More Scandi Crime Fiction

My reading at the moment is oscillating between Scandinavian crime fiction for the Petrona Award and ghost stories that bring back memories of my teenage years. More of the supernatural in a post next week. Meanwhile, all the Scandi books that I read were by familiar authors and it was a bit of a mixed bag.

 MemoRandom by Anders de la Motte is his take on a familiar trope of crime novels, that of y450-293memory loss. David Sarac wakes up from a car crash and can only remember that he is a police officer and he needs to protect his informant, Janus. As his colleagues desperately try to elicit the identity of Janus, Sarac’s memory returns only in fragments. Natalie Aden, his carer who has also been tasked with spying on him, helps him piece his past together as his life becomes increasingly endangered. As I’d expect from De La Motte,  MemoRandom is a fast-paced thriller with an entertaining storyline. There’s always something enjoyable about a book with a race to the conclusion. The translation was by Neil Smith.

I’m a big fan of Arnaldur Indridason but Oblivion proved to be a disappointment. There51jsnkgzk9l-_sx328_bo1204203200_ were all the elements that I enjoy in Indridason’s writing – the Icelandic landscape, the descriptions of native food and, of course, his detective Erlendur. While the writing was good, I found the plot to be lacklustre which is a shame as I persevered with it until the end. It’s a decent enough read and sits alongside the other books well enough. Fingers crossed for the next one. The translation was by Victoria Cribb.

9781910124048In comparison The Caveman by Jorn Lier Horst is a cracker and his best book yet. There are two storylines both of which were fascinating. William Wisting is investigating a serial killer who may have made his way from the US to Norway. The presence of CIA agents adds to the pressure on his team to find the murderer. Meanwhile, Wisting’s daughter, Line, is doing a story on a man whose body was sitting, undiscovered, in his living room for four months. Focusing on the loneliness of some Norwegians, she soon realises that there is more to the man’s death than a sad story. Lier Horst has always excelled as a writer of police procedurals but here the story telling is second to none. I didn’t want the book to finish as I was so engrossed in the narrative. More please! The translation was by Anne Bruce.

 

 

 

Review: Arnaldur Indridason – Reykjavik Nights

TIndridasonhe story of Reykjavik detective Erlendur seemingly came to a conclusion in Strange Shores, published in the UK in 2013. As I mentioned in my review at the time, there was a prequel to the series that was in the process of being translated. Finally we have Reykjavik Nights which gives us a slice of 1970s Iceland and a glimpse into the formative years of Erlendur as a policeman.

A vagrant’s body has been fished out of a pond near a housing development in Reykjavik. Police dismiss the case as either suicide or a drunken accident. However the fate of the dead man, Hannibal, touches the conscience of young traffic cop, Erlendur. He gets in touch with the family of Hannibal and discovers a tragedy that occurred years earlier that led to his spiral into destitution. Reykjavik police are focusing their energies on the hunt for a missing woman who disappeared after a night out with colleagues. The discovery of an earring, by Erlendur, in Hannibal’s squat links the two cases and the policeman embarks on a secret investigation of his own.

The success of Indridason’s Reykjavik series has been propelled largely by the character of Erlendur. Traumatised by the disappearance of his brother in a snow storm years earlier, he matches what we expect from a detective and yet has a distinctive back story that could really only be Icelandic. Indridason has published novels without Erlendur but it’s those containing his enigmatic detective that we really want to read. Writing a prequel has given the author the chance to show how factors other than Erlendur’s brother’s disappearance influenced the detective he became. Later in the novel we meet Marion Briem, Erlendur’s mentor, whose gender is never revealed. Indridason is very good at restraining himself when portraying the detective’s childhood trauma. Although impelling him to investigate a dormant case, the connections are subtly made. It is the mark of a very good writer.

In terms of plot, the story is slighter than some of Indridason’s other books although he is never a writer to focus on a multitude  of narratives. Instead, the depth of characterisation and sense of place are the reasons we return to Indridason time and time again. Fans of this author, who critic Barry Forshaw calls the king of Icelandic crime fiction, will love this book, I’m sure. I did.

Thanks to Karen from Eurocrime for giving me her copy of the book. The translation was by Victoria Cribb.

