review roundup and a new version of Macbeth

Ms. Wordopolis reviews the first book in Mari Jungstedt’s Anders Knutas and Johan Berg series, Unseen, finding the series characters and their stories more interesting than the fairly predictable serial killer storyline. All in all, she reckons it’s time to read something other than police procedurals.

Previously, she reviewed the latest in the Carl Mørck Department Q series by Jussi Adler-Olsen, The Purity of Vengeance, which left her with mixed feelings: “I feel strange saying that the book was written well or that I was interested in the ongoing storylines of Mørck and Assad when the main plot was so horrible to women,” she writes, Like the first novel in the series (The Keeper of Lost Causes, also published under the title Mercy), the plot focuses on people who hate women. How that focus is handled (and for what purpose) is one of the biggest open questions in this genre, in my opinion.

She was also not entirely satisfied by Helene Tursten’s The Fire Dance, but for different reasons. She felt there just wasn’t much in the story to grab her interest and hold it, concluding it was a so-so entry in a series that promises more.

The Indian Feminist, who has written about Scandinavian women detectives in the past, was likewise disappointed in the latest English translation in the Irene Huss series, The Fire Dance,  which she found slow paced and uninvolving.

The Fire DanceNancy O. had a different reading experience with this book, as she explains at The Crime Segments. She counts Tursten’s series as one she deeply enjoys, and a Scandinavian author who stays on her to-be-read list as others disappoint and drop off. Her verdict: “for those who enjoy solid police procedurals with a personal twist.” She still counts The Torso as her favorite in the series, being “edgy and solid.” This entry, while a solid police procedural, has a bit less edge.

Meanwhile, in paradise, Kerrie enjoyed reading the previous book in the series, The Golden Calf, which she felt had a nice balance of action, the personal lives of the series characters, and police procedure. She sums up the series as “basically police procedurals, planted in a modern world, with plenty of human interest.”

Glenn Harper at International Noir Fiction reviews Leif G. W. Persson’s tome, Free Falling as if in a Dream, part of a series drawn from the unsolved murder of Swedish prime minister Olof Palme. Though it’s very long, he says it’s “gripping all the way through, as well as comic in some sections, through the ironic and simultaneously arrogant and self-deprecating voice of Johannson and the appearance of the ridiculous detective in many of the author’s books, Evert Bäckstrom.” However, he doesn’t hold out much hope for the US television adaptation that’s out next year. In his review, he looks at how this novel and Magdalen Nabb’s The Monster of Florence handle actual unsolved crimes, finding that both propose in their fiction plausible and disturbing solutions.

He also reviews Jan Costin Wagner’s Light in a Dark House, and has a great description of its trajectory: “meditative rather than propulsive in terms of its pacing.” He considers the non-linear, poetic approach a plus, but knows it’s not for everyone: “For me, the moody pace works, but it could be frustrating for some readers.” This story brings the series’ Turku detective, who is looking into the murder of an unidentified woman, together with Helsinki investigators looking into a series of murders, with several narrative threads that, in the end, are knitted together.

Traveling to yet another Nordic country, Harper reviews Quentin Bates’s Chilled to the Bone, the latest in a series focusing on an Icelandic investigator, Gunna Gisladottir, and it in his opinion the best in the series. Among its virtues, “lots of ethical and literary ambiguity, a plot that moves rapidly along, and a cast of interesting characters.” Though he considers it less dark than Arnaldur Indridason’s Erlendur series, it’s both grim and entertaining.

At Euro Crime, Rich Westwood reviews Carin Gerhardsen’s The Gingerbread House, advising those looking for a new Scandinavian crime series to give it a try. The main plot, about man who endured horrific bullying as a child and the various violent ways in which his former schoolmates are being murdered, seems less compelling to him than a subplot about one of the police team who believes she’s been drugged and raped after a casual encounter and is determined to find justice. Westwood thinks the admixture of personal stories of the investigating officers will remind readers of Camilla Lackberg, mixing violent murder and cozy scenes of domestic life.

Also at Euro Crime, Michelle Peckham praises Arnaldur Indridason’s Strange Shores, the eleventh novel in the Erlendur series. We and Erlendur finally grapple with the detective’s Strange Shorespersonal quest to understand how he survived being lost in a storm that killed his brother. He approaches this quest by investigating another event, the disappearance of a young woman he learned about as a child. He probes the secrets and memories of those still alive who can help him put the pieces together. She calls the book powerful, emotional, and a beautiful exploration of how trauma can shape a life.

Amanda Gillies also uses the term “beautiful” for Derek B. Miller’s Norwegian by Night, a novel that makes her fall in love with its prickly 82-year-old protagonist. Though it had a slow start for her, she pronounces the story about an American Jew haunted by his wartime experiences and his son’s death in Vietnam who sometimes is confused but manages to evade villains to save a small boy, “quite simply brilliant.” 

