Lotsa Links

 

 

Oh, my – what a lot of links have been collecting in my inbox since I last rounded up reviews and articles.

 

Peter reviews The Gallows Bird, the fourth book in Camilla Lackberg’s series set in picturesque Fjällbacka, and finds it’s satisfying, if not the best in the series. He also has a look at The Tattooed Girl, a collection of essays about the Millennium Trilogy which turns out to be more interesting than it looks at first glance, being put together by someone who previously revealed the secrets of Dan Brown for obsessives who can’t get enough of their favorite books. (I am reviewing this for Reviewing the Evidence; I agree with Peter, it looked awful but has some interesting material.)

Writing in the Saudi Gazette, Susanna Tarbush reads Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy with particular interest in the Syrian immigrant who becomes the hero’s assistant, Assad.

Keith of Books and Writers found Kari Vaara, hero of James Thompson’s Snow Angels, a compelling protagonist that he hopes to see more of.

Maddy Van Hertbruggen reviews K.O.Dahl’s The Last Fix for Reviewing the Evidence and finds it well-plotted and engaging.

Keith Walters at Books and Writers likes Karin Alvtegen’s Missing and mentions there’s a film adaptation.

Jose Ignacio Escribano reviews Johann Theorin’s Echoes from the Dead – bilingually!

Keishon reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Redeemer and makes it sound so good that several commenters indicate they’ll be including Nesbo in their future reading.  (Good call, by the way.)

At Bookgasm, Mark Rose is not impressed by Lars Keppler’s The Hypnotist.

Nor is Bernadette by Roslund and Hellstrom’s Three Seconds, which she reckons would be more accurately titled 56,820 seconds. Score! (I admit, I also found the first half very slow going, and had trouble finding any characters who were sympathetic. It picked up in the second half, but likeable characters were still thin on the ground. I liked Box 21 a great deal more.)

A blogger named Susan has coined a new sub-genre: Snoir, featuring dark themes in a cold and icy setting.  Brrr.

There’s an interesting comparison of translations at To Be Read in two parts, comparing the first English translation of Liza Marklund’s Studio Sex (Studio 69) with a new one by Neil Smith, now titled Exposed. It’s quite surprising to see the variations alongside the original Swedish.

Swedish Book Review takes a look at the last Erik Winter novel, titled appropriately Den sista vintern (The Final Winter). Though Ake Edwardson has said in interviews that he is turning away from crime fiction, the reviewer, Irene Scobbie, hopes he will be tempted to continue writing about a newly-introduced character who could carry further stories.

Also in Swedish Book Review, Tom Geddes reviews Björn Larsson’s Döda poeter skriver inte kriminalromaner (Dead Poets Can’t Write Crime Fiction), a spoof on the popularity of crime fiction, including a book within the book with the title The Man Who Hated the Rich.

At the site you will also find a review of Johann Theorin’s next book, The Quarry, somewhat unusually written by Theorin’s English translator, as well as reviews of new books by Camilla Ceder and Lief G.W. Persson.

A Work in Progress reviews Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment and considers Ceder a writer to watch.

Maxine Clarke reports at Euro Crime that she very much enjoyed Mari Jungstedt’s The Dead of Summer, fifth in the author’s Gotland-set series. Norm also liked it quite a lot.

She wasn’t as enthusiastic about Danish author Sissel-Jo Gazan’s first foray into English translation, The Dinosaur Feather, which suffers from a surfeit of backstory but picks up in the final 200 pages.

A blogger who is reading a book a week has mixed feelings about Henning Mankell’s The White Lioness, which has interesting things to say about race and politics but strays far afield from the main character.

Kim Forrester (Kimbofo) thinks Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen, is terrific. Norm is hoping the translator is hard at work on more in the series.  Rob Kitchen also reviews the first of the Department Q series and concludes that, though it’s melodramatic and implausible in places, it’s generally a good read and just the job before a trip to Denmark. And Ali Karim, our enterprising super-fan, is interviewed at Pulp Pusher about Mercy and other books that he is excited about.

Rob also reviews Leif Davidsen’s The Serbian Dane, which he feels has good character development but not much tension.

Mrs. Peabody thinks there’s a touch of melodrama in Karin Alvtegen’s Shadow but nevertheless recommends it.

Leslie Gilbert Elman gives Camilla Lackberg a strong endorsement, recommending her to readers whose only exposure to Scandinavian crime fiction is through Stieg Larsson, whose work she doesn’t admire.

Susan White enjoyed Henning Mankell’s The Man from Beijing, now out in paperback, and reviews it for Euro Crime, where Maxine Clarke also reviews Jan Costin Wagner’s Finnish-set Winter of the Lions, recommending it for those who have already read and enjoyed Ice Moon. Mrs. Peabody fills in the gaps by reviewing the middle book in the series, Wagner’s Silence, and rates it very highly.

