review roundup and a new version of Macbeth

Ms. Wordopolis reviews the first book in Mari Jungstedt’s Anders Knutas and Johan Berg series, Unseen, finding the series characters and their stories more interesting than the fairly predictable serial killer storyline. All in all, she reckons it’s time to read something other than police procedurals.

Previously, she reviewed the latest in the Carl Mørck Department Q series by Jussi Adler-Olsen, The Purity of Vengeance, which left her with mixed feelings: “I feel strange saying that the book was written well or that I was interested in the ongoing storylines of Mørck and Assad when the main plot was so horrible to women,” she writes, Like the first novel in the series (The Keeper of Lost Causes, also published under the title Mercy), the plot focuses on people who hate women. How that focus is handled (and for what purpose) is one of the biggest open questions in this genre, in my opinion.

She was also not entirely satisfied by Helene Tursten’s The Fire Dance, but for different reasons. She felt there just wasn’t much in the story to grab her interest and hold it, concluding it was a so-so entry in a series that promises more.

The Indian Feminist, who has written about Scandinavian women detectives in the past, was likewise disappointed in the latest English translation in the Irene Huss series, The Fire Dance,  which she found slow paced and uninvolving.

The Fire DanceNancy O. had a different reading experience with this book, as she explains at The Crime Segments. She counts Tursten’s series as one she deeply enjoys, and a Scandinavian author who stays on her to-be-read list as others disappoint and drop off. Her verdict: “for those who enjoy solid police procedurals with a personal twist.” She still counts The Torso as her favorite in the series, being “edgy and solid.” This entry, while a solid police procedural, has a bit less edge.

Meanwhile, in paradise, Kerrie enjoyed reading the previous book in the series, The Golden Calf, which she felt had a nice balance of action, the personal lives of the series characters, and police procedure. She sums up the series as “basically police procedurals, planted in a modern world, with plenty of human interest.”

Glenn Harper at International Noir Fiction reviews Leif G. W. Persson’s tome, Free Falling as if in a Dream, part of a series drawn from the unsolved murder of Swedish prime minister Olof Palme. Though it’s very long, he says it’s “gripping all the way through, as well as comic in some sections, through the ironic and simultaneously arrogant and self-deprecating voice of Johannson and the appearance of the ridiculous detective in many of the author’s books, Evert Bäckstrom.” However, he doesn’t hold out much hope for the US television adaptation that’s out next year. In his review, he looks at how this novel and Magdalen Nabb’s The Monster of Florence handle actual unsolved crimes, finding that both propose in their fiction plausible and disturbing solutions.

He also reviews Jan Costin Wagner’s Light in a Dark House, and has a great description of its trajectory: “meditative rather than propulsive in terms of its pacing.” He considers the non-linear, poetic approach a plus, but knows it’s not for everyone: “For me, the moody pace works, but it could be frustrating for some readers.” This story brings the series’ Turku detective, who is looking into the murder of an unidentified woman, together with Helsinki investigators looking into a series of murders, with several narrative threads that, in the end, are knitted together.

Traveling to yet another Nordic country, Harper reviews Quentin Bates’s Chilled to the Bone, the latest in a series focusing on an Icelandic investigator, Gunna Gisladottir, and it in his opinion the best in the series. Among its virtues, “lots of ethical and literary ambiguity, a plot that moves rapidly along, and a cast of interesting characters.” Though he considers it less dark than Arnaldur Indridason’s Erlendur series, it’s both grim and entertaining.

At Euro Crime, Rich Westwood reviews Carin Gerhardsen’s The Gingerbread House, advising those looking for a new Scandinavian crime series to give it a try. The main plot, about man who endured horrific bullying as a child and the various violent ways in which his former schoolmates are being murdered, seems less compelling to him than a subplot about one of the police team who believes she’s been drugged and raped after a casual encounter and is determined to find justice. Westwood thinks the admixture of personal stories of the investigating officers will remind readers of Camilla Lackberg, mixing violent murder and cozy scenes of domestic life.

Also at Euro Crime, Michelle Peckham praises Arnaldur Indridason’s Strange Shores, the eleventh novel in the Erlendur series. We and Erlendur finally grapple with the detective’s Strange Shorespersonal quest to understand how he survived being lost in a storm that killed his brother. He approaches this quest by investigating another event, the disappearance of a young woman he learned about as a child. He probes the secrets and memories of those still alive who can help him put the pieces together. She calls the book powerful, emotional, and a beautiful exploration of how trauma can shape a life.

