rounding up the reviews

What a lot of reviews appear in the weeks since I last compiled them! And a very interesting mix, too.

India has its aficionados of Nordic crime. Among them is Anantha Krishnan, who reviews for a number of online sources. A recent example is this review in Midwest Book Review of Camilla Lackberg’s The Stonecutter.  Ananth feels Lackberg’s strengths are in character development and setting more than plot. (I have to agree.)

Maxine Clark reviews Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom’s new thriller, Cell 8, finding it disappointingly ham-fisted in its treatment of an issue, capital punishment. She found the lead character unappealing and the use of coincidence and thin character development in the service of Making a Serious Point less than satisfying. She does point out that fans of political thrillers looking for a fast read may enjoy it.

Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise had a different experience reading Cell 8 – she found it well-paced and ingeniously plotted, with a nice ironic touch at the end. She also has done a bit of digging and points out that this book was published after Box 21 but before Three Seconds.

At the Independent, Barry Forshaw is also generally positive about the book, noting its strong political message, but concluding “the duo never lose sight of one imperative: to keep the readers transfixed with a mesmerising crime narrative.”

At Euro Crime, the founder and genius-in-chief,  Karen Meek, reviews the latest in Kjell Ericksson’s Ann Lindell series, The Hand that Trembles. Though she finds the series uneven, this book was largely enjoyable after a sluggish start set in India and should appeal to those who prefer depth of characters over pacing and thrills. Unfortunately the production leaves much to be desired, with many problems a good proof-reading would have fixed.

Glenn Harper reviews Jo Nesbo’s standalone, Headhunters, and found it good fun except for the disgusting bits. It sounds very different than the Harry Hole series.

At The View from the Blue House, Rob Kitchen praises Arnaldur Indridason’s Outrage, which he finds layered, philosophical, and reflective while doing, as usual, a good job of mixing mundane daily life with a police investigation.

At Murder by Type Beth reviews Hakan Nesser’s The Unlucky Lottery which she finds a solid character-driven novel that explores what happens when friends win a lottery and it opens up a can of problems.

Three reviews for the price of one at Killer Reads – where readers comment on James Thompson’s Lucifer’s Tears, a Finnish mystery I enjoyed very much.

Keishon reviews Asa Larsson’s The Blood Spilt and gives it – and all of her books – high marks, though she found the ending a bit predictable.

At Crimepieces, Sarah reviews Jorn Lier Horst’s Dregs, which she feels has the qualities that she most enjoys in Scandinavian crime fiction – while sharing the unfortunate fate of being translated out of order.

Bernadette also reviews Dregs at Reactions to Reading and encourages publishers to give English-speaking readers more volumes in this smart, enjoyable series.

Beth at Murder by Type reviews Sara Blaedel’s Call Me Princess which she enjoyed, but cautions readers that it is being compared to all the wrong books; it’s much lighter fare than Stieg Larsson, though like the Millennium Trilogy, it’s about violence against women. If approached on its own merits, Beth thinks it’s well worth a read.

She also reviews The Leopard by Jo Nesbo, which she enjoyed very much, but which has an off-puttingly violent first chapter. Sounds like one to read with your eyes closed – or as she puts it, “the first chapter is unforgettable, which is why I wish I hadn’t read it. ” The other 94 chapters make up for it.

NancyO reviews Midwinter Sacrifice by Mons Kallentoft, which she finds very good and atmospheric, though she’s not convinced that the device of including the voices of the dead is particularly effective. (Or, as she puts it in the comment stream, “the series has potential to be very good but LOSE THE GHOSTY stuff!”

Kerry at Mysteries in Paradise listened to an audio version of Roseanna, the first in the Martin Beck series and finds it “a masterpiece of suspense and sadness.”

Norm at Crimescraps undertakes a reading of The Dinosaur Feather by Sissel-Jo Gazan and describes the experience with a great deal of humor, while providing a review. (Far too much backstory and subplotting in a doorstop of a book hides a good 300-page story hidden among 536 pages.)

And at Reviewing the Evidence I review Arne Dahl’s Misterioso, which seems to me closer to the Martin Beck series than any other Swedish crime fiction that is said to be inspired by Martin Beck. Though it seemed slow to start, I ended up enjoying it very much, and found the context – Sweden’s 1999 financial crisis – to be almost eerily topical and Dahl’s take on it spot-on.

The Euro Crime blog brings the good news that Maj Sjowall has been awarded the Big Caliber Prize of Honour at the International Festival of Crime Fiction, in Wroclaw, Poland. And well deserved it is, too.

