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.

More Reviews and Some New Writers on the Scene

Jan Wallentin is a newly translated author who undergoes torture at the Guardian where reviewer John O’Connell describes Strindberg’s Star (published in 2010 and apparently popular in Europe) as “post-Da Vinci Code assemblage of ancient artefacts, Norse myth, nazism, travelogue and secret societies.” He  finds the characters “almost as preposterous as the plot” and he’s not enthusiastic about the translation, either.

The site Crime Fiction Lover lives up to its name by loving it, however, saying it’s dark, unsettling, and compelling.

Glenn Harper reviews Ake Edwardson’s Sail of Stone and does a remarkable job of describing why he likes this author’s style so much. Since I have always had trouble describing Edwardson’s very particular style, I can’t resist quoting him:

The two stories hardly seem weighty enough for a crime novel, despite the considerable parallels between them, but in Edwardsson’s hands there is considerable tension and forward motion, as well as a pair of unconventional climaxes. A good deal of the novel is carried forward in oblique dialogue that’s frequently comic in its indirectness. Along the way there’s considerable discussion of music (Erik is a jazz fanatic who doesn’t care about any other music, while the other detectives have their own soundtracks) and vivid evocations of Göteborg/Gothenburg in Sweden and Scotland from Aberdeen to Inverness. We also get lively glimpses of Erik’s and Aneta’s private lives, without descending into soap opera.

Edwardsson is one of the best writers in the Swedish crime wave.

And I will add that Harper is one of the best reviewers.

He’s been quicker than I am to review one of the new Stockholm Text books, Anna Jansson’s Killer’s Island. He wasn’t taken with the writing style, but found it improved as the book went on. It has the same setting as Mari Jungstedt’s series and a preoccupation with personal lives of the characters that reminds him of Camilla Lackberg. He recommends the television series based on these books if you are lucky enough to catch it .

Philip at To Be Read … reviews one of my TBR books, The Murder of Halland by Danish author Pia Juul. Though it is fiction that includes a crime, he wonders whether it’s a mistake to consider it crime fiction as it is circuitous and more of a literary approach to a woman’s trauma than the sort of plot-oriented investigation crime fiction fans anticipate. I guess I will find out in due course how I come down on this issue. The review itself is intriguing, so I hope to enjoy an intriguing novel, whatever its genre.

He also reviews Stefan Tegenfalk’s Anger Mode, which sounds like a great deal of intelligent fun.

Bill Selnes reviews Helene Tursten’s Detective Inspector Huss at Mysteries and More and is eager to read more in the series. (So am I!)

Norm at Crimescraps enjoyed Jo Nesbo’sPhantom, but thinks (having set himself a very high bar) it’s not the author’s best. It does sound like quite a detailed ethnography of drug addition in a large European city, as well the development of Harry Hole’s paternal side.

He also reviews Hakan Nesser’s Hour of the Wolf, a Van Veeteren series book that won the Glass Key in 2000. He recommends it highly. Jose Ignacio also gives it high marks at The Game’s Afoot. Even though I’ve not yet read this book, I wholeheartedly agree with one line of the review: “Reading becomes an addiction.”

Margot Kinberg puts Camilla Lackberg’s The Ice Princess under the spotlight – particularly focusing on the small town setting and how that affects the story.

W. J. H. Read reviews Lief G. W. Persson’s Another Life, Another Time at I Love a Mystery, saying it is “compelling, suspenseful and at times very funny,” recommending it highly. In general, this seems to be a more accessible book than the first in the series. It also confirms that the author likes long titles.

Fleur Fisher (aka Jane) thought very highly of the book, and does an excellent job of explaining why, summing up by saying “I was impressed by the tightness of the plotting, and that though the story was complex it was not at all difficult to follow … I was held from beginning to end, by a very capable piece of crime writing, set in a very real and wonderfully evoked world.”

Kimbofo is favorably inclined toward Arnaldur Indridason’s Outrage, finding the focus on Elinborg rather than the usual protagonist, Erlendur, more pleasing than she expected and pointing out that it wouldn’t be a bad place for readers new to the series to start. Maxine in the comments points out that the next in the series, Black Skies, takes place during the same period of time and focuses on Sigurder Oli who makes a more interesting protagonist than expected.

