Finns in Minnesota – the Report

It could be a record – three Finnish crime fiction authors together at a single event in North America. It was also a lot of fun. I had a chance to meet the authors – Antti Tuomainen, Jari Tervo, and Jarkko Sipila – at my favorite bookstore, Once Upon a Crime, and then used the excuse of delivering a book needed for display purposes to hear the authors speak at FinnFest without actually registering for the event. (There seemed to be quite a lot of registrants, so I didn’t feel too guilty.)  I also enjoyed finally meeting Juokko Sipila, publisher of Ice Cold Crime, which is doing a lot to bring translated Finnish literature to American readers.

While it will take me a while yet to post reviews of Tervo’s Among the Saints and Sipila’s latest Helsinki Homicide entry, Darling, I wanted to write about the authors’ appearance before I can’t make out the scribbled notes I took.  I won’t be able to review Antti Tuomainen’s next book until it comes out later this year or in 2015, but I will.

Finnish Authors in MN

Jari Tervo, Antti Tuomainen, Jarkko Sipila, and a short person; photo courtesy of Juoko Sipila

One thing that interested me is that, while people often speak of Scandinavian crime fiction as if it’s all somehow similar, these three writers are very different in style. Jarkko Sipila, who works as a television crime reporter in Helsinki in addition to writing 19 crime novels to date, writes in a style that would be familiar to fans of Ed McBain’s 87th precinct series. It’s an ensemble police procedural with an emphasis on representing crime and cops as realistically as possible. Jari Tervo is a huge celebrity in FInland, hosting a talk show that is wildly popular in addition to having published 23 books, three of which are crime stories. The only one to be translated is Among the Saints, just released, Like Sipila’s approach to urban crime, he’s interested in capturing the strange reality of life in northern Finland, through a raucous multi-voiced story about a murder, There are 35 narrators, with the first being the hapless victim, who starts the book with “I was killed the first week of May. It wasn’t even ten o’clock in the morning.” Where Sipila’s reality is gritty, Tervo’s is Rabelaisian. Tuomainen’s novel is about yet another kind of reality – the one we face as our planet’s climate changes. He imagines a world where refugees have fled north, the wealthy have retreated into guarded compounds, and a man tries to figure out where love and poetry belong in a time of chaos.

So, three completely different approaches to crime fiction – but a lovely trio when it came to talking about their writing.

Jari Tervo grew up in Rovaniemi, capital of Finland’s northernmost province and a center for tourists who want to see norther lights and learn about Saami culture. He wants to portray what life in this part of Finland is llike, and among the many voices in Among the Saints, we meet some really goofy characters. I asked how his portrayal of the north is recieved by northerners and he said they love it because they feel it truly captures their experience. He also, speaking at FinnFest, commented that light is a factor – living in darkness in the winter and constant light in summer tends to a certain amount of craziness. Tervo’s publisher has described his style as “Quentin Tarantino meets William Faulkner.” If we borrow zaninesss and a bit crime from Tarantino and the almost ethnographic community ensemble from Faulkner, this makes sense – but Tervo himself settled for “brilliant, yet cheap.” (He’s much funnier than Tarantino or Faulkner.) When he writes, he comes up with the first sentence and the last. “Then all I have to do is write the 300 pages in between.” Rather than have a detailed outline, he likes to see where things go: “writing is discovering.” He also talked about how difficult it is to translate a novel into film because you have to trim so much out. “A novel inhales a huge amount of information,” he said.

Jarkko Sipila’s first name in pronounced “YARK-ko” but when he was a small boy, he lived in Columbus, Ohio while his father attended graduate school at Ohio State. He was used to Americans mispronouncing his name and was quite excited about his fame when ads for Jarkko filters ran on television (since he was used to people calling him “charcoal”). He started to study engineering, but decided “Finland would be better off without bridges designed by me” so instead studied to become a journalist (which is also Tervo’s background). He grew frustrated reading about police in fiction who had floridly dysfunctional personal lives, yet were able to solve crimes singlehandedly with their brilliance. In reality, police officers suffering from alcoholism and traumatic stress wouldn’t be working, they’d be hospitalized. His police officers work as a team under the leadership of Kari Takamäki, a character who he says he has made deliberately a bit unexciting. When I asked about the experience of writing for Finns but having a much wider audience, he said that police have something in common worldwide. They want to catch the bad guys. In a sense that makes the police proedural an easily exported genre. A member of the audience asked whether it was problematic writing about crime in a country where there was so little of it. Sipila pointed out that while Finland has half the crime rate of the U.S., it has twice as many homicides as Sweden and four teimes as many as Norway. One contrast to the U.S., though, is that while gun ownership is quite high in Finland, guns are rarely used in homicides. Knives are a more common weapon. “We like to get in close,” he joked. He also mentioned that crime fiction became popular in Finland in the mid-1990s and he felt it was a response to the recession the country was going through at the time, that people were particularly receptive to the idea of violence having a reason behind it, of justice being served in fiction if not in daily life.

