Tag Archives: Harry Hole

A Short Note About Jo Nesbø’s Cockroaches

The second novel in the Harry Hole series has just come out in the United States. The series began with foreign settings, with The Bat taking Harry to Australia and Cockroches taking place in Thailand.

CockroachesThe Norwegian ambassador has been found dead in a seedy hotel where prostitutes meet johns for business. Harry is sent to provide assistance, investigating the case with a brash, Amazonian inspector who is bald and nearly as tall as he is. They both realize soon enough that, as scandalous as the circumstances are, it’s not nearly as grimy as the reality that is being covered up.

“He saw something move in the gloom, on the sink, a couple of antennae swinging to and fro. A cockroach. It was the size of a thumb and had an orange stripe on its back. He had never seen one like this before, but that was perhaps not so peculiar – he had read that there were more than three thousand different types of cockroach. He had also read that they hide when they hear the vibrations of someonoe approaching and that for every cockroach you can see there are at least ten hiding. That meant they were everywhere.”

The corruption Harry senses hiding behind the surface is not just in Thailand, but also at home in Norway, where nothing is quite as it seems.

I enjoyed reading this book quite a bit more than I’ve enjoyed recent entries in the series. Harry (though he is struggling to stay sober) seems more light-hearted, less heroic, more spontaneous in his approach to investigations. The plot twists and turns, but without the elaborate mechanics of later entries in the series and I never felt manipulated. Thailand is wonderfully evoked, and the characters pop off the page. It’s also not quite the doorstop later books have become. All in all, I’m happy to have read this early entry in the series and am happy to get reacquainted with the entertaining detective whose company I enjoyed so much.

What We’ve Been Reading

In the Washington Post, Richard Lipez reviews Kaaberbol and Friis’s The Boy in the Suitcase, and finds the interwoven tales of two mothers, both intent on a boy who is drugged and shipped to Denmark in a suitcase, “another winning entry in the emotionally lacerating Scandinavian mystery sweepstakes.”

At Petrona, Maxine reviews the book, finding many of the characters well-drawn, but herself not particularly drawn to Nina Borg. Despite a disappointing denouement, Maxine found the book “exciting and involving” as it sheds light on issues of social injustice.

Ms. Wordopolis thought it was the best of the Scandinavian crime she has read lately, with complex characters and a riveting story that never becomes manipulative.

At Eurocrime, Lynn Harvey reviews the new translation of Liza Marklund’s The Bomber,  which she found a fast-paced thriller with an appealingly strong heroine.

The Daily Beast interviews the authors about the choices they made in the book, including the portrayal of men who carry out violent acts. They find crime fiction that dwells on violence is too often about how crime is committed, not who committed it or why.

At International Crime Fiction, Glenn Harper reviews Johan Theorin’s The Quarry, writing that Theorin continues to combine an interesting plot structure, lots of the flavor of daily life for the characters, including the recurring figure of Gerlof, an elderly resident of the island of Oland, and a folkloric supernatural element – continuing the arc of a series that he feels is about as far from the style of Stieg Larsson as it is possible to get.

He also reviews Helene Tursten’s Night Rounds and compares it to the previously-filmed Swedish television version of the story. He praises Tursten for telling an interesting story with just the right amount of domestic backstory – and Soho Press for restarting their publishing of this seires, which was one of the earliest Swedish translations into English among crime fiction titles.

Jose Egnacio reviews Dregs by Jorn Lier Horst, and recommends the Norwegian police procedural highly.  While still in Norway (at least in a literary sense) he offers his comments on K. O. Dahl’s Lethal Investments, which he found enjoyable. Crossing the border into Sweden, he reviews Sjowall and Wahloo’s Cop Killer, a late entry into the Martin Beck series which he finds thought-provoking, with “a fine sense of humour.”

At Eurocrime, Laura Root also reviews Lethal Investments, concluding that plot is less the author’s strength than character and being able to poke society with a sharp, satirical stick.

Mrs. Peabody investigates Jan Costin Wagner’s The Winter of the Lions, another entry in a series she admires, writing “the value of the series lies less for me in the plot or investigative process and more in the novels’ use of the crime genre to explore human reactions to death, trauma and loss. Melancholy and beguiling, these novels are a wintry treat of the highest order.” (As an aside – are there many reviewers in the media who write mystery reviews as good as this?)

