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.

an update – with a little help from my friends

Jane at the Madison (Wisconsin) public library reviews Jussi Olsen-Adler’s Keeper of Lost Causes (published as Mercy in the UK) and says it’s “a suspenseful, sometimes darkly funny, mystery thriller that is my number one book so far this year.”

Shelf Awareness dedicates an issue of its “maximum shelf” to it as well.

NancyO reviews Arnaldur Indridason’s Outrage, finding it a good addition to the series though, with its focus on Elinborg as the detective this time, she finds the domestic bits a tad overdone.

She also reviews Arne Dahl’s Misterioso, and recommends it, though it won’t deliver edge-of-the-seat thrills so much as solidly-assembled ensemble procedural work conducted by a large cast of police. She plans to read as many in the series as she can, though it has taken ages for this first English translation to actually appear.

Glenn Harper is not mesmerized by Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotist.

Peter, on the other hand, is enthusiastic about Asa Larsson’s Until Thy Wrath Be Past, the fourth book in her series about lawyer Rebecka Martinsson and Inspector Anna-Maria Mella. It also gets a thumbs up at The Bookbag, which says it’s “not strictly a police procedural, as we know pretty much what has happened from early on, but more of a psychological thriller and an intriguing mystery as to why two young people died.”

There’s an interview with Asa Larsson in The West Australian, in which she says her own past not only involves growing up in Kiruna and being a lawyer, like Rebecka Martinsson, but also a period of time involved with a fundamentalist church, which is interesting in view of the themes of her first two books.

He also gives Jarkko Sipila’s Nothing but the Truth high marks, saying it is “a very entertaining, suspenseful and excellently plotted crime fiction novel” that raises important questions about the role citizens play in criminal justice. I just recently finished this myself, and agree – review to follow soon.

Jose Ignacio Escribano thinks that Karin Fossum’s Bad Intentions is not the best of her books, but still worth a read, being disturbing, intense, and intelligent.

He also gives Arnaldur Indridason’s Voices high marks for being humane and well-written, as well as complex, dealing with the theme of stolen childhood sensitively.

Karen Meek reviews the audio version of Camilla Lackberg’s The Gallows Bird, which she feels has a rather disappointingly hole-prone plot but is nevertheless an entertaining story, nicely narrated by Eammon Riley.

Maxine Clarke thinks very highly of Johan Theorin’s third book in the Oland quartet, The Quarry, which is no doubt going to be a strong contender for the CWA’s International Dagger.

Quentin Bates has lived in Iceland, but is not an Icelander, yet makes it his fictional home. Crimeficreader (Rhian Davies) enjoyed his mystery, Frozen Out, particularly enjoying the strong female lead, ‘Gunna’ Gunnhildur Gisládottir.

Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen traveled in the opposite direction; this Danish author’s ebook mystery, The Cosy Knave, is set in Yorkshire, and has been discussed by two Australian readers, Kerrie and Bernadette, who has been in on the mystery from the start.

Bernadette also reviews Thomas Enger’s Burned, a “solid debut” that didn’t have its plot entirely under control, but has strong characters, even those that are not at all likeable.

Rohan Maitzen has a nice essay on the Martin Beck series and how it challenges those who persist in thinking crime fiction is good only when it “transcends the genre.”

Despite the persistent assumption that some literary forms are inherently more formulaic than others, all writing relies on genre markers, and “genre” itself is a notoriously unstable term, invoking categories that are both permeable and endlessly mutable. The real issue — the critical issue — is how form is used, what it enables us to discover. We shouldn’t ask whether crime fiction needs to transcend its traditional forms, but rather how those forms have evolved, and what they have made possible. . . . Sjöwall and Wahlöö are among those who show that, in the hands of visionary and capable writers, crime fiction can simply be great literature. The only transcendence required is the reader’s.

Norm and the new translator of the Annika Bengtzon series untangle the series order for us. It’s a bit unusual for a publisher to spring for all new translations of a previously translated work, unless you are Tolstoy. But, to stick to publishing tradition, they are giving books new titles to make it all more exciting to shop and are keeping the US and UK publications out of sync. Good to know they aren’t breaking all the rules.

Looks as if Leif G. W. Persson’s series about Evert Backstrom is destined for the American small screen.

