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.

tidbits and more reviews

Some tidbits . . .

There is a new imprint for translated fiction coming from Little Brown and Crown. From the press release:

Trapdoor will publish up to six commercial crime, suspense and thriller titles a year, all in translation, and will be launched with the publication of Sebastian Bergman by Hjorth and Rosenfeldt in paperback on July 5th. Spring 2013 will see the publication of the second title on the Trapdoor imprint, The Devil’s Sanctuary, a heart-stopping psychological thriller by Swedish bestseller Marie Hermanson.

Julia Buckley interviews Ake Edwardson at Mysterious Musings. He says “I’m a sad person, or melancholic, and down right pessimistic most of the time. Probably that’s why I laugh so much; you have to laugh at all the madness around you or you’ll go stark raving mad, start running screaming through the streets naked in the night with just your underwear in your hand.” He also says, when asked about the state of journalism,

“… the good and serious stuff goes slowly/fast down the drain, the horror of banality takes over, knowledge gets confused with information. Still there’s wonderful journalism out there; Sweden tries to maintain decent newspapers, and the best papers in USA, England, France and Germany are still worth reading/working for. The problem is of course that good journalism is expensive, objectivity is expensive, to send a reporter to the other side of the world is expensive, or have a team work on some investigation for a long time.”

Erik Winter, his police protagonist, is a “hopeful person” – making me think perhaps Edwardson, like many journalists, finds fiction a way to say what needs saying in a way that is an alternative to the underwear-in-hand approach.

Camilla Lackberg is profiled in SCANmagazine (thank you, Philip) as she publishes more of her popular Fjalbacka-based series in  both the UK and US.

Publishing Perspectives covers the Salomonsson Agency, a Swedish powerhouse that represents many of the most successful Nordic crime authors. It’s a far sunnier picture than Sarah Weinman’s profile of the agency’s head last year.

At the Telegraph, Henning Mankell says that Kenneth Branagh makes a good hand of playing Wallander and likes the BBC film versions of his books. The article has quite a few insights into the author as well (and has collected some remarkably hostile and silly comments).

American cable television station A&E (which does not stand for Accident and Emergency, contrary to UK usage) has acquired US rights to create a pilot of a series to be based on Elsebeth Egholm’s crime series.  Or rather based on a Danish television series based on the books. And probably moved to a US setting. There is a reason I prefer reading to watching television.

And now for the reviews . . .

Sarah at Crimepieces reviews Helene Tursten’s Night Rounds, finding it a well-done police procedural with a touch of the supernatural, which she enjoys, and a solid plot, though with some startling lapses on the part of otherwise competent police. She also reviews the second book in Thomas Enger’s Henning Juul series, Pierced, which she feels picks up the story about Juul’s dead son very movingly. Enger has become a “must-buy” author for her.

Maxine Clarke reviews Killer’s Island by Anna Jansson at Petrona and finds it a quick read that does more to develop the characters than to provide a realistic story line – mainly because all of the puzzle pieces snap together a bit too tidily, with none left over.  It’s altogether a rather old-fashioned read. Glenn Harper also reviews it, and a television series based on Jansson’s work. He finds it a bit overwritten in places, but predicts it will be of interest to those who enjoy getting caught up in the character’s personal lives, likening it to Camilla Lackberg’s work.

Maxine also reviews Ake Edwardson’s Sail of Stone, which she finds a good read, though not a very good mystery (and the second half, minus the not-very-satisfactory ending, is better than the first.)

And at Euro Crime, she reviews Camilla Lackberg’s The Drowning, which she feels has a good 250-page mystery hidden within its 500 pages, much of which is devoted to the domestic lives of its detective protagonist.

Peter Rozovsky reviews Lars Keppler’s The Nightmare for the Philadelphia Inquirer, then hosts a conversation at his Detectives Beyond Borders literary salon, asking whether it’s entirely a good thing to mix potboiler fun with serious social messages. On the whole, he finds this kind of “Larsson-y” an unhappy blend.

Kimbofo at Reading Matters reads The Caller by Karin Fossum. Fossum is one of her favorite authors, and this well-plotted, nuanced story is, to her mind, one of her best.  She also reviews The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis, which she finds a bit of a challenging read because of the multiple viewpoints, but feels it is “an intelligent, involving and compassionate read.”