Book Geeks reviews Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s The Day is Dark, finding it solid, but not exceptional, with many interesting features but pacing that is . . . oh, no, I feel a terrible pun coming on, given it’s largely set in Greenland. Never mind.

In the most recent issue of Swedish Book Review, Paul O’Mahoney offers a translated snippet from Kjell Westo’s novel, Don’t Go Out Alone Into the Night. Westo is known to crime fiction readers as the author of the psychologically suspenseful novel Lang. This issue also reviews new fiction in Swedish, including a novel by Johann Theorin, Sankta Psycho, that is not set on the island of Oland, but rather takes place in a psychiatric facility connected to a preschool (!). Marlaine Delargy is translating this book which will be titled in English, The Asylum.

If you’d like to learn more about Eva Gabrielsson’s relationship with Stieg Larsson, she was interviewed on WHYY’s Fresh Air program. I realize many of you would prefer not to.

Mrs. Peabody investigates Harri Nykanen’s Nights of Awe. She wasn’t all that impressed by the convoluted plot, but really liked the way the Jewish-Finnish lead character was developed.

Sarah at Crime Pieces reviews Asa Larsson’s The Black Path, which (confusingly) has just been published in the UK, though it precedes Until Thy Wrath be Past.  She feels it’s quite good, but the backstory gets rather heavy-handed and the ending “out of proportion with the rest of the narrative,” which means our feelings are practically identical. I do like this series, though, even when it’s not at its top form.

She also has an excellent essay on how the Sjowall and Wahloo novel The Man on the Balcony and Marco Vichi’s Death and the Olive Grove manage to deal with a difficult topic – abuse and murder of children – without the usual missteps, but rather with insight and understated respect.

And carrying on with Scandinavian crime, she reviews Thomas Enger’s Burned, which she picked up after hearing the author speak at CrimeFest. She thought it was very good, particularly for its depiction of the non-stop contemporary news business. (I liked that part, too.)

Good grief. The New York Times has had some silly ledes lately (“Men invented the internet” for example, “Men with pocket protectors” and with powers that make them invisible to fact checkers and skeptical editors) but it’s nevertheless a bit embarrassing to have them tell us “Norway has Noir” as if it’s, you know, news or something. Jo Nesbo spoke at Book Expo America. He was pretty funny, according to my Twitter informants. The Gray Lady should perhaps pay more attention.

Kerrie reviews Johan Theorin’s The Quarry, which she gave high marks. (I did, too.) Another book she has reviewed recently is Next of Kin by Danish author Elsabeth Egholm, whose sleuth is a journalist. Kerrie recommends it as a good read.

Mons Kallentoft’s second book in English, Summertime Death, gets Sarah’s attention at Crimepieces. She praises his writing style and found most of the book well-paced, except toward the end. It sounds a bit “once more with feeling” but still a good one – though Sarah hopes he’ll try for more variety in future books. The book is also reviewed favorably in the New Zealand Listener, where Bernard Carpinter declares it “complex and excellent.”

Kerrie adds another thumbs up to the general praise for Jorn Lier Horst’s Norwegian police procedural,Dregs. How about translations of the entire series? And a US release, while I’m being demanding? She had a bit of trouble getting into Anne Holt’s The Final Murder, but once into the swing of things enjoyed the Stubo/Vik story. Incidentally, Holt’s 1222 has just been nominated for a Macavity award, with the winners to be announced at Bouchercon this coming October.

Speaking of CrimeFest, Karen of Euro Crime did some wonderful on-the-fly reporting, including a detailed report from Death in a Cold Climate – a panel moderated by Barry Forshaw featuring Asa Larsson, Thomas Enger, Ragnar Jonasson (sadly, not yet translated into English), and Gunnar Staalesen, as well as Roslund and Hellstrom interviewed by Janet Laurence.

I should take this opportunity to thank Karen and her partners in crime reviewing. The Euro Crime site now has 2,303 reviews, bibliographies for 1,793 authors, and information about close to 10,000 books. That’s an awesome achievement, and all done for love.