Linkfest

Time to catch up on what has been happening while my nose was to the grindstone at work.

Bill Ott reflects on Henning Mankell’s tenth and final Wallander novel. So does translator Anna Patterson in The Independent, Marilyn Stasio in The New York Times Book Review, Andrew Brown in The Guardian (more of a summary-cum-parody than a review) and a proper review by Karen Meek of Euro Crime.

Declan Burke goes one better by interviewing the author. So does John Preston in The Telegraph.

John Lloyd of the Financial Times looks at Mankell’s Troubled Man, the Danish television sensation The Killing and the appeal of dark Scandinavian crime in general.

Maxine Clarke reviews Gunnar Staalesen’s Yours Until Death, first published in Norwegian in 1979 and showing its age, though still an interesting read.

Bernadette reviews Liza Marklund’s Red Wolf – and enjoys the commentary on politics and the press as much as the mystery.

The Scotsman has an interesting interview with Jo Nesbo, who goes rock-climbing in Thailand to relieve the pressure of being a wildly successful writer, musician, and former footballer. Seems when talent was handed out one Norwegian got a bit greedy.

Keishon reviews Nesbo’s The Leopard and thinks it’s better than his last, and another good entry in a great series.

The Telegraph has an interesting essay by Anne Holt about a crime that changed the way Norwegians looked at violence; crime can be banal, brutal, and not clearly solved.

With the popularity of the complex television series The Killing in the UK, the Guardian catches up with Danish culture – food, style, couture, travel, and yes – crime fiction. Added to the usual Nordic noir lineup is a bit about Jussi Adler-Olsen, whose first novel in a cold-case trilogy will be released in English in May.

More on The Killing from Areopagitica. Note the Pamphleteer’s final sentiment: “There also a new US TV version of this drama. We can ignore that!” That’s how I feel, though you can read this Wall Street Journal analysis and see if you are tempted by the Seattle-set version. Glenn Harper is intrigued, but he’s watching the original first.

Read this with your eyes closed if you haven’t caught up with the series. Only Mrs. Peabody actually doesn’t give away the end, but says there will be a series two. Really? Now if we could only get the real deal here in the U.S. …

A writer in the Wall Street Journal thinks Scandinavian crime fiction is all political and Marxist and stuff. Also it’s not Strindberg. No comment.

A travel piece in The Guardian on “Larsson-land” talks about how literary tourists should check out northern Sweden but somehow fails to mention the other Larsson – Asa Larsson – or Liza Marklund, whose Red Wolf happens to be set in the town being profiled.

The Random Jotter likes Jo Nesbo’s series.

Hersilia Press thinks highly of Nesser’s The Inspector and Silence.

Mike Ripley talks about crime fiction in general – his own and his reflections based on his long-running column for Shots magazine – at The Rap Sheet. Once again, he goes on record to say the current crop of Scandinavian crime fiction (and Stieg Larsson in particular) is overrated. He thinks they lack heart and generosity of spirit and believes that Lisbeth Salander is not all that original:

Call me old-fashioned and patriotic (or just old), but I reckon Lisbeth Salander owes an awful lot to feisty, kick-ass, computer-literate, sexy heroines of British crime fiction of the late 1980s/early 1990s created by writers such as Val McDermid, Sarah Dunant, Denise Danks, Lesley Grant-Adamson, and Stella Duffy.

NancyO reviews Sjowall and Wahloo’s Murder at the Savoy at her Crime Segments portion of her literary blogging. Though she thinks it’s a bit less intense than previous entries in the series, she gives it high marks and writes:

As with the other books, there are memorable moments of humor during a serious investigation, and the characters continue to grow and change, acting very human all of the time. And another hallmark of this series continues here: the crime, the investigation, the characters’ lives and the social commentary all occur succinctly within a relatively short amount of space with no superfluous distractions.

NancyO also reviews Sjowall and Wahloo’s Cop Killer, and is sorry that having read the ninth, she’s nearly at the end of this fine series.

