Tag Archives: James Thompson

Happy Easter Crime!

Påskekrim

creative commons licensed photo courtesy of Rockspilden

The Spectator has a fascinating article about the origins of Påskekrim, Norway’s tradition of reading crime fiction at Easter. It seems a couple of enterprising guerrilla marketers of the late 19th century placed and ad for their novel about a train robbery that looked very like a news headline in Aftenposten. A tradition was born. As Norwegians head to their country cottages for the holidays, they take candy and entertaining books with them. The article goes on to profile worthy Norwegian writers, Anne Holt and Jørn Lier Horst, as well as a selection of Swedish and Danish recommendations.

The Newtown Review of Books, from Sydney, Australia, has a detailed review of Antti Tuomainen’s dystopian futuristic thriller set in Helsinki, The Healer.  Jean Bedford concludes, ” it is the juxtaposition of the rather gallant existentialism of the protagonists with the self-preservation and venality of most of the other characters that adds depth and texture to raise this dystopian crime novel well out of the ordinary.”

I have a copy on its way to me, and I am looking forward to it. In an email to me, critic Paula The HealerArvas wrote “it’s one piece of quality crime writing!” She also recommends Pekka Hiltunen’s Cold Courage which will be out in June. For more from Finland, see the website of the FELT Cooperative.

At Reviewing the Evidence, there are several Scandinavian crime novels reviewed this week. John Cleal finds Mons Kallentoft’s Autumn Killing complex, dark, splendidly written, and a bit of work for the reader – but well worth it.

Yvonne Klein finds some of the plot devices in Silenced, Kristina Ohlsson’s second novel, awfully shopworn, and isn’t taken with the characters, though the book does provide a picture of Swedish approaches to justice.

Anne Corey is enthusiastic about Helsinki Blood, the latest brutal and dark entry in James Thompson’s Kari Vaara series. (Thompson is an American living in Finland, where his books were first published.) Though it focuses on Vaara’s attempts to salvage a what’s left of his life after the violence of the previous book in the series, it ends on a hopeful note and a possible new direction for the series.

In an earlier issue of RTE, I reviewed Tursten’s Golden Calf, which I felt was a strong entry in the series that has interesting things to say about the way wealth distorts people’s values.

Jose Ignacio Escribano reviews Arne Dahl’s Misterioso (apa The Blinded Man) finding it well-written, intelligent, a tad slow in places, and very much in the social critique tradition of SJowall and Wahloo.  The BBC is airing a television series based on Dahl’s Intercrime novels starting in April. (Hat tip to Euro Crime.)

He previously reviewed Last Will by Liza Marklund, which he gives top marks, saying it’s an engrossing story that does a good job of weaving together the investigation and Annika Bengtzon’s personal life.

Margot Kinberg puts Jørn Lier Horst’s Dregs in the spotlight – part of her series in which she examines how a particular mystery works in depth. This episode is dedicated to Maxine Clarke, who was one of the first to review this book.

Andalucian Friend - USAt Crimepieces, Sarah Ward reviews Alexander Söderberg’s Andalucian Friend, which she enjoyed – with reservations. The story’s strength is in its well-drawn characters, but the non-stop action and attendant hype left her wondering what all the fuss is about.

More reviews of Söderberg’s novel can be found at The Book Reporter (which finds it an epic powerhouse of a novel), Metro (which is less enamored, finding the female lead lacking and the violence over the top), and Kirkus (which deems it promising but with issues).

rounding up the reviews

What a lot of reviews appear in the weeks since I last compiled them! And a very interesting mix, too.

India has its aficionados of Nordic crime. Among them is Anantha Krishnan, who reviews for a number of online sources. A recent example is this review in Midwest Book Review of Camilla Lackberg’s The Stonecutter.  Ananth feels Lackberg’s strengths are in character development and setting more than plot. (I have to agree.)

Maxine Clark reviews Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom’s new thriller, Cell 8, finding it disappointingly ham-fisted in its treatment of an issue, capital punishment. She found the lead character unappealing and the use of coincidence and thin character development in the service of Making a Serious Point less than satisfying. She does point out that fans of political thrillers looking for a fast read may enjoy it.

Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise had a different experience reading Cell 8 – she found it well-paced and ingeniously plotted, with a nice ironic touch at the end. She also has done a bit of digging and points out that this book was published after Box 21 but before Three Seconds.

At the Independent, Barry Forshaw is also generally positive about the book, noting its strong political message, but concluding “the duo never lose sight of one imperative: to keep the readers transfixed with a mesmerising crime narrative.”

At Euro Crime, the founder and genius-in-chief,  Karen Meek, reviews the latest in Kjell Ericksson’s Ann Lindell series, The Hand that Trembles. Though she finds the series uneven, this book was largely enjoyable after a sluggish start set in India and should appeal to those who prefer depth of characters over pacing and thrills. Unfortunately the production leaves much to be desired, with many problems a good proof-reading would have fixed.

Glenn Harper reviews Jo Nesbo’s standalone, Headhunters, and found it good fun except for the disgusting bits. It sounds very different than the Harry Hole series.