Amanda Gillies also uses the term “beautiful” for Derek B. Miller’s Norwegian by Night, a novel that makes her fall in love with its prickly 82-year-old protagonist. Though it had a slow start for her, she pronounces the story about an American Jew haunted by his wartime experiences and his son’s death in Vietnam who sometimes is confused but manages to evade villains to save a small boy, “quite simply brilliant.” 

Mrs Peabody investigates some dystopian crime fiction, including Antti Tuomainen’s The Healer, which she finds “a gripping and quietly powerful read” which interrogates (as dystopias do) how people find meaning in situations where social structures have broken down and disaster is impending – in this case a poet searching for his missing wife, a journalist who has been writing about a Finnish eco-warrior who is taking violent action as climate change changes everything. Like Bernadette, she finds it a curiously uplifting read.

Jose Ignacio Escribano reviews Karin Fossum’s The Indian Bride (also published as Calling Out for You), in which a naive Norwegian man impuslively travels to India to find a bride. When she arrives in Norway, she disappears. And Fossum’s quiet menace does the rest. As Jose Ignacio observes, “she is able to develop a particular atmosphere that can become frightening, using only elements taken from our daily lives.” Here, in this small Norwegian town, the well-meaning and wholly wholesome Scandinavians seem all too comfortable seeking silence when the subject of race enters the picture – and Fossum is not willing to leave us content with the knowledge that justice, in the end, will be done.

At the Independent, Barry Forshaw reviews Hans Koppel’s You’re Mine Now, which once again You're Mine Nowfeatures a man who hates women, though this time the woman confronted by a stalker is in a better position to fight back than in his previous novel (which Forshaw puts in a nutshell: “ritual sexual debasement and torture visited upon the luckless heroine, kept captive in a house where she could still see her distraught, unknowing family,” Yes, that’s wny I didn’t read it.) Koppel is apparently very good at ratcheting up tension, not so good at giving us any reason why we shouldn’t just give up on the human race altogether.

Keishon is avid about reading Asa Larsson’s mysteries, but found The Second Deadly Sin disappointing in the end. There are various timeframes and one becomes a bit of a slog. Office politics among the main characters is about as appealing as . . . well, office politics. And the pacing overall, she felt, was off in an over-long novel. She recommends her other books, though.

Norm, at Crime Scraps, reviews Mari Jungstedt’s The Double Silence, a new entry in the Anders Knutas series set on Visby Island. In addition to a crime, the story involves the lives of its ongoing cast of characters. While Norm recommends this series, he felt this story jumped too often from one point of view to another and often left him mystified in ways the author likely didn’t intend.

And now for something completely different, The Wall Street Journal reports that Jo Nebso has been signed on (along with other authors) to write prose versions of Shakespeare’s plays running up the bard’s 400th birthday. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he will be taking on Macbeth and, in an interview, ponders whether he’ll make him a man vying for the position of police chief in a throughly corrupt city in the 1970s. That cauldron the weird sisters are stirring? It just might be brewing some kick-ass meth. The story is likely to keep relationships and themes but perhaps not much else. I must say I’m particularly intrigued about what Margaret Atwood might do with The Tempest. 

weird sisters and cauldron

Finally, if you are fortunate enough to be in northern California on February 2, Janet Rudolph invites you to join her and fellow fans for a lecture on Swedish crime fiction by my fellow Minnesotan, Jim Kaplan. He’s very wise to be somewhere other than in the Polar Vortex that keeps on turning the upper Midwest into an arctic knockoff.

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Review Round-Up

Belated news: As anyone who has been paying attention knows, Liza Marklund’s Last Will was awarded the first annual Petrona Award, presented at Crimefest. I’m chuffed, because I remember how much Maxine enjoyed this novel and the entire Annika Bengtzon series. She particularly appreciated the way it depicts the challenges professional women face balancing their work, their families, and the barriers that discrimination erects against women. Since Maxine was so extremely good at managing a demanding career at the most respected journal in the sciences, along with her family life and her prolific contributions to the crime fiction genre, she always made me reconsider my feeling that Annika is a bit of a whinger.  More reactions to the news from Euro Crime, The Game’s Afoot, and Crime Scraps.

