A Mixed Bag of Mini-Reviews

Time to blow the dust off and post something here. I’ve been under the weather (hello, endocrine system! I didn’t even know you were there). I’ve been reading a lot – just not up for writing reviews. Rather than try and catch up with full-scale reviews while relieving ARC-guilt, I’ll simply share some quick impressions of some of the books I’ve read. It won’t do them justice, but otherwise I’ll never catch up. I’m putting a * by the ones I enjoyed the most and warning you that there’s a rant ahead.

Dark BranchesDark Branches by Nik Frobenius
This Norwegian novel of psychological suspense is narrated by a writer who has stretched himself to write an autobiographical novel that exposes aspects of his past that previously he’d kept hidden. As soon as the publicity for the new book begins, he gets a newspaper clipping in the mail, unsigned, about the school fire that inspired his novel. Then his daughter’s doll is mutilated and a strange voice on the phone tells his wife the author is having an affair. Things don’t improve from there. The story is moody and dark; the narrator is not a sympathetic character, which makes it even darker, as the past he’s used for material comes back to haunt him. This nicely produced Sandstone Press book was translated by Frank Stewart.

*Open Grave by Kjell Eriksson
This claustrophobic character study may not be the best choice for readers who like action and puzzle-solving, but if you take the time to savor it, it’s very good. An elderly man living in a prestigious neighborhood has just received news that he’s going to receive the Nobel Prize for medicine. We soon learn that he may not actually deserve it, and in any case he’s a mean, demanding, self-important tyrant of his own home. The demands he puts on his loyal elderly housekeeper, the third woman in her family to work for this wealthy family, is reaching the end of her tether. In some ways this is an inside-out mystery. The series detective, Ann Lindell, appears late in the book, and so does the crime. What’s fascinating is to watch this highly traditional household slowly unravel. Translated by Paul Norlen.

The Intruder by Hȧkan Östlund
Though Swedish crime fiction is typically associated with social criticism, there’s quite a lot of it that situates fairly outlandish crimes arising out of family secrets or tortured relationships in picturesque tourist destinations. Sometimes they’re very good – Johann Theorin has written some cracking stories. But often they’re not particularly realistic or insightful and the setting feels very far from contemporary Sweden, a kind of golden age Sweden with home-grown monsters to slay. This second book in a series set in Gotland (after The Viper) involves a family living on an isolated island off Gotland that begins receiving threatening anonymous letters. The investigation exposes a marriage that isn’t ideal. I couldn’t find much to recommend this novel and it relies on breaking faith with the reader in a way that I can’t describe without a spoiler, but it’s been on every “rules for mysteries” list since S. S. Van Dine. I don’t blame the translator, Paul Norlen. He did his job perfectly well.

The Drowning by Camilla Läckberg
As much as I was underwhelmed by the previous book in this list, I actively detested this one. Family secrets and a horrible crime on a scenic island populated by Swedes who lack the diversity and complexity of contemporary Sweden – we’re in the heart of don’t-pay-attention-to-social-issues Swedish crime, which is enormously popular. Every irritating gimmick this author uses is turned on full blast. The backstory told to readers at length, but not known to police. Nearly every terrible thing a human being might do can be traced to bad mothers. Highly traditional gender roles between an earnest copper and his I-just-can’t-help-myself amateur sleuth wife, who has traded post-natal depression for being pregnant with twins. I know, next time let’s go for triplets! The amateur female lead withholds information from her cop husband, both of them withhold information from the reader, and a solution to the mystery is ripped from a 1970s soap opera. For dessert, may we offer you a completely manipulative cliffhanger that has nothing to do with what went before but is a teaser for buying the next book? It may come as no surprise that I won’t be reading any more in this hot mess of a series. To be fair, millions of readers worldwide love this The Treacherous Netstuff. I just found this overlong book (476 pages) had everything I don’t like about this series on display and nothing that I could praise other than the better-than-it-deserves translation by the talented Tiina Nunnally.

*The Treacherous Net by Helene Tursten
Now we’re back on solid ground. This latest in a reliable police procedural series combines a realistically grounded and competent female detective, Irene Huss, working on realistically sordid crimes in Sweden’s second-largest city, Göteborg. In this entry, a young girl who appears to have been lured into the sex trade through internet-based grooming has been murdered, and this murder is the tip of the iceberg. As if that’s not enough to keep the homicide detectives busy, a mummified body is uncovered as a building is being demolished. The two investigations are nicely laid out and we catch up on what’s going on in Irene’s life at home and in the workplace. I enjoy the low-key way this series addresses social issues without too much drama and a non-angsty, non-alcoholic protagonist who resolutely believes that things can be put right by good people doing their jobs well. If Swedish crime has a crowd of gloomy detectives in one corner and a bunch of unlikely crimes in picturesque settings in the other, Tursten plants her flag in the middle: in a place where most of us live. Translator Marlaine Delargy does justice to this author’s straightforward prose style.

*The Drowned Boy by Karin Fossum
A family in a small Norwegian community experiences a tragedy when their toddler son wonders out of house when his mother’s back is turned and drowns in a nearby pond. As usual, Inspector Sejer investigates the incident with his quiet combination of compassion and penetrating skepticism. For someone who usually finds out that terrible things lurk under Norwegians’ smiling exteriors, he is both relentlessly just and deeply kind. In this case, the question is whether a parent may have wished the boy, who has Down Syndrome, out of their lives. This book doesn’t have the strong ironic fabulism of many of the recent books in this series and it has more of a focus on the often gnomic detective’s feelings than usual, both of which struck me as good things. Fine translation by Kari Dickson.

