Nordic Noir Round-Up

Karin Fossum has a unique voice although I don’t always share her bleak view of the world.  Her latest book The Whisperer, translated by Kari Dickson, focuses largely on the interplay between Inspector Konrad Sejer and a woman whose crime is only revealed to the reader towards the end of the book.  It’s a fascinating and creepy read. Is Ragna being persecuted and, if so, who would care enough to focus their attention on this elderly nondescript woman? I’m never entirely sure about Fossum’s endings and it’s true in this case too but I love her writing and am always excited to read her next book.

Jorn Lier Horst is a former Petrona winner and is one of the most consistent writers around. His Wisting books are elevated by excellent characterisation and strong plots. The Katharina Code is one of his best. An age-old crime where a set of numbers were left on a dining room table is reopened when police re-focus on the woman’s husband and his possible involvement in an earlier, apparently unconnected, case. Wisting, who has befriended Martin Haugen over the years, has harboured doubts about the man’s innocence and he becomes a sometimes unwilling participant in the surveillance operation. Horst has written a well-plotted thriller and it was great to escape into the Norwegian landscape. The translation is by Anne Bruce.

It’s odd to note that Hakan Nesser has never appeared on a Petrona shortlist as he’s one of my favourite writers. I love the Van Veeteren series and am gradually getting acquainted with his new protagonist Barbarotti. At 595 pages, The Root of Evil is a huge book and the plot is deceptively simple: a group of friends in the Swedish town of Kymlinge are being murdered and it looks to be connected to an event that happened in Brittany in 2002. Nothing is straightforward with Nesser though and we’re drawn into a sophisticated tale with some wonderful characters. Ultimately the length of the book just about works and it’s my favourite Nesser for a long while. The translation is by Sarah Death.

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Nordic Noir Round-Up

Christmas has been an excellent time to catch up on my Nordic Noir reading. We seem to have had a record year for submissions to the Petrona Award for Scandinavian crime fiction and, as well as old favourites, I’ve been trying to catch up new writers to see what they have to offer.

At 467 pages, The Anthill Murders is Hans Olav Lahlum’s longest book yet. Lahlum’s books are distinguished by his classic-crime style plots and the unusual relationship between criminal investigator Kolborn Kristiansen and Patricia, his intelligent, paralysed assistant. The subject matter is unusual for Lahlum. There is a serial killer at large attacking women on the streets on Norway, thereby giving the narrative a wider canvas than Lahlum’s previous books. Nevertheless, I found the plotting to be very tight and, also, without giving too much away, with a nod to Agatha Christie’s ABC Murders. This is probably Lahlum’s best book yet and is translated by Kari Dickson.

The White City by Karolina Ramqvist is the English language debut by a writer whose sparse and moving prose provided a much needed bite of reality over the Christmas period. It’s the story of a woman whose partner, involved in a series of shady dealings, has disappeared. Left with her baby, Dream, in a house that authorities are intending to take from her, Karin tries to track down her husband’s associates to claim his share of any remaining assets. It’s a very short but powerful read and an interesting insight into the partners of those involved in organised crime. I thought the book beautiful written and I hope more from Ramqvist is published here in the future. White City is translated by Saskia Vogel.

Hakan Nesser is one of my favourite writers and he never disappoints. The Darkest Day is the first novel in a new five-part series Inspector Barbarotti. In a small Swedish town, a family are gathering to celebrate two generations of birthdays. When two members of  the family go missing in apparently unconnected events, Barbarotti has to dig deep into family tensions to solve the crimes. The Darkest Day is an unusual book. It’s written in Nesser’s characteristic intelligent style but the resolutely Swedish setting and unusual plot lines are a departure. Although it took me a while to get into the story, it’s a clever and disturbing book. The translation is by Sarah Death.

Snare is the much anticipated English language debut by Icelandic writer Lilja Sigurdardottir. Sonia is a single mother blackmailed into smuggling drugs through Keflavik airport by associates threatening to harm her son if she doesn’t comply with their instructions. A customs  officer, Bragi, beings to notice the smart young woman travelling regularly through the airport. Snare is a taut thriller with strong characterisation and some frank sex scenes. It’s good to read a book with a realistic lesbian character. The translation is by Quentin Bates.

I’ve had Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito on my shelf for a while and I’m sorry I took so long to get around to reading it as it’s a compelling book. Maja Norberg is on trial for her part in a classroom killing which saw her boyfriend, best friend, teacher and classmates killed in a shooting massacre. We see the events leading up to both the killing and the trial through her eyes only, including her take on how her legal team handle her defence. Giolito effectively pulls the reader into the story with a single narrator and there are no easy answers as to motives behind the killings. An excellent translation by Rachel Willson-Broyles serves to highlight the occasional childishness of Maja’s justifications for her actions.

Have you read any good Scandinavian crime fiction over the festive period? I’d love to hear some of your recommendations.

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.

 

Review: Håkan Nesser – The Living and the Dead in Winsford

51I7Od6SANL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, Håkan Nesser is one of my favourite authors from Scandinavia. He’s an interesting writer because, although he hails from Sweden, his Van Veeteren books are set in the fictional city of Maardam which I’ve always felt has a Dutch feel to the place. The actual country where the city is located is never revealed to the reader. With his last book to be translated into English, The G File, the series came to an end. This year, however, fans of Nesser have two standalone books of his to enjoy: The Summer of Kim Novak which I’ll be reviewing next week and The Living and Dead in Winsford. They are very different but excellent reads.

