review roundup and a new version of Macbeth

Ms. Wordopolis reviews the first book in Mari Jungstedt’s Anders Knutas and Johan Berg series, Unseen, finding the series characters and their stories more interesting than the fairly predictable serial killer storyline. All in all, she reckons it’s time to read something other than police procedurals.

Previously, she reviewed the latest in the Carl Mørck Department Q series by Jussi Adler-Olsen, The Purity of Vengeance, which left her with mixed feelings: “I feel strange saying that the book was written well or that I was interested in the ongoing storylines of Mørck and Assad when the main plot was so horrible to women,” she writes, Like the first novel in the series (The Keeper of Lost Causes, also published under the title Mercy), the plot focuses on people who hate women. How that focus is handled (and for what purpose) is one of the biggest open questions in this genre, in my opinion.

She was also not entirely satisfied by Helene Tursten’s The Fire Dance, but for different reasons. She felt there just wasn’t much in the story to grab her interest and hold it, concluding it was a so-so entry in a series that promises more.

The Indian Feminist, who has written about Scandinavian women detectives in the past, was likewise disappointed in the latest English translation in the Irene Huss series, The Fire Dance,  which she found slow paced and uninvolving.

The Fire DanceNancy O. had a different reading experience with this book, as she explains at The Crime Segments. She counts Tursten’s series as one she deeply enjoys, and a Scandinavian author who stays on her to-be-read list as others disappoint and drop off. Her verdict: “for those who enjoy solid police procedurals with a personal twist.” She still counts The Torso as her favorite in the series, being “edgy and solid.” This entry, while a solid police procedural, has a bit less edge.

Meanwhile, in paradise, Kerrie enjoyed reading the previous book in the series, The Golden Calf, which she felt had a nice balance of action, the personal lives of the series characters, and police procedure. She sums up the series as “basically police procedurals, planted in a modern world, with plenty of human interest.”

Glenn Harper at International Noir Fiction reviews Leif G. W. Persson’s tome, Free Falling as if in a Dream, part of a series drawn from the unsolved murder of Swedish prime minister Olof Palme. Though it’s very long, he says it’s “gripping all the way through, as well as comic in some sections, through the ironic and simultaneously arrogant and self-deprecating voice of Johannson and the appearance of the ridiculous detective in many of the author’s books, Evert Bäckstrom.” However, he doesn’t hold out much hope for the US television adaptation that’s out next year. In his review, he looks at how this novel and Magdalen Nabb’s The Monster of Florence handle actual unsolved crimes, finding that both propose in their fiction plausible and disturbing solutions.

He also reviews Jan Costin Wagner’s Light in a Dark House, and has a great description of its trajectory: “meditative rather than propulsive in terms of its pacing.” He considers the non-linear, poetic approach a plus, but knows it’s not for everyone: “For me, the moody pace works, but it could be frustrating for some readers.” This story brings the series’ Turku detective, who is looking into the murder of an unidentified woman, together with Helsinki investigators looking into a series of murders, with several narrative threads that, in the end, are knitted together.

Traveling to yet another Nordic country, Harper reviews Quentin Bates’s Chilled to the Bone, the latest in a series focusing on an Icelandic investigator, Gunna Gisladottir, and it in his opinion the best in the series. Among its virtues, “lots of ethical and literary ambiguity, a plot that moves rapidly along, and a cast of interesting characters.” Though he considers it less dark than Arnaldur Indridason’s Erlendur series, it’s both grim and entertaining.

At Euro Crime, Rich Westwood reviews Carin Gerhardsen’s The Gingerbread House, advising those looking for a new Scandinavian crime series to give it a try. The main plot, about man who endured horrific bullying as a child and the various violent ways in which his former schoolmates are being murdered, seems less compelling to him than a subplot about one of the police team who believes she’s been drugged and raped after a casual encounter and is determined to find justice. Westwood thinks the admixture of personal stories of the investigating officers will remind readers of Camilla Lackberg, mixing violent murder and cozy scenes of domestic life.

Also at Euro Crime, Michelle Peckham praises Arnaldur Indridason’s Strange Shores, the eleventh novel in the Erlendur series. We and Erlendur finally grapple with the detective’s Strange Shorespersonal quest to understand how he survived being lost in a storm that killed his brother. He approaches this quest by investigating another event, the disappearance of a young woman he learned about as a child. He probes the secrets and memories of those still alive who can help him put the pieces together. She calls the book powerful, emotional, and a beautiful exploration of how trauma can shape a life.