The Hanging Girl by Jussi Adler-Olsen
I’ve enjoyed earlier books in this series, even though the plots involve rather implausibly complicated ways to commit crimes, but this one didn’t hold together at all. A policeman on the island of Bornholm, obsessed by a cold case, uses his retirement party as a stage for his suicide. The familiar Department Q team go to the remote island to solve the case, but the story never comes alive and nobody seems too interested in the girl who is found hanging most implausibly in a tree. There’s over 500 pages of it, too. I don’t see a translator on this advanced reader copy, but I don’t envy him or her the job.

The Girl and the Bomb**The Girl and the Bomb by Jari Järvelä
This book was a great find, and I had never heard of this author until he asked if I would care to read an advanced copy. I’m so glad he did. Though Amazon Crossing is producing a lot of translations, they don’t always get a lot of attention. In this case, the book certainly deserves it. The chapters alternate the point of view of a young black woman who feels alienated in the small port city of Kotka, Finland. Her best mate, a gifted street artist with whom she scales heights and spray-paints (aka bombs) the ugly parts of the city, is killed when a group of security guards go after them both. Metro (the somewhat feral girl of the title and a great character) decides to go after the guard who she thinks is responsible. His point of view is provided in the other chapters, and he’s the least guilty of the guards, the one most disturbed by what happened. As time goes on and Metro finds ways to call out the injustice, the small flicker of remorse and shame he feels is replace by resentment and anger. It’s both a psychological study of a man whose moral fiber is disintegrating and a character sketch of an artistically talented but marginalized teen who feels she owes it to her friend to seek justice her own way. The ending is great. It looks as if there will be a trilogy about Metro, if my Google-foo is working, and a film is being made of this one. I’ll be looking for them. Kristian London can take a bow for her his translation.

Three days ago Amazon announced they’ll be spending $10 million on translations in this imprint over the next five years. Heartening news for those of us who want more.

 

 

review roundup

At Crime Scraps, Norm reviews Liza Marklund’s latest Annika Bengtzon thriller, Borderline which involves international intrigue and a hostage situation. Does it make me a bad person to be pleased that Annika’s annoying ex is a hostage? It sounds very good (and not just because Thomas is in trouble.)

At Petrona Remembered, there’s a fascinating email exchange/converation between Neil Smith and Liza Marklund about The Long Shadow and its translation and possible reception by English readers. Fascinating! And it ends on a cliffhanger . . .

The Guardian credits the popularity of Scandinavian crime for a boom in translated fiction in the UK.

Crime Fiction Lover provides a lovely tribute and overview of the Martin Beck Series written by Jeremy McGraw

At Crime Review, Tracy Johnson reviews Aren Dahl’s To the Top of the Mountain, who feels the humanity of the characters adds to their appeal.

At Reviewing the Evidence, Yvonne Klein unpacks the multiple plot strands and global locations for Jussi Alder-Olsen’s latest entry in the Carl Mørckseries, The Marco Effect, making it sound very well worth reading.

She makes a reference to an interview with the author in the Huffington Post, which is also worth a read. The author mentions that in addition to a Danish film version of the first in the series, there’s talk of a U.S. television adaptation of the characters, possibly s Hmm…

Ms. Wordopolis reviews an earlier book in Arnaldur Indridason’s Erlendur series, Voices. She finds it’s not the best in the bunch, but it’s still a favorite series. “It’s a reminder to me to spend less time on new releases and catch up on older books.” I’m so glad you feel that way!

Ms. Wordopolis also thinks the second volume of the Minnesota Trilogy, Vidar Sundstol’s Only the Dead, is a much tighter, very different sort of book from the first. I agree with her that it will be interesting to see what the third and final volume is like.

Laura Root also reviews the book at Euro Crime, finding it both unexpected and gripping. (Ditto.)

Staci Alesi (“the Book Bitch”) also reviews that book for Booklist and says though it is short – almost a novella – it’s dark, beautifully written, and suspenseful.

Jose Ignacio Esrcribano reviews (in two languages!) Arnaldur Indridason’s Strange Shores, which finishes the Erlunder series (chronologically, at least). He enjoyed it very much, as did I.

At International Noir Fiction, Glenn Harper reviews Jo Nesbo’s Police, in which Harry Hole is off stage for a good bit of the action, and speculates whether the end is really the end – or not.

Sarah Ward reviews Black Noise by Pekka Hiltunen at Crimepieces and wonders whether it qualifies as Scaninavian crime, given it’s set in London. She finds it has a promising story about social media that unfortunately goes awry, becoming quite implausible. She hopes for better next time.

She also reviews Elsebeth Egholm’s Three Dog Night, a Danish novel about a recently-released convict who moves to a remote community only to meet a prison mate who is, unfortunately, dead. She says it has a well-constructed plot with a good ending though some of the characters in the fraying community can be hard to keep straight. She’s looking forward to the sequel, coming out in the UK soon.

Karen Meek reports on hearing two Danish authors interviewed by Peter Guttridge – Elsebeth Eghholm, Lene Kaaberbol, at the Manchester Literature Festival. Lots of insight into the authors and being translated, here.