Mrs Peabody investigates some dystopian crime fiction, including Antti Tuomainen’s The Healer, which she finds “a gripping and quietly powerful read” which interrogates (as dystopias do) how people find meaning in situations where social structures have broken down and disaster is impending – in this case a poet searching for his missing wife, a journalist who has been writing about a Finnish eco-warrior who is taking violent action as climate change changes everything. Like Bernadette, she finds it a curiously uplifting read.

Jose Ignacio Escribano reviews Karin Fossum’s The Indian Bride (also published as Calling Out for You), in which a naive Norwegian man impuslively travels to India to find a bride. When she arrives in Norway, she disappears. And Fossum’s quiet menace does the rest. As Jose Ignacio observes, “she is able to develop a particular atmosphere that can become frightening, using only elements taken from our daily lives.” Here, in this small Norwegian town, the well-meaning and wholly wholesome Scandinavians seem all too comfortable seeking silence when the subject of race enters the picture – and Fossum is not willing to leave us content with the knowledge that justice, in the end, will be done.

At the Independent, Barry Forshaw reviews Hans Koppel’s You’re Mine Now, which once again You're Mine Nowfeatures a man who hates women, though this time the woman confronted by a stalker is in a better position to fight back than in his previous novel (which Forshaw puts in a nutshell: “ritual sexual debasement and torture visited upon the luckless heroine, kept captive in a house where she could still see her distraught, unknowing family,” Yes, that’s wny I didn’t read it.) Koppel is apparently very good at ratcheting up tension, not so good at giving us any reason why we shouldn’t just give up on the human race altogether.

Keishon is avid about reading Asa Larsson’s mysteries, but found The Second Deadly Sin disappointing in the end. There are various timeframes and one becomes a bit of a slog. Office politics among the main characters is about as appealing as . . . well, office politics. And the pacing overall, she felt, was off in an over-long novel. She recommends her other books, though.

Norm, at Crime Scraps, reviews Mari Jungstedt’s The Double Silence, a new entry in the Anders Knutas series set on Visby Island. In addition to a crime, the story involves the lives of its ongoing cast of characters. While Norm recommends this series, he felt this story jumped too often from one point of view to another and often left him mystified in ways the author likely didn’t intend.

And now for something completely different, The Wall Street Journal reports that Jo Nebso has been signed on (along with other authors) to write prose versions of Shakespeare’s plays running up the bard’s 400th birthday. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he will be taking on Macbeth and, in an interview, ponders whether he’ll make him a man vying for the position of police chief in a throughly corrupt city in the 1970s. That cauldron the weird sisters are stirring? It just might be brewing some kick-ass meth. The story is likely to keep relationships and themes but perhaps not much else. I must say I’m particularly intrigued about what Margaret Atwood might do with The Tempest. 

weird sisters and cauldron

Finally, if you are fortunate enough to be in northern California on February 2, Janet Rudolph invites you to join her and fellow fans for a lecture on Swedish crime fiction by my fellow Minnesotan, Jim Kaplan. He’s very wise to be somewhere other than in the Polar Vortex that keeps on turning the upper Midwest into an arctic knockoff.

Review of The Healer by Antti Tuomainen

Set in Helsinki in a dystopian future, when global warming has advanced to the point that anyone who can afford it has moved north to heavily-fortified compounds, social services are failing in the face of crime, disease, and chaos, and the rain never stops, a poet is searching for his wife, who has disappeared while following a story. She’s a journalist investigating a healerstring of murders committed by a man who calls himself The Healer, who is targeting those who he believes are responsible for crimes against nature. Tapani Lehtinen is sure something bad has happened to Johanna, but he knows there is little the police can or will do. They are barely able to investigate homicides, much less missing persons. Yet Lehtinen is able to make an alliance of sorts with Harri Jaatinen, a tired police inspector who knows Johanna and thinks she was on to something. He gives Lehtinen what he knows about The Healer. Both of them are persistent in spite of having very little to give them hope. 

The novel is not entirely successful as crime fiction.Our narrator is most definitely an amateur sleuth, though he has some of the trappings of the hardboiled PI. He stumbles upon clues, makes leaps that are based more on coincidence and convenience than detection, falls into fugue states where he reminisces about his relationship with Johanna. He’s aided by Hamid, a cab driver who has migrated to Finland as part of a  mass migration northward, who is fortuitously able to provide Lehtinen with help at critical times. 