Amanda Gillies also uses the term “beautiful” for Derek B. Miller’s Norwegian by Night, a novel that makes her fall in love with its prickly 82-year-old protagonist. Though it had a slow start for her, she pronounces the story about an American Jew haunted by his wartime experiences and his son’s death in Vietnam who sometimes is confused but manages to evade villains to save a small boy, “quite simply brilliant.” 

Mrs Peabody investigates some dystopian crime fiction, including Antti Tuomainen’s The Healer, which she finds “a gripping and quietly powerful read” which interrogates (as dystopias do) how people find meaning in situations where social structures have broken down and disaster is impending – in this case a poet searching for his missing wife, a journalist who has been writing about a Finnish eco-warrior who is taking violent action as climate change changes everything. Like Bernadette, she finds it a curiously uplifting read.

Jose Ignacio Escribano reviews Karin Fossum’s The Indian Bride (also published as Calling Out for You), in which a naive Norwegian man impuslively travels to India to find a bride. When she arrives in Norway, she disappears. And Fossum’s quiet menace does the rest. As Jose Ignacio observes, “she is able to develop a particular atmosphere that can become frightening, using only elements taken from our daily lives.” Here, in this small Norwegian town, the well-meaning and wholly wholesome Scandinavians seem all too comfortable seeking silence when the subject of race enters the picture – and Fossum is not willing to leave us content with the knowledge that justice, in the end, will be done.

At the Independent, Barry Forshaw reviews Hans Koppel’s You’re Mine Now, which once again You're Mine Nowfeatures a man who hates women, though this time the woman confronted by a stalker is in a better position to fight back than in his previous novel (which Forshaw puts in a nutshell: “ritual sexual debasement and torture visited upon the luckless heroine, kept captive in a house where she could still see her distraught, unknowing family,” Yes, that’s wny I didn’t read it.) Koppel is apparently very good at ratcheting up tension, not so good at giving us any reason why we shouldn’t just give up on the human race altogether.

Keishon is avid about reading Asa Larsson’s mysteries, but found The Second Deadly Sin disappointing in the end. There are various timeframes and one becomes a bit of a slog. Office politics among the main characters is about as appealing as . . . well, office politics. And the pacing overall, she felt, was off in an over-long novel. She recommends her other books, though.

Norm, at Crime Scraps, reviews Mari Jungstedt’s The Double Silence, a new entry in the Anders Knutas series set on Visby Island. In addition to a crime, the story involves the lives of its ongoing cast of characters. While Norm recommends this series, he felt this story jumped too often from one point of view to another and often left him mystified in ways the author likely didn’t intend.

And now for something completely different, The Wall Street Journal reports that Jo Nebso has been signed on (along with other authors) to write prose versions of Shakespeare’s plays running up the bard’s 400th birthday. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he will be taking on Macbeth and, in an interview, ponders whether he’ll make him a man vying for the position of police chief in a throughly corrupt city in the 1970s. That cauldron the weird sisters are stirring? It just might be brewing some kick-ass meth. The story is likely to keep relationships and themes but perhaps not much else. I must say I’m particularly intrigued about what Margaret Atwood might do with The Tempest. 

weird sisters and cauldron

Finally, if you are fortunate enough to be in northern California on February 2, Janet Rudolph invites you to join her and fellow fans for a lecture on Swedish crime fiction by my fellow Minnesotan, Jim Kaplan. He’s very wise to be somewhere other than in the Polar Vortex that keeps on turning the upper Midwest into an arctic knockoff.

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.

Rounding Up the Reviews, from Yuck to Yay!

Hans Koppel doesn’t sound like Swedish writer. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it as my excuse for neglecting to include Karen Meek’s Euro Crime review of his thriller, She’s Never Coming Back, in my last round-up of reviews. She does a good job of pointing out what the author does well while making me quite sure I don’t want to read it. (Woman is kidnapped and repeatedly assaulted in a hidden location right across the street from her distressed husband and child. Though publishers usually select glowing praise to turn into telegraphed blurbs, I will choose instead what I consider key words from Karen’s more diplomatic review: “imprisoned and tortured … 400 pages … empty.”

