Petrona Award and more

It’s official: The Petrona Award for the best Scandinavian crime novel of the year has announced its very first shortlist and judges. The finalist will be announced at Crimefest.  From the press release:

The Petrona Award has been established to celebrate the work of Maxine Clarke, one of the first online crime fiction reviewers and bloggers, who died in December 2012. Maxine, whose online persona and blog was called Petrona, was passionate about translated crime fiction but in particular that from the Scandinavian countries.
The shortlist for the 2013 award, which is based on Maxine’s reviews and ratings is as follows:
PIERCED by Thomas Enger, tr. Charlotte Barslund (Faber and Faber)
BLACK SKIES by Arnaldur Indridason, tr. Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker)
LAST WILL by Liza Marklund, tr. Neil Smith (Corgi)
ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER LIFE by Leif GW Persson tr. Paul Norlen (Doubleday)
The judges are an erudite and very well-read group – Barry Forshaw, Kat Hall (aka Mrs. Peabody), and Sarah Ward. Find more about the award at Petrona Remembered.
Sarah Ward reviews Sjowall and Wahloo’s The Locked Room at Crimepieces. It’s the eighth in the series and perhaps not the strongest, but Sarah enjoyed the sly ending. She also reviews Leif G. W. Persson’s Linda, as in the Linda Murder, which features Evert Backstrom, who is “compelling and abhorrent. Sexist, racist, homophobic, facetious, work-shy, dismissive of his team . . . and very, very funny,” making her predict readers will either love or loathe this unusual novel.

Jose Ignacio Escribano offers a bilingual review of Anne Holt’s The Blind Goddess, which was the first in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series, though he points out there really are multiple protagonists, rather like the Martin Beck series (a very interesting parallel). Originally published in 1993, this novel won the Riverton prize as best Norwegian crime novel of the year.

Glenn Harper has some good things to say about Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotist, and some criticism, particularly of the flashbacks that bog down the pacing and some cliched characters.

Bernadette reviews Mons Kallentoft’s second seasonally-themed procedural, Summertime Death, and reports that the weather is frightful – hot, muggy, and very well-depicted, as was the cold in the first book. However the novel doesn’t score as well on plot, character development, or plausibility and the inclusion (once again) of voices from beyond the grave doesn’t help.

She fares better with Arnaldur Indridason’s Black Skies, which uses the sidekick Sigurdur Oli as its main character, with Erlendur off somewhere for reasons unclear. Though Sigurdur Oli is a pretty average bloke, he turns out to be quite complex – as does that plot, which appears fairly straightforward until you try to summarize it, at which point the author’s narrative skills in layering lots of material without cluttering things up becomes apparent. (I so want to read this book!)

Col (who has decided to review at least on Scandinavian mystery a month – hurrah) has high praise for an earlier book in the series, The Draining Lake, which does a good job of layering stories from different time periods.  

Col adds Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Played With Fire to his criminal library and gives it mixed marks, with the action-packed second-half making up for a slow and plodding start. He liked it enough to read the third.

NancyO reviews Helene Tursten’s The Golden Calf, which she felt was a bit disappointing in the end, though the pacing and the character of Sana, a spoilt child-woman who doesn’t help the police figure things out, was well drawn.

Raven Crime Reads also has review of the book, and now plans to catch up on the earlier volumes, having found it a well-crafted procedural that is less gloomy than many Nordic novels.

Harry Hole gets around. There’s a review of The Phantom in the Philippine Daily Inquirer by Ruel S. De Vera, who finds it darkly intoxicating.

Marilyn Stasio of the New York Times was not terribly impressed by Alexander Soderberg’s The Andalusian Friend, which she thinks might have been amusing if written by Donald Westlake rather than treated seriously.

The New York Public Library has a roundup of the usual suspects of Nordic crime fiction, with links to audio pronouncing names that I know I mangle often enough. Especially Sjowall and Wahloo! (Hat tip to Sarah Ward.)

The Guardian reports that a series based on Arne Dahl’s Intercrime series will be broadcast in the UK by the BBC. Let’s hope this will spur on translations. It took years and years for Misterioso to finally appear in English.

