Petrona Award and more

It’s official: The Petrona Award for the best Scandinavian crime novel of the year has announced its very first shortlist and judges. The finalist will be announced at Crimefest.  From the press release:

The Petrona Award has been established to celebrate the work of Maxine Clarke, one of the first online crime fiction reviewers and bloggers, who died in December 2012. Maxine, whose online persona and blog was called Petrona, was passionate about translated crime fiction but in particular that from the Scandinavian countries.
The shortlist for the 2013 award, which is based on Maxine’s reviews and ratings is as follows:
PIERCED by Thomas Enger, tr. Charlotte Barslund (Faber and Faber)
BLACK SKIES by Arnaldur Indridason, tr. Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker)
LAST WILL by Liza Marklund, tr. Neil Smith (Corgi)
ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER LIFE by Leif GW Persson tr. Paul Norlen (Doubleday)
The judges are an erudite and very well-read group – Barry Forshaw, Kat Hall (aka Mrs. Peabody), and Sarah Ward. Find more about the award at Petrona Remembered.
Sarah Ward reviews Sjowall and Wahloo’s The Locked Room at Crimepieces. It’s the eighth in the series and perhaps not the strongest, but Sarah enjoyed the sly ending. She also reviews Leif G. W. Persson’s Linda, as in the Linda Murder, which features Evert Backstrom, who is “compelling and abhorrent. Sexist, racist, homophobic, facetious, work-shy, dismissive of his team . . . and very, very funny,” making her predict readers will either love or loathe this unusual novel.

Jose Ignacio Escribano offers a bilingual review of Anne Holt’s The Blind Goddess, which was the first in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series, though he points out there really are multiple protagonists, rather like the Martin Beck series (a very interesting parallel). Originally published in 1993, this novel won the Riverton prize as best Norwegian crime novel of the year.

Glenn Harper has some good things to say about Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotist, and some criticism, particularly of the flashbacks that bog down the pacing and some cliched characters.

Bernadette reviews Mons Kallentoft’s second seasonally-themed procedural, Summertime Death, and reports that the weather is frightful – hot, muggy, and very well-depicted, as was the cold in the first book. However the novel doesn’t score as well on plot, character development, or plausibility and the inclusion (once again) of voices from beyond the grave doesn’t help.

She fares better with Arnaldur Indridason’s Black Skies, which uses the sidekick Sigurdur Oli as its main character, with Erlendur off somewhere for reasons unclear. Though Sigurdur Oli is a pretty average bloke, he turns out to be quite complex – as does that plot, which appears fairly straightforward until you try to summarize it, at which point the author’s narrative skills in layering lots of material without cluttering things up becomes apparent. (I so want to read this book!)

Col (who has decided to review at least on Scandinavian mystery a month – hurrah) has high praise for an earlier book in the series, The Draining Lake, which does a good job of layering stories from different time periods.  

Col adds Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Played With Fire to his criminal library and gives it mixed marks, with the action-packed second-half making up for a slow and plodding start. He liked it enough to read the third.

NancyO reviews Helene Tursten’s The Golden Calf, which she felt was a bit disappointing in the end, though the pacing and the character of Sana, a spoilt child-woman who doesn’t help the police figure things out, was well drawn.

Raven Crime Reads also has review of the book, and now plans to catch up on the earlier volumes, having found it a well-crafted procedural that is less gloomy than many Nordic novels.

Harry Hole gets around. There’s a review of The Phantom in the Philippine Daily Inquirer by Ruel S. De Vera, who finds it darkly intoxicating.

Marilyn Stasio of the New York Times was not terribly impressed by Alexander Soderberg’s The Andalusian Friend, which she thinks might have been amusing if written by Donald Westlake rather than treated seriously.

The New York Public Library has a roundup of the usual suspects of Nordic crime fiction, with links to audio pronouncing names that I know I mangle often enough. Especially Sjowall and Wahloo! (Hat tip to Sarah Ward.)

The Guardian reports that a series based on Arne Dahl’s Intercrime series will be broadcast in the UK by the BBC. Let’s hope this will spur on translations. It took years and years for Misterioso to finally appear in English.

