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.

notes from the “stormakstiden”

The dust is just starting to settle on the whirlwind that is the semester’s start, so am taking a deep breath and combing through my alerts and blog feeds to see what I’ve been missing . . .

Quite a lot!

Ali Karim has a two part interview with Swedish authors Anders Rosland and Börge Hellström at The Rap Sheet – part one and part two. They have this to say about the climate for the genre:

Swedish publishers have for many years nurtured and treated crime fiction as a strong, independent genre … We share this ethos that the crime-fiction genre is not just “pulp.” The best crime fiction’s duty is to entertain and tell a good story, but [it should also be] imbued with knowledge and question what we see around us.

Writing crime fiction is something that we take very seriously and put our whole hearts into; it is, and should be, just as difficult and demanding as writing any other kind of novel … And when you see it like that, and those around you recognize that genre fiction is as relevant (and important) as literary fiction, then good results are entirely possible. And of course it helps that as Scandinavians, we have so much darkness, so many long dark nights, snow and cold, lack of daylight, that actually the environment is conducive to crime fiction.

In Publishing Perpectives, Lasse Winkler offers an appreciation of how Stieg Larsson’s success has provided entree to US markets for Swedish genre writers and mentions how much Swedish publishers are culling their lists, publishing more domestic crime fiction and less in translation.

Norm (aka Uriah) reckons this might just be a “stormakstiden” – a golden age for crime fiction that we might in future find dominated by Scandinavian authors.

The British version of Wallander is running in its second season on PBS in the US, and I am woefully late in letting folks know. Janet Rudolph was not so tardy in her appreciation. Kenneth Branagh speaks about his role in an interview.  Keep watching Sunday evenings between October 3 – October 17.

Bernadette has finished the Scandinavian crime fiction challenge launched by Black Sheep Dancing, and has a handy set of links to her reviews, the most recent of which is of Jo Nesbo’s The Redbreast.

Geoffrey McNab interviews Henning Mankell for the Dublin Herald.

An interview with Camilla Lackberg is available at the Explore West Sweden blog. (And oh, yes, I would like to explore west Sweden.)

Glenn Harper reviews the television version of the Irene Huss series by Helene Tursten – and in the comments, there is the very good news that Soho will be publishing more of the series – yippee!

And on to reviews:

Maxine reviews Silence by Jan Costin Wagner, a German writer who lives and writes about Finland. She finds it “quietly compelling” and helpfully links to reviews by Karen Meek at Euro Crime and Norm at Crime Scraps.

Bookaholic of the Boston Book Bums reviews Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Last Rituals, “a quick read that blended the macabre with the academic.”

Martin Shaw, a bookseller in Australia, reviews Anders Rosland and Börge Hellström’s Three Seconds and calls it “stellar.”

Karen Meek reviews Postcard Killers, the collaboration between James Patterson and Liza Marklund, which has the trademarked pace uninterrupted by social commentary or much about Sweden that couldn’t fit on a . . . well, a postcard.

Carly Waito has good things to say about Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Martin Beck series and has a lovely photo of them, too.

Karen Russell of How Mysterious! reviews Karin Fossum’s Don’t Look Back, which she decided would be the first of many Fossums she would like to read.

Peter reviews Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment, which he thinks shows promise.

Now I feel a bit caught up; if I can just find a moment to read . . .

Nesser say Nesser (plus a few more links)

Marilyn Stasio’s comments on the Branagh Wallander (including Branagh’s comments on his version of Wallander and some quotes from Mankell hismelf) are interesting.

Mr. Branagh admires the mournful cops in Swedish, Icelandic and Norwegian crime novels for tackling the big social problems that globalization has created in their countries and in other supposedly stable governments around the world. “The Wallander novels are a sort of requiem for a lost utopia, for the lost innocence of Sweden,” Mr. Branagh said in a phone interview. “Using Sweden as his inspiration he writes of the larger loss of innocence for a world that is expanding in so many ways, but is unhappier than ever.”