Bitch Magazine has an interesting article by Soraya Roberts on the Scandinavian-feminist take on the standard tropes of film noir, including in her analysis the Millennium Trilogy, Forbrydelsen (The Killing), Borgen, and Bron/Broen (The Bridge).  She concludes

The importance of noir heroines like Lisbeth Salander, Sarah Lund, Saga Norén, and Birgitte Nyborg Christensen is not only to put women on an equal footing with men—we can be just as work obsessed and as socially inept as you—but, more important, to change the traditional view of women as victims. By updating the women in noir from sex objects and victims to protectors—of both women and men—Nordic noir series are setting a precedent for other genres to accept. If the trench coat fits, a hero is a hero regardless of gender.

An article in Slate by techno-skeptic EvgenyMorozov tipped me off to an intriguing website that eschews algorithms and instead asks various prominent folks for their book recommendations, humanizing curation and perhaps doing it better. FiveBooks asks Jo Nesbo which novels he recommends and the answers are interesting (and not what one might expect. Or perhaps even find particularly rewarding in every case. Rivington, for example, is … well, for example may be exactly how to put it, as an important historical contributor to Norwegian crime whose stories, according to Nesbo, very much reflect the tastes of his time. (NB: quite a few of us use humans as curators. I suspect most readers are far more responsive to and satisfied by “you might also like” statements when they come from friends.)

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More Reviews and Some New Writers on the Scene

Jan Wallentin is a newly translated author who undergoes torture at the Guardian where reviewer John O’Connell describes Strindberg’s Star (published in 2010 and apparently popular in Europe) as “post-Da Vinci Code assemblage of ancient artefacts, Norse myth, nazism, travelogue and secret societies.” He  finds the characters “almost as preposterous as the plot” and he’s not enthusiastic about the translation, either.

The site Crime Fiction Lover lives up to its name by loving it, however, saying it’s dark, unsettling, and compelling.

Glenn Harper reviews Ake Edwardson’s Sail of Stone and does a remarkable job of describing why he likes this author’s style so much. Since I have always had trouble describing Edwardson’s very particular style, I can’t resist quoting him:

The two stories hardly seem weighty enough for a crime novel, despite the considerable parallels between them, but in Edwardsson’s hands there is considerable tension and forward motion, as well as a pair of unconventional climaxes. A good deal of the novel is carried forward in oblique dialogue that’s frequently comic in its indirectness. Along the way there’s considerable discussion of music (Erik is a jazz fanatic who doesn’t care about any other music, while the other detectives have their own soundtracks) and vivid evocations of Göteborg/Gothenburg in Sweden and Scotland from Aberdeen to Inverness. We also get lively glimpses of Erik’s and Aneta’s private lives, without descending into soap opera.

Edwardsson is one of the best writers in the Swedish crime wave.

And I will add that Harper is one of the best reviewers.

He’s been quicker than I am to review one of the new Stockholm Text books, Anna Jansson’s Killer’s Island. He wasn’t taken with the writing style, but found it improved as the book went on. It has the same setting as Mari Jungstedt’s series and a preoccupation with personal lives of the characters that reminds him of Camilla Lackberg. He recommends the television series based on these books if you are lucky enough to catch it .

Philip at To Be Read … reviews one of my TBR books, The Murder of Halland by Danish author Pia Juul. Though it is fiction that includes a crime, he wonders whether it’s a mistake to consider it crime fiction as it is circuitous and more of a literary approach to a woman’s trauma than the sort of plot-oriented investigation crime fiction fans anticipate. I guess I will find out in due course how I come down on this issue. The review itself is intriguing, so I hope to enjoy an intriguing novel, whatever its genre.

He also reviews Stefan Tegenfalk’s Anger Mode, which sounds like a great deal of intelligent fun.

Bill Selnes reviews Helene Tursten’s Detective Inspector Huss at Mysteries and More and is eager to read more in the series. (So am I!)

Norm at Crimescraps enjoyed Jo Nesbo’sPhantom, but thinks (having set himself a very high bar) it’s not the author’s best. It does sound like quite a detailed ethnography of drug addition in a large European city, as well the development of Harry Hole’s paternal side.