Mrs. Peabody investigates a French thriller set in Norway, Olivier Truc’s Forty Days Without Shadow, likening it to M. J.McGrath’s Edie Kiglatuk series set in the Canadian artic. It’s a “cracking debut” that illuminates nomadic Sami culture in a world with borders.  It sounds like a strong nominee for the Petrona Award. Mrs. P. links to an interesting  interview with the author.

Gary Jacobson reviews Karin Fossum’s I Can See in the Dark and finds it creepy, chilling, and effective at portraying the inner life of a very unpleasant man who is guilty of many crimes except for the one he’s accused of.

At Euro Crime, Lynn Harvey reviews Jan Costin Wagner’s Light in a Dark House, the fourth in the Finland-set series, but the first she read.  She says it stands on its own, but she’s ready to go back and read the rest. She concludes, “if you love the mystery of character as much as the mystery of crime – set in a wintry Scandinavian landscape – then I think you will savour [it] as much as I did.

Bits and Bobs and a Promise of a Review

There is a new issue of the Journal of Specialized Translation out that’s devoted to crime fiction in translation, and one of the articles, by Kerstin Bergman, analyzes Denise Mina’s adaptation of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire into graphic novels. In particular, she focuses on the way Lisbeth Salander is depicted, finding the graphic novel character more sexualized and less feminist, with the overall story more of a crime adventure tale and less a work of critical feminism – partly echoing the visual style of comic book traditions, partly because the entire story is trimmed down, leaving out some of the social and political context. Having read one of these, I concur with her analysis, even though I am a huge Denise Mina fan. (I suspect that when a character is embraced by so many people in very different culltural contexts, we each end up with a slightly different Salander in our imaginations.)

Kerstin Bergman has also just published a terrific book, Swedish Crime Fiction: The Making of Nordic Noir, which I hope to review here very soon. Barry Forshaw praises it at CrimeTime (but wants you to buy his books, too.)

At Stop You’re Killing Me (a fabulously useful website that I fervently help will never stop) Lucinda Serber has a review of Anna Jansson’s Strange Bird, published by Stockholm Text in 2013. As usual, it’s not the first in the series. She calls it a “powerful scientific thriller” about a bird-borne disease that not only makes people sick, it brings out the worst in them. That’s an eerily timely topic.

Lynn Harvey reviews Kjell Ericksson’s newly translated Black Lies, Red Blood, which she finds embodies the social conscience of Scandi crime to an extent that might frustrate those looking for who dunnit or quick thrills. She concludes “these digressions are the result of Eriksson’s urge for realism and social reportage and if that informs the spirit of Scandi-noir for you – then BLACK LIES, RED BLOOD is also the latest in your essential reading.”

Laura Root reviews Karin Fossum’s The Murder of Harriet Krohn at Euro Crime, She finds this seventh in the Konrad Sejer series well-written but not as compelling as other books Fossum has written. It, like others, explores how an ordinary man can do awful things while, at heart, remaining a rather boring person.

I was chuffed to be interviewed a while back via email for a couple of articles about Scandinavian crime fiction in a Brazilian newspaper. I’m afraid I didn’t say anything profound or original, though it appears as if I actually know some Portuguese. (Sadly, I don’t.)

I missed the mainstream reviews, which have been plentiful, of Jo Nesbo’s latest novel, a standalone, which has met with a variety of responses. Val McDermid isn’t impressed by The Son, which she finds implausible, predictable, and too long. “Strip away the platitudes and the interior monologues, spare us the sentimentality and the self-justification, and this could have been a dark and muscular slice of noir that chills to the bone. Instead, it’s overblown and preachy with the kind of faux-nobility with which Hollywood loves to invest its villains.”

I’m afraid I felt rather the same in my review at Reviewing the Evidence, which concludes on this congenial note:

As always with Nesbø, the plot is deviously convoluted and the workings of escapades worked out like fine-tuned machinery. The main characters are full of charm and faults, driven and smart, but tempted by their addictions. The police force is riddled with corruption and crime is highly organized. There are times when the characters wax philosophical and ponder the nature of free will and hard choices between action scenes. It’s entertaining and, as always, full of twists, with a bit more of a morality play included than usual.

What it doesn’t have is any sense that what’s happening in the story owes any resemblance to reality. Nesbø’s books, which once were fresh and startling, offering a good bit of thought-provoking fun, have become a little too burdened with special effects. He owes more to Hollywood than to Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, the grandparents of contemporary Scandinavian crime fiction and the social critique it is known for. Nesbø doesn’t hold up a mirror to society or probe what ails it. It’s pure entertainment all the way down.

I have piles of reviews to write – eventually. Meanwhile, those of you in the Minneapolis area, don’t forget that on August 9th Once Upon a Crime will be hosting three Finnish crime writers worth meeting. The greatest mystery I’m pondering right now is how it can possibly be August already.

review roundup and a new version of Macbeth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

weird sisters and cauldron

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

a belated roundup of reviews and news

It’s been quite a busy semester and a long time since I’ve updated this blog. There has been no shortage of reviews and news in the interim . . .

UrbanIndianWoman is a fan of Scandinavian crime fiction and at her blog, Indian Feminist 101, she sometimes muses on its feminist aspects. (This is something I’m also very interested in, so yay!) She has recently shared her thoughts on Asa Larsson’s The Second Deadly Sin by Asa Larsson and also posted a round up of women detectives asking “Is it the densely dark atmosphere and snowy landscape and morose environment? Is it the fact that since in reality there is so little crime there that the Scandinavians’ imagination is more fertile when it comes to fictionalising it? Is it their innate sense of justice and fairness that finds voice in crime fiction?” Whatever it is, she likes it.

