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.

“set somewhere in Scandinavia”

The Book Maven explains why she doesn’t like the Millennium Trilogy. Personally, I agree with her criticism, but I ended up enjoying them anyway (the second two volumes more than the first, though I know others who like the first best). They have a kind of weird energy that saw me past the heaps of unnecessary detail and the lulls in pacing. The more we got to see from Salander’s point of view, the more I enjoyed them.

Forbes has an article on Salander and, being a business magazine, the trilogy is billed as a “feminist franchise” – uh . . . really? As with many other articles, it’s partly about the books and partly speculation about the US film remakes, which perhaps makes sense as the author or the article, Melissa Silverstein, runs a website on women and Hollywood. After discussing the character, responses gathered from readers through social networks, and considering whether a female author could get away with such a heroine (she reckons it would have been dismissed as “crazy chick lit”), she speculates about the possible film legacy:

The clear challenge for Hollywood is to not tone down the rough and decidedly unpretty nature and look of Lisbeth’s character. “I am concerned about how they decide to cast her and how they dilute her because Hollywood has traditionally been very afraid of powerful women,” wrote film blogger Anne Thompson. Think about it: If Hollywood was smart, Lisbeth Salander could be the first real female action hero.

Unlike Sex and the City and Twilight, which are largely targeted at girls and women, what makes this female-led franchise unique is that this one has actual crossover potential. Men like Larsson’s books just as much as women. If men and women will pay money see a female star who takes down the bad guys and doesn’t need to look like a babe in the process, she would certainly be The Girl Who Started a Feminist Franchise.

Personally, I think if Hollywood were smart, it would leave well enough alone and not try to reinvent the already well-regarded Swedish films. But they aren’t likely to ask my opinion.

Marilyn Stasio has little good to say about Camilla Lackberg’s The Ice Princess. Ouch! I wonder if her reaction was in part push-back from too much “next Stieg Larsson” hype that seems to attach to all things Swedish. (Earlier, this US debut for Lackberg got starred reviews in Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist.)

Norm (aka Uriah) has had it with hype. He wonders if Hamlet will be the next to be linked to the Millennium phenomenon – “people get murdered, it is set somewhere in Scandinavia, so if you liked Stieg Larsson you will enjoy this.” His ire was provoked when a Hakan Nesser book had Mankell and Larsson splashed on its cover – though Nesser has so many laurels he needn’t rest on other people’s – and he quite rightly finds his style more comparable with Sjowall and Wahloo than Mankell or Larsson.

Finally, Declan Burke in the Irish Times puts Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman at the top of a list of “killer reads for the summer.” And And Kerrie reviews Jan Costin Wagner’s Ice Moon, a whydunnit that includes unraveling the investigators’ reasons for their actions as well as the killer’s.

some new reviews, a bit of fun, and a geography challenge

Nora Ephron wrote a hilarious (and not malicious) parody of the Girl in The New Yorker. Warning; there are spoilers, as there are in nearly every review of the second and third books. (Hat tip to Ali Karim.)

Publisher’s Weekly interviews Camilla Lackberg, whom publishers hope will appeal to fans of Lisbeth Salander. Honestly, I think that’s going to backfire with many readers. The romance in the series is highly conventional. The best they can hope is that people will enjoy Lackberg on her own terms. (A word to publicity folks: readers are not stupid – thanks, bye.)

The Ice Princess is reviewed by Verna Suit in the I Love a Mystery newsletter, and Michele Reed reviews Hornet’s Nest in the same issue. Both got thumbs up, though Verna thought The Ice Princess could have been improved if tightened up

Maxine thinks The Killer’s Art by Mari Jungstedt is the best in the Gotland-based series to date. Though there are a few plot weaknesses, they are overcome by with good characters, a well-developed glimpse into the art world, and an absorbing island setting that reminds her of the work of Johann Theorin and of Ann Cleeve’s Shetland Island quartet.

Karen asks what we think of the various covers of Johan Theorin’s The Darkest Room. Interesting conversation follows. The greatest mystery is often – what were they thinking when they chose that cover?