Darrel Squires recommends The Snowman to readers in Newfoundland and Labrador, calling it a good choice for “fans of dark, atmospheric crime fiction.” The Winnipeg Free Press reports Nesbo as “a bit annoyed” at being compared to Larsson on the cover of his latest book because he thinks their styles are different. (Also, he’s not Swedish – but I’m being picky.) And in the U.S., the Fredricksburg (Virginia) Free-Lance Star has a short and positive review of The Snowman.

Carrying this comparative nonsense to its logical extreme, The Mark proclaims Norwegian fiction is the new Swedish fiction. This is actually just a way to introduce a short video interview with Nesbo, who doesn’t say anything you don’t already know, except that Norway has a lot of serial killers (said with a straight face).

NancyO has lots of praise for Nesbo’s The Leopard, though some of it is over the top and other parts are slow-moving (“to the point where you think you might be trying to crawl through jello”). Still, she rates it her favorite in the series.

Wendy Lasser wrote at length about Nesbo at Slate a month ago. She opens her essay with speculations about the overall excellence of Scandinavian crime fiction and the way it combines cat-and-mouse detection with social critique and proposes some possible reasons for the Nordic countries’ high crime fiction rate:

Perhaps we can attribute this in part to the small size of these far northern countries, their relatively homogenous populations, their stable cultural traditions—a setting, in short, in which murders (and especially serial murders) stand out starkly and beg for analysis. Or maybe this wider focus is connected to the firmly if mildly socialist perspective of even the most conservative Scandinavian governments, a view in which individual behavior contributes to or detracts from the public welfare. Possibly the dark, cold, long winters also have a role: With those extreme alternations between everlasting night and midnight sun, the Swedes, Danes, and Norwegians may be more likely than the rest of us to reflect on the role of environment in shaping character. The citizens of these countries also seem unusually alert to their own national pasts (unlike Americans, say, for whom the mid-twentieth-century is already History), and this in turn makes them more likely to seek cause and effect in these collective historical influences. In any event, what all these factors add up to is a worldview that places the criminal at the center of a social web. This is not necessarily what makes Scandinavian mysteries addictive—that can probably be attributed to the typical thriller qualities of suspense and surprise—but it is what makes them remarkably satisfying.

She goes on to discuss the Harry Hole series and concludes that while his latest novels are compelling and fun, they are more focused on furiously-paced fun than on developing a solid story. Commenting on The Leopard, Lasser speculates that Hole’s multiple near-death experiences bespeak the author’s wish to kill him off, and “the increasingly ludicrous violence makes the plot seem like something made for TV.”

I haven’t read The Leopard yet, but I tend to see the same trajectory, finding both The Devil’s Star and The Snowman as less rewarding than the earlier books in the series, though it seems a large number of readers feel the opposite and enjoy the recent books the most.

Metro has a short interview with Henning Mankell; the most interesting bit is that he once lived in an unfurnished flat and sat on the floor, using his oven door as a desk (and the oven light as a desk lamp); that’s rather clever. Ikea should look into it.

Rick Salutin of the Toronto Star thinks about Canadian politics from a Scandinavian crime perspective – seeing a willingness to examine society, not just individual culpability.

Norm considers the features of a newly-named species, the Scandi-book fan, of the genus Chattering Classes.

The Hollywood Reporter covers the presence of three directors from Nordic countries at the Cannes film festival – all with films in non-Nordic languages. It’s not just book labels touting the Next Stieg Larsson: “Post-Millennium, everyone is hunting for the next big Nordic crime franchise.” Oh dear.

Pan Macmillan has bought rights to a novelization of the popular television series, The Killing.

And speaking of Denmark, the Copenhagen Post has a profile of several Danish writers whose work will be released in the US this year – Jussi Adler-Olsen (whose Department Q kick-off will be called The Keeper of Lost Causes in the U.S. instead of the British title Mercy; it will appear in the US in August), Sara Blædel (Call Me Princess, also in August) and the co-authors Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis (The Boy in the Suitcase, to be released in November).

Sarah Weinman has written a surprising and rather scandalous profile of Niclas Salomonsson, the incredibly young agent to most of the biggest names in Scandinavian crime fiction. Like the sordid family squabble over Stieg Larsson’s fortune, it seems particularly shocking for Sweden. You couldn’t make this stuff up – though many of his clients do something fairly close.

Rants and Reviews – a Roundup

It has been a while since I posted links – so apologies that some of these are a bit stale.

