Nordic Noir Round-Up

Reading continues for the 2018 Petrona Award judging session which is taking place in April. Here’s a summary of some of the contenders.

The Dying Game by Asa Avdic is an unusual read. Set in 2037, the Protectorate of Sweden is a dictatorship whose status isn’t recognised by the US or Western bloc countries. Anna Francis is a government official, intelligent and capable, who is sent to the remote island of Isola. Her mission is to pretend to have been murdered in front of a group of invited guests who will then be observed to see how they react. With shades of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, The Dying Game has an interesting premise but a confusing plot which nevertheless keeps the reader interested until the end. The translation is by Rachel Wilson-Broyles.

Peter Hoeg’s The Susan Effect is also set in the near future, here a paranoid Denmark. Susan Svendsen is gifted with an unusual talent:  people are compelled to confide their secrets to her. This talent is magnified when she’s with her husband, the renowned composer Laban, who has a similar effect on people. After a trip to India, all of her family, including  their twin children, are facing prison sentences. Susan is given the opportunity of an amnesty for their crimes, if she uses her talents to find out details of the secretive Future Committee. The Susan Effect is a very well written thriller which highlights what it feels like to be on the outside of ordinary society. The near future setting just about allows some of the slightly stranger plot points to work and this book is well worth a read. The translation is by Martin Aitken.

Antti Tuomainen’s The Man Who Died is a departure for this author whose previous books have been dark thrillers. Jack Kaunismaa is a mushroom industry entrepreneur who discovers he is dying due to prolonged exposure to toxins. He decides to investigate his wife and associates to uncover who has poisoned him, without revealing his diagnosis and comes under a barrage of assaults from those who wish him dead. The Man Who Died is a darkly humorous book which requires the reader to suspend reality for a moment, which is no bad thing.The translation is by David Hackston.

Finally, a Finnish offering with a twist on a couple of classic crime motifs. In Cruel is the Nighttwo couples meet in an expensive London apartment. Robert and Mikko have been friends for years but, as the plot unfolds, it becomes clear that their lives and that of their wives are intertwined and beset by long-held grudges. By the end of the evening, three are dead. In a clever, contemporary take on Christie’s  And Then There Were None with a dash of a locked room mystery, Karo Hämäläinen paints a portrait of wealthy lives and murderous intent. The translation is by Owen Witesman.

 

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Scandi Crime Fiction Round-Up

Much of my reading over the Christmas period was Scandinavian focused as I caught up on eligible entries for the 2016 Petrona Award that we’ll be awarding in May. There were some favourite authors in the pile and I was impressed by the way in which these three writers in particular continue to write high quality and interesting mysteries.

a-summer-with-kim-novakHåkan Nesser’s series featuring Van Veeteren is one of my favourites. A Summer with Kim Novak is a standalone novel different in tone and narrative style which is set in the early sixties. Fourteen-year-old Erik is obsessed with Ewa, a teacher who resembles Kim Novak. When a tragedy occurs it’s another twenty-five years until Erik’s memories unpick the events leading up to the ‘incident’. It’s a beautiful novel. There have been two translations by Saskia Vogel which I fear may have delayed the impact of the book in the UK market. I thought the first translation fine but I waited until the Christmas period to re-read the new translation. It’s different but still evokes the memories of a long hot summer and a period of lost innocence.

Antti Tuomainen writes beautifully written mysteries and his previous book The Healer had a haunting quality to it. Dark as my Heart has a strong 519xkpynnPL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_protagonist in Aleksi whose mother disappeared one October day when he was thirteen. Convinced that she was killed by millionaire Henrik Saarinen, the now adult Aleksi takes a job as a handyman at Saarinen’s estate to discover what happened to his mother. The book is an unsettling mystery with readers unsure which characters to trust. The darkness of the narrative is reflected in the bleakness of the landscape and it was perfect winter reading. The translation is by Lola Rogers.

Handler1.ashxI always look forward to the latest offering in the series by Mons Kallentoft featuring detective Malin Fors. She’s a grimly realistic detective and the short chapters and choppy narrative make for an usual read. Water Angels,  the sixth book in the series, has Fors investigating the murder of a couple and searching for her missing five year old daughter. It’s an interesting mystery and Malin is still a fascinating protagonist. The translation is by Neil Smith.

 

Iceland Noir 2014 Day One

It’s that time of year again when all lovers of Scandinavian crime fiction get together in Iceland. There’s an excellent line-up at this year’s conference and the panels start properly today.

imageHowever, yesterday a couple of events took place which I’m sure will be of interest to Crimepieces readers. Firstly, William Ryan, as well as being a writer of excellent historical fiction, also runs workshops for those who wish to try their hand at crime writing. I’ve always been curious about these events and was determined to use the opportunity whilst in Iceland to attend one.

I took a taxi to Kópavogur public library in a Reykjavik suburb. It’s a huge building with excellent facilities. There I joined sixteen other people at an event that was a mixture of information on how to construct a crime novel combined with a series of exercises to let us have a go. Chatting to the people afterwards, it was clear that most people were already writing something and that the challenge is to complete their works of fiction. I’m sure this workshop will have inspired people to do just that.