In the village of Winsford on Exmoor, a woman arrives to take up residency of an isolated cottage. She tells locals that she is a Swedish author who is writing her next book. However, Maria’s intention is simply to outlive her dog. Maria is escaping the recent traumas where we know that she and her husband, Martin, had to flee Stockholm because of a scandal. Martin is portrayed as a blustery liar who may have raped a maid at a hotel. Her children are keeping their distance and Maria has long since stopped loving her husband. However, why Maria is now on her own in a foreign country is only gradually revealed.

Håkan Nesser generality writes substantial books and The Living and Dead in Winsford is no exception. The atmosphere of Exmoor, its isolated location and bleak weather is well portrayed and Maria appears to revel in the landscape, taking long walks in an attempt to exorcise the past. What her personal history is, however, is only gradually revealed to the reader. When it becomes clear what Maria is escaping from, the reader becomes engrossed in how Maria’s story will be concluded. This is partly due to the fact that she clearly settles into the community, forming a relationship with a local man. It’s hard to say any more without giving too much of the plot away.

The book is part thriller but also reads like literary fiction. This is no surprise as Nesser is an excellent writer. The tone is less humorous than his Van Veetern series but was perfectly suited to the narrative. A great read.

Thanks to Pan Macmillan for my review copy. The translation was by Laurie Thompson.

Review: Hakan Nesser – The G File

The G FileHakan Nesser is one of my favourite crime writers. His Woman with Birthmark easily features in my top 10 crime novels of all time and I’ve found his output to be of a consistently high quality. His protagonist Van Veeteren has taken a back seat in some of Nesser’s later books but he is back with a vengeance in this final novel of the series. The G File features that most potent of cases, an old investigation that remains tantalisingly unsolved. But, given that it’s Nesser who’s doing the writing, there is plenty in the narrative to surprise the reader.

In 1987, private investigator Verlangen is approached by a woman to follow her husband, Jaan ‘G’ Hennan. When the woman is found dead days later in her empty swimming pool, suspicion naturally falls on Hennan who has a reputation for violence. However, at the time of his wife’s death Hennan was drinking in a bar with Verlangen, the man who was being paid to watch him. Although Hennan is arrested, Van Veeteren, who has his own demons to conquer in relation to the suspect, is unable to find anything to prove the man’s guilt. Fifteen years later Verlangen goes missing, leaving behind a message that suggests he finally found proof of Hennan’s guilt. For Van Veeteren it’s a chance to finally lay ghosts to rest and one last case before he completely retires.

Some books that complete a series are often a disappointment, earning their plaudits as much from the sense of an ending than literary merit. This isn’t the case with The G File. At 400 pages, it’s a long book but the splitting of the narrative onto two distinct parts, that of 1987 and 2002, means that the plot never drags. The character of Verlangen, alcohol soaked yet loving his teenage daughter, which is developed in the first part exerts a strong pull in the later narrative, despite his absence. There is a nice symmetry, typical of Nesser’s writing, that his now adult daughter instigates the search for her missing father.

I guess is must be part homage to the books of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö that there have been ten books in this series. We have seen Van Veeteren morph from a serving Chief Inspector to a retired bookshop owner, dragged out of his retirement for one last case. In this final book he displays the tenacity and talent we as readers have grown to appreciate and it is a fitting end to the series. And, without giving away too much of the plot, Nesser still has the ability to surprise.

Thanks to Pan Macmillan for my copy of the book. The translation was by Laurie Thompson.

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.

Review: Hakan Nesser – The Strangler’s Honeymoon

20131121-081340.jpgI had hoped to read and review this book before now as Nesser is one of my favourite writers. However it was pushed down the pile until last week when I finally managed to finish what turned out to be one of the writer’s best books, not least because of the welcome reappearance of Maardam police inspector Van Veeteren.

Sixteen year old Monica Kammerle has an affair with he mother’s boyfriend and little realises that she is consorting with a killer who is unable to deal with rejection. When her mother’s body is found under the bed of their apartment, police are desperate to track down the missing Monica, convinced that the killer has struck again. Van Veeteren is drawn into the case when he promises to help a priest who is later killed without revealing the source of his concern.

We are now reaching the end of the series with one book left to go. The novels have been a delight to read and although some have been better than others, the series is distinguished by the deceptive complexity of the plots and the quality of the writing. Nesser also has the ability to deliver a creepy read without resorting to cheap gimmicks, relying instead on a slow build up of tension that leaves the reader in a state of satisfying disorientation.

The Strangler’s Honeymoon opens with a brief but brutal killing on a Greek island. It’s textbook Nesser. We have encountered the killer from the off and now we are waiting to see how the plot unfolds. Although we are inside the killer’s mind, his place in society and name are hidden from both the police and reader until the final section. In many ways it is this part that is the most thrilling. All has been revealed but Van Veeteren embarks on a personal mission to unsettle and unmask the killer that concludes, where it began, back in Greece.

The vulnerability of women has been a continuing theme in Nesser’s work and it is explored further here, although naturally, not everything is as it seems. As he has shown before, women can be both the abusers and the abused and the difference is sometimes indistinguishable.

Nesser has pulled off the trick of wiring a novel that, ninth in the series, satisfies all the requirements of devotees of his books but at the same time could be picked up and read by a reader new to his work. It’s a fitting penultimate book to the series and it’s just a case of now waiting until next year for the final instalment, The G File.

Thanks to Mantle for my copy of the novel.