Rohan Maitzen does such a good job of rounding up reviews and criticism on “Sheer Mistery: Mankell and Scandinavian Noir” that you should go right to her blog and enjoy how she pulls it all together. Cheers! See you later!

If you’ve decide to stick around or have come back, there’s an interview with Henning Mankell at the Globe and Mail talking about The Troubled Man and the author’s own feelings about Kurt Wallander.

Kenneth Turan at the Chicago Tribune reviews The Troubled Man and the entire Wallander series, calling the final volume “a work of genuine heft and substance, a melancholy, elegiac book that is thoughtful and perceptive about memory, regret and the unfathomability of human nature.”

Norm reviews it too, and thinks it’s awfully depressing (though he’s much less snarky about it than The Guardian’s reviewer).

Peter at Scandinavian Crime Fiction points to some nifty video offerings. If you missed BBC’s Nordic Noir documentary on Time Shift, someone has uploaded that and an excerpt focused on Sjowall and Wahloo to YouTube (though the upload was not, apparently, made by Auntie Beeb herself).

Janet Rudolph of Mystery Readers International and Mystery Readers Journal muses over the history of Norway’s tradition of using the Easter holiday to read crime fiction – paasekrim.

The indispensable Euro Crime has reviews of Hakan Nesser’s The Inspector and Silence and Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Ashes to Dust.

The Seattle P.I. heads up a group of reviews with Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman.

Nesbo’s Nemesis  is reviewed at the Hersilia Press blog.

Bernadette reacts to reading Box 21 by Roslund and Hellstrom. It’s a stellar review, which I won’t try to recap here. Go read it. Cheers! See you later!

Oh, you’re back? Well, then, Kerrie in Paradise praises Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen’s first book in the Department Q series to be translated into English, The Keeper of Lost Causes (titled Mercy in the US and UK).  Dorte also gives it a thumbs-up. So does The Bookbag and Shade Point (which imagines there must be a secret installation where Scandinavian crime is created and perfected somewhere outside Bergen). I’ve just finished reading it myself, and will be writing a review before long.

Deon Meyer makes a “bold claim” that Johan Theorin is better writer than Stieg Larsson or Henning Mankell. If I were a betting woman, I’d put odds on Theorin, myself, but then, good writing and popularity have never been tightly correlated.

Glenn Harper reviews Jan Costin Wagner’s Finnish-set novel Silence, a follow-up to Ice Moon. A third in the series is apparently due out soon.

Jo Nesbo is not unsurprisingly a little tired of being called “the next Stieg Larsson” but has lots of interesting things to say in a Washington Post interview.

Nancy O thinks Nesbo’s The Snowman is terrific, and recommends enjoying the series in order.

Keishon also recommends reading it in order and points us to a Wall Street Journal profile in which the Norwegian author again denies being Stieg Larsson’s twin. I’m also reminded by the fact that in the years between the UK publication of Devil’s Star and the US, our copy lived in our interlibrary loan office – it was constantly in demand. Frustrating when publication dates are so spread out.

Keishon also has a positive review of Asa Larsson’s Sunstorm.

Jose Ignacio Escribano has some reservations about The Leopard, but still finds it worth reading, though not as top-notch as other books in the series.

Mrs. Peabody reviews Mankell’s The Man from Beijing and particularly enjoys the strong female characters if not every element of the sprawling plot.

David Wright offers a quiz – which is the name of a writer, which an IKEA furnishing? – at the Seattle Public Library’s blog, Shelf Talk. (Readers of this blog would ace the test.)

Keishon wonders if the comparisons will ever cease. Norm wonders, too, and has a hilarious take on the “next Stieg Larsson” nonsense, writing “I was very relieved to discover that the Royal Wedding dress did not have a marketing sticker on it that said ‘The Next Princess Diana’.”

reviews and what-not

Peter finds Leif GW Persson’s Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End “deliciously told, with lots of humor and with live, fallible and flawed characters.” I admit that I was completely unable to read the advanced reader copy I was sent. The translation by Paul Norlen seemed quite good, but the total absence of sympathetic characters and the piecemeal structure (no chapters, but lots of short passages from a multitude of points of view) coupled with an extremely cynical view of police work kept making me find excuses to put it down, even though it is a fictional account based on the investigation of Olof Palme’s assassination and the investigation that never went anywhere. Peter felt differently.

Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End is at the same time fascinating and shocking. We embark on a journey deep into the underbelly of the Swedish police force, and meet lazy, incompetent and perverse police officers concerned mostly with position, power, pay, comradeship, drinking and sex. We meet cynical politicians and spin masters in controlling positions.