But that’s okay. The plot — the search for Johanna and her involvement with The Healer — is not the driving force of the novel. Rather, its the vision of a not-so-distant future in which a poet and a policeman have very little to sustain them other than a belief that they must go on, doing what they believe in. Jaatinen is sustained by his work. (“I’m a policeman. I believe in what I do.”) Lehtinen’s love for his wife — and his poetic belief in the importance of love — is his major motivation. This is in contrast to The Healer, whose fanaticism is blind and violent. 

In one passage, an angry character sketches out how the world got to such a terminal state. After a period of idealistic activism, the public mood turned to radicalism, followed by “disillusioned withdrawal … that fight was won by big business–in other words, a few thousand people who were already superrich, who once again masked their own interests in the mantle of economic growth for the common good. The return to the old ways was echoed by the desire of a populace tired of momentary scarcity, of consuming less, to live like they had before: self-absorbed, greedy, and irresponsible–the way they’d always been taught to live.” 

In the end, both radical responses to environmental catastrophe and individualistic consumerism turn out to have more in common than Lehtinen’s more modest belief in trying to do the right thing and in the power of his love for Johanna. There’s something very likable about Lehtinen, who seems quintessentially Finnish in a Finland that has changed beyond recognition.

Antii Tuomainen started his writing career in advertising. The Healer, his third novel, won the Clue Award for best Finnish crime novel. It is being translated into 26 languages. I got an advanced copy through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. The Healer, translated by Lola Rogers, will be released in the US in May, 2013. 

Happy Easter Crime!

Påskekrim

creative commons licensed photo courtesy of Rockspilden

The Spectator has a fascinating article about the origins of Påskekrim, Norway’s tradition of reading crime fiction at Easter. It seems a couple of enterprising guerrilla marketers of the late 19th century placed and ad for their novel about a train robbery that looked very like a news headline in Aftenposten. A tradition was born. As Norwegians head to their country cottages for the holidays, they take candy and entertaining books with them. The article goes on to profile worthy Norwegian writers, Anne Holt and Jørn Lier Horst, as well as a selection of Swedish and Danish recommendations.

The Newtown Review of Books, from Sydney, Australia, has a detailed review of Antti Tuomainen’s dystopian futuristic thriller set in Helsinki, The Healer.  Jean Bedford concludes, ” it is the juxtaposition of the rather gallant existentialism of the protagonists with the self-preservation and venality of most of the other characters that adds depth and texture to raise this dystopian crime novel well out of the ordinary.”

I have a copy on its way to me, and I am looking forward to it. In an email to me, critic Paula The HealerArvas wrote “it’s one piece of quality crime writing!” She also recommends Pekka Hiltunen’s Cold Courage which will be out in June. For more from Finland, see the website of the FELT Cooperative.

At Reviewing the Evidence, there are several Scandinavian crime novels reviewed this week. John Cleal finds Mons Kallentoft’s Autumn Killing complex, dark, splendidly written, and a bit of work for the reader – but well worth it.

Yvonne Klein finds some of the plot devices in Silenced, Kristina Ohlsson’s second novel, awfully shopworn, and isn’t taken with the characters, though the book does provide a picture of Swedish approaches to justice.

Anne Corey is enthusiastic about Helsinki Blood, the latest brutal and dark entry in James Thompson’s Kari Vaara series. (Thompson is an American living in Finland, where his books were first published.) Though it focuses on Vaara’s attempts to salvage a what’s left of his life after the violence of the previous book in the series, it ends on a hopeful note and a possible new direction for the series.

In an earlier issue of RTE, I reviewed Tursten’s Golden Calf, which I felt was a strong entry in the series that has interesting things to say about the way wealth distorts people’s values.

Jose Ignacio Escribano reviews Arne Dahl’s Misterioso (apa The Blinded Man) finding it well-written, intelligent, a tad slow in places, and very much in the social critique tradition of SJowall and Wahloo.  The BBC is airing a television series based on Dahl’s Intercrime novels starting in April. (Hat tip to Euro Crime.)

He previously reviewed Last Will by Liza Marklund, which he gives top marks, saying it’s an engrossing story that does a good job of weaving together the investigation and Annika Bengtzon’s personal life.

Margot Kinberg puts Jørn Lier Horst’s Dregs in the spotlight – part of her series in which she examines how a particular mystery works in depth. This episode is dedicated to Maxine Clarke, who was one of the first to review this book.

Andalucian Friend - USAt Crimepieces, Sarah Ward reviews Alexander Söderberg’s Andalucian Friend, which she enjoyed – with reservations. The story’s strength is in its well-drawn characters, but the non-stop action and attendant hype left her wondering what all the fuss is about.

More reviews of Söderberg’s novel can be found at The Book Reporter (which finds it an epic powerhouse of a novel), Metro (which is less enamored, finding the female lead lacking and the violence over the top), and Kirkus (which deems it promising but with issues).