Bernadette at Reactions to Reading predicted the results accurately, but wouldn’t have minded having four winners, since she thought they were all deserving (with her personal favorite being Leif G. W. Persson’s Another Time, Another Life. 

At Petrona Remembered, Ali Karim offers an appreciation of the work of Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom and recalls meeting them at the launch of Three Seconds, with Maxine and Karen Meek also present.

Laura Root reviews Thomas Enger’s Pierced for Euro Crime, second in a series that she calls “top notch,” which is quite long but generally well-paced and which concludes with “a humdinger of a cliffhanger”

Sarah at Crimepieces reviews Lotte and Søren Hammer’s The Hanging, which treats a the Hangingdistressing topic (vengeance against paedophiles) with a cool dispassion that nevertheless gets across how fraught such cases are. This is the first in a series, and she thinks it will find a wide readership.

Ms. Wordopolis enjoyed reading Anne Holt’s Death of the Demon,  another entry in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series, finally marching its way into English. Though the solution to the mystery was a bit of a let-down, but the characters are well-drawn and affecting.

She also reviewed Mons Kallentoft’s Summer Death, which has a lot of hot weather in it that slows down the story (which is awfully long at over 400 pages) – though the pace picks up for the final section of the book. She plans to continue with the series, but thinks the books could be trimmed to a more effective length. (I concur!)

And (while on a Nordic roll) she reviews More Bitter Than Death by Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff, which doesn’t involve a lot of actual detecting, but does build some psychological suspense and provide interesting vignettes of patients in therapy. Ultimately, thought she felt it was a fast read, it was something of a disappointment.

And finally, she thinks The Redeemer  is the best of Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole books so far, with Harry in a not-so-self-destructive mood solving a not-too-convoluted crime that doesn’t involve any serial killers. She recommends it highly.

The Devil's SanctuaryIn Paradise, Kerrie reviews Marie Hermanson’s The Devil’s Sanctuary, When a twin brother agrees to swap places with his inpatient brother for a few days, he’s not ready for the ordeal he will go through, trapped and being treated for mental disorders that are not his. Kerrie found it a “most peculiar novel” that she enjoyed reading.

Bernadette reacts to reading Liza Marklund’s Lifetime,  finding India Fisher’s narration of the audiobook particularly well done. She does such a good job of explaining why this series is worth reading, you really should go read the review. She does recommend reading at least the previous book in the series (Last Will) before this one, as it follows immediately on the events depicted there.

Col digs into his criminal library to find Leif G. W. Persson’s Another Life, Another Time, which he finds a somewhat easier but rewarding read than the first in the series, writing “Persson expertly knits together a narrative that had me constantly marvelling at the skilful way in which he layers detail into his plot. It was an interesting and educational read,” I really must try to give him another chance.

Keishon, who has Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog (and it’s a good thing, too), enjoyed the third Department Q novel, Jussi Adler-Olsen’s A Conspiracy of Faith (apa Redemption) – particularly compared to the second, which didn’t work for her at all. Still, it doesn’t come up to the standard of the first, which she enjoyed tremendously.

Glenn Harper at International Noir Fiction reviews Jo Nesbø’s The Bat, the first book in theThe Bat Harry Hole series finally available in English, which he recommends for its background information on Harry and for its story, which has an Australian setting and an Aboriginal focus.

Karen Meek shows us the cover of a Gunnar Staalesen Varg Veum novel, Cold Hearts, coming in July.  Earlier volumes in the series will be reissued with covers that fit the same aesthetic, all being published by Arcadia.

She also reviews Invisible Murder by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis, the second in the Nina Borg series from Denmark. She writes “The authors weave politics into their characters’ lives, from the issue of immigration in Denmark to the racism and prejudice faced by the Roma and this is what makes this series of books an interesting as well as an exciting read. This is crime fiction with a heart . . .” (I agree!)

At The Crime Segments, NancyO reviews Johann Theorin’s The Assylum, which she didn’t feel lived up to his previous books. Atmosphere there is in large amounts, and tension, but the ending was a let down, being both predictable and implausible – disappointing, because she loved his other books.

Peter at Nordic Bookblog reviews Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom’s Two Soldiers, a bleak portrait of youth who are alienated and find in violent gang life their only sense of belonging.  The fifth of the pair’s books to be translated into English, it continues their project of tackling difficult social issues. He calls it “a difficult but intense and thought-provoking read.”