Sarah at Crimepieces also reviews it, noting that it has a slightly bizarre but not implausible plot, praising the author’s writing and ability to create intriguing characters.

At Petrona, Maxine has mixed feelings about Kristina Ohlsson’s Unwanted. She found it a quick, entertaining read, but short on emotional depth and rather predictable, though the writing was good enough that she hasn’t written off the author yet.

For the Sisters in Crime 25th Anniversary Challenge, Maxine (who has completed two levels of the challenge and is well on her way to completing the expert level) profiles Inger Frimansson and includes Camilla Ceder and Karin Alvtegen among her “writers a bit like Frimansson” list.

Michelle Peckham enjoyed Mons Kallentoft’s Midwinter Sacrifice, finding it a slow-burning story with an intriguing lead character.

Beth sums up her thoughts about the Millennium Trilogy as David Fincher’s new film version hits theatres. She writes, “the real genius of the Millennium Trilogy is that Lisbeth Salander is no less an unforgettable character on the page as she is on the screen.”She also reviews Anne Holt’s 1222 which she found atmospheric and evocative. This novel recently made new in the US as it was just nominated for an Edgar “best novel of 2011″ award

Keishon raises some excellent questions about “the commercialization of Scandinavian crime fiction” – in particular wondering if the trajectory of the Harry Hole series has been influenced by the demands of the American market for more violence done by armies of serial killers. The comment thread resulting is also well worth a read. She also reviews Asa Larsson’s The Black Path which she found an uneven entry in a strong series – making up for it in Until Thy Wrath Be Past, which she found “unputdownable,” full of strong scenes and unforgettable characters. 

Norm also gives Until Thy Wrath Be Past high marks – “refreshingly different and thought-provoking.”

Shadepoint names Leif G. W. Persson’s Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End the best book of 2011, which was challenging in its scope but in the end memorable and significant.

Kerrie in Paradise finds Jo Nesbo’s standalone Headhunters quite clever and advises readers to stick with it through its slow start.

If you’d like to browse a list of excellent reviews, you’ll find it at Reactions to Reading, where Bernadette lists the books she read for the Nordic Book Challenge of 2011. (She nearly reached Valhalla – as do I, reading her insightful comments on books.)

Some interesting feature articles to add to the review round-up:

Publishing Perspectives profiles Victoria Cribb, who translates Icelandic works into English and scrambles to keep up with Icelandic neologisms that are based on Icelandic roots rather than being merely imported from other languages. (Go, Iceland!) This small country, which publishes more books per capita than any other, was highlighted at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Dennis O’Donnell, book geek, reviews Barry Forshaw’s Death in a Cold ClimateForshaw himself blogs at Shots about covering the Scandinavian crime beat – and offers aspiring novelists a checklist of how to write a Nordic bestseller, among the tips changing your name to something like Børge Forshawsen.

Dorte contributes a wonderful survey of Danish crime fiction to Martin Edwards’ blog, Do You Write Under Your Own Name? including writers who are just becoming familiar to English-speaking readers as well as some we haven’t met (yet).

On the “in other news” front, Nick Cohen challenges Stieg Larsson’s claim to feminism, criticizing his (not translated) co-authored book on honor killings which Cohen says suffers from a left-wing abandonment of feminism when race enters the picture, using the issue to accuse leftists in general of waffling on women’s rights when it comes to immigrants.  The smoke is still rising from the comments.

Reviews and Nesbo Plus Yet More Larsson

NancyO reviews Hakan Nesser’s Woman With Birthmark and finds it cerebral, subdued, and very good: “What drives the killer is what slowly unravels throughout the story, teased out a little at a time. As in all of his Van Veeteren books, Nesser’s writing, his plotting genius and his characterizations all speak for themselves”

Tulsa People has its take on the “great write north” featuring the usual suspects.

R.T. reviews Kjell Eriksson’s The Demon of Dakar and recommends it.

The Independent reviews Camilla Lackberg’s The Stonecutter and says she’s very good at the job “to make the reader pleasurably uncomfortable.”