Bitch Magazine has an interesting article by Soraya Roberts on the Scandinavian-feminist take on the standard tropes of film noir, including in her analysis the Millennium Trilogy, Forbrydelsen (The Killing), Borgen, and Bron/Broen (The Bridge).  She concludes

The importance of noir heroines like Lisbeth Salander, Sarah Lund, Saga Norén, and Birgitte Nyborg Christensen is not only to put women on an equal footing with men—we can be just as work obsessed and as socially inept as you—but, more important, to change the traditional view of women as victims. By updating the women in noir from sex objects and victims to protectors—of both women and men—Nordic noir series are setting a precedent for other genres to accept. If the trench coat fits, a hero is a hero regardless of gender.

An article in Slate by techno-skeptic EvgenyMorozov tipped me off to an intriguing website that eschews algorithms and instead asks various prominent folks for their book recommendations, humanizing curation and perhaps doing it better. FiveBooks asks Jo Nesbo which novels he recommends and the answers are interesting (and not what one might expect. Or perhaps even find particularly rewarding in every case. Rivington, for example, is … well, for example may be exactly how to put it, as an important historical contributor to Norwegian crime whose stories, according to Nesbo, very much reflect the tastes of his time. (NB: quite a few of us use humans as curators. I suspect most readers are far more responsive to and satisfied by “you might also like” statements when they come from friends.)

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not all Larsson (but nearly)

Salon reviews the second film in the Millennium Trilogy, The Girl Who Played With Fire,  and (like the rest of us) begs Hollywood to leave well enough alone.

Speaking of leaving things alone, the AP has a story that stokes speculation about a fourth book. Though Larsson’s partner, Eva Gabrielsson, will not comment, a friend of Larsson’s goes on record about an e-mail he received from the author about the  manuscript. Personally, I’d rather it remain a footnote of history than that it be exploited. There are lots of good books to read; the only reason to bring someone in to write an ending for another book would be to satisfy fans’ curiosity and to make money – neither of which seems to me a valid excuse for publishing something the author has no control over and is unable to finish for himself.

R. Thomas Berner thinks we’re still waiting for a definitive biography of Larsson. He review’s Barry Forshaw’s The Man Who Died Too Soon and finds it a repetitive mishmash of plot summaries and under-edited interviews. (I haven’t read the book, so can’t weigh in with my opinion.)

Crime Segments (which is a criminal subsidiary of the 2010 Year in Books blog) reviews Johan Theorin’s The Darkest Room and says it’s “a perfectly-crafted thriller with a slight hint of gothic thrown into the mix . . . simply stellar.”

(And I’m left wondering once again why so many bloggers write more informative and analytical reviews of crime fiction than are typically found in the mainstream media. I’d be delighted to see a review like this in a major daily newspaper, but most of the time all I get is a four-sentence plot summary. Too bad newspaper publishers can’t be convinced that news readers might just be book readers. Wouldn’t it be something if books got as much coverage as sports? But I digress . . . )

The Huffington Post has an interview with Camilla Lackberg, positioning her in the preface as the next Stieg Larsson – not in so many words, but by implication: hey, she’s Swedish, and she’s sold a lot of books! You’d better grab one now!  She, at least, has the good sense to draw a distinction. When asked about “the elephant in the room” she says “I’d already published several books when his novels began to come out. He was something new, something unexpected — especially his intensity. I enjoy him very much, but we’re not doing the same thing.” Wise woman.

tell me about the rabbits, Karin

Dorte at DJ’s Krimiblog reviews Karin Fossum’s Don’t Look Back. I agree with her, it’s a terrific book and as with most of Fossum’s stories it makes you think hard about our definition of “normal.” There’s also an unsettling quality to the final pages that is very like The Water’s Edge.

Lynn Harnett reviews two second acts,  The Girl Who Played With Fire and Yrsa Sigurdarsdottir’s My Soul to Take in the Porstmouth, New Hampshire Seacoast Online. She recommends reading both Stieg Larsson books (just because) and says “Sigurdardottir’s second Thora Gudmundsdottir book evokes the long days, crisp air and craggy coast of Iceland in spring and should appeal to readers of Scandinavian mysteries who prefer a little less brooding.”