Peter Rozovsky, always on the lookout for humor, finds some in Three Seconds. He also notes a lot of border-crossing going on in Swedish crime fiction that harkens back to the old days of the Hanseatic League.

Laura DeMarco rounds up lots of Scandinavian crime at the Cleveland Plain Dealer in a nicely detailed piece, with a sidebar on “ten essential authors.”

And finally, I’ve mentioned it before but I owe the Crime & Mystery Fiction friendfeed group, founded by Maxine Clarke, an enormous debt for finding and commenting on so many fascinating links related to the genre. Not only is it a good place to find out what’s going on, it’s inhabited by charming and well-read fans of the genre.

a marvelous answer to a non-question

At Petrona, Maxine rounds up crime-fiction-related commentary in the press following the dreadful terrorism in Norway, features that question whether there’s something unusual about Scandinavian countries and how their writers tackle the triggers that lead to violence; she wisely says “many of these questions are non-questions. Norwegian society is no different at some granular level from any other society.” What follows is an excellent armchair traveler’s guide to Norwegian crime fiction. She concludes:

A sense of place marks a good novel, of course, but though place provides a specific snapshot, the issues faced by us are common ones wherever we live. Crime fiction provides a most appropriate lens with which to examine such matters, often being well ahead of the curve, while enjoying a good story as we go.

Go read the whole thing – it’s superb. (And why hasn’t any major newspaper signed Maxine on as a columnist? They could do worse. In fact, they almost always do.

NPR interviews Anne Holt, a Norwegian writer who has been following extremist groups, for her insights into Norwegian society and how people like Breivik can fill up with hate. (Unfortunately the insights one gets into American society reading the comments are rather depressing. If they are a mirror to society, it’s a very warped one.)

More at The Guardian (Brian Oliver), the New York Times (Jo Nesbo), and Jakob Stugaard-Nielsen at the Nordic Noir Book Club.

Peter reports that Roslund and Hellstrom have won the CWA International Dagger award for Three Seconds.

Maxine reviews Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s The Day is Dark at Euro Crime, finding it entertaining but a bit too leisurely in its pacing; she also misses the interactions of the protagonist and her family, as this adventure takes Thora to Greenland where someone is making mischief at a mining facility.

Also at Euro Crime, Karen Meek reviews Karin Fossum’s The Caller, which sounds very chilling and very, very Fossum.

Glenn Harper at International Noir Fiction welcomes Red Wolf, the delayed translation of the sequel to Liza Marklund’s The Bomber  and wonders why such a significant writer has had such poor luck in the English language market. He also has some interesting things to say about the portrayal of the flawed main character. (And in this case, as is generally true of these blogs, the comments are well worth reading.)

On a Scandinavian tear, he also reviews Agnete Friis & Lene Kaaberbol’s The Boy in the Suitcase, the first work of this Danish team to be published in English translation, and makes me very impatient to read it.

He also reviews Arne Dahl’s Misterioso, finally published in English after many years of teasing, and finds it a satisfying police procedural somewhat more in the mold of Sjowall and Wahloo than the many books that supposedly trace their lineage to S & W.

Misterioso and Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotist are reviewed by Lynn Harnett in Seacoast Online, and gives them both a thumbs up, though with the caveat that Kepler tends to strain the suspension of disbelief. (An aside: why do newspaper websites go to such lengths to disguise the community they serve? There’s rather a lot of seacoast in the US. This one appears from the ads and various subheadings to be Casco Bay in Maine – the sort of mystery I’d rather not be bothered trying to solve.)

Norman reviews The Vault (Box 21) by Roslund and Hellstrom and says “If you read crime fiction because you want to see justice done this is not the book for you. If you like books that are truthful, very sad, and don’t pull their punches then get hold of this superb example of Swedish crime fiction that jumped straight in to my top reads of the year.” (I might add here that I thought this book far more memorable and moving than Three Seconds. The subject matter is more gripping, but also more disturbing.)

Bernadette reviews Camilla Lackberg’s The Stonecutter and compares it to an ad campaign for a non-alcoholic whiskey (??!!??): “the drink you have when you’re not having a drink.” It’s a melodrama with characters she cares about that has a crime in it. Had the crime solving been more competent, we’d have about five minutes with the characters and that wouldn’t do. (An aside: S.J.Watson wrote a novel about a woman with amnesia; his editor said “this is a thriller, only you need to make it more thrilling” – which probably explains the way the ending acts so different than the rest of the book.)