At The View from the Blue House, Rob Kitchen praises Arnaldur Indridason’s Outrage, which he finds layered, philosophical, and reflective while doing, as usual, a good job of mixing mundane daily life with a police investigation.

At Murder by Type Beth reviews Hakan Nesser’s The Unlucky Lottery which she finds a solid character-driven novel that explores what happens when friends win a lottery and it opens up a can of problems.

Three reviews for the price of one at Killer Reads – where readers comment on James Thompson’s Lucifer’s Tears, a Finnish mystery I enjoyed very much.

Keishon reviews Asa Larsson’s The Blood Spilt and gives it – and all of her books – high marks, though she found the ending a bit predictable.

At Crimepieces, Sarah reviews Jorn Lier Horst’s Dregs, which she feels has the qualities that she most enjoys in Scandinavian crime fiction – while sharing the unfortunate fate of being translated out of order.

Bernadette also reviews Dregs at Reactions to Reading and encourages publishers to give English-speaking readers more volumes in this smart, enjoyable series.

Beth at Murder by Type reviews Sara Blaedel’s Call Me Princess which she enjoyed, but cautions readers that it is being compared to all the wrong books; it’s much lighter fare than Stieg Larsson, though like the Millennium Trilogy, it’s about violence against women. If approached on its own merits, Beth thinks it’s well worth a read.

She also reviews The Leopard by Jo Nesbo, which she enjoyed very much, but which has an off-puttingly violent first chapter. Sounds like one to read with your eyes closed – or as she puts it, “the first chapter is unforgettable, which is why I wish I hadn’t read it. ” The other 94 chapters make up for it.

NancyO reviews Midwinter Sacrifice by Mons Kallentoft, which she finds very good and atmospheric, though she’s not convinced that the device of including the voices of the dead is particularly effective. (Or, as she puts it in the comment stream, “the series has potential to be very good but LOSE THE GHOSTY stuff!”

Kerry at Mysteries in Paradise listened to an audio version of Roseanna, the first in the Martin Beck series and finds it “a masterpiece of suspense and sadness.”

Norm at Crimescraps undertakes a reading of The Dinosaur Feather by Sissel-Jo Gazan and describes the experience with a great deal of humor, while providing a review. (Far too much backstory and subplotting in a doorstop of a book hides a good 300-page story hidden among 536 pages.)

And at Reviewing the Evidence I review Arne Dahl’s Misterioso, which seems to me closer to the Martin Beck series than any other Swedish crime fiction that is said to be inspired by Martin Beck. Though it seemed slow to start, I ended up enjoying it very much, and found the context – Sweden’s 1999 financial crisis – to be almost eerily topical and Dahl’s take on it spot-on.

The Euro Crime blog brings the good news that Maj Sjowall has been awarded the Big Caliber Prize of Honour at the International Festival of Crime Fiction, in Wroclaw, Poland. And well deserved it is, too.

The blog also provides a public service by alerting readers to a completely unnecessary and confusing title change. (Camilla Lackberg’s The Stranger = The Gallows Bird. Don’t be fooled into buying it twice.)

On the film and television front, Martin Scorsese will be directing a big screen version of Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman.

Much excitement is mounting over David Fincher’s version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, thanks to which it’s back on the New York Times‘ bestseller list. The New York Times just ran a profile of Fincher and his thoughts on the film. I won’t try to capture the buzz around the film, as that avalanche would quickly bury everything else here.

Though not actually crime fiction, we might as well mention that Henning Mankell’s Italian Shoes is being directed by Kenneth Branagh and will feature Judy Dench and (possibly) Anthony Hopkins.

But for sheer silliness, it’s hard to beat the clash of British and Scandinavian policing in the Hürda Gürda Mürder.

Lotsa Links

 

 

Oh, my – what a lot of links have been collecting in my inbox since I last rounded up reviews and articles.

 

Peter reviews The Gallows Bird, the fourth book in Camilla Lackberg’s series set in picturesque Fjällbacka, and finds it’s satisfying, if not the best in the series. He also has a look at The Tattooed Girl, a collection of essays about the Millennium Trilogy which turns out to be more interesting than it looks at first glance, being put together by someone who previously revealed the secrets of Dan Brown for obsessives who can’t get enough of their favorite books. (I am reviewing this for Reviewing the Evidence; I agree with Peter, it looked awful but has some interesting material.)

Writing in the Saudi Gazette, Susanna Tarbush reads Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy with particular interest in the Syrian immigrant who becomes the hero’s assistant, Assad.

Keith of Books and Writers found Kari Vaara, hero of James Thompson’s Snow Angels, a compelling protagonist that he hopes to see more of.

Maddy Van Hertbruggen reviews K.O.Dahl’s The Last Fix for Reviewing the Evidence and finds it well-plotted and engaging.

Keith Walters at Books and Writers likes Karin Alvtegen’s Missing and mentions there’s a film adaptation.

Jose Ignacio Escribano reviews Johann Theorin’s Echoes from the Dead – bilingually!