Reading is a popular pursuit in all of the Scandinavian countries, but according to the BBC, writing may be more popular per capita in Iceland, which has a thriving book culture for its small population of roughly 300,000. One in ten Icelanders will publish a book, according to the story, and the biggest genre at the moment is crime fiction. Sales double those in other Scandinavian countries, which also have healthy sales. What is particularly insteresting to me is that Arnaldur Indridason had virtually no company when he began to write crime stories not too long ago. He told me that his series tapped a thirst for crime fiction which had barely been published in Icelandic and with an Icelandic setting, though mysteries in English were popular among Icelanders. Takk fyrir, Arnaldur, for your books and others coming from your small island.

Euro Crime’s Laura Root reviews Vidar Sundstol’s The Land of Dreams. I abosolutely concur with her conclusion that some readers who expect resolution may be disappointed – but others (including Laura and me) will simply want to read the rest of the trilogy. 

Glenn Harper also reviews The Land of Dreams at International Noir Fiction, finding it repetetive at times (but not in an aggravating way) and, like me, is interested in what comes next in the trilogy.

Kerrie in Paradise reviews Derek Miller’s Norwegian by Night which takes an American to Norway. She gives it high marks and suggests it would make a cracking film. It was the winner of the CWA new blood dagger this year, so she isn’t alone in thinking it’s a good read.

At Petrona Remembered, Jose Ignacio Escribano features Gunnar Staalesen’s Cold Hearts, He recommends it highly and wishes the author was better known. Do you have a mystery you enjoyed and would like to share? Why not submit it to the site? It’s a celebration of Maxine Clarke aka Petrona, who loved a good mystery and is much missed.

At Crime Scraps, Norman reviews Liza Marklund’s The Long Shadow, warning readers that it’s important to read Lifetime first. This entry in the Annika Bengtson series takes her to the Costa del Sol and is not, in Norm’s estimation, the best of the bunch. I’m afraid I find her taste in men deeply irritating! Flawed heroines are right up my alley, unless they have a soft spot for controlling idiots. Is “stupid” a flaw? If so, not the kind I like.

One of Sarah’s Crimepieces is Anne Holt’s Death of the Demon. She found it a bit disappointing compared to other books in the series, with a not-terribly-gripping or complex plot. (I’ve just finished it myself and found it more of an issue-driven book than a real mystery, featuring a troubled child who we get to know a lot about but not to understand.

She felt more positive about Jo Nesbo’s Police, which is a “huge” book with complexity to spare. There is a plot strand she found annoying – and (having just read it myself) I was annoyed, too.

Marilyn Stasio at the New York Times says its nervewracking and disturbing and you really ought to read the previous book in the series, Phantom, first. She applauds Nesbo for taking Harry off stage and letting other characters have a chance to shine.

At Novel Heights, Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s ghost story, I Remember You, gets middling marks for characters (who tend to get into scrapes more often than they should) but top marks for tension – and for its clever resolution.

There you will also find a recent review of Quentin Bates’s Iceland-set mystery, Frozen Out (apa Frozen Assets) which has a lot going on but a terrific lead character. (I’ve just started reading the third in the series and am enjoying spending time with Gunna Gisladottir.)

Barry Forshaw reviews several mysteries, including Arnadludr Indridason’s Strange Shores and Arne Dahl’s Bad Blood.  He thinks Erlendur’s return is well handled, but reports that it’s the final book in the series, which makes me sad. Arne Dahl, he says “writes crime fiction of genuine authority with a sinewy, uncompromising structure.” To be honest, I’m not sure what it means, but I think it’s a compliment.

Karen Meek, the heroic mastermind behind Euro Crime, reviews Karin Fossum’s I Can See in the Dark. It’s not in the Sejer series, but rather is a psychological crime novel rather in the mode of Fossum’s recent work. Not one of her favorites.

She also reports the intriguing news that a UK publisher has acquired a new novel by Finnish author Antti Tuomainen. I enjoyed The Healer quite a bit.

Another Norwegian author is also due to appear in English, according to Crimficreader’s blog. Tom Johansen’s Blood on Snow is due in 2014 and will be followed by a sequel. Both will no doubt have an instant following, given that Tom Johansen is a pseudonym for the very busy and popular Jo Nesbo.

reviews and a rediscovery

LeRoy Panek, part of the amazing perpetual motion machine behind the Westminster Detective Library, kindly called to my attention a Swedish crime writer I’d never heard of – August Blanche, whose novel The Bandit is crime fiction just like Les Miserables is crime fiction. It’s his only work translated into English and is available only in a tiny handful of libraries, but it’s interesting that of all of his work, this is the one translated – back in the 1870s.

Panek’s website is an amazing project with an ambitious assignment:

It is the mission of the Westminster Detective Library to catalog and make available online all the short fiction dealing with detectives and detection published in the United States before Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “A Scandal in Bohemia” (1891).

It’s fascinating – but beware; it’s easy to disappear down a rabbit hole and lose your motivation to do anything else.

Rob Kitchin reviews Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Disgrace (which in the US will carry the title The Absent One) which he feels has strong characters and a nicely-accelerating pace. Shame it requires quite a bit of engineering to maintain suspension of disbelief. He advises readers to leave expectations of plausibility behind when embarking on this reading experience.

