Bits and Bobs and a Promise of a Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

rounding up the reviews

What a lot of reviews appear in the weeks since I last compiled them! And a very interesting mix, too.

India has its aficionados of Nordic crime. Among them is Anantha Krishnan, who reviews for a number of online sources. A recent example is this review in Midwest Book Review of Camilla Lackberg’s The Stonecutter.  Ananth feels Lackberg’s strengths are in character development and setting more than plot. (I have to agree.)

Maxine Clark reviews Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom’s new thriller, Cell 8, finding it disappointingly ham-fisted in its treatment of an issue, capital punishment. She found the lead character unappealing and the use of coincidence and thin character development in the service of Making a Serious Point less than satisfying. She does point out that fans of political thrillers looking for a fast read may enjoy it.

Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise had a different experience reading Cell 8 – she found it well-paced and ingeniously plotted, with a nice ironic touch at the end. She also has done a bit of digging and points out that this book was published after Box 21 but before Three Seconds.

At the Independent, Barry Forshaw is also generally positive about the book, noting its strong political message, but concluding “the duo never lose sight of one imperative: to keep the readers transfixed with a mesmerising crime narrative.”

At Euro Crime, the founder and genius-in-chief,  Karen Meek, reviews the latest in Kjell Ericksson’s Ann Lindell series, The Hand that Trembles. Though she finds the series uneven, this book was largely enjoyable after a sluggish start set in India and should appeal to those who prefer depth of characters over pacing and thrills. Unfortunately the production leaves much to be desired, with many problems a good proof-reading would have fixed.

Glenn Harper reviews Jo Nesbo’s standalone, Headhunters, and found it good fun except for the disgusting bits. It sounds very different than the Harry Hole series.

At The View from the Blue House, Rob Kitchen praises Arnaldur Indridason’s Outrage, which he finds layered, philosophical, and reflective while doing, as usual, a good job of mixing mundane daily life with a police investigation.

At Murder by Type Beth reviews Hakan Nesser’s The Unlucky Lottery which she finds a solid character-driven novel that explores what happens when friends win a lottery and it opens up a can of problems.

Three reviews for the price of one at Killer Reads – where readers comment on James Thompson’s Lucifer’s Tears, a Finnish mystery I enjoyed very much.

Keishon reviews Asa Larsson’s The Blood Spilt and gives it – and all of her books – high marks, though she found the ending a bit predictable.

At Crimepieces, Sarah reviews Jorn Lier Horst’s Dregs, which she feels has the qualities that she most enjoys in Scandinavian crime fiction – while sharing the unfortunate fate of being translated out of order.

Bernadette also reviews Dregs at Reactions to Reading and encourages publishers to give English-speaking readers more volumes in this smart, enjoyable series.

Beth at Murder by Type reviews Sara Blaedel’s Call Me Princess which she enjoyed, but cautions readers that it is being compared to all the wrong books; it’s much lighter fare than Stieg Larsson, though like the Millennium Trilogy, it’s about violence against women. If approached on its own merits, Beth thinks it’s well worth a read.

She also reviews The Leopard by Jo Nesbo, which she enjoyed very much, but which has an off-puttingly violent first chapter. Sounds like one to read with your eyes closed – or as she puts it, “the first chapter is unforgettable, which is why I wish I hadn’t read it. ” The other 94 chapters make up for it.

NancyO reviews Midwinter Sacrifice by Mons Kallentoft, which she finds very good and atmospheric, though she’s not convinced that the device of including the voices of the dead is particularly effective. (Or, as she puts it in the comment stream, “the series has potential to be very good but LOSE THE GHOSTY stuff!”

Kerry at Mysteries in Paradise listened to an audio version of Roseanna, the first in the Martin Beck series and finds it “a masterpiece of suspense and sadness.”

Norm at Crimescraps undertakes a reading of The Dinosaur Feather by Sissel-Jo Gazan and describes the experience with a great deal of humor, while providing a review. (Far too much backstory and subplotting in a doorstop of a book hides a good 300-page story hidden among 536 pages.)

And at Reviewing the Evidence I review Arne Dahl’s Misterioso, which seems to me closer to the Martin Beck series than any other Swedish crime fiction that is said to be inspired by Martin Beck. Though it seemed slow to start, I ended up enjoying it very much, and found the context – Sweden’s 1999 financial crisis – to be almost eerily topical and Dahl’s take on it spot-on.

The Euro Crime blog brings the good news that Maj Sjowall has been awarded the Big Caliber Prize of Honour at the International Festival of Crime Fiction, in Wroclaw, Poland. And well deserved it is, too.

The blog also provides a public service by alerting readers to a completely unnecessary and confusing title change. (Camilla Lackberg’s The Stranger = The Gallows Bird. Don’t be fooled into buying it twice.)

On the film and television front, Martin Scorsese will be directing a big screen version of Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman.

Much excitement is mounting over David Fincher’s version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, thanks to which it’s back on the New York Times‘ bestseller list. The New York Times just ran a profile of Fincher and his thoughts on the film. I won’t try to capture the buzz around the film, as that avalanche would quickly bury everything else here.

Though not actually crime fiction, we might as well mention that Henning Mankell’s Italian Shoes is being directed by Kenneth Branagh and will feature Judy Dench and (possibly) Anthony Hopkins.

