly focusing on the small town setting and how that affects the story.

W. J. H. Read reviews Lief G. W. Persson’s Another Life, Another Time at I Love a Mystery, saying it is “compelling, suspenseful and at times very funny,” recommending it highly. In general, this seems to be a more accessible book than the first in the series. It also confirms that the author likes long titles.

Fleur Fisher (aka Jane) thought very highly of the book, and does an excellent job of explaining why, summing up by saying “I was impressed by the tightness of the plotting, and that though the story was complex it was not at all difficult to follow … I was held from beginning to end, by a very capable piece of crime writing, set in a very real and wonderfully evoked world.”

Kimbofo is favorably inclined toward Arnaldur Indridason’s Outrage, finding the focus on Elinborg rather than the usual protagonist, Erlendur, more pleasing than she expected and pointing out that it wouldn’t be a bad place for readers new to the series to start. Maxine in the comments points out that the next in the series, Black Skies, takes place during the same period of time and focuses on Sigurder Oli who makes a more interesting protagonist than expected.

Book Geeks reviews Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s The Day is Dark, finding it solid, but not exceptional, with many interesting features but pacing that is . . . oh, no, I feel a terrible pun coming on, given it’s largely set in Greenland. Never mind.

In the most recent issue of Swedish Book Review, Paul O’Mahoney offers a translated snippet from Kjell Westo’s novel, Don’t Go Out Alone Into the Night. Westo is known to crime fiction readers as the author of the psychologically suspenseful novel Lang. This issue also reviews new fiction in Swedish, including a novel by Johann Theorin, Sankta Psycho, that is not set on the island of Oland, but rather takes place in a psychiatric facility connected to a preschool (!). Marlaine Delargy is translating this book which will be titled in English, The Asylum.

If you’d like to learn more about Eva Gabrielsson’s relationship with Stieg Larsson, she was interviewed on WHYY’s Fresh Air program. I realize many of you would prefer not to.

Mrs. Peabody investigates Harri Nykanen’s Nights of Awe. She wasn’t all that impressed by the convoluted plot, but really liked the way the Jewish-Finnish lead character was developed.

Sarah at Crime Pieces reviews Asa Larsson’s The Black Path, which (confusingly) has just been published in the UK, though it precedes Until Thy Wrath be Past.  She feels it’s quite good, but the backstory gets rather heavy-handed and the ending “out of proportion with the rest of the narrative,” which means our feelings are practically identical. I do like this series, though, even when it’s not at its top form.

She also has an excellent essay on how the Sjowall and Wahloo novel The Man on the Balcony and Marco Vichi’s Death and the Olive Grove manage to deal with a difficult topic – abuse and murder of children – without the usual missteps, but rather with insight and understated respect.

And carrying on with Scandinavian crime, she reviews Thomas Enger’s Burned, which she picked up after hearing the author speak at CrimeFest. She thought it was very good, particularly for its depiction of the non-stop contemporary news business. (I liked that part, too.)

Good grief. The New York Times has had some silly ledes lately (“Men invented the internet” for example, “Men with pocket protectors” and with powers that make them invisible to fact checkers and skeptical editors) but it’s nevertheless a bit embarrassing to have them tell us “Norway has Noir” as if it’s, you know, news or something. Jo Nesbo spoke at Book Expo America. He was pretty funny, according to my Twitter informants. The Gray Lady should perhaps pay more attention.

Kerrie reviews Johan Theorin’s The Quarry, which she gave high marks. (I did, too.) Another book she has reviewed recently is Next of Kin by Danish author Elsabeth Egholm, whose sleuth is a journalist. Kerrie recommends it as a good read.

Mons Kallentoft’s second book in English, Summertime Death, gets Sarah’s attention at Crimepieces. She praises his writing style and found most of the book well-paced, except toward the end. It sounds a bit “once more with feeling” but still a good one – though Sarah hopes he’ll try for more variety in future books. The book is also reviewed favorably in the New Zealand Listener, where Bernard Carpinter declares it “complex and excellent.”

Kerrie adds another thumbs up to the general praise for Jorn Lier Horst’s Norwegian police procedural,Dregs. How about translations of the entire series? And a US release, while I’m being demanding? She had a bit of trouble getting into Anne Holt’s The Final Murder, but once into the swing of things enjoyed the Stubo/Vik story. Incidentally, Holt’s 1222 has just been nominated for a Macavity award, with the winners to be announced at Bouchercon this coming October.

Speaking of CrimeFest, Karen of Euro Crime did some wonderful on-the-fly reporting, including a detailed report from Death in a Cold Climate – a panel moderated by Barry Forshaw featuring Asa Larsson, Thomas Enger, Ragnar Jonasson (sadly, not yet translated into English), and Gunnar Staalesen, as well as Roslund and Hellstrom interviewed by Janet Laurence.

I should take this opportunity to thank Karen and her partners in crime reviewing. The Euro Crime site now has 2,303 reviews, bibliographies for 1,793 authors, and information about close to 10,000 books. That’s an awesome achievement, and all done for love.

criminal conversations

A new website, The Crime House, offers English-language readers a peek into Scandinavian and international crime. In its “about” section it describes itself as “a spinoff to the Swedish website Deckarhuset.se.” Fair warning: this site may induce longing for books that are not yet in English translation.