Jose Ignacio Escribano reviews the final volume of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo’s “story of a crime” – The Terrorists, which he notes has not lost its relevance. He includes links to his reviews of other books in the series and says “I strongly recommend reading this series to everyone, in particular to all crime fiction fans and, if possible, in chronological order. It’s a highly rewarding read.”

Karen Meek, a true Queen of Crime if there ever was one (bringing us the amazing Euro Crime site) reviews The Gingerbread House by Carin Gerhardsen, which she finds a successful exploration of childhood bullying, though with a decidedly American translation.  She also reviews the very first volume of the Konrad Sejer/Jacob Skarre series, finally published in English translation. In the Darkness introduces Sejer with a bit more background that later books, and though published originally in 1995 it still works because, as Karen points out, Fossum’s work has something of a “timeless quality.”

Ms. Wordopolis reads Jo Nesbo’s The Redbreast, and though finding the wartime scenes confusing and not engaging, she ended up taken by the characters. Though it’s her first foray into the Harry Hole series, she puts her finger on one of the author’s characteristics: extremely intricate, even convoluted plotting.

Norm at Crime Scraps reviews Arnaldur Indridason’s Black Skies, the latest in the Erlendur series in which Erlunder is absent and the focus this time is on Sigurdur Oli. Though he was never my favorite character, Norm makes me impatient to read it. Rob Kitchin found it less successful, with the first half particularly hard to get into.

He also reviews another book I want to read badly, Anne Holt’s The Blind Goddess, which he thinks is quite good, featuring a character who has changed quite a lot (and not for the better) in 1222 – and he adds some intriguing commentary on what it says about the time period when it was originally published, 1993.

At Euro Crime, Maxine Clarke reviews The Blind Goddess, the first of Anne Holt’s Hanne Wilhelmsen series and (in her opinion) a better book than the previously translated eighth in the series, 1222. In addition to a plot that works well, this book includes strong characters and full of detail that reflects the author’s background in the Norwegian legal system.

Bernadette reviews Liza Marklund’s Last Will, and gives it high marks for the way it depicts the current world of the news media, treats several explosive issues with an even hand, and gives us a complex heroine. “I can’t say that I like Annika,” she writes, “but I like reading about her and find her a hundred percent credible.” One of the rather cliched baddies, not so much – but overall she gives the book top marks.

She also reviews Karin Wahlberg’s Death of a Carpet Dealer and finds it an engaging story which offers a trip to Turkey as an added benefit. Maxine also reviews it at Petrona, finding it readable, old-fashioned, and pleasant, if not a barn-burner of a story.

Kerrie in Paradise reviews Hakan Nesser’s The Mind’s Eye, the first of the Van Veeteren series, which she finds nicely compact in these days of over-long books.

Raven Crime Reads (a new to me blog) reviews Arne Dahl’s The Blinded Man (published in the US as Misterioso) calling it “taut and well-written” and the start of a series worth watching.

Cathy at Kittling Books reviews Sara Blaedel’s second book to be available in English (and third in its series), Only One Life, which she thought fell short of the mark. Though it has some interesting information about honor killings, she couldn’t warm to the characters, and felt as if from page one ” as though I’d missed my bus and kept chasing after it as it disappeared down the street.”

Glenn Harper thinks Carin Gerhardsen’s The Gingerbread House quite good (except for a bit where exposition bogs things down) and particularly handy with misdirection.  Jose Ignacio also reviews it, calling it a classic police procedural that is somewhat uneven in its execution.

And finally, Margot Kinberg takes a close look at Irene Huss, Helene Tursten’s series protagonist, providing quite a thorough biography of the character, one of my favorites.

Before I sign off, I must give credit once again to the place where I keep up with all things mysterious, the Crime and Mystery Fiction FriendFeed room. Many thanks to its founder, Maxine Clarke, and its regular contributors for filling me in. If you enjoy mysteries, this is a site to visit regularly.

A Scandinavian Tour in Reviews

It has been a month since I made the rounds to see what has been reviewed lately. I thought I’d better organize them somehow, so have listed them by country. Sweden, I’m afraid, gets the lion’s share of attention. My Norwegian grandfather could have predicted that.