Keishon reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Redeemer and makes it sound so good that several commenters indicate they’ll be including Nesbo in their future reading.  (Good call, by the way.)

At Bookgasm, Mark Rose is not impressed by Lars Keppler’s The Hypnotist.

Nor is Bernadette by Roslund and Hellstrom’s Three Seconds, which she reckons would be more accurately titled 56,820 seconds. Score! (I admit, I also found the first half very slow going, and had trouble finding any characters who were sympathetic. It picked up in the second half, but likeable characters were still thin on the ground. I liked Box 21 a great deal more.)

A blogger named Susan has coined a new sub-genre: Snoir, featuring dark themes in a cold and icy setting.  Brrr.

There’s an interesting comparison of translations at To Be Read in two parts, comparing the first English translation of Liza Marklund’s Studio Sex (Studio 69) with a new one by Neil Smith, now titled Exposed. It’s quite surprising to see the variations alongside the original Swedish.

Swedish Book Review takes a look at the last Erik Winter novel, titled appropriately Den sista vintern (The Final Winter). Though Ake Edwardson has said in interviews that he is turning away from crime fiction, the reviewer, Irene Scobbie, hopes he will be tempted to continue writing about a newly-introduced character who could carry further stories.

Also in Swedish Book Review, Tom Geddes reviews Björn Larsson’s Döda poeter skriver inte kriminalromaner (Dead Poets Can’t Write Crime Fiction), a spoof on the popularity of crime fiction, including a book within the book with the title The Man Who Hated the Rich.

At the site you will also find a review of Johann Theorin’s next book, The Quarry, somewhat unusually written by Theorin’s English translator, as well as reviews of new books by Camilla Ceder and Lief G.W. Persson.

A Work in Progress reviews Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment and considers Ceder a writer to watch.

Maxine Clarke reports at Euro Crime that she very much enjoyed Mari Jungstedt’s The Dead of Summer, fifth in the author’s Gotland-set series. Norm also liked it quite a lot.

She wasn’t as enthusiastic about Danish author Sissel-Jo Gazan’s first foray into English translation, The Dinosaur Feather, which suffers from a surfeit of backstory but picks up in the final 200 pages.

A blogger who is reading a book a week has mixed feelings about Henning Mankell’s The White Lioness, which has interesting things to say about race and politics but strays far afield from the main character.

Kim Forrester (Kimbofo) thinks Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen, is terrific. Norm is hoping the translator is hard at work on more in the series.  Rob Kitchen also reviews the first of the Department Q series and concludes that, though it’s melodramatic and implausible in places, it’s generally a good read and just the job before a trip to Denmark. And Ali Karim, our enterprising super-fan, is interviewed at Pulp Pusher about Mercy and other books that he is excited about.

Rob also reviews Leif Davidsen’s The Serbian Dane, which he feels has good character development but not much tension.

Mrs. Peabody thinks there’s a touch of melodrama in Karin Alvtegen’s Shadow but nevertheless recommends it.

Leslie Gilbert Elman gives Camilla Lackberg a strong endorsement, recommending her to readers whose only exposure to Scandinavian crime fiction is through Stieg Larsson, whose work she doesn’t admire.

Susan White enjoyed Henning Mankell’s The Man from Beijing, now out in paperback, and reviews it for Euro Crime, where Maxine Clarke also reviews Jan Costin Wagner’s Finnish-set Winter of the Lions, recommending it for those who have already read and enjoyed Ice Moon. Mrs. Peabody fills in the gaps by reviewing the middle book in the series, Wagner’s Silence, and rates it very highly.

Darrel Squires recommends The Snowman to readers in Newfoundland and Labrador, calling it a good choice for “fans of dark, atmospheric crime fiction.” The Winnipeg Free Press reports Nesbo as “a bit annoyed” at being compared to Larsson on the cover of his latest book because he thinks their styles are different. (Also, he’s not Swedish – but I’m being picky.) And in the U.S., the Fredricksburg (Virginia) Free-Lance Star has a short and positive review of The Snowman.

Carrying this comparative nonsense to its logical extreme, The Mark proclaims Norwegian fiction is the new Swedish fiction. This is actually just a way to introduce a short video interview with Nesbo, who doesn’t say anything you don’t already know, except that Norway has a lot of serial killers (said with a straight face).

NancyO has lots of praise for Nesbo’s The Leopard, though some of it is over the top and other parts are slow-moving (“to the point where you think you might be trying to crawl through jello”). Still, she rates it her favorite in the series.