And finally, the debates around what qualifies as Scandinavian crime fiction have heretofore been about whether “Scandinavian” includes only Sweden, Denmark, and Norway or should include Finland and Iceland. Purists would say those are Nordic, but not Scandinavian countries. (The OED doesn’t include those fringe elements in its definition of Scandinavia and points out in the etymology that it’s all based on a mix-up, anyway; Pliny adopted Teutonic words meaning “southern end of Sweden” and “island,” so no wonder we’re confused.)

But now the dilemma is whether to include crime fiction set in Scandinavia but not written by people who are native. Is Tana French an Irish writer? She’s lived there long enough, so I think so. James Thompson, living in Finland, has written crime fiction set there, though he writes in English that has been translated into Finnish, which was how he was first published. Hmmm. And now Michael Ridpath is writing a series about an Icelandic man who emigrated to the US, become a cop, and has to lie low. He hides out in Iceland, where he gets involved in a murder, a missing ancient manuscript, and a gaggle of Lord of the Rings fanatics. Crimeficreader of It’s a Crime! (or a Mystery) finds it’s a ripping good story, enhanced by the author’s enchantment with the island and informative about the state of things since the great bank meltdown. The author’s frank explanation of why he chose to seek new shores is refreshingly honest. I guess I’ll have to call it “crime fiction with a Scandinavian setting.” Or a Nordic setting, if you’re picky.

reviews and EWwwww….

NancyO takes a look at Camilla Lackberg’s The Ice Princess, and find the romance thread and some of the cop shop scenes heavy handed (as did I) but otherwise enjoyed the book, with its enigmatic victim and keen sense of place.

Peter clues us in on some of the writers he considers emerging stars: Danish writer Jussi Adler-Olsen,  the writing duo Kaaberbøl & Friis, also from Denmark, Swedish writers Kristina Ohlsson and Camilla Ceder, and Øystein Wiig and Thomas Enger from Norway. Ceder will be available in English in the UK soon; Dorte adds in a comment the good news that Kaaberbøl and Friis will be published in the US by Soho. Thanks for the heads-up!

A reviewer at The Bookbag (a wiki-based review site in the UK) thinks Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment is slow and confusing at first, but in the end it all comes together nicely. Sounds as if there’s a fair amount of romance as well. Hmm. Norm will be disgusted to know that the publisher has put a big label on it saying “Move Over, Wallander!” At least it’s not the next Stieg Larsson.

And the Girl made it to the cover of Entertainment Weekly, a popular US magazine. It promises to reveal “the secrets behind the hottest book on the planet” but actually focuses on movie deals. There’s also an article on whether Larsson had a problem with women (the author is especially irritated that Salander had a boob job; the comments are voluminous and some are very interesting). And an article on the Swedish National Library acquiring science fiction stories written by Larsson when he was a teen, basically saying “ooh, gross, I hope nobody reads what I wrote when I was that age” (but since you probably wrote it on Facebook you are SO BUSTED!). I am irritated with the hack who wrote . . .”Magdalena Gram, Sweden’s deputy national librarian (which means when she says shhh, you listen)” . . . that’s such a lazy, tired stereotype.

EW’s coverage is rounded out with yet another article on who will star in the American remake. It quotes Knopf’s publicity director, who describes Larsson as a “global brand” which makes me wonder how differently all this hype would play out if Larsson were here to respond to being treated as a highly successful product line.

the next Stieg Larsson

Norm (aka Uriah) gets annoyed when the only criterion used for predicting the “next Stieg Larsson” is that the author is Swedish. Harrumph. But he does have some female authors to recommend.

There’s likely to be a lot of marketing that hinges on “the next Stieg Larsson” given that the original Stieg Larsson has had such an impact on the book industry. The Washington Post points out there are already many incredibly popular writers from Sweden and Norway, though most of them are arriving late to US shores. The feature starts out with a nice hook:

So you know about the insanely popular Scandinavian crime novelist, right, the author who has sold 3 million books in Sweden (pop. 9 million)? The one published in 40 languages? The crime-writing legend with more than 30 million books in print worldwide?

If you said the late Stieg Larsson, the publishing phenom who has sold more than 500,000 copies of his latest book, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” in the month since it was released, who currently has the No. 1 book in hardcover fiction, trade paperback and mass-market paperback — well, get a clue.

