Ake Edwardson – almost but . . .

Peter of Scandinavian Books reviews Ake Edwardson’s Sun and Shadow – part of a procedural series set in Gotland. It involves a staged murder scene, and as Peter describes it, “Erik Winter feels that the murderer is providing them with a riddle of nightmares, of good versus evil, of sun and shadow.” He recommends it as exciting and well-rounded.

I reviewed it for Mystery Scene back in 2005 (though, oddly, someone else’s name appears on the review. I wonder if he’d agree with my assessment?) In retrospect, it seems a very enthusiastic review for a book that I don’t remember liking quite as much as it sounds. At any rate, it didn’t make me seek out the rest, though  Never End (2006) got a very favorable review in MS from another reviewer.

Maxine’s review at Euro Crime is more measured – lots of promise, interesting leads, but a forced motive and a denouement that’s a bit of a let-down. Fiona Walker’s Euro Crime review of Frozen Tracks, the third to be translated and also is ambivalent –  very good in some respects, but with some narrative habits that make it less effective than top-ranked Scandinavian crime. Maybe that’s a burden for Scandinavian crime writers – there are so many that are so good, the comparisons are many and the bar is high.

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.

A Roundup of Reviews

Tom Nolan of The Wall Street Journal thinks highly of Arndaldur Indridason’s The Draining Lake, “a book as subtle and moving as it is suspenseful.” But his opening reminds me of how jarring it is to have this series tagged as “”Reykjavik Thrillers.” Though I find the books exhileratingly good, it seems silly to classify them as thrillers, given their sublte structure, well-developed characters, and unapologetic realism.

Peter Rozovsky considers the same book, commenting on the way the Icelandic setting plays into the book, as well as the propensity of Scandinavian crime fiction writers to delve into the past for their mysteries.

Uriah, meanwhile, praises the lasting power of Sjowall and Wahloo’s Martin Beck series, give a thumb’s up to Paradise by Liza Marklund. And he notes a peculiarity of one of her photoshopped covers.

And catching up belatedly with posts at International Noir Fiction, Glen Harper reviews Henning Mankell’s collection of short stories, The Pyramid, “a fitting sequel or prequel, depending on whether you think of it as the first or last of the series.”

“so damn Swedish, it makes your heart sing”

The Times has a meditation on Swedish crime fiction and the particular place Henning Mankell holds in it as a new television drama of Sidetracked from the BBC starring Kenneth Branagh as Wallander nears its November release and as Pyramid, a short story collection, reaches bookstore shelves.

The article includes an interview with Mankell that reveals a lot about what underpins his writing – and what he says can actually be extrapolated to much of Scaninavian crime fiction.

The Stockholm-born Henning Mankell writes Wallander as so damn Swedish, it makes your heart sing. Strindberg or Bergman could have created this man with ease. Yet he’s a huge global hit, selling about 30m books in 100 countries, translated into 40 languages. Perhaps it’s because his mission is the greatest a literary sleuth can accept: to explore the dark heart of society and, in his case, the collapse of the liberal Swedish dream. When I meet Mankell, who was a successful author before he created his gloomy gumshoe, he explains that Wallander was born in May 1989, out of a need to talk about the creeping xenophobia [Mankell] was witnessing in his home country. The first book examines the anti-immigration sentiments that boil over when an elderly couple are presumed murdered by “foreigners”.

“I had no idea this would be the start of a long journey,” Mankell says. “I was writing the first novel out of anger at what was happening in Sweden. And, since xenophobia is a crime, I needed a police officer. So the story came first, then the character. Then I realised I was creating a tool that could be used to tell stories about the situation in Sweden — and Europe — in the 1990s. The best use of that tool was to say ‘What story shall I tell?’, then put him in it.” . . .

“People see how essential the relationship between democracy and the system of justice is,” he argues. “We know that if the system of justice doesn’t work, democracy is doomed. Wallander is worried about that, and so are many people in democracies. Maybe that’s why he is so popular. I am a very radical person — as radical as when I was younger. So my books all have in common my search for understanding of the terrible world we are living in and ways to change it.”

This interest in social problems – and what it takes to confront and overcome them – infuses Scandinavian crime fiction. How intriguing that this radicalism has found such an international audience.

via Sarah Weinman.

irresistible

Journalist and critic Michael Carlson locks onto a number of “irresistible targets” in his blog of that name. Recently he reviewed Arnaldur Indridason’s Arctic Chill, the latest of the Erlender series to be translated into English. He noticed an interesting parallel to Jar City – both books are about the isolation of Iceland and its homogenous genetic pool, and even more about the isolation between individuals, even close family members. In this book, the murder victim is a mixed-race child whose mother is a Thai woman brought to Iceland by a man who needs a wife. (Hmm…. that reminds me of Karin Fossum’s The Indian Bride, another book on my enormously long to-be-read list.)

Carlson also recently reviewed John Theorin’s Echoes of the Dead at Crime Time and at his blog recounts his visit to its setting with his small son – he has family living on the island where the book is set. Evidently, the book does justice to the landscape.

I hadn’t often been there before in summer, when it is lovely, but usually in winter or thereabouts, when the ‘alvar’, the inland steppe or plain, is bleak and deserted, the way Theorin uses it to create an atmospheric setting for his slow-building suspense, a story of history and loss.

The theme is the search for a long-missing child, and just thinking about that summer made the book all that much more real to me…the Oland I know may never seem quite the same. But I recommend the book, and Oland, highly.

I owe thanks to Michael for pointing out a Danish author who was missing from my website, Anders Bodelsen –  Mange tak!

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.

more reviews . . .

Dick Adler of the Trib is impressed by The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, now that it’s finally reached the US market. In the UK, lucky Brits get to read Arnaldur Indridason’s latest Erlenedur novel, Arctic Chill, and The Telegraph recommends that they do.

Margaret Cannon of The Globe and Mail thinks Asa Larsson’s The Black Path is well worth following, but Richard Lipez of the Washington Post thinks it meanders too much.

And finally – OffMyTrolley thinks Karin Fossum’s Black Seconds is first rate.

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.