Finland

Bernadette reviews Harri Nykanen’s Nights of Awe, finding the lead character intriguing but the plot a bit too Hollywood.

Peter Rozovsky also reviews it for the Philadelphia Inquirer and also questions the plausibility of the story, but enjoys Nykanen’s wry humor.

I am looking forward to getting my hands on a new translation of one of the Raid novels, also by Harri Nykanen, as well as Seppo Jokinen’s Wolves and Angels, which will be coming out next month from Ice Cold Crime. It’s always wonderful to have authors leave my “wanted” page once they are published in English translation.

Iceland

The Day is Dark by Yrsa Sigurdardotter was a bit slow for Sarah Hilary’s tastes, writing at Reviewing the Evidence, with an interesting take on masculinity but, she feels, too much exposition that slows momentum.

At the San Francsico Chronicle’s book blog, P.G. Koch finds Yrsa’s Ashes to Dust an intricately plotted thriller with the thought processes of an anorexic woman particularly chilling. Kirkus also gives the book a strong review.

Norway

Kerrie reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Phantom, which she finds bleaker and darker than previous Harry Hole books. She writes, “an interestingly structured, but very noir book, with the dominant narrator a boy who is already dead. And a rat with a problem.” I would add, a review that intrigues.

Mary Whipple also reviews The Phantom, finding it complex, full of plot twists, at times over the top, but certain to appeal to fans of the Harry Hole series as it builds on all the groundwork the author has laid in creating his brilliant and troubled hero.

And to round it out, Maxine reviews it at Petrona, finding Hole a bit too much of a superman, able to leap implausibilities with a single cinematic bound, but praises the book for its compelling and relatively uncluttered plot and what it has to say about the wages of addiction.

Kerrie gives Karin Fossum’s The Caller top marks and reckons that if you haven’t read any of the Konrad Sejer series before, this is a grand place to start.

Margot Kinberg puts Fossum’s Don’t Look Back “in the spotlight” finding it an unsettling and realistic depiction of the effects of a tragedy on a small community.

Sweden

Vicky Albritton takes a fascinating look back at an early crime novel, Hjalmar Söderberg’s Doctor Glas, a 1905 novel about science, sexuality, and an ethical bind created when a woman tries to escape the sexual oppression of her odious husband. Albritton mentions that a 2002 edition of the English translation has an introduction by Margaret Atwood,  an excerpt of which was published in The Guardian. She wrote, “Doctor Glas is one of those marvellous books that appears as fresh and vivid now as on the day it was published.”

Closer to the present time, Sjowall and Wahloo’s Martin Beck series is tempting Sarah at Crimepieces to drop everything and read. She reviews the 1966 novel, The Man Who Went Up in Smoke, in which Beck travels to Hungary in search of a missing journalist.

At Euro Crime, Rich Westwood reviews Camilla Lackberg’s The Stranger which is a new title for the previously-published Gallows Bird. He thinks the domestic bits are more convincing than the murder bits and prefers the original title.

Bernadette found Lackberg’s The Drowning disappointing, with a predictable plot that was not as interesting as in previous books, the cozy domestic scenes and ho-hum mystery formulaic. Since she has enjoyed other books in the series, she hopes this is a temporary aberration.

Sarah reviews Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment at Crimepieces, saying it was “a very interesting, albeit slow read where the isolated, icy community dominated the narrative descriptions.” It seems a good sign that the story stayed with her long after she put the book down.

She also reviews Hakan Nesser’s Hour of the Wolf, a very good entry in the series in her estimation in which a drunk driving incident triggers a string of violent acts. Though the wry humor of the series is not as much in evidence as usual, the tone is appropriate for the events of the story.

Nancy O tries to find nice things to say about She’s Never Coming Back by Hans Koppel, but dealing with a story that involves an imprisoned woman and repeated sexual assault is an uphill battle that ends up with an exasperated “jeez!  Enough already.” Or perhaps way too much.

Leif G. W. Persson’s Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End gets a mixed review at To Be Read . . . as character development and pacing takes a back seat to its broad canvas examination of Sweden’s recent history, though the reviewer finds it on the whole successful.

Shannon Sharpe thinks Persson’s approach to complex plotting with unsavory characters and lashings of dark humor lifts the novel far above the more popular Millennium Trilogy.

