Two Reviews – Fear Not and Invisible Murder

I recently finished Anne Holt’s 2009 novel, Fear Not, translated by the always excellent Marlaine Delargy. What a fun ride, blending a puzzling plot with serious social issues. When the bishop of Bergen is stabbed to death late at night at Christmastime, her husband and son seem able or unwilling to explain why she was alone at night outdoors. Adam Stubo tries to sort out the high-profile case, unaware of the related cases unfolding around him. Because the deaths are explained as suicides or drug overdoses or inexplicable but unremarkable acts of violence visited on people on the margins, nobody connects the dots until Stubo’s wife, Johanne Vik, meets with an American friend who fills her in on a new kind of hate crime.

This is a deeply involving novel with a big cast of characters whose stories are skillfully interwoven. As in the preceding book in the series, Death in Oslo, things hinge on a coincidence of sorts, but it’s not at all hard to go with the story, which is absorbing. One interesting technique Holt uses is connecting each new scene with the previous one with a phrase, an image, or a thought. I began to enjoy looking for these little narrative hook-and-eye features. Another feature that seems a common thread in her books is the uncovering of a conspiracy, which in this case is fairly fanciful but an interesting way to think through the implications of religious fervor and bigotry. The final pages include a touching, if unusual, alternative depiction of religious faith. I thoroughly enjoyed this complex and well-plotted mystery.

It has been a few weeks since I read Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis’s second Nina Borg mystery, Invisible Murder (translated by Tara Chace), which I also enjoyed very much. (Full disclosure: right after I read the book, the authors spent three days on our campus. They are interesting and charming people and I enjoyed spending time with them; that said, I know a lot of authors who are charming people whose books are not to my taste, and have occasionally met an author whose books I like much better than them. In this case I like both the books and the authors. Whew!)  As in The Boy in the Suitcase, the story involves multiple points of view and locations. The authors have enough respect for their readers to assume they will be able to put the pieces together.

Invisible Murder  begins when a boy in Hungary finds something in an old, abandoned hospital that he thinks he can sell; his half-brother is a law student in Budapest facing a major exam, a test of his ability to blend into Hungarian society. Each is in his own way desperate because they are Roma (or Gypsy), an ethnic group that is badly discriminated against. The boy, whose family needs money for the most basic things, arranges a sale with someone in Copenhagen, but once there, he gets sick before he can hand off the mysterious package. His older half-brother gives a brilliant oral exam, but his professor fails him anyway, because . . . well, we can’t have Roma earning law degrees. He follows his brother to Copenhagen and is caught up in the mess that ensues.

So is Nina Borg, though she knows helping a group of immigrants will put her marriage to the test again. She is under strict instructions to think of her children first, but she has a hard time turning away when nobody else is available to help. When she goes to a garage, she finds a large group of undocumented Roma, many of them suffering from a mysterious illness. In both books in this series, the authors show how inequality and desperation don’t observe political borders. Victims are not all angelic, and bad guys are not without their reasons. As in the previous book, the motive behind the crime is surprising. I am very much looking forward to reading the third book in the series, this one partly set in the Ukraine. (The authors are considering taking their research somewhere warmer, perhaps with nice beaches, next time.)

review round-up

It has been a long time since I caught up on reviews and news about Scandinavian crime fiction. Lots to report . . .

Norm brings the news that Arne Dahl has won the Swedish crime fiction award with Viskelen (Chinese Whispers) which has not yet had rights sold to the US or UK. Let’s hope that happens. His first book in English, Misterioso, has only just been released after years of delay.

The Boy  the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis is among the mysteries reviewed in the Globe and Mail . Margaret Cannon says it has “a terrific central character and a great plot.”

At Reviewing the Evidence, Yvonne Klein has some reservations about the book – particularly its jumpy structure, leaping among points of view, and the withholding of information about Nina Borg until the final pages, a strategy that she found manipulative; still, she will read more as the series continues.

Marlyn Stasio of the New York Times Book Review gives it a strong review, saying “it packs an almighty punch.”

