Review Round-Up

Belated news: As anyone who has been paying attention knows, Liza Marklund’s Last Will was awarded the first annual Petrona Award, presented at Crimefest. I’m chuffed, because I remember how much Maxine enjoyed this novel and the entire Annika Bengtzon series. She particularly appreciated the way it depicts the challenges professional women face balancing their work, their families, and the barriers that discrimination erects against women. Since Maxine was so extremely good at managing a demanding career at the most respected journal in the sciences, along with her family life and her prolific contributions to the crime fiction genre, she always made me reconsider my feeling that Annika is a bit of a whinger.  More reactions to the news from Euro Crime, The Game’s Afoot, and Crime Scraps.

Bernadette at Reactions to Reading predicted the results accurately, but wouldn’t have minded having four winners, since she thought they were all deserving (with her personal favorite being Leif G. W. Persson’s Another Time, Another Life. 

At Petrona Remembered, Ali Karim offers an appreciation of the work of Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom and recalls meeting them at the launch of Three Seconds, with Maxine and Karen Meek also present.

Laura Root reviews Thomas Enger’s Pierced for Euro Crime, second in a series that she calls “top notch,” which is quite long but generally well-paced and which concludes with “a humdinger of a cliffhanger”

Sarah at Crimepieces reviews Lotte and Søren Hammer’s The Hanging, which treats a the Hangingdistressing topic (vengeance against paedophiles) with a cool dispassion that nevertheless gets across how fraught such cases are. This is the first in a series, and she thinks it will find a wide readership.

Ms. Wordopolis enjoyed reading Anne Holt’s Death of the Demon,  another entry in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series, finally marching its way into English. Though the solution to the mystery was a bit of a let-down, but the characters are well-drawn and affecting.

She also reviewed Mons Kallentoft’s Summer Death, which has a lot of hot weather in it that slows down the story (which is awfully long at over 400 pages) – though the pace picks up for the final section of the book. She plans to continue with the series, but thinks the books could be trimmed to a more effective length. (I concur!)

And (while on a Nordic roll) she reviews More Bitter Than Death by Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff, which doesn’t involve a lot of actual detecting, but does build some psychological suspense and provide interesting vignettes of patients in therapy. Ultimately, thought she felt it was a fast read, it was something of a disappointment.

And finally, she thinks The Redeemer  is the best of Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole books so far, with Harry in a not-so-self-destructive mood solving a not-too-convoluted crime that doesn’t involve any serial killers. She recommends it highly.

The Devil's SanctuaryIn Paradise, Kerrie reviews Marie Hermanson’s The Devil’s Sanctuary, When a twin brother agrees to swap places with his inpatient brother for a few days, he’s not ready for the ordeal he will go through, trapped and being treated for mental disorders that are not his. Kerrie found it a “most peculiar novel” that she enjoyed reading.

Bernadette reacts to reading Liza Marklund’s Lifetime,  finding India Fisher’s narration of the audiobook particularly well done. She does such a good job of explaining why this series is worth reading, you really should go read the review. She does recommend reading at least the previous book in the series (Last Will) before this one, as it follows immediately on the events depicted there.

Col digs into his criminal library to find Leif G. W. Persson’s Another Life, Another Time, which he finds a somewhat easier but rewarding read than the first in the series, writing “Persson expertly knits together a narrative that had me constantly marvelling at the skilful way in which he layers detail into his plot. It was an interesting and educational read,” I really must try to give him another chance.

Keishon, who has Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog (and it’s a good thing, too), enjoyed the third Department Q novel, Jussi Adler-Olsen’s A Conspiracy of Faith (apa Redemption) – particularly compared to the second, which didn’t work for her at all. Still, it doesn’t come up to the standard of the first, which she enjoyed tremendously.

Glenn Harper at International Noir Fiction reviews Jo Nesbø’s The Bat, the first book in theThe Bat Harry Hole series finally available in English, which he recommends for its background information on Harry and for its story, which has an Australian setting and an Aboriginal focus.