It’s a dark novel and a dark journey which not only seems very realistic but also masterfully recreates the blanket of uncertainty, the multiple ways insights get lost in huge and complex organizational environments where most actors have their own agendas. Fortunately there is also sarcasm, black satire, dark humor, mind boggling insights, and dialogues that make you laugh out loud. It is a wonderful novel, a riveting anti-procedure police procedural, a psychological drama, and an adventurous journey into a murky landscape we can perhaps only hope doesn’t exist but most likely does. The publication of Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End by Leif GW Persson is one of the major crime fiction events of 2010!

The World Socialist Web Site has an article on the Stieg Larsson phenomenon and criticizes the trilogy for feeding vengeance fantasies and treating right and wrong in the same dualistic way that right-wing demagogues do, concluding that (in contrast to Sjowall and Wahloo’s more complex view) Larsson is guilty of “middle class ‘leftism’.” Whether you agree or not with the author’s conclusions, the appeal that the trilogy has for people who more typically enjoy books in which representatives of the law and/or libertarian crusaders triumph through responding to violence with violence is thought-provoking.

The Times of Johannesburg (I think – it’s hard to tell from the site, but it has a South African URL) offers reviews of three thrillers, including Jo Nebso’s The Snowman (“Scandinavian crime fiction at its best – nutritious dollops of social introspection skilfully intertwined with sheer terror.”) and Henning Mankell’s The Man from Beijing (“a political discourse on colonial exploitation in Zimbabwe and the tensions inherent in the modern Chinese Communist elite. Yawn.”)

Xanthe Galanis gives Camilla Lackberg’s The Stonecutter high marks and calls it “great entertainment.”

The Boston Book Bums think Yrsa Siguradottir’s Last Rituals is fun to read, “a quick read that blended the macabre with the academic. Smart and engaging, while not pace set by violent action, Last Rituals moves along with rapidity because Sigurdardottir shows patient skills with characters and setting.”

Larissa Kyser likes Ake Edwardson’s Sun and Shadow a great deal, even though he does things she usually doesn’t like. A substantial and very thoughtful review by someone who thinks deeply about what she’s reading.

The Guardian has a fascinating look at the far right in Sweden and its current position in national politics – fascinating background for some of the themes encountered in crime fiction from Sweden.

Another newspaper article expresses astonishment that there is life after Wallander, though illustrating the point with a photo of Kenneth Branagh.

Norm (aka Uriah) thinks the two Swedish films of the Larsson books are terrific and he can barely contain his impatience to see the final film in the trilogy. He takes a brief break to take issue with a Beatrice article that  calls Larsson’s trilogy “exploitive trash” (The essay is titled: “Stieg Larsson Was a Bad, Bad Writer.” Two bads in one headline.)

Dorte reviews Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s My Soul to Take and thinks it’s a good, good book. Though she is far more eloquent than that as she explains why it worked so well for her.

Karen posts a newsflash to the crime and mystery fiction room at FriendFeed: “Waterstones Picadilly reports sightings of two women foisting The Redbreast instead of The Snowman on unsuspecting purchasers of Jo Nesbo’s books.” Who could that be?

Janet Rudolph reports that Sweden is putting its popular crime fiction writers on stamps. How novel.

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!

Belated Backlog of Blogging Bits

There’s a fascinating interview by Lasse Winkler of Stieg Larsson translated in the The Telegraph. It’s apparently the only interview Larsson gave before his untimely death.  I found this bit especially interesting:

What, I asked, was the source of his inspiration? The basic idea had been knocking around for a while, he said. He’d been toying with it back in his days at the Swedish TT news agency where he worked as a graphic designer and occasional writer, from 1977 to 1999. At some point in the early to mid-Nineties, he and a fellow journalist, Kenneth Ahlborn, were working on an article about the classic detective stories that were popular with young readers in Sweden in the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies.

“We were kidding around, talking about how you could write about those characters in their forties, when they were facing one last mystery,” he said. “That planted the seed, but nothing materialised back then.”

It was not until 2001 that Larsson stumbled upon the spark that would bring the Millennium trilogy into being. “I considered Pippi Longstocking,” he said, referring to the most famous creation of the Swedish children’s author Astrid Lindgren, a girl so strong she could carry a horse. “What would she be like today? What would she be like as an adult? What would you call a person like that, a sociopath? Hyperactive? Wrong. She simply sees society in a different light. I’ll make her 25 years old and an outcast. She has no friends and is deficient in social skills. That was my original thought.” That thought evolved into Larsson’s formidable heroine, Lisbeth Salander.

But he felt Salander needed a counterweight if his story was to be a success. Once again he turned to one of Lindgren’s characters, this time to Kalle Blomkvist, boy detective. “Only now he’s 45 years old and a journalist [called Mikael Blomkvist]. An altruistic know-it-all who publishes a magazine called Millennium. The story will revolve around the people who work there.”