The Brothers Judd recommend the original Swedish television series – and, while they’re at it, the original Norwegian film Insomnia. (I totally agree with that recommendation.)

Reading Matters reviews Camilla Lackberg’s The Preacher, finding it generally well-done, though the domestic stuff gets a bit cloying at time (and at 400+ pages could have been trimmed).

Maxine has no reservations about recommending Hakan Nesser’s Mind’s Eye: “The plot is simple yet powerful; elemental themes are involved; there is lots of droll humour and neat touches; the solution is satisfying; and one is left hoping for more.”

Norm (aka Uriah) of Crime Scraps also likes Nesser’s The Return. I like the way he blends the very black humour into the police procedural format, and that reminds me a lot of the Martin Beck series.”

There’s a brief review in the Times of Nesser’s Woman With Birthmark as well – hat tip to Maxine for the link. “The laconic, cynical Chief Inspector Van Veeteren is in the general mould of Northern European coppers, though not as troubled as many . . . A novel with superior plot and characters.”

And finally, DJ reviews Helene Tursten’s The Man With the Little Face – which she thinks is good so long as it stays in Sweden; the action moving to Spain is less plausible. Sadly, it hasn’t been translated into English and may not be now that Soho has dropped Tursten from their list.

good news

Steph’s wonderful WhereDunnit blog is full of good news.

Sunnie has her reservations about The Girl Who Played With Fire – and wonders if anyone else did. “Good in parts but annoying and exasperating in others.”  (She calls it a “curate’s egg” – a new phrase to me, but possibly a good book title, eh?)

Cathy Skye reflects on The Princess of Burundi – mixed feelings, but worth reading: “There was just enough of main character Ann Lindell there for me to know that she’s someone special that I would like to get to know better. (I would suggest that, if she has any more children, her maternity leave occurs between books and not right in the middle of one!) I also found Eriksson’s descriptions of Sweden and Swedish society to be very good. As I was reading, I felt as though I were there crunching through the endless snow and becoming better acquainted with the people.”

crimeficreader thinks highly of Camilla Läckberg’s The Preacher and writes a lovely and thorough review to explain why. Go read it.

If you’re going to CrimeFest you can hear all about the art of translation in the “Foreign Correspondant” panel. I believe this is all Maxine’s fault, or is it Karen’s? Anyway, never underestimate the power of blog comments.

this and that

There’s a good review of the BBC Wallander series at Material Witness.  It helps that the lead actor is so talented.

Branagh utterly dominated the screen, making it all but impossible to look away. His unshaven face, stooped gait, and tired red eyes held a raging storm of conflicting emotion as well as an uplifting humanity. It was a moving, mesmeric performance, understated and yet dramatic, absolutely as good as anything I have ever seen on the small screen.

And the fact that it is being filmed on site in Sweden plays a role, too . . .

The canvas on which Branagh was painted was equally dramatic. There is a quality of light and space in Scandinavian countries in the summer that is quite different to anything I have experienced elsewhere. It is captured exquisitely by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle. But despite the light and the space Wallander also captures that essential quality of Nordic gloom. It is quite something to pull this off.

Altogether, two thumbs way up. I should also mention that crimeficreader has a thoughtful and excellent recap of a documentary about Mankell that ran on BBC – John Harvey (John Harvey!!) talking to Mankell and others (including a hugely charming Jan Guillou). Do I lose all my Scandinavian crime fiction cred if I confess I like John Harvey’s books better than Mankell’s?

And finally – Ali is winding us up for the debut of the second volume in Stieg Larsson’s trilogy with an interview with Larsson’s bereaved father, who bought his son a typewriter for his thirteenth birthday, but then had to send him to the basement to use it because it was too noisy.

Odds & Ends

Karen Meek points out a double interview by Auntie Beeb of Henning Mankell and Kenneth Branagh, the British actor whose portrayal of Kurt Wallander will begin running in the UK on November 30th. (North America: eat your heart out.)