He also reviews Hakan Nesser’s Hour of the Wolf, a Van Veeteren series book that won the Glass Key in 2000. He recommends it highly. Jose Ignacio also gives it high marks at The Game’s Afoot. Even though I’ve not yet read this book, I wholeheartedly agree with one line of the review: “Reading becomes an addiction.”

Margot Kinberg puts Camilla Lackberg’s The Ice Princess under the spotlight – particularly focusing on the small town setting and how that affects the story.

W. J. H. Read reviews Lief G. W. Persson’s Another Life, Another Time at I Love a Mystery, saying it is “compelling, suspenseful and at times very funny,” recommending it highly. In general, this seems to be a more accessible book than the first in the series. It also confirms that the author likes long titles.

Fleur Fisher (aka Jane) thought very highly of the book, and does an excellent job of explaining why, summing up by saying “I was impressed by the tightness of the plotting, and that though the story was complex it was not at all difficult to follow … I was held from beginning to end, by a very capable piece of crime writing, set in a very real and wonderfully evoked world.”

Kimbofo is favorably inclined toward Arnaldur Indridason’s Outrage, finding the focus on Elinborg rather than the usual protagonist, Erlendur, more pleasing than she expected and pointing out that it wouldn’t be a bad place for readers new to the series to start. Maxine in the comments points out that the next in the series, Black Skies, takes place during the same period of time and focuses on Sigurder Oli who makes a more interesting protagonist than expected.

Book Geeks reviews Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s The Day is Dark, finding it solid, but not exceptional, with many interesting features but pacing that is . . . oh, no, I feel a terrible pun coming on, given it’s largely set in Greenland. Never mind.

In the most recent issue of Swedish Book Review, Paul O’Mahoney offers a translated snippet from Kjell Westo’s novel, Don’t Go Out Alone Into the Night. Westo is known to crime fiction readers as the author of the psychologically suspenseful novel Lang. This issue also reviews new fiction in Swedish, including a novel by Johann Theorin, Sankta Psycho, that is not set on the island of Oland, but rather takes place in a psychiatric facility connected to a preschool (!). Marlaine Delargy is translating this book which will be titled in English, The Asylum.

If you’d like to learn more about Eva Gabrielsson’s relationship with Stieg Larsson, she was interviewed on WHYY’s Fresh Air program. I realize many of you would prefer not to.

Mrs. Peabody investigates Harri Nykanen’s Nights of Awe. She wasn’t all that impressed by the convoluted plot, but really liked the way the Jewish-Finnish lead character was developed.

Sarah at Crime Pieces reviews Asa Larsson’s The Black Path, which (confusingly) has just been published in the UK, though it precedes Until Thy Wrath be Past.  She feels it’s quite good, but the backstory gets rather heavy-handed and the ending “out of proportion with the rest of the narrative,” which means our feelings are practically identical. I do like this series, though, even when it’s not at its top form.

She also has an excellent essay on how the Sjowall and Wahloo novel The Man on the Balcony and Marco Vichi’s Death and the Olive Grove manage to deal with a difficult topic – abuse and murder of children – without the usual missteps, but rather with insight and understated respect.

And carrying on with Scandinavian crime, she reviews Thomas Enger’s Burned, which she picked up after hearing the author speak at CrimeFest. She thought it was very good, particularly for its depiction of the non-stop contemporary news business. (I liked that part, too.)

Good grief. The New York Times has had some silly ledes lately (“Men invented the internet” for example, “Men with pocket protectors” and with powers that make them invisible to fact checkers and skeptical editors) but it’s nevertheless a bit embarrassing to have them tell us “Norway has Noir” as if it’s, you know, news or something. Jo Nesbo spoke at Book Expo America. He was pretty funny, according to my Twitter informants. The Gray Lady should perhaps pay more attention.

Kerrie reviews Johan Theorin’s The Quarry, which she gave high marks. (I did, too.) Another book she has reviewed recently is Next of Kin by Danish author Elsabeth Egholm, whose sleuth is a journalist. Kerrie recommends it as a good read.