Thursday evening is traditionally the time we get to hear authors read aloud from their works. We had a rich variety of writers last night inimage a room at the Solon bar in central Reykjavik. Readings were in both English and Icelandic and it was particularly nice to hear Antti Tuomainen give an extract from The Healer, a book I enjoyed last year. The photo to the right, show Peter James reading from his latest novel. James is an excellent reader and is a good example of how an author can bring their works to life by their performance.

So, the event starts in earnest today but I thought you’d like an update of what’s happened so far. Yesterday was largely about catching up with friends as well. Can you spot the crime writers in the photo below?

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Review: Louise Welsh – A Lovely Way to Burn

A Lovely Way to BurnLouise Welsh, a talented writer of standalone psychological thrillers, has written the first book in the Plague Times trilogy. The series is set in a dystopian near future in the grip of a virus similar to the bubonic plague. The narrative opens with the unexplained death of a dedicated but hedonistic young doctor but soon chronicles the collapse of London society as the epidemic sweeps across the city.

Stevie Flint is a former journalist turned shopping channel TV presenter. When she is stood up by her boyfriend, Simon, she assumes he’s no longer interested in her. However, she later finds his body in his flat, his death apparently the result of natural causes. London is in the grip of an epidemic that is initially assumed to be flu but spreads with a ferocity and virulence that causes widespread panic in the city. When Stevie receives a note from Simon asking her to deliver a briefcase to a colleague, she is plunged into a world of medical secrets that people are prepared to kill in order to protect. Stevie is one of the first to contract the disease and her survival, while others are succumbing to the epidemic, makes her an object of fascination to those looking for a cure.

This is the third apocalyptic crime novel I’ve read in a year. In Ben H Winters’ Countdown City, the US is in the grip of asteroid paranoia as they feverishly await the destruction of the world by an object from space while in Antti Tuomainen’s The Healer extreme climate change has brought about an equally lawless society. What differentiates Louise Welsh’s book is that it opens when everything appears to be normal. Admittedly, people are sneezing on the London underground and sickness absence is rising in the workplace but it takes a while for the epidemic to take hold. This allows the death of Dr Simon Sharkey to take centre place in the narrative and for us to see Stevie’s character develop from a happy-go-lucky TV presenter to a determined avenger of his death.

The scenes involving the reaction to the spread of the virus are horribly realistic. People’s actions range from the altruistic to determinedly self protectionist and as Stevie is seen as the key to surviving the illness she in turn becomes the hunted. As I’d expect with this setting, there are some heart-wrenching moments and one character in particular I was gutted to see die. But given that this book is the first in a trilogy, I’m sure there will be plenty of new characters to take its place.

The book isn’t out until the 20th March but a mixture of Welsh’s writing style and the subject matter made it impossible to resist. Thanks to Hodder for my review copy.

Review: Antti Tuomainen – The Healer

Finland has been something of the poor relation when it comes to the popularity of Scandinavian crime fiction. I enjoyed Matti Joensuu’s the-healercreepy Priest of Evil  and the novels of German writer Jan Costin Wagner, whose series is set in Finland. However, now we have The Healer by Antti Tuomainen, first published in 2010 which won the award for the Best Finnish Crime Novel of the Year. Its recent translation into English hopefully marks a trend for more books from Finland to appear in the UK.

In the run-up to Christmas, Tapani Lehtinen, a minor poet is searching for his journalist wife Johanna who has suddenly disappeared. The only clue to her whereabouts was a final telephone call as she attempted to track down information about a serial killer known as ‘The Healer’. Convinced that his wife has come to harm, Tapani visits her employer and friends to try to unearth the story that Johanna was working on. But Helsinki is slowly disintegrating in the midst of a climate catastrophe, residents are fleeing for the north of the country and the police are disinterested in helping Tapani find his wife.

This is the second book I’ve read featuring murder in a pre-apocalyptic setting. Ben H Winter’s The Last Policeman was one of my favourite crime reads of 2012 and it’s interesting how much tension you can get into a murder plot as society implodes on itself. Finalnd, and Helsinki in particular, seems ideally placed to feature a disintegrating community. The north of the country is portrayed as the utopia that city dwellers are trying to reach, allowing crime and disorder to fill the void in Helsinki.

The plot is interesting but nothing happens very fast. Tapani embarks on a lonely search for his wife, where no-one seems much interested in helping him out, not even close friends. He is sustained by the love that he feels for her, even when it comes under threat from the knowledge he discovers in relation to her past. But given that the action happens over a couple of days, the narrative seems both filled with events and yet nothing much happens.

The writing though is beautiful, the sparseness of the prose reflecting both the landscape and Tapani’s life as a poet. Ultimately the setting and writing were more successful that the plotting but it did feel like I was reading something different from the norm, which is always welcome.

The book has also been reviewed by Karen at Eurocrime who passed on her copy of the book to me. The translation was by Lola Rogers.