review roundup and a new version of Macbeth

Ms. Wordopolis reviews the first book in Mari Jungstedt’s Anders Knutas and Johan Berg series, Unseen, finding the series characters and their stories more interesting than the fairly predictable serial killer storyline. All in all, she reckons it’s time to read something other than police procedurals.

Previously, she reviewed the latest in the Carl Mørck Department Q series by Jussi Adler-Olsen, The Purity of Vengeance, which left her with mixed feelings: “I feel strange saying that the book was written well or that I was interested in the ongoing storylines of Mørck and Assad when the main plot was so horrible to women,” she writes, Like the first novel in the series (The Keeper of Lost Causes, also published under the title Mercy), the plot focuses on people who hate women. How that focus is handled (and for what purpose) is one of the biggest open questions in this genre, in my opinion.

She was also not entirely satisfied by Helene Tursten’s The Fire Dance, but for different reasons. She felt there just wasn’t much in the story to grab her interest and hold it, concluding it was a so-so entry in a series that promises more.

The Indian Feminist, who has written about Scandinavian women detectives in the past, was likewise disappointed in the latest English translation in the Irene Huss series, The Fire Dance,  which she found slow paced and uninvolving.

The Fire DanceNancy O. had a different reading experience with this book, as she explains at The Crime Segments. She counts Tursten’s series as one she deeply enjoys, and a Scandinavian author who stays on her to-be-read list as others disappoint and drop off. Her verdict: “for those who enjoy solid police procedurals with a personal twist.” She still counts The Torso as her favorite in the series, being “edgy and solid.” This entry, while a solid police procedural, has a bit less edge.

Meanwhile, in paradise, Kerrie enjoyed reading the previous book in the series, The Golden Calf, which she felt had a nice balance of action, the personal lives of the series characters, and police procedure. She sums up the series as “basically police procedurals, planted in a modern world, with plenty of human interest.”

Glenn Harper at International Noir Fiction reviews Leif G. W. Persson’s tome, Free Falling as if in a Dream, part of a series drawn from the unsolved murder of Swedish prime minister Olof Palme. Though it’s very long, he says it’s “gripping all the way through, as well as comic in some sections, through the ironic and simultaneously arrogant and self-deprecating voice of Johannson and the appearance of the ridiculous detective in many of the author’s books, Evert Bäckstrom.” However, he doesn’t hold out much hope for the US television adaptation that’s out next year. In his review, he looks at how this novel and Magdalen Nabb’s The Monster of Florence handle actual unsolved crimes, finding that both propose in their fiction plausible and disturbing solutions.

He also reviews Jan Costin Wagner’s Light in a Dark House, and has a great description of its trajectory: “meditative rather than propulsive in terms of its pacing.” He considers the non-linear, poetic approach a plus, but knows it’s not for everyone: “For me, the moody pace works, but it could be frustrating for some readers.” This story brings the series’ Turku detective, who is looking into the murder of an unidentified woman, together with Helsinki investigators looking into a series of murders, with several narrative threads that, in the end, are knitted together.

Traveling to yet another Nordic country, Harper reviews Quentin Bates’s Chilled to the Bone, the latest in a series focusing on an Icelandic investigator, Gunna Gisladottir, and it in his opinion the best in the series. Among its virtues, “lots of ethical and literary ambiguity, a plot that moves rapidly along, and a cast of interesting characters.” Though he considers it less dark than Arnaldur Indridason’s Erlendur series, it’s both grim and entertaining.

At Euro Crime, Rich Westwood reviews Carin Gerhardsen’s The Gingerbread House, advising those looking for a new Scandinavian crime series to give it a try. The main plot, about man who endured horrific bullying as a child and the various violent ways in which his former schoolmates are being murdered, seems less compelling to him than a subplot about one of the police team who believes she’s been drugged and raped after a casual encounter and is determined to find justice. Westwood thinks the admixture of personal stories of the investigating officers will remind readers of Camilla Lackberg, mixing violent murder and cozy scenes of domestic life.