Wendy Lasser wrote at length about Nesbo at Slate a month ago. She opens her essay with speculations about the overall excellence of Scandinavian crime fiction and the way it combines cat-and-mouse detection with social critique and proposes some possible reasons for the Nordic countries’ high crime fiction rate:

Perhaps we can attribute this in part to the small size of these far northern countries, their relatively homogenous populations, their stable cultural traditions—a setting, in short, in which murders (and especially serial murders) stand out starkly and beg for analysis. Or maybe this wider focus is connected to the firmly if mildly socialist perspective of even the most conservative Scandinavian governments, a view in which individual behavior contributes to or detracts from the public welfare. Possibly the dark, cold, long winters also have a role: With those extreme alternations between everlasting night and midnight sun, the Swedes, Danes, and Norwegians may be more likely than the rest of us to reflect on the role of environment in shaping character. The citizens of these countries also seem unusually alert to their own national pasts (unlike Americans, say, for whom the mid-twentieth-century is already History), and this in turn makes them more likely to seek cause and effect in these collective historical influences. In any event, what all these factors add up to is a worldview that places the criminal at the center of a social web. This is not necessarily what makes Scandinavian mysteries addictive—that can probably be attributed to the typical thriller qualities of suspense and surprise—but it is what makes them remarkably satisfying.

She goes on to discuss the Harry Hole series and concludes that while his latest novels are compelling and fun, they are more focused on furiously-paced fun than on developing a solid story. Commenting on The Leopard, Lasser speculates that Hole’s multiple near-death experiences bespeak the author’s wish to kill him off, and “the increasingly ludicrous violence makes the plot seem like something made for TV.”

I haven’t read The Leopard yet, but I tend to see the same trajectory, finding both The Devil’s Star and The Snowman as less rewarding than the earlier books in the series, though it seems a large number of readers feel the opposite and enjoy the recent books the most.

Metro has a short interview with Henning Mankell; the most interesting bit is that he once lived in an unfurnished flat and sat on the floor, using his oven door as a desk (and the oven light as a desk lamp); that’s rather clever. Ikea should look into it.

Rick Salutin of the Toronto Star thinks about Canadian politics from a Scandinavian crime perspective – seeing a willingness to examine society, not just individual culpability.

Norm considers the features of a newly-named species, the Scandi-book fan, of the genus Chattering Classes.

The Hollywood Reporter covers the presence of three directors from Nordic countries at the Cannes film festival – all with films in non-Nordic languages. It’s not just book labels touting the Next Stieg Larsson: “Post-Millennium, everyone is hunting for the next big Nordic crime franchise.” Oh dear.

Pan Macmillan has bought rights to a novelization of the popular television series, The Killing.

And speaking of Denmark, the Copenhagen Post has a profile of several Danish writers whose work will be released in the US this year – Jussi Adler-Olsen (whose Department Q kick-off will be called The Keeper of Lost Causes in the U.S. instead of the British title Mercy; it will appear in the US in August), Sara Blædel (Call Me Princess, also in August) and the co-authors Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis (The Boy in the Suitcase, to be released in November).

Sarah Weinman has written a surprising and rather scandalous profile of Niclas Salomonsson, the incredibly young agent to most of the biggest names in Scandinavian crime fiction. Like the sordid family squabble over Stieg Larsson’s fortune, it seems particularly shocking for Sweden. You couldn’t make this stuff up – though many of his clients do something fairly close.

Review: Lucifer’s Tears by James Thompson

Lucifer’s Tears, the follow-up to Snow Angels, Thompson’s first mystery to be published in English, once again showcases the author’s considerable strengths, not the least of which is excellent writing. Both stories are narrated in the first-person voice of Inspector Kari Vaara, a troubled but deeply moral cop facing difficult odds. It again has a vividly realized (and very cold) Finnish setting with cultural interpretation provided by Vaara’s American wife, who is adjusting to an unfamiliar society. And in this book, as in the first of the series, Vaara is investigating a vicious and violent sex crime. But while I found great strengths in the first book, particularly in the setting and the stylish writing, I am even more deeply impressed by this book, which has all that plus an absorbing and well-constructed plot paired with engaging character development.

The title comes from the opening passages, in which Vaara reflects on his home: “Finland. The ninth and innermost circle of hell. A frozen lake of blood and guilt formed from Lucifer’s tears, turned to ice by the flapping of his leathery wings.”

He has moved from the rural north to Helsinki. Though he misses his hometown, north of the Arctic Circle, his wife was offered an opportunity to advance her career and live in a place less isolated. He has been promised a spot on Helsinki’s homicide squad, though he has been sidelined for months, awaiting the opportunity to be part of a crack team that has successfully closed every case for nearly two decades. When he finally gets his chance, he gets a double-barreled shot at failure. Just as he and his intelligent but immature sidekick Milo get to investigate a gruesome crime that is more complicated than it seems, he has also been asked to talk to an elderly military hero who is at risk of extradition over alleged war crimes. Vaara is chosen for that bit of quiet diplomacy because his beloved grandfather was in the same unit as the hero. But he soon learns something that is disturbing: both men fought on the side of the Nazis against the Russians and were involved in executing Jewish prisoners in a camp located in a part of Karelia that ended up in Soviet hands. Finnish officials hope Vaara can make it go away. They don’t want their hero’s reputation tarnished—nor does the public want to confront their own complicated past.

