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.

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The Best of August’s Reading

Gladstone libraryAugust was quiet in relation to crime fiction events for me, with the exception of the excellent launch of Martin Edwards’s new book, The Frozen Shroud. However, my reading continued at a slower pace and all the books that I finished were of a high quality, mainly I suspect I only read what I really wanted to. Three of this month’s books were by ‘new to me writers’: Martin Edwards, Linda Stratmann and A D Garett. I hope to carry on reading all of these authors.

My book of the month is Jan Costin Wagner’s Light in a Dark House which is continuing a high quality series which is a must read for me, although the book wasn’t quite up to the standard of earlier ones.

The five books I read for Crimepieces were:

1. Everyone Lies by A D Garrett

2. Cold Hearts by Gunnar Staalesen

3. The Frozen Shroud by Martin Edwards

4. Light in a Dark House by Jan Costin Wagner

5. A Case of Doubtful Death by Linda Stratmann

I have some cracking books set for September, so fingers crossed….

Review: Jan Costin Wagner – Light in a Dark House

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a big fan of Jan Costin Wagner. I read his first book, Ice Moon, back in 2006 when it was first translated into English. Since then, the books have slowly been slowly trickling through, each one eagerly awaited by me. I was lucky enough to meet the author at the CWA Crime Writing Festival in July and discuss his writing with him. There is strong sense of development in the series. The first book opens with the death of Sanna, the wife of police detective Kimmo Joentaa. It sets the tone for the rest of the books: sad, reflective and sometimes utterly bleak. By the end of The Winter of the Lions, Kimmo has entered into a relationship with a prostitute, who he only knows by her assumed name, Larissa. This provides the starting point for the fourth book in the series, Light in a Dark House.

Kimmo is called to investigate the case of a woman in a coma who has been killed while the murderer wept over the body. It triggers a series of murders which have their roots in the brutal assault in a teenage girl in the 1980s. Kimmo tries to unravel the case while fruitlessly e-mailing his girlfriend who has left home following an awkward meeting with his boss at his party. But Larissa’s experience as a prostitute is also giving her insight into the violent motives behind the murder.

The book, for me, lived up to my expectations largely I suspect because Costin Wagner doesn’t churn out his novels. Instead, we’re getting a slow but reflective series that deals with some of the potent issues in Finnish society – in this book it’s the violence against women. The descriptions of Finland are divine and it is here that the German author’s view from outside of the culture is so interesting.

The relationship between Kimmo and Larissa does get a little wearying at times. I found that the detective’s obsession with the enigmatic prostitute was allowed to dominate the narrative in some sections but then Costin Wagner’s books have always been more about relationships than simply a straightforward murder plot.

I hope that Light in a Dark House introduces new fans to this wonderful writer. I suspect his books won’t be for everyone. There’s nothing warm or cosy about either the content or the style of his books. But, for me, he’s one of the best.

The best of January’s reading.

January, a miserable month for us living in the northern hemisphere, was redeemed by some excellent crime fiction reading. I read 10 books for crimepieces and perhaps because there was a stong Scandinavian presence, the common theme seemed to be murders set to the backdrop of freezing winters. However, the highlight of my month was set in a much warmer climate, the Australian Desert. Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland combined sparky writing with a great sense of place and one of the best female detectives around.

The books I read in January were:

1. Death and the Spanish Lady by Carolyn Morwood. (completed as part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge).

2. The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart

3. The Winter of the Lions by Jan Costin Wagner

4. Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George

5. Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland

6. V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton (also reviewed for crimesquad.com)

7. The Mask of Glass by Holly Roth

8. The Final Murder by Anne Holt

9. 1222 by Anne Holt

10. Midwinter Sacrifice by Mons Kallentoft

Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise is hosting a meme summarizing the crime fiction recommendations for January 2012.

Review: Jan Costin Wagner – The Winter of the Lions

I read Wagner’s first book Ice Moon when it came out in 2006 and loved it. It was a moving tale of a murder investigation set to the background of a man’s grief for his recently dead wife. It could have been a difficult subject to get right but was very well done. However the writer dropped off my radar and his follow-up book Silence, published in 2010, passed me by. I noticed recently that he had had a third book published in 2011 so I did a quick catch up over Christmas, taking in both Silence  and his latest book The Winter of Lions.

The Winter of Lions features, once again, Detective Kimmo Joentaa who is investigating the murder of two men who have recently been guests on a famous TV talk show. The subject of the discussion had been the investigation of violent death and now both the forensic pathologist and the puppet maker, an expert at recreating dead bodies, have been killed. Kimmo is convinced that the key to the murder lies in the lifelike nature of the puppets and that one of the models was recognised by the killer. Once again Wagner manages to make the plot interesting without being too gruesome. The puppet maker has used photographs of violent deaths from plane and train crashes and somehow this doesn’t come across too gory in Wagner’s hands. The plot is slightly bizarre, but not so much so that it is completely unbelievable.

An interesting sub-plot was the emergence of a woman in Kimmo’s life, the enigmatic ‘Larissa’ whose background is uncertain. She is a hazy and slightly suspicious figure although Kimmo is obviously drawn to her. I imagine that she will feature heavily on later books but here she plays a supporting role, entering Kimmo’s life during the lonely Christmas period.

I had forgotten what a good writer Wagner was. His prose has a sparseness and matter of fact quality which works so well when dealing with difficult subjects. He is most definitely back on my radar now.

For other reviews see Eurocrime and International Noir Fiction.