more reviews, an interview, an interesting article, and a very busy Norm

At Reviewing the Evidence, Yvonne Klein reviews an early stand-alone thriller by Arnaldur Indridason, Operation Napoleon, just published in Canada. Though she misses Erlendur, his gloomy series hero, she finds it a decent thriller with a rewarding sense of place.

In the same issue of RTE, Larissa Kyzer reviews Ake Edwardson’s The Shadow Woman, an early entry in the Erik Winter series which she feels is not as accomplished as his later work.

Keishon reviews one of my very favorite books, Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason.  She likes it, too.

Beth reviews Henning Mankell’s The Pyramid and is impressed by the five stories that reveal Wallender’s past.

Maxine Clarke, reviewing Red Wolf by Liza Marklund at Euro Crime, finds that the long wait since we’ve had a new translation in this series has appeared has been worth it. She concludes, “I found the novel a completely absorbing read and continue to regard this series as second to none in contemporary crime writing. Annika is both a serious-minded, determined protagonist, and a brave heroine for our strange, mixed-up times.” Add another “cracking read” to the to-be-read pile!

PBS, which has been running the BBC version of Wallander in the US, has an interview with UC Berkeley professor Linda Rugg on the Scandinavian crime fiction phenomenon. She has interesting things to say about the critical role the arts play in Scandinavia’s social project to create an ideal society.

Norm, a.k.a. Uriah, finds there are three top contenders for the Swedish writer(s) of the decade based on what awards they’ve gathered. He also is sharing his thoughts as he reads Leif G. W. Persson’s long novel with a long title. He reveals who is up for the top honors among Swedish crime novels this year. And, (does he ever sleep? has he an army of Norms fanning out to investigate all things mysterious?) he reviews Rosland and Helstrom’s Three Seconds, making it compete for a slot on my TBR pile.

Finally,Joe Martin has a long and intriguing essay on the Millennium Trilogy at his blog, Peace and Pieces. A brief excerpt:

These novels strike me as being of the most serious intent: they are neither pure entertainment, nor exploitation books. Larson managed, with increasing success in these books, to become something of a real stylist, and poses a lot of provocative puzzles and paradoxes about life in these, our times. The attitudes toward women are a barometer of our progress or lack thereof.

Yet, in addition, the truth belongs to those, according to Carl Jung who can look at the shadow side. If one critic here commented that the Swedes in their apparent social paradise “Look a lot more like us” in these books – it’s not that we aren’t a society more beset by violence and hatreds than Sweden. Almost any objective sociologist would say we are. Yet the fact that these phenomena exist everywhere, and seize control of our behavior, our politics and our sense of “right conduct” in business and politics is something that cannot be denied.

new reviews

The Reactions to Reading blog has a review of Anne Holt’s What is Mine (apa Punishment in the UK – the reviewer favors the US title, thinking it’s more clearly related to the book) and found that, while it has its flaws, the characters are memorable and the impact of violence in Norway is depicted in a thoughful way quite different than the way it is handled in the US, where violence is more common. Conclusion: “This book had a high degree of what I like to call unputdownability (i.e. it made me late for work) and, overall, the annoyances were forgivable.”

Kerrie reviews Henning Mankell’s The Pyramid at Mysteries in Paradise. She finds the collection of short stories that fill in Kurt Wallander’s past and declares it “eminently readable.” Not one for fans to miss.

. . . trying to do a better job of keeping up; thanks to my friends at FriendFeed for making it easy.

review soup

More reviews of Swedish crime fiction. First, the much-awaited publication of Girl Who Played with Fire gets further notice. From the Times

The essential first step to appreciating Stieg Larsson is to rid yourself of any fixed image you have of Swedish crime fiction. Yes, Larsson is a Swede, as is Henning Mankell and any number of other first-class spinners of mysteries. But the adventures of Inspector Kurt Wallander are far away from Larsson’s novels. If Mankell is Swedish gloomy, Larsson is Swedish noir. Very. . . .

[Salander is] unbelievable. All her attributes are exaggerated, at times veering to fantasy; her mental and physical strengths are beyond those of ordinary humans. Yet Larsson’s writing manages to make her intriguing, admirable and even – though this is an effort – sympathetic. . . .

The novel is complex in plot and characterisation, perhaps unnecessarily so. But the urgency of Larsson’s prose prevents boredom in reading a book that would otherwise be regarded as over-long and over-crammed. Somehow, Larsson has managed to write a riveting read.