Sarah Weinman addresses in her Dark Passages column for the L.A. Times what she calls “post-misogyny” – cultural demonstrations of male responses to waves of feminism. (As I write this I am musing over the presence in this morning’s New York times front section 1) a front-page story on how middle-school sexting affects girls, 2) a harrowing story about a woman who finds reporters in Libya and tells them she has been gang-raped by pro-government thugs and is dragged away for more and 3) a story about how rape is becoming a common occurrence in India at the interface of traditional and modern societies. Which is to say “post” does not mean “over”.)  Anyway, here’s how Sarah frames the essay:

I speak, of course, of Stieg Larsson. No introductions are necessary for his now-iconic, soon-to-be-Fincherized-heroine Lisbeth Salander. As I’ve said elsewhere, the key to why the books have sold close to 50 million copies worldwide is that the hyperkinetic, Asperger-esque, quasi-sociopathic amalgam of archetypes that is Lisbeth leads the reader through teachable moment after teachable moment of violence against women until the culminating, and cathartic, trial sequence in “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest” — and we, the readers, are redeemed by and are complicit with Lisbeth’s resultant triumph.

She goes on to review some new books by women that play with similar tropes. At least a couple have gone on my “to be read” list.

Joan Acocella has a different explanation for the popularity of the trilogy: “cheap thrills.” In this analysis in The New Yorker, Larsson is an unskilled writer, but “a very good storyteller.” And yes, The Girl is at the center of Larsson’s success.

The woman warrior has become a beloved feature of the movies, from Nikita to Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft, and beyond. It is also, reportedly, a sexual fantasy popular with men—something else that may have helped to sell the books… [but Larsson is not merely trading in cliches because Salander is] a complicated person, alienating and poignant at the same time . . . She operates outside society but not outside morality. She is an outlaw, or a sprite—a punk fairy.

Speaking of L.A., I’m going to be part of this – squee!

(Sorry for the random placement of italics in this post – WordPress is suddenly sprinkling ems everywhere when I try to tilt a title, so some are italics and some are not.)

so many books…

Norm (aka Uriah) reviews Red Wolf by Liza Marklund, a follow-up to The Bomber that has finally been translated. He thinks, like Maxine, that if anyone deserves the “next” nod following the Larsson success, it’s Marklund.

Norm also turns to the Martin Beck series for a pick-me-up and describes the pleasure of reading Murder at the Savoy. A quote he provides to illustrate the rule that one needs a good plot, a solid cast, and descriptions of food is making me very hungry.

Glenn Harper reviews Camilla Lackberg’s The Stonecutter and concludes that, though she is not his favorite Swedish writer, it’s well constructed, with a nice contrast between the “cozy” setting and the dark storyline.

Jose Ignacio wonders which of his Scandinavian crime fiction books to read next. The general consensus seems to be “read them all.”

Maxine reviews Harri Nykanen’s Raid and the Blackest Sheep which is now available in the UK as a Kindle e-book. She enjoyed it very much, particularly the police side of the story, though Raid is a trifle superhuman (yet still likeable).

Bev Vincent reviews the extra volume tucked into the Millennium Trilogy boxed set coming out from Knopf in time for Christmas, which appears to have some interesting material from his publisher, an editor (including e-mail exchanges between Larsson and her), and a friend and co-worker who knew him well. Only 96 pages, but worth a read. Apparently Larsson took well to being edited, only insisting on keeping the original title for the first volume, Men Who Hate Women.

In an interview with the director of the Swedish films of the trilogy, Niels Arden Oplev discusses the appeal of Lisbeth Salander.

When we screened it for the first time, during the scene where Lisbeth gets raped, you could hear a pin drop in the theater. Then when she goes and rapes him back, I swear to God it was like being in the stadium when Denmark scored in the World Cup. I didn’t know that many women could whistle like that. It was a war cry.

Mary Bor, one of the Curious Book Fans, raves about Three Seconds by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom, writing “neither fine writing nor solid characterisation have been sacrificed to make room for hard-hitting authenticity. The action is at times painful but always compelling; the sense of drama is superb.”

Maxine Clarke enjoyed K.O. Dahl’s The Man in the Window, which like many Norwegian novels revisits Norway’s past under German occupation. She gives the translator, Don Bartlett, high marks, too.

