Happy Easter Crime!

Påskekrim

creative commons licensed photo courtesy of Rockspilden

The Spectator has a fascinating article about the origins of Påskekrim, Norway’s tradition of reading crime fiction at Easter. It seems a couple of enterprising guerrilla marketers of the late 19th century placed and ad for their novel about a train robbery that looked very like a news headline in Aftenposten. A tradition was born. As Norwegians head to their country cottages for the holidays, they take candy and entertaining books with them. The article goes on to profile worthy Norwegian writers, Anne Holt and Jørn Lier Horst, as well as a selection of Swedish and Danish recommendations.

The Newtown Review of Books, from Sydney, Australia, has a detailed review of Antti Tuomainen’s dystopian futuristic thriller set in Helsinki, The Healer.  Jean Bedford concludes, ” it is the juxtaposition of the rather gallant existentialism of the protagonists with the self-preservation and venality of most of the other characters that adds depth and texture to raise this dystopian crime novel well out of the ordinary.”

I have a copy on its way to me, and I am looking forward to it. In an email to me, critic Paula The HealerArvas wrote “it’s one piece of quality crime writing!” She also recommends Pekka Hiltunen’s Cold Courage which will be out in June. For more from Finland, see the website of the FELT Cooperative.

At Reviewing the Evidence, there are several Scandinavian crime novels reviewed this week. John Cleal finds Mons Kallentoft’s Autumn Killing complex, dark, splendidly written, and a bit of work for the reader – but well worth it.

Yvonne Klein finds some of the plot devices in Silenced, Kristina Ohlsson’s second novel, awfully shopworn, and isn’t taken with the characters, though the book does provide a picture of Swedish approaches to justice.

Anne Corey is enthusiastic about Helsinki Blood, the latest brutal and dark entry in James Thompson’s Kari Vaara series. (Thompson is an American living in Finland, where his books were first published.) Though it focuses on Vaara’s attempts to salvage a what’s left of his life after the violence of the previous book in the series, it ends on a hopeful note and a possible new direction for the series.

In an earlier issue of RTE, I reviewed Tursten’s Golden Calf, which I felt was a strong entry in the series that has interesting things to say about the way wealth distorts people’s values.

Jose Ignacio Escribano reviews Arne Dahl’s Misterioso (apa The Blinded Man) finding it well-written, intelligent, a tad slow in places, and very much in the social critique tradition of SJowall and Wahloo.  The BBC is airing a television series based on Dahl’s Intercrime novels starting in April. (Hat tip to Euro Crime.)

He previously reviewed Last Will by Liza Marklund, which he gives top marks, saying it’s an engrossing story that does a good job of weaving together the investigation and Annika Bengtzon’s personal life.

Margot Kinberg puts Jørn Lier Horst’s Dregs in the spotlight – part of her series in which she examines how a particular mystery works in depth. This episode is dedicated to Maxine Clarke, who was one of the first to review this book.

Andalucian Friend - USAt Crimepieces, Sarah Ward reviews Alexander Söderberg’s Andalucian Friend, which she enjoyed – with reservations. The story’s strength is in its well-drawn characters, but the non-stop action and attendant hype left her wondering what all the fuss is about.

More reviews of Söderberg’s novel can be found at The Book Reporter (which finds it an epic powerhouse of a novel), Metro (which is less enamored, finding the female lead lacking and the violence over the top), and Kirkus (which deems it promising but with issues).

Review of Silenced by Kristina Ohlsson

The team of detectives who first came together in Unwanted – led by Alex Recht and including the civilian researcher Fredrika Bergman and the crude but talented police officer Peder Rydh – have a handful of cases on their plates. A man, run down in the street, needs identification; a vicar appears to have shot his wife before killing himself, following the news that one of their daughters has died of a drug overdose. Their other daughter can’t be located for them to break the tragic news. Though the investigators don’t know about it, readers have witnessed yet another crime, one from the past, a rape that occurs in the opening pages. The Gradually, very gradually, the threads between these cases are drawn together by readers and the hardworking team.

The lives of the chief characters also play a role as the story unfolds. Fredrika is heavily pregnant, not feeling well, and regretting the loss of the comfortable life she’d had, including lots of energy for work and a satisfying if unconventional long-term relationship with an older married man. Peder, whose marriage has failed, gets into trouble by making sexist remarks (without really understanding why others find his humor so unacceptable). He also can’t help feeling aggressively competitive with a new member of the team, a humorless and upright cop named Joar. Alex is wondering why his beloved wife has become so distant lately.