Beth at Murder by Type reviews Kjell Ericksson’s The Hand That Trembles, which sounds complex, timely, and well worth reading. Hmm … add that to the TBR.

At the Public Sphere, there’s a review of Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotist, which uses the key words grim, dark, blood-spattered, and compelling. He starts with a charming Swedish word that has no exact equivalent in English: “lagom” – just enough, just right, not too much. It’s something The Hypnotist (and several other Swedish thrillers) lacks. Hmm, that makes me wonder – which Nordic mysteries can be described with that word? 

Possibly this one. NancyO reviews Johan Theorin’s The Quarry and makes me more impatient than ever to read it. She does a good job of depicting how this author is able to write in a style that is deliberate and thoughtful and yet makes you want to keep turning the pages – all without explosions, serial murders, or conspiracies that need to be thwarted to prevent the end of the world as we know it. Some thriller writers should study this technique.

Peter Rozovsky at Detectives Beyond Borders has been reading Agnete Friis and Lene Kaaberbøl’s The Boy in the Suitcase, which sounds very interesting indeed – another one for Mount TBR.

There’s a brief interview with Maj Sjowall about the Martin Beck series at the website for Fourth Estate, a HarperCollins imprint which is reprinting the books. You can see all the covers here. Wait, is that a cousin of the man whose back is on so many covers? And perhaps second cousin to that ubiquitous running man is making an appearance, too.

Barry Forshaw, who has a new book in the wings, is interviewed by Jeff Kingston Pierce for Kirkus ; Norman responds with his thoughts on how the Nordic nations do not have a corner on social critique but rather are popular because many of the writers are very good at telling stories.

I do wonder, though, if our idea of what makes a good story might be turning a bit from the good guy/bad guy confrontation between good and pure evil to a more reality-based kind of story, which some of the best Nordic storytellers do particularly well. And perhaps, too, this is why so many of these stories being told well in Italy and Ireland and South Africa and in Scandinavia also have such a strong sense of place – when you ground your stories in some version of reality, it has geographical coordinates. But they also have a combination of interesting chain of events and characters you care about that give them passports to bookshelves in many countries.

yes, we have more links

Matthew Seamons is not impressed by Lars Keppler’s The Hypnotist, which he finds populated by flat and unsympathetic characters. The plot is clever, but the execution, he feels, lets it down.

At January Magazine, Tony Bushbaum disagrees, saying it adds up to more than the sum of its parts, has razor-sharp writing, and will be the book everyone is talking about this summer.

NancyO splits the difference with a very reasoned and thoughtful review.

CNN interviews the authors, who are planning a series of eight books. They say they originally tried to write anonymously but were found out by the media. They also say “we really need a kind of inner calm to be able to write, so we’re actually trying hard not to think about the success. ‘The Hypnotist’ has sold to more than 36 countries and has been a best-seller wherever it’s been published.” Hmm . . . maybe you need to work on that inner calm thing.

In non-hypnotic news, Peter Rozovsky has had several posts about Scandinavian crime fiction lately at his globetrotting blog, Detectives Beyond Borders. e uses a couple of quotes from Jarkko Sipila’s Helsinki Homicide: Against the Wall to introduce a question: what characteristics, if any, are common to Nordic crime fiction – and he gets lots of answers. He links to his review of The Snowman in the Philadelphia Inquirer and posts highlights of an interview he did with Jo Nesbo. And he takes some notes as he reads Harri Nykanen’s Raid and the Blackest Sheep, which he finds dark with a sprinkling of deadpan humor.

Among other mysteries, Marilyn Stasio reviews Hakan Nesser’s The Inspector and Silence, which she finds drier than most thrillers coming out of the north, with a morose and quirky hero in Van Veeteren.

Keishon reviews Jo Nesbo’s Nemesis at her blog which is (despite the name) not “just another crime fiction blog,” but a very good source of thoughtful reviews. She also recommends Johann Theorin and Arnaldur Indridason to readers who haven’t yet discovered them.

Kerri reviews Mari Jungstedt’s The Killer’s Art from her perch in paradise and finds it a bit flatter than other books in the series, but it still gets a pretty high score.

Fleur Fisher reviews The Gallows Bird and uses the occasion to unpack what it is she loves so much about Camilla Lackberg’s series and it’s “real people with real emotions.”

