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.

a model of order, or a dystopia? how about both?

Maxine reviews Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo’s Cop Killer, the penultimate volume in the Martin Beck series. Originally published in 1970, she finds it still fresh and insightful.

Jose Ignacio reviews Karin Alvtegen’s Missing at The Game’s Afoot. He offers evidence of how suspenseful he found it: he read it in one sitting.

Glenn Harper has a lengthy review of Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment, which he gives high marks. The ensemble procedural cast is well done and the story is realistic. Along the way, he also demonstrates that knowledgeable  bloggers can more than make up for the drop in mainstream media reviews in terms of insight, clarity, and perceptiveness.

A business blogger for the Economist wonders how Sweden can be a model for social programs and such a hotbed of crime. Should the UK really adopt education policies from “a dystopia where racism is rampant, public housing is squalid, dehumanising and graffiti-covered, schoolchildren are alienated, bored and drug-addicted, women are brutalised, business people are in the habit of keeping murdered corpses in their basements and the government is in league with neo-Nazi white slavers.” Well, when you put it that way . . .

Eva Gabrielsson (Stieg Larsson’s partner) is interviewed by Melissa Thompson of the Mirror. She thinks many of the decisions made about the wildly popular Millennium Trilogy would not have been allowed by Larsson (such as ditching Men Who Hate Women as a title for the translations). She says the proceeds from the three books would provide a retirement fund (though they had no idea they would be so popular and wouldn’t have had any reason to spend as much as the books have actually generated), the fourth book would support his muckraking publication, Expo, and the rest . . . that hadn’t been decided. She is holding onto a partially drafted fourth novel, which is her bargaining chip in negotiating with Larsson’s legal heirs, his father and brother.  Ironically, the article is published as part of a publicity push for the second film’s release in the UK; I have a feeling Larsson would be distressed by the commercialization of his relationships and the public airing of personal differences. In fact, had he lived, I wonder if he could have challenged the way we treat books as commodities.

Thumbs Up, Down, and Sideways

Maxine finds some things to like about Matti Joensuu’s To Steal Her Love, but wishes the narrative spent less time seeing the world from the perspective of a deranged synesthesiac burglar.

Yvonne Klein also has reservations about Johann Theorin’s The Darkest Room, finding all the character development and atmospherics of the slow build-up don’t pay off in the suddenly dramatic climax.

And continuing the streak of negativity, I confess to being left cold by Erik Winter in his first outing, Death Angels – which combines a gory plot with a cool and distant hero given to existential moments.

On the other hand, John Timpane of the Philadelphia Inquirer thinks highly of Box 21.

Dark, often crushingly grim, Box 21 introduces us to a world of characters who hate what they do for a living. I count at least two police detectives, one junkie, one doctor, a welter of crooks, and at least one social servant who see the veneer peel off their careers, revealing the shabby, agonized self-deception beneath.

Heroes and heroines are here, to be sure, and in the end the book is a celebration of love. But Box 21 teaches a hard truth, forces us to admire people we cannot like, to see when we’d rather turn away. It holds us still and makes us look. . . . .

Like its Nordic noir fellows, Box 21 is profound, with much to show, much to say, much to set in play, on the human condition. It’s a novel with a heart, even if it’s a hardened heart.

And a reviewer at Book Gazette thinks Karin Alvtegen’s Betrayal is a terrific read.

In Betrayal, Alvtegen gets inside the minds of her characters and sometimes even describes the same scene from different perspectives. This technique helps build suspense as it allows the action to unfold gradually. The reading experience is interesting. The reader slowly pieces together the story by collecting impressions, information and important clues, coming at the main narrative from different angles.

Betrayal’s plot is powerful, yet Karin Alvtegen’s novel is as much about individual histories and relationships as it is about what actually happens. The multiple betrayals give rise to dynamics that, as a reader, you just know must end in disaster. How, when, for whom, however, are unknowns. There is little violence, but still the suspense is continuously building. Action drives action. There are no punishments and no rewards, there are only consequences.

 

 

c’est dommage

Hot off the Rap Sheet – Fred Vargas won the International Dagger, facing a field of Scandinavian heavyweights. She was not my front runner, but then I am a bit biased (and a bit less taken with her eccentricity than most, I suspect). Kerrie had predicted Theorin, Alvtegen, and Indridason for win, place, and show, with Vargas bringing up the rear. Stieg Larsson’s Translator, Reg Keeland, is quite hot under the collar about it, since Vargas has won three out of the past four years. (Evidently he deleted the post once he cooled off.)  It certainly doesn’t conform to the “who should win” or “who is likely to win” polls at Euro Crime. C’est la guerre.