Antti Tuomainen is newer to publishing books (and the other two made a lot out of his having merely published five as opposed to 19 and 23!) Perhaps because his early writing career was in advertising, he came up with a catchy conept for The Healer: since it is a crime story, a romance, and a futurisitic dystopia, you get three books for the price of one! I asked him if he had any theories about why dystopia is suddenly so much a part of our popular culture and he wasn’t sure, other than that the impact of global warming is inescapably evident. He also pointed out that his dystopian novel predates The Hunger Games and all the ensuing imitations, so he was in the distrous future ahead of the pack. Unlike Sipila, who writes an outline, drafts a book in about two months, then does several revisions that take another couple of months, Tuomainen’s stories take longer to come together. “I can write a synopsis,” he said. “I just can’t stick to it.” He discovers things as he goes along, and he also senses when something isn’t right. He described it as being “out of tune,” something that is just discordant in the narrative and has to come out. One of his books was recently optioned for film. When he was asked if he would like to write the script, and he immediately said no. A script requires so many rewrites and so many changes demanded by others that he would find it a frustrating and time-consuming venture. His next book to be translated is titled Dark as My Heart, about a man who wants to find out what happened to his birth mother who disappeared when he was a child. It will be out in the UK from Harvill Secker next year; he told me there may be an ebook version available as soon as October. I look forward to it.

Thanks to Juoko Sipila, FinnFest, and Once Upon a Crime for hosting such an enjoyable encounter with these three fine – and very different – Finnish writers.

books

My book haul for the day.

Mark Your Calendars: Finns in Minnesota, Crime in Iceland

Three Finnish crime authors will be in Minneapolis in August to participate in Finnfest USA an annual national gathering for all things Finnish.

They are participating in FinnFest USA, an annual event that is being held in Minneapolis this year (fittingly, since the first Finnish communities were established in the US 150 years ago by Finns who arrived in Red Wing with the intent to settle and retain their Finnish Finnish flagcultural identities in an area that was being settled by many Nordic immigrants).

For those who aren’t registering for the entire Finn-o-palooza, you will have an opportunity to meet the Finnish authors at the wonderful Once Upon a Crime bookstore, where they will be meeting readers and signing books between 11:00 am and 1:00 pm on Saturday, August 9th. The authors are:

  • Antti Tuomainen (author of the dystopian-romantic-noirish novel The Healer)
  • Jarkko Sipila (author of the Helsinki Homicide police procedural series, the latest of which, Darling, is about to be released)
  •  Jari Tervo (author of a number of novels, the first of which is just being published in English – Among the Saints; thanks to the publisher, Ice Cold Crime, I hope to have a review here soon)

This may be the only time three Finnish crime authors have appeared together in the US. They picked a wonderful store as their host.

I hope to attend the event and report back. Meanwhile, here are my previous reviews of Tuomainen’s The Healer and Sipila’s Against the Wall, Vengeance, Nothing But the Truth, and Cold Trail.

In November, you can travel to Iceland for the second Iceland Noir festival of crime fiction. Along with a great many Icelandic authors and authors who set their books in Iceland, you can meet writers from as far away as South Africa. Johan Theorin of Sweden and Vidar Sundstol of Norway will also be on the program. There will also be a Snæfellsnes Mystery Tour with Yrsa Sigurðardóttir to the remote and Iceland flagsrugged setting of her ghost story, My Soul to Take

At this event, the first award for crime fiction translated into Icelandic (the “Icepick”) will be announced. Here is the shortlist, hot off the press release:

  • Joël Dicker: La Vérité sur l’affaire Harry Quebert [The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair] – Icelandic translation: Friðrik Rafnsson
  • Gillian Flynn: Gone Girl – Icelandic translation: Bjarni Jónsson
  • Jo Nesbø: Panserhjerte [The Leopard] – Icelandic translation: Bjarni Gunnarsson
  • Håkan Nesser: Människa utan hund [Man Without Dog] – Icelandic translation: Ævar Örn Jósepsson
  • Antti Tuomainen: Veljeni vartija [My Brother’s Keeper] – Icelandic translation: Sigurður Karlsson

Jarkko Sipila, June 15th

Finnish author Jarkko Sipila will be appearing at Once Upon a Crime in Minneapolis on June Cold Trail - Siplia15th between noon and 2pm. I’ve read and reviewed three of the four police procedurals by Sipila now available in English, thanks to a small publisher devoted to translations of crime fiction from Finland, Ice Cold Crime. All of the translations by Peter Ylitalo Leppa have been excellent. The series has won awards in Finland and has been made into a television series.