Added to these story lines, readers follow the fates of two other characters, one an undocumented immigrant from Iraq who finds out that the new, cheaper route to Europe carries a much higher price than he anticipated, as the family he hopes to bring to Sweden for a better life has no idea what has become of him. The other, a particularly gripping part of the novel, concerns a Swedish woman who is undertaking a secretive mission in Thailand. She finds her identity, bit by bit, is being erased, with her return flight canceled, her email account locked, her phone calls home unanswered, feeling a growing sense of menace as everything that identifies her and connects her to her past vanishes.

Though the story involves immigration – the vicar was an activist on immigrants’ behalf, and clearly his activities providing shelter to undocumented travelers is somehow connected to his death – the author uses social issues as a backdrop rather than as a focus. The experience of being silenced is thematic, particularly in the case of the woman trapped in Thailand and the immigrant who finds himself in over his head, but the social issue is much less front and center than in some politically-conscious crime fiction from Sweden. Ultimately the complex (perhaps overly-elaborate) plot is about human relationships that are shaped by the usual human motives: greed, jealousy, or hope for a better life for one’s family. It’s a long book at over 400 pages, but quite an entertaining read.

The US edition will not be out until March, 2013. I must say, this is one of those rare occasions when I much prefer the US cover to the UK one.

Scandinavian Writers Coming to Minnesota

beyond the girl

We’re hosting four women writers and a noted critic in Minnesota from October 8-10, and have several free events that are open to the public, some in bucolic St. Peter, Minnesota and some in Minneapolis. I hope some of this blog’s readers can attend!

Our guests are Helene Tursten, Kristina Ohlsson (both from Sweden) and Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis (who write the Nina Borg series together and hail from Denmark). The critic is Kerstin Bergman of Lund University, who has written widely on the subject of crime fiction, including essays in Men Who Hate Women and Women Who Kick Their Asses: Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy in Feminist Perspective (Vanderbuilt University Press, 2012) and Scandinavian Crime Fiction (University of Wales, 2011).

They will be visiting classes on creative writing, gender studies, and Scandinavian studies and will also make these public appearances:

At Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter on Monday, October 8th

“The Women Strike Back: The Rise of Women Crime Writers in the Sweden 1997-2012” a lecture given by Dr. Kerstin Bergman at 4 pm in Confer 127

Author’s Abstract: The history of Swedish crime fiction was dominated by male writers, with only a handful of prominent women writers until the late 1990s. From the end of the 1990s, however, Swedish crime fiction has been characterized by a strong wave of women crime writers and an increasing number of women detectives. Liza Marklund and her first novel, The Bomber (1997) is often regarded a starting point for these developments, and today women writers hold a great share of the Swedish crime fiction market. In my talk I will describe these developments, addressing what brought this change along and what characterizes these women crime writers. Furthermore, I will bring up some of the challenges women crime writers in Sweden have faced and perhaps still face, and I will touch upon the role of feminism in recent Swedish crime fiction.

“Scandinavian Women’s Crime Fiction” Panel Discussion moderated by Barbara Fister and Dr. Glenn Kranking, with Dr. Kerstin Bergman (Lund University) and authors Helene Tursten, Kristina Ohlsson, Lene Kaaberbøl, and Agnete Friis, 7:30 pm in the Linnaeus Arboretum  Interpretive Center

At this event, the authors will discuss their work, how women are represented in Scandinavian crime fiction, what this genre has to offer, and what we can learn (for better or worse) by reading crime fiction from the Nordic countries.

In Minneapolis on Wednesday, October 10th 

Gustavus Library Associates Author Reception, 4:30-6:30 pm, American Swedish Institute (tickets required)

Wine and cheese and conversation with the authors and members of the library’s friends group, who regularly host author events and also raise funds for the library. There is a charge for this event.

“Beyond the Girl” public forum with Helene Tursten, Kristina Ohlsson, Lene Kaaberbøl, and Agnete Friis, 7:00pm, American Swedish Institute (free to the public, but reservations recommended by calling 612-871-4907.

This should be a fun event – a conversation with the authors about their work, their motivation for writing in this genre, the themes that particularly interest them, and how they feel about the way popular crime fiction represents their home countries.

This program is being hosted by the Folke Bernadotte Memorial Library with support from the Embassy of Sweden, the Gustavus Scandinavian Studies Department, and Sisters in Crime. Additional assistance has been provided by Gustavus Library Associates and the American Swedish Institute.

Five Books, Two Interviews, and Several Reviews

Photo courtesy of teosaurio.