Larsson was well-versed in the mechanics of crime fiction. Every spring and autumn, back when he worked for the news agency, he was assigned to write reviews that summed up the season’s releases of translated crime fiction. “I’d include the top five crime novels at that particular time,” he said. “Some of the writers I’ve praised are Sara Paretsky, Val McDermid, Elisabeth George and Minette Walters. Strangely enough, almost all are women.”

(I had to share that last comment with my colleagues at Sisters in Crime.)

Another interesting factoid in the interview is that Larsson hadn’t planned a particular number of books for the series (though it’s often said he had planned to write 10) but that he’d continue to write them so long as people wanted to read them. They were to be his retirement fund, since activist journalism wasn’t a secure income. How sad that he never got to enjoy the books’ success; it would have been fascinating to see how he responded to it.

Elsewhere, Peter points out that the CWA International Dagger shortlist is long on Nordic authors – Arnaldur Indridason (Hypothermia), Stieg Larsson (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest), and Johann Theorin (The Darkest Room).  Personally, I’m guessing of the non-Nordic half of contestants,  Deon Meyer has a pretty good shot.  But I’m almost always surprised by awards, so it’s a good thing I’m not a gambler.

And I’m used to Henning Mankell being in the news – but not this kind of news.  Mankell related his experience in The Daily Beast. More from Salon and The Guardian.

Lots of reviews to catch up on:

Kerrie reviews the audio version of Mankell’s The Fifth Woman from her perch in paradise; she gives it top marks.

Peter reviews Henning Mankell’s Before the Frost, which he considers good, if not the best in the series.

Pat Gray, who blogs under the moniker of Excitable Rat (the RATS are a group of librarians on a Reader’s Advisory Team) recommends Johan Theorin’s The Darkest Room and says something I agree with: “I find the subtle, quiet tone of this book a delightful change from some of the American mysteries and thrillers with unending, screaming-level action from start to finish.”  She adds that this isn’t to say there isn’t action – it’s just not the main attraction.

Crime and Publishing reviews Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s My Soul To Take and likes the main character, though she somewhat overshadows her male counterpart. He concludes “a fine mixture of sombre landscapes, gruesomely inventive violence and sharp wit. A highly enjoyable read.”

A woman who reads a lot – and then reads some more – has some entertaining things to say about Henning Mankell’s The Man from Beijing. A sample: “things start to get scary. They also get implausible.” On the whole she finds the book a mix of entertaining and tedious, but just the job when it’s handy on the library display shelf and “even tilting my head to read book spines on a shelf means I’m distracted enough to have my devil child run straight out of the library and into the road, and we don’t want that, do we.”

Dorte reviews the Swedish-language thriller Jeg ser dig (I See You) by Camilla Grebe and Asa Traff and and says it’s “well-written and absorbing from the first page . . . a convincing debut” and predicts it will be translated into English.

She also reviews Agnete Friis and Lene Kaaberbøl´s thriller Drengen i Kufferten and says it’s the best Danish thriller she’s ever read. (These Danes must be very peaceable people to have so many writing collaborations.)

And she reports on a Faroese novel (what a novel idea!) by Jogvan Isaksen, Kormesse, which deals with environmentalists clashing with islanders trying to preserve a way of life.

She was busy during the month of May with the Scandinavian Reading Challenge (though she points out that what I’ve been calling Scandinavian is more properly called Nordic in her part of the world; Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are the purist’s Scandinavia.  The Scandinavian Reading Challenge continues – and it’s not too late to join.

Glenn Harper is disappointed in several books, including Christian Jungersen’s The Exception. Though he thinks the premise is brilliant, he found it hard to stick with the characters and the way they rub up against each other in the workplace.

Martin Edwards watches an episode of the Swedish Wallander series and uses it as an opportunity to ponder the balance that needs to be struck between plotting and preaching.

Zee who blogs at Notes from the North weighs in on the frequency of coffee-drinking in Stieg Larsson’s trilogy and points out it’s nothing out of the ordinary for Swedes, who use fika – a coffee break – as a way to socialize and relax momentarily during the word day.  Sounds very civilized.

Sara, a journalism student in Helsinki, hasn’t generally been much of a reader of crime fiction, but was blown away by Jo Nesbo’s Panserhjerte (The Leopard) and is happily diving into the rest of the series.

Jane Sullivan of the Brisbane Times suggests what to read when you’ve run out of Larsson and haven’t read any other Swedish crime fiction.  I keep forgetting there are people who have read no Scandinavian crime other than what’s currently on the bestseller list.

At last, with the semester over and the workshop I gave this week in Chicago in the past, I hope I can begin blogging more regularly. My equally belated review of Hornet’s Nest should be online before too long, but long after everyone else has reviewed it.