Maxine has early reports from Johan Theorin’s The Quarry and has made me exceedingly jealous.

Glenn Harper at International Crime Fiction reviews Mons Kallentoft’s Midwinter Sacrifice, which sounds quite unusual. Not as odd as sentient stuffed animals a la Tim Davys, but with the point of view of a corpse who apparently has not had a pleasant time of it.

Mediation’s To Be Read blog features an attempt to map Carl Mork’s Copenhagen, which has less definitive markers than Mankell’s Ystad or Larsson’s Stockholm. Still, he manages to illustrate it nicely with photos.

Stickers? We don’t need no stinking stickers, but the last one is priceless.

Rants and Reviews – a Roundup

It has been a while since I posted links – so apologies that some of these are a bit stale.

Rohan Maitzen does such a good job of rounding up reviews and criticism on “Sheer Mistery: Mankell and Scandinavian Noir” that you should go right to her blog and enjoy how she pulls it all together. Cheers! See you later!

If you’ve decide to stick around or have come back, there’s an interview with Henning Mankell at the Globe and Mail talking about The Troubled Man and the author’s own feelings about Kurt Wallander.

Kenneth Turan at the Chicago Tribune reviews The Troubled Man and the entire Wallander series, calling the final volume “a work of genuine heft and substance, a melancholy, elegiac book that is thoughtful and perceptive about memory, regret and the unfathomability of human nature.”

Norm reviews it too, and thinks it’s awfully depressing (though he’s much less snarky about it than The Guardian’s reviewer).

Peter at Scandinavian Crime Fiction points to some nifty video offerings. If you missed BBC’s Nordic Noir documentary on Time Shift, someone has uploaded that and an excerpt focused on Sjowall and Wahloo to YouTube (though the upload was not, apparently, made by Auntie Beeb herself).

Janet Rudolph of Mystery Readers International and Mystery Readers Journal muses over the history of Norway’s tradition of using the Easter holiday to read crime fiction – paasekrim.

The indispensable Euro Crime has reviews of Hakan Nesser’s The Inspector and Silence and Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Ashes to Dust.

The Seattle P.I. heads up a group of reviews with Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman.

Nesbo’s Nemesis  is reviewed at the Hersilia Press blog.

Bernadette reacts to reading Box 21 by Roslund and Hellstrom. It’s a stellar review, which I won’t try to recap here. Go read it. Cheers! See you later!

Oh, you’re back? Well, then, Kerrie in Paradise praises Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen’s first book in the Department Q series to be translated into English, The Keeper of Lost Causes (titled Mercy in the US and UK).  Dorte also gives it a thumbs-up. So does The Bookbag and Shade Point (which imagines there must be a secret installation where Scandinavian crime is created and perfected somewhere outside Bergen). I’ve just finished reading it myself, and will be writing a review before long.

Deon Meyer makes a “bold claim” that Johan Theorin is better writer than Stieg Larsson or Henning Mankell. If I were a betting woman, I’d put odds on Theorin, myself, but then, good writing and popularity have never been tightly correlated.

Glenn Harper reviews Jan Costin Wagner’s Finnish-set novel Silence, a follow-up to Ice Moon. A third in the series is apparently due out soon.

Jo Nesbo is not unsurprisingly a little tired of being called “the next Stieg Larsson” but has lots of interesting things to say in a Washington Post interview.

Nancy O thinks Nesbo’s The Snowman is terrific, and recommends enjoying the series in order.

Keishon also recommends reading it in order and points us to a Wall Street Journal profile in which the Norwegian author again denies being Stieg Larsson’s twin. I’m also reminded by the fact that in the years between the UK publication of Devil’s Star and the US, our copy lived in our interlibrary loan office – it was constantly in demand. Frustrating when publication dates are so spread out.

Keishon also has a positive review of Asa Larsson’s Sunstorm.

Jose Ignacio Escribano has some reservations about The Leopard, but still finds it worth reading, though not as top-notch as other books in the series.

Mrs. Peabody reviews Mankell’s The Man from Beijing and particularly enjoys the strong female characters if not every element of the sprawling plot.

David Wright offers a quiz – which is the name of a writer, which an IKEA furnishing? – at the Seattle Public Library’s blog, Shelf Talk. (Readers of this blog would ace the test.)

