Scandi Crime Fiction Round-Up

Reading continues apace for The Petrona Award which we’ll be awarding at Crimefest in May next year. The event in Bristol is one of my favourite crime fiction conferences and I always look forward to it. I see that they have a great Nordic line-up of authors and I’m particularly looking forward to meeting K O Dahl.

I’ve also booked for next years Bouchercon in the Toronto which is very exciting. I’ve been to Canada once before. It’s a beautiful country and I’ve long wanted to visit Toronto. So I’ll be combining crime fiction and sightseeing.

dying-detectiveLeif G W Persson won the Petrona Award in 2014 for Linda, As In The Linda Murder. His books are of consistently high quality and are complemented by Neil Smith’s excellent translations. The Dying Detective is possible my favourite to date. Retired Chief of the National Crime Police, Lars Martin Johansson suffers a stroke. While he is in hospital, his consultant confides that she believes her clergyman father may have been given a clue to the identity of a young girl’s murderer. Lars, from his bedside, rounds up former colleagues and family members to follow the trail of the cold case as his health deteriorates. Superbly plotted it has Persson’s characteristic grasp of the frailties of human nature. I don’t think there’s a writer like him.

9781785761973I’ve read a couple of books by Camilla Grebe which she wrote with her sister Asa Traff. The Ice Beneath Her is the first book as a solo author and is an interesting psychological thriller. Sales assistant Emma Bohman has been abruptly dropped by her wealthy lover, the boos of a famous clothing store. When a woman is found beheaded in his house, police search for the missing tycoon while the narrative rewinds two months and shows Emma’s increasing conviction that she is under threat. The split narrative, in terms of both voice and timeline works well and the readers is pulled in various directions before the final reveal. The translation was by Elizabeth Clark Wessel.

61zk7awsfdlLiza Marklund’s series featuring journalist Annika Bengtzon appears to come to an end with The Final Word. For me, it’s the end of an era; Marklund was one of the early Scandinavian writer’s I read and I’ve particularly loved the the drama of Annika’s private life. The Final Word is, like her other books, a good balance of investigation and personal story although there is a more wistful tone to the narrative. I hope it’s not the end for Annika as she’s one of my favourite Scandi characters. I’ll keep my fingers crossed. The translation was by Neil Smith.

Camilla Grebe and Asa Traff – More Bitter Than Death

More Bitter Than Death is the latest book by Swedish Crime Writing duo Camilla Grebe and Asa Traff. I read their debut More Bitter than Deathnovel, Some Kind of Peace, last year although I notice I didn’t review it on this site which is a strange omission as I remember enjoying it. Both tone and setting reminded me a little of Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway novels.  I also liked this follow-up, which was written with a keen appreciation of the subtle trauma involved in domestic abuse, although I do have some reservations about the depictions of violence. Once more it has led me to reflect on what level of detail, when it comes to descriptions of violence, is acceptable and in particular why we need to be treated to such graphic depictions of assaults on women.

Five year old Tilde hides under a table and watches as her mother is kicked to death. Stockholm police focus on the woman’s current boyfriend, Henrik, who has a history of domestic violence. Henrik’s ex-wife is a member of a new support group that brings together victims of abuse. Each has their story to tell but when violence impinges into one of their meetings, the dangers of their situation is suddenly brought into focus. Psychotherapist Siri Bergman, who is struggling to adjust to her own more settled domestic situation, becomes drawn into the lives of the women although the lines between professional and personal are increasingly blurred.

The opening scene which sees Susanne Olsson kicked to death is in some ways unrepresentative of a book that is both spookily tense and also spends time drawing out the multi-layered impact of family abuse. The tone of the writing is, in general, reflective and sober with emphasis on the lives of the victims. But the depictions of the killings were fairly graphic and as the narrative involves a child witness, I found that it gave the book an air on unreality. Without wanting to give too much of the plot away, how likely is it that the same child will witness two separate killings of unrelated women?

It’s a shame as this series has a lot of things going for it. But the violence made me stop short and question the legitimacy of the whole narrative. A lighter touch, I suspect, would have been much more successful.

Thanks to Simon and Schuster for my review copy. The translation was by Tara Chase.