And a nicely-calibrated review at Euro Crime – where, again, Salander’s major role is given some scrutiny:

There is also a strong element of male wish-fulfilment running through the book. Lisbeth is almost a Modesty Blaise-like figure at times, having her breasts enlarged, living off junk food yet remaining “anorexically thin” (as we are often reminded), and enjoying lusty sex with men and women. The Millennium journalists are similarly idealised, being portrayed as liberal-thinking, high on integrity and very highly sexed. On the other hand, most of the other men in the book are either decent enough yet bland (the police chief) or pure evil – rapists, abductors, child abusers and “men who hate women” to name but a few of the types in the pages. Most of these aspects add to the overall excitement, but they also create a slightly comic-book atmosphere.

Nevertheless, despite these flaws (some of which the author might have revised before publication had he lived) this book is truly powerful. The criminal investigation turns out to be directly related to the events in Lisbeth’s horrific past, and the way in which old events are gradually revealed in order to explain how the crimes occurred is very cleverly done, with a stunning, emotionally draining climax.

Sounds like the first installment – not without some outsized flaws and even more outsized virtues.

Meanwhile, over at Reviewing the Evidence I review Johan Theorin’s Echoes of the Dead and Sarah Dudley finds favor with Henning Mankell’s The Pyramid. And the Wheredunnit blog finds Arnaldur Indridason’s Arctic Chill a “compelling police procedural.” Steph Davies (the genius behind the Wheredunnit enterprise) also has this interesting news:

The next Erlendur novel, Harðskafi, promises much. It apparently takes the detective back to his childhood home (see below) deep into his soul and the defining trauma of his youth, the loss of his younger brother. Released in Iceland in 2007, it is due to be published in English in the Autumn of 2009 under the provisional title Hypothermia.

Exotic?

I guess it all depends on your perspective. Scandinavian crime fiction to me seems very solid, down-to-earth, and insightful about the everyday. But at least Joan Smith of the Times (London) thinks they’re good. In a round-up of five crime fiction novels set outside the UK, she includes Arnaldur Indridason, Henning Mankell, and Hakan Nesser. A sampling:

Iceland is famous for stunning scenery, collapsing banks and now a world-class crime writer called Arnaldur Indridason. His novels feature a detective who rivals Henning Mankell’s Inspector Wallander when it comes to gloomy introspection, but his plots and layering of past and present are hauntingly original. . . .

. . . The idea behind this collection of Wallander stories is brilliant but simple: it consists of Wallander’s earliest cases, beginning with a period in his life when he was still in uniform. . . . As well as filling in gaps in Wallander’s biography, the book reveals Mankell’s sense that something has gone wrong in Sweden’s model social democracy and identifies some of the causes of the malaise. . . .

The Mind’s Eye by Hakan Nesser (Macmillan £16.99, translated by Laurie Thompson) is a psychological thriller in a class of its own. . . . This stunning novel by one of Sweden’s foremost crime writers might have been written as a script for Alfred Hitchcock.

Also recommended: Teresa Solana’s A Not So Perfect Crime, Catherine Sampson’s The Slaughter Pavilion, Aly Monroe’s The Maze of Cadiz, and PJ Brooke’s Blood Wedding.

Wait, that’s more than five. So maybe five are exotic and . . . well, never mind. They all sound worth reading.

A Roundup of Reviews

Tom Nolan of The Wall Street Journal thinks highly of Arndaldur Indridason’s The Draining Lake, “a book as subtle and moving as it is suspenseful.” But his opening reminds me of how jarring it is to have this series tagged as “”Reykjavik Thrillers.” Though I find the books exhileratingly good, it seems silly to classify them as thrillers, given their sublte structure, well-developed characters, and unapologetic realism.

Peter Rozovsky considers the same book, commenting on the way the Icelandic setting plays into the book, as well as the propensity of Scandinavian crime fiction writers to delve into the past for their mysteries.

Uriah, meanwhile, praises the lasting power of Sjowall and Wahloo’s Martin Beck series, give a thumb’s up to Paradise by Liza Marklund. And he notes a peculiarity of one of her photoshopped covers.

And catching up belatedly with posts at International Noir Fiction, Glen Harper reviews Henning Mankell’s collection of short stories, The Pyramid, “a fitting sequel or prequel, depending on whether you think of it as the first or last of the series.”