review round-up

It has been a long time since I caught up on reviews and news about Scandinavian crime fiction. Lots to report . . .

Norm brings the news that Arne Dahl has won the Swedish crime fiction award with Viskelen (Chinese Whispers) which has not yet had rights sold to the US or UK. Let’s hope that happens. His first book in English, Misterioso, has only just been released after years of delay.

The Boy  the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis is among the mysteries reviewed in the Globe and Mail . Margaret Cannon says it has “a terrific central character and a great plot.”

At Reviewing the Evidence, Yvonne Klein has some reservations about the book – particularly its jumpy structure, leaping among points of view, and the withholding of information about Nina Borg until the final pages, a strategy that she found manipulative; still, she will read more as the series continues.

Marlyn Stasio of the New York Times Book Review gives it a strong review, saying “it packs an almighty punch.”

The Mumbai Daily News and Analysis reviews Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (apa The Keeper of Lost Causes) and calls it a “riveting read.”

At The Game’s Afoot, Jose Igancio Escribano reviews Arnaldur Indridason’s Outrage and finds it’s “an excellent contribution to an already superb series.”

At Euro Crime, Rich Westwood reviews Mikkel Birkegaard’s Death Sentence and finds that it’s closer to being in the horror genre than mystery. Amanda at Rustic Ramblings enjoyed it a good deal, though she agrees with Westwood that there’s a lot of graphic violence involved.

Peter at Nordic Bookblog reviews Anne Holt’s Fear Not, which he reckons is the best in the Adam Stubo and Johanne Vik series.

At Petrona, Maxine Clarke reviews The Hand that Trembles by Kjell Eriksson which is engrossing, with three investigations that are adroitly resolved, using a mix of “character, a strong sense of location, and narrative” rather than violence, high drama, and gore.

She also reviews K. O. Dahl’s Lethal Investments, the first of the author’s police procedural series featuring Gunnarstranda and Frolich. It’s very much a classic crime story – and was, in fact, published 18 years ago, a victim of a malady Maxine has dubbed the TOOO syndrome – translated out of order.

More from Maxine can be found at Euro Crime, where she reviews Hakan Nesser’s The Unlucky Lottery, which has the author’s “trademark bleak humor.”

Crime Fiction Lover has a review of Sara Blaedel’s Call Me Princess, which she found an enjoyable old-fashioned story with a contemporary twist.

Rob Kitchen at The View from the Blue House takes a look at Asa Larsson’s The Savage Altar (Sun Storm), which he give high points for characterization and its sense of place.

A reviewer for The Guardian has a rather peculiar response to the book: she thinks the things police think about are unsanitary and rather nasty. I think the book deserves a proper review.

Glenn Harper provides one at International Noir Fiction, finding it a very enjoyable read. He considers Dahl one of the best of Scandinavian writers.

Bernadette has a reaction to reading Jo Nesbo’s Headhunters: it’s not nearly as good as books in the Harry Hole series and doesn’t tick her boxes for her list of what makes a good thriller.

She also reviews Mari Jungstedt’s The Dead of Summer which she find enjoyable if not as thrilling as it might be if suspects emerged sooner and the ultimate solution to the crime less obvious.

Bibliojunkie (who seeks no cure for her book addiction) has an excellent review of Asa Larsson’s Until Thy Wrath Be Past, saying Larsson “juggles the balance of both horrifying crime and human drama beautifully” and finding in Scandinavian crime fiction a gratifying attention to character development.

Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom’s new thriller, Cell 8, is reviewed in The Independent, which finds it energetic and mesmerizing, if a bit heavy on the social issues.

Declan Burke at Crime Always Pays says “in essence, CELL 8 is a lecture on how the world would be a much better place if only we all conformed to the authors’ principles” and it’s “laughably preposterous” to boot. I wish he’d just tell us what he really thinks.

At The Crime Segments, Nancy O reviews Burned  by Thomas Enger, a book she enjoyed very much, particularly for its plotting and its journalist hero.

Craig of Crime Watch, the New Zealand guide to all things crime fiction, has a Q & A with Mons Kallentoft, author of Midwinter Sacrifice, as an appetizer for a Kallentoft feature forthcoming in his 9mm author interview series. (The real mystery: when does Craig ever sleep?)

Apparently Martin Scorsese might direct a film version of Nesbo’s The Snowman. Also, this is the first time I’ve encountered “helm” used as a verb.

And in The Guardian, Andrew Anthony interviews several Norwegian writers about their take on the terrible shootings last July. K.O.Dahl’s niece was  on the island where 69 people were shot dead, surviving by playing dead. It’s quite a harrowing story and a thoughtful article. In addition to Dahl, there are substantial interviews of Anne Holt, Jo Nesbo, and literary novelist Jan Kjaerstad. In a rather charming and very Norwegian moment, as Anthony talks to Kjaerstad in a restaurant and man stops to chat before sitting nearby. The crown prince of Norway, dining at one of his favorite restaurants.

so many books, must make time

Peter, as usual, is ahead of the game and gives us an early glimpse of the fifth book in Camilla Lackberg’s series, The Hidden Child, which takes a look at wartime secrets and makes the pages turn quickly.

