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.

Nordic Noir Round-Up

My Nordic reading continues for both The Petrona Award and for Granite Noir where I’ll be interviewing three Scandi authors: Kristina Ohlsson, Kati Hiekkapelto and Gunnar Staalesen.

9781509809486chameleon-peopleChameleon People is the fourth book in the series featuring detective Kolbjorn ‘K2’ Kristiansen and his trusted advisor Patricia. As usual Lahlum mixes Golden Age writing style and plot structure  with political intrigue, in this case Norway’s 1972 vote on whether to join the EEC. It’s a substantial book and I enjoyed the fact that K2 has to investigate the case largely by himself due to Patricia’s antipathy towards his girlfriend, Miriam, and her own love life. Lahlum’s style is distinctive and I suspect you’re either a fan of this writer or you’re not. I always look forward to each new novel. The translation is by Kari Dickson.

41mxo4kt01l-_sx322_bo1204203200_Kati Heikkapelto writes books of a consistently high quality and The Exiled is no exception. Her protagonist, Anna Fekete, has returned to the Serbian village of her birth for a holiday but, after her bag is snatched and the perpetrator found drowned, she is dragged into an investigation that throws up questions about her own father’s death decades earlier. Probably Hiekkapelto’s best book to date, The Exiled  looks with insight and compassion at the lot of displaced people migrating through Europe and depressingly familiar attitudes to Roma. The translation is by David Hackston.

unwantedKristina Ohlsson is a security police analyst in Sweden and her books clearly reflect her in-depth knowledge of  criminal investigations. Unwanted  was her first book, published in English translation in 2011. A child is abducted on the Stockholm underground and initially the girl’s family comes under suspicion. In the finest tradition of Swedish crime fiction, the case is solved through meticulous team work, in this case by Investigative Analyst Fredrik Bergman and detectives Peder Rydh and Alex Recht. The subject matter makes it a shocking read which is balanced by the sobriety of police investigation. The translation is by Sarah Death.

I’m in the middle of two other Scandi books. The Midwife by Katja Kettu (on my kindle) and Who Watcheth by Helen Tursten. Reviews of these and more Nordic Noir coming soon…

My Top Ten Crime Books of 2016

Top ten books of the year have been appearing since the beginning of December but I’ve held off posting mine just in case of a last minute brilliant read. However, I’ve spent most of the festive period reading classic crime, a review of which I’ll post later.

2016 has been a bit of a mixed bag in terms of reading. I have found the submissions for this year’s Petrona to be uneven. Some long running series are feeling a bit tired and Scandi tropes which once felt fresh are increasingly being recycled to the extent that I feel I’ve already read the book. Having said that, the Nordic Noir books that do make it onto the list were a joy to read.

So, here are my top ten books of 2016 in no particular order. If you want to know which one was my favourite, I’ll reveal all in my new year newsletter.

dying-detectiveLeif G W Persson – The Dying Detective (translated by Neil Smith)

Persson is a writer with a sure touch but in this standalone he excels in both plotting and characterisation. It’s a substantial read with plenty to think about and written with Persson’s sly humour.

27152-books-origjpgPD James – The Mistletoe Murder and other stories

There will be no more Dalgliesh novels from James but Faber have provided us fans of the erudite detective with two short stories in this collection. Although they have previously appeared in publications, every story was new to me and the sumptuous cover made the book a  delight to read.

51dWXz1LAoL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_Fred Vargas – A Climate of Fear (translated by Sian Reynolds)

Another writer who delights in wry humour, this is Vargas back on form. Adamsberg is without doubt my favourite detective at the moment and the Icelandic setting for part of the story was an added bonus.

30840877-_uy200_David Mitchell – Slade House

I appear to have neglected to review this book. I think I was saving the post for a round-up of supernatural stories that I read over the year. It’s a great mix of crime and spooky events and I greatly enjoyed the way it unsettled the reader.

9781843446408Barry Forshaw – Brit Noir

This is a useful guide to British crime fiction divided by geographic region. The reviews of the merits of each writers books are perceptive and includes lesser known authors for aficionados to discover.

9781784292379Elly Griffiths – The Woman in Blue

One of my favourite crime series, I love the characters and the romantic tension between Nelson and Ruth. Here, the atmospheric setting of Walsingham provided the backdrop to a great plot.

 

9781910633359Agnes Ravatn – The Bird Tribunal (translated by Rosie Hedger)

Fans of Karin Fossum will love this story where the tension is slowly ratched up. It’s an example of how crime fiction can also be literary without the writing interfering with the story.

 

The-Crow-Girl-by-Erik-Axl-Sund-665x1024Erik Axl Sund – The Crow Girl

Violent and uncompromising, I loved how it pushes the reader to confront their prejudices in relation to perpetrators of brutality. It’s long but never dull.

