tidbits and more reviews

Some tidbits . . .

There is a new imprint for translated fiction coming from Little Brown and Crown. From the press release:

Trapdoor will publish up to six commercial crime, suspense and thriller titles a year, all in translation, and will be launched with the publication of Sebastian Bergman by Hjorth and Rosenfeldt in paperback on July 5th. Spring 2013 will see the publication of the second title on the Trapdoor imprint, The Devil’s Sanctuary, a heart-stopping psychological thriller by Swedish bestseller Marie Hermanson.

Julia Buckley interviews Ake Edwardson at Mysterious Musings. He says “I’m a sad person, or melancholic, and down right pessimistic most of the time. Probably that’s why I laugh so much; you have to laugh at all the madness around you or you’ll go stark raving mad, start running screaming through the streets naked in the night with just your underwear in your hand.” He also says, when asked about the state of journalism,

“… the good and serious stuff goes slowly/fast down the drain, the horror of banality takes over, knowledge gets confused with information. Still there’s wonderful journalism out there; Sweden tries to maintain decent newspapers, and the best papers in USA, England, France and Germany are still worth reading/working for. The problem is of course that good journalism is expensive, objectivity is expensive, to send a reporter to the other side of the world is expensive, or have a team work on some investigation for a long time.”

Erik Winter, his police protagonist, is a “hopeful person” – making me think perhaps Edwardson, like many journalists, finds fiction a way to say what needs saying in a way that is an alternative to the underwear-in-hand approach.

Camilla Lackberg is profiled in SCANmagazine (thank you, Philip) as she publishes more of her popular Fjalbacka-based series in  both the UK and US.

Publishing Perspectives covers the Salomonsson Agency, a Swedish powerhouse that represents many of the most successful Nordic crime authors. It’s a far sunnier picture than Sarah Weinman’s profile of the agency’s head last year.

At the Telegraph, Henning Mankell says that Kenneth Branagh makes a good hand of playing Wallander and likes the BBC film versions of his books. The article has quite a few insights into the author as well (and has collected some remarkably hostile and silly comments).

American cable television station A&E (which does not stand for Accident and Emergency, contrary to UK usage) has acquired US rights to create a pilot of a series to be based on Elsebeth Egholm’s crime series.  Or rather based on a Danish television series based on the books. And probably moved to a US setting. There is a reason I prefer reading to watching television.

And now for the reviews . . .

Sarah at Crimepieces reviews Helene Tursten’s Night Rounds, finding it a well-done police procedural with a touch of the supernatural, which she enjoys, and a solid plot, though with some startling lapses on the part of otherwise competent police. She also reviews the second book in Thomas Enger’s Henning Juul series, Pierced, which she feels picks up the story about Juul’s dead son very movingly. Enger has become a “must-buy” author for her.

Maxine Clarke reviews Killer’s Island by Anna Jansson at Petrona and finds it a quick read that does more to develop the characters than to provide a realistic story line – mainly because all of the puzzle pieces snap together a bit too tidily, with none left over.  It’s altogether a rather old-fashioned read. Glenn Harper also reviews it, and a television series based on Jansson’s work. He finds it a bit overwritten in places, but predicts it will be of interest to those who enjoy getting caught up in the character’s personal lives, likening it to Camilla Lackberg’s work.

Maxine also reviews Ake Edwardson’s Sail of Stone, which she finds a good read, though not a very good mystery (and the second half, minus the not-very-satisfactory ending, is better than the first.)

And at Euro Crime, she reviews Camilla Lackberg’s The Drowning, which she feels has a good 250-page mystery hidden within its 500 pages, much of which is devoted to the domestic lives of its detective protagonist.

Peter Rozovsky reviews Lars Keppler’s The Nightmare for the Philadelphia Inquirer, then hosts a conversation at his Detectives Beyond Borders literary salon, asking whether it’s entirely a good thing to mix potboiler fun with serious social messages. On the whole, he finds this kind of “Larsson-y” an unhappy blend.

Kimbofo at Reading Matters reads The Caller by Karin Fossum. Fossum is one of her favorite authors, and this well-plotted, nuanced story is, to her mind, one of her best.  She also reviews The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis, which she finds a bit of a challenging read because of the multiple viewpoints, but feels it is “an intelligent, involving and compassionate read.”

Jose Ignacio Escribano reviews the final volume of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo’s “story of a crime” – The Terrorists, which he notes has not lost its relevance. He includes links to his reviews of other books in the series and says “I strongly recommend reading this series to everyone, in particular to all crime fiction fans and, if possible, in chronological order. It’s a highly rewarding read.”