Mons Kallentoft’s second book in English, Summertime Death, gets Sarah’s attention at Crimepieces. She praises his writing style and found most of the book well-paced, except toward the end. It sounds a bit “once more with feeling” but still a good one – though Sarah hopes he’ll try for more variety in future books. The book is also reviewed favorably in the New Zealand Listener, where Bernard Carpinter declares it “complex and excellent.”

Kerrie adds another thumbs up to the general praise for Jorn Lier Horst’s Norwegian police procedural,Dregs. How about translations of the entire series? And a US release, while I’m being demanding? She had a bit of trouble getting into Anne Holt’s The Final Murder, but once into the swing of things enjoyed the Stubo/Vik story. Incidentally, Holt’s 1222 has just been nominated for a Macavity award, with the winners to be announced at Bouchercon this coming October.

Speaking of CrimeFest, Karen of Euro Crime did some wonderful on-the-fly reporting, including a detailed report from Death in a Cold Climate – a panel moderated by Barry Forshaw featuring Asa Larsson, Thomas Enger, Ragnar Jonasson (sadly, not yet translated into English), and Gunnar Staalesen, as well as Roslund and Hellstrom interviewed by Janet Laurence.

I should take this opportunity to thank Karen and her partners in crime reviewing. The Euro Crime site now has 2,303 reviews, bibliographies for 1,793 authors, and information about close to 10,000 books. That’s an awesome achievement, and all done for love.

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.

Lotsa Links

 

 

Oh, my – what a lot of links have been collecting in my inbox since I last rounded up reviews and articles.

 

Peter reviews The Gallows Bird, the fourth book in Camilla Lackberg’s series set in picturesque Fjällbacka, and finds it’s satisfying, if not the best in the series. He also has a look at The Tattooed Girl, a collection of essays about the Millennium Trilogy which turns out to be more interesting than it looks at first glance, being put together by someone who previously revealed the secrets of Dan Brown for obsessives who can’t get enough of their favorite books. (I am reviewing this for Reviewing the Evidence; I agree with Peter, it looked awful but has some interesting material.)

Writing in the Saudi Gazette, Susanna Tarbush reads Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy with particular interest in the Syrian immigrant who becomes the hero’s assistant, Assad.

Keith of Books and Writers found Kari Vaara, hero of James Thompson’s Snow Angels, a compelling protagonist that he hopes to see more of.

Maddy Van Hertbruggen reviews K.O.Dahl’s The Last Fix for Reviewing the Evidence and finds it well-plotted and engaging.

Keith Walters at Books and Writers likes Karin Alvtegen’s Missing and mentions there’s a film adaptation.

Jose Ignacio Escribano reviews Johann Theorin’s Echoes from the Dead – bilingually!

Keishon reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Redeemer and makes it sound so good that several commenters indicate they’ll be including Nesbo in their future reading.  (Good call, by the way.)

At Bookgasm, Mark Rose is not impressed by Lars Keppler’s The Hypnotist.

Nor is Bernadette by Roslund and Hellstrom’s Three Seconds, which she reckons would be more accurately titled 56,820 seconds. Score! (I admit, I also found the first half very slow going, and had trouble finding any characters who were sympathetic. It picked up in the second half, but likeable characters were still thin on the ground. I liked Box 21 a great deal more.)

A blogger named Susan has coined a new sub-genre: Snoir, featuring dark themes in a cold and icy setting.  Brrr.

There’s an interesting comparison of translations at To Be Read in two parts, comparing the first English translation of Liza Marklund’s Studio Sex (Studio 69) with a new one by Neil Smith, now titled Exposed. It’s quite surprising to see the variations alongside the original Swedish.

Swedish Book Review takes a look at the last Erik Winter novel, titled appropriately Den sista vintern (The Final Winter). Though Ake Edwardson has said in interviews that he is turning away from crime fiction, the reviewer, Irene Scobbie, hopes he will be tempted to continue writing about a newly-introduced character who could carry further stories.