Finally, Adrian McKinty, Irish author of The Cold, Cold Ground and other fine novels, speculates on why Iceland has more creativity in all kinds of areas per capita than other countries and suspects it has something to do with their generous supply of bookstores and libraries. He also has a lovely, trippy, “trolly” animated music video from the group Of Monsters and Men.

Jussi Alder-Olsen and More

Will you be anywhere near Minneapolis on June 1st? Then you should head over to Once Upon a Crime at 7pm where Jussi Adler-Olsen will be making a rare appearance and signing his third Department Q book to be translated into English (titled A Conspiracy of Faith on this side of the pond and Redemption in the UK. The Danish title, which means Message in a Bottle, is better, but unfortunately a lesser author with a big reputation has already used it.)  Once Upon a Crime is always worth a visit, whatever the date is. This is a special gig for a special store – Alder-Olsen will only be appearing at four bookstores on this tour. I’m so happy my local is one of them.

I hope to have a review of A Conspiracy of Faith posted here soon. I enjoyed it very much for the same reasons I enjoyed The Keeper of Lost Causes.

Karen Meek has compiled a terrific list of books that will be eligible for the next Petrona award. Lots to look forward to. I’m particularly happy to see another Gunnar Staalesen novel translated, as well as another book by Jorn Lier Horst (an author Maxine particularly enjoyed, as I recall). And there are some new-to-me authors as well.

At the sibling blog, Petrona Remembered, I run through Asa Larsson’s series, culminating in my favorite of her books, Until Thy Wrath Be Past. Norm reprises his review of Red Wolf by Liza Marklund and compares Marklund’s heroine and the Girl of the Millennium Trilogy.

At Crime Scraps, Norm reviews Liza Marklund’s latest novel, Lifetime, and finds it an exciting read with a very human woman protagonist (who he wishes had better taste in men).Lifetime

Sarah also reviews the novel at Crime Pieces, and loved both the storyline, the diversions into the newsroom where Annika works and its troubles, as well as further developments in the reporter’s complicated home life, writing “ultimately Annika is the reason, I suspect, a lot of people read Marklund’s books and I think she fast becoming one of my favourite characters in crime fiction.”

Whereas I find her chaotic home life a bit exasperating, and say in my review at Reviewing the Evidence, “in the end, the prickly, emotional, and vulnerable Annika takes a back seat to her identity as a confident and professional journalist. Similarly, the novel is at its best when the mystery nudges the personal drama into the background and takes center stage.” Which is a much more measured way of saying that I just want to smack her.

Charles Finch at USA Today does not roll out the welcome mat for Jo Nebo’s The Redeemer, finally hitting shelves in the US. He calls it both plodding and interminable, and confesses right up front, “I can’t stand Nesbø’s books. That includes The Redeemer, which, like his earlier novels, strikes me as pat, lurid and, above all dull, moving at a fatally sedate pace.” He acknowledges that his opinion is not shared by all. (That includes me. He thinks The Snowman is the best, and I thought it the least imaginative and interesting. I liked The Redeemer much better. Also, why would you assign a review to someone who doesn’t like an author’s work? It’s a mystery.)

Glenn Harper at International Crime Fiction reviews Mons Kallentoft’s Summertime Death, which he finds rather annoying for a variety of reasons, including the irrationally dreadful behavior of the police (which is less convincing and interesting as another book in which the police behave rather appallingly, Lief G. W. Persson’s Linda, as in the Linda Murder.) He has also had enough, already, of those loquacious dead people.  

For contrast, see his previous review of Linda, as in the Linda Murder, which focuses on the most appallingly awful of his detectives, Ewart Bäckström, who takes very little interest in the Linda, as in the Linda Murdercrime he’s investigating, though other detectives nudge the case forward. He advises,

One of Bäckström’s spectacular failings is his attitude toward women, sometimes kept to himself and sometimes revealed openly. If you find his attitude more annoying than comic, trust me–you should stick with the book. Increasingly through the last third of the novel and with considerable impact at the very end, the author brings the story and Bäckström’s sexism (and not only his sexism) into stark focus.

In the end, the book is long, non-linear, a bit demanding, but extremely rewarding. i may have to give Persson another chance.