The 2014 Petrona Award for the Best of Scandinavian Crime Fiction – Shortlist

The shortlist for the 2014 award is as follows:petronaaward2

CLOSED FOR WINTER by Jørn Lier Horst tr. Anne Bruce (Sandstone Press)

STRANGE SHORES by Arnaldur Indriðason tr. Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker)

THE WEEPING GIRL by Håkan Nesser tr. Laurie Thompson (Mantle)

LINDA, AS IN THE LINDA MURDER by Leif G W Persson tr. Neil Smith (Doubleday)

SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir tr. Philip Roughton (Hodder & Stoughton)

LIGHT IN A DARK HOUSE by Jan Costin Wagner tr. Anthea Bell (Harvill Secker)

There were a number of strong contenders for the 2014 award and deciding on with the shortlist provoked plenty of lively debate amongst us judges. The winner will be announced in Crimefest in May. More details of the award can be found at the Petrona Award website.

The judges’ comments on the shortlist are as follows:

CLOSED FOR WINTER: This highly atmospheric novel sees Chief Inspector Wisting investigate an off-season burglary and a disturbing case of murder on the Norwegian coast of Vestfold. As ever, author Jørn Lier Horst’s police background lends the novel a striking authenticity, with readers treated to the outstanding plotting and characterisation that typify this quality series.

 

STRANGE SHORES: Drawn back to his childhood home by the unresolved disappearance of his brother, Inspector Erlendur takes on the most personal and difficult case of his career. Exploring the series’ enduring themes of loss and the impact of Iceland’s twentieth-century social transformation, this remarkable valedictory novel is one of the finest by a truly incisive writer, the undisputed king of Icelandic crime fiction.

 

THE WEEPING GIRL: While supposedly on holiday, Detective Inspector Ewa Moreno is pulled into the case of a missing teenage girl and the much earlier murder of a woman. This quietly compelling novel from Swedish author Håkan Nesser, with its distinctive European feel, is full of the assurance readers have come to expect from the Van Veeteren series. There is not a single misstep as the grim implications of the narrative are teased out.

 

LINDA, AS IN THE LINDA MURDER:  Leif G W Persson’s sprawling, state-of-the-nation novels make deft use of crime fiction conventions to expose the faultlines of Swedish society. This more closely focused novel is a brilliant exploration of a young woman’s murder, press sensationalism, and the inner workings of a police investigation, with readers introduced to the blackly humorous and truly unforgettable police detective Evert Bäckström for the first time.

 

SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME: When a young man with Down’s Syndrome is convicted of arson and murder, lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir is hired by one of his fellow inmates to investigate a possible miscarriage of justice. This ambitious Icelandic crime novel, which skilfully weaves multiple narrative strands together with elements of the supernatural, is another gripping and highly entertaining read from author Yrsa Sigurðardóttir.

 

LIGHT IN A DARK HOUSE: Still mourning the loss of his wife, Finnish detective Kimmo Joentaa is called to investigate the strange murder of a comatose woman in hospital. German author Jan Costin Wagner delivers another wonderfully written and tightly constructed instalment in the Joentaa series, notable for its moving portrayal of a grief-stricken policeman and its in-depth exploration of victim and perpetrator psychology.

The Best of January’s Reading

January is always a productive time for crime fiction. Along with new publications, we also get advance review copies of Janus-Vaticannovels not hitting the bookshop shelves until spring and sometimes the summer. I reviewed a mixture of these, from Peter May’s recently published Entry Island to Louise Welsh’s A Lovely Way to Burn which is out in March. I also caught up on some of my reading for the The Petrona Award for translated Scandinavian crime fiction. Of everything I read, it was Welsh’s book that made the strongest impression. I’m a fan of apocalyptic fiction anyway but the quality of Welsh’s writing made this a compelling read.

The six books I reviewed for Crimepieces were:

1. The Second Deadly Sin by Asa Larsson

2. A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh

3. The Disappeared by Kristina Ohlsson

4. Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo

5. Entry Island by Peter May

6. Strange Shores by Arnaldur Indridason

Review: Arnaldur Indridason – Strange Shores

The problem with finally getting around to a book that you’ve wanted to read for a while is that you’ve often a fair idea of Strange Shoreswhat other readers think of it. No matter hard I try not to look at reviews, or quickly I skim read the ones I do see, I always get a sense of how a book has been received. So I opened Strange Shores with trepidation as I’d seen mixed reviews of the latest, and possibly last, instalment of Indridason’s series featuring Reykjavik detective, Erlendur. However, I have to say I was impressed in terms of both the plotting and the way in which Indridason seemingly concludes the outing for this particular character. If only other writers could finish a series with so light a touch.