At The Rap Sheet, Ali Karim interviews. Barry Forshaw about his guide to Scandinavian crime and asks him to recommend five books for the busy reader who wants to know what all the fuss is about. Jose Ignacio gathers alternative suggestions at The Game’s Afoot. Having given it a bit of thought, here is my list of five:

  • Anne Holt – 1222, because it’s fun and interesting and a bit outrageous. Also, very cold.
  • Liza Marklund – The Bomber, because this series offers a good example of the journalist as detective (though not sure this is the best of her books to read, as I’ve not read them all yet; maybe the newly translated Studio Sex, now known as Exposed would be a better choice).
  • Helene Tursten – The Torso, because it’s one of an excellent series of procedural mysteries and has a nifty cultural comparison of Sweden and Denmark.
  • Yrsa Sigurdardottir – Last Rituals, to demonstrate that Nordic writers can be gently funny and because of the Icelandic landscape.
  • Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis – The Boy in the Suitcase, which is narratively complex and socially aware, while also a fast-paced thriller about contemporary Denmark.

I could just as easily come up with five more lists of five! But I’ve been thinking about  women writers in particularly because I’m working on an event showcasing women crime writers from Scandinavia to be held in Minnesota next September if everything comes together.  Wish me luck!

Other commentaries on Forshaw’s Death in a Cold Climate can be found at Maxine Clarke’s Petrona and Martin Edwards’ Do You Write Under Your Own Name?

And Norm at Crime Scraps offers his list (now, with women!)

Catching up on reviews that have appeared in recent weeks . . .

Karen Meek of Euro Crime fame reviews Dregs by Jørn Lier Horst, giving it high marks (as has every reviewer I am aware of): “a very well thought-out plot, which keeps the reader and police baffled until the very end. The widowed Wisting is a steady, thoughtful detective with a wry outlook on life” – and she hopes there will be more in the series translated into English.

Karen also reviews The Phantom at the Euro Crime blog. I’m pleased to learn that it’s more like his earlier books than like The Snowman or The Leopard.

KiwiCraig also reviews The Phantom at Crime Watch, finding it “mesmerizing … Gripping, fascinating, highly recommended.”

And Sarah at Crimepieces rounds out the reviews with another thumbs up. The theme of the book, she writes, is the damage drugs can do, and the story pulls together many of the series’ threads.

At the Euro Crime blog, Karen notes a collection of Stieg Larsson’s journalism has been published in a volume titled The Expo Files.

At Euro Crime, Maxine reviews the latest Mari Jungstedt mystery, Dark Angel, which is a strong entry int he series, though with a somewhat wobbly ending.

At Reviewing the Evidence, Yvonne Klein finds Irene Huss a detective worth watching as she appears belatedly in the second of her series by Helene Turnsten. Night Rounds involves a ghost, a mysterious disease, and uncertainty about which victim was the murderer’s main attraction. Yvonne thinks the English translation is serviceable but thinks the series would have been better served if there wasn’t a different translator for each volume.

Norm reviews the new translation of Liza Marklund’s Exposed (formerly known as Studio 69 in the UK and Studio Sex in the US; he hopes this new version captures new readers for a series he considers a “must read.”

Per Wahlöö’s non-Martin Beck mysteries are not terribly well known; catch up by reading reviews of two of these political dystopias, Murder on the Thirty-First Floor and  The Steel Spring at To Be Read. Quite honestly, it sounds as if his writing is improved when liberally mixed with equal parts Sjöwall. There is an informative biographical sketch of the author, drawing parallels with Stieg Larsson (including, sadly, his untimely death) at The Independent.

Glenn Harper reviews Nights of Awe, the first in a new series by Harri Nykänen, featuring a Jewish detective, Ariel Kafka, working in Helsinki on a politically sensitive murder case, finding in it the same wry humor as in the Raid series. RebeccaK at the Ms. Wordopolis Reads blog, also recommends the book, though thinks Kafka has some irritating sexist habits; otherwise he is an interesting character in a story that sheds light on Finland and its relationship to Israeli/Palestinian affairs.

NancyO reviews The Torso by Helene Tursten, which she feels is the best of the series so far. She also reviews Tursten’s The Glass Devil. I heartily concur with her instructions to Soho, Tursten’s US publisher, when it comes to the yet untranslated entries in the series: nod nod, wink wink.

Jose Ignacio offers a bilingual review of the Spanish translation of Asa Larsson’s The Blood Spilt (apa The Savage Altar), which has elements like the first in the series, but is in the end quite different, and very good.

Bernard Carpenter of The New Zealand Listener has short reviews of several mysteries, including Mons Kallentoft’s Midwinter Sacrifice and the new translation of Liza Marklund’s The Bomber.

