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.

reviews and more

The New York Daily News has some travel advice for those who want to follow the footsteps of Swedish sleuths. If you are truly obsessive, you may even reserve Wallander’s table at his favorite restaurant.

The Australian Courier-Mail has an interview with Asa Larsson and manages to work Stieg Larsson into the title.

Ali Karim, the consummate fan, has an appreciation of Arnaldur Indridason at Shots Magazine, marking his appearance (again) at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where his books originally found their international audience with Jar City.

I reviewed Jussi Adler-Olsen’s The Keeper of Lost Causes (also known as Mercy) for Mystery Scene magazine. (Shortcut: I liked it quite a lot.) For an alternative view, see what Glenn Harper has to say – he feels it’s not a bad book, just a bit flat and lacking in nuance. At Reviewing the Evidence, Yvonne Klein didn’t care for all of the ingredients, but liked the results very much. And Bernadette has some insightful things to say – including the way the role of humor in the book, in spite of some horrific goings-on, sets it apart, as does the way that a tired fem-jep trope is given fresh life by creating a woman who is extraordinarily tough and resourceful.

More recently, Glenn has reviewed Outrage by Arnaldur Indridason, in which Elinborg takes the lead. He writes that she is “fully the equal of other female detectives in Scandinavian fiction.”

While dallying in the north, Glenn also reviews Jorn Lier Horst’s Dregs, which he declares “a first-class police procedural” with an interesting protagonist. Though it’s actually the sixth in the series (and first to be translated into English) he finds the author did a good job of filling the reader in sufficiently to make it a good place to start.

(For more on this author, who is himself a policeman, check out an interview published at Cyprus Wells.)

And Glenn also reviews Stefan Teganfalk’s novel Anger Mode, which he likens to Jussi Adler-Olsen and Leif G.W. Persson. The author’s strength is plotting, but the dialogue, Glenn feels, can be on the wooden side, making the book longer than it needs to be.

Keishon reviews Arnaldur Indridason’s Voices, which she finds sad and realistic – a good review that captures the mood of the book well.

Maxine Clarke reviews Midwinter Sacrifice by Mons Kallentoft for Euro Crime, finding it a good if over-hyped portrait of small town life, its limitations thrown into relief by a murder. She thinks the main character has potential and gives the translator, Neil Smith, high marks, particularly for the sections of the book that are told from the victim’s perspective.

She also points out that if you follow people on Twitter, you might want to follow @SwedishNoir.  Thanks, Maxine!

Margot Kinberg puts Detective Inspector Irene Huss in the spotlight, particularly looking at the way that author Helene Tursten weaves together the personal and professional in this character. (I do like this series, and having a lead character who is so balanced and pleasant to be around is part of it.)

The Independent has reviews of Camilla Lackberg’s The Hidden Child and Asa Larsson’s Until Thy Wrath Be Past. Both involve crimes of Sweden’s past and both are recommended.

In the Irish Times, Declan Burke reviews Liza Marklund’s Exposed, which is apparently the first in the Annika Bengtzon series, summing up: “concise, pacy and direct, eschewing any literary pretensions to language or characterisation in favour of a hard-hitting polemic on the topic of domestic violence, in which the personal is very much the political.”

The Globe and Mail reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Headhunters, mincing no words: “If you thought Scandinavian crime fiction couldn’t get better than Steig Larson and Henning Mankell, you’re wrong.. Norway’s Jo Nesbo is better than either and this book is far and away his finest.”  Paired with this review is one of Karin Fossum’s The Caller, giving her points for psychological suspense and her ability to find ” violence in the everyday,” which I think is Fossum in a nutshell.

At Petrona, Maxine also reviews Headhunters, calling it “a dazzling, relentlessly paced thriller, combining classic noir elements with Nesbø’s trademark intricate plotting that constantly challenges the reader’s wits and attention span. What a refreshing read!”

Mrs. Peabody investigates a couple of Scandinavian television crime dramas coming to BBC in 2012. (Oh dear, another brilliant and maverick profiler mourning the death of his wife and child . . .) More at the BBC site.