In addition to these two intriguing plot lines, Vaara’s American wife is pregnant again after losing twins. He doesn’t want to worry her, but he’s been suffering from excruciating headaches. Another pair of headaches arrive in human form, his brother- and sister-in-law, visiting from America. His wife essentially raised them after their mother’s death, but they have grown into strangers, her brother turning into an extravagant alcoholic, her sister a repressed and judgmental Christian. Their collisions with Finnish culture – and with each other – add an extra dimension of conflict to the story, which moves along at a smart clip.

The two plotlines twist and twine together, offering the reader a look at Finland’s complicated past, in which Finns fought fiercely for independence, trapped between Nazis and Russians, between their own pro- and anti-communist factions. Now the Soviet menace is gone, but corrupt thugs from the New Russia require a new balancing act from the country that has long absorbed the shocks between Russia and the West. For non-Finnish readers, the book offers and absorbing peek into the history and turmoil that has shaped Finland; for Finns it may well rip off the scabs of the turmoil that formed the nation. The character of Arvid Lahtinen, the 90-year-old war hero, is a marvelous invocation of the complicated, cunning, and shrewd politicking that underlies Finnish independence. The conclusion of the book weaves together the plots and the emotional threads in a manner that is both exhilarating in its brio and quietly but profoundly moving.  Highly recommended.

James Thompson is an American-born writer who has long lived in Finland and was first published in Finnish translation. You can read an interview with the author here. Cathy has also reviewed the book at her blog, Kittling: Books.

Interview with James Thompson, Author of Lucifer’s Tears

I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of Jim Thompson’s second Inspector Vaara novel, a follow-up to Snow Angels. I will be posting a review here soon–and in case you’re wondering, I loved the book–but meanwhile, Jim kindly agreed to answer some of my questions.

Tell us a little about yourself and how you became a resident of Finland. What draws you to the country?

It’s a common tale. I came here with a Finnish girl. The relationship didn’t last, but by that time my life was here: work, friends, I had just been accepted to The University of Helsinki. It’s a world class university and tuition-free for residents, and I wanted an education. I didn’t really have anything in the States to go back to, so I just stayed. By the time I finished my Master’s degree, a decade had passed. Now it’s been thirteen years. I’m married to a Finn. Making my home here was never really a conscious decision. I just sort of came here and never left. Now, culturally, I’m more comfortable here than anywhere else and have no desire to leave.

Your first book was set in the north of Finland during “kaamos” and had a very atmospheric, remote setting. Lucifer’s Tears moves Inspector Vaara to Helsinki. Why the change in setting?

It was largely a practical decision. Kittilä, where Snow Angels is set, has a population of less than six thousand people. If the series continues for some years, I would have to kill off about half of them, and that’s not realistic. Also, so much more happens here in the capital. It gives me a chance to explore more about Finnish culture than just small town life.

The books are in the first person from the perspective of a Finnish man married to an American woman, which provides American readers a chance to learn a bit about Finland. Do you find that Finnish readers respond to the books differently than American readers? Have you encountered differences in the things they particularly grab hold of?

Snow Angels and its sequel, Lucifer’s Tears, to be released in the U.S. on March 17th, have sold to publishers in about ten countries, eight or nine languages, and I guess you can buy Snow Angels in twenty countries or more, so I get feedback from the perspective of readers from many cultures. Yes, Finns and people from other countries filter the books differently as they read. I’m introducing Finland to international readers, whereas for Finns, I’m writing homegrown literature. In fact, the Finnish editions are slightly different (Lucifer’s Tears will be my fourth novel released in Finland). All the exposition about Finland that everyone here knows is cut out of the novels, so I don’t bore them to tears. I think Finns tend to read my novels with a more critical eye, because I’m a foreigner, always asking themselves if the story details ring true to them, call to mind their own life experiences. In this, I feel like I’ve been successful. Snow Angels sold very well here, and many people have told me how much the book has reminded them of their own lives. Occasionally, I get complaints that I’m portraying Finland as a nation where everyone is drunk or crazy, which is of course not the case. I write dark, noir fiction. I don’t work for the Finnish Board of Tourism. Sometimes, people here fail to understand that.

Lucifer’s Tears involves delving into history in a way that does not necessarily cast Finland’s leaders in a good light and challenges Finns to think about a past many have deliberately forgotten. Do you think raising these issues so pointedly will be controversial in Finland? Is this a debate already in the air there?

The Second World War is considered by many the crowning moment in Finnish history. It has developed into a mythological event. For Americans, this is something that may be difficult to understand, since that nation has been at war more or less since its inception, but Finland hasn’t been in a war since WWII, and although technically, it lost the war, little Finland fended off the mighty Russian bear, and the country is justly proud of it. I’ve written nothing in Lucifer’s Tears that hasn’t previously appeared in academic works, mostly read by few, but to my knowledge, the issue hasn’t been addressed in fiction, in an accurate yet critical way. I expect that my treatment of the subject may infuriate a great many people. I didn’t write this revanchist history for that purpose, but because after digging in researching, I found the issues raised fascinating, and I think others, both here and abroad, will share that fascination.

As in your first novel to be published in English, a sexually promiscuous woman is murdered gruesomely. Have you thought about killing a guy next time? Just wondering.