Also at Euro Crime, Michelle Peckham praises Arnaldur Indridason’s Strange Shores, the eleventh novel in the Erlendur series. We and Erlendur finally grapple with the detective’s Strange Shorespersonal quest to understand how he survived being lost in a storm that killed his brother. He approaches this quest by investigating another event, the disappearance of a young woman he learned about as a child. He probes the secrets and memories of those still alive who can help him put the pieces together. She calls the book powerful, emotional, and a beautiful exploration of how trauma can shape a life.

Amanda Gillies also uses the term “beautiful” for Derek B. Miller’s Norwegian by Night, a novel that makes her fall in love with its prickly 82-year-old protagonist. Though it had a slow start for her, she pronounces the story about an American Jew haunted by his wartime experiences and his son’s death in Vietnam who sometimes is confused but manages to evade villains to save a small boy, “quite simply brilliant.” 

Mrs Peabody investigates some dystopian crime fiction, including Antti Tuomainen’s The Healer, which she finds “a gripping and quietly powerful read” which interrogates (as dystopias do) how people find meaning in situations where social structures have broken down and disaster is impending – in this case a poet searching for his missing wife, a journalist who has been writing about a Finnish eco-warrior who is taking violent action as climate change changes everything. Like Bernadette, she finds it a curiously uplifting read.

Jose Ignacio Escribano reviews Karin Fossum’s The Indian Bride (also published as Calling Out for You), in which a naive Norwegian man impuslively travels to India to find a bride. When she arrives in Norway, she disappears. And Fossum’s quiet menace does the rest. As Jose Ignacio observes, “she is able to develop a particular atmosphere that can become frightening, using only elements taken from our daily lives.” Here, in this small Norwegian town, the well-meaning and wholly wholesome Scandinavians seem all too comfortable seeking silence when the subject of race enters the picture – and Fossum is not willing to leave us content with the knowledge that justice, in the end, will be done.

At the Independent, Barry Forshaw reviews Hans Koppel’s You’re Mine Now, which once again You're Mine Nowfeatures a man who hates women, though this time the woman confronted by a stalker is in a better position to fight back than in his previous novel (which Forshaw puts in a nutshell: “ritual sexual debasement and torture visited upon the luckless heroine, kept captive in a house where she could still see her distraught, unknowing family,” Yes, that’s wny I didn’t read it.) Koppel is apparently very good at ratcheting up tension, not so good at giving us any reason why we shouldn’t just give up on the human race altogether.

Keishon is avid about reading Asa Larsson’s mysteries, but found The Second Deadly Sin disappointing in the end. There are various timeframes and one becomes a bit of a slog. Office politics among the main characters is about as appealing as . . . well, office politics. And the pacing overall, she felt, was off in an over-long novel. She recommends her other books, though.

Norm, at Crime Scraps, reviews Mari Jungstedt’s The Double Silence, a new entry in the Anders Knutas series set on Visby Island. In addition to a crime, the story involves the lives of its ongoing cast of characters. While Norm recommends this series, he felt this story jumped too often from one point of view to another and often left him mystified in ways the author likely didn’t intend.

And now for something completely different, The Wall Street Journal reports that Jo Nebso has been signed on (along with other authors) to write prose versions of Shakespeare’s plays running up the bard’s 400th birthday. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he will be taking on Macbeth and, in an interview, ponders whether he’ll make him a man vying for the position of police chief in a throughly corrupt city in the 1970s. That cauldron the weird sisters are stirring? It just might be brewing some kick-ass meth. The story is likely to keep relationships and themes but perhaps not much else. I must say I’m particularly intrigued about what Margaret Atwood might do with The Tempest. 

weird sisters and cauldron

Finally, if you are fortunate enough to be in northern California on February 2, Janet Rudolph invites you to join her and fellow fans for a lecture on Swedish crime fiction by my fellow Minnesotan, Jim Kaplan. He’s very wise to be somewhere other than in the Polar Vortex that keeps on turning the upper Midwest into an arctic knockoff.

link up

Glenn Harper finds life imitating art when a news story (scroll to the bottom) highlights those who have an unusual gift for remembering faces, just like Beate Lønn in Jo Nesbø’s series. The author of the study has kindly placed his article online for all to read, as the enlightened Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences have pledge to do.