Hornet’s Nest megahit megapost (with some catching up to do as well)

First, let’s deal with the US reception of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. (I can’t help but wonder if there was an editorial/marketing meeting about that apostrophe – or if it was simply misplaced and never questioned.)

As so often happens, the New York Times reviews the book twice. (There’s a different review editor and group of reviewers for the daily paper than for the Sunday Book Review.) While they are both positive, they are very different. Michiko Kakutani thinks the series has matured and improved with each volume.

“Hornet’s Nest” is the last novel in Larsson’s Millennium series that Larsson, the crusading Swedish journalist, completed before his sudden death from a heart attack at the age of 50 in 2004. It’s also a thoroughly gripping read that shows off the maturation of the author’s storytelling talents.

The trilogy’s first installment, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” depended solely on the irresistible odd-couple appeal of Salander and Blomkvist as a new age Nick and Nora; its plot devolved into a preposterous mashup of bad serial-killer movies. The second installment, “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” attested to the author’s improved plotting abilities, moving backward into the past even as it accelerated toward a vicious and violent conclusion. Now, in “Hornet’s Nest,” Larsson effortlessly constructs an immensely complicated story line that owes less to the “Silence of the Lambs” horror genre than to something by John le Carré. . . .

The novels’ central appeal, however, remains Salander herself: a heroine who takes on a legal system and evil, cartoony villains with equal ferocity and resourcefulness; a damaged sprite of a girl who becomes a goth-attired avenging angel who can hack into any computer in the world and seemingly defeat any foe in hand-to-hand combat.The narratives of all three books are ultimately explorations of Salander’s past, and it is this past that explains the mysteries of her personality. For that matter, the page-turning suspense of these books has less to do with the pyrotechnics of Larsson’s often contrived plots than with the reader’s eagerness to understand how Salander came to be the way she is — why she is so leery of emotional commitment, why she has a deadly score to settle with her dreaded father, why she values survival above all else. . . .

At one point in “Hornet’s Nest,” a character observes: “when it comes down to it, this story is not primarily about spies and secret government agencies; it’s about violence against women, and the men who enable it.” But while this seems to have been a concept that fascinated Larsson — the original Swedish title of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is “Men Who Hate Women” — these novels actually don’t have any didactic thesis to convey.

David Kamp, whose review is on the coveted front page of the Book Review, finds it didactic and thinks the first book better than the second, which he calls cartoonish. (I’m with Michiko on this one. I found the pacing much better in the second, the characters more developed, the situation more believable and less a mish-mash of locked-room mystery meets sexually depraved deviants. But each to one’s own.) Kamp feels the third works as well as the first and that in spite of preachy moments and too much coffee drinking, it all works very well in the end.

. . . there are plenty of the Larssonian hallmarks they have come to love: the rough justice meted out by Salander to her enemies; the strong, successful female characters, like Blomkvist’s lawyer sister, Annika ­Giannini, and Millennium’s editor in chief, Erika Berger; and the characters’ acutely Swedish, acutely relaxed attitude toward sex and sexuality. . . . Reading Stieg Larsson produces a kind of rush — rather like a strong cup of coffee.

Last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine had a lengthy article on the dispute over Larsson’s estate.  It reiterates the claim that Larsson had ten books planned and says they were to be his “pension fund.” It’s all very sad. But this bit also interested me:

Sonny Mehta, the publisher and editor in chief of Knopf, who bought the books for what he says now seems like a “very modest sum,” even worried that they might not catch on here. “I had nightmares that we would be the only country where the books didn’t work,” he says.

I didn’t think it would work either, not at the bestseller level. I assumed Americans, used to a diet of James Patterson Inc., wouldn’t have such a long attention span, quite frankly. I’m very pleased to find I was wrong.

Online, there’s an interactive feature on Larsson’s life and untimely death.

Last Sunday’s Op/Ed section also had an essay by Pat Ryan on Pippi and Salander.Both character share singular beginnings, an odd appearance, and “awesome skills.” Ryan writes,

An old colleague of Mr. Larsson’s has said they once talked about how certain characters from children’s books would manage and behave if they were older. Mr. Larsson especially liked the idea of a grown-up Pippi, a dysfunctional girl, probably with attention deficit disorder, who would have had a hard time finding a place in society but would nonetheless take a firm hand in directing her own destiny. That musing led to the creation of Lisbeth Salander, the central character in Mr. Larsson’s trilogy. . .