Also in Swedish Book Review, Tom Geddes reviews Björn Larsson’s Döda poeter skriver inte kriminalromaner (Dead Poets Can’t Write Crime Fiction), a spoof on the popularity of crime fiction, including a book within the book with the title The Man Who Hated the Rich.

At the site you will also find a review of Johann Theorin’s next book, The Quarry, somewhat unusually written by Theorin’s English translator, as well as reviews of new books by Camilla Ceder and Lief G.W. Persson.

A Work in Progress reviews Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment and considers Ceder a writer to watch.

Maxine Clarke reports at Euro Crime that she very much enjoyed Mari Jungstedt’s The Dead of Summer, fifth in the author’s Gotland-set series. Norm also liked it quite a lot.

She wasn’t as enthusiastic about Danish author Sissel-Jo Gazan’s first foray into English translation, The Dinosaur Feather, which suffers from a surfeit of backstory but picks up in the final 200 pages.

A blogger who is reading a book a week has mixed feelings about Henning Mankell’s The White Lioness, which has interesting things to say about race and politics but strays far afield from the main character.

Kim Forrester (Kimbofo) thinks Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen, is terrific. Norm is hoping the translator is hard at work on more in the series.  Rob Kitchen also reviews the first of the Department Q series and concludes that, though it’s melodramatic and implausible in places, it’s generally a good read and just the job before a trip to Denmark. And Ali Karim, our enterprising super-fan, is interviewed at Pulp Pusher about Mercy and other books that he is excited about.

Rob also reviews Leif Davidsen’s The Serbian Dane, which he feels has good character development but not much tension.

Mrs. Peabody thinks there’s a touch of melodrama in Karin Alvtegen’s Shadow but nevertheless recommends it.

Leslie Gilbert Elman gives Camilla Lackberg a strong endorsement, recommending her to readers whose only exposure to Scandinavian crime fiction is through Stieg Larsson, whose work she doesn’t admire.

Susan White enjoyed Henning Mankell’s The Man from Beijing, now out in paperback, and reviews it for Euro Crime, where Maxine Clarke also reviews Jan Costin Wagner’s Finnish-set Winter of the Lions, recommending it for those who have already read and enjoyed Ice Moon. Mrs. Peabody fills in the gaps by reviewing the middle book in the series, Wagner’s Silence, and rates it very highly.

Darrel Squires recommends The Snowman to readers in Newfoundland and Labrador, calling it a good choice for “fans of dark, atmospheric crime fiction.” The Winnipeg Free Press reports Nesbo as “a bit annoyed” at being compared to Larsson on the cover of his latest book because he thinks their styles are different. (Also, he’s not Swedish – but I’m being picky.) And in the U.S., the Fredricksburg (Virginia) Free-Lance Star has a short and positive review of The Snowman.

Carrying this comparative nonsense to its logical extreme, The Mark proclaims Norwegian fiction is the new Swedish fiction. This is actually just a way to introduce a short video interview with Nesbo, who doesn’t say anything you don’t already know, except that Norway has a lot of serial killers (said with a straight face).

NancyO has lots of praise for Nesbo’s The Leopard, though some of it is over the top and other parts are slow-moving (“to the point where you think you might be trying to crawl through jello”). Still, she rates it her favorite in the series.

Wendy Lasser wrote at length about Nesbo at Slate a month ago. She opens her essay with speculations about the overall excellence of Scandinavian crime fiction and the way it combines cat-and-mouse detection with social critique and proposes some possible reasons for the Nordic countries’ high crime fiction rate:

Perhaps we can attribute this in part to the small size of these far northern countries, their relatively homogenous populations, their stable cultural traditions—a setting, in short, in which murders (and especially serial murders) stand out starkly and beg for analysis. Or maybe this wider focus is connected to the firmly if mildly socialist perspective of even the most conservative Scandinavian governments, a view in which individual behavior contributes to or detracts from the public welfare. Possibly the dark, cold, long winters also have a role: With those extreme alternations between everlasting night and midnight sun, the Swedes, Danes, and Norwegians may be more likely than the rest of us to reflect on the role of environment in shaping character. The citizens of these countries also seem unusually alert to their own national pasts (unlike Americans, say, for whom the mid-twentieth-century is already History), and this in turn makes them more likely to seek cause and effect in these collective historical influences. In any event, what all these factors add up to is a worldview that places the criminal at the center of a social web. This is not necessarily what makes Scandinavian mysteries addictive—that can probably be attributed to the typical thriller qualities of suspense and surprise—but it is what makes them remarkably satisfying.