In the second book in the series, Lucifer’s Tears, the primary crime is also the murder of a woman. However, I’m now finishing the third in the series, tentatively titled True Finns, several murders take place, and most of the victims are male. There are female victims of crimes, but the story isn’t focused on solving the murder of a female to the extent that it is in both Snow Angels and Lucifer’s Tears. True Finns, more than anything else, revolves around high level political corruption.

In Lucifer’s Tears, family relationships for both the hero and his wife play a role. To riff off Tolstoy’s famous quote that unhappy families are all unhappy in their own ways, how would you describe the problems these families have, and in what way do these characters draw out cultural differences between Finland and the US? (sorry, that sounds like a book group guide question.)

I’ll leave it to the reader to discover the problems that the protagonist and his wife have with their own families. When their families meet though, the cultural differences between Americans and Finns cause the two families to clash, and those cultural differences are exposed, I think, quite poignantly.

You were contracted for another two books in the series. But (without giving spoilers) the ending of Lucifer’s Tears caught me by surprise. What’s next for Vaara?

In Book 3, True Finns, Vaara’s boss realizes that Kari Vaara has talents that could best be utilized outside of Helsinki homicide, and he moved Vaara to a division of the police similar to the American FBI, and placed in charge of his own team. He has a great deal of autonomy—answers only to the national chief of police—and the challenges that he must face in his new position often can’t be solved by methods that are strictly legal.

Thanks for indulging my questions. I look forward to reading True Finns!

For those who want to know more about the books, check out Jim’s Website. To know more about Finland and how to mix a drink also named Lucifer’s Tears, check out his blog.

un-Finnish-ed business

Peter would like the Finnish writing community to get a bit more proactive about promoting their writers so we can get more English translations. He mentions the small publisher, Ice Cold Crime, but thinks there’s a lot of good stuff that we’re overlooking. Peter also recently reviewed Matti Joensuu’s To Steal Her Love, which he think is terrific and very Finnish.

James Thompson introduces a Finnish – uh, or maybe not Finnish, a citizen of the world – Joel Kuntonen who has traveled nearly everywhere on a Finnish passport but hates snow.  Jim also points out that Stieg Larsson is dead; get over it already, and writes a love song to Bill Gates, Sergey Brin, and Larry Page while under the influence of painkillers, a root canal, and a migraine. It has touches of Dan Brown. Just don’t piss off his lawyer.

As we are on the subject of Finland, I must give a shout-out to Pulpetti, “short reviews and articles on pulps and paperbacks, adventure, sleaze, hardboiled, noir, you name it. Peppered with some comments on everyday life of a writer and politics (mainly in Finland) and also some very, very high-brow literature.” The author publishes, among many, many other things, the crime fic magazine Isku, not to be confused with Iskra, Lenin’s little Communist Manifesto fanzine.

And whilst I’m at it – aw shucks – sometimes in the next month or two my book, Pyhimysmurha, will be published by Nemo, translated by Pekka Makkonen. Extremely loud “kiitos” to Pekka for pulling this off. The title appears to mean “Saint Homicide.” (The original idiomatic English title, In the Wind, didn’t work.) I like this one, though I am not sure how to pronounce it. PEEhimmisMURha? I will have to light a candle to this patron saint of murder.

photo of sticker art in Tampere, Finland courtesy of katutaide; photo of the altar de muertos courtesy of uteart-traveling.

is this a dagger I see?

The International Dagger shortlist is out and three of the six contenders are from you-know-where.  (And oh! one of the judges is You Know Who! What an inspired choice.) Kerrie has already read the half, and gave two of them top marks. Norm’s handicapping the race at Crime Scraps and thinks two are long shots.

Karen (aka You Know Who!) points out a July 4th interview with Henning Mankell at BBC’s Open Book.

Beth at Murder by Type found that James Thompson’s Snow Angels was violent, disturbing, and includes “the repeated use of a term most Americans shun” – and she couldn’t put it down. The harsh setting and the ways Finns deal with the cold and dark provides a compelling setting, and while she averted her eyes from some bits, she concludes “this is going to be a series well worth following.”

Glenn at International Noir Fiction has a detailed review of Lief G. W. Persson’s Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End, soon to be released in the US by Pantheon, translated from the Swedish by Paul Norlen. It sounds like a cynical and sometimes comical book about cold war politics with a side of misogyny. (I will be reviewing it myself by the end of summer, which is when it’s due for release.)

Steig Larrson’s biographer, Barry Forshaw, reports on a panel at the Swedish ambassador’s residence in which he asked Hakan Nesser and Johann Theorin about Larsson’s picture of modern Sweden as a country riddled with corruption and high-level conspiracies rather than the socially equitable, sexually unfettered, and rather earnest place that most non-Swedes imagined before reading the Millennium Trilogy.