New Nesbo Reviews are up at USA Today,The Oregonian, The Washington Post (Patrick Anderson calls it “a big, ambitious, wildly readable story”) and  The New York Times (Marilyn Stasio thinks The Devil’s Star lacks some of the issue-related heft of other books in Harry Hole’s series). Simon Parker at BookGeeks reviews The Snowman. The Dallas Morning News has reviews of The Devil’s Star and Henning Mankell’s The Man from Beijing.

Peter Rozovsky introduces Nesbo and gives us an interview in two parts, here and here. More interviews at the Globe and Mail, and The New York Times.

And there are lashings of Larsson:

On the radio – The Stieg Larsson Story.

Shots Magazine covers “Crimes of the Millennium,” a conference on the Larsson phenomenon held at the Swedish Embassy in the UK. Maxine was there, too.

Books to the Ceiling reports on an “immersion” experience in the Millennium Trilogy via book club discussions.

In “Obama, Lehman, and ‘The Dragon Tattoo,” Frank Rich, a political columnist for The New York Times, points out how prescient Stieg Larsson was in finding the manipulations of bankers traitorous and malicious. He also suggests that the techno-wizards who created some of the complex computer programs that were used to shift vast amounts of money around in ways that nobody really understood, but seemed to keep beating the odds, are a peculiarly American version of Lisbeth Salander, not interested in justice or revealing the true scope of evil but in hacking the system to make themselves rich without moral (or legal) consequences. Rich (who is on the left side of politics) warns that we’d better take Stieg’s warning and deal with popular anger against rewarding big failures. Readers of popular fiction have spoken.

good company in the pyscho database

Peter rounds up recent news about Scandinavian crime fiction from Scandinavian sources, including the good news that Jo Nesbo will be publishing another book in the Harry Hole and the unhappy rumor that Hakan Nesser will be retiring from writing after another four books. He also points out that English-language readers will not be too bothered, given the backlog of his books yet to be translated, but still . . .

Ms Textual takes a close look at two Swedish novels, Henning Mankell’s Sidetracked and Karin Alvtegen’s Betrayal. She warns in her blog sidebar that she doesn’t review books, she analyzes them, so here there be spoilers. But she has some very interesting things to say about both books, about translation, and about reading books from unfamiliar cultures. She has particularly high praise for Alvtegen and the structure of  Betrayal that she finds has “a textual integrity that is breathtaking to observe.”

ProfMike thinks Jo Nesbo’s The Redeemer rocks:

If you like your detective heroes/anti-heroes as amoral, alcoholic and contradictory, then they don’t come much more dysfunctional than Harry Hole. This is a superbly-paced thriller, bristling with political comment and whilst Hole is as disrespectful of the law as any of his adversaries, he doesn’t confuse legal justice with moral justice and no matter how low he sinks, we keep on forgiving him and rooting for him, in spite of his complete failure as a human being. There are many great Scandanavian crime fiction writers out there at the moment, butr for me, Nesbo is the one who is constantly pushing at the boundaries.

maryb (mindtraveler and appreciator – what a great job description) found Karin Alvtegen’s Missing to be a winner: “pinpoint sharp and tightly focused” with a compelling and original protagonist.

Matt Rees, a recovering journalist who writes about the reality of the Palestinian situation in the form of crime fiction, doesn’t think much of Stieg Larsson’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, saying it makes him “want to throw knives like the Swedish chef on The Muppet Show.”  Why? There’s too much of an impulse to bury the reader in infodumps and (worse yet) the Internet is used as a creaky deus ex machina that is too often a crime fiction author’s cheap way out of a crack. Linkmeister also offers his take, which is more positive.

Publisher’s Lunch offered its subscribers some insights into the dispute over Stieg Larsson’s estate and Sarah Weinman offers those of us who aren’t subscribers the highlights.  Though actually, that’s not at all the right word for it. It’s a sad tangle complicated by money.

Jonathan Segura offers a profile of Yrsa Sigurdardottir in Publishers Weekly. It provides a charming picture of Iceland – where an informal poll taken in bars (dubbed “research” but resulting in a hangover) finds that not only are her books known to Icelanders, she’s personally known to a great many of them – and some fun tidbits, such as this take on her prep for Last Rituals: “Yrsa ordered witchcraft books from Amazon.com. Now, she gets e-mails from them promoting books on torture equipment. ‘I’m in their psycho database,’ she says.”

links from friends

I know I rely entirely too much on the FriendFeed Crime and Mystery Fiction room for the tidbits I harvest for this blog. It’s far more productive than the Google alerts I have set up. But really, if you want to know about Scandinavian crime fiction – and every other kind of crime fiction – you should sign up. It’s addictive.