The Bookish Kitty thinks Irene Huss is a good strong female lead for a series. She reviews Helene Tursten’s The Glass Devil:

Tursten strikes a nice balance between the inspector’s work and personal life. As the mother of twin daughters who recently turned 18 and a husband who has a demanding job if his own, she has much to juggle in her life. Tursten does a good job of showing the realities of such a struggle, including the compromises that sometimes must be made.

Personal and work lives are not the only things being juggled throughout the novel. Irene Huss and her colleagues have their hands full, often short-staffed and with other cases to investigate. The author captures the necessity of teamwork in the law enforcement world, whether it be staff from the same office working together or connecting with other authorities outside of the district or even abroad.

True to its title, The Glass Devil is not always what it seems. Tursten takes the novel in unexpected and sometimes very dark directions. The wrap-up of the crime seems to be a little too pat, but it is a satisfactory ending nonetheless. This is my first, but definitely not my last, Helene Tursten novel.

Sadly, Soho will not be publishing more English translations of this series. (Barbara shakes fist in the direction of New York.)

reviews and comparisons

Marilyn Stasio provides reviews of The Girl Who Played With Fire and Karin Fossum’s The Water’s Edge. She advises impatient readers to cut to the chase and skip the first 124 pages of Girl, when the story really starts, and admires Fossum’s ability to examine every character touched by a crime with humanity in this “exceptionally fine story.”

At Euro Crime, Maxine reviews Ake Edwardson’s Frozen Tracks, the third Erik Winter novel to be translated though it is the sixth in the series. (The first will be published in a couple of months.) This is a very long book – over 500 pages – but she finds it overall a satisfying procedural involving two seemingly unrelated sets of events.

I managed to miss an interesting review posted last month by crimeficreader of Yrsa Sigurdarsdottir’s second novel, My Soul To Take. She thinks there hasn’t been much accomplished in the character development department from the first in the series, but finds it the plotting and tone to be very successful:

There are so many red herrings it’s like being asked to locate the one whitebait in a fish market.  Sigurðardóttir doesn’t just wrong foot the reader, she has you in the wrong footwear to deal with the terrain.  We again have the dark balanced with the light, pulled off in a rather unique and skilful way.  Watch out for a sex therapist and her tools of the trade as this element covers both those aspects.

If that isn’t a hook, I don’t know what is.

And finally – Seamus Scanlon, a guest on Declan Burke’s Crime Always Pays blog, offers an overview of the “Story of Crime” – an overarching title for the Martin Beck series by Maj Swowall and Per Wahloo. The ten books are “all written with aplomb and honesty and set the standard for all police procedurals that followed.” The Swedish series is able to write about crime and society in a way that reflects the authors’ Marxist views without becoming overly didactic.

Scanlon mentions a debt owed to Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series; in fact, the athors translated McBain into Swedish, but weren’t yet familiar with his work when they started writing about Martin Beck and his colleagues. This seems more like a Liebnitz/Newton moment, when people in two countries working with similar materials happened to invent something very similar – calculus and the Hogarthian police procedural that reflects the urban experinece in all its grimy glory – at roughly the same time. (McBain started his series nearly a decade before Roseanna was published.)

Scanlon also points out the ways in which Mankell and those who followed him into the crime writing trenches owe a debt to Sjowall and Wahloo. “Mankell’s Inspector Wallander, an existential warrior battling crime and his own melancholia, closely resembles Beck.” But that suggests a tonal similarity that, I think, is not entirely true. Martin Beck would probably be taken aback to be called a “warrior” and while he has a dose of melancholia (as well as frequent colds) the books themselves are hardly gloomy – they’re shot through with humor and irony. Which is another way in which they resemble McBain more than Mankell.

This photo from Flickr’s Creative Commons pool was taken by Jickel, who comments “The tape seems to be the kind the police use to mark out crime scenes.”

post-vacation review round-up

Martin Edwards has a lovely quote from Hakan Nesser on the essence of crime fiction, at his blog, Do You Write Under Your Own Name? Go read it.