Fox is developing Leif G. W. Persson’s series into a television drama series with the director of Syriana and Traffic (the US version) directing. This plus more on Fincher’s Girl, a von Trier adaptation of Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Department Q series, an American Jar City, and a confused reference to who will play the detective in Mankell’s novel Italian Shoes being made into a film – sorry, folks, but it’s not about Wallander; it’s not even crime fiction.  Another article in Word and Film reports that Jo Nesbo’s Headhunters is being made into a film, then speculates about which part of the world will be the next hot destination when we’re tired of Scandinavia.

And while we’re on the subject of reinterpretations, here’s news that DC Comics has acquired the rights to turn the Millennium Trilogy into six graphic novels. I have to say – strange though it may sound – I think this is great. Maybe it’s because I grew up with Classics Comics or maybe because Larsson was such a fan of pop culture himself, but I quite like this idea. I’d rather they be Swedish, and not by a mega-company, but these seem to me books that will work well in graphic format.

Finally, let’s let the New Yorker have the last word . . .

coming soon, or recently arrived

Catching up on a backlog of reviews and other things … I thought this time I would be geographically organized.

Nordic countries in general

Break out your wallets; Simon Clarke provides a tempting list of recent and forthcoming translations.

Norm has a poll going at Crime Scraps on which women crime writers from Nordic countries are most popular, his first entry in the Sisters in Crime 25th anniversary book bloggers’ challenge.

Denmark

At Crime Segments, NancyO reviews Jussi Adler-Olsen’s The Keeper of Lost Causes  (apa Mercy), which she enjoyed tremendously, particularly for its characters and all-around originality, concluding it’s “amazingly good.”

More praise for Adler-Olsen in the Winnepeg Free Press, with a shout-out to the translator.

Dorte offers some intriguing commentary on the background of a book in the Department Q series, not yet translated into English. Fascinating stuff, and something to look forward to.

Violette Severin visits Denmark on a Europass challenge.

Finland

I review Jarkko Sipila’s Nothing but the Truth, which I enjoyed quite a lot. Maxine reviews the author’s Against the Wall and finds it a pretty good police procedural.

Maxine also reviews Sofi Oksanen’s Purge and sparks off a debate about whether it should be considered crime fiction or not. The paperback release is trending that way, though it’s more of a historical saga. Whatever it is, she found it extremely good.

—– not a thing for Iceland at the moment, sorry —–

Norway

At How Mysterious! Karen Miller Russell finds her patience with Karin Fossum running out, being particularly unhappy with The Water’s Edge (which I liked a great deal). The author’s focus on crimes involving children has made her lose interest – though Maxine, in a comment, may have coaxed her to give The Caller a try.

Jose Ignacio Escribano takes a look at K. O. Dahl’s police procedural series featuring Gunnarstand and Frolich to remind himself that Lethal Investments will be released soon.

Sweden

Jose Ignacio Escribano reviews Sjowall and Wahloo’s The Locked Room (in both English and Spanish), the eighth in the Martin Beck series.

Lynn Harvey reviews Camilla Lackberg’s The Preacher at Euro Crime, enjoying the contrast between the main character’s loving home life and the convoluted (perhaps too convoluted) troubles of the family embroiled in tragedy. Incidentally, Philip reports in the FriendFeed Crime and Mystery Fiction room that Lackberg is getting involved in a television series and feature films and will be slowing down her book publishing schedule as a result.

Bibliojunkie (who is not looking for a cure) is impressed by Hakan Nesser’s Woman With Birthmark, saying it’s “very well constructed and elegantly told” in a thorough and insightful review.

The Sunday Business Post (Ireland) has a lengthy and interesting interview slash profile of Liza Marklund exploring her motivation as a writer and a politically-involved journalist and documentarian.  And oh, look who wrote the interview – Declan Burke! No wonder it’s so well done.