Erlendur, on leave from his job in the Reykjavik police department, is camping in his childhood home. A frequent visitor to the place, he is continually searching for the brother whom he lost in a snowstorm when they were both children. He hears the story of a local woman, Matthildur, who also went missing years earlier on the night of a violent storm and rumours abound as to what became of her. As he begins to ask questions about the background to that fateful evening, he unwittingly begins to discover what may have also befallen his brother.

A narrative that focuses on a historic crime is a relatively common theme, in crime fiction in general and also in Scandinavian novels. It can sometimes have mixed results. There’s an immediate distance created; the lapse of time can make the action less compelling. Indridason largely solves this by aligning Erlendur’s hunt for his missing brother with the case. Although this also a decades old mystery, those familiar with the series will recognise the weight of survivor’s guilt felt by Erlundur which has haunted him through the books. The outcome to Matthildur’s disappearance is satisfyingly gruesome but, ultimately, it is the resolution, of sorts, of Erlendur’s quest that stays with the reader.

Is this it for Erlendur? A tip-off by the excellent writer, Quentin Bates, on twitter says that the next book takes Erlendur back to 1974. So this may well be the last contemporary investigation for the character. If this is the case, it’s an excellent finish to the series.

Thanks to Vintage for my copy. The translation was by Victoria Cribb.

Iceland Noir #3

A final update on the crime fiction event that took place in Iceland last weekend.

Ann Cleeves

Ann Cleeves gave an interesting account of how her writing career had developed. What came across strongly was Ann’s love of storytelling and how success had come after many years of developing her craft. She revealed that she is hoping to arrange her own Shetland Noir event in the future which I’m sure will garner significant interest amongst crime fiction fans.

A panel on the future of publishing featured Penguin author James Oswald whose books were originally self- published, Quentin Bates and Icelandic writers Sigurjón Pálsson, Sólveig Pálsdóttir. Moderated by Zoe Sharp, the panel discussed the success of self published authors such as Oswald who have been successful in securing contracts with larger publishers. Oswald revealed that temporarily reducing the price of his books resulted in 50,000 people downloading his debut novel.

A fascinating interview with John Curran discussed the work that he had undertaken to edit Agatha Christie’s notebooks. John CurranDespite the deceptive simplicity of her writing, Christie planned her novels in great detail: Three Little Pigs, for example, had around 75 pages of notes. It sounded a gargantuan task that Curran had undertaken given Christie’s slightly chaotic way of thinking. Plot notes, for example, were followed by recipes and shopping lists. Curran revealed that Sophie Hannah’s new Poirot story won’t feature Miss Lemon or Inspector Japp.

Arnaldur Indridason

Finally, a panel entitled The Perils of Translation featured Anna Yates who translates from Icelandic into English and Tina Flecken who translates from Icelandic into German. Both have translated Arnaldur Indridason’s books who was also on the panel. He emphasised the influence of Icelandic sagas on his writing, with their emphasis on telling the story and moving on with the plot.

So that’s the last word on Iceland Noir 2013. Many of us there are already rubbing our hands at the thought of 2014’s event. I hope to see many more writers, reviewers and readers there next year. It really was a blast. Thanks again to Markús Már Efraím for the photographs.

Iceland Noir

Poster Iceland NoirThere are a raft of crime fiction events that take place around the UK and we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to deciding what to attend. However, I often cast envious eyes towards other crime writing events around the world, especially Bouchercon in the US and The Body in the Garden in Australia as they often include writers who don’t make it over here. For once, I’ve found it impossible to resist an event: Iceland Noir which is taking place in Reykjavik between the 21st and 24th November.

The king of Icelandic crime fiction is, of course, Arnaldur Indridason and he is the special guest of honour at the festival. Also appearing are some of the best of Iceland’s writers including Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Ragnar Jonasson and Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson. All of these authors have had their novels reviewed on this blog with the exception of Ragnar Jonasson whose books are yet to be translated into English. I was lucky enough to read the first six chapters of his novel ‘Snowblind’ which is currently only available in Icelandic or German. Fingers crossed that he gets a British publisher soon.

Other writers attending the event include Ann Cleeves, Jorn Lier Horst and Willian Ryan. The full itinerary can be found here. There are limited places available so if you’re tempted now’s the time to book. I have already booked mine. It promises to be a special event.