Meanwhile, let’s catch up on reviews and news . . .

nancyo (“who never stops reading no matter what”) thinks Hakan Nesser’s Mind’s Eye is brilliant. “I can very highly recommend this one to others who enjoy Scandinavian crime fiction, and to those who have read Nesser’s other books. Mystery readers who want something different than the usual stuff out there will also enjoy this book as well.”

Martin Edwards carries on with his Scandinavian kick, reviewing Missing by Karin Alvtegen, “a tense, atmospheric and extremely readable novel, with a clever and (to the best of my knowledge) original motive. Recommended.”

Kerrie reviews The Girl Who Played with Fire and points to several other reviews and Dorte’s investigation of sources posted to her blog previously.

Peter reviews The Beast by the writing duo Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom, a distrubing book that

. . . looks into a warped abyss of the human psyche and discusses a kind of crime that to most of us is one that we fear (if we have children) and are extremely disgusted by. It also illustrates the potentially serious consequences of letting people take the law in their own hands. This is a good book, but it is tough. It is a book you will either like a lot or not like at all. There is no in between with Roslund & Hellstrom’s The Beast.

I find this very interesting because I’ve just finished their other book, Box 21, soon to be released in the US, which deals with trafficking in women and with the corruption that supports it, and am currently reading Karin Fossum’s The Water’s Edge, which deals with the same subject, pedophilia that leads to murder, but in a very understated, pscyhologically sophisticated, and thoughtful way. Quite a contrast to Roslund and Hellstrom, though both good in different ways.

Peter also reports that a new Wallander is soon to appear in 2009, Den Orolige Mannen (The Worried Man) which he describes thus:

A winter day in Sweden in 2008, a retired officer from the Swedish Navy, Håkan von Enke, disappears during his daily walk in the Lilljan forest. For Kurt Wallander this is a very personal affair – von Enke is the father in law of his daughter Linda and the grandfather of her little daughter.

And even though the case is handled by the police in Stockholm, Kurt Wallander finds himself unable to stay away from the case. And when von Enke’s widow, Louise, disappears as well, and like her husband without a trace and equally mysteriously, Wallander’s interest in the case increases even further.

As he moves back in time and starts connecting the dots, he finds that there are clues in the direction of the Cold War, political extremists on the far right, and a professional hitman from Eastern Europe. Wallander starts to suspect that he has stumbled upon a secret that lies at the core of the Swedish post World War II history.

Knopf is promoting the US release of  The Girl Who Played With Fire by involving bloggers in a contest. There are apparently dragon temporary tattoos involved. (I gave away dinosaur tattoos at my library’s birthday party for Darwin last February. They were almost as popular as the toy dinosaurs. And the cake; we definitely didn’t have enough cake to go around.) You can also “friend” Lisabeth Salander on Facebook. Somehow, I can’t imagine her wanting to collect facebook friends. And surely Ikea and Apple computers as interests suggests a doppelganger at work . . . with blond hair? Not sure what to make of this, but I think I will stick to friending charcters within their books for now.

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.

CWA International shortlist – choices, choices!

Thanks to my FriendFeed friends, I was alerted to the shortlist announcement of the Crime Writer’s Association International Dagger for the best book in the realm of “crime, thriller, suspense or spy novels which have been translated into English from their original language, for UK publication.” The winner will be announced July 15. And good heavens, the Scandinavians are dominating, with three Swedes, one Norwegian, and one Icelander on the list; one Frenchwoman rounding out the pack.

Karin Alvtegen, Shadow, translated by McKinley Burnett, (Canongate)
Arnaldur Indriðason, Arctic Chill, translated by Bernard Scudder and Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker)
Stieg Larsson, The Girl who played with Fire, translated by Reg Keeland (MacLehose Quercus)
Jo Nesbø, The Redeemer, translated by Don Bartlett (Harvill Secker)
Johan Theorin, Echoes from the Dead, translated by Marlaine Delargy (Doubleday)
Fred Vargas, The Chalk Circle Man, translated by Siân Reynolds (Harvill Secker)

Congratulations to the nominees, to their translators, and to the publishers who trust us to be interested in non-English-speaking parts of the world.