She goes on to discuss the Harry Hole series and concludes that while his latest novels are compelling and fun, they are more focused on furiously-paced fun than on developing a solid story. Commenting on The Leopard, Lasser speculates that Hole’s multiple near-death experiences bespeak the author’s wish to kill him off, and “the increasingly ludicrous violence makes the plot seem like something made for TV.”

I haven’t read The Leopard yet, but I tend to see the same trajectory, finding both The Devil’s Star and The Snowman as less rewarding than the earlier books in the series, though it seems a large number of readers feel the opposite and enjoy the recent books the most.

Metro has a short interview with Henning Mankell; the most interesting bit is that he once lived in an unfurnished flat and sat on the floor, using his oven door as a desk (and the oven light as a desk lamp); that’s rather clever. Ikea should look into it.

Rick Salutin of the Toronto Star thinks about Canadian politics from a Scandinavian crime perspective – seeing a willingness to examine society, not just individual culpability.

Norm considers the features of a newly-named species, the Scandi-book fan, of the genus Chattering Classes.

The Hollywood Reporter covers the presence of three directors from Nordic countries at the Cannes film festival – all with films in non-Nordic languages. It’s not just book labels touting the Next Stieg Larsson: “Post-Millennium, everyone is hunting for the next big Nordic crime franchise.” Oh dear.

Pan Macmillan has bought rights to a novelization of the popular television series, The Killing.

And speaking of Denmark, the Copenhagen Post has a profile of several Danish writers whose work will be released in the US this year – Jussi Adler-Olsen (whose Department Q kick-off will be called The Keeper of Lost Causes in the U.S. instead of the British title Mercy; it will appear in the US in August), Sara Blædel (Call Me Princess, also in August) and the co-authors Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis (The Boy in the Suitcase, to be released in November).

Sarah Weinman has written a surprising and rather scandalous profile of Niclas Salomonsson, the incredibly young agent to most of the biggest names in Scandinavian crime fiction. Like the sordid family squabble over Stieg Larsson’s fortune, it seems particularly shocking for Sweden. You couldn’t make this stuff up – though many of his clients do something fairly close.

criminal conversations

A new website, The Crime House, offers English-language readers a peek into Scandinavian and international crime. In its “about” section it describes itself as “a spinoff to the Swedish website Deckarhuset.se.” Fair warning: this site may induce longing for books that are not yet in English translation.

There’s a thoughtful review and interesting discussion at Open Letters Monthly, where Rohan Maitzen examines her not-impressed reaction to Henning Mankell’s Faceless Killers. She argues that genre writers shouldn’t be let off the hook if their prose is clunky. I agree – I think, though I might not agree on how to define “good prose” in genre fiction, which is often good because it fades away and lets the characters and plot take center stage. (I was caught short when she called Ian Rankin’s last three novels are “‘condition of England’ novels” given they are not set in England, but I see that she is referring to a type of 19th century social novel.) As a reader I am not personally a huge fan of the Wallander series, but I wouldn’t hold up P.D. James and Elizabeth George as better examples of the genre if only because I find James a bit reactionary and Victorian in her attitudes and George as long-winded and completely inauthentic. Rankin – yes, I think he offers an apt comparison and is a writer I enjoy reading more than Mankell, probably because of his prose style and the glints of humor.

Heads up: This new book, part of a European Crime Fictions series, is now available. I happen to have a copy and plan to review it here before long. As an aside, I think the press release deserves a “bad pun” award. Here’s a bit of description:

Focusing on Scandinavian crime fiction’s snowballing prominence since the 1990s, articles home in on the transformation of the genre’s social criticism, study the significance of cultural and geographical place in the tradition, and analyze the cultural politics of crime fiction, including struggles over gender equity, sexuality, ethnicity, history, and the fate of the welfare state. The text maps out the contribution of Scandinavian crime writers to contemporary European culture and society, making the volume valuable to scholars and the interested public.