 

A-Dying-Breed-lightPeter Hanington – A Dying Breed

A crime novel with a difference. The Afghanistan setting works equally as well as the world of news reporting in London. It gives an insight into the clashes between old and new style journalism. Peter Hannington is a writer to watch.

 

9781509809486chameleon-peopleHans Olav Lahlum – Chameleon People (translated by Kari Dickson)

The review for this excellent book will  be coming in my next Scandi round-up. It has all of Lahlum’s usual themes but his writing never tires. I found the character of the wheelchair-bound Patricia much more sympathetic in this book and there is clearly plenty of mileage left in the series.

So that’s my top ten. Next week I’ll be posting a list of books to watch for Spring 2017. I’ve already read some excellent novels and there’s plenty to look forward to.

Wishing all readers of Crimepieces a happy new year!

My Top Reads of 2015

It’s been quite a year for me as my own debut novel was published in July. Its meant that I’ve had to carve out dedicated time and space for reading books that might otherwise have become lost in my gargantuan TBR pile. Bloggers have been publishing their ‘best of’ lists all December and I’ve enjoyed reading them to see how our thoughts compare. And In Bitter Chill has been lucky enough to feature on some of the choices. However, now is my turn and, although I tried to keep it to five as in previous years, I cheated and made it six top choices for 2015.

233570921. The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

Here’s a book that’s featured on a number of  highlights of 2015 and rightly so. There’s a Hitchcockian devilry in the plot’s construction and the book’s premise – two people who meet on a plane and hatch a murder plot – has lots of scope for mishap and criminality. A book I read in one sitting it was so good.

2. Satellite People by Han Olav Lahlumsatellite-people-978023076953301

We were treated to two books by Lahlum this year and I slightly preferred the plot of Satellite People. A clear homage to Agatha Christie (he dedicates the book to her), for us fans of the queen of crime it was enjoyable to spot the references to her books. But an enjoyable read in its own right too.

237030503. The Abrupt Physics of Dying by Paul Hardisty

An intriguing title that seemed to unsettle my fellow passenger on the plane to the States. But it is a great book that demonstrates how thrillers can be both well written and engrossing. Hardisty is a writer with a promising future ahead of him.

4. Sleeping Dogs by Thomas Mogford.sleepingdogs

Mogford made it into my top reads of 2014 and he’s done it again this year. His book featuring Gibraltar detective Spike Sanguinetti is written to a consistently high quality and Sleeping Dogs was set in a country I know well, Greece.

51KZmDXMg9L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_5. The Undesired by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Yrsa won the Petrona Award for translated Scandinavian crime fiction for her previous book, Silence of the Sea. The Undesired is a standalone thriller that managed to chill me to the denouement. Her endings, without giving any spoilers, can be brutal and she never flinches from exposing the worst of the human psyche.

6. Untouchable by Ava MarshUntouchable

A great debut by another writer who shows plenty of promise. Untouchable is the story of a London call girl who takes on the investigation of one of her fellow workers. A tightly written story that I’ve been telling all my friends to read.

So those are my highlights of 2015. I’ve got plenty to read over Christmas and New Year and I’m looking forward to bringing you more reviews in 2016. And if you want to find out which of these books was my outright favourite, sign up for my newsletter with the button on the right. All will be revealed next week.

Winter Reads

With all the travelling that I’ve been doing for In Bitter Chill there has been plenty of time to catch up on some crime novels sitting in my TBR pile. I’ve also been reading for the Petrona Award for translated Scandinavian crime fiction. Some of the books I’ve read have been excellent which promises for an interesting judging meeting in March.

imageI’m a big fan of Hans Olav Lahlum’s writing. As a classic crime reader I naturally like the late sixties setting and the nod in both style and content to some of the great crime writers. The Catalyst Killing is set in 1970 and revolves around the murder of members of a political group. Once more it’s the dynamic between the earnest Inspector Kristiansen and the talented but housebound Patricia that makes this book sparkle. A continuing theme in Lahlum’s work is the legacy of Nazi collaboration in the Second World War. It’s made it into all his novels so far and I’d like to see something different in the next one. But Lahlum is always a hugely enjoyable read. The translation is by Kari Dickson.

Karin Fossum is also a writer I enjoy reading but I’ve come late to her work and imageI’m behind on the series featuring Inspector Sejer. The Drowned Boy is a very clever book. In an age of multiple narrators, timelines and plot strands, Fossum’s premise is simple. Did the teenage Carmen drown her young son, Tommy? The fact that the dead child had Downs Syndrome gives the narrative added poignancy. Is Carmen showing frozen grief, heartlessness or cleverly disguising an evil nature? There’s an air of unreality to the plot and of justice only slowly coming to pass. The translation was again by Kari Dickson.

imageDoug Johnstone’s The Jump is a moving depiction of the aftermath of a teenager’s suicide on the boy’s mother, Ellie. After talking down another teenage boy from the Forth Road Bridge who was about to kill himself she tries to support him but plunges into a maelstrom of family secrets. It’s an unsettling read as we put ourselves in Ellie’s shoes and it’s great to read a book where the quality of the writing matches the calibre of the plot.