Laura Root reviews the next book in the series at Euro Crime. Another Time, Another Life is a complex and skillfully crafted novel with a dry narrative style and characters that are more sympathetic than those in the first book.

At Nordic Bookblog, Peter reviews Liza Marklund’s Vanished (previously published in a different translation under the title Paradise. He recommends it as a fast-paced story with an intriguing lead.

BookGeeks reviews Dark Angel by Mari Jungstedt, finding it “a well written and superbly plotted mystery” that does a good job balancing thriller elements and social background.

The Local (Sweden’s News in English) has a profile of defense lawyer Jens Lapidus, whose trilogy beginning with Easy Money focuses on the lives of criminals.  He is particularly interested in the parts of Stockholm where the residents are not blond and blue-eyed and in the perspective of people for whom crime is just another line of work.

In a review of Easy Money at Reviewing the Evidence, Chris Roberts calls it “a remarkably accomplished debut,” with a well-paced plot but characters who are not easy to like.

Peter of Nordic Bookblog reviews Ake Edwardson’s Sail of Stone, which he feels is an excellent entry in the excellent series, particularly strong for character development and writing style.

I also reviewed the book at Reviewing the Evidence. If you’re looking for fast-paced action and a tightly woven mystery to solve, look elsewhere. But if you can take the scenic route, this well-written and well-translated novel might fit the bill. I agree with Peter that “character study” is an apt description of Edwardson’s style.

Review of The Caller by Karin Fossum

Karin Fossum is a quietly disturbing storyteller who sets her stories in ordinary small Norwegian communities where everything seems wholesome and well-0rdered but, when a crime is committed and the gentle, wise detective Konrad Sejer comes to sort it out with his sidekick, Jacob Skarre, we realize that surface is deceptive, that in fact the mild-mannered and almost boringly normal residents have hidden depths and dark secrets. Though perhaps “secrets” is the wrong word. A lot of what’s wrong is perfectly visible; it’s just that people prefer to think their community is a better place than it really is.

In this case, a happy couple, having a pleasant meal together, assume their infant daughter is quite safe in her baby buggy parked in the back yard. (The Scandinavian practice of leaving babies outdoors was in the news in the US a few years ago when a couple left their infant parked on a sidewalk outside a restaurant in New York; worried citizens called the police, who charged the surprised couple with child endangerment. In this case, though it seems less reckless than leaving a child alone in a city, the American reader is torn between “something awful is going to happen” and “are they crazy?”) When they finally begin to think it’s time they brought the child indoors, they are horrified to find her covered in blood. After a frantic race to the hospital they learn it’s not her blood. Someone has played a cruel hoax, the first of many.

It’s a well-told story, and thought provoking (though there is some violence so awful that it makes me hesitate to recommend the book unreservedly). We get to see how the hoaxes affect their victims, including the strain it puts on the young married couple in the opening scenes. We learn who is likely responsible for them, and get a sense of how it gives an unhappy teenager with a difficult life a sense of power and control. The best character in the story, a girl with short red hair who shouts insults at passers by and notices everything, breaks out of this mold by being thoroughly aware, thoroughly herself, and instinctively good without being a goody two-shoes.

Fossum takes rather ordinary materials and, when putting them under a magnifying glass, brings out a lot of emotional texture and nuance that lends her books a kind of suspense that isn’t matched by thrillers with demonic killers and high body counts. Though acted out on a small stage and with few words, the impact is amplified. In part, it is the social pressure to support a communal appearance of normality and happiness that works against people taking responsibility for looking closer at things that really aren’t healthy in the community. And while evil is small-scale and human, truly awful things can grow out of a moment’s impulse.

Sejer is an unusual character in that he is thoroughly decent, a deeply kind and peaceful man, who acts more like a physician trying to heal a community than a crime fighter matching wits with villains. What Fossum finds so fascinating isn’t how evil people can be; it’s the way that small holes deliberately torn in the social fabric of a community can widen and unravel in ways that nobody can predict.