He also reviews The Man on the Balcony by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. “There’s little machismo,” he writes, “no maverick geniuses and little in the way of heroics – just the police getting on and doing their jobs.” He appreciates the realism and the rhythm of their storytelling.

Jose Ignacio Escribano reviews Asa Larsson’s The Black Path which he found impressive and attractive, though the detailed flashbacks for several characters weakened the forward momentum for him.

Ms. Wordopolis reads Larsson’s The Blood Spilt which, with its vivid characters and scenes, she recommends highly.

At Petrona, Maxine Clarke reviews the first Konrad Sejer novel, finally in translation. She says of Karin Fossum’s In the Darkness that it is tightly plotted and with the kind of deceptively simple story that swirls with inner depths, not as abstract and “fabular” as her more recent books (and I must say, she has given a name to something I had observed but couldn’t put my finger on about this writer’s recent books).

She also writes what may be the first review of the English translation of Sebastian Bergman by by Michael Hjorth and Hans Rosenfeldt, from Little Brown UK’s new imprint Trapdoor, in which a jaded, troubled criminal psychologist who goes to Vasteras to settle the affairs of his recently-deceased mother and is drawn into a murder investigation.  Though it has pacing that is hardly blistering, the characters and their interactions are the real heart of the mystery. Though it has a tie-in with a television program imported to the UK, Maxine recommends that you turn off the television and enjoy a much more satisfying experience by reading it.

At Euro Crime, she gives Mons Kallentoft’s second mystery, Summertime Death, points for being atmospheric and (mostly) well-constructed, though the ending offers some “???” moments and the continuation of using voices from beyond the grave is a stylistic feature that works no better the second time around.

She also revisits Leif G. W. Persson’s Between Winter’s Longing and Summer’s End, having found the second book in this monumental trilogy quite good. She still struggled to get through the 600 pages, finding it “depressing, leaden and grim,” yet nevertheless fascinating in its highly critical depiction of cold-war Swedish politics. I don’t think I have the stamina to follow her lead, but may take her advice and give Another Time, Another Life a go.

At Mean Streets, ravenpasser thinks Hakan Nesser’s The Unlucky Lottery is evidence that publishers are rushing unworthy books into translation (opening with “the Scandinavian bandwagon is now a rustbucket”; a bit of a sweeping generalization).

Glenn Harper at International Noir Fiction has two reviews in one – Mari Jungstedt’s Dead of Summer and Seppo Jokinen’s Wolves and Angels , both of them worthy police procedurals that have a rich cast of recurring characters who bring to their police work an earnest social conscience. (I enjoyed both of them, too.)

At Past Offences (wonderful blog title – all of the reviews are of books published before 1987) Rich reviews Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s The Fire Engine that Disappeared, capturing the authors’ wry wit nicely. I was very careful to include all the umlauts, which I did by copying and pasting (being ignorant of how to persuade WordPress to make them, and sadly too lazy to find out. Shocking, I know.)

In the New York Times Book Review, Marilyn Stasio gives Karin Fossum’s The Caller high marks, writing that she is “a grandmaster at the art of psychological terror. Her thoughts are gloomy, her mind is subtle and her writing is extraordinarily supple” in a story that she calls “one of the darkest, most disturbing crime stories you’re likely to read this year.”

Bernadette takes a turn as a reviewer at Euro Crime, (lucky Euro Crime!) reviewing Anna Jansson’s Killer’s Island, one of the new releases from Stockholm Text. She finds the story well-paced, offering a well-balanced mix of police work and personal lives, though some of the relationships among the series characters are a bit more mysterious than they would have been if this were not the eleventh in the series.

And finally, at Reviewing the Evidence, I reviewed Mons Kallentoft’s Midwinter Blood (titled Midwinter Sacrifice in the UK) and make some cranky comments about the voice of the dead conceit before concluding that it is quite a readable and refreshingly chilly book.

tidbits and more reviews

Some tidbits . . .

There is a new imprint for translated fiction coming from Little Brown and Crown. From the press release:

Trapdoor will publish up to six commercial crime, suspense and thriller titles a year, all in translation, and will be launched with the publication of Sebastian Bergman by Hjorth and Rosenfeldt in paperback on July 5th. Spring 2013 will see the publication of the second title on the Trapdoor imprint, The Devil’s Sanctuary, a heart-stopping psychological thriller by Swedish bestseller Marie Hermanson.

Julia Buckley interviews Ake Edwardson at Mysterious Musings. He says “I’m a sad person, or melancholic, and down right pessimistic most of the time. Probably that’s why I laugh so much; you have to laugh at all the madness around you or you’ll go stark raving mad, start running screaming through the streets naked in the night with just your underwear in your hand.” He also says, when asked about the state of journalism,

“… the good and serious stuff goes slowly/fast down the drain, the horror of banality takes over, knowledge gets confused with information. Still there’s wonderful journalism out there; Sweden tries to maintain decent newspapers, and the best papers in USA, England, France and Germany are still worth reading/working for. The problem is of course that good journalism is expensive, objectivity is expensive, to send a reporter to the other side of the world is expensive, or have a team work on some investigation for a long time.”

Erik Winter, his police protagonist, is a “hopeful person” – making me think perhaps Edwardson, like many journalists, finds fiction a way to say what needs saying in a way that is an alternative to the underwear-in-hand approach.

Camilla Lackberg is profiled in SCANmagazine (thank you, Philip) as she publishes more of her popular Fjalbacka-based series in  both the UK and US.