Norm (aka Uriah) comments on Karin Alvtegen’s Shadow, saying. “the sharp use of language and metaphor in Karin Alvtegen’s Shadow to depict a bleak loveless world is quite brilliant. It might have a little bit to do with the translator McKinley Burnett.” A few posts later, he provides a full review.

This is a complicated and complex novel which paints a very bleak picture of humanity with its cast of socially damaged characters . . . The book succeeds on many levels but especially as a lesson that once you take that first shaky step away from the straight and narrow you have no idea where it may lead. This book like the other Alvtegen novel I have read Betrayal is brilliantly written and plotted; but it is very dark definitely not a cheerful read.

He also provides a much-appreciated service by putting Harry Hole in order (particularly useful given the books have been translated out of order – though Harry himself would probably resist anyone trying to organize him).

The Brothers Judd review Henning Mankell’s The Man Who Smiled, pointing out that the hero, Kurt Wallander, is not the subject of the title; they find the story a bit didactic.

The Spectator reviews a handful of mysteries, including My Soul to Take by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, saying it is “spooky and gruesome . . . both chilling and witty — an agreeable combination.”

Cathy of Kittling Books reviews an intriguing book that is more speculative fiction than mystery, but it certainly sounds interesting – The Unit by Swedish author Ninni Holmqvist, which deals with biomedical ethics in a dystopian world. (Incidentally, one of the things Cathy does in her review that I love is quote the first line.) She also provides her take on Anne Holt’s What is Mine, saying “this book is an ardent commentary on parenthood and an absorbing mystery with a nice little twist at the end.” She also says, “try as I might, I just can’t ignore these wonderful mysteries that keep coming my way from Scandinavia!” Hey, to paraphrase P.D.Q. Bach, if it reads good, it is good.

Maxine has an excerpt from Matti Joensuu’s To Steal Her Love that includes a rather endearing image of a man apologizing to a rabbit: “each time the rabbit finished eating its dandelion leaf Harjunpää quietly apologised and fetched him a fresh one growing by the wall.” And she adds another excerpt, with a promise of a Euro Crime review forthcoming.

Euro Crime has an update on the Dagger polls – you’d think it was the Booker Prize in the old days, making book on books.

Peter reviews K. O. Dahl’s The Last Fix – a bit pedantic for his tastes, but with some good psychological insights and dry humor, all well translated by Don Bartlett.

DJ reviews Liza Marklund’s Studio Sex, apa Studio 69. She reckons it’s perhaps her best.

With friends like these, I’ll never run out of things to read next.

…and more links

PBS highlights international crime fiction with a rather sophisticated site – Both Karin Fossum (Norway) and Arnaldur Indridason are featured.

Glenn Harper reviews Yrsa Sigurdardóttir’s My Soul to Take – and wonders which is the better cover at representing the Icelandic setting. He prefers Arnaldur’s series, but says this second book in the Thóra Gudmundsdóttir series “revisits the Gothic realm and revivals of myth in contemporary life, but in a lighter, frequently comic, and rural vein.”

He also says “I’m hoping that Árni Thórarinsson’s urban noir novels, very succesful in Europe, will soon make their way into English.” Fingers crossed.

Peter reviews Henning Mankell’s One Step Behind at Nordic Bookblog.

Shaz wonders (toward the bottom of this Dead Guy post) “Are there any humorous Scandinavian crime novels? If not, would someone like to remedy the situation to save what’s left of my sanity?” No worries, Sharon – there’s plenty of humor in there. Just ask Peter Rozovsky. He has some insightful things to say in a 2007 interview with Julia Buckley:

I do notice a common theme of sympathy in the work of Swedish crime writers, a concern for investigators, criminals, suspects and friends, relatives and lovers of all the above. Håkan Nesser shares that sympathy and also the proverbial Swedish concern for social justice. His novels also have a playful sense of humor, which is probably not a generalization many people would make about Swedish crime fiction.