But for sheer silliness, it’s hard to beat the clash of British and Scandinavian policing in the Hürda Gürda Mürder.

a marvelous answer to a non-question

At Petrona, Maxine rounds up crime-fiction-related commentary in the press following the dreadful terrorism in Norway, features that question whether there’s something unusual about Scandinavian countries and how their writers tackle the triggers that lead to violence; she wisely says “many of these questions are non-questions. Norwegian society is no different at some granular level from any other society.” What follows is an excellent armchair traveler’s guide to Norwegian crime fiction. She concludes:

A sense of place marks a good novel, of course, but though place provides a specific snapshot, the issues faced by us are common ones wherever we live. Crime fiction provides a most appropriate lens with which to examine such matters, often being well ahead of the curve, while enjoying a good story as we go.

Go read the whole thing – it’s superb. (And why hasn’t any major newspaper signed Maxine on as a columnist? They could do worse. In fact, they almost always do.

NPR interviews Anne Holt, a Norwegian writer who has been following extremist groups, for her insights into Norwegian society and how people like Breivik can fill up with hate. (Unfortunately the insights one gets into American society reading the comments are rather depressing. If they are a mirror to society, it’s a very warped one.)

More at The Guardian (Brian Oliver), the New York Times (Jo Nesbo), and Jakob Stugaard-Nielsen at the Nordic Noir Book Club.

Peter reports that Roslund and Hellstrom have won the CWA International Dagger award for Three Seconds.

Maxine reviews Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s The Day is Dark at Euro Crime, finding it entertaining but a bit too leisurely in its pacing; she also misses the interactions of the protagonist and her family, as this adventure takes Thora to Greenland where someone is making mischief at a mining facility.

Also at Euro Crime, Karen Meek reviews Karin Fossum’s The Caller, which sounds very chilling and very, very Fossum.

Glenn Harper at International Noir Fiction welcomes Red Wolf, the delayed translation of the sequel to Liza Marklund’s The Bomber  and wonders why such a significant writer has had such poor luck in the English language market. He also has some interesting things to say about the portrayal of the flawed main character. (And in this case, as is generally true of these blogs, the comments are well worth reading.)

On a Scandinavian tear, he also reviews Agnete Friis & Lene Kaaberbol’s The Boy in the Suitcase, the first work of this Danish team to be published in English translation, and makes me very impatient to read it.

He also reviews Arne Dahl’s Misterioso, finally published in English after many years of teasing, and finds it a satisfying police procedural somewhat more in the mold of Sjowall and Wahloo than the many books that supposedly trace their lineage to S & W.

Misterioso and Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotist are reviewed by Lynn Harnett in Seacoast Online, and gives them both a thumbs up, though with the caveat that Kepler tends to strain the suspension of disbelief. (An aside: why do newspaper websites go to such lengths to disguise the community they serve? There’s rather a lot of seacoast in the US. This one appears from the ads and various subheadings to be Casco Bay in Maine – the sort of mystery I’d rather not be bothered trying to solve.)

Norman reviews The Vault (Box 21) by Roslund and Hellstrom and says “If you read crime fiction because you want to see justice done this is not the book for you. If you like books that are truthful, very sad, and don’t pull their punches then get hold of this superb example of Swedish crime fiction that jumped straight in to my top reads of the year.” (I might add here that I thought this book far more memorable and moving than Three Seconds. The subject matter is more gripping, but also more disturbing.)

Bernadette reviews Camilla Lackberg’s The Stonecutter and compares it to an ad campaign for a non-alcoholic whiskey (??!!??): “the drink you have when you’re not having a drink.” It’s a melodrama with characters she cares about that has a crime in it. Had the crime solving been more competent, we’d have about five minutes with the characters and that wouldn’t do. (An aside: S.J.Watson wrote a novel about a woman with amnesia; his editor said “this is a thriller, only you need to make it more thrilling” – which probably explains the way the ending acts so different than the rest of the book.)

Beth at Murder by Type reviews Kjell Ericksson’s The Hand That Trembles, which sounds complex, timely, and well worth reading. Hmm … add that to the TBR.

At the Public Sphere, there’s a review of Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotist, which uses the key words grim, dark, blood-spattered, and compelling. He starts with a charming Swedish word that has no exact equivalent in English: “lagom” – just enough, just right, not too much. It’s something The Hypnotist (and several other Swedish thrillers) lacks. Hmm, that makes me wonder – which Nordic mysteries can be described with that word? 

Possibly this one. NancyO reviews Johan Theorin’s The Quarry and makes me more impatient than ever to read it. She does a good job of depicting how this author is able to write in a style that is deliberate and thoughtful and yet makes you want to keep turning the pages – all without explosions, serial murders, or conspiracies that need to be thwarted to prevent the end of the world as we know it. Some thriller writers should study this technique.

Peter Rozovsky at Detectives Beyond Borders has been reading Agnete Friis and Lene Kaaberbøl’s The Boy in the Suitcase, which sounds very interesting indeed – another one for Mount TBR.

There’s a brief interview with Maj Sjowall about the Martin Beck series at the website for Fourth Estate, a HarperCollins imprint which is reprinting the books. You can see all the covers here. Wait, is that a cousin of the man whose back is on so many covers? And perhaps second cousin to that ubiquitous running man is making an appearance, too.

Barry Forshaw, who has a new book in the wings, is interviewed by Jeff Kingston Pierce for Kirkus ; Norman responds with his thoughts on how the Nordic nations do not have a corner on social critique but rather are popular because many of the writers are very good at telling stories.

I do wonder, though, if our idea of what makes a good story might be turning a bit from the good guy/bad guy confrontation between good and pure evil to a more reality-based kind of story, which some of the best Nordic storytellers do particularly well. And perhaps, too, this is why so many of these stories being told well in Italy and Ireland and South Africa and in Scandinavia also have such a strong sense of place – when you ground your stories in some version of reality, it has geographical coordinates. But they also have a combination of interesting chain of events and characters you care about that give them passports to bookshelves in many countries.

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.