reviews and a rediscovery

LeRoy Panek, part of the amazing perpetual motion machine behind the Westminster Detective Library, kindly called to my attention a Swedish crime writer I’d never heard of – August Blanche, whose novel The Bandit is crime fiction just like Les Miserables is crime fiction. It’s his only work translated into English and is available only in a tiny handful of libraries, but it’s interesting that of all of his work, this is the one translated – back in the 1870s.

Panek’s website is an amazing project with an ambitious assignment:

It is the mission of the Westminster Detective Library to catalog and make available online all the short fiction dealing with detectives and detection published in the United States before Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “A Scandal in Bohemia” (1891).

It’s fascinating – but beware; it’s easy to disappear down a rabbit hole and lose your motivation to do anything else.

Rob Kitchin reviews Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Disgrace (which in the US will carry the title The Absent One) which he feels has strong characters and a nicely-accelerating pace. Shame it requires quite a bit of engineering to maintain suspension of disbelief. He advises readers to leave expectations of plausibility behind when embarking on this reading experience.

He also reviews The Man on the Balcony by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. “There’s little machismo,” he writes, “no maverick geniuses and little in the way of heroics – just the police getting on and doing their jobs.” He appreciates the realism and the rhythm of their storytelling.

Jose Ignacio Escribano reviews Asa Larsson’s The Black Path which he found impressive and attractive, though the detailed flashbacks for several characters weakened the forward momentum for him.

Ms. Wordopolis reads Larsson’s The Blood Spilt which, with its vivid characters and scenes, she recommends highly.

At Petrona, Maxine Clarke reviews the first Konrad Sejer novel, finally in translation. She says of Karin Fossum’s In the Darkness that it is tightly plotted and with the kind of deceptively simple story that swirls with inner depths, not as abstract and “fabular” as her more recent books (and I must say, she has given a name to something I had observed but couldn’t put my finger on about this writer’s recent books).

She also writes what may be the first review of the English translation of Sebastian Bergman by by Michael Hjorth and Hans Rosenfeldt, from Little Brown UK’s new imprint Trapdoor, in which a jaded, troubled criminal psychologist who goes to Vasteras to settle the affairs of his recently-deceased mother and is drawn into a murder investigation.  Though it has pacing that is hardly blistering, the characters and their interactions are the real heart of the mystery. Though it has a tie-in with a television program imported to the UK, Maxine recommends that you turn off the television and enjoy a much more satisfying experience by reading it.

At Euro Crime, she gives Mons Kallentoft’s second mystery, Summertime Death, points for being atmospheric and (mostly) well-constructed, though the ending offers some “???” moments and the continuation of using voices from beyond the grave is a stylistic feature that works no better the second time around.

She also revisits Leif G. W. Persson’s Between Winter’s Longing and Summer’s End, having found the second book in this monumental trilogy quite good. She still struggled to get through the 600 pages, finding it “depressing, leaden and grim,” yet nevertheless fascinating in its highly critical depiction of cold-war Swedish politics. I don’t think I have the stamina to follow her lead, but may take her advice and give Another Time, Another Life a go.

At Mean Streets, ravenpasser thinks Hakan Nesser’s The Unlucky Lottery is evidence that publishers are rushing unworthy books into translation (opening with “the Scandinavian bandwagon is now a rustbucket”; a bit of a sweeping generalization).

Glenn Harper at International Noir Fiction has two reviews in one – Mari Jungstedt’s Dead of Summer and Seppo Jokinen’s Wolves and Angels , both of them worthy police procedurals that have a rich cast of recurring characters who bring to their police work an earnest social conscience. (I enjoyed both of them, too.)

At Past Offences (wonderful blog title – all of the reviews are of books published before 1987) Rich reviews Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s The Fire Engine that Disappeared, capturing the authors’ wry wit nicely. I was very careful to include all the umlauts, which I did by copying and pasting (being ignorant of how to persuade WordPress to make them, and sadly too lazy to find out. Shocking, I know.)

In the New York Times Book Review, Marilyn Stasio gives Karin Fossum’s The Caller high marks, writing that she is “a grandmaster at the art of psychological terror. Her thoughts are gloomy, her mind is subtle and her writing is extraordinarily supple” in a story that she calls “one of the darkest, most disturbing crime stories you’re likely to read this year.”

Bernadette takes a turn as a reviewer at Euro Crime, (lucky Euro Crime!) reviewing Anna Jansson’s Killer’s Island, one of the new releases from Stockholm Text. She finds the story well-paced, offering a well-balanced mix of police work and personal lives, though some of the relationships among the series characters are a bit more mysterious than they would have been if this were not the eleventh in the series.

And finally, at Reviewing the Evidence, I reviewed Mons Kallentoft’s Midwinter Blood (titled Midwinter Sacrifice in the UK) and make some cranky comments about the voice of the dead conceit before concluding that it is quite a readable and refreshingly chilly book.

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.

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.