Karen Meek shows us the cover of a Gunnar Staalesen Varg Veum novel, Cold Hearts, coming in July.  Earlier volumes in the series will be reissued with covers that fit the same aesthetic, all being published by Arcadia.

She also reviews Invisible Murder by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis, the second in the Nina Borg series from Denmark. She writes “The authors weave politics into their characters’ lives, from the issue of immigration in Denmark to the racism and prejudice faced by the Roma and this is what makes this series of books an interesting as well as an exciting read. This is crime fiction with a heart . . .” (I agree!)

At The Crime Segments, NancyO reviews Johann Theorin’s The Assylum, which she didn’t feel lived up to his previous books. Atmosphere there is in large amounts, and tension, but the ending was a let down, being both predictable and implausible – disappointing, because she loved his other books.

Peter at Nordic Bookblog reviews Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom’s Two Soldiers, a bleak portrait of youth who are alienated and find in violent gang life their only sense of belonging.  The fifth of the pair’s books to be translated into English, it continues their project of tackling difficult social issues. He calls it “a difficult but intense and thought-provoking read.”

Finally, Adrian McKinty, Irish author of The Cold, Cold Ground and other fine novels, speculates on why Iceland has more creativity in all kinds of areas per capita than other countries and suspects it has something to do with their generous supply of bookstores and libraries. He also has a lovely, trippy, “trolly” animated music video from the group Of Monsters and Men.

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Jussi Alder-Olsen and More

Will you be anywhere near Minneapolis on June 1st? Then you should head over to Once Upon a Crime at 7pm where Jussi Adler-Olsen will be making a rare appearance and signing his third Department Q book to be translated into English (titled A Conspiracy of Faith on this side of the pond and Redemption in the UK. The Danish title, which means Message in a Bottle, is better, but unfortunately a lesser author with a big reputation has already used it.)  Once Upon a Crime is always worth a visit, whatever the date is. This is a special gig for a special store – Alder-Olsen will only be appearing at four bookstores on this tour. I’m so happy my local is one of them.

I hope to have a review of A Conspiracy of Faith posted here soon. I enjoyed it very much for the same reasons I enjoyed The Keeper of Lost Causes.

Karen Meek has compiled a terrific list of books that will be eligible for the next Petrona award. Lots to look forward to. I’m particularly happy to see another Gunnar Staalesen novel translated, as well as another book by Jorn Lier Horst (an author Maxine particularly enjoyed, as I recall). And there are some new-to-me authors as well.

At the sibling blog, Petrona Remembered, I run through Asa Larsson’s series, culminating in my favorite of her books, Until Thy Wrath Be Past. Norm reprises his review of Red Wolf by Liza Marklund and compares Marklund’s heroine and the Girl of the Millennium Trilogy.

At Crime Scraps, Norm reviews Liza Marklund’s latest novel, Lifetime, and finds it an exciting read with a very human woman protagonist (who he wishes had better taste in men).Lifetime

Sarah also reviews the novel at Crime Pieces, and loved both the storyline, the diversions into the newsroom where Annika works and its troubles, as well as further developments in the reporter’s complicated home life, writing “ultimately Annika is the reason, I suspect, a lot of people read Marklund’s books and I think she fast becoming one of my favourite characters in crime fiction.”

Whereas I find her chaotic home life a bit exasperating, and say in my review at Reviewing the Evidence, “in the end, the prickly, emotional, and vulnerable Annika takes a back seat to her identity as a confident and professional journalist. Similarly, the novel is at its best when the mystery nudges the personal drama into the background and takes center stage.” Which is a much more measured way of saying that I just want to smack her.