Jose Ignacio Escribano reviews Hakan Nesser’s Borkmann’s Point at The Game’s Afoot. Esta entrada es bilingüe, which I believe means “Jose Ignacio is far cleverer than I am.” He enjoyed it a great deal and recommends the entire series, particularly for its dialogue.

Ms. Wordopolis reads Anne Holt’s Blessed are Those Who Thirst, The story is a high-energy look at both the affect of a rape on the victim and police work in a time of austerity, when the system is swamped and angry citizens are tempted to take things into their own hands. She writes, “sometimes in the course of a police procedural I lose sight of the crime at the center of the novel and become more wrapped up in the chase for the perpetrator, but that didn’t happen while I read this novel.” She adds that Holt did a great job of portraying the work of civil servants in a realistic way.

Raven Crime reads Quentin Bates’s third Gunna Gisladottir mystery, Chilled to the Bone. Chilled to the BoneThough the author, Quentin Bates, no longer lives in Iceland, he does a great job of creating the sort of woman who might actually investigate crimes there, a down-to-earth mother and soon-to-be grandmother who, quoth the Raven, is “defined by her professionalism and absolute determination to get to the heart of the investigation, but carries an aura of calmness and self-deprecation which instils confidence in her colleagues and victims alike.” She finds the balance of police procedural, personal life, humor and seriousness to be just right.

Sarah at Crimepieces points out that Gaute Heivoll’s Before I Burn is about a crime, but isn’t crime fiction. It’s the fictional memoir of a Norwegian whose village was torched by an arsonist. In adulthood, he moves to Oslo, but is drawn home when his father is taken ill. She says it’s beautifully written and thought-provoking. Just don’t expect it to be shelved in the crime fiction section.

Col adds Camilla Lackberg’s The Stranger (apa The Gallows Bird) to his criminal library at the urging of his wife, who liked it quite a bit more than he did. He found some of the characters cliched and (like me!) dislikes hooks inserted at the end, lures for the next book. I particularly like the way he concluded his review: “my 2012 edition states that the author was the 9th best-selling author in Europe in the previous year. She must have a very big family, I reckon.”

At Euro Crime, Susan White reviews a new book by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom, Two Soldiers, which portrays the rise of youth gangs and how membership in the gang family distorts young lives. It sounds quite as harrowing as their previous work.The Weeping Girl

Previously at Euro Crime, Raven Crime (aka JF) reviewed The Weeping Girl by Hakan Nesser, Though it continues the van Veeteren series, he steps aside and lets Ewa Moreno take the lead, which she does without missing a step. Great characters, just the right amount of humor, and an involving case make it a book worth reading.

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.)

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.

A Scandinavian Tour in Reviews

It has been a month since I made the rounds to see what has been reviewed lately. I thought I’d better organize them somehow, so have listed them by country. Sweden, I’m afraid, gets the lion’s share of attention. My Norwegian grandfather could have predicted that.

Finland

Bernadette reviews Harri Nykanen’s Nights of Awe, finding the lead character intriguing but the plot a bit too Hollywood.

Peter Rozovsky also reviews it for the Philadelphia Inquirer and also questions the plausibility of the story, but enjoys Nykanen’s wry humor.

I am looking forward to getting my hands on a new translation of one of the Raid novels, also by Harri Nykanen, as well as Seppo Jokinen’s Wolves and Angels, which will be coming out next month from Ice Cold Crime. It’s always wonderful to have authors leave my “wanted” page once they are published in English translation.

Iceland

The Day is Dark by Yrsa Sigurdardotter was a bit slow for Sarah Hilary’s tastes, writing at Reviewing the Evidence, with an interesting take on masculinity but, she feels, too much exposition that slows momentum.

At the San Francsico Chronicle’s book blog, P.G. Koch finds Yrsa’s Ashes to Dust an intricately plotted thriller with the thought processes of an anorexic woman particularly chilling. Kirkus also gives the book a strong review.

Norway

Kerrie reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Phantom, which she finds bleaker and darker than previous Harry Hole books. She writes, “an interestingly structured, but very noir book, with the dominant narrator a boy who is already dead. And a rat with a problem.” I would add, a review that intrigues.

Mary Whipple also reviews The Phantom, finding it complex, full of plot twists, at times over the top, but certain to appeal to fans of the Harry Hole series as it builds on all the groundwork the author has laid in creating his brilliant and troubled hero.

