Death of a Carpet Dealer by Karin Wahlberg

Karin Wahlberg is the author of a long-running series featuring chief inspector Claes Claesson of Oskarshalm, a small port city in Smaland, Sweden. The first to be published in English translation appears to be the  eighth in the series. That doesn’t detract much from the reading experience, as the story doesn’t demand previous familiarity with the characters.

The book opens on a ferry in Istanbul, where an elderly carpet dealer from Sweden is enjoying the passage across the Bosporus. At least, he’s enjoying himself until someone stabs him in the chest. Who would have committed such a crime in broad daylight, taking advantage of the crowd leaving the ferry to melt away, undetected? And why would someone want to kill a harmless old Swede? Claes is called away from parental leave to check in with the Turkish police investigating the crime. One of his colleagues, a Turkish-Swedish officer, finds himself attracted to Merve Turpan, a detective inspector who is competently handling the Turkish investigation. But before long, the Swedish police realize the roots of the crime most likely lie at home.

This is an old-fashioned, amiable, rambling sort of a book, one that takes its time following various characters about, and giving us a tour of Istanbul that is pleasant and interesting, though punctuated with travelogue info-dumps that are not woven very smoothly into the storyline. I’m always complaining that books are too long, and this one (at 390 pages) is no exception. It may have been my distracted mood while reading the book, but I found it hard to keep focused on the story as we hopped from one character to another, none of them enormously vivid (though a nervous Turkish tea salesman on board the ferry sticks with me, for some reason).  I enjoyed the company of the main characters, and would have liked to spend more time with Merve, but I’m afraid overall it’s a book I’m forgetting much more quickly than I turned the pages. If given the choice of a formulaic thriller or Death of a Carpet Dealer, I would gladly choose the latter, but on the whole I’d rather read something else.

None of this vague dissatisfaction is the fault of the translator, Neil Betteridge, who has done an admirable job. I just have a feeling this is a book that doesn’t suit my personal tastes. The publisher, Stockholm Text (who kindly provided me with a copy) has made a lengthy excerpt available online so readers can see if it’s up their alley or not.

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.

New Publishing Player: Stockholm Text

Responding to the same passion for Scandinavian mysteries that animated this blog (which has gotten a bit dusty, lately – sorry for the infrequent posts) and to the new potential offered by short-run printing and ebook distribution, a new venture has been launched with four crime fiction titles translated from Swedish in the past month. Stockholm Text (which has an attractive website featuring moving parts and paper-like cutouts – and Pippi – and dragons) is aimed at reaching a global audience “without technical or geographical borders,” according to the publisher. “Packaged for the future, we deliver the books wherever you are.” What that means is printing through short run or print on demand companies and selling the books in print and electronically wherever readers are. What a refreshing change from the usual regional restrictions.

Stockholm Text kindly sent me copies of their first crime fiction offerings. They are attractively packaged with covers that carry just enough branding to be distinctive. The books are by different authors, only one of whom has been published in English before, with different translators. I hope to have reviews up here in due course. Another intriguing aspect of this publishing house is that they aren’t concerned about spacing books out traditionally; we’ll have more books by Carin Gerhardsen and Mari Jungstedt in just a few more months.  In addition to crime fiction, Stockholm Text has other works on their list, including non-fiction.

But these are the titles that will interest crime fiction fans:

Mari Jungstedt’s The Dead of Summer – in a familiar series to Scandinavian crime fans, this entry features the murder of a man on an isolated island where he has been camping with his family. As Anders Knutas is on holiday himself, Karin Jacobsen investigates, with reporter Johan Berg covering the news.The translation is by Tiina Nunnally.

Anna Jansson’s Killer’s Island – more islands! In this case, a legend from Gotland’s past intersects with a present-day murder. Jansson has written over a dozen crime novels (including  one nominated for a Glass Key award and made into a television drama) and several children’s books and works part time as a nurse because she evidently likes to be busy (!) The translator is Enar Henning Koch.

Karin Wahlberg’s Death of a Carpet Dealer – involves a Swede who has traveled to Turkey to buy carpets and is murdered there. It’s one of series of (so far) eight books featuring Chief Inspector Claes Claesson and his physician wife. The author is an obstetrician. (These are some very busy writers.) The translator is Neil Betteridge

Carin Gerhardsen’s The Gingerbread House – part of a police procedural series set in south Stockholm in which bullying that occurs in a primary school has long-term consequences. Gerhardsen wrote the first three volumes of the Hammarby series before submitting them all at once for publication. The translator is Paul Norlen.

I just got word that the publisher has a nice offer for readers at the moment. Purchase a paperback or e-book from any retailer, send the order confirmation to  ebba.bandh@stockholmtext.com – you will be sent a free copy of another of one of the publisher’s crime novels.

I’m excited to have more authors, especially women authors, being translated into English.  I’m intrigued by the publisher’s embrace of new technology. And I’m really happy that a publisher and the authors they work with are thinking beyond borders.