Petrona Award and more

It’s official: The Petrona Award for the best Scandinavian crime novel of the year has announced its very first shortlist and judges. The finalist will be announced at Crimefest.  From the press release:

The Petrona Award has been established to celebrate the work of Maxine Clarke, one of the first online crime fiction reviewers and bloggers, who died in December 2012. Maxine, whose online persona and blog was called Petrona, was passionate about translated crime fiction but in particular that from the Scandinavian countries.
The shortlist for the 2013 award, which is based on Maxine’s reviews and ratings is as follows:
PIERCED by Thomas Enger, tr. Charlotte Barslund (Faber and Faber)
BLACK SKIES by Arnaldur Indridason, tr. Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker)
LAST WILL by Liza Marklund, tr. Neil Smith (Corgi)
ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER LIFE by Leif GW Persson tr. Paul Norlen (Doubleday)
The judges are an erudite and very well-read group – Barry Forshaw, Kat Hall (aka Mrs. Peabody), and Sarah Ward. Find more about the award at Petrona Remembered.
Sarah Ward reviews Sjowall and Wahloo’s The Locked Room at Crimepieces. It’s the eighth in the series and perhaps not the strongest, but Sarah enjoyed the sly ending. She also reviews Leif G. W. Persson’s Linda, as in the Linda Murder, which features Evert Backstrom, who is “compelling and abhorrent. Sexist, racist, homophobic, facetious, work-shy, dismissive of his team . . . and very, very funny,” making her predict readers will either love or loathe this unusual novel.

Jose Ignacio Escribano offers a bilingual review of Anne Holt’s The Blind Goddess, which was the first in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series, though he points out there really are multiple protagonists, rather like the Martin Beck series (a very interesting parallel). Originally published in 1993, this novel won the Riverton prize as best Norwegian crime novel of the year.

Glenn Harper has some good things to say about Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotist, and some criticism, particularly of the flashbacks that bog down the pacing and some cliched characters.

Bernadette reviews Mons Kallentoft’s second seasonally-themed procedural, Summertime Death, and reports that the weather is frightful – hot, muggy, and very well-depicted, as was the cold in the first book. However the novel doesn’t score as well on plot, character development, or plausibility and the inclusion (once again) of voices from beyond the grave doesn’t help.

She fares better with Arnaldur Indridason’s Black Skies, which uses the sidekick Sigurdur Oli as its main character, with Erlendur off somewhere for reasons unclear. Though Sigurdur Oli is a pretty average bloke, he turns out to be quite complex – as does that plot, which appears fairly straightforward until you try to summarize it, at which point the author’s narrative skills in layering lots of material without cluttering things up becomes apparent. (I so want to read this book!)

Col (who has decided to review at least on Scandinavian mystery a month – hurrah) has high praise for an earlier book in the series, The Draining Lake, which does a good job of layering stories from different time periods.  

Col adds Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Played With Fire to his criminal library and gives it mixed marks, with the action-packed second-half making up for a slow and plodding start. He liked it enough to read the third.

NancyO reviews Helene Tursten’s The Golden Calf, which she felt was a bit disappointing in the end, though the pacing and the character of Sana, a spoilt child-woman who doesn’t help the police figure things out, was well drawn.

Raven Crime Reads also has review of the book, and now plans to catch up on the earlier volumes, having found it a well-crafted procedural that is less gloomy than many Nordic novels.

Harry Hole gets around. There’s a review of The Phantom in the Philippine Daily Inquirer by Ruel S. De Vera, who finds it darkly intoxicating.

Marilyn Stasio of the New York Times was not terribly impressed by Alexander Soderberg’s The Andalusian Friend, which she thinks might have been amusing if written by Donald Westlake rather than treated seriously.

The New York Public Library has a roundup of the usual suspects of Nordic crime fiction, with links to audio pronouncing names that I know I mangle often enough. Especially Sjowall and Wahloo! (Hat tip to Sarah Ward.)

The Guardian reports that a series based on Arne Dahl’s Intercrime series will be broadcast in the UK by the BBC. Let’s hope this will spur on translations. It took years and years for Misterioso to finally appear in English.

Bitch Magazine has an interesting article by Soraya Roberts on the Scandinavian-feminist take on the standard tropes of film noir, including in her analysis the Millennium Trilogy, Forbrydelsen (The Killing), Borgen, and Bron/Broen (The Bridge).  She concludes

The importance of noir heroines like Lisbeth Salander, Sarah Lund, Saga Norén, and Birgitte Nyborg Christensen is not only to put women on an equal footing with men—we can be just as work obsessed and as socially inept as you—but, more important, to change the traditional view of women as victims. By updating the women in noir from sex objects and victims to protectors—of both women and men—Nordic noir series are setting a precedent for other genres to accept. If the trench coat fits, a hero is a hero regardless of gender.