Beth at Murder by Type reviews Kristina Ohlsson’s Unwanted, which she finds a strong debut in a series worth watching. She also has high praise for Helsinki White, Jim Thompson’s third entry in the Kari Vaara series.

At Book Geeks, Mike Stafford has a thoughtful and appreciative review of Leif G. W. Persson’s Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End, warning readers it’s not an easy book to read, but ultimately is an impressive work. “While it places colossal demands on the reader,” he writes, “this is a book breathtaking in scope and majestic in execution.”  He concludes that it’s a trilogy that could rival Stieg Larsson’s – though I wonder if it might be better compared with the television series The Wire, with it’s broad canvas, vast cast of characters, and which could also be considered a complex “story of a crime” writ large.

And now, for a couple of interviews:

First, one with Denise Mina, who is working on a comic book adaptation of the Millennium Trilogy, which I must say was an awesomely smart decision.

Second, an interview with Jo Nesbo conducted by Craig Sisterson (aka KiwiCraig) published in a major magazine, New Zealand Listener. No surprise that it’s up to Craig’s usual high standard.

What We’ve Been Reading

In the Washington Post, Richard Lipez reviews Kaaberbol and Friis’s The Boy in the Suitcase, and finds the interwoven tales of two mothers, both intent on a boy who is drugged and shipped to Denmark in a suitcase, “another winning entry in the emotionally lacerating Scandinavian mystery sweepstakes.”

At Petrona, Maxine reviews the book, finding many of the characters well-drawn, but herself not particularly drawn to Nina Borg. Despite a disappointing denouement, Maxine found the book “exciting and involving” as it sheds light on issues of social injustice.

Ms. Wordopolis thought it was the best of the Scandinavian crime she has read lately, with complex characters and a riveting story that never becomes manipulative.

At Eurocrime, Lynn Harvey reviews the new translation of Liza Marklund’s The Bomber,  which she found a fast-paced thriller with an appealingly strong heroine.

The Daily Beast interviews the authors about the choices they made in the book, including the portrayal of men who carry out violent acts. They find crime fiction that dwells on violence is too often about how crime is committed, not who committed it or why.

At International Crime Fiction, Glenn Harper reviews Johan Theorin’s The Quarry, writing that Theorin continues to combine an interesting plot structure, lots of the flavor of daily life for the characters, including the recurring figure of Gerlof, an elderly resident of the island of Oland, and a folkloric supernatural element – continuing the arc of a series that he feels is about as far from the style of Stieg Larsson as it is possible to get.

He also reviews Helene Tursten’s Night Rounds and compares it to the previously-filmed Swedish television version of the story. He praises Tursten for telling an interesting story with just the right amount of domestic backstory – and Soho Press for restarting their publishing of this seires, which was one of the earliest Swedish translations into English among crime fiction titles.

Jose Egnacio reviews Dregs by Jorn Lier Horst, and recommends the Norwegian police procedural highly.  While still in Norway (at least in a literary sense) he offers his comments on K. O. Dahl’s Lethal Investments, which he found enjoyable. Crossing the border into Sweden, he reviews Sjowall and Wahloo’s Cop Killer, a late entry into the Martin Beck series which he finds thought-provoking, with “a fine sense of humour.”

At Eurocrime, Laura Root also reviews Lethal Investments, concluding that plot is less the author’s strength than character and being able to poke society with a sharp, satirical stick.

Mrs. Peabody investigates Jan Costin Wagner’s The Winter of the Lions, another entry in a series she admires, writing “the value of the series lies less for me in the plot or investigative process and more in the novels’ use of the crime genre to explore human reactions to death, trauma and loss. Melancholy and beguiling, these novels are a wintry treat of the highest order.” (As an aside – are there many reviewers in the media who write mystery reviews as good as this?)

Sarah at Crimepieces also reviews it, noting that it has a slightly bizarre but not implausible plot, praising the author’s writing and ability to create intriguing characters.

At Petrona, Maxine has mixed feelings about Kristina Ohlsson’s Unwanted. She found it a quick, entertaining read, but short on emotional depth and rather predictable, though the writing was good enough that she hasn’t written off the author yet.

For the Sisters in Crime 25th Anniversary Challenge, Maxine (who has completed two levels of the challenge and is well on her way to completing the expert level) profiles Inger Frimansson and includes Camilla Ceder and Karin Alvtegen among her “writers a bit like Frimansson” list.

Michelle Peckham enjoyed Mons Kallentoft’s Midwinter Sacrifice, finding it a slow-burning story with an intriguing lead character.