The Independent also reviews the book, concluding it’s both “ugly and gripping.” I think the dek for the review is a bit more direct: “When you can’t sink any lower, there’s always the basement.”

For further commentary see a review at Austcrimefiction – whose reviewer found it lacking in motivation or sensible plotting, saying it’s “for somebody looking for a film-styled thriller, with some carefully choreographed graphic cruelty and sexual violence, a blatantly manipulative happy ever after ending, built around a very current day scenario.  It was a undoubtedly a very quick read.  But for this reader (actually these readers) there were so many aspects of the plot and characterisations that were simply too far a stretch to be believable, plausible, justifiable or palatable.”

Patrick Anderson of the Washington Post calls Jo Nesbo’s The Leopard “a near-total disaster” full of cheap thrills, and urges Nesbo to return to his strengths as a top-notch writer. USA Today thinks it’s “halting” in comparison to earlier books. Laura Wilson at The Guardian thinks it’s good at ratcheting up suspense, provided you don’t mind suspending disbelief – and can handle the odd nightmare or two.

A review of  The Leopard by Susan Balée in the Philadelphia Inquirer finds is both very well done and very problematic.

The writing in The Leopard is awesome. The ironic deflations, twisty plot, and grisly action keep a reader riveted to the page. But in its treatment of female characters – especially in its systematic, baroque, Byzantine dismemberment and degrading of their bodies – the novel is, perhaps unwittingly, a moral slough . . .  the book exists partly to subject women to symbolic degradation, via plot device and harrowing precision of detail. It’s brutalizing, and even in this brilliantly plotted, exquisitely researched book, I can’t escape the conviction that nothing can really justify it.

Let’s climb to some higher ground, shall we?

At Reviewing the Evidence, Yvonne Klein reviews what she calls a “philosophical thriller,” Karin Fossum’s The Caller, in which a Norwegian community is shaken by random acts and a boy’s pranks get out of hand. She regrets the book was not translated by Charlotte Barslund.

Also at RTE, Larissa Kyzer reviews Sara Blaedel’s Call Me Princess, which she finds too reliant on coincidence and with a protagonist who is not empathetic to the victims she is helping and is difficult to like.

I believe I missed mentioning a positive review of Anne Holt’s Edgar-nominated 1222 in the Washington Post. The reviewer, Carolyn See, calls it goofy but also says “I really loved this snowbound book.”

Sarah at Crimepieces had mixed feelings about 1222, finding the atmosphere and setting compelling, but the ending “lame” and she didn’t take to the prickly narrator. She found another Anne Holt novel, The Final Murder, more to her liking.

At Euro Crime, Laura Root reviews Jens Lapidus’s Easy Money, a departure from socially-conscious crime fiction in that it focuses on the fast and furious lives of black-economists who do big business on the wrong side of the law. She found it gripping, authentic, and very well translated considering its use of street patios.

At the Guardian, John O’Connell also reviews Easy Money by Jens Lapidus, who thinks it’s so Americanized it could well be America (though the justice system is too orderly for that). He advises readers to stick with it, though, as “there’s much to enjoy.”

Mrs. Peabody investigates Finland, taking a look at the very different ways the country and its culture are represented in books by expat residents Jan Costin Wanger and James Thompson. Fascinating post.

Joanna Hines doesn’t have much to say about Liza Marklund’s Vanished. Her very short review in The Guardian says the story is intricately plotted but might have been written with a stubby crayon and, while competent, would be better as a film. To which I say – huh?

Carol Thomas reviews Helene Tursten’s Night Rounds and particularly praises the translation.

Dorte Hummelshoj Jakobsen recommends Matti Joensuu’s unusual novel, To Steal Her Love, if you are looking for something different. Sadly, Euro Crime alerted us to the fact that Joensuu – an important Finnish author of crime fiction and a police officer himself, working at both jobs for two decades before retiring from the police force – died this past December.

Happier news from Finland – Jouko Sipila, publisher of Ice Cold Crime, alerted me to the news that Amazon’s publishing program has bought the rights to Leena Lehtolaisen‘s Maria Kallio series, which I have been eager to read for years, as well as her Bodyguard trilogy (new to me). There are 14 books covered in the agreement, apparently to start appearing in the US this year.