The Mumbai Daily News and Analysis reviews Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (apa The Keeper of Lost Causes) and calls it a “riveting read.”

At The Game’s Afoot, Jose Igancio Escribano reviews Arnaldur Indridason’s Outrage and finds it’s “an excellent contribution to an already superb series.”

At Euro Crime, Rich Westwood reviews Mikkel Birkegaard’s Death Sentence and finds that it’s closer to being in the horror genre than mystery. Amanda at Rustic Ramblings enjoyed it a good deal, though she agrees with Westwood that there’s a lot of graphic violence involved.

Peter at Nordic Bookblog reviews Anne Holt’s Fear Not, which he reckons is the best in the Adam Stubo and Johanne Vik series.

At Petrona, Maxine Clarke reviews The Hand that Trembles by Kjell Eriksson which is engrossing, with three investigations that are adroitly resolved, using a mix of “character, a strong sense of location, and narrative” rather than violence, high drama, and gore.

She also reviews K. O. Dahl’s Lethal Investments, the first of the author’s police procedural series featuring Gunnarstranda and Frolich. It’s very much a classic crime story – and was, in fact, published 18 years ago, a victim of a malady Maxine has dubbed the TOOO syndrome – translated out of order.

More from Maxine can be found at Euro Crime, where she reviews Hakan Nesser’s The Unlucky Lottery, which has the author’s “trademark bleak humor.”

Crime Fiction Lover has a review of Sara Blaedel’s Call Me Princess, which she found an enjoyable old-fashioned story with a contemporary twist.

Rob Kitchen at The View from the Blue House takes a look at Asa Larsson’s The Savage Altar (Sun Storm), which he give high points for characterization and its sense of place.

A reviewer for The Guardian has a rather peculiar response to the book: she thinks the things police think about are unsanitary and rather nasty. I think the book deserves a proper review.

Glenn Harper provides one at International Noir Fiction, finding it a very enjoyable read. He considers Dahl one of the best of Scandinavian writers.

Bernadette has a reaction to reading Jo Nesbo’s Headhunters: it’s not nearly as good as books in the Harry Hole series and doesn’t tick her boxes for her list of what makes a good thriller.

She also reviews Mari Jungstedt’s The Dead of Summer which she find enjoyable if not as thrilling as it might be if suspects emerged sooner and the ultimate solution to the crime less obvious.

Bibliojunkie (who seeks no cure for her book addiction) has an excellent review of Asa Larsson’s Until Thy Wrath Be Past, saying Larsson “juggles the balance of both horrifying crime and human drama beautifully” and finding in Scandinavian crime fiction a gratifying attention to character development.

Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom’s new thriller, Cell 8, is reviewed in The Independent, which finds it energetic and mesmerizing, if a bit heavy on the social issues.

Declan Burke at Crime Always Pays says “in essence, CELL 8 is a lecture on how the world would be a much better place if only we all conformed to the authors’ principles” and it’s “laughably preposterous” to boot. I wish he’d just tell us what he really thinks.

At The Crime Segments, Nancy O reviews Burned  by Thomas Enger, a book she enjoyed very much, particularly for its plotting and its journalist hero.

Craig of Crime Watch, the New Zealand guide to all things crime fiction, has a Q & A with Mons Kallentoft, author of Midwinter Sacrifice, as an appetizer for a Kallentoft feature forthcoming in his 9mm author interview series. (The real mystery: when does Craig ever sleep?)

Apparently Martin Scorsese might direct a film version of Nesbo’s The Snowman. Also, this is the first time I’ve encountered “helm” used as a verb.

And in The Guardian, Andrew Anthony interviews several Norwegian writers about their take on the terrible shootings last July. K.O.Dahl’s niece was  on the island where 69 people were shot dead, surviving by playing dead. It’s quite a harrowing story and a thoughtful article. In addition to Dahl, there are substantial interviews of Anne Holt, Jo Nesbo, and literary novelist Jan Kjaerstad. In a rather charming and very Norwegian moment, as Anthony talks to Kjaerstad in a restaurant and man stops to chat before sitting nearby. The crown prince of Norway, dining at one of his favorite restaurants.