Happy Easter Crime!


creative commons licensed photo courtesy of Rockspilden

The Spectator has a fascinating article about the origins of Påskekrim, Norway’s tradition of reading crime fiction at Easter. It seems a couple of enterprising guerrilla marketers of the late 19th century placed and ad for their novel about a train robbery that looked very like a news headline in Aftenposten. A tradition was born. As Norwegians head to their country cottages for the holidays, they take candy and entertaining books with them. The article goes on to profile worthy Norwegian writers, Anne Holt and Jørn Lier Horst, as well as a selection of Swedish and Danish recommendations.

The Newtown Review of Books, from Sydney, Australia, has a detailed review of Antti Tuomainen’s dystopian futuristic thriller set in Helsinki, The Healer.  Jean Bedford concludes, ” it is the juxtaposition of the rather gallant existentialism of the protagonists with the self-preservation and venality of most of the other characters that adds depth and texture to raise this dystopian crime novel well out of the ordinary.”

I have a copy on its way to me, and I am looking forward to it. In an email to me, critic Paula The HealerArvas wrote “it’s one piece of quality crime writing!” She also recommends Pekka Hiltunen’s Cold Courage which will be out in June. For more from Finland, see the website of the FELT Cooperative.

At Reviewing the Evidence, there are several Scandinavian crime novels reviewed this week. John Cleal finds Mons Kallentoft’s Autumn Killing complex, dark, splendidly written, and a bit of work for the reader – but well worth it.

Yvonne Klein finds some of the plot devices in Silenced, Kristina Ohlsson’s second novel, awfully shopworn, and isn’t taken with the characters, though the book does provide a picture of Swedish approaches to justice.

Anne Corey is enthusiastic about Helsinki Blood, the latest brutal and dark entry in James Thompson’s Kari Vaara series. (Thompson is an American living in Finland, where his books were first published.) Though it focuses on Vaara’s attempts to salvage a what’s left of his life after the violence of the previous book in the series, it ends on a hopeful note and a possible new direction for the series.

In an earlier issue of RTE, I reviewed Tursten’s Golden Calf, which I felt was a strong entry in the series that has interesting things to say about the way wealth distorts people’s values.

Jose Ignacio Escribano reviews Arne Dahl’s Misterioso (apa The Blinded Man) finding it well-written, intelligent, a tad slow in places, and very much in the social critique tradition of SJowall and Wahloo.  The BBC is airing a television series based on Dahl’s Intercrime novels starting in April. (Hat tip to Euro Crime.)

He previously reviewed Last Will by Liza Marklund, which he gives top marks, saying it’s an engrossing story that does a good job of weaving together the investigation and Annika Bengtzon’s personal life.

Margot Kinberg puts Jørn Lier Horst’s Dregs in the spotlight – part of her series in which she examines how a particular mystery works in depth. This episode is dedicated to Maxine Clarke, who was one of the first to review this book.

Andalucian Friend - USAt Crimepieces, Sarah Ward reviews Alexander Söderberg’s Andalucian Friend, which she enjoyed – with reservations. The story’s strength is in its well-drawn characters, but the non-stop action and attendant hype left her wondering what all the fuss is about.

More reviews of Söderberg’s novel can be found at The Book Reporter (which finds it an epic powerhouse of a novel), Metro (which is less enamored, finding the female lead lacking and the violence over the top), and Kirkus (which deems it promising but with issues).

Review of Silenced by Kristina Ohlsson

The team of detectives who first came together in Unwanted – led by Alex Recht and including the civilian researcher Fredrika Bergman and the crude but talented police officer Peder Rydh – have a handful of cases on their plates. A man, run down in the street, needs identification; a vicar appears to have shot his wife before killing himself, following the news that one of their daughters has died of a drug overdose. Their other daughter can’t be located for them to break the tragic news. Though the investigators don’t know about it, readers have witnessed yet another crime, one from the past, a rape that occurs in the opening pages. The Gradually, very gradually, the threads between these cases are drawn together by readers and the hardworking team.

The lives of the chief characters also play a role as the story unfolds. Fredrika is heavily pregnant, not feeling well, and regretting the loss of the comfortable life she’d had, including lots of energy for work and a satisfying if unconventional long-term relationship with an older married man. Peder, whose marriage has failed, gets into trouble by making sexist remarks (without really understanding why others find his humor so unacceptable). He also can’t help feeling aggressively competitive with a new member of the team, a humorless and upright cop named Joar. Alex is wondering why his beloved wife has become so distant lately.

Added to these story lines, readers follow the fates of two other characters, one an undocumented immigrant from Iraq who finds out that the new, cheaper route to Europe carries a much higher price than he anticipated, as the family he hopes to bring to Sweden for a better life has no idea what has become of him. The other, a particularly gripping part of the novel, concerns a Swedish woman who is undertaking a secretive mission in Thailand. She finds her identity, bit by bit, is being erased, with her return flight canceled, her email account locked, her phone calls home unanswered, feeling a growing sense of menace as everything that identifies her and connects her to her past vanishes.

Though the story involves immigration – the vicar was an activist on immigrants’ behalf, and clearly his activities providing shelter to undocumented travelers is somehow connected to his death – the author uses social issues as a backdrop rather than as a focus. The experience of being silenced is thematic, particularly in the case of the woman trapped in Thailand and the immigrant who finds himself in over his head, but the social issue is much less front and center than in some politically-conscious crime fiction from Sweden. Ultimately the complex (perhaps overly-elaborate) plot is about human relationships that are shaped by the usual human motives: greed, jealousy, or hope for a better life for one’s family. It’s a long book at over 400 pages, but quite an entertaining read.

The US edition will not be out until March, 2013. I must say, this is one of those rare occasions when I much prefer the US cover to the UK one.