Camilla Läckberg is the Swedish crime writer whose seven books have dominated Stockholm bestseller lists (she makes her American debut this week). Norwegian Jo Nesbø is the guy published in 40 languages. And Sweden’s Henning Mankell, the godfather of the Swedish crime thriller genre, has been moving millions of books the world over since creating police detective Kurt Wallander nearly two decades ago.

The New York Times also comments on the “what should I read / publish / get excited about next?” question when readers have finished Hornet’s / Hornets’ Nest.

“We call them ‘The Girl Who’s Paying Our Salaries for the Next Few Months,’ ” said Gerry Donaghy, the new-book purchasing supervisor [at Powell’s].

But other customers are walking through the door, finished with all three books and pleading for something similar.

Which has given some booksellers pause. Mr. Larsson’s books have caught on because of their ambitious scope, complex characters, strong writing and quick storytelling, said Cathy Langer, the lead buyer for the Tattered Cover stores in Denver — maybe not because of their Scandinavian setting.

“It’s a tricky line to walk,” Ms. Langer said. “I’d probably ask them if they’d read any Henning Mankell. But if you try to duplicate the experience, you’re likely to disappoint the customer.”

Good call, Ms. Langer! Norm would approve.

The Book Maven writes about the impact the Washington Post article was already having on book buyers (as well as “How could they not have mentioned Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo?” – an omission mentioned also by Roberta at Books to the Ceiling) and how she enjoyed Camilla Lackberg’s first foray in the US (with The Ice Princess) with some reservations.

Maureen Corrigan at NPR says “let’s take a brief mental health break from those gloomy Swedes with their hard-to-pronounce-names” and recommends non-Scandinavian mysteries – but then breaks down and puts Henning Mankell’s The Man from Beijing on the list, because “no roundup of recent standout mysteries would be complete without Henning Mankell’s masterpiece of moral complexity.”

Mankell’s latest tale roams from a remote Swedish village turned necropolis to the American West of the 19th century, where Chinese indentured servants hacked through mountains to clear the way for the Transcontinental Railroad. In between are stops in modern-day Beijing and London, as well as Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The thread connecting these disparate narratives is red, drenched in the blood of historical crimes and baroque retribution.

At The Australian, book reviewer Graeme Blundell takes a longer view, using Stieg Larsson’s success as a hook. Crime fiction has gained enormous popularity since he started reviewing, but there’s “mayhem in the mainstream” as public tastes turn to new favorites that can’t be predicted in advance. He traces the rise of the genre (along lines very similar to Patrick Anderson’s book The Triumph of the Thriller) as it stormed the bestseller lists.

A generation ago, crime writing was a minority taste, for many a puritan pleasure, not always admitted to in public; reading mysteries was a sabbatical for the serious-minded. The blockbusters of the ’60s and ’70s, for example, the novels of Irving Stone, Harold Robbins, John O’Hara, Jacqueline Susann and Herman Wouk, preferred to deal with sex, movie stars, religion and exotic foreign places rather than crime. Robert Crichton, Mary Renault, James Clavell were among those who followed and still no big time crime. Best-seller lists were subjugated by literary writers and masters of sex and junk. . . .

Crime novels were still largely written for the entertainment of the reader rather than for the sake of what the writer had to say or any social commentary. The best were about puzzle, riddle or place. Few novels threatened our complacency by deliberately exploiting anxiety in the reader and tapping into familiar criminal concerns the way the genre as a whole does now. “Even a decade ago people were apprehensive about publishing crime fiction,” Hachette Australia publisher Bernadette Foley says. “While crime fiction is based on well-knitted plots, astute storytelling and interesting ideas, they simply weren’t as prestigious as literary fiction. In the past, if you published crime you pretended you didn’t.”

Then it changed. Genres split in all directions as the world rapidly shrank with the process of globalisation, the movement of capital and the spread of technological innovations and ever-faster communications. . . .

And the rest is history. Peter Temple has just won Australia’s Miles Franklin award, the most prestigious award for fiction. Fiction, full stop. Well done, Australia!

If you’re wondering what to read next, you could read Temple’s Truth; otherwise, here are a few reviews to pique your interest:

Happy reading!

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.