Bernadette finds much to like about Camilla Lackberg’s Ice Princess.

I reviewed Inger Frimansson’s Island of the Naked Women for Reviewing the Evidence. The author delves deep into psychological suspense in a hardscrabble setting. The title sounds like a hedonistic ClubMed destination but shows a different side of traditional Scandinavian attitudes toward sex: in the old days, unmarried women who became pregnant or otherwise offended public morals were abandoned there to die of exposure.

Euro Crime finds an interesting trend – many first books in series are getting published (though maddeningly out of order) and this time it’s Ake Edwardsson’s Erik Winter series.

Crimeficreader reads Johan Theorin’s The Darkest Room. Though she isn’t planning a winter visit to Oland anytime soon, she thought the book was original and compelling.

The wonderfully original aspect of The Darkest Room is that the suspense comes from finding out what really happened from a myriad of obscure routes, with the reader not fully comprehending the extent of issues to be resolved at the outset.  The wonderfully brilliant aspect of reading The Darkest Room is the feeling of satisfaction on reaching the end and the sense of time well-spent with an author who knows how to entertain, whilst exploring the darker recesses of the mind; for The Darkest Room in Theorin’s novel is in the mind.

Rob Kitchen reviews Yrsa Sigurdarsdottir’s Last Rituals and, after weighing its strengths and weaknesses concludes it’s a “mildly enjoyable first novel, but nothing startling.”

Bookwitch takes a look at Jo Nesbo’s writing for children which sounds rather fun but nothing like the Harry Hole books.

And of course The Girl (which scored #1 on the New York Times bestseller list)  is getting a lot of attention. Here are some of the reviews:

  • January Magazine – “oddly epic love story, ultra-violent crime thriller and classic buddy novel all at once”
  • Entertainment Weekly – “another gripping, stay-up-all-night read, but it’s also a bit sloppy”
  • Philly Enquirer – “What Larsson has done is akin to enlisting two huge, enticing stars, then keeping them separated for much of the action, united only through e-mail.”
  • San Francisco Chronicle (Alan Cheuse) – “The books are so good, in fact, that I have to keep reminding myself that they are genre novels, not mainstream fiction” (ouch!)
  • Seattle Times – “The troubled, brilliant Lisbeth is unforgettable.”
  • USA Today – “Larsson makes the reader love and worry about his heroine as though she were real.”
  • Washington Post – “Here is a writer with two skills useful in entertaining readers royally: creating characters who are complex, believable and appealing even when they act against their own best interest; and parceling out information in a consistently enthralling way.”

The Seattle Times also reviews Karin Fossum’s The Water’s Edge

The book has several sterling qualities, including a concise, crisp translation and a terrifying portrait of the fragmenting couple that discovers the body — especially the husband and his creepy fixation with the case.

AND – for bonus points – interview Reg Keeland, the Girl’s translator, who explains how “Reg” was born and how he keeps up with current Swedish slang.

two reviews – and a contest (!!!!!)

Glenn Harper of International Crime Fiction reviews Johann Theorin’s second book, The Darkest Room, which follows on his debut,  Echoes from the Dead, and won the Glass Key award. Deservingly, it sounds, based on his assessment. It’s a complex story with elements of folklore/ghost stories, mystery, and thriller with mulitple characters and some historical vignettes.

The novel is interesting from the beginning, naturalistic but spooky as well as well written, but as the threads of the tale begin to converge, along with the Christmas blizzard of the original Swedish title, the pace picks up to that of a thriller (and the translator, Marlaine Delargy, deserves a lot of credit for maintaining that pace in lucid English)—you’ll find yourself ripping through the almost 400 pages . . . And where a number of Scandinavian novels have dealt with the new immigtion problems, Theorin looks toward a different kind of “intruder” into the calm, uniform surface of Swedish life: the continuing presence of those who are gone but not quite forgotten.

Sounds excellent. I’m impatient to read it.