Michael Walters writes about Jo Nesbo’s excellent series featuring the complicated hero, Harry Hole. Walters comments on the translations (by Don Bartlett, who recently spoke at CrimeFest and caused a bit of swooning in the audience), their out-of-order publication in English, and Harry’s “dry-as-dust, sometimes bitter irony.”

review round-up and misanthropy to look forward to

Uriah (aka Norm) reviews Jo Nesbo’s Redeemer – “absolutely superb crime fiction” – which I am eager to read.

Peter Rozovsky comments on the music references in Redeemer, and what they say about change in a detective character who is maturing. He also points to an earlier instance of a music reference demonstrating how very funny some Scandinavian writers can be.

And if you think stuffed animals for characters was a one-off aberation in Scandinavian crime fiction which is otherwise straightforward realism, Karen Meek of Euro Crime points out a forthcoming translation of Unfun by Matias Faldbakken. The  summary bears repeating:

Using the dramaturgy of the rape/revenge flicks of the Seventies as a framework for his narrative, Faldbakken cooks up a grotesquely hilarious and challenging story about the crew around the online slasher game ”Deathbox”, at the center of which are the ’violence intellectual’ Slaktus and his former girlfriend and victim Lucy, an anarchist who embodies the horror film’s Final Girl trope. Problematizing concepts of oppression, freedom, and power in different contexts, Faldbakken lets Lucy meet out revenge on her oppressors in a narrative littered with references to popular culture, which bears Faldbakken’s trademark of being at once seriously disturbing and highly entertaining.

One decidedly unfun tradition for translations, however, is preserved here – we’ll get to read the third book in a trilogy first. But who can resist a trilogy titled “Scandinavian Misanthropy?”

And catching up on all the news that fit to feed – among FriendFeed friendsShots Magazine has an interview with Camilla Lackberg, Reg reports that Stieg Larsson won the Books Direct Crime Thriller of the Year award at the Galaxy British Book Awards, which apparently is called “the Nibbies.” CrimeFic Reader has more at It’s a Crime! (Or a Mystery). And Random Jottings has good things to say about Lackberg’s The Preacher, which she found a “tightly plotted, well thought out thriller” that was less morose than she expected from watching Branagh’s Wallander.

Nesbo speaks

I’ve signed up for a mysterious little Internets-thingy called FriendFeed that makes RSS feed aggregators social and am now receiving updates on crime fiction from multiple sources. (Thanks, Maxine!) One of the links that I discovered is a short interview with Jo Nebso posted at This Writing Life. One interesting tidbit – when asked how he got started writing, he responded that he read a lot first. “I basically postponed writing as long as I could, that was until I was 37. Then I started writing like a madman.”

No kidding – he has quite a long list in the Harry Hole series already, and each volume is quite long, generally 500 pages or more. But they fly by all too quickly.

Meanwhile, over at International Noir, Glenn Harper ponders Asa Larsson’s The Black Path, which he reckons is her best book yet. He makes some fascinating points about the book, including some great insights about one of the characters living in the future, and concludes “blogging and conversing in the crime-fiction blogosphere is proving to be a great way to think about what crime writers are doing and what crime fiction does and can accomplish in terms of both fiction writing and the relationship of the genre to contemporary life.” Very true – especially at his blog.

Nesbo’s Nemesis

If you haven’t read Jo Nesbo‘s Harry Hole series, what on earth are you waiting for? You think they’re too long? Nah. The pages fly by. Think you’ve had enough alcoholic detectives? Harry’s different. You think you’ve OD’d on Mankell and another gloomy Nordic detective is too much? He’s actually pretty funny at times. Witness this snip from Nemesis:

Given Waaler’s view on skin colour, it was a paradox for Harry that his colleague spent so much time in the solarium, but perhaps it was true what one wag had said: Waaler wasn’t actually a racist. He was just as happy beating up neo-Nazis as blacks.

I have yet to have the pleasure of reading this entry in the series, but I’m looking forward to it. Having read the first two to be translated into English, I know Nebso will deliver a thriller with rich characters, lots of action, and the grounding in social issues that Scandinavians seem to effortlessly incorporate into their entertainment. And don’t just take my word for it. Uriah predicts Nebso is on his way to becoming Europe’s top crime writer.

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.