There’s a thoughtful review and interesting discussion at Open Letters Monthly, where Rohan Maitzen examines her not-impressed reaction to Henning Mankell’s Faceless Killers. She argues that genre writers shouldn’t be let off the hook if their prose is clunky. I agree – I think, though I might not agree on how to define “good prose” in genre fiction, which is often good because it fades away and lets the characters and plot take center stage. (I was caught short when she called Ian Rankin’s last three novels are “‘condition of England’ novels” given they are not set in England, but I see that she is referring to a type of 19th century social novel.) As a reader I am not personally a huge fan of the Wallander series, but I wouldn’t hold up P.D. James and Elizabeth George as better examples of the genre if only because I find James a bit reactionary and Victorian in her attitudes and George as long-winded and completely inauthentic. Rankin – yes, I think he offers an apt comparison and is a writer I enjoy reading more than Mankell, probably because of his prose style and the glints of humor.

Heads up: This new book, part of a European Crime Fictions series, is now available. I happen to have a copy and plan to review it here before long. As an aside, I think the press release deserves a “bad pun” award. Here’s a bit of description:

Focusing on Scandinavian crime fiction’s snowballing prominence since the 1990s, articles home in on the transformation of the genre’s social criticism, study the significance of cultural and geographical place in the tradition, and analyze the cultural politics of crime fiction, including struggles over gender equity, sexuality, ethnicity, history, and the fate of the welfare state. The text maps out the contribution of Scandinavian crime writers to contemporary European culture and society, making the volume valuable to scholars and the interested public.

Kerrie reviews Ake Edwardson’s Frozen Tracks from her perch in paradise, a complex double-barreled serial killer investigation that doesn’t quite come together in the end. Being the busy reviewer she is, she also gives her take on Roslund and Hellstrom’s Three Seconds and, like me, found the beginning a bit difficult to get into but the second half gripping. Final verdict: clever, authentic, and credible.

She also reviews Arnaldur Indridason’s 1999 stand-alone thriller, Operation Napoleon. Not as good as the Erlendur series and a bit old-fashioned, but with a strong female lead and interesting commentary on the US military presence in Iceland.

Speaking of Iceland, Yrsa Sigurdardottir will be the guest at the next Nordic Noir Book Club event, March 17th. She is utterly charming, so it’s not to be missed. Unless, like me, you’re not going to be in London that day. Bummer.

At International Noir, Glenn Harper reviews The Inspector and Silence, another recommended novel in Hakan Nesser’s offbeat and accomplished Van Veeteren series.

Ignacio Escribano reviews Liza Marklund’s Red Wolf, finding the plot hard to swallow and the heroine’s personal life hard to take.

And for this post’s final note, Eva Gabrielsson has written a book and wants to finish another one. Slate offers a review of her memoir which will be published in English translation by Seven Stories in June with the title “There Are Things I Want You to Know” about Stieg Larsson and Me. I will reserve judgment for now about how much I actually want to know. If anything.

a model of order, or a dystopia? how about both?

Maxine reviews Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo’s Cop Killer, the penultimate volume in the Martin Beck series. Originally published in 1970, she finds it still fresh and insightful.

Jose Ignacio reviews Karin Alvtegen’s Missing at The Game’s Afoot. He offers evidence of how suspenseful he found it: he read it in one sitting.

Glenn Harper has a lengthy review of Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment, which he gives high marks. The ensemble procedural cast is well done and the story is realistic. Along the way, he also demonstrates that knowledgeable  bloggers can more than make up for the drop in mainstream media reviews in terms of insight, clarity, and perceptiveness.

A business blogger for the Economist wonders how Sweden can be a model for social programs and such a hotbed of crime. Should the UK really adopt education policies from “a dystopia where racism is rampant, public housing is squalid, dehumanising and graffiti-covered, schoolchildren are alienated, bored and drug-addicted, women are brutalised, business people are in the habit of keeping murdered corpses in their basements and the government is in league with neo-Nazi white slavers.” Well, when you put it that way . . .

Eva Gabrielsson (Stieg Larsson’s partner) is interviewed by Melissa Thompson of the Mirror. She thinks many of the decisions made about the wildly popular Millennium Trilogy would not have been allowed by Larsson (such as ditching Men Who Hate Women as a title for the translations). She says the proceeds from the three books would provide a retirement fund (though they had no idea they would be so popular and wouldn’t have had any reason to spend as much as the books have actually generated), the fourth book would support his muckraking publication, Expo, and the rest . . . that hadn’t been decided. She is holding onto a partially drafted fourth novel, which is her bargaining chip in negotiating with Larsson’s legal heirs, his father and brother.  Ironically, the article is published as part of a publicity push for the second film’s release in the UK; I have a feeling Larsson would be distressed by the commercialization of his relationships and the public airing of personal differences. In fact, had he lived, I wonder if he could have challenged the way we treat books as commodities.