Karen Meek, a true Queen of Crime if there ever was one (bringing us the amazing Euro Crime site) reviews The Gingerbread House by Carin Gerhardsen, which she finds a successful exploration of childhood bullying, though with a decidedly American translation.  She also reviews the very first volume of the Konrad Sejer/Jacob Skarre series, finally published in English translation. In the Darkness introduces Sejer with a bit more background that later books, and though published originally in 1995 it still works because, as Karen points out, Fossum’s work has something of a “timeless quality.”

Ms. Wordopolis reads Jo Nesbo’s The Redbreast, and though finding the wartime scenes confusing and not engaging, she ended up taken by the characters. Though it’s her first foray into the Harry Hole series, she puts her finger on one of the author’s characteristics: extremely intricate, even convoluted plotting.

Norm at Crime Scraps reviews Arnaldur Indridason’s Black Skies, the latest in the Erlendur series in which Erlunder is absent and the focus this time is on Sigurdur Oli. Though he was never my favorite character, Norm makes me impatient to read it. Rob Kitchin found it less successful, with the first half particularly hard to get into.

He also reviews another book I want to read badly, Anne Holt’s The Blind Goddess, which he thinks is quite good, featuring a character who has changed quite a lot (and not for the better) in 1222 – and he adds some intriguing commentary on what it says about the time period when it was originally published, 1993.

At Euro Crime, Maxine Clarke reviews The Blind Goddess, the first of Anne Holt’s Hanne Wilhelmsen series and (in her opinion) a better book than the previously translated eighth in the series, 1222. In addition to a plot that works well, this book includes strong characters and full of detail that reflects the author’s background in the Norwegian legal system.

Bernadette reviews Liza Marklund’s Last Will, and gives it high marks for the way it depicts the current world of the news media, treats several explosive issues with an even hand, and gives us a complex heroine. “I can’t say that I like Annika,” she writes, “but I like reading about her and find her a hundred percent credible.” One of the rather cliched baddies, not so much – but overall she gives the book top marks.

She also reviews Karin Wahlberg’s Death of a Carpet Dealer and finds it an engaging story which offers a trip to Turkey as an added benefit. Maxine also reviews it at Petrona, finding it readable, old-fashioned, and pleasant, if not a barn-burner of a story.

Kerrie in Paradise reviews Hakan Nesser’s The Mind’s Eye, the first of the Van Veeteren series, which she finds nicely compact in these days of over-long books.

Raven Crime Reads (a new to me blog) reviews Arne Dahl’s The Blinded Man (published in the US as Misterioso) calling it “taut and well-written” and the start of a series worth watching.

Cathy at Kittling Books reviews Sara Blaedel’s second book to be available in English (and third in its series), Only One Life, which she thought fell short of the mark. Though it has some interesting information about honor killings, she couldn’t warm to the characters, and felt as if from page one ” as though I’d missed my bus and kept chasing after it as it disappeared down the street.”

Glenn Harper thinks Carin Gerhardsen’s The Gingerbread House quite good (except for a bit where exposition bogs things down) and particularly handy with misdirection.  Jose Ignacio also reviews it, calling it a classic police procedural that is somewhat uneven in its execution.

And finally, Margot Kinberg takes a close look at Irene Huss, Helene Tursten’s series protagonist, providing quite a thorough biography of the character, one of my favorites.

Before I sign off, I must give credit once again to the place where I keep up with all things mysterious, the Crime and Mystery Fiction FriendFeed room. Many thanks to its founder, Maxine Clarke, and its regular contributors for filling me in. If you enjoy mysteries, this is a site to visit regularly.

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.

Rounding Up the Reviews, from Yuck to Yay!

Hans Koppel doesn’t sound like Swedish writer. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it as my excuse for neglecting to include Karen Meek’s Euro Crime review of his thriller, She’s Never Coming Back, in my last round-up of reviews. She does a good job of pointing out what the author does well while making me quite sure I don’t want to read it. (Woman is kidnapped and repeatedly assaulted in a hidden location right across the street from her distressed husband and child. Though publishers usually select glowing praise to turn into telegraphed blurbs, I will choose instead what I consider key words from Karen’s more diplomatic review: “imprisoned and tortured … 400 pages … empty.”

The Independent also reviews the book, concluding it’s both “ugly and gripping.” I think the dek for the review is a bit more direct: “When you can’t sink any lower, there’s always the basement.”