I hope to have a review of the fourth – Cold Trail – up soon, but I have to get it away from my husband first. (He gives it high marks.)

Sipila’s books are characterized by gritty realism, with a group of cops led by Kari Takimaki who we get to know quite well doing their best to maintain the peace in a country where Eastern and Western Europe collide and the criminals are bad guys, but entirely human. I’m looking forward to reading the latest entry and grateful to Ice Cold Crime for bringing them to an English-speaking audience.

If you make it to Once Upon a Crime, hang out and you’ll get to meet Craig Johnson (author of the Walt Longmire series) who will be arriving at 3:30. Once Upon a Crime is a happening place, as Shamus could tell you.

seamus at OUAC

A Conspiracy of Faith by Jussi Adler-Olsen

I am excited! I will not only get to meet Jussi Adler-Olsen when he makes one of four stops on his U.S. tour at Once Upon a Crime in Minneapolis tomorrow evening (June 1st at 7:00 pm, to be precise), I get to interview him. Hope to report on that here very soon. Meanwhile, here is a review of his third book in the Department Q series. In Danish the title is Flaskepost fra P; in the UK it will be titled Redemption. But here in the U.S. (perhaps appropriately) religion and conspiracy take the lead.

A review of
A Conspiracy of Faith by Jussi Adler-Olsen
translated by Marin Aitkin
Dutton, May 2013

The prologue of this book is ominous, reminiscent of the woman held captive in the opening pages of The Keeper of Lost Causes. In this case, two boys are chained and gagged in a boat house, terrified and desperate. The older of the two struggles to get his bound hands on a Conspiracy of Faithglass bottle, a splinter of wood, and a bit of paper. Through sheer determination, he manages to write a message written in his own blood rolled up and into the bottle, With the bottle stoppered with a wad of tar, he struggles to get it through a crack in the wooden wall of the boathouse in which they are held chained up before their captor reappears.

And then, as happens with prologues, we’re made to wait. Carl Mørck is annoyed that the office he and his assistant Assad occupy in the basement of police headquarters has to be rid of asbestos, displacing them from their hiding place. Assad has discovered a common thread among a string of arson cases. Their colleague Rose departs for mysterious reasons, but sends her Flaskepost fra Peccentric sister Yrsa to fill in. A young mother is uneasy about her relationship with her controlling, violent husband. All the while, in Scotland, a bottle with a message curled up inside sits on the windowsill of a police station in Scotland, the letters growing faint, only discovered when a computer expert tales a fancy to the bit of glass. Trying to get the paper out, she breaks the bottle and realizes that the nearly unreadable words seem to have been written in blood – and the only word she can clearly make out is HJAELP.

As Department Q tries to decode the decayed message, solve a series of arsons, and avoid Heath and Safety officers, a man goes about his business, seeking out families with deep non-conformist religious beliefs, weaseling his way into their good graces, then kidnapping their children for ransom – and to cause extraordinary anguish.

This all sounds very grim, and in many ways it is. In addition to children at risk and parents Redemptionexperiencing their worst nightmare, there is the plight of a woman trapped in a violent relationship, terrified about what will come next. But as anyone who has read the first book in the series may guess, it’s full of humor and kindness as well. Carl Mørck is a grumpy yet dedicated slacker. Assad is an immigrant whose broken Danish and eagerness to please conceals hidden depths. Yrsa is both bizarre and brilliant.  And bit by bit, the clues come together.

As in Keeper of Lost Causes, the story involves a crime in the past and a desperate need to solve it in the present. It’s a fun, thrilling reading experience that has both enough depth to round out the characters as well as a generosity of spirit that infuses the pages and matches the grimness with hope and an abiding faith in humanity.

For those in the Minneapolis area, perhaps I’ll see you. For those who aren’t . . . I’m sorry you don’t live near this terrific bookstore. It’s a little bit of heaven for mystery readers.

Once Upon a Crime

Read Mary Ann Grossman’s coverage of the book and the event in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. 

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.