Not long ago, Maxine Clarke said something in a comment once that I remembered when reading this book – that there is something “fabular” about Fossum’s books, and I felt that very strongly here, particularly in the opening scene when an idyllically happy couple live in a perfect little house beside a deep dark wood  . . . and that fairy tale pattern is repeated later. It’s never a good sign in Fossum’s books when the language grows simple and the primary colors a bit too bright:

The mother was in the kitchen. She couldn’t see the pram through the window, but she wasn’t concerned about her sleeping baby, not for an instant.

Pottering about thoroughly content, she was light as a ballerina on her feet, not a single worry in her heart. She had everything a woman could dream of: beauty, health, and love. A husband, a child, a home and garden with rhododendrons and lush flowers. She held life in the palm of her hand.

There’s something almost vengeful in the way Fossum describes this image that is as glossy and false as an Ikea advertisement, as if contentment is for suckers. Her touch was a bit lighter in earlier books, the stories somewhat less schematic. It’s funny, because the parts that read like a fable seem a bit clumsy in contrast to the psychological nuance and acute observation of other parts of the book.

Maxine has also reviewed this book at Petrona, and so has Bernadette at Reactions to Reading, the review that made me pick the book out of my TBR pile, in fact.

Rounding Up the Reviews, from Yuck to Yay!

Hans Koppel doesn’t sound like Swedish writer. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it as my excuse for neglecting to include Karen Meek’s Euro Crime review of his thriller, She’s Never Coming Back, in my last round-up of reviews. She does a good job of pointing out what the author does well while making me quite sure I don’t want to read it. (Woman is kidnapped and repeatedly assaulted in a hidden location right across the street from her distressed husband and child. Though publishers usually select glowing praise to turn into telegraphed blurbs, I will choose instead what I consider key words from Karen’s more diplomatic review: “imprisoned and tortured … 400 pages … empty.”

The Independent also reviews the book, concluding it’s both “ugly and gripping.” I think the dek for the review is a bit more direct: “When you can’t sink any lower, there’s always the basement.”

For further commentary see a review at Austcrimefiction – whose reviewer found it lacking in motivation or sensible plotting, saying it’s “for somebody looking for a film-styled thriller, with some carefully choreographed graphic cruelty and sexual violence, a blatantly manipulative happy ever after ending, built around a very current day scenario.  It was a undoubtedly a very quick read.  But for this reader (actually these readers) there were so many aspects of the plot and characterisations that were simply too far a stretch to be believable, plausible, justifiable or palatable.”

Patrick Anderson of the Washington Post calls Jo Nesbo’s The Leopard “a near-total disaster” full of cheap thrills, and urges Nesbo to return to his strengths as a top-notch writer. USA Today thinks it’s “halting” in comparison to earlier books. Laura Wilson at The Guardian thinks it’s good at ratcheting up suspense, provided you don’t mind suspending disbelief – and can handle the odd nightmare or two.

A review of  The Leopard by Susan Balée in the Philadelphia Inquirer finds is both very well done and very problematic.

The writing in The Leopard is awesome. The ironic deflations, twisty plot, and grisly action keep a reader riveted to the page. But in its treatment of female characters – especially in its systematic, baroque, Byzantine dismemberment and degrading of their bodies – the novel is, perhaps unwittingly, a moral slough . . .  the book exists partly to subject women to symbolic degradation, via plot device and harrowing precision of detail. It’s brutalizing, and even in this brilliantly plotted, exquisitely researched book, I can’t escape the conviction that nothing can really justify it.

Let’s climb to some higher ground, shall we?

At Reviewing the Evidence, Yvonne Klein reviews what she calls a “philosophical thriller,” Karin Fossum’s The Caller, in which a Norwegian community is shaken by random acts and a boy’s pranks get out of hand. She regrets the book was not translated by Charlotte Barslund.

Also at RTE, Larissa Kyzer reviews Sara Blaedel’s Call Me Princess, which she finds too reliant on coincidence and with a protagonist who is not empathetic to the victims she is helping and is difficult to like.

I believe I missed mentioning a positive review of Anne Holt’s Edgar-nominated 1222 in the Washington Post. The reviewer, Carolyn See, calls it goofy but also says “I really loved this snowbound book.”

Sarah at Crimepieces had mixed feelings about 1222, finding the atmosphere and setting compelling, but the ending “lame” and she didn’t take to the prickly narrator. She found another Anne Holt novel, The Final Murder, more to her liking.