The blog also provides a public service by alerting readers to a completely unnecessary and confusing title change. (Camilla Lackberg’s The Stranger = The Gallows Bird. Don’t be fooled into buying it twice.)

On the film and television front, Martin Scorsese will be directing a big screen version of Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman.

Much excitement is mounting over David Fincher’s version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, thanks to which it’s back on the New York Times‘ bestseller list. The New York Times just ran a profile of Fincher and his thoughts on the film. I won’t try to capture the buzz around the film, as that avalanche would quickly bury everything else here.

Though not actually crime fiction, we might as well mention that Henning Mankell’s Italian Shoes is being directed by Kenneth Branagh and will feature Judy Dench and (possibly) Anthony Hopkins.

But for sheer silliness, it’s hard to beat the clash of British and Scandinavian policing in the Hürda Gürda Mürder.

film and fiction in review

A quick round-up before the craziness of the fall semester starts up . . .

A graduate student in computational linguistics named Joshua points out that there is too much variety among Swedish crime writers to consider Swedish crime fiction a genre, and he offers this comparison as evidence: “in the schoolyard of Swedish crime fiction, Theorin is the studious nerd and Mankell and Larsson are the big kids.” He thinks Theorin’s books are not nearly as engaged or challenging as those that offer more social critique and are more or less harmless entertainments. (Or, to put it bluntly, “beach reads.” While I like social critique, I think Theorin’s just dandy without that element, myself.)

In a previous blog post, the blogger has very positive things to say about the film version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  And they’re smart and thoughtful comments well worth reading.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (”Men Who Hate Women” in the original) is basically the perfect movie at this point in time. It’s socially conscious without being PC, it’s atmospheric but not artsy, it’s an intelligent thriller that’s neither ironic, nor overly reliant on plot twists. It’s a genre film that’s about more than genre commentary. I loved it.

I loved it because it’s slow. It doesn’t seem like it will be just at first: you’re plunged down into the middle of a libel suit with a helpful reporter narrating the setup on the evening news. But from there we see a bunch of seemingly unconnected scenes, so it’s alright. We trust they’ll get around to having all these people meet each other – and they do.

I loved it because it’s fun. The protagonist (erm, one of them) basically gets hired to solve a locked room mystery involving a bunch of rich people who live on an island. Why not? Why should we be above these things?

I loved it because it has a fetish chick. Tough bisexual biker girl hacker with nose rings and spiked collars and Black no. 1 hair. Which of us born in 1975 hasn’t wanted one of those?

I loved it because it’s graphic without being indulgent. All together now: the violence we see is realistic and in the service of a theme, not there merely for shock value.

I loved it because the characters are believable stereotypes . . . [here follows an intriguing discussion of how plausible and how enlightened – or not – the romantic relationship between Blomqvist and Salander is, and then] . . .

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo succeeds because it’s politically aware only to the extent of wanting to do the right thing, and metafictionally aware only to the extent of picking out the workable formulas and giving credit to their sources. It’s a film that shouldn’t be too hard to deconstruct, and I’m sure that’s just around the corner. But now, while it’s fresh, I’m enjoying just having enjoyed it.

Well, I must say I enjoyed the review.

Carla McKay reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman for the Daily Mail and points out he’s not the next Stieg Larsson. (We knew that.) She apparently liked the book, though most of the review is a synopsis.

Keishon also reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman and, while she’s an admirer of the series, feels this one is not the strongest.

Ben Hunt reviews Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment and says it’s a very good debut, though he advises readers to take the hype on the book jacket with a grain of salt. It’s an ably plotted story with a vivid setting and characters that are somewhat typical, but well-drawn. He also proposes a theory:

If anything defines the extraordinary and apparently relentless rise of Scandinavian fiction, for me it is these three qualities, and in particular the plotting.

It would be easy to draw cheap stereotypical conclusions about ordered minds and ordered societies producing writers with organized minds who produce impeccably plotted and well executed novels. Cheap maybe, but the more Scandinavian fiction I read the more I am drawn to this idea.

Bernadette reviews Sjowall and Wahloo’s first book in the Martin Beck series, Roseanna, and is interested to find in it so many of the elements that have become part of Scandinavian crime fiction.

Martin Beck too is realistic, perhaps a little too much so. If the phrase ‘dour Swede’ has been over-used since Scandinavian crime fiction has become flavour of the month then surely the blame must lie mostly at the feet of the rarely smiling, crowd hating, always ill, never wanting to go home Martin Beck. As a characterisation I think he’s marvelous but as a human being I’d rather not be stuck in an elevator for any great length of time with him . . .

In Roseanna the authors tackled the nature of bureaucracy, the rise of consumerism and even used the nature of the crime itself in a country that prided itself on being the kind of place where such things did not happen with a subtlety that I would dearly love to see more of in modern fiction.