“Larsson’s is not really the Sweden I know,” said Håkan Nesser. ‘But if you dig deep it gets very dark sooner or later. On any soil, in any country.” So is Nesser unsympathetic to Larsson’s paranoid view of Sweden? “No,I’d say that Stieg wrote with a certain poetic licence. On the other hand, he was more deeply involved with clandestine aspects of the Swedish society than I am, where the high and mighty are the worst of crooks…’ He smiles: ‘Well, it’s nice to read about conspiracy theories — it’s the poor man’s justification. It feels good to watch your rich neighbour’s fall from grace, doesn’t it?”

Johan Theorin, a more laid-back personality than Nesser, concedes that “The characters, the sexuality and the violence are, of course, over the top; as to the characters, I’ve met men whose personalities remind me a little of Mikael Blomkvist, though I have never even heard of anyone in Sweden who is similar to the fearsome Lisbeth Salander (another major character, a violent and autistic young woman). . . . We have a free press who are always hungry to expose any kind of government corruption, however small. But Stieg Larsson was an integral part of that press which constantly scrutinised the government, so perhaps he concentrated on the small misdemeanours of politicians instead of seeing that – generally — everything works quite well.’

Though Forshaw feels the critique of Sweden’s society in the trilogy is contentious among his compatriots, the writers’ diplomatic remarks seem anything but – until the end of the essay, in which Nesser says Swedes are proud of Larsson’s international success, but then, they’re also proud of Abba. (Ba da BOOM!)

reviews, favorites, and editorial suggestions

Michael Carlson has a thorough review of Johann Theorin’s The Darkest Room up at Irresistible Targets, which he considers “an incredible mix of ghost story, thriller, and very subtle whodunit.” The sense of place also plays an important role.

Like his exceptional debut novel, Echoes From The Dead, Johan Theorin’s story is deeply woven into the landscape of the Baltic island of Oland (in Swedish literally, Island Land), one which is considered unique by the island’s residents (which included my grandmother), and by Swedes in general. It’s not just a sense of setting, as it is in Mari Jungstedt’s novels set on Gotland, the next island to the east. It’s more a sense that the land itself is a force, if not a character, in the story. In his first novel, it was the bleak Alvar, and now it is the equally bleak eastern coast, and the dangerous blizzards, which in the flatness of the island, can take away one’s sense of location, sense of being, with fatal consequences.

James Thompson, American resident of Finland and author of Snow Angels, speculates about American roots of Scandinavian crime fiction in his blog, Jimland. He writes that he was not particularly aware of the Scandinavian wave until his work, first published in Finnish translation, was picked up in English. He’s more interested in American noir than Scandinavian crime fiction, which has a setting that to him is ordinary. (Oddly, the  evocative setting and the way Finns in a small northern community interact was what interested me most about Snow Angels; the plot . . . m’eh. Call me jaded.)

Anne Cleeves picks her favorite Scandinavian crime fiction, and so does Jo Nesbo, who discusses five Norwegian crime writers–including Stein Riverton, who published mysteries over a century ago.

Dorte reviews Ake Edwardson’s Nearly Dead Man, which hasn’t been translated into English yet. She reckons it could benefit from some pruning of the personal life histories and philosophy.

Maxine reviews The Woman from Bratislava by Lief Davidsen at Euro Crime and recommends it with some reservations. The bits others might prune, she feels, do pay off for the committed reader, though some parts of the book are stronger than others.

Laura Miller thinks Stieg Larsson should have pruned things, too, and is pretty snarky about it, but somehow manages to let admiration leak out in spite of her annoyance at lists and details.

What keeps Salander from turning into a cartoon like the Bride from “Kill Bill” is the unedited-documentary-footage texture of the novel’s narration. It’s this integration of the mundane and the mythic that enables the trilogy to hold its readers in thrall.

The antagonists in the first novel were corporate; in the second they were organized criminals and their accomplices. “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” beards the ultimate villains in their den: abusers of legitimate state authority, specifically the Swedish Security Service, or Säpo, the national police. “I don’t believe in collective guilt,” says Blomkvist, that authorial sock puppet, and so Larsson takes great care to illustrate that the “system” isn’t inherently to blame, but rather individuals who warp it for their own ends.

The climax of “Hornet’s Nest” is, naturally, a trial. Salander, who long ago (and with good cause) lost any faith in institutions or official authority, is vendetta personified, confronting the Enlightenment institution of the rule of law. One side is so satisfying, so charismatic, so immediately appealing to our instinctive sense of right and wrong; the other, as Larsson himself was no doubt aware, is the only thing keeping us from descending back into the bloody world of the Icelandic sagas. It’s a contest that still captivates us because we all feel those warring impulses within ourselves. The story may be ancient, but somehow it never gets old.

image courtesy of johany

bits and bobs

James Thompson gives Snow Angels the Page 69 test. (For the uninitiated, this is a blog where authors discuss what turns up on page 69 and what it reveals about the book; it’s part of an ambitious web of blogs that are on a Campaign for the American Reader. There is no need to wonder “what should I read next?” ever again. Ever!!!!)

Apparently Hakkan Nesser never did make it to India for the planned week focused on Scandinavian crime fiction. A certain volcano in Iceland is to blame. The party in Bangalore went on regardless and it sounds as if everyone had a good time hearing, among other things, from a Swede living in India writing a novel about Scandinavistan.