His fictional alter ego, Mikael Blomkvist, is a nod to another Lindgren character, the master detective Kalle Blomkvist. And the nameplate for Lisbeth’s new apartment reads “V. Kulla” — Pippi’s house was called Villa Villekulla. But don’t remind Lisbeth of her sunnier literary ancestor. “Somebody’d get a fat lip,” she says, “if they ever called me Pippi Longstocking.”

The Broad Street Review examines Salander as a feminist heroine and Steig Larsson as “currently the world’s most famous feminist author.” Marge Murray writes

What Ingmar Bergman did for Swedish private life— that is, expose its dark side— Larsson did for Swedish public life. His novels expose corruption and sexism in high places and provide a uniquely believable but heroic female figure to combat them. . . .

It is to Larsson’s credit that he created a heroic female figure— not a caricature, but a real three-dimensional creation. Lisbeth Salander, stranger than fiction, is a woman one can both empathize with and emulate.

Unlike other writers of crime fiction, Larsson overtly seeks to encourage feminist discourse and outrage. In effect Lisbeth is Larsson’s own version of a grown-up Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lingren’s unconventional, assertive and intuitive nine-year-old fictitious character. Where Pippi talks back to and makes fun of adults with alacrity, Lisbeth inflicts bodily harm on the private parts of her male tormentors.

Ellen Key, the Swedish social reformer and philosopher, has written that the emancipation of women was the greatest movement of the 19th Century. Larsson believed that the issue of women’s rights was not solved in that century. He contended that it is today’s biggest problem. His saga gives voice to the struggle of women in so-called emancipated nations like Sweden and, by association, the U.S. and the rest of the European Union. His novels may or may not change society. What can be said with certainty, however, is that Larsson is one hell of a read.

Richard Schickel reviews the book for the Los Angeles Times and isn’t very impressed with the literary quality of the books – he thinks Mankell, Nesbo, and Fossum all superior – and he puts the trilogy’s success down to – who else? – the Girl of the title.

I think Salander represents something new and unique in this genre. She’s a tiny bundle of post-modernist tropes, beginning with her computer skills. I know there are other crime novels featuring similarly gifted people — though I can’t tell from the examples Larsson gives whether her talent is genuine or pure nonsense. But that’s not important; the point is that she has an enviable mastery of a technology that is bound to impress Larsson’s gawking readership.

But that’s only the beginning of her singularity. She does not, for example, use her computer solely for crime-solving. She has also hacked her way into a multimillion-dollar fortune, which she keeps offshore and mainly uses for selfish purposes — like breast enhancement. She dresses badly, refuses to speak when authority figures — psychiatrists, cops — question her about her activities and, despite her tiny size, she is a martial-arts expert and deadly with guns. She’s also bisexual.

Simply put, Salander is a deeply radicalized feminist, portrayed in a manner designed to test the sympathies of a largely liberal-minded audience, the attention of which is diverted by the blur of his books’ nonstop action. Implicitly, Larsson asks us whether the understanding we normally, casually extend to the principles Salander acts upon can also extend to a character who so heedlessly exemplifies them. . . .

On the other hand, this irony keeps straying into one’s mind: In her vengeful, anti-establishment anger and propensity to violence, Lisbeth Salander is — that’s right — a perfect tea party heroine, a minor, accidental avatar of our scary new political climate. One is free to imagine her decent-minded creator shuddering in his grave at this unintended consequence of his venture into sub-literature.

I wish two things about this review: one, that he did not use the phrase “sub-literature,” particularly after praising other crime fiction authors. Second, that if he was going to accuse readers of being so indiscriminate in their understanding of the political and social issues in the book, that he did more than assume it is on the bestseller list because a) readers are too ignorant to understand the feminist subtext and b) the feminism of the books is overwhelmed by a strong heroine’s inherent anti-intellectual fascist tendencies. The more I think about it, the more infuriating I find this review.

(I’d like pause a moment to propose a maxim for reviewers: say what you honestly think about a book, but please, don’t insult its readers. You’re reviewing a BOOK for god’s sake, not evaluating the intelligence of those who enjoy it. That’s just a cheap way to show off. And a suggestion for review editors – don’t give a book to reviewers who despise the genre it’s in. That’s all – thank you.)

A reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle thinks this is the weakest of the three books and found it slow, “droll” (I suspect the writer meant “dull”) and hard to follow. USA Today also finds it not pacey enough and predicts fans will be disappointed.

But though a reviewer for the Herald in Madison County, Mississippi, thinks it could be pacier, he (or she) is willing to slow down, knowing it’s the last, feeling the same pangs as when reading the final installment in the Harry Potter series. “I’m really going to miss Stieg Larsson and his brave band of heroes, just like I miss Harry, Ron and Hermione. Reads like these don’t come around often enough. Savor the prose; cherish the characters.”