Michael Carlson reviews Hakan Nesser’s Woman With Birthmark at CrimeTime and finds echoes of Per Wahlöö’s stand-alones in the ambiguity of Nesser’s setting.

Nominally, it appears to be Dutch, but there are echoes of Swedish society, and maybe even German habits in this amalgam of a country; apparently Nesser’s original Swedish uses words from all three languages in order to blue any distinction one might make. In this sense, it reminds me of Per Wahloo’s solo novels, like The Generals or The Lorry, whose settings were almost identifiable as a country, but with slight differences which drove home the point that this was not so far from home after all. I have the feeling that is the point Nesser is driving home in Woman With Birthmark, and, in the end, he drives it home powerfully.

The WSJ has things to say about Knopf’s campaign to promote Stieg Larsson’s second book. However, they are saying them only to subscribers. Luckily, my library is a subscriber so I can give you the gist. Knopf will launch a “six-figure marketing effort” – unusual in the business, where less than 5% of books (according to an industry insider) get any kind of advertising, and such advertising as there is tends to one-off print placement. This campaign will include mass transit advertisements in four cities and web ads as well as social media promotion. The company behind it is treating it more like the kind of advertising done for movies. Kind of odd when book news is all about how much you’re spending on promotion of a bestseller.

Also at the WSJ – and free to us hoi polloi – an intriguing interview with Maj Sjöwall, who with her husband Per Wahlöö, took Swedish crime fiction in a wholly new and realistic direction that set the groundwork for today’s wave of Scandinavian mysteries. (Naturally, the story is illustrated, as all such stories are, with a photo of Branagh playing Wallander.)

The Beck books were written between 1965 and 1975 by a pair of politically minded journalists whose larger purpose, in the words of Wahlöö (who died in 1975), was “to analyze criminality as a social function as well as its relationship to both society and . . . various types of moral lifestyles.” But the Beck chronicles — ensemble pieces that focused as much on Beck’s co-workers as on the putative hero — seemed anything but polemical; the books’ most revolutionary aspects were their human-sized protagonists and their realistic portrayal of actual police work (full of false starts, false leads and tedium).

Back then, Ms. Sjöwall writes by email from Sweden, “Swedish crime-writers wrote Agatha Christie-like books and seldom had policemen as main characters. Crime novels were considered pulp-literature in those days. Intellectuals rarely admitted to reading those kinds of books. We wanted to contribute to improving the linguistic quality, and to changing the way media treated that type of literature.” The couple were writing entertainment, “but our intention was also to describe and criticize certain changes in our society and the politics of that decade.”

She also points out in the interview that, though the couple translated Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct books into Swedish, Martin Beck predated their knowledge of Steve Carella & Co.

“When we started writing our series,” she says, “we didn’t know about Ed McBain. In a review of our second or third novel we were compared to him and Hillary Waugh. We read their books and urged our publisher to buy the rights. He did and asked us to translate Ed McBain. We translated a dozen of his 87th Precinct novels and were thus forever considered his epigones.”

Kerrie thinks highly of Mari Jungstedt’s Unseen – “it is really a story about relationships on a number of levels, and a tale that points out how our actions from our days of innocence can reach out into the present.”

The Hieroglyphic Streets maps out Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s The Man Who Went up in Smoke in which Martin Beck travels behind the iron curtain to Hungary.

DJ reviews Karin Fossum’s When the Devil Hold’s the Candle – one of the creepiest books I’ve ever read.

The crimes in this novel happen early, and afterwards Karin Fossum move under the skin of her main characters until we achieve some kind of understanding why everything could go so horribly wrong. Irma Funder speaks out for herself for the first time in her life and explains what happens when the devil holds the candle, and when it is not just Irma, but Irma and Andreas. Do things happen by accident, or are human beings evil? And if so, who are evil?