Publishing Perspectives covers the Salomonsson Agency, a Swedish powerhouse that represents many of the most successful Nordic crime authors. It’s a far sunnier picture than Sarah Weinman’s profile of the agency’s head last year.

At the Telegraph, Henning Mankell says that Kenneth Branagh makes a good hand of playing Wallander and likes the BBC film versions of his books. The article has quite a few insights into the author as well (and has collected some remarkably hostile and silly comments).

American cable television station A&E (which does not stand for Accident and Emergency, contrary to UK usage) has acquired US rights to create a pilot of a series to be based on Elsebeth Egholm’s crime series.  Or rather based on a Danish television series based on the books. And probably moved to a US setting. There is a reason I prefer reading to watching television.

And now for the reviews . . .

Sarah at Crimepieces reviews Helene Tursten’s Night Rounds, finding it a well-done police procedural with a touch of the supernatural, which she enjoys, and a solid plot, though with some startling lapses on the part of otherwise competent police. She also reviews the second book in Thomas Enger’s Henning Juul series, Pierced, which she feels picks up the story about Juul’s dead son very movingly. Enger has become a “must-buy” author for her.

Maxine Clarke reviews Killer’s Island by Anna Jansson at Petrona and finds it a quick read that does more to develop the characters than to provide a realistic story line – mainly because all of the puzzle pieces snap together a bit too tidily, with none left over.  It’s altogether a rather old-fashioned read. Glenn Harper also reviews it, and a television series based on Jansson’s work. He finds it a bit overwritten in places, but predicts it will be of interest to those who enjoy getting caught up in the character’s personal lives, likening it to Camilla Lackberg’s work.

Maxine also reviews Ake Edwardson’s Sail of Stone, which she finds a good read, though not a very good mystery (and the second half, minus the not-very-satisfactory ending, is better than the first.)

And at Euro Crime, she reviews Camilla Lackberg’s The Drowning, which she feels has a good 250-page mystery hidden within its 500 pages, much of which is devoted to the domestic lives of its detective protagonist.

Peter Rozovsky reviews Lars Keppler’s The Nightmare for the Philadelphia Inquirer, then hosts a conversation at his Detectives Beyond Borders literary salon, asking whether it’s entirely a good thing to mix potboiler fun with serious social messages. On the whole, he finds this kind of “Larsson-y” an unhappy blend.

Kimbofo at Reading Matters reads The Caller by Karin Fossum. Fossum is one of her favorite authors, and this well-plotted, nuanced story is, to her mind, one of her best.  She also reviews The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis, which she finds a bit of a challenging read because of the multiple viewpoints, but feels it is “an intelligent, involving and compassionate read.”

Jose Ignacio Escribano reviews the final volume of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo’s “story of a crime” – The Terrorists, which he notes has not lost its relevance. He includes links to his reviews of other books in the series and says “I strongly recommend reading this series to everyone, in particular to all crime fiction fans and, if possible, in chronological order. It’s a highly rewarding read.”

Karen Meek, a true Queen of Crime if there ever was one (bringing us the amazing Euro Crime site) reviews The Gingerbread House by Carin Gerhardsen, which she finds a successful exploration of childhood bullying, though with a decidedly American translation.  She also reviews the very first volume of the Konrad Sejer/Jacob Skarre series, finally published in English translation. In the Darkness introduces Sejer with a bit more background that later books, and though published originally in 1995 it still works because, as Karen points out, Fossum’s work has something of a “timeless quality.”

Ms. Wordopolis reads Jo Nesbo’s The Redbreast, and though finding the wartime scenes confusing and not engaging, she ended up taken by the characters. Though it’s her first foray into the Harry Hole series, she puts her finger on one of the author’s characteristics: extremely intricate, even convoluted plotting.

Norm at Crime Scraps reviews Arnaldur Indridason’s Black Skies, the latest in the Erlendur series in which Erlunder is absent and the focus this time is on Sigurdur Oli. Though he was never my favorite character, Norm makes me impatient to read it. Rob Kitchin found it less successful, with the first half particularly hard to get into.

He also reviews another book I want to read badly, Anne Holt’s The Blind Goddess, which he thinks is quite good, featuring a character who has changed quite a lot (and not for the better) in 1222 – and he adds some intriguing commentary on what it says about the time period when it was originally published, 1993.

At Euro Crime, Maxine Clarke reviews The Blind Goddess, the first of Anne Holt’s Hanne Wilhelmsen series and (in her opinion) a better book than the previously translated eighth in the series, 1222. In addition to a plot that works well, this book includes strong characters and full of detail that reflects the author’s background in the Norwegian legal system.

Bernadette reviews Liza Marklund’s Last Will, and gives it high marks for the way it depicts the current world of the news media, treats several explosive issues with an even hand, and gives us a complex heroine. “I can’t say that I like Annika,” she writes, “but I like reading about her and find her a hundred percent credible.” One of the rather cliched baddies, not so much – but overall she gives the book top marks.

She also reviews Karin Wahlberg’s Death of a Carpet Dealer and finds it an engaging story which offers a trip to Turkey as an added benefit. Maxine also reviews it at Petrona, finding it readable, old-fashioned, and pleasant, if not a barn-burner of a story.

Kerrie in Paradise reviews Hakan Nesser’s The Mind’s Eye, the first of the Van Veeteren series, which she finds nicely compact in these days of over-long books.