And if the US covers have left you scratching your head, Karen Meek has unearthed this explanation from Knopf. I love hearing from designers about their thought process.

Peter [Mendelsund, who has his own blog] chose to use a more abstract, but bold, image.

Knopf’s twist was achieved with the subtle interaction of the Trade Gothic type and a great piece of art in yellow and orange Day-Glo inks. Add a dash of cyan (shades of colors in the blue/green spectrum) to create the green dragon lurking in the background and a tablespoon of black for the title, flap copy, and Stieg’s photo, and voilà!

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s jacket colors create an unconscious sense of danger, flashing a warning to readers to proceed with caution, as they may find this story dangerous, seductive, and gripping. Once it has you, there is no exit, no U-turn. The use of the dragon imagery on the jacket might seem incongruous with we know of Sweden, but the dragon cues us to the underlying differences between what we know and the author wants to show us. Larson’s Sweden is not place just filled with coffee shops, cold vistas, and IKEAs. It is a place where women and children are victims of powerful men and the system punishes those who are different or who deviant from the norm. Salander’s tattoo is as jarring as she is within the context of the pseudo-sanitized Swedish setting. The combination of the dragon’s symbolism and the flashy garishness of the neon colors clue us into the dark and spiraling adventure of Larsson’s thriller.

In other news . . .

Powell’s is having a sale on Scandinavian crime fiction.

Maxine offers her third installment on her response to the Swedish Book Review’s special issue on  crime fiction.

Glenn Harper reviews Henning Mankell’s The Man from Beijing and wishes it lived up to the promise of its opening chapters.

Caite reviews The Indian Bride by Karin Fossum, giving it a thorough analysis and finding it both challenging and rewarding.

Cinema Cafe goes to the source before viewing the film version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – and is impressed, finding it absorbing and complex and addictive – “like crack on paper.” (I thought that was acid . . . )

Shannon Schwantes reviews the Italian film version of Karin Fossum’s novel Don’t Look Back. It has been retitled The Girl by the Lake (La Ragazza del lago) and the action has shifted to Italy. Since we’re reading this book in my first term seminar next fall, I’m hoping to get a copy of this film; it would be interesting to compare versions.

Spinetingler thinks Jo Nesbo’s The Devil’s Star has a complex plot worthy of its complex hero – and is well-written to boot.

The Weekend Argus (South Africa) has a Reuters story that start out on a snarky note – “Take a fictional female detective who inspects crime scenes in the morning, interrogates her suspects at noon and picks up her three-year-old at daycare after work. Now call it Nordic noir and await the accolades” – but then describes it as “starkly detailed, tightly plotted, often interwoven with social themes” – quoting Jo Nesbo and Jan Guillou on the impact Mankell and Stieg Larsson have had on foreign interest in Scandinavian crime. It sounds as if a criticism of the “femikrimi” that Dorte writes about got grafted onto another story.

And last, but far from least, this excellent article: Nordic Noir has a lengthy and fascinating post on Swedish neutrality during World War II, the neo-Nazi movement, and the uneasy relationship Swedes have with the past. (This is certainly also the case with Norway, which was occupied.) She proposes a thought-provoking and valuable theory:

. . . perhaps one can argue that Swedish noir gains life in part because of a vague, disturbing sense that truly terrible secrets lie just below the surface of everyday, prosperous life.  It’s enough for any sleuth (whether a detective, reporter or fiction writer) to ponder at length.  One wonders if the very hiddenness of it constitutes its own kind of collaboration—and wonders, as well, how it actually affects Swedish culture.  For in the case of Nazism in Sweden, it’s harder to always characterize evil as ‘over there’ in Germany—it’s homegrown, and not yet fully accounted for.

One reason I find this so compelling is that it takes Bill Ott’s idea that post-cold-war immigration has played a role in the rise of crime fiction in Scandinavia and situates it in modern history, linking a past that is hidden with a present that is revealing tensions that could be ignored in a less multicultural society.

bits and bobs

James Thompson gives Snow Angels the Page 69 test. (For the uninitiated, this is a blog where authors discuss what turns up on page 69 and what it reveals about the book; it’s part of an ambitious web of blogs that are on a Campaign for the American Reader. There is no need to wonder “what should I read next?” ever again. Ever!!!!)

Apparently Hakkan Nesser never did make it to India for the planned week focused on Scandinavian crime fiction. A certain volcano in Iceland is to blame. The party in Bangalore went on regardless and it sounds as if everyone had a good time hearing, among other things, from a Swede living in India writing a novel about Scandinavistan.

There’s a nice piece on “what I know about Iceland now that I’ve read Arnaldur Indridason” from a blogger at the Calgary public library.

And Norm (aka Uriah) reports in on his relationship with The Man from Beijing.