Margot Kinberg also puts Roseanna “in the spotlight.”

Peter explores the “bloodthirsty femmes” of Scandinavian crime fiction: Swedish writers Karin Alvtegen, Kerstin Ekman, Inger Frimansson, Mari Jungstedt, Camilla Läckberg, Asa Larsson, Liza Marklund, and Helene Tursten; Norway’s Anne Holt and Karin Fossum; Tove Jansson (Finland) and Yrsa Sigurdardottir (Iceland).  He looks at their protagonists and finds a great deal of variety. He promises more on the subject anon . . .

CrimeFic Reader reviews Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Ashes to Dust, which (how very topical) involves a volcanic eruption, though in this case it’s to do with bodies buried for decades in ash from a massive 1970 eruption. She likes the book, but wishes the translation weren’t so Americanized.


more reviews & news from Scandinavia

As part of the Scandinavian Challenge, Karen Russell reports on Roseanna by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö at her blog, How Mysterious! She reports something that I have also noticed when reading books in the classic Martin Beck series.

The most interesting thing about this book is its pace. There are exciting moments, particularly the finale, but it’s mostly Martin Beck smoking endless packs of cigarettes, avoiding his wife and wracking his brain for other ways to approach the puzzle, then dispatching more junior officers to search for information. The authors don’t try to mask the frustrations of police work, but rather highlight it– although I should mention that I was never frustrated with reading about it; in fact, at only 200 pages the book flew by in little more than an afternoon.

Norm (aka Uriah) is also participating in the Scandinavian Challenge. He reviews The Killer’s Art by Mari Jungstedt, the fourth in the Inspector Knutas series set on the island of Gotland.  He finds the relationships among the series characters nicely developed and the shifting points of view increase the tension. In sum, he concludes, “the police work in The Killer’s Art may be a little slapdash but the characters, the background information, and the setting on the island of Gotland kept my interest.”

Beth reviews Hakan Nesser’s Woman With Birthmark at Murder by Type. She found it gripping and thinks it may be the best in the series.

At Eurocrime, Karen Meek reviews Karin Fossum’s Bad Intentions, the sixth book in the Konrad Sejer series, which she is “a typical example of her thought-provoking, uncomfortable and melancholic reads.” Well put.

In other news, Camilla Lackberg’s US publisher is hoping to scoop up millions of Larsson fans on the rebound (though honestly, I don’t see the connection other than Swedish and popular). The paperback sale has even made news.

The Wall Street Journal provides a look at covers that didn’t go on the US edition of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. (I was sent an arc with the white cover spattered with blood and was surprised to see the final version was so different – but definitely an improvement, to my mind.)

reviews and interviews

The three top selling books in April at Abebooks were a Larsson trifecta:

1. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson
2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
3. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

Ali Karim interviews the author of a new biography of Stieg Larsson at The Rap Sheet. Barry Forshaw, author of The Man Who Left Too Soon, warns that his literary biography contains (as one would expect) spoilers and that he thinks the author’s heavy smoking and generally punishing lifestyle were more likely to blame for his premature death than a conspiracy (though fellow chain smoking writers would have it otherwise…) He also has this interesting thing to say in response to a question about Larsson’s feminism.

There is no question that he was genuinely a feminist who celebrated strong, capable women. But it has to be said that his strong, capable female protagonist [Lisbeth Salander] is also a disturbed sociopath who is psychologically damaged. What do we read into this? Is it simply a novelistic imperative to render his heroine more vulnerable? My own personal jury is still out on the graphic descriptions of sexual abuse in the novels. I can’t see an argument for Larsson describing such things in a discreet, mealy-mouthed fashion–and I would have thought it would be difficult (except for certain individuals) to find these passages erotically exciting. Basically, Larsson provides us with a remarkably high number of male scumbags to function as antagonists for his vengeful heroine. And I think–in the final analysis–he does it in a (largely) responsible fashion. But it’s a difficult call … Sorry if that sounds like fence-sitting.

I have to agree that it’s hard to imagine the sexual violence in these books as titillating; at any rate, if it is, that’s more the reader’s problem than the author’s – which one can’t say for the large number of thrillers that use violence against women in an obviously exploitative manner.

The Guardian takes a break from the election to report on various entertainments, including a Nordic film festival in Edinburgh.