For further commentary see a review at Austcrimefiction – whose reviewer found it lacking in motivation or sensible plotting, saying it’s “for somebody looking for a film-styled thriller, with some carefully choreographed graphic cruelty and sexual violence, a blatantly manipulative happy ever after ending, built around a very current day scenario.  It was a undoubtedly a very quick read.  But for this reader (actually these readers) there were so many aspects of the plot and characterisations that were simply too far a stretch to be believable, plausible, justifiable or palatable.”

Patrick Anderson of the Washington Post calls Jo Nesbo’s The Leopard “a near-total disaster” full of cheap thrills, and urges Nesbo to return to his strengths as a top-notch writer. USA Today thinks it’s “halting” in comparison to earlier books. Laura Wilson at The Guardian thinks it’s good at ratcheting up suspense, provided you don’t mind suspending disbelief – and can handle the odd nightmare or two.

A review of  The Leopard by Susan Balée in the Philadelphia Inquirer finds is both very well done and very problematic.

The writing in The Leopard is awesome. The ironic deflations, twisty plot, and grisly action keep a reader riveted to the page. But in its treatment of female characters – especially in its systematic, baroque, Byzantine dismemberment and degrading of their bodies – the novel is, perhaps unwittingly, a moral slough . . .  the book exists partly to subject women to symbolic degradation, via plot device and harrowing precision of detail. It’s brutalizing, and even in this brilliantly plotted, exquisitely researched book, I can’t escape the conviction that nothing can really justify it.

Let’s climb to some higher ground, shall we?

At Reviewing the Evidence, Yvonne Klein reviews what she calls a “philosophical thriller,” Karin Fossum’s The Caller, in which a Norwegian community is shaken by random acts and a boy’s pranks get out of hand. She regrets the book was not translated by Charlotte Barslund.

Also at RTE, Larissa Kyzer reviews Sara Blaedel’s Call Me Princess, which she finds too reliant on coincidence and with a protagonist who is not empathetic to the victims she is helping and is difficult to like.

I believe I missed mentioning a positive review of Anne Holt’s Edgar-nominated 1222 in the Washington Post. The reviewer, Carolyn See, calls it goofy but also says “I really loved this snowbound book.”

Sarah at Crimepieces had mixed feelings about 1222, finding the atmosphere and setting compelling, but the ending “lame” and she didn’t take to the prickly narrator. She found another Anne Holt novel, The Final Murder, more to her liking.

At Euro Crime, Laura Root reviews Jens Lapidus’s Easy Money, a departure from socially-conscious crime fiction in that it focuses on the fast and furious lives of black-economists who do big business on the wrong side of the law. She found it gripping, authentic, and very well translated considering its use of street patios.

At the Guardian, John O’Connell also reviews Easy Money by Jens Lapidus, who thinks it’s so Americanized it could well be America (though the justice system is too orderly for that). He advises readers to stick with it, though, as “there’s much to enjoy.”

Mrs. Peabody investigates Finland, taking a look at the very different ways the country and its culture are represented in books by expat residents Jan Costin Wanger and James Thompson. Fascinating post.

Joanna Hines doesn’t have much to say about Liza Marklund’s Vanished. Her very short review in The Guardian says the story is intricately plotted but might have been written with a stubby crayon and, while competent, would be better as a film. To which I say – huh?

Carol Thomas reviews Helene Tursten’s Night Rounds and particularly praises the translation.

Dorte Hummelshoj Jakobsen recommends Matti Joensuu’s unusual novel, To Steal Her Love, if you are looking for something different. Sadly, Euro Crime alerted us to the fact that Joensuu – an important Finnish author of crime fiction and a police officer himself, working at both jobs for two decades before retiring from the police force – died this past December.

Happier news from Finland – Jouko Sipila, publisher of Ice Cold Crime, alerted me to the news that Amazon’s publishing program has bought the rights to Leena Lehtolaisen‘s Maria Kallio series, which I have been eager to read for years, as well as her Bodyguard trilogy (new to me). There are 14 books covered in the agreement, apparently to start appearing in the US this year.

Helene Tursten, Night Rounds (SinC25)

My final contribution to the Sisters in Crime 25th Anniversary Challenge is a post about Helene Tursten, who (hurrah!) is being translated into English once again. I’m reposting here what I wrote on my personal blog.