He also catches us up with Norwegian author Thomas Enger and his new book, Burned, which he finds fascinating, convoluted, and with a terrific ending.

Ben Martin at the Advocate has some stern things to say about crime fiction that is stooping too low – he’s quite cross about Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotist and Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman.

What made Mankell and Larsson so compelling was the determination by their protagonists to master the evil. Without this moral dimension, such tales are merely horrific. . . .

The Hypnotist, by a Swedish couple writing under the pseudonym Lars Kepler, is a repellent book. Its special nightmare quality is the involvement of children in crimes of murder, kidnapping, rape and mutilation, either as victims or perpetrators. . . .

Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman, inspires similar dread . . . As the chapters proceed, the means of death grow more gruesome, the motives more obscene.

But he praises Hakan Nesser and especially Arne Dahl, whose Misterioso is finally going to be available in English. He says is “truly fine” and the first translation in a series that is a worthy successor to Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series.

Lucky Bernadette has already read Johann Theorin’s The Quarry, which is set on his favorite island, this time in the spring. She writes:

As has been the case with the previous two novels of this series I was once again enveloped by the atmosphere Theroin, ably aided by his translator Marlaine Delargy, has created here. It didn’t feel like I was just reading about the island’s slow awakening from it’s harsh winter to spring: I lived through the lengthening days, the appearance of the first butterflies, the people getting to know each other and themselves. I loved every moment of this book from its first word to its excellent closing line.

As these are seasonal books, and we’ve had three, I’m afraid we have only one more left.

Keishon, the avid mystery reader/blogger, thinks highly of Theorin’s Echoes from the Dead, saying, “I always find myself thoroughly immersed in his stories. To me Johan Theorin is a natural-born storyteller whose novels are often described as “chilling” and “atmospheric.” He has a strong authorial ‘voice.'” She also does her part to combat grade inflation, causing a bit of controversy.

Maxine Clarke reviews Arnaldur Indridason’s Outrage at Euro Crime; this ninth volume in the Erlendur series is much more about his colleague, Elinborg, who investigates a murder the old-fashioned way, teasing out every clue and learning as much as possible about the victim. As Maxine points out, procedurals that avoid technical gee-wizardry are less likely to date themselves. All around, a good mystery, though the who dunnit aspect is less successful than the overall depiction of an investigation and the people involved in it.

Peter Rozovsky reviews a dark and violent crime story – Harald’s Saga, one of those early Icelandic thrillers that (along with Ed McBain) influenced Arnaldur Indridason’s style.

In the Wall Street Journal, Tom Nolan reviews The Hypnotist, finding it (appropriately) mesmerizing and (perhaps less appropriately) grisly. Though, he concludes, when you live in the wild north “sometimes you need an ax.”

Norm reviews Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment at Crime Scraps and wonders if mysteries today aren’t indulging in a bit too much backstory. If the review had to be summarized in one syllable, it might be “m’eh.” Meanwhile, update your RSS feeds, as Crime Scraps has finalized its divorce from Blogger.

Elaine Simpson-Long, Opera Lover, also loves Henning Mankell’s elegaic coda for the Kurt Wallander series, The Troubled Man, though she’s sorry it’s the last one.

I find when reading Mankell’s books that the narrative style and flow is very even and balanced, no sharp, short sentences or any breaks.   The reader is gently taken along and after a while it is almost a soothing experience to read this author and this ebb and flow reflects the character of Kurt Wallander himself, it is almost hypnotic . . . A thoughtful quiet read and well worth it.

BBC’s World Book Club offers a lengthy and informative interview with Henning Mankell. Hat tip to Mediations for the link.

The Material Witness reviews Sofi Oksanen’s Purge and gives it high marks for psychological stealth and subtlety. For some reason, I hadn’t realized she’s Finnish, so belongs here (though the setting is Estonia, and there is some dispute over whether this book can properly be called crime fiction).

Barry Forshaw has a lengthy and interesting essay in The Independent  about Norwegian crime writers and their thoughts about the genre, making a brief stop on his way to publishing a book on Scandinavian crime fiction to be titled Death in a Cold Climate. Peter Rozovsky writes about it at his blog with a pun clever enough to cause toothache.

And if you haven’t had your fill of The Girl, Variety has an article about David Fincher’s US remake of the Millennium Trilogy films; all the Swedes interviewed seem to be pleased with it, where apparently Fincher has fans. They are also relieved that it hasn’t been moved from Sweden to a US setting or filmed on location in the nearest Ikea store to Hollywood.

Hang onto your wallets: the tireless sleuth, Karen Meek, has uncovered new publications coming out in August in both the UK and US markets, including some newcomers to English translation: Norwegian Jørn Lier Horst, Swedish Stefan Tegenfalk, and Finnish Monika Fagerholm (who has one other book that has been translated into English previously).