At Euro Crime, Laura Root reviews Jens Lapidus’s Easy Money, a departure from socially-conscious crime fiction in that it focuses on the fast and furious lives of black-economists who do big business on the wrong side of the law. She found it gripping, authentic, and very well translated considering its use of street patios.

At the Guardian, John O’Connell also reviews Easy Money by Jens Lapidus, who thinks it’s so Americanized it could well be America (though the justice system is too orderly for that). He advises readers to stick with it, though, as “there’s much to enjoy.”

Mrs. Peabody investigates Finland, taking a look at the very different ways the country and its culture are represented in books by expat residents Jan Costin Wanger and James Thompson. Fascinating post.

Joanna Hines doesn’t have much to say about Liza Marklund’s Vanished. Her very short review in The Guardian says the story is intricately plotted but might have been written with a stubby crayon and, while competent, would be better as a film. To which I say – huh?

Carol Thomas reviews Helene Tursten’s Night Rounds and particularly praises the translation.

Dorte Hummelshoj Jakobsen recommends Matti Joensuu’s unusual novel, To Steal Her Love, if you are looking for something different. Sadly, Euro Crime alerted us to the fact that Joensuu – an important Finnish author of crime fiction and a police officer himself, working at both jobs for two decades before retiring from the police force – died this past December.

Happier news from Finland – Jouko Sipila, publisher of Ice Cold Crime, alerted me to the news that Amazon’s publishing program has bought the rights to Leena Lehtolaisen‘s Maria Kallio series, which I have been eager to read for years, as well as her Bodyguard trilogy (new to me). There are 14 books covered in the agreement, apparently to start appearing in the US this year.

reviews and more

The New York Daily News has some travel advice for those who want to follow the footsteps of Swedish sleuths. If you are truly obsessive, you may even reserve Wallander’s table at his favorite restaurant.

The Australian Courier-Mail has an interview with Asa Larsson and manages to work Stieg Larsson into the title.

Ali Karim, the consummate fan, has an appreciation of Arnaldur Indridason at Shots Magazine, marking his appearance (again) at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where his books originally found their international audience with Jar City.

I reviewed Jussi Adler-Olsen’s The Keeper of Lost Causes (also known as Mercy) for Mystery Scene magazine. (Shortcut: I liked it quite a lot.) For an alternative view, see what Glenn Harper has to say – he feels it’s not a bad book, just a bit flat and lacking in nuance. At Reviewing the Evidence, Yvonne Klein didn’t care for all of the ingredients, but liked the results very much. And Bernadette has some insightful things to say – including the way the role of humor in the book, in spite of some horrific goings-on, sets it apart, as does the way that a tired fem-jep trope is given fresh life by creating a woman who is extraordinarily tough and resourceful.

More recently, Glenn has reviewed Outrage by Arnaldur Indridason, in which Elinborg takes the lead. He writes that she is “fully the equal of other female detectives in Scandinavian fiction.”

While dallying in the north, Glenn also reviews Jorn Lier Horst’s Dregs, which he declares “a first-class police procedural” with an interesting protagonist. Though it’s actually the sixth in the series (and first to be translated into English) he finds the author did a good job of filling the reader in sufficiently to make it a good place to start.

(For more on this author, who is himself a policeman, check out an interview published at Cyprus Wells.)

And Glenn also reviews Stefan Teganfalk’s novel Anger Mode, which he likens to Jussi Adler-Olsen and Leif G.W. Persson. The author’s strength is plotting, but the dialogue, Glenn feels, can be on the wooden side, making the book longer than it needs to be.

Keishon reviews Arnaldur Indridason’s Voices, which she finds sad and realistic – a good review that captures the mood of the book well.

Maxine Clarke reviews Midwinter Sacrifice by Mons Kallentoft for Euro Crime, finding it a good if over-hyped portrait of small town life, its limitations thrown into relief by a murder. She thinks the main character has potential and gives the translator, Neil Smith, high marks, particularly for the sections of the book that are told from the victim’s perspective.

She also points out that if you follow people on Twitter, you might want to follow @SwedishNoir.  Thanks, Maxine!