Kerrie reviews Ake Edwardson’s Frozen Tracks from her perch in paradise, a complex double-barreled serial killer investigation that doesn’t quite come together in the end. Being the busy reviewer she is, she also gives her take on Roslund and Hellstrom’s Three Seconds and, like me, found the beginning a bit difficult to get into but the second half gripping. Final verdict: clever, authentic, and credible.

She also reviews Arnaldur Indridason’s 1999 stand-alone thriller, Operation Napoleon. Not as good as the Erlendur series and a bit old-fashioned, but with a strong female lead and interesting commentary on the US military presence in Iceland.

Speaking of Iceland, Yrsa Sigurdardottir will be the guest at the next Nordic Noir Book Club event, March 17th. She is utterly charming, so it’s not to be missed. Unless, like me, you’re not going to be in London that day. Bummer.

At International Noir, Glenn Harper reviews The Inspector and Silence, another recommended novel in Hakan Nesser’s offbeat and accomplished Van Veeteren series.

Ignacio Escribano reviews Liza Marklund’s Red Wolf, finding the plot hard to swallow and the heroine’s personal life hard to take.

And for this post’s final note, Eva Gabrielsson has written a book and wants to finish another one. Slate offers a review of her memoir which will be published in English translation by Seven Stories in June with the title “There Are Things I Want You to Know” about Stieg Larsson and Me. I will reserve judgment for now about how much I actually want to know. If anything.

Leopards and Seconds and Danes, Oh My!

Time for another round of catch-up.

At Euro Crime, Karen Meek reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Leopard, which she found absorbing, thrilling, and full of twists and turns. Meanwhile, Peter provides an update on Nesbo’s writing and film projects at the Nordic Book Blog.

Also at Euro Crime, Maxine Clarke reviews Arnaldur Indridason’s standalone thriller, Operation Napoleon. She reports it’s a fast-paced adventure yarn that contrasts the reliance on technology of (mostly villainous) Americans at a base in Iceland and Icelanders who are more reliant on their wits and understanding of a challenging landscape.

Declan Burke reviews Anne Holt’s 1222, finding it rather derivative, but with vivid weather and surprising staying power.

Glenn Harper reviews Three Seconds by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom at his International Noir Fiction blog. As usual, it is a thoughtful, intelligent, and detailed review of the sort you rarely find in print these days. The sort version: it’s a very good book, well worth reading.

Peter also reviews the thriller at the Nordic Bookblog. He concludes:

And as very good books do – along the way it raises some pertinent, important and exceedingly difficult questions in a painful way, by shining that brilliant light which art can shine on some quite unsettling facts we all know but prefer to not think too much about. This is a serious, one-of-a-kind crime fiction novel. Three Seconds is one of the best crime five fiction books in English in 2011. You can take my word for it: It is stunning.

And so as not to be left out, I review the book, as well, at Reviewing the Evidence. (Though I am a bit out of sync as I found Box 21 more involving.)

Incidentally, Three Seconds has spent four weeks on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list, currently taking the 15th spot. Stieg Larsson’s Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest has been on the list for 36 weeks, currently at number two. (The first two volumes of the trilogy are on the paperback list.)

Also at Reviewing the Evidence, Susy Puggioli reviews Karin Fossum’s Bad Intentions, which she describes as “a study of guilt, guilt and compassion.”

Laura Wilson reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Leopard at The Guardian and admires the pacing and plotting but recommends suspending disbelief to enjoy the ride.

Paul Binding at The Independent also reviews the book, praising its intricacy and fast pace, but finds the events a bit too thrillerish, arguing that Nesbo really doesn’t need to resort to crowd-pleasing antics. He writes

Nesbø’s imaginative preoccupation with division, above all in the individual, makes him a distinctively Norwegian writer. His mentors – Ibsen, Hamsun – have magisterially contrasted the wild with the harmonious, the lover or explorer with the conscientious citizen, the stern moralist with the easy-going hedonist. This distinguishes him from the Swedes Mankell and Larsson, to whom he is so often compared.