Charles Finch at USA Today does not roll out the welcome mat for Jo Nebo’s The Redeemer, finally hitting shelves in the US. He calls it both plodding and interminable, and confesses right up front, “I can’t stand Nesbø’s books. That includes The Redeemer, which, like his earlier novels, strikes me as pat, lurid and, above all dull, moving at a fatally sedate pace.” He acknowledges that his opinion is not shared by all. (That includes me. He thinks The Snowman is the best, and I thought it the least imaginative and interesting. I liked The Redeemer much better. Also, why would you assign a review to someone who doesn’t like an author’s work? It’s a mystery.)

Glenn Harper at International Crime Fiction reviews Mons Kallentoft’s Summertime Death, which he finds rather annoying for a variety of reasons, including the irrationally dreadful behavior of the police (which is less convincing and interesting as another book in which the police behave rather appallingly, Lief G. W. Persson’s Linda, as in the Linda Murder.) He has also had enough, already, of those loquacious dead people.  

For contrast, see his previous review of Linda, as in the Linda Murder, which focuses on the most appallingly awful of his detectives, Ewart Bäckström, who takes very little interest in the Linda, as in the Linda Murdercrime he’s investigating, though other detectives nudge the case forward. He advises,

One of Bäckström’s spectacular failings is his attitude toward women, sometimes kept to himself and sometimes revealed openly. If you find his attitude more annoying than comic, trust me–you should stick with the book. Increasingly through the last third of the novel and with considerable impact at the very end, the author brings the story and Bäckström’s sexism (and not only his sexism) into stark focus.

In the end, the book is long, non-linear, a bit demanding, but extremely rewarding. i may have to give Persson another chance.

Jose Ignacio Escribano reviews Hakan Nesser’s Borkmann’s Point at The Game’s Afoot. Esta entrada es bilingüe, which I believe means “Jose Ignacio is far cleverer than I am.” He enjoyed it a great deal and recommends the entire series, particularly for its dialogue.

Ms. Wordopolis reads Anne Holt’s Blessed are Those Who Thirst, The story is a high-energy look at both the affect of a rape on the victim and police work in a time of austerity, when the system is swamped and angry citizens are tempted to take things into their own hands. She writes, “sometimes in the course of a police procedural I lose sight of the crime at the center of the novel and become more wrapped up in the chase for the perpetrator, but that didn’t happen while I read this novel.” She adds that Holt did a great job of portraying the work of civil servants in a realistic way.

Raven Crime reads Quentin Bates’s third Gunna Gisladottir mystery, Chilled to the Bone. Chilled to the BoneThough the author, Quentin Bates, no longer lives in Iceland, he does a great job of creating the sort of woman who might actually investigate crimes there, a down-to-earth mother and soon-to-be grandmother who, quoth the Raven, is “defined by her professionalism and absolute determination to get to the heart of the investigation, but carries an aura of calmness and self-deprecation which instils confidence in her colleagues and victims alike.” She finds the balance of police procedural, personal life, humor and seriousness to be just right.

Sarah at Crimepieces points out that Gaute Heivoll’s Before I Burn is about a crime, but isn’t crime fiction. It’s the fictional memoir of a Norwegian whose village was torched by an arsonist. In adulthood, he moves to Oslo, but is drawn home when his father is taken ill. She says it’s beautifully written and thought-provoking. Just don’t expect it to be shelved in the crime fiction section.

Col adds Camilla Lackberg’s The Stranger (apa The Gallows Bird) to his criminal library at the urging of his wife, who liked it quite a bit more than he did. He found some of the characters cliched and (like me!) dislikes hooks inserted at the end, lures for the next book. I particularly like the way he concluded his review: “my 2012 edition states that the author was the 9th best-selling author in Europe in the previous year. She must have a very big family, I reckon.”

At Euro Crime, Susan White reviews a new book by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom, Two Soldiers, which portrays the rise of youth gangs and how membership in the gang family distorts young lives. It sounds quite as harrowing as their previous work.The Weeping Girl

Previously at Euro Crime, Raven Crime (aka JF) reviewed The Weeping Girl by Hakan Nesser, Though it continues the van Veeteren series, he steps aside and lets Ewa Moreno take the lead, which she does without missing a step. Great characters, just the right amount of humor, and an involving case make it a book worth reading.