Dorte reviews Karin Fossum’s The Water’s Edge, saying “This thriller is two stories in one: the solution of the crime, but also the story about the ripples which are caused by little Jonas´ death: the reactions of his relatives, friends and the couple who found him.” I agree – and this is typical of Fossum, it’s all about the people around the crime and how they are implicated or are affected. I thought very highly of this book.

win this book!

win this book!

And finally –

A CONTEST!

Knopf, Stieg Larsson’s US publisher, may have made us wait too long to get our hands on the books that everyone else in the world has already read, but they have been kind enough to send me a copy of The Girl Who Played With Fire, which I reviewed here earlier. (And no, I’m not palming you off with a used copy; this is a pristine copy that has never been read.) If you would like to put your name in the hat, send an e-mail message to fister @ gac.edu with the subject line CONTEST. In the message, please answer this question: Which international (non-US) crime fiction author do you think deserves a wider audience – and why? Be sure also to include your name and mailing address. I’ll put all the names in a hat and draw one winner. And if you don’t mind, I will also post a list of some of your responses so that all of us can discover yet more books to read. You know how terrified we are that we might run out.

I’m afraid I’m going to limit this contest to people living in the Western hemisphere – US, Canada, Mexico, and points south (at least until you bump into Antarctica). I would normally be open to a world-wide competition, but hey, we were the last kids on the block to get this translation, so nanner nanner nanner.

Update: I forgot to mention, I will not keep your addresses after the drawing, and I won’t use them for any other purpose.

here on earth and on the blogs

Peter Rozovsky, the keeper of the Detectives Beyond Borders blog (and possessor of a brain the size of a planet), provides an expert tour of international crime fiction, as does Hirsh Sawhney, the editor of Akashik’s new anthology, Dehli Noir. A number of Scandinavian writers are mentioned among the multicultural melange, starting with Steig Larsson’s popularity and finishing with the lineage of Mankell and company going back to Sjowall and Wahloo. As a side note, I’m amazed that the moderator managed to quote from two articles that drove me bonkers because they were so off base but were published in widely-read venues. Sigh.

Meanwhile, Cathy Skye has a review of The Girl Who Played With Fire. And for her (as for many of us) there’s one key reason why these books are addictive.

Once again, the person at the center of it all– Lisbeth Salander– is the most fascinating. As a young girl locked away in a psychiatric hospital, she was asked Why won’t you talk to the doctors? To which Salander replied Because they don’t listen to what I say. If you don’t listen to what this young woman says, she’s not going to bother with you. At all. You won’t even be a blip on her radar. When I turned the page to see Part IV: Terminator Mode, I didn’t bother to hide my grin. This could only mean that Salander was kicking into high gear. I loved seeing how Larsson tied the expose of the sex-trafficking industry and the double murder into Salander’s own background, for this book does give insight into what makes Salander tick.

If you want to get to know one of the most fascinating characters in modern fiction, read Larsson’s books. Lisbeth Salander will enter your bloodstream like the strongest of narcotics.

Glenn Harper at International Noir Fiction reviews Karin Fossum’s The Water’s Edge and adds three covers. It’s interesting to see how different the Norwegian one is from the US and UK cover art.  He describes how the narrative delves into multiple perspectives, including those of the couple who discover the child’s body:

The result of the combination of the more meditative, interior monologues and the dialogues between the cops and the glimpses of the married couple’s daily life is a splintered image, a kaleidoscope or jigsaw puzzle that in the end emphasizes the daily tragedies of normal life as much or more than the awful crimes.

Fossum’s ending (really there are plural endings, as each thread of the plot ends separately) emphasizes both the awfulness of the ordinary and what Hannah Arendt called the banality of evil, carrying forward the dark, brooding story beyond the end of the novel and into the reader’s life–a most effective ending for a noir crime novel.

Effective, but very different from the more common “resolution” offered by many mysteries. I loved it, but it does not promise that order is restored. Another thing that amazes me about this book is how much it accomplishes in only 240 pages.

And Dorte reviews a Danish thriller that hasn’t been translated into English, and it sounds as if that’s just as well.