And to round it out, Maxine reviews it at Petrona, finding Hole a bit too much of a superman, able to leap implausibilities with a single cinematic bound, but praises the book for its compelling and relatively uncluttered plot and what it has to say about the wages of addiction.

Kerrie gives Karin Fossum’s The Caller top marks and reckons that if you haven’t read any of the Konrad Sejer series before, this is a grand place to start.

Margot Kinberg puts Fossum’s Don’t Look Back “in the spotlight” finding it an unsettling and realistic depiction of the effects of a tragedy on a small community.

Sweden

Vicky Albritton takes a fascinating look back at an early crime novel, Hjalmar Söderberg’s Doctor Glas, a 1905 novel about science, sexuality, and an ethical bind created when a woman tries to escape the sexual oppression of her odious husband. Albritton mentions that a 2002 edition of the English translation has an introduction by Margaret Atwood,  an excerpt of which was published in The Guardian. She wrote, “Doctor Glas is one of those marvellous books that appears as fresh and vivid now as on the day it was published.”

Closer to the present time, Sjowall and Wahloo’s Martin Beck series is tempting Sarah at Crimepieces to drop everything and read. She reviews the 1966 novel, The Man Who Went Up in Smoke, in which Beck travels to Hungary in search of a missing journalist.

At Euro Crime, Rich Westwood reviews Camilla Lackberg’s The Stranger which is a new title for the previously-published Gallows Bird. He thinks the domestic bits are more convincing than the murder bits and prefers the original title.

Bernadette found Lackberg’s The Drowning disappointing, with a predictable plot that was not as interesting as in previous books, the cozy domestic scenes and ho-hum mystery formulaic. Since she has enjoyed other books in the series, she hopes this is a temporary aberration.

Sarah reviews Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment at Crimepieces, saying it was “a very interesting, albeit slow read where the isolated, icy community dominated the narrative descriptions.” It seems a good sign that the story stayed with her long after she put the book down.

She also reviews Hakan Nesser’s Hour of the Wolf, a very good entry in the series in her estimation in which a drunk driving incident triggers a string of violent acts. Though the wry humor of the series is not as much in evidence as usual, the tone is appropriate for the events of the story.

Nancy O tries to find nice things to say about She’s Never Coming Back by Hans Koppel, but dealing with a story that involves an imprisoned woman and repeated sexual assault is an uphill battle that ends up with an exasperated “jeez!  Enough already.” Or perhaps way too much.

Leif G. W. Persson’s Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End gets a mixed review at To Be Read . . . as character development and pacing takes a back seat to its broad canvas examination of Sweden’s recent history, though the reviewer finds it on the whole successful.

Shannon Sharpe thinks Persson’s approach to complex plotting with unsavory characters and lashings of dark humor lifts the novel far above the more popular Millennium Trilogy.

Laura Root reviews the next book in the series at Euro Crime. Another Time, Another Life is a complex and skillfully crafted novel with a dry narrative style and characters that are more sympathetic than those in the first book.

At Nordic Bookblog, Peter reviews Liza Marklund’s Vanished (previously published in a different translation under the title Paradise. He recommends it as a fast-paced story with an intriguing lead.

BookGeeks reviews Dark Angel by Mari Jungstedt, finding it “a well written and superbly plotted mystery” that does a good job balancing thriller elements and social background.

The Local (Sweden’s News in English) has a profile of defense lawyer Jens Lapidus, whose trilogy beginning with Easy Money focuses on the lives of criminals.  He is particularly interested in the parts of Stockholm where the residents are not blond and blue-eyed and in the perspective of people for whom crime is just another line of work.

In a review of Easy Money at Reviewing the Evidence, Chris Roberts calls it “a remarkably accomplished debut,” with a well-paced plot but characters who are not easy to like.

Peter of Nordic Bookblog reviews Ake Edwardson’s Sail of Stone, which he feels is an excellent entry in the excellent series, particularly strong for character development and writing style.

I also reviewed the book at Reviewing the Evidence. If you’re looking for fast-paced action and a tightly woven mystery to solve, look elsewhere. But if you can take the scenic route, this well-written and well-translated novel might fit the bill. I agree with Peter that “character study” is an apt description of Edwardson’s style.

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.