There’s a nice piece on “what I know about Iceland now that I’ve read Arnaldur Indridason” from a blogger at the Calgary public library.

And Norm (aka Uriah) reports in on his relationship with The Man from Beijing.

reviews, recipes, and tours

After being too busy at work to post, I have lots of links backed up to share …

Barry Forshaw reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman for The Independent and calls it his most ambitious book.

What sort of issues do you expect your crime fiction to cover? If you feel that personal responsibility, cracks in the welfare state and the problems of parenthood are fair game for the crime novel, then Jo Nesbø is your man. All of these (and many more) are crammed into his weighty latest book, The Snowman.

If, however, your taste is for tough and gritty narratives with a relentlessly page-turning quality, well… Jo Nesbø is still your man. That he is able to combine the urgency of the best storytellers with a keen and intelligent engagement with social issues may well be the reason why Nesbø is shaping up to be the next big name in Scandinavian crime fiction, now that Mankell is on the point of retiring Kurt Wallander and Stieg Larsson is hors de combat.

NancyO, who blogs at The Year in Books, Reviews Box 21 and finds it a great read, but nothing like Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (as it is being marketed in the US) – rather it’s “a dark book all the way through to the last page, which actually made my blood run cold. There are no feel-good or warm fuzzy moments here, no happy endings, and you will definitely have food for thought after you’ve finished.”

The Globe and Mail has a review of Henning Mankell’s Man from Beijing. The crimes that open the book turn out to be less important to the story than “the history of Chinese enslavement in America, the course of communism in China and, in the grand scheme of things, the relationship between East and West. And in those terms, it’s a great read.”

Mack captures Camilla Lackberg’s Ice Princess and pronounces it gripping and written in a style that he enjoys.

Peter reviews Liza Marklund’s Paradise and recommends it highly. He also finds The Stonecutter by Camilla Lackberg very entertaining. And at another blog (Peter gets around) he also has some words of praise for Kirsten Ekman’s Blackwater.

Camilla Lackberg names her five favorite mysteries by Scandinavian writers.

Norman (aka Uriah) is intrigued by the regional accents that define differences in Scandinavian mysteries. He also has a handy list of Harry Hole videos.  And announces an award for The Leopard which, one hopes, will be translated into English eventually.

Cathy of Kittling Books is underwhelmed by Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Last Rituals but likes the lead character.

Skye isn’t reading much lately, but she enjoyed the Branagh version of Wallander is looking forward (a bit nervously) to the film version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. She writes of the BBC series

…the three mysteries that make up the mini-series all take place around midsummer, so instead of suffering from a lack of light like so much Swedish crime fiction, they suffer from an, assumedly, intentional overabundance. The films seems hyper-saturated with light, and the irony, that even at the height of midsummer with light radiating from every crack, crime still abounds, is not lost.

Nicholas Wroe profiles Henning Mankell in The Guardian.

WETA has an interview with him.

J. Sydney Jones interviews Norwegian author K. O. Dahl at the “Scene of the Crime.”

At Euro Crime, Maxine reviews Lackberg’s The Stonecutter;  she also reviews Sjowall and Wahloo’s The Locked Room, and Michelle Peckham reviews Mankell’s The Man Who Smiled.

As she nears the end of the “alphabet of crime fiction,” Maxine discusses James Thompson’s Snow Angels finding things to like, but a denouement that didn’t hold up.

The Hypercrime blog rounds up several stories about Scandinavian crime fiction.

Ian MacDougal writes a lengthy review and analysis of the Millennium Trilogy for n+1, “The Man Who Blew Up the Welfare State,” (prompting the FriendFeed room to wonder when the fascination with Larsson will blow over). He writes that the trilogy has two themes: “the failure of the welfare state to do right by its people and the failure of men to do right by women.” And he tackles them with a kind of optimistic idealism.

The typical Swedish detective solves the crime but leaves intact what facilitates it—the broken institutions of the welfare state. The castle in the air, the delusion of a perfect progressive utopia, persists after the case is closed. For Larsson the story’s not over until the state’s blown up, if only in the reader’s mind.

Although there is an obvious analogy to recent American forays into the crime genre, like the HBO series The Wire, this only points to what sets Larsson apart—a particularly Scandinavian optimism that insists it’s never too late to effect real change. Larsson, unlike David Simon, doesn’t see institutional dysfunction as a tragic wheel driven around by some essential human flaw. Larsson the idealist believes that an opposing force, if applied strongly enough, can slow that wheel, if not bring it to a grinding halt.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel suggests some enticing recipes to go with Scandinavian crime fiction, in which too many of its heroes live on a diet of pizza.

The Times takes a Larssonized view of Stockholm. A Swedish website offers a crime-flavored tour of Sweden. And this link dates back to the blizzards that have long since melted away. A writer for the Washington Post took the Millennium Trilogy tour of Stockholm, had to buy boots for a bit of snow. Then returned home to a blizzard.