My final author for the Sisters in Crime 25th Anniversary Challenge represents for me a kind of women’s writing that I enjoy and sometimes don’t appreciate enough. These are series of books about working women who balance their home life with a difficult and demanding job, who are quietly professional though sometimes have to do a little more than their male colleagues – and bite their tongues at times, who bring compassion with them when they go to a crime scene, and who carry on case after case. They tend to operate in a fictional world peopled with characters and settings drawn on a human scale, rather than running a marathon through high-concept plots with lots of drama and gore. They don’t have a lot of angst because they have work to do and families to go home to. They are a lot like us, only more interesting.

I am so pleased that Soho Press is releasing another book in Helene Tursten’s Irene Huss series set in Göteborg. The series began in 1998 with Detective Inspector Huss (published in English five years later). Translations of two more books in the series – The Torso and The Glass Devil – were published in 2006 and 2007. Then nothing . . . until 2012. Night Rounds, the second book in the series, will come out in English this March.  As anyone who enjoys reading translated series knows, we often have to be detectives and assemble characters’ lives from what we can gather after the fact, putting together the series arc like a puzzle. Can I hope that the next five books in the series might someday be translated?

Night Rounds draws on Tursten’s life experience as a nurse and is set in a private hospital where a power failure leads to the death of an elderly patient in intensive care. The ICU nurse has vanished and is later found murdered, sprawled over the failed backup generator. One of the staff reports that she saw a figure on the grounds just after the lights went out: a woman dressed in an old-fashioned cape and cap. She is certain it is Nurse Tekla, who hanged herself in the hospital attic in 1947. All of the staff know the story, and many believe they have seen glimpses of the ghost before.

As always, Irene investigates systematically, teasing out the relationships of the hospital employees and tracking clues into the past. Her workmates operate as a team, with occasional sparks. A young female detective is being harassed by a colleague who sends anonymous pornography; when he’s caught, he’s merely transferred and Irene finds herself trying to mentor the young woman, who isn’t inclined to bide her time or bite her tongue. There is a sympathetic portrait of mentally ill homeless woman who lives on the grounds of the hospital; social issues – racism, family dysfunction, the sex industry – are present in all of Tursten’s books, though never didactically.

And as usual Irene’s family plays a secondary role in the story, as one of the detective’s twin daughters gets involved in the animal rights movement and finds herself in over her head with activists who are willing to use violence to make their point. One of the real pleasures of this series is the interludes of ordinary family life. Irene is happily married (to an even-tempered man who is an excellent chef! perhaps that’s a bit of wish fulfillment) and has two children who get up to the usual drama that adolescents go through. There’s a nice balance in the books of police work and everyday life, without too much domestic detail; just enough to give readers a realistic and engaging portrait of a capable detective who has a life outside the job.It’s refreshing to encounter a detective who doesn’t flinch from the grim realities of police work but still manages to be present for her children and keep a firm hand on her own emotional tiller. In many ways, this portrait of a woman police officer is a feminist one, demonstrating the way a woman can be herself in a traditionally masculine culture.

The Swedish television series starring Angela Kovacs , made by the ubiquitous Yellow Bird Studios, is quite good, though its dramatization of The Torso seemed to me far more graphically gruesome than the book. My favorite aspect of that novel is the contrast drawn between Danish and Swedish cultures, particularly in terms of attitudes toward the sex industry. I’m not sure what Danes think of it, but it shed a lot of light on Swedish attitudes for this American reader.

Now for the part that has turned out to be much harder than I expected – three women writers who are in some way similar:

  • Mary Logue, whose Claire Watkins seems like a remarkably sane and balanced police officer in rural Wisconsin and who always has time for her daughter
  • Yrsa Sigurdardottir, who does a nice job of weaving in her heroine’s family life with a light touch
  • Leena Lehtolainen, who I can’t say much about because her series has not been translated into English – but I wish someone would! From what I’ve heard from Paula Arvas, a Finnish scholar who was a speaker at last spring’s Stieg Larsson symposium at UCLA, her work is not considered as “important” as harder-edged books by men mainly because she doesn’t write about society’s underbelly and focuses instead on more ordinary people. She has twice won the award for best crime fiction in Finland and has been nominated for the Glass Key award. There are apparently 11 books in the Maria Kallio series, the most recent published in 2011. But it’s not too late for someone to get cracking and translate this series, since Lehtolainen got an early start – her first novel was published when she was only 12 years old!

By the way – it’s not too late to enter the Challenge. The firm deadline is “whenever.” I will be rounding up various contributions to the Challenge soon, but can add in others as they appear.