A reviewer for the Irish Independent reports “Nesbo writes smart blockbuster fiction but with a melancholy and intelligent edge.”

Popular blogger Dorte Hummelshoj Jakobsen, whose new e-book of humorous flash fiction, Candied Crime, has just been released, is getting some local press coverage (in Danish). She may release a somewhat darker second volume – if we’re lucky. (Just don’t make the mistake of calling her Dørte. That’s for Clint Eastwood.)

There’s a new website on the block – Scandinoir – that describes itself as

the site dedicated to Scandinavian crime novels, where all those who love reading thriller books will find useful information and interesting news from the amazing world of Scandinavian detective novels. On our site you will find continuous updates on the latest news from the exciting world of Scandinavian crime novels. In the “news” section you will find information about the latest published or translated books, the last award-winning writers and so on.

It’s a multi-lingual site so in some cases includes materials not normally found in places like . . . uh, this blog, which is less well-versed in languages other than English.

Zach O’Yeah, India-based Swedish author of Once Upon a Time in Scandinavistan, gives his list of favorite crime novelists – both world-wide and Scandinavian – at the Tender Leaves blog. (I must say, I wouldn’t peg Zach O’Yeah as a Swedish name.)

There’s a lengthy article about Stieg Larsson the journalist and chronicler of the Swedish right wing in The Walrus, a Canadian magazine. Paul Wilson visits Stockholm to see the Expo offices where Larsson worked and compares the laws relating to journalism in Sweden and Canada. Sweden, it seems, has a long tradition of protecting journalists and their sources – dating back to 1766.

According to the Nordic Noir Book Club blog, Gunnar Staalesen will be in London on March 3rd, appearing at the Willesden Green public library, which is also holding a writing competition to determine who might be the next Mankell or Larsson, all part of their Scandinavian Camilla Ceder has written the opening lines for the story. The blog also gives a bit of a preview to an English translation of Danish author, Jussi Adler-Olsen, whose Department Q series is massively popular in Denmark but also in Germany, where his books have held the top three spots on the bestseller list for weeks. His first book in English translation should appear in the UK this coming May.

Becky Toyne of Open Book Ontario describes the way that the popularity of the Millennium Trilogy has led to a “crossover” effect – people who don’t usually read crime discovering not just Larsson but Mankell and others. She quips that she almost expects local Canadian authors to be listed in catalogs as “Linwöød Bårclay and Giles Blönt.”

 

more reviews and some thoughts on place

Peter Rozovsky connects the dots between John Connelly, James Lee Burke, and Arnaldur Indridason, then collects some suggestions for writers who evoke a strong sense of place.

Norm (aka Uriah) has some fascinating things to say about Leif G.W. Persson’s massive novel, Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End. I am grateful to him for reading and analyzing the  good points and the bad in his review (because I gave up on it, but am still very curious about it -tack så mycket.)

Glenn Harper thinks Ake Edwardson’s The Shadow Woman is a terrific novel. I agree – though it’s slow and circular and I’m not crazy about Winter as a character, I though it was thought-provoking. Glenn does have a plot point quibble, but his overall verdict is positive.

Two books about Stieg Larsson are reviewed in Ireland’s The Post. The reviewer finds Kurdo Baksi’s memoir self-serving and not particularly kind to Larsson; but she gives Afterword, a collection of essays by fellow journalists that is included in the new boxed set of the Millennium Trilogy, high marks.

Captain April reviews The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. One of the things she liked about it was that she wasn’t sure whether it would have a happy ending or not – and she wasn’t sure what sort of ending she would prefer. She also finds Salander fascinating and likes her working partnership with Blomqvist.

And Norm (aka Uriah) is reading Liza Marklund’s Red Wolf and making it sound very tempting indeed. Apparently both this book and to some extent Mankell’s The Man from Beijing deal with the fling that Westerners have had with extreme ideologies. There’s also a bit about the Swedish covers that is interesting. (Is that really the author on the covers? Yes, she is attractive, but appearing as part of your books seems a peculiar mix of postmodernism and merely modern branding.)