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.

the “why” of Scandinavian crime fiction

Spiked has a thoughtful piece on Stieg Larsson, Sweden, and why Swedish crime fiction has so much to say about things going wrong:

…Through the prism of violence, misogyny, murder, perversion and breaches of justice, Swedish crime writers are taking a forensic look at their society, passing a magnifying glass over the calm surface of what to many right-wingers and liberal lefties is still a socialist’s dreamland….

Perhaps it is precisely the strength of the image of Sweden as a civilised, democratic, equal and pacifist society – the nice kid just to the west of the former Eastern block – that gives its crime writers, many of whom have become international bestsellers, their allure. The calmer the surface, the more forceful the revelations of supposed sordidness simmering beneath it. . . .

While Larsson may have wanted to expose some of the illusions of the happy-go-lucky Swedish welfare state, his faith in decent protectors of Swedish ideals and tolerance shines through. The Millennium books depict a clueless police force, inept social services, a sleaze-hungry media industry, and a corrupt secret service, but the book also introduces us to plenty of characters from within these cherished Swedish institutions who live by their employers’ stated ideals. Mostly they are women.

…if this success can help challenge the stereotype that Sweden is a utopian social democratic state filed with buxom blondes and suicidal depressives, that will be a good thing.

Maxine reviews Inger Frimansson’s The Shadow in the Water – a followup to a book she reviewed last month, Good Night My Darling, pronouncing more unsettling than the first, finding it “a very disturbing novel, clouded and obscured by perceptions and suspicions so that nothing is what it seems.”

She also reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Redeemer. “I think the Harry Hole books comprise one of the top police-procedural series being written today. Although the books have flaws, they are flaws of ambition – the plots are very clever, and if perhaps they are sometimes a bit too clever, that’s better than the opposite. These novels are thoughtful, intelligent, exciting and above all, have a great central character.”

Karen Meek has a great review of Don Bartlett, translator of many of our favorite Norwegian writers, including Jo Nesbo. Read part one, part two, and part three. In answer to why Scandinavian crime is so popular he calls it a “welcome surprise” – and goes on to say:

The best Scandi crime fiction has a strong sense of place, evocative writing, thinking characters, an interest in the fabric of society and our lives today, the ‘why’ of crime rather than the ‘how’. It has adapted solid models in a relevant, personal way.

Finally, The Register reports that a Norwegian consumer council has found the Kindle in violation of Norwegian law because its warranty is too short (in Norway they should last five years, not one year), there are privacy concerns, and – my favorite – the terms of service themselves are problematic: “the very language used is probably illegal, as Norwegian law requires such contracts to be clearly written.”

reviews and views

Still catching up . . .

Marilyn Stasio reviews Box 21 by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom and finds it “a movie trapped in a book” – given the drama as a badly abused woman takes hostages in a hospital – but concludes “for all their cinematic hyperbole, the authors don’t contribute to any further degradation of Lydia, who makes a believably tragic model for all the real women exploited by human traffickers.” She seems as puzzled as I was that no credit is given for the translator.

Michael Carlson’s irresistible target is The Devil’s Star by Jo Nesbo, not flawless but very good indeed:

Nesbo has created one of the great detectives in Harry Hole, and what is most impressive is the way he’s able to make Hole seem like a different person as he’s reflected in the actions and vision of various characters. He is a sympathetic character who rarely asks for sympathy, a Wallander with a touch of Marlowe’s idealism, and a hidden resevoir of white knight charm. And Nesbo is very happy to work on complicated plots and old-fashioned, if un-traditional clues.

Maxine reviews Inger Frimansson’s Good Night, My Darling at Euro Crime – which she finds atmospheric, gripping, and haunting. She also, in her Petrona incarnation, finds Gunnar Staalesen’s The Consorts of Death, very good indeed. “As with the best of PI and other crime fiction, the appeal of the Varg Veum books is not only their plots and the gradual development through the protagonist’s life and times, but their sadness at the human condition, a strong sense of social justice, and their wonderful sense of place.” The review in the Independent would seem to agree.