An article in Slate by techno-skeptic EvgenyMorozov tipped me off to an intriguing website that eschews algorithms and instead asks various prominent folks for their book recommendations, humanizing curation and perhaps doing it better. FiveBooks asks Jo Nesbo which novels he recommends and the answers are interesting (and not what one might expect. Or perhaps even find particularly rewarding in every case. Rivington, for example, is … well, for example may be exactly how to put it, as an important historical contributor to Norwegian crime whose stories, according to Nesbo, very much reflect the tastes of his time. (NB: quite a few of us use humans as curators. I suspect most readers are far more responsive to and satisfied by “you might also like” statements when they come from friends.)

Advertisements

an update – with a little help from my friends

Jane at the Madison (Wisconsin) public library reviews Jussi Olsen-Adler’s Keeper of Lost Causes (published as Mercy in the UK) and says it’s “a suspenseful, sometimes darkly funny, mystery thriller that is my number one book so far this year.”

Shelf Awareness dedicates an issue of its “maximum shelf” to it as well.

NancyO reviews Arnaldur Indridason’s Outrage, finding it a good addition to the series though, with its focus on Elinborg as the detective this time, she finds the domestic bits a tad overdone.

She also reviews Arne Dahl’s Misterioso, and recommends it, though it won’t deliver edge-of-the-seat thrills so much as solidly-assembled ensemble procedural work conducted by a large cast of police. She plans to read as many in the series as she can, though it has taken ages for this first English translation to actually appear.

Glenn Harper is not mesmerized by Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotist.

Peter, on the other hand, is enthusiastic about Asa Larsson’s Until Thy Wrath Be Past, the fourth book in her series about lawyer Rebecka Martinsson and Inspector Anna-Maria Mella. It also gets a thumbs up at The Bookbag, which says it’s “not strictly a police procedural, as we know pretty much what has happened from early on, but more of a psychological thriller and an intriguing mystery as to why two young people died.”

There’s an interview with Asa Larsson in The West Australian, in which she says her own past not only involves growing up in Kiruna and being a lawyer, like Rebecka Martinsson, but also a period of time involved with a fundamentalist church, which is interesting in view of the themes of her first two books.

He also gives Jarkko Sipila’s Nothing but the Truth high marks, saying it is “a very entertaining, suspenseful and excellently plotted crime fiction novel” that raises important questions about the role citizens play in criminal justice. I just recently finished this myself, and agree – review to follow soon.

Jose Ignacio Escribano thinks that Karin Fossum’s Bad Intentions is not the best of her books, but still worth a read, being disturbing, intense, and intelligent.

He also gives Arnaldur Indridason’s Voices high marks for being humane and well-written, as well as complex, dealing with the theme of stolen childhood sensitively.

Karen Meek reviews the audio version of Camilla Lackberg’s The Gallows Bird, which she feels has a rather disappointingly hole-prone plot but is nevertheless an entertaining story, nicely narrated by Eammon Riley.

Maxine Clarke thinks very highly of Johan Theorin’s third book in the Oland quartet, The Quarry, which is no doubt going to be a strong contender for the CWA’s International Dagger.

Quentin Bates has lived in Iceland, but is not an Icelander, yet makes it his fictional home. Crimeficreader (Rhian Davies) enjoyed his mystery, Frozen Out, particularly enjoying the strong female lead, ‘Gunna’ Gunnhildur Gisládottir.

Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen traveled in the opposite direction; this Danish author’s ebook mystery, The Cosy Knave, is set in Yorkshire, and has been discussed by two Australian readers, Kerrie and Bernadette, who has been in on the mystery from the start.

Bernadette also reviews Thomas Enger’s Burned, a “solid debut” that didn’t have its plot entirely under control, but has strong characters, even those that are not at all likeable.

Rohan Maitzen has a nice essay on the Martin Beck series and how it challenges those who persist in thinking crime fiction is good only when it “transcends the genre.”

Despite the persistent assumption that some literary forms are inherently more formulaic than others, all writing relies on genre markers, and “genre” itself is a notoriously unstable term, invoking categories that are both permeable and endlessly mutable. The real issue — the critical issue — is how form is used, what it enables us to discover. We shouldn’t ask whether crime fiction needs to transcend its traditional forms, but rather how those forms have evolved, and what they have made possible. . . . Sjöwall and Wahlöö are among those who show that, in the hands of visionary and capable writers, crime fiction can simply be great literature. The only transcendence required is the reader’s.

Norm and the new translator of the Annika Bengtzon series untangle the series order for us. It’s a bit unusual for a publisher to spring for all new translations of a previously translated work, unless you are Tolstoy. But, to stick to publishing tradition, they are giving books new titles to make it all more exciting to shop and are keeping the US and UK publications out of sync. Good to know they aren’t breaking all the rules.

Looks as if Leif G. W. Persson’s series about Evert Backstrom is destined for the American small screen.

Peter Rozovsky, always on the lookout for humor, finds some in Three Seconds. He also notes a lot of border-crossing going on in Swedish crime fiction that harkens back to the old days of the Hanseatic League.

Laura DeMarco rounds up lots of Scandinavian crime at the Cleveland Plain Dealer in a nicely detailed piece, with a sidebar on “ten essential authors.”

And finally, I’ve mentioned it before but I owe the Crime & Mystery Fiction friendfeed group, founded by Maxine Clarke, an enormous debt for finding and commenting on so many fascinating links related to the genre. Not only is it a good place to find out what’s going on, it’s inhabited by charming and well-read fans of the genre.