Translator K. E. Semmel interviews Ake Edwardson for “Art and Literature,” a blog associated with Raleigh’s Metro Magazine. It’s a good interview, which includes this:

You know, there is not any genre but crime fiction where anybody anywhere can stand up and generalize and say anything, “crime fiction is this, crime fiction is that”… Everything put into the same mass grave. A lack of nuanced perspective.

Having said that, I do believe there are a lot of bad and cynical crime writers out there who are only in it for the money. To hell with them. I have written 20 books of fiction, roughly half of them crime novels, and I will say that writing a good crime novel is about the hardest thing. It’s not in the first place the plot, though a crime novel is about the last epic still standing in contemporary fiction. No, the challenge is about the attitude of the writer: Why am I writing this, why am I writing about crime, how am I writing? You know, if the writer doesn’t put in a sound of empathy and humanism in the story, then it will only become cynical and cold entertainment . . . the simple way of the absolute and excessive evil, where the writer doesn’t take any responsibility for the writing . . . I have spent all my writing years contemplating evil, and one thing I do know is that it isn’t something in its own, like a “thing.” It is very complex behavior, and it always has to do with humans, with people. Nuances. The overall “truth” of my crime novels is that you can never escape the shadows of your past; they will track you down wherever you hide. And it’s all about human behavior.

Right now there is a kind of Klondyke-like flood of crime writing and novels around, especially from Scandinavia, and I can only hope that readers will find the good stuff and that the bad stuff will fall to the ground and turn to dust and blow away in the wind.

“set somewhere in Scandinavia”

The Book Maven explains why she doesn’t like the Millennium Trilogy. Personally, I agree with her criticism, but I ended up enjoying them anyway (the second two volumes more than the first, though I know others who like the first best). They have a kind of weird energy that saw me past the heaps of unnecessary detail and the lulls in pacing. The more we got to see from Salander’s point of view, the more I enjoyed them.

Forbes has an article on Salander and, being a business magazine, the trilogy is billed as a “feminist franchise” – uh . . . really? As with many other articles, it’s partly about the books and partly speculation about the US film remakes, which perhaps makes sense as the author or the article, Melissa Silverstein, runs a website on women and Hollywood. After discussing the character, responses gathered from readers through social networks, and considering whether a female author could get away with such a heroine (she reckons it would have been dismissed as “crazy chick lit”), she speculates about the possible film legacy:

The clear challenge for Hollywood is to not tone down the rough and decidedly unpretty nature and look of Lisbeth’s character. “I am concerned about how they decide to cast her and how they dilute her because Hollywood has traditionally been very afraid of powerful women,” wrote film blogger Anne Thompson. Think about it: If Hollywood was smart, Lisbeth Salander could be the first real female action hero.

Unlike Sex and the City and Twilight, which are largely targeted at girls and women, what makes this female-led franchise unique is that this one has actual crossover potential. Men like Larsson’s books just as much as women. If men and women will pay money see a female star who takes down the bad guys and doesn’t need to look like a babe in the process, she would certainly be The Girl Who Started a Feminist Franchise.

Personally, I think if Hollywood were smart, it would leave well enough alone and not try to reinvent the already well-regarded Swedish films. But they aren’t likely to ask my opinion.

Marilyn Stasio has little good to say about Camilla Lackberg’s The Ice Princess. Ouch! I wonder if her reaction was in part push-back from too much “next Stieg Larsson” hype that seems to attach to all things Swedish. (Earlier, this US debut for Lackberg got starred reviews in Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist.)

Norm (aka Uriah) has had it with hype. He wonders if Hamlet will be the next to be linked to the Millennium phenomenon – “people get murdered, it is set somewhere in Scandinavia, so if you liked Stieg Larsson you will enjoy this.” His ire was provoked when a Hakan Nesser book had Mankell and Larsson splashed on its cover – though Nesser has so many laurels he needn’t rest on other people’s – and he quite rightly finds his style more comparable with Sjowall and Wahloo than Mankell or Larsson.