Beth sums up her thoughts about the Millennium Trilogy as David Fincher’s new film version hits theatres. She writes, “the real genius of the Millennium Trilogy is that Lisbeth Salander is no less an unforgettable character on the page as she is on the screen.”She also reviews Anne Holt’s 1222 which she found atmospheric and evocative. This novel recently made new in the US as it was just nominated for an Edgar “best novel of 2011” award

Keishon raises some excellent questions about “the commercialization of Scandinavian crime fiction” – in particular wondering if the trajectory of the Harry Hole series has been influenced by the demands of the American market for more violence done by armies of serial killers. The comment thread resulting is also well worth a read. She also reviews Asa Larsson’s The Black Path which she found an uneven entry in a strong series – making up for it in Until Thy Wrath Be Past, which she found “unputdownable,” full of strong scenes and unforgettable characters. 

Norm also gives Until Thy Wrath Be Past high marks – “refreshingly different and thought-provoking.”

Shadepoint names Leif G. W. Persson’s Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End the best book of 2011, which was challenging in its scope but in the end memorable and significant.

Kerrie in Paradise finds Jo Nesbo’s standalone Headhunters quite clever and advises readers to stick with it through its slow start.

If you’d like to browse a list of excellent reviews, you’ll find it at Reactions to Reading, where Bernadette lists the books she read for the Nordic Book Challenge of 2011. (She nearly reached Valhalla – as do I, reading her insightful comments on books.)

Some interesting feature articles to add to the review round-up:

Publishing Perspectives profiles Victoria Cribb, who translates Icelandic works into English and scrambles to keep up with Icelandic neologisms that are based on Icelandic roots rather than being merely imported from other languages. (Go, Iceland!) This small country, which publishes more books per capita than any other, was highlighted at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Dennis O’Donnell, book geek, reviews Barry Forshaw’s Death in a Cold ClimateForshaw himself blogs at Shots about covering the Scandinavian crime beat – and offers aspiring novelists a checklist of how to write a Nordic bestseller, among the tips changing your name to something like Børge Forshawsen.

Dorte contributes a wonderful survey of Danish crime fiction to Martin Edwards’ blog, Do You Write Under Your Own Name? including writers who are just becoming familiar to English-speaking readers as well as some we haven’t met (yet).

On the “in other news” front, Nick Cohen challenges Stieg Larsson’s claim to feminism, criticizing his (not translated) co-authored book on honor killings which Cohen says suffers from a left-wing abandonment of feminism when race enters the picture, using the issue to accuse leftists in general of waffling on women’s rights when it comes to immigrants.  The smoke is still rising from the comments.

reviews and EWwwww….

NancyO takes a look at Camilla Lackberg’s The Ice Princess, and find the romance thread and some of the cop shop scenes heavy handed (as did I) but otherwise enjoyed the book, with its enigmatic victim and keen sense of place.

Peter clues us in on some of the writers he considers emerging stars: Danish writer Jussi Adler-Olsen,  the writing duo Kaaberbøl & Friis, also from Denmark, Swedish writers Kristina Ohlsson and Camilla Ceder, and Øystein Wiig and Thomas Enger from Norway. Ceder will be available in English in the UK soon; Dorte adds in a comment the good news that Kaaberbøl and Friis will be published in the US by Soho. Thanks for the heads-up!

A reviewer at The Bookbag (a wiki-based review site in the UK) thinks Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment is slow and confusing at first, but in the end it all comes together nicely. Sounds as if there’s a fair amount of romance as well. Hmm. Norm will be disgusted to know that the publisher has put a big label on it saying “Move Over, Wallander!” At least it’s not the next Stieg Larsson.

And the Girl made it to the cover of Entertainment Weekly, a popular US magazine. It promises to reveal “the secrets behind the hottest book on the planet” but actually focuses on movie deals. There’s also an article on whether Larsson had a problem with women (the author is especially irritated that Salander had a boob job; the comments are voluminous and some are very interesting). And an article on the Swedish National Library acquiring science fiction stories written by Larsson when he was a teen, basically saying “ooh, gross, I hope nobody reads what I wrote when I was that age” (but since you probably wrote it on Facebook you are SO BUSTED!). I am irritated with the hack who wrote . . .”Magdalena Gram, Sweden’s deputy national librarian (which means when she says shhh, you listen)” . . . that’s such a lazy, tired stereotype.

EW’s coverage is rounded out with yet another article on who will star in the American remake. It quotes Knopf’s publicity director, who describes Larsson as a “global brand” which makes me wonder how differently all this hype would play out if Larsson were here to respond to being treated as a highly successful product line.