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.

Scandinavian bits & bobs

Dorte gives us English readers a sneak peek at a Hakan Nesser novel not yet translated, A Completely Different Story, which at first I thought was Dorte’s commentary on the book. It does sound quite different in tone than the Van Veeteren series. This is the second in a series featuring Gunnar Barbarotti as the detective. Six Swedish tourists and a local teenager go to an island and things beging to go all over Lord of the Flies, with the murderer writing to Barberotti ahead of each of several murders.  Dorte says “interesting and engaging characters and environment, plus a compelling plot that made me race through five hundred pages because I had to know …”

ProfMike reviews Sjowall and Wahloo’s The Fire Engine that Disappeared. As he works through the series he points out that the ten books form a whole and that the ensemble cast is the hero. He also reveals that Colin Dexter, who introduced this volume in the reprint series, hadn’t read a Martin Beck book before being asked to introduce it.

Dave White at Do Some Damage says James Thompson’s Snow Angels rocks. So does Cathy at Kittling Books, She gives the setting and protagonist particularly high points, though she would not like to spend time in Finland during the winter.

A Swedish crime novel by Jens Lapidus translated to the screen (but not into English, alas) is pointed out by a blogger who generally writes about music therapy, bioethics, and Judaism rather than crime fiction. I’ll look forward to the promised review. Meanwhile – has anyone read this Swedish author? I’d like to know more.

Here’s an interesting CFP for a collection of scholarly essays on rape in crime fiction, with a particular emphasis on Scandinavian authors (but Anglophone crime fiction is fair game, too).

Katarina Gregersdotter and Berit Åström of Umeå University in Sweden and Tanya Horeck of Anglia Ruskin University in the UK invite contributions for a collection of essays, which will discuss and theorise the various roles that rape plays in contemporary Scandinavian and Anglophone crime fiction. . . .

The tremendous international publishing success of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy is in no small part due to the power of his female protagonist, Lisbeth Salander. Described by Boyd Tonkin as ‘the most original heroine to emerge in crime fiction for many years,’ rape is central to Salander’s characterization; indeed, it is in response to the sexual crimes committed against her and other women that Salander derives her extraordinary mental and physical strength. What role does rape play in the formation of the contemporary female heroine of crime fiction? What role does it play in the formation of the contemporary male protagonist? How does Larsson’s work relate to female crime writers such as Val McDermid, Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky?

This groundbreaking collection will explore the connections between contemporary Scandinavian and Anglophone crime fiction by focusing on rape, a subject that has long been central to crime novels but that has yet to be sufficiently explored, especially in a cross-cultural study. In addition to the questions raised above, topics may include, but are not limited to:

• rape and the rise of the female protagonist
• rape, feminism, and agency in the contemporary crime novel
• victimisation and heroism
• the effects of rape on victim and perpetrator
•masochism, sadism and the body
• rape, emotion and affect
• rape and sexual, social and cultural politics.