SinC25 Challenge #3 – Karin Fossum (repost)

[I’m reposting here a post from another blog where I’ve been taking a challenge that I perversely set to write about ten favorite women crime fiction authors and suggest similar women writers. This is in honor of the 25th anniversary of Sisters in Crime.]

I recently had to overcome my indecision in trying to choose just one woman writer from the Nordic countries in Norm’s poll at Crime Scraps. (This sure beats voting for political candidates, when I am usually choosing the lesser of evils.) I ultimately chose Karin Fossum, though there are lots of writers in that poll whom I admire greatly. But Fossum is … well, she’s a bit unusual. And while not all of her books work totally for me, they are memorable and often make it to my tops of the year.

Fossum’s books tend to be set in small communities in Norway, where everyone knows one another – or so they think. When a crime is committed, everyone is shocked, but before long you realize there’s a great deal bubbling along under the surface, and the placid belief that things are just fine is challenged on many fronts. This sounds a bit like Cabot Cove or British village cozies, where the thoroughly unpleasant deceased conveniently racks up lots of enemies (so as to provide loads of red herrings) and once the detective has examined the clues and exposed the culprit, the natural order of the peaceful community is restored.

No, Fossum invites you into a peaceful community, peels back the illusion of wholesome goodness, makes you (and the characters themselves) realize that there are a lot of unhealthy situations flourishing under the surface that are actually nourished by everyone eagerly maintaining an illusion of tranquility and decency. She makes us uncomfortable in a quiet and subtle way.

Her series characters, Konrad Sejer and Jacob Skarre, are the sort of police officers you would want to show up in a crisis because they are patient and good listeners and invariably kind while maintaining a well-calibrated moral compass. They tend not to get excited or act macho and don’t make much of their authority, yet it is indisputably there in it’s pure moral state. They get the job done and restore order.

But we readers aren’t allowed to feel complacent. In the final pages Fossum almost always adds one last ambiguous twist, one touch of uncertainty that leaves you unsettled and uncomfortable. Her purpose is not to confirm that rural Norway is a safe and tranquil place but rather to remind us that a communal agreement to ignore problems is dangerous and all too common.That violence that erupted and was settled by the police is still there, just out of sight.

The first book in the Sejer series, Don’t Look Back, is a masterful and very quiet story that unfolds as the detectives wonder why the girl who was murdered and left beside a lake had grown so moody before her murder. It turns out that she had become aware of an impulsive act of violence that a truly caring community would have prevented, if they weren’t sustaining an illusion of peace through mutually assured indifference. In The Indian Bride, a lonely man who travels to India and finds a wife gets interrupted when he is supposed to meet her at the airport. She is murdered before she can find her way to her new home. It turns into a fascinating exploration of how an isolated community responds to an outsider and the lengths to which her intended husband will go to lie to himself. I was also very impressed by the short novel, The Water’s Edge, which tackles the sensational topic of pedophilia in a very muted and sensitive way while also raising questions about how society in general treats its children. I reviewed it for Mystery Scene and concluded “As Sejer and Skarre probe into the life of the missing child they demonstrate a fundamental law of Fossum’s universe: Nobody is blameless; everyone is capable of cruelty. The author handles the most despicable of crimes with restraint while uncovering the hidden violence of ordinary lives.” I tend not to recommend When the Devil Holds the Candle because I found it so deeply disturbing that I could hardly bear to read it. It’s certainly memorable, though! If you like a chilling bit of psychological suspense, it might be just the thing for you. (Shudder.)

Three somewhat similar women authors . . .

  • Ruth Rendell (whose non-series books can be as psychologically acute and as creepy as Fossum; her Wexford novels not so much)
  • Karin Alvetgen (a Swedish author who also focuses more on psychological insight than on social critique, though both she and Fossum could earn honorary degrees in social psychology)
  • Dorothy B. Hughes (who, I should confess, I haven’t read much – but In a Lonely Place published in 1947 has some of the same psychological creepiness and elaborate but convincing self-deception that Fossum does so well.)

an update – with a little help from my friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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