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.

dark poetry

Glenn Harper reviews Håkan Nesser’s Woman With Birthmark at International Noir Fiction.  He draws parallels between the way the author creates a complete fictional world and the themes of the book.  I can’t resist quoting him at length because his reviews are richer than dark chocolate truffles:

. . .there’s another example of “world-building” in Nesser’s newly translated Woman with Birthmark, the kind of reconstruction of reality that a killer engages in when he/she rewrites the rules of civilized society and justifies his/her actions. . . .

In spite the dark theme and philosophical overtones, the novel has the lightness of tone that is a distinctive quality of the Van Veeteren series (there is even a joke about Scandinavia, as if to indicate that the world of the novel is somewhere outside that geographic zone, in spite of the author’s Swedish background). To say more would be to spoil not so much the plot as the texture or experience of the story. But I should emphasize that, lest let my suggestion of the philosophy in the book put anyone off, the story is brisk and well told, its deeper overtones embodied in interesting characters, lively conversations, and murderous intentions.

DJ has high praise for Arnaldur Indridason’s Silence of the Grave. She says, “Den ordknappe og indadvendte hovedperson, Erlendur, har en del til fælles med Sjöwall og Wahlöös legendariske Martin Beck.” And then she kindly says it in English, too.  I too find this a real master work – a truthful and disturbing picture of domestic abuse that is also wonderfully structured and suspenseful without in any way exploiting the characters.

Peter reviews Henning Mankell’s Faceless Killers – and also finds some genealogic roots in the Martin Beck series. Since Faceless Killers is the first book in the Kurt Wallander series,  readers are provided with some background information about the main characters. Kurt Wallander is gritty and determined, newly separated from his wife and somewhat estranged from his daughter. He often drinks too much, and he has problems dealing with the interim prosecutor, who is an attractive young woman sent down from Stockholm. Perhaps it is the fact that she is pretty that is bothersome? Also, he has a somewhat strange and remomte relationship to his father, an ageing artist, who is showing the first signs of senility.” He thinks its only fault is that it ends too soon.