Perhaps it’s the long winter nights, perhaps it’s their excellent road-safty record, perhaps it’s the satanic strains of Roxette, but stereotyping aside, Scandinavian crime fiction seems to have taken over the world – first as books, now as movies. So if Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo whetted your appetite, head for the fresh imports on show here. Norwegian crime writers Karin Fossum and Gunnar Staalesen are represented by adaptations of their noir-tinged novels The Girl By The Lake (which was actually made in Italy) and Varg Veum: Bitre Blomster (Bitter Flowers) respectively. Alternatively, you can compare the Swedish Wallander with the UK version in a double bill, or revisit such overlooked cult gems as Jar City, Just Another Love Story, The Ape and Erik Skjoldbjærg’s original version of Insomnia.

Who said they were allowed to have so much fun!? Then again, the election is so much not fun, I shouldn’t begrudge them a break.

The Viking invasion of India continues to get press coverage; this week brings an interview with Hakan Nesser in the Business Standard. The Swedish writer thinks the boom in Scandinavian crime is caused by Germans reading such a lot of it.

Nesser is sceptical about the existence of any such thing as a “Swedish tradition” in crime writing. “The only thing [Swedish crime writers] have in common is that we write in Swedish,” he says. Fans, however, will point out that the tradition goes back to the 1960s, when the husband-wife team of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö wrote their Martin Beck series. Nesser (whose best-known character is the philosophical detective Chief Inspector Van Veeteren) counters with the observation that since Sjöwall-Wahlöö no Swedish crime writer had gained worldwide recognition until Henning Mankell (creator of Inspector Kurt Wallander), Nesser himself and a handful of others shot to fame in the 1990s.

“When critics try to scrutinise the Swedish crime fiction situation,” he says, “they look for patterns… and find, because they want to find it, this or that which is rotten in the state of Sweden, and thus has caused this explosion of crime writing… Since Sweden used to be a kind of model society in the latter part of the 20th century, [they] like to link our literary hype to a fall from grace of the country.” Nesser does not consider his own books to be making any kind of social criticism, though he agrees that some authors do. This is not a Swedish specialty, he insists. “You can hardly write a realistic contemporary story, crime or not, without involving the society where it takes place.” . . .

“Right now,” says Nesser, “we probably have the world’s largest number of good crime fiction writers per capita, but please be aware that we also have the world’s largest number of bad crime fiction writers.”

Maxine points out that Swdish Book Review has just published an issue devoted to Kerstsin Ekman, whose crime novel Under the Snow and Blackwater have been translated into English. It has been a long time since I read them, but I loved the latter and didn’t so much love the former. I look forward to the issue since my library (on Maxine’s advice) has just started a subscription to this publication.

Incidentally, that periodical has published an article based on Selling Ice to Eskimos: Translated Crime Fiction and British Publishing, a dissertation by Paul Engles, who has kindly put it on the web. He looks at the market for translations, particularly in view of the recent popularity of Scandinavian translations, and compares the British market for Italian and for Scandinavian titles.

Maxine reviews Mikkel Birkegaard’s The Library of Shadows, and finds that it’s “fast-paced, exciting and readable, if a somewhat formulaic mixture of Harry Potter, Indiana Jones and Da Vinci Code-type themes,” including a fair amount of supernatural shenanigans, which means it’s not really her sort of book at all.

Rob Kitchen reads Roseanna, the first in the Martin Beck series, and wonder what it is about the book that gives Sjowall and Wahloo the reputation of being transformational. It has a much quieter, more leisurely pace than what we’re used to today.

There is a sense of progression, but it is not driven along at breakneck speed, with an endless succession of cliffhangers. Instead the story meanders along at a relatively sedate pace, detailing how the case is patiently and dogmatically investigated, eventually reaching a relatively understated climax. . . . I find it quite difficult to conceive Roseanna as a book that broke the mould and started a new way of writing crime fiction given the vast quantity of work that follows in their path, some of which advances what they started and branches off in new directions. That said, it is a fine piece of work that reads just as well now as it no doubt did forty years ago.

Bernadette reads The Serbian Dane by Leif Davidsen and finds it fits the bill very well indeed, giving high marks to both author and translator.

The suspense built in a gradual, quite understated way as the date for Santanda’s visit draws closer and you know that everyone will intersect somehow but are never quite sure how this will happen and what the resolution will be. The flow of the writing appears to have been expertly captured by Scottish born translator Barbara Haveland as the novel was a particularly easy and engaging read and I would recommend it heartily.

Dorte reports that another children’s writer has turned to crime, reviewing a book co-authored by Lene Kaaberbøl and newcomer Agnete Friis, The Boy in the Suitcase. She considers it the best Danish thriller she’s ever read and, while it’s not translated into English as yet, she was kind enough to translate her review.

Photo courtesy of Global X, who had to start reading the trilogy in French because it took so long for the English translation to come out.