review round-up

Dorte reviews The Snowman and gives the entire Harry Hole series by Jo Nesbo an enthusiastic thumbs-up (and I second the motion).

Maxine likes it too, as she struggles to read the massive list of book eligible for the International Dagger (which is a fairly herculean task – there are 61 titles!) So far the Scandinavians are going for the gold: “of the titles I’ve read, which is my front-runner? So hard to say, as the standard is extremely high. So far, in my mind, it’s between The Snowman by Jo Nesbo and The Darkest Room by Johan Theorin, but I expect that will change. (Hypothermia by Arlandur Indridason is my favourite from the titles I’ve read so far for personal reasons, but these Nesbo and Theorin titles are, objectively, better crime novels as they have a broader canvas.)”

She also reviews Kjell Eriksson’s The Cruel Stars of Night at Euro Crime. She says, “Despite its almost completely depressing subject-matter, the book is appealing and involving – there is something about the imperfection of Ann and her colleagues that seems authentic and attractive. This author’s trademark seems to be to tell the stories of his characters’ lives (new ones in each book) alongside those of his detectives (regular series characters) – in such a way that the detectives, even if they solve all or part of a case, never know the full context that we, the readers, have been allowed to witness – an interesting perspective.”

And she reviews Hakan Nesser’s Woman With Birthmark. (I think some of her clever boffin friends must have come up with a solution to wasting several of the 24 hours of the day in sleeping.) She is amazed that the book can be both so grim and so very funny.

Not only is the story of this book, if extremely depressing, very well constructed and told, but the great dry humour and byplay between the detectives is hilarious. I can’t imagine how the author manages to make the reader laugh out loud so often while telling such a ghastly tale, but he does it. It’s also worth noting that no gruesome descriptions of dead bodies or other pathological details are used in creating this excellently compelling, lean novel, very ably translated by the ever-dependable Laurie Thompson.

Clea Simon has mixed feelings about Henning Mankell’s  The Man from Beijing.  She reports he has not lost his ability to create vivid characters, but “a kind of self-righteous didacticism sets in.” She feels his concerns with ethical issues are a strength of his writing, but here he overdoes it, and it overshadows both his gifts and his moral compass.

Andrew Brown of The Guardian is skeptical about Swedish crime fiction (and the general value of the entire country, in fact) but he seems to like The Man from Beijing, saying “it is a considerable achievement to have woven a discussion of Chinese foreign policy into a generally gripping thriller.” The solving of crimes pales in comparison to the audaciously large scope of the book. “But perhaps the point is the general mood of anxiety, modulating into terror, rather than any particular trigger. A lone assassin or a rising superpower: either will do to disrupt the neatly curtained domestic lives of the Swedish bourgeoisie. It is the disruption, the threat and the delicious chill of fear, all safely contained, that is the pleasure of all these books.”

That’s all very well, but I completely disagree with what follows:

There are crime novels that ask how ordinary people can do dreadful things. Nicolas Freeling, Barbara Vine and George Pelecanos all do this. But in Swedish crime fiction the most reassuring fact is that the villain is always very different from the reader. No matter how many bodies are hacked about, it remains a curiously innocent genre in the sense of the I Ching, whose definition of innocence is “misfortune comes from without”.

This seems entirely the opposite of nearly every Scandinavian work of crime fiction that I’ve read. But then Brown also says he can’t understand why this stuff is popular because Sweden is “a largely empty backwater about which the outside world knows little or nothing. Nor are these books laden with local colour (though perhaps this helps, in supplying a blank conventional stage for the drama).” And when he says “most recent Swedish crime novels have been about the breakdown of the old social democratic order” I wonder if he’s ever heard of Sjowall and Wahloo, or if his idea of “recent” includes the 1960s.

All of which makes me think take Clea Simon’s view far more seriously. I suppose I will have to read the book myself to make up my mind.

a snow-covered god jul post

Having gotten distracted by work, here’s a catch-up post of things that have accumulated over the past few weeks…

A blogger who “never stops reading – no matter what” has added Kjell Eriksson’s The Cruel Stars of Night to her Year in Books blog. She says “I love the way Eriksson writes and I love the slow and methodical pacing of this novel” though she takes issue with a plot turn that required the protagonist to be momentarily dimwitted. But she forgives the lapse and says she can “definitely recommend Cruel Stars of the Night to those who enjoy a really good police procedural, and to those who also enjoy psychological suspense.”

She also reviews a book from Finland written by an American who lives there (and first was published in Finnish) –James Thompson’s Snow Angels. There are some coincidences in the plot, she feels, and some of the characters are not as fleshed-out as she would like, but it has its strong points. “I was drawn in by the author’s ability to set the tone of the bleakness of life above the Arctic Circle in Finland, where it’s dark and cold and to pass the time, people have little to do other than drink. The atmosphere was so well laid out for the reader that for a time you can imagine yourself there.” This one is in my TBR so I will be reporting my reaction here before long.