Raven Crime Reads (a new to me blog) reviews Arne Dahl’s The Blinded Man (published in the US as Misterioso) calling it “taut and well-written” and the start of a series worth watching.

Cathy at Kittling Books reviews Sara Blaedel’s second book to be available in English (and third in its series), Only One Life, which she thought fell short of the mark. Though it has some interesting information about honor killings, she couldn’t warm to the characters, and felt as if from page one ” as though I’d missed my bus and kept chasing after it as it disappeared down the street.”

Glenn Harper thinks Carin Gerhardsen’s The Gingerbread House quite good (except for a bit where exposition bogs things down) and particularly handy with misdirection.  Jose Ignacio also reviews it, calling it a classic police procedural that is somewhat uneven in its execution.

And finally, Margot Kinberg takes a close look at Irene Huss, Helene Tursten’s series protagonist, providing quite a thorough biography of the character, one of my favorites.

Before I sign off, I must give credit once again to the place where I keep up with all things mysterious, the Crime and Mystery Fiction FriendFeed room. Many thanks to its founder, Maxine Clarke, and its regular contributors for filling me in. If you enjoy mysteries, this is a site to visit regularly.

A Scandinavian Tour in Reviews

It has been a month since I made the rounds to see what has been reviewed lately. I thought I’d better organize them somehow, so have listed them by country. Sweden, I’m afraid, gets the lion’s share of attention. My Norwegian grandfather could have predicted that.

Finland

Bernadette reviews Harri Nykanen’s Nights of Awe, finding the lead character intriguing but the plot a bit too Hollywood.

Peter Rozovsky also reviews it for the Philadelphia Inquirer and also questions the plausibility of the story, but enjoys Nykanen’s wry humor.

I am looking forward to getting my hands on a new translation of one of the Raid novels, also by Harri Nykanen, as well as Seppo Jokinen’s Wolves and Angels, which will be coming out next month from Ice Cold Crime. It’s always wonderful to have authors leave my “wanted” page once they are published in English translation.

Iceland

The Day is Dark by Yrsa Sigurdardotter was a bit slow for Sarah Hilary’s tastes, writing at Reviewing the Evidence, with an interesting take on masculinity but, she feels, too much exposition that slows momentum.

At the San Francsico Chronicle’s book blog, P.G. Koch finds Yrsa’s Ashes to Dust an intricately plotted thriller with the thought processes of an anorexic woman particularly chilling. Kirkus also gives the book a strong review.

Norway

Kerrie reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Phantom, which she finds bleaker and darker than previous Harry Hole books. She writes, “an interestingly structured, but very noir book, with the dominant narrator a boy who is already dead. And a rat with a problem.” I would add, a review that intrigues.

Mary Whipple also reviews The Phantom, finding it complex, full of plot twists, at times over the top, but certain to appeal to fans of the Harry Hole series as it builds on all the groundwork the author has laid in creating his brilliant and troubled hero.

And to round it out, Maxine reviews it at Petrona, finding Hole a bit too much of a superman, able to leap implausibilities with a single cinematic bound, but praises the book for its compelling and relatively uncluttered plot and what it has to say about the wages of addiction.

Kerrie gives Karin Fossum’s The Caller top marks and reckons that if you haven’t read any of the Konrad Sejer series before, this is a grand place to start.

Margot Kinberg puts Fossum’s Don’t Look Back “in the spotlight” finding it an unsettling and realistic depiction of the effects of a tragedy on a small community.

Sweden

Vicky Albritton takes a fascinating look back at an early crime novel, Hjalmar Söderberg’s Doctor Glas, a 1905 novel about science, sexuality, and an ethical bind created when a woman tries to escape the sexual oppression of her odious husband. Albritton mentions that a 2002 edition of the English translation has an introduction by Margaret Atwood,  an excerpt of which was published in The Guardian. She wrote, “Doctor Glas is one of those marvellous books that appears as fresh and vivid now as on the day it was published.”

Closer to the present time, Sjowall and Wahloo’s Martin Beck series is tempting Sarah at Crimepieces to drop everything and read. She reviews the 1966 novel, The Man Who Went Up in Smoke, in which Beck travels to Hungary in search of a missing journalist.

At Euro Crime, Rich Westwood reviews Camilla Lackberg’s The Stranger which is a new title for the previously-published Gallows Bird. He thinks the domestic bits are more convincing than the murder bits and prefers the original title.

Bernadette found Lackberg’s The Drowning disappointing, with a predictable plot that was not as interesting as in previous books, the cozy domestic scenes and ho-hum mystery formulaic. Since she has enjoyed other books in the series, she hopes this is a temporary aberration.

Sarah reviews Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment at Crimepieces, saying it was “a very interesting, albeit slow read where the isolated, icy community dominated the narrative descriptions.” It seems a good sign that the story stayed with her long after she put the book down.

She also reviews Hakan Nesser’s Hour of the Wolf, a very good entry in the series in her estimation in which a drunk driving incident triggers a string of violent acts. Though the wry humor of the series is not as much in evidence as usual, the tone is appropriate for the events of the story.

Nancy O tries to find nice things to say about She’s Never Coming Back by Hans Koppel, but dealing with a story that involves an imprisoned woman and repeated sexual assault is an uphill battle that ends up with an exasperated “jeez!  Enough already.” Or perhaps way too much.

Leif G. W. Persson’s Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End gets a mixed review at To Be Read . . . as character development and pacing takes a back seat to its broad canvas examination of Sweden’s recent history, though the reviewer finds it on the whole successful.