Finally, Declan Burke in the Irish Times puts Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman at the top of a list of “killer reads for the summer.” And And Kerrie reviews Jan Costin Wagner’s Ice Moon, a whydunnit that includes unraveling the investigators’ reasons for their actions as well as the killer’s.

CFP (or “how can you resist?”)

Three scholars in Sweden and the UK are putting together a very interesting collection of essays on how rape is depicted in contemporary Scandinavian and Anglophone crime fiction. Contributions on four authors well known to readers of this blog are particularly in demand. Here are the details:

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Following our recent call for papers for our collection Rape in Crime Fiction, we are looking for chapters on any of the following Scandinavian writers: Håkan Nesser, Karin Fossum, Liza Marklund and Stieg Larsson.

Please submit an abstract of 500 words and a brief biography before August 1, 2010. Chapters selected for inclusion should be between 4 000 and 6 000 words, and should be submitted by March 2011.

Please submit abstracts to Dr Tanya Horeck or Dr Berit Åström.

More than Mankell

The UK is revelling in Wallander, thanks to the BBC version of the series launching with Sideswiped. Boyd Tonkin of The Independent calls attention to other Scandinavian writers who are worth a look. Stieg Larsson’s second book in the Millenium Trilogy is due in January, a new Mari Jungstedt is coming to bookstore shelves, and Tonkin points out books by Norwegians Karin Fossum and Jo Nesbo, Icelander Arnaldur Indridason, and Finland’s Matti Joensuu, who has just had a volume of his Timo Harjunpää series re-released. He also gives a shout-out to the gifted translators who are making these works accessible to English-speaking audiences.

No reader should mentally confine the writers of the North to a life of crime. All the same, many gifted novelists have chosen to adopt the form and push its boundaries. Social satire, historical investigation, the psychology of the killer or abuser, a recurrent concern with the fate of damaged youngsters betrayed by a mighty welfare state – most readers expect more from this region than cliffhanging plots in rugged terrain.

A sign of the times? The Wallander television episode attracted six million viewers; a Britney Spears program that aired the next evening was watched by a mere 400,000.

Celebrity and the Book World

National Public Radio’s Morning Edition traces the route The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo took as it found it’s way (finally) to the US market. Here, authors are part time salesmen (or are they part time writers?) and Knopf had to consider ways to market the book without that star appeal. They first wooed booksellers, hoping for massive orders to send a message. They placed an ad in the New York Times book review promising to give away copies to anyone who asked (which might have dismayed those booksellers who placed orders, but maybe I just don’t understand these things) and they rode the wave of bloggers already talking the book up. Result – even without the celebrity appearances, the book made it to the bestseller list. And this is a book that doesn’t have the page-turning action of most US bestsellers. It’s a rambling, thoughtful, character-driven, complex novel about family dynamics and misogyny.

A lot of books get a big marketing push. It doesn’t guarantee a spot on the charts. Maybe there’s a lesson here – the real star appeal is found in the book itself.

Hat tip to Sarah Weinman.

if you’re in New York . . .

. . . on October 14th, drop by Scandinavia House for a panel discussion of Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy. It will be moderated by blogger and reviewer extraordinaire Sarah Weinman and will feature Scottish writer Val McDermid, Jeffrey Frank, author and senior editor at the New Yorker, and Vintage/Anchor editor Edward Kastenmeier.

gloomy Swedes? or pure escape?

The New York Times this Sunday reviews Stieg Larsson’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, just released in the US – and reviewer Alex Berenson finds that it may just cement Sweden’s reputation for dourness and gloom.

The novel offers a thoroughly ugly view of human nature, especially when it comes to the way Swedish men treat Swedish women. In Larsson’s world, sadism, murder and suicide are commonplace — as is lots of casual sex. (Sweden isn’t all bad.) . . . .

The book’s original Swedish title was “Men Who Hate Women,” a label that just about captures the subtlety of the novel’s sexual politics. Except for Blomkvist, nearly every man in the book under age 70 is a violent misogynist.