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.

film and fiction in review

A quick round-up before the craziness of the fall semester starts up . . .

A graduate student in computational linguistics named Joshua points out that there is too much variety among Swedish crime writers to consider Swedish crime fiction a genre, and he offers this comparison as evidence: “in the schoolyard of Swedish crime fiction, Theorin is the studious nerd and Mankell and Larsson are the big kids.” He thinks Theorin’s books are not nearly as engaged or challenging as those that offer more social critique and are more or less harmless entertainments. (Or, to put it bluntly, “beach reads.” While I like social critique, I think Theorin’s just dandy without that element, myself.)

In a previous blog post, the blogger has very positive things to say about the film version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  And they’re smart and thoughtful comments well worth reading.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (”Men Who Hate Women” in the original) is basically the perfect movie at this point in time. It’s socially conscious without being PC, it’s atmospheric but not artsy, it’s an intelligent thriller that’s neither ironic, nor overly reliant on plot twists. It’s a genre film that’s about more than genre commentary. I loved it.

I loved it because it’s slow. It doesn’t seem like it will be just at first: you’re plunged down into the middle of a libel suit with a helpful reporter narrating the setup on the evening news. But from there we see a bunch of seemingly unconnected scenes, so it’s alright. We trust they’ll get around to having all these people meet each other – and they do.

I loved it because it’s fun. The protagonist (erm, one of them) basically gets hired to solve a locked room mystery involving a bunch of rich people who live on an island. Why not? Why should we be above these things?

I loved it because it has a fetish chick. Tough bisexual biker girl hacker with nose rings and spiked collars and Black no. 1 hair. Which of us born in 1975 hasn’t wanted one of those?

I loved it because it’s graphic without being indulgent. All together now: the violence we see is realistic and in the service of a theme, not there merely for shock value.

I loved it because the characters are believable stereotypes . . . [here follows an intriguing discussion of how plausible and how enlightened – or not – the romantic relationship between Blomqvist and Salander is, and then] . . .

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo succeeds because it’s politically aware only to the extent of wanting to do the right thing, and metafictionally aware only to the extent of picking out the workable formulas and giving credit to their sources. It’s a film that shouldn’t be too hard to deconstruct, and I’m sure that’s just around the corner. But now, while it’s fresh, I’m enjoying just having enjoyed it.

Well, I must say I enjoyed the review.

Carla McKay reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman for the Daily Mail and points out he’s not the next Stieg Larsson. (We knew that.) She apparently liked the book, though most of the review is a synopsis.

Keishon also reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman and, while she’s an admirer of the series, feels this one is not the strongest.

Ben Hunt reviews Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment and says it’s a very good debut, though he advises readers to take the hype on the book jacket with a grain of salt. It’s an ably plotted story with a vivid setting and characters that are somewhat typical, but well-drawn. He also proposes a theory:

If anything defines the extraordinary and apparently relentless rise of Scandinavian fiction, for me it is these three qualities, and in particular the plotting.

It would be easy to draw cheap stereotypical conclusions about ordered minds and ordered societies producing writers with organized minds who produce impeccably plotted and well executed novels. Cheap maybe, but the more Scandinavian fiction I read the more I am drawn to this idea.

Bernadette reviews Sjowall and Wahloo’s first book in the Martin Beck series, Roseanna, and is interested to find in it so many of the elements that have become part of Scandinavian crime fiction.

Martin Beck too is realistic, perhaps a little too much so. If the phrase ‘dour Swede’ has been over-used since Scandinavian crime fiction has become flavour of the month then surely the blame must lie mostly at the feet of the rarely smiling, crowd hating, always ill, never wanting to go home Martin Beck. As a characterisation I think he’s marvelous but as a human being I’d rather not be stuck in an elevator for any great length of time with him . . .

In Roseanna the authors tackled the nature of bureaucracy, the rise of consumerism and even used the nature of the crime itself in a country that prided itself on being the kind of place where such things did not happen with a subtlety that I would dearly love to see more of in modern fiction.

Margot Kinberg also puts Roseanna “in the spotlight.”

Peter explores the “bloodthirsty femmes” of Scandinavian crime fiction: Swedish writers Karin Alvtegen, Kerstin Ekman, Inger Frimansson, Mari Jungstedt, Camilla Läckberg, Asa Larsson, Liza Marklund, and Helene Tursten; Norway’s Anne Holt and Karin Fossum; Tove Jansson (Finland) and Yrsa Sigurdardottir (Iceland).  He looks at their protagonists and finds a great deal of variety. He promises more on the subject anon . . .

CrimeFic Reader reviews Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Ashes to Dust, which (how very topical) involves a volcanic eruption, though in this case it’s to do with bodies buried for decades in ash from a massive 1970 eruption. She likes the book, but wishes the translation weren’t so Americanized.


“set somewhere in Scandinavia”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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