Shannon Sharpe thinks Persson’s approach to complex plotting with unsavory characters and lashings of dark humor lifts the novel far above the more popular Millennium Trilogy.

Laura Root reviews the next book in the series at Euro Crime. Another Time, Another Life is a complex and skillfully crafted novel with a dry narrative style and characters that are more sympathetic than those in the first book.

At Nordic Bookblog, Peter reviews Liza Marklund’s Vanished (previously published in a different translation under the title Paradise. He recommends it as a fast-paced story with an intriguing lead.

BookGeeks reviews Dark Angel by Mari Jungstedt, finding it “a well written and superbly plotted mystery” that does a good job balancing thriller elements and social background.

The Local (Sweden’s News in English) has a profile of defense lawyer Jens Lapidus, whose trilogy beginning with Easy Money focuses on the lives of criminals.  He is particularly interested in the parts of Stockholm where the residents are not blond and blue-eyed and in the perspective of people for whom crime is just another line of work.

In a review of Easy Money at Reviewing the Evidence, Chris Roberts calls it “a remarkably accomplished debut,” with a well-paced plot but characters who are not easy to like.

Peter of Nordic Bookblog reviews Ake Edwardson’s Sail of Stone, which he feels is an excellent entry in the excellent series, particularly strong for character development and writing style.

I also reviewed the book at Reviewing the Evidence. If you’re looking for fast-paced action and a tightly woven mystery to solve, look elsewhere. But if you can take the scenic route, this well-written and well-translated novel might fit the bill. I agree with Peter that “character study” is an apt description of Edwardson’s style.

Review of The Caller by Karin Fossum

Karin Fossum is a quietly disturbing storyteller who sets her stories in ordinary small Norwegian communities where everything seems wholesome and well-0rdered but, when a crime is committed and the gentle, wise detective Konrad Sejer comes to sort it out with his sidekick, Jacob Skarre, we realize that surface is deceptive, that in fact the mild-mannered and almost boringly normal residents have hidden depths and dark secrets. Though perhaps “secrets” is the wrong word. A lot of what’s wrong is perfectly visible; it’s just that people prefer to think their community is a better place than it really is.

In this case, a happy couple, having a pleasant meal together, assume their infant daughter is quite safe in her baby buggy parked in the back yard. (The Scandinavian practice of leaving babies outdoors was in the news in the US a few years ago when a couple left their infant parked on a sidewalk outside a restaurant in New York; worried citizens called the police, who charged the surprised couple with child endangerment. In this case, though it seems less reckless than leaving a child alone in a city, the American reader is torn between “something awful is going to happen” and “are they crazy?”) When they finally begin to think it’s time they brought the child indoors, they are horrified to find her covered in blood. After a frantic race to the hospital they learn it’s not her blood. Someone has played a cruel hoax, the first of many.

It’s a well-told story, and thought provoking (though there is some violence so awful that it makes me hesitate to recommend the book unreservedly). We get to see how the hoaxes affect their victims, including the strain it puts on the young married couple in the opening scenes. We learn who is likely responsible for them, and get a sense of how it gives an unhappy teenager with a difficult life a sense of power and control. The best character in the story, a girl with short red hair who shouts insults at passers by and notices everything, breaks out of this mold by being thoroughly aware, thoroughly herself, and instinctively good without being a goody two-shoes.

Fossum takes rather ordinary materials and, when putting them under a magnifying glass, brings out a lot of emotional texture and nuance that lends her books a kind of suspense that isn’t matched by thrillers with demonic killers and high body counts. Though acted out on a small stage and with few words, the impact is amplified. In part, it is the social pressure to support a communal appearance of normality and happiness that works against people taking responsibility for looking closer at things that really aren’t healthy in the community. And while evil is small-scale and human, truly awful things can grow out of a moment’s impulse.

Sejer is an unusual character in that he is thoroughly decent, a deeply kind and peaceful man, who acts more like a physician trying to heal a community than a crime fighter matching wits with villains. What Fossum finds so fascinating isn’t how evil people can be; it’s the way that small holes deliberately torn in the social fabric of a community can widen and unravel in ways that nobody can predict.

Not long ago, Maxine Clarke said something in a comment once that I remembered when reading this book – that there is something “fabular” about Fossum’s books, and I felt that very strongly here, particularly in the opening scene when an idyllically happy couple live in a perfect little house beside a deep dark wood  . . . and that fairy tale pattern is repeated later. It’s never a good sign in Fossum’s books when the language grows simple and the primary colors a bit too bright:

The mother was in the kitchen. She couldn’t see the pram through the window, but she wasn’t concerned about her sleeping baby, not for an instant.

Pottering about thoroughly content, she was light as a ballerina on her feet, not a single worry in her heart. She had everything a woman could dream of: beauty, health, and love. A husband, a child, a home and garden with rhododendrons and lush flowers. She held life in the palm of her hand.

There’s something almost vengeful in the way Fossum describes this image that is as glossy and false as an Ikea advertisement, as if contentment is for suckers. Her touch was a bit lighter in earlier books, the stories somewhat less schematic. It’s funny, because the parts that read like a fable seem a bit clumsy in contrast to the psychological nuance and acute observation of other parts of the book.

Maxine has also reviewed this book at Petrona, and so has Bernadette at Reactions to Reading, the review that made me pick the book out of my TBR pile, in fact.

Rounding Up the Reviews, from Yuck to Yay!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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