Keishon wonders if the comparisons will ever cease. Norm wonders, too, and has a hilarious take on the “next Stieg Larsson” nonsense, writing “I was very relieved to discover that the Royal Wedding dress did not have a marketing sticker on it that said ‘The Next Princess Diana’.”

film and fiction in review

A quick round-up before the craziness of the fall semester starts up . . .

A graduate student in computational linguistics named Joshua points out that there is too much variety among Swedish crime writers to consider Swedish crime fiction a genre, and he offers this comparison as evidence: “in the schoolyard of Swedish crime fiction, Theorin is the studious nerd and Mankell and Larsson are the big kids.” He thinks Theorin’s books are not nearly as engaged or challenging as those that offer more social critique and are more or less harmless entertainments. (Or, to put it bluntly, “beach reads.” While I like social critique, I think Theorin’s just dandy without that element, myself.)

In a previous blog post, the blogger has very positive things to say about the film version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  And they’re smart and thoughtful comments well worth reading.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (”Men Who Hate Women” in the original) is basically the perfect movie at this point in time. It’s socially conscious without being PC, it’s atmospheric but not artsy, it’s an intelligent thriller that’s neither ironic, nor overly reliant on plot twists. It’s a genre film that’s about more than genre commentary. I loved it.

I loved it because it’s slow. It doesn’t seem like it will be just at first: you’re plunged down into the middle of a libel suit with a helpful reporter narrating the setup on the evening news. But from there we see a bunch of seemingly unconnected scenes, so it’s alright. We trust they’ll get around to having all these people meet each other – and they do.

I loved it because it’s fun. The protagonist (erm, one of them) basically gets hired to solve a locked room mystery involving a bunch of rich people who live on an island. Why not? Why should we be above these things?

I loved it because it has a fetish chick. Tough bisexual biker girl hacker with nose rings and spiked collars and Black no. 1 hair. Which of us born in 1975 hasn’t wanted one of those?

I loved it because it’s graphic without being indulgent. All together now: the violence we see is realistic and in the service of a theme, not there merely for shock value.

I loved it because the characters are believable stereotypes . . . [here follows an intriguing discussion of how plausible and how enlightened – or not – the romantic relationship between Blomqvist and Salander is, and then] . . .

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo succeeds because it’s politically aware only to the extent of wanting to do the right thing, and metafictionally aware only to the extent of picking out the workable formulas and giving credit to their sources. It’s a film that shouldn’t be too hard to deconstruct, and I’m sure that’s just around the corner. But now, while it’s fresh, I’m enjoying just having enjoyed it.

Well, I must say I enjoyed the review.

Carla McKay reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman for the Daily Mail and points out he’s not the next Stieg Larsson. (We knew that.) She apparently liked the book, though most of the review is a synopsis.

Keishon also reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman and, while she’s an admirer of the series, feels this one is not the strongest.

Ben Hunt reviews Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment and says it’s a very good debut, though he advises readers to take the hype on the book jacket with a grain of salt. It’s an ably plotted story with a vivid setting and characters that are somewhat typical, but well-drawn. He also proposes a theory:

If anything defines the extraordinary and apparently relentless rise of Scandinavian fiction, for me it is these three qualities, and in particular the plotting.

It would be easy to draw cheap stereotypical conclusions about ordered minds and ordered societies producing writers with organized minds who produce impeccably plotted and well executed novels. Cheap maybe, but the more Scandinavian fiction I read the more I am drawn to this idea.

Bernadette reviews Sjowall and Wahloo’s first book in the Martin Beck series, Roseanna, and is interested to find in it so many of the elements that have become part of Scandinavian crime fiction.

Martin Beck too is realistic, perhaps a little too much so. If the phrase ‘dour Swede’ has been over-used since Scandinavian crime fiction has become flavour of the month then surely the blame must lie mostly at the feet of the rarely smiling, crowd hating, always ill, never wanting to go home Martin Beck. As a characterisation I think he’s marvelous but as a human being I’d rather not be stuck in an elevator for any great length of time with him . . .

In Roseanna the authors tackled the nature of bureaucracy, the rise of consumerism and even used the nature of the crime itself in a country that prided itself on being the kind of place where such things did not happen with a subtlety that I would dearly love to see more of in modern fiction.

Margot Kinberg also puts Roseanna “in the spotlight.”