I met Alistair Fruish when I visited HMP Leicester where he is the writer in imageresidence. Kiss my Asbo is a mix of science fiction and noir chronicling the adventures of a teenager who takes a blue pill and embarks on an angry rampage through Northampton. An unusual but entertaining read containing anger and humour in equal measure.

Review: Hans Olav Lahlum – Satellite People

satellite-people-978023076953301I was a big fan of Lahlum’s first book to be translated into English. The Human Flies is a crime novel set in the late sixties which provides an interesting takes on the locked room mystery. It’s on the shortlist for the 2015 Petrona Award and was one of my top five reads of last year. I was sent a copy of Lahlum’s second book Satellite People in January but I’d been saving it until we’d finished judging the Petrona. It was worth the wait. If anything, Satellite People is an even better book. It’s a perfect blend of classic crime motifs and modern narrative structure.

In Oslo, in 1968, a wealthy businessman dies during a dinner party. He had only the day before contacted Inspector Kolbjorn Kristiansen claiming his life was in danger. Kristiansen, known as K2, takes charge of the case and discovers that only one of the ten dinner guests could have carried out the murder. But when other family members begin to die, K2 seeks the help of the brilliant Patricia who, from her wheelchair, guides the course of the investigation.

Lahlum dedicates Satellite People to Agatha Christie, ‘the queen of classic crime’. It’s a nice touch, especially given the plot influences contained within the book. I won’t go into detail which of Christie’s novels or their plots are referenced here. Suffice to say that fans will see echoes of Cards on the Table, And Then There were None and Three Act Tragedy and plenty more besides. But while Christie’s devious narratives are mined, Lahlum provides a substance to his characters that are sometimes missing from the crime queen’s books. Kristiansen is once more portrayed as a diligent and enthusiastic detective with a strong sense of justice. His sexual attraction to a possible suspect gives him a more human dimension than in the previous novel. Patricia is the pivotal figure in solving the case and we see her developing from a brilliant child to a perceptive and driven woman.

The effects of the Second World War are examined again in the book. As it is the late sixties, events are in the near past and provide plenty of possibilities for instances of secrets and betrayal. There are lots of twists and turns until we reach the conclusion and Lahlum, for one final time, uses a plot device from Christie for the denouement.

Lahlum has delivered an excellent book and it is easily the best crime novel I’ve read this year so far. We’re being tempted by the news that the third book in the series is currently being translated by the excellent Kari Dickson. I can’t wait.

Thanks to Pan Macmillan for my review copy.

My Top Five Reads of 2014

It’s been a strange reading year for me. I read less than I have done in a long while, mainly as I was concentrating on my own writing. It’s actually very hard to do both. I use Goodreads to log my reads and I know I finished 56 books this year which is around one a week.

There were, however, some gems amongst the books. What has surprised me is how much I’ve enjoyed novels written in the English language. You’ll see translated fiction in my list, of course, but I’ve discovered some amazing home-grown writers too.

It was hard to whittle the list down to my traditional five. I apologise for the male bias but that’s the way my reading went this year. I did think about having a top 10 instead. It would have been around a fifty-fifty male-female split. But it has been a ‘top five’ since Crimepieces started. And what’s Christmas without tradition?

1. Thomas Mogford – Hollow Mountain

TM

I’ve come to this series in the third book and I’d love to go back and read the earlier ones. Mogford is an excellent writer. The books are thrillers set in Gibraltar with a hard edge and excellent characterisation. The place comes alive in Mogford’s hands and I wish I’d discovered this author sooner.

 

2. Parker Bilal – The Ghost Runner

Parker Bilal

Another writer that I wish I’d read earlier. The Ghost Runner is set in the Egyptian desert and has the feel of a place existing on the margins of society. The protagonist is a stranger in a foreign country and there’s a feeling of isolation and otherness that make this book a special read.

 

3. K T Medina – White Crocodile

White-Crocodile-cover1

A debut novel set partly in Cambodia. The writing is excellent and a sense of menace dominates the narrative set amongst landmine clearance. I can’t wait to see what comes next from this talented writer.

 

4. Hans Olav Lahlum – The Human Flies

20140619-065221-24741563.jpg

Delightfully retro and with a tightly contained plot, Lahlum’s book was the star translation for me this year. Another writer that I can’t wait to read again.

 

5. Barry Forshaw – Euro Noir 

Euro noir

 

Not a crime novel but an essential guide to what’s available in translation from Europe. There are some excellent recommendations, particularly from countries largely undiscovered such as Greece and Romania. And I love the retro cover.

So a slightly different list than I expected at the start of the year. But that’s the joy of reading. The discovery of new books and writers. Do you agree with my choices? I’d love to hear.