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.

so many books, must make time

Peter, as usual, is ahead of the game and gives us an early glimpse of the fifth book in Camilla Lackberg’s series, The Hidden Child, which takes a look at wartime secrets and makes the pages turn quickly.

He also catches us up with Norwegian author Thomas Enger and his new book, Burned, which he finds fascinating, convoluted, and with a terrific ending.

Ben Martin at the Advocate has some stern things to say about crime fiction that is stooping too low – he’s quite cross about Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotist and Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman.

What made Mankell and Larsson so compelling was the determination by their protagonists to master the evil. Without this moral dimension, such tales are merely horrific. . . .

The Hypnotist, by a Swedish couple writing under the pseudonym Lars Kepler, is a repellent book. Its special nightmare quality is the involvement of children in crimes of murder, kidnapping, rape and mutilation, either as victims or perpetrators. . . .

Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman, inspires similar dread . . . As the chapters proceed, the means of death grow more gruesome, the motives more obscene.

But he praises Hakan Nesser and especially Arne Dahl, whose Misterioso is finally going to be available in English. He says is “truly fine” and the first translation in a series that is a worthy successor to Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series.

Lucky Bernadette has already read Johann Theorin’s The Quarry, which is set on his favorite island, this time in the spring. She writes:

As has been the case with the previous two novels of this series I was once again enveloped by the atmosphere Theroin, ably aided by his translator Marlaine Delargy, has created here. It didn’t feel like I was just reading about the island’s slow awakening from it’s harsh winter to spring: I lived through the lengthening days, the appearance of the first butterflies, the people getting to know each other and themselves. I loved every moment of this book from its first word to its excellent closing line.

As these are seasonal books, and we’ve had three, I’m afraid we have only one more left.

Keishon, the avid mystery reader/blogger, thinks highly of Theorin’s Echoes from the Dead, saying, “I always find myself thoroughly immersed in his stories. To me Johan Theorin is a natural-born storyteller whose novels are often described as “chilling” and “atmospheric.” He has a strong authorial ‘voice.'” She also does her part to combat grade inflation, causing a bit of controversy.

Maxine Clarke reviews Arnaldur Indridason’s Outrage at Euro Crime; this ninth volume in the Erlendur series is much more about his colleague, Elinborg, who investigates a murder the old-fashioned way, teasing out every clue and learning as much as possible about the victim. As Maxine points out, procedurals that avoid technical gee-wizardry are less likely to date themselves. All around, a good mystery, though the who dunnit aspect is less successful than the overall depiction of an investigation and the people involved in it.

Peter Rozovsky reviews a dark and violent crime story – Harald’s Saga, one of those early Icelandic thrillers that (along with Ed McBain) influenced Arnaldur Indridason’s style.

In the Wall Street Journal, Tom Nolan reviews The Hypnotist, finding it (appropriately) mesmerizing and (perhaps less appropriately) grisly. Though, he concludes, when you live in the wild north “sometimes you need an ax.”

Norm reviews Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment at Crime Scraps and wonders if mysteries today aren’t indulging in a bit too much backstory. If the review had to be summarized in one syllable, it might be “m’eh.” Meanwhile, update your RSS feeds, as Crime Scraps has finalized its divorce from Blogger.

Elaine Simpson-Long, Opera Lover, also loves Henning Mankell’s elegaic coda for the Kurt Wallander series, The Troubled Man, though she’s sorry it’s the last one.

I find when reading Mankell’s books that the narrative style and flow is very even and balanced, no sharp, short sentences or any breaks.   The reader is gently taken along and after a while it is almost a soothing experience to read this author and this ebb and flow reflects the character of Kurt Wallander himself, it is almost hypnotic . . . A thoughtful quiet read and well worth it.

BBC’s World Book Club offers a lengthy and informative interview with Henning Mankell. Hat tip to Mediations for the link.

The Material Witness reviews Sofi Oksanen’s Purge and gives it high marks for psychological stealth and subtlety. For some reason, I hadn’t realized she’s Finnish, so belongs here (though the setting is Estonia, and there is some dispute over whether this book can properly be called crime fiction).

Barry Forshaw has a lengthy and interesting essay in The Independent  about Norwegian crime writers and their thoughts about the genre, making a brief stop on his way to publishing a book on Scandinavian crime fiction to be titled Death in a Cold Climate. Peter Rozovsky writes about it at his blog with a pun clever enough to cause toothache.

And if you haven’t had your fill of The Girl, Variety has an article about David Fincher’s US remake of the Millennium Trilogy films; all the Swedes interviewed seem to be pleased with it, where apparently Fincher has fans. They are also relieved that it hasn’t been moved from Sweden to a US setting or filmed on location in the nearest Ikea store to Hollywood.

Hang onto your wallets: the tireless sleuth, Karen Meek, has uncovered new publications coming out in August in both the UK and US markets, including some newcomers to English translation: Norwegian Jørn Lier Horst, Swedish Stefan Tegenfalk, and Finnish Monika Fagerholm (who has one other book that has been translated into English previously).