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.

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.