The Guardian thinks Jo Nesbo’s The Redeemer is too long. I think the review is too short – barely over 100 words. What’s the point? Why not just tweet your feelings? No wonder book reviewing the “proper” way is going to the dogs.

The Economist reads the Millennium Trilogy and advises that we “don’t mess with her” – the “her,” of course, being Lisbeth Salander, a character who is the “most original heroine in many years.”

The trilogy’s success shows that complex characters, a fast-paced narrative and a dazzling mosaic of challenging plots and sub-plots can keep readers hooked. The books are long and profoundly political. The sinister conspiracy being played out in the dark reaches of the Swedish security services is an important ingredient in the alchemy that has made the books so successful. Swedish writers have extensively explored the frail heart of the Scandinavian social-democratic dream; Stieg Larsson’s cynical realpolitik carries him from the cold war to the present-day murder of inconvenient witnesses. . . .

Larsson’s knowledge of the inner workings of the Swedish police, intelligence service and private security companies bring an extra layer of texture and verisimilitude. There are occasional lapses into didacticism: Blomkvist probes the murky world of female sex-trafficking which readers already know is an evil and sordid business. There are also some wildly dramatic incidents—at the end of the second volume and the start of the third, for instance—that stretch credibility to the limit. But Larsson’s vivid characters, the depth of detail across the three books, the powerfully imaginative plot and the sheer verve of the writing make “The Millennium Trilogy” a masterpiece of its genre.

Glenn Harper of International Noir Fiction on The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest – “I’d still argue that the 10-volume Sjöwall/Wahlöö opus remains the pinnacle of Swedish crime, but Larsson puts his very individual stamp on the genre and also brings the form into the 21st century’s criminal, information, and political environment.”

Brought to you by the Letter D: Maxine highlights Danish author Lief Davidsen in her “alphabet in crime fiction.”

And now on to various opinions and thoughts about the genre….

Lots of kerfuffle about Jessica Mann’s decision as a reviewer to avoid misogynistic paint-by-numbers violence, peculiarly reported in the press as a decision to abandon book reviewing altogether or as an indictment of the entire genre – none of which is true, if you actually read her essay.  The F-Word, a British Feminist publication offers a lengthy discussion of why Stieg Larsson, professions of being a feminist notwithstanding, is actually a mysogynist because of “his explicit descriptions of sexual violence, his breast-obsessed heroine and babe-magnet hero.” I’ll grant you the babe-magnet Blomqvist being a bit of wishful projection, perhaps, but writing about violence against women doesn’t mean you actually enjoy it. I think Melanie Newman is off-base to compare the (admittedly somewhat over-the-top) gruesome sex abuse uncovered in the first book with James Patterson’s enormously popular if artless serial killer entertainments. Steve Mosby has a thoughtful (and yes, somewhat irritated) response to Newman’s article, as well as a longer examination of the wider issues which picked up quite a bit of traffic from readers of the New Yorker.

Paul Ames finds that “Sweden has Murder on its Brain.”

Within the 27 nations of the European Union, only Germany, Austria, Malta and Slovenia have lower murder rates than Sweden. In 2006 there were 91 murders registered in Sweden. In the same year, 84 crime novels were published in the country.

Peter Wahlqvist, a Goteborg-based lecturer in crime fiction, said the international success of Swedish thrillers results from a combination of good writing, a taste for the exotic and the contrast between the make-believe mayhem and common foreign perceptions of Sweden as a blond, healthy, welfare state utopia.

“It’s for real, psychologically about real people and about real life, real society,” said Wahlqvist.

Books to the Ceiling, in a series on “mysteries going global,” considers the popularity of Scandinavian crime.