Peter explores the “bloodthirsty femmes” of Scandinavian crime fiction: Swedish writers Karin Alvtegen, Kerstin Ekman, Inger Frimansson, Mari Jungstedt, Camilla Läckberg, Asa Larsson, Liza Marklund, and Helene Tursten; Norway’s Anne Holt and Karin Fossum; Tove Jansson (Finland) and Yrsa Sigurdardottir (Iceland).  He looks at their protagonists and finds a great deal of variety. He promises more on the subject anon . . .

CrimeFic Reader reviews Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Ashes to Dust, which (how very topical) involves a volcanic eruption, though in this case it’s to do with bodies buried for decades in ash from a massive 1970 eruption. She likes the book, but wishes the translation weren’t so Americanized.


daggers, bankers, and science in crime fiction

As anyone who follows crime fiction already knows, Johan Theorin’s The Darkest Room won the International Dagger, edging ahead a very strong shortlist with a heavy Nordic accent. In addition to Theorin, Stieg Larsson’s third and final book and Arnaldur Indridason’s Hypothermia were both on the list. There was nothing this time by Fred Vargas, however, so no trifecta for her.

I haven’t read all the books on the shortlist, but others whose tastes I trust have and I don’t think anyone is disappointed in this outcome. Congratulations to Karen and other judges who had a pleasantly difficult job of choosing among outstanding books. I gave the book a thumbs-up back in February. Other reviews include

Yrsa Sigurdardottir is interviewed in The Scotsman and is her usual charming self. One thing I didn’t know: she has a day job that sounds very demanding.

Yrsa Sigurdardottir doesn’t live by writing alone: her time isn’t all her own. Oh no: she also builds dams. And not just any damn dams. For her last major project she was technical manager on the Karahnjukar dam in remote east Iceland, the biggest of its kind in Europe and the largest construction project in Iceland’s history.

She is also angry with the bankers who infused so much money (and new class divisions) into their egalitarian society, and then let everyone down so badly in the crash that is called the “kreppa.” She’s so angry, in fact, that she won’t include them in her books, not even as victims.

A poor country until it discovered how to harness its natural resources in the 20th century, and until the Second World War highlighted its strategic importance, pre-kreppa Iceland seemed a relatively classless one too.

That’s how Sigurdardottir – who was born in 1963 – remembers it, anyway. Pharmacists were rich (not doctors or dentists) but that was about it. No particular Reykjavik suburb was more sought-after than anywhere else. “And now, with these bankers – there’s just 20 people, everyone knows who they are – everything’s ruined. Robbing charities, for God’s sake. And Britain using these laws against us like we’re terrorists.

“You see, that used to be the thing about being Icelandic. We don’t have an army, so we’ve never done anything to any other nation . . . We thought we weren’t a corrupt country, but it turns out that we were about the most corrupt one in Europe. Because we’re so tiny, you can’t find anybody who’s not involved so we’ve had to bring in someone from Sweden to investigate the banking collapse. Because they weren’t fools, these bankers: they brought all kinds of people onto the boards, like it was a way of getting themselves immunity.”

Her newest book to be translated into English, Ashes to Dust, has just been published in the UK.

As part of a project to examine the portrayal of science in crime fiction, Kerstin Bergman of Lund University looks at the work of Åsa Nilsonne, (who hasn’t been translated into English) and in the ways the books were promoted and received. She finds that Swedish writers are much less inclined than popular US books and television shows to highlight science, rather paying more attention to social issues as the backdrop and key to crimes.

An aside: as much as I find science fascinating, I am dismayed by the way it is often treated as the ghost in the machine, a deus ex machina that reduces tragic muddles and messes to a matter of clever tests and clear-cut results that are rare in actual criminal investigations (partly because science isn’t always clear in its results and largely because there simply aren’t the resources to spend such a lot of time and technology on cases; just this month Illinois passed a law that all rape kits must be submitted for DNA analysis – after thousands of kits lay on evidence room shelves for years). It leads people to expect certainty in situations where so often there isn’t any, and distracts them from social issues that are all to real.  This is particularly curious in the US, where in nearly every other situation science and scientists are viewed with a rather high level of skepticism. But when it comes to a choice between lab results and intractable social problems, the lab is a relatively clean, well-lighted place.

photo of a double helix made of books courtesy of inkyhack.