The filming was done in Sweden. According to Branagh, “It is absolutely right that we came to shoot in Sweden as they have a different relationship to the landscape. People are much more aware of what the environment can do to you in sometimes a bleakish landscape and in that kind of atmosphere it is a really good place for drama.”

Mankell says of the setting, “The town of Ystad, where my books are set, is like the Texas of Sweden, in that it runs along the border. I feel that in border countries there is a special dynamism that I use in my stories.”

I am late in linking to the news that was posted to Crime Scraps when it was hot off the press. Uriah lists the nominees for the annual mystery prizes in Sweden. Among them are some names familiar to English-speaking audiences: Asa Larsson and Johan Theorin. Less familiar are Arne Dahl and Elisabeth Gilek. Up for the Martin Beck award are John LeCarre, Deon Myer, Maria Schenkel, and Peter Temple.

Uriah also recaps a lively Stieg Larsson debate that has been bubbling in the cauldrons of 4MA. Ali and Norm may not see eye to eye on Larsson, but at least agree on the brilliance of Arnaldur Indridason and Johan Theorin.

And at the WaPo, Maureen Corrigan reviews Arnaldur’s The Draining Lake – and says, apropos of Dave Zelterzman’s new book,

I don’t know about you, but with the world in financial free fall I don’t feel like reading comic mysteries or cozies or even espionage thrillers. I don’t want escapism. I long to immerse myself in literature that captures the all-encompassing anxiety of the times. There’s only one type of mystery that fits that profile, and that’s crime noir: the jittery genre, born during the Great Depression, about saps and grifters who ain’t gotta barrel of money and just can’t get a break; the genre about a world gone wrong and the greedy bumblers who made it so.

And she wonders, as many of us have done, whether Iceland’s financial disaster will provide a plot for Inspector Erlendur. In a sense, he already has commented on it. Before the fall, he viewed Iceland’s new wealth with suspicion and was unhappy with the way all that money was distorting traditional Icelandic values. I’m sure the banks’ comeuppance will provide the gloomy detective with a small “I told you so” pleasure.

“so damn Swedish, it makes your heart sing”

The Times has a meditation on Swedish crime fiction and the particular place Henning Mankell holds in it as a new television drama of Sidetracked from the BBC starring Kenneth Branagh as Wallander nears its November release and as Pyramid, a short story collection, reaches bookstore shelves.

The article includes an interview with Mankell that reveals a lot about what underpins his writing – and what he says can actually be extrapolated to much of Scaninavian crime fiction.

The Stockholm-born Henning Mankell writes Wallander as so damn Swedish, it makes your heart sing. Strindberg or Bergman could have created this man with ease. Yet he’s a huge global hit, selling about 30m books in 100 countries, translated into 40 languages. Perhaps it’s because his mission is the greatest a literary sleuth can accept: to explore the dark heart of society and, in his case, the collapse of the liberal Swedish dream. When I meet Mankell, who was a successful author before he created his gloomy gumshoe, he explains that Wallander was born in May 1989, out of a need to talk about the creeping xenophobia [Mankell] was witnessing in his home country. The first book examines the anti-immigration sentiments that boil over when an elderly couple are presumed murdered by “foreigners”.

“I had no idea this would be the start of a long journey,” Mankell says. “I was writing the first novel out of anger at what was happening in Sweden. And, since xenophobia is a crime, I needed a police officer. So the story came first, then the character. Then I realised I was creating a tool that could be used to tell stories about the situation in Sweden — and Europe — in the 1990s. The best use of that tool was to say ‘What story shall I tell?’, then put him in it.” . . .

“People see how essential the relationship between democracy and the system of justice is,” he argues. “We know that if the system of justice doesn’t work, democracy is doomed. Wallander is worried about that, and so are many people in democracies. Maybe that’s why he is so popular. I am a very radical person — as radical as when I was younger. So my books all have in common my search for understanding of the terrible world we are living in and ways to change it.”

This interest in social problems – and what it takes to confront and overcome them – infuses Scandinavian crime fiction. How intriguing that this radicalism has found such an international audience.

via Sarah Weinman.