Margot Kinberg puts Detective Inspector Irene Huss in the spotlight, particularly looking at the way that author Helene Tursten weaves together the personal and professional in this character. (I do like this series, and having a lead character who is so balanced and pleasant to be around is part of it.)

The Independent has reviews of Camilla Lackberg’s The Hidden Child and Asa Larsson’s Until Thy Wrath Be Past. Both involve crimes of Sweden’s past and both are recommended.

In the Irish Times, Declan Burke reviews Liza Marklund’s Exposed, which is apparently the first in the Annika Bengtzon series, summing up: “concise, pacy and direct, eschewing any literary pretensions to language or characterisation in favour of a hard-hitting polemic on the topic of domestic violence, in which the personal is very much the political.”

The Globe and Mail reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Headhunters, mincing no words: “If you thought Scandinavian crime fiction couldn’t get better than Steig Larson and Henning Mankell, you’re wrong.. Norway’s Jo Nesbo is better than either and this book is far and away his finest.”  Paired with this review is one of Karin Fossum’s The Caller, giving her points for psychological suspense and her ability to find ” violence in the everyday,” which I think is Fossum in a nutshell.

At Petrona, Maxine also reviews Headhunters, calling it “a dazzling, relentlessly paced thriller, combining classic noir elements with Nesbø’s trademark intricate plotting that constantly challenges the reader’s wits and attention span. What a refreshing read!”

Mrs. Peabody investigates a couple of Scandinavian television crime dramas coming to BBC in 2012. (Oh dear, another brilliant and maverick profiler mourning the death of his wife and child . . .) More at the BBC site.

Fox is developing Leif G. W. Persson’s series into a television drama series with the director of Syriana and Traffic (the US version) directing. This plus more on Fincher’s Girl, a von Trier adaptation of Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Department Q series, an American Jar City, and a confused reference to who will play the detective in Mankell’s novel Italian Shoes being made into a film – sorry, folks, but it’s not about Wallander; it’s not even crime fiction.  Another article in Word and Film reports that Jo Nesbo’s Headhunters is being made into a film, then speculates about which part of the world will be the next hot destination when we’re tired of Scandinavia.

And while we’re on the subject of reinterpretations, here’s news that DC Comics has acquired the rights to turn the Millennium Trilogy into six graphic novels. I have to say – strange though it may sound – I think this is great. Maybe it’s because I grew up with Classics Comics or maybe because Larsson was such a fan of pop culture himself, but I quite like this idea. I’d rather they be Swedish, and not by a mega-company, but these seem to me books that will work well in graphic format.

Finally, let’s let the New Yorker have the last word . . .

a marvelous answer to a non-question

At Petrona, Maxine rounds up crime-fiction-related commentary in the press following the dreadful terrorism in Norway, features that question whether there’s something unusual about Scandinavian countries and how their writers tackle the triggers that lead to violence; she wisely says “many of these questions are non-questions. Norwegian society is no different at some granular level from any other society.” What follows is an excellent armchair traveler’s guide to Norwegian crime fiction. She concludes:

A sense of place marks a good novel, of course, but though place provides a specific snapshot, the issues faced by us are common ones wherever we live. Crime fiction provides a most appropriate lens with which to examine such matters, often being well ahead of the curve, while enjoying a good story as we go.

Go read the whole thing – it’s superb. (And why hasn’t any major newspaper signed Maxine on as a columnist? They could do worse. In fact, they almost always do.

NPR interviews Anne Holt, a Norwegian writer who has been following extremist groups, for her insights into Norwegian society and how people like Breivik can fill up with hate. (Unfortunately the insights one gets into American society reading the comments are rather depressing. If they are a mirror to society, it’s a very warped one.)

More at The Guardian (Brian Oliver), the New York Times (Jo Nesbo), and Jakob Stugaard-Nielsen at the Nordic Noir Book Club.

Peter reports that Roslund and Hellstrom have won the CWA International Dagger award for Three Seconds.

Maxine reviews Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s The Day is Dark at Euro Crime, finding it entertaining but a bit too leisurely in its pacing; she also misses the interactions of the protagonist and her family, as this adventure takes Thora to Greenland where someone is making mischief at a mining facility.

Also at Euro Crime, Karen Meek reviews Karin Fossum’s The Caller, which sounds very chilling and very, very Fossum.