And Glenn, via Petunia, has found a statue of Varg Veum leaning against the wall outside the office in Bergen where the fictional PI hung out his shingle.

good company in the pyscho database

Peter rounds up recent news about Scandinavian crime fiction from Scandinavian sources, including the good news that Jo Nesbo will be publishing another book in the Harry Hole and the unhappy rumor that Hakan Nesser will be retiring from writing after another four books. He also points out that English-language readers will not be too bothered, given the backlog of his books yet to be translated, but still . . .

Ms Textual takes a close look at two Swedish novels, Henning Mankell’s Sidetracked and Karin Alvtegen’s Betrayal. She warns in her blog sidebar that she doesn’t review books, she analyzes them, so here there be spoilers. But she has some very interesting things to say about both books, about translation, and about reading books from unfamiliar cultures. She has particularly high praise for Alvtegen and the structure of  Betrayal that she finds has “a textual integrity that is breathtaking to observe.”

ProfMike thinks Jo Nesbo’s The Redeemer rocks:

If you like your detective heroes/anti-heroes as amoral, alcoholic and contradictory, then they don’t come much more dysfunctional than Harry Hole. This is a superbly-paced thriller, bristling with political comment and whilst Hole is as disrespectful of the law as any of his adversaries, he doesn’t confuse legal justice with moral justice and no matter how low he sinks, we keep on forgiving him and rooting for him, in spite of his complete failure as a human being. There are many great Scandanavian crime fiction writers out there at the moment, butr for me, Nesbo is the one who is constantly pushing at the boundaries.

maryb (mindtraveler and appreciator – what a great job description) found Karin Alvtegen’s Missing to be a winner: “pinpoint sharp and tightly focused” with a compelling and original protagonist.

Matt Rees, a recovering journalist who writes about the reality of the Palestinian situation in the form of crime fiction, doesn’t think much of Stieg Larsson’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, saying it makes him “want to throw knives like the Swedish chef on The Muppet Show.”  Why? There’s too much of an impulse to bury the reader in infodumps and (worse yet) the Internet is used as a creaky deus ex machina that is too often a crime fiction author’s cheap way out of a crack. Linkmeister also offers his take, which is more positive.

Publisher’s Lunch offered its subscribers some insights into the dispute over Stieg Larsson’s estate and Sarah Weinman offers those of us who aren’t subscribers the highlights.  Though actually, that’s not at all the right word for it. It’s a sad tangle complicated by money.

Jonathan Segura offers a profile of Yrsa Sigurdardottir in Publishers Weekly. It provides a charming picture of Iceland – where an informal poll taken in bars (dubbed “research” but resulting in a hangover) finds that not only are her books known to Icelanders, she’s personally known to a great many of them – and some fun tidbits, such as this take on her prep for Last Rituals: “Yrsa ordered witchcraft books from Amazon.com. Now, she gets e-mails from them promoting books on torture equipment. ‘I’m in their psycho database,’ she says.”

CWA International shortlist – choices, choices!

Thanks to my FriendFeed friends, I was alerted to the shortlist announcement of the Crime Writer’s Association International Dagger for the best book in the realm of “crime, thriller, suspense or spy novels which have been translated into English from their original language, for UK publication.” The winner will be announced July 15. And good heavens, the Scandinavians are dominating, with three Swedes, one Norwegian, and one Icelander on the list; one Frenchwoman rounding out the pack.

Karin Alvtegen, Shadow, translated by McKinley Burnett, (Canongate)
Arnaldur Indriðason, Arctic Chill, translated by Bernard Scudder and Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker)
Stieg Larsson, The Girl who played with Fire, translated by Reg Keeland (MacLehose Quercus)
Jo Nesbø, The Redeemer, translated by Don Bartlett (Harvill Secker)
Johan Theorin, Echoes from the Dead, translated by Marlaine Delargy (Doubleday)
Fred Vargas, The Chalk Circle Man, translated by Siân Reynolds (Harvill Secker)

Congratulations to the nominees, to their translators, and to the publishers who trust us to be interested in non-English-speaking parts of the world.