Peter broods over the meaning of the brooding detective while recommending Arnaldur Indridason’s Erlendur series at Detectives Beyond Borders. As always, his blog is really a salon with many interesting comments on Scandinavians, Italians, families, and more.

The Nekkidblogger (brrrr!) predicts that The Hypnotist by “Lars Keppler” will be the next Stieg Larsson-like sensation even though Lars Keppler is actually a collaboration of two literary authors.

Lars Kepler does not exist. Huge sensation. Lars Kepler turned out to be a pseudonym for two literary authors, husband-and-wife Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril and Alexander Ahndoril, now writing under the pseudonym Lars Kepler. They have so far barely been able to sustain themselves economically by their writing. Now they wanted to make money. And in Sweden, crime fiction writers make big money. And, of course, when in Sweden, do as the Swedes. So they decided to write crime fiction, using a cool name.

The Nordic Book Blog reviews Ake Edwardson’s Death Angels which he finds a “well constructed police procedural” though less polished than the later books in the series. This was the first, though the most recent to be translated into English.

Naomi of The Drowning Machine reviews Asa Larsson’s The Black Path which she feels suffers from excessive exposition and draggy pacing. “The Black Path has atmosphere to spare, a hallmark of Swedish crime fic, and the characters are thoroughly developed. When I say thoroughly I mean to the point that the details of every character’s life, past and present, drag the pace down to NASCAR (National Association of Snail Crawling and Roundaboutation) speed. . . . An unlikely blood bath as the climax combined with what seemed a brief and pointless interjection of romance at novel’s end, all left me unmoved.” In the comment thread that follows she points out that others who read the book felt differently, but I had many of the same reservations though I was not quite so … em, expressive.

Several bloggers participating in the ABC of crime fiction meme have highlighted Scandinavian crime fiction including

I have not been playing along, but I might propose A is for Alvtegen, B for Burman, C for Camilla LackbergD for K.O. Dahl, and E for Edwardson … maybe I’ll have enough time to play in the new year. Or maybe not.

Maxine at Petrona points out that Ake Edwardson’s Sun and Shadow, Arnaldur Indridason’s Voices, and Liza Marklund’s The Bomber qualifies for Christmas Crime. Kerrie, who started both memes at her Mysteries in Paradise, scored both with Voices, using it for both the letter I and for Christmas Crime.

More BBC Wallander is on the way.

Those in the UK NZ get to see the Girl on film starting on boxing day, or so this site claims (when I read it properly). Ali has already gotten a sneak peek as well he should, being the world number one fan (GiRl WiTh ThE dRaGoN tAtToO GiRl WiTh ThE dRaGoN tAtToO GiRl WiTh ThE dRaGoN tAtToO GiRl WiTh ThE dRaGoN tAtToO GiRl WiTh ThE dRaGoN tAtToO GiRl WiTh ThE dRaGoN tAtToO GiRl WiTh ThE dRaGoN tAtToO GiRl WiTh ThE dRaGoN tAtToO GiRl WiTh ThE dRaGoN tAtToO GiRl WiTh ThE dRaGoN tAtToO GiRl WiTh ThE dRaGoN tAtToO GiRl WiTh ThE dRaGoN tAtToO GiRl WiTh ThE dRaGoN tAtToO). So did Craig Sisterton in New Zealand. Those of us in the US can twiddle our thumbs. We’re used to it.

Americans, however, will be resposible for a remake. This is not a very good form of revenge.

A Danish film journal has an analysis of the gender roles in the films which, fortunately for us unschooled yanks, is in English. The authors contrast the treatment of gender in the books with the depiction in the films.

Our main argument is that the adaptation from novel to film involves an alteration of the gender representations in the two main characters, and that this alteration corresponds to the genre-specific and media-specific conditions associated respectively with the genre thriller versus crime fiction and with the format of the film versus that of the novel. In examining these differences in relation to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, we draw on the fact that gender is a central issue in Nordic crime fiction as bestseller and cultural commodity.

Basically, the authors argue that the gender relationships are simplified in the film as it is condensed for the shorter storytelling format. When I finally get a chance to see the films, I’ll see if I agree.

Finally, glædelig jul, Hyvää joulua ja onnellista uutta vuotta, gleðileg jól og farsælt komandi ár, god jul og godt nytt år, and god jul och gott nytt år! I leave you with a photo from Minnesota of King Gustav Adolph enjoying our white Christmas….

"... I seem to have something in my eye..."

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!