Glenn Harper at International Noir Fiction welcomes Red Wolf, the delayed translation of the sequel to Liza Marklund’s The Bomber  and wonders why such a significant writer has had such poor luck in the English language market. He also has some interesting things to say about the portrayal of the flawed main character. (And in this case, as is generally true of these blogs, the comments are well worth reading.)

On a Scandinavian tear, he also reviews Agnete Friis & Lene Kaaberbol’s The Boy in the Suitcase, the first work of this Danish team to be published in English translation, and makes me very impatient to read it.

He also reviews Arne Dahl’s Misterioso, finally published in English after many years of teasing, and finds it a satisfying police procedural somewhat more in the mold of Sjowall and Wahloo than the many books that supposedly trace their lineage to S & W.

Misterioso and Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotist are reviewed by Lynn Harnett in Seacoast Online, and gives them both a thumbs up, though with the caveat that Kepler tends to strain the suspension of disbelief. (An aside: why do newspaper websites go to such lengths to disguise the community they serve? There’s rather a lot of seacoast in the US. This one appears from the ads and various subheadings to be Casco Bay in Maine – the sort of mystery I’d rather not be bothered trying to solve.)

Norman reviews The Vault (Box 21) by Roslund and Hellstrom and says “If you read crime fiction because you want to see justice done this is not the book for you. If you like books that are truthful, very sad, and don’t pull their punches then get hold of this superb example of Swedish crime fiction that jumped straight in to my top reads of the year.” (I might add here that I thought this book far more memorable and moving than Three Seconds. The subject matter is more gripping, but also more disturbing.)

Bernadette reviews Camilla Lackberg’s The Stonecutter and compares it to an ad campaign for a non-alcoholic whiskey (??!!??): “the drink you have when you’re not having a drink.” It’s a melodrama with characters she cares about that has a crime in it. Had the crime solving been more competent, we’d have about five minutes with the characters and that wouldn’t do. (An aside: S.J.Watson wrote a novel about a woman with amnesia; his editor said “this is a thriller, only you need to make it more thrilling” – which probably explains the way the ending acts so different than the rest of the book.)

Beth at Murder by Type reviews Kjell Ericksson’s The Hand That Trembles, which sounds complex, timely, and well worth reading. Hmm … add that to the TBR.

At the Public Sphere, there’s a review of Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotist, which uses the key words grim, dark, blood-spattered, and compelling. He starts with a charming Swedish word that has no exact equivalent in English: “lagom” – just enough, just right, not too much. It’s something The Hypnotist (and several other Swedish thrillers) lacks. Hmm, that makes me wonder – which Nordic mysteries can be described with that word? 

Possibly this one. NancyO reviews Johan Theorin’s The Quarry and makes me more impatient than ever to read it. She does a good job of depicting how this author is able to write in a style that is deliberate and thoughtful and yet makes you want to keep turning the pages – all without explosions, serial murders, or conspiracies that need to be thwarted to prevent the end of the world as we know it. Some thriller writers should study this technique.

Peter Rozovsky at Detectives Beyond Borders has been reading Agnete Friis and Lene Kaaberbøl’s The Boy in the Suitcase, which sounds very interesting indeed – another one for Mount TBR.

There’s a brief interview with Maj Sjowall about the Martin Beck series at the website for Fourth Estate, a HarperCollins imprint which is reprinting the books. You can see all the covers here. Wait, is that a cousin of the man whose back is on so many covers? And perhaps second cousin to that ubiquitous running man is making an appearance, too.

Barry Forshaw, who has a new book in the wings, is interviewed by Jeff Kingston Pierce for Kirkus ; Norman responds with his thoughts on how the Nordic nations do not have a corner on social critique but rather are popular because many of the writers are very good at telling stories.

I do wonder, though, if our idea of what makes a good story might be turning a bit from the good guy/bad guy confrontation between good and pure evil to a more reality-based kind of story, which some of the best Nordic storytellers do particularly well. And perhaps, too, this is why so many of these stories being told well in Italy and Ireland and South Africa and in Scandinavia also have such a strong sense of place – when you ground your stories in some version of reality, it has geographical coordinates. But they also have a combination of interesting chain of events and characters you care about that give them passports to bookshelves in many countries.