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.

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.