Nor will “Girl” win any awards for characterization. While Blomkvist comes to life as he’s investigating the murder, his relationships with his daughter and with Erika Berger, a co-worker who is his occasional lover, seem half-formed and weak. Even after 460 pages, it’s not clear whether Blomkvist cares, whether he’s troubled by his lack of intimacy or simply resigned to it. Is he stoic or merely Swedish? Either way, he seems more a stock character than a real person.

On the whole, Berenson is not impressed. Though the middle section of the book is “a treat,” he thinks the conclusion drags.

Not so, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune book critic, Susan Larson, who enjoyed visiting cool climes on her summer vacation.

Maybe it’s these hot summer days, but I find myself drawn to Scandinavian writers. I loved Per Petterson’s “Out Stealing Horses,” a tale of 67-year-old Trond Sander, who has retreated to the countryside, but sees his whole life come rushing back at a moment. “This is what I want,” he thinks, “and I know I can do it, that I have it in me, the ability to be alone, and there is nothing to be afraid of.”

Karin Fossum’s Inspector Sejer mystery series — “The Indian Bride” is the most recent — appeals to me for the obvious reasons: like me, Konrad Sejer has lost a spouse and is devoted to his dog, and it’s easy to slip into his wintry frame of mind.

Hands down, the best book I read this summer — which will be published in September– is “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” a novel by the late Swedish writer, Stieg Larsson, the first in a trilogy, a kind of locked-room mystery set on a Swedish island. The title character, Lisbeth Salander, is a computer hacker, one of those isolated but determined women like Smilla of “Smilla’s Sense of Snow,” capable of getting through the hardest moments. Pure escape. I’d love to be so tough.

time out, Scandinavia

Elisabeth Vincentelli, determined dilletante and arts editor for Time Out New York, decided to cure a run of unusually pleasant weather in New York City by reading some noir Scandinavian fiction.

Thumbs up for Steig Larsson’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and for Per Persson, whose To Siberia is a spare masterpiece.  On the other hand, Henning Mankell’s standalone The Depths scores high both in both bleakness and cliches. As for Kjell Eriksson’s procedurals, The Demon from Dakar and The Cruel Stars of Night . . . in a word, m’eh.

I’m not sure how you say m’eh in French, but I’m amazed that Elisabeth, who is originally from France, has been able to restrain herself from reading the second in the Millennium trilogy, which has been out in French translation for some time as one of our French professors has told me, gloatingly.

Thanks to the Determined Dilettante for the props!

marketing mysteries in Scandinavia

Uriah picked up on the Earth Times story mentioned previously here on channel SCF. As I looked at his jacket art illustrations, it struck me that part of what might be going on is a shift in marketing practices. Not too long ago I suspect the hard sell of authors as celebrities that is so common these days would have appeared unseemly to Scandinavians.  (There are lingering traces of that in Minnesota culture, as my college’s PR folks can attest; we’re bashful about our strengths and hesitant to call attention to them.) Some portion of the old guard’s ire may be an inarticulate discomfort with American-style book marketing, not just with young and attractive women writers who write massively popular books.

And that made me wonder how Sjowall and Walloo, authors of the Martin Beck series, would have felt if their names were huge on the cover, with glamor pics of the two of them on the back. They were committed socialists, critical of the inroads that capitalism was making into Swedish society; I doubt they’d stand for it. So Uriah checked it out and provides two illustrative covers.  Yup. Very different marketing styles.

Which seem to endure. Fortuitously enough, a new review of their classic, The Laughing Policeman, has just been posted at Euro Crime. Maxine Clarke calls it “another example of the controlled brilliance of this superb set of novels.” Originally published in the 1960s, they are being reissued by HarperPerennial – with covers that have the focus on story and series character similar to the old days.

Compare that to this cover image of the original 1967 Swedish edition, found at Abebooks. In both cases, the authors’ names are relatively small; the title larger. They both have a period look, but the original has the painterly, dramatic and slightly pulp artwork typical of the times.

In comparison, most contemporary Swedish writers seem to have their names ever-so-slightly larger than titles on current publications – as seen in this teeny-tiny thumbnail of a massively popular book – by a male author.

In general, the covers found at this Scandinavian bookseller’s site seem positively modest by US standards.