A short interlude

I’m aware that it’s over three weeks since I last posted on Crimepieces.  First of all, to make my excuses, here’s what I’ve been up to. I’ve been finishing the first draft of my fourth book. The photo doesn’t give much away, I’m afraid, even the title but it’ll be the fourth book in my DC Connie Childs series. The narrative is split between the present day and the 1950s and it’s been fascinating to research this interesting decade.

At Crimefest in Bristol the 2017 Petrona Award for Scandinavian crime fiction was presented to Gunnar Staalesen for Where Roses Never Die. A really excellent book. I’ve now started to read for the 2018 award, beginning with The Thirst by Jo Nesbo. It’s a substantial book at 537 pages and Nesbo is always eminently readable. Translated by Neil Smith, the prose has you turning the page but, be warned, it’s the most violent Nesbo yet. The killer has a way of dispatching his victims that’s gruesome in the extreme and Nesbo cleverly uses the rise of social media, and Tinder in particular, to frightening effect. Lovers of Harry Hole will  be delighted but it won’t be for everyone.

I’ve also read two new books, one coming later this month and one early next year. Both were excellent. Kathy Reichs is best known for her series featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan. Two Nights marks a departure for her.  Her new protagonist, Sunnie Knight, is an ex police officer who is hired by a wealthy woman looking for her granddaughter. A bomb explosion killed other members of the family but the girl was lost in the confusion. Sunny heads to Chicago with enemies on her trail to track down the girl. The book is different in style and tone from Reich’s other books and is perfect for fans of Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky. Her new protagonist will easily carry a new series and I’m looking forward to reading more. Two Nights is out on the 29th June.

I then had a reading break as a number of books I picked up were put down again, unable to get beyond the first couple of pages. We all go through reading slumps like this, I guess. However, mine was revived by an excellent book, The Confession by Jo Spain. It’s a bit naughty including it here, as it’s not out until next year but it really is excellent. A woman watches her husband being brutally attacked and the next day the assailant hands himself in. We know who did it but not why and the narrative gradually reveals the reason behind the attack. I won’t say any more except that you’re in for a treat next year.  It was a delight to read. You can follow Jo Spain on Twitter @SpainJoanne.

I hope I’ve managed to pique your interest about some of these books including mine! We’ve three months to wait until A Patient Fury is out but I have some lovely things happening around that time. More soon.

I’ll also be appearing this month in the British Library at the Bodies from the Library event to talk about Elizabeth Daly. I’m a big fan and if any readers of Crimepieces are too do please let me know.

Review: Jo Nesbo – Blood on Snow

517Sl6iwsUL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I’m a big fan of Jo Nesbo’s books. I know he’s not to everyone’s taste but I love the sheer readability of what he produces and, if I’m to be honest, the bloody nature of his narratives. He’s best known, in translation at least, for his series featuring the Oslo detective Harry Hole although I also enjoyed his two standalone books, The Son and Headhunters. Now, with the publication of Blood on Snow, we have a new series to enjoy and a new translator of Nesbo’s writing into English.

 Olav is a ‘fixer’ employed by Daniel Hoffman to eliminate extraneous people from his life. When he is tasked with killing Hoffman’s wife, Olav’s only worry is whether he will be allowed to live afterwards, given the amount of dirt he now has on his employer. But when he catches sight of the beautiful Corina all thoughts of killing her disappear. He instead murders the man with whom she has been having a violent affair and sets off a chain of events that leaves him in the sights of two rival gangs.

Blood on Snow is an interesting book in that it provides many of the things we as readers demand from Nesbo. There’s often a lack of demarcation between the hunter and hunted and Olav finds himself in the position of needing to kill before he is killed. Nesbo has been criticised for his excessive use of violence and there’s plenty of gore here. It’s a difficult one because it feels an essential part of Nesbo’s style of prose and therefore not gratuitous. In fact, it was the sex scenes that were slightly awkward although these were partly explained in the plot’s conclusion.

Blood on Snow is a short book at 198 pages of quite large print. But it packs in plenty of action and, unlike some of Nesbo’s more recent books, feels resolutely set in Oslo. The translation was by Neil Smith who, as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, is my favourite translator of Swedish and Norwegian crime fiction. He’s done an excellent job with this new Nesbo and is busy translating the next book in the series. This, based on the blurb, promises to be an even more appealing read.

Review: Jo Nesbo – The Son

Nesbo is an interesting writer. He’s hugely popular around the world it’s not difficult to see why. His books are always immenseson-jo-nesboly readable and he is able to create larger than life characters that jump off the page. His novels are substantial reads. The Son runs to 496 pages but, once you are into the narrative, it’s virtually impossible to put down. Although not part of the series featuring detective Harry Hole, after the disappointment of Nesbo’s previous standalone, HeadhuntersThe Son is a return to form. Assuming, as always, you can stomach the violence.

Sonny Lofthus is the son of a policeman who killed himself when he was revealed as the mole in the Oslo police department who was passing secrets to a criminal known as The Twin. Sonny is a drug addict incarcerated in prison who has become famous for his confessor-like status amongst inmates. During one confession, he discovers something that brings into question his father’s guilt. Escaping from jail, he wreaks justice on those he holds responsible for the destruction of his family. Simon Kefas, a colleague and friend of Sonny’s father, pursues the fugitive convinced that he can also unpick the truth about the identity of the real mole.

Nesbo is one the main proponents of Norweigian crime fiction and, in his earlier books, brought to life the city of Oslo for those of us who have never been. The Son is unusual in that, at times, I forgot it was set in Scandinavia. The narrative world is insular, focusing mainly on life inside a hostel for drug addicts and then the wider criminal community. As in previous Nesbo books, there’s a shocking reveal as part of the plot which I only guessed in the preceding few pages.

The most successful part was the depiction of the life of Sonny Lofhus. In many ways he’s not a particularly innovative creation and yet Nesbo always manages to make me sympathise with his criminals. In particular the tension in his relationship with hostel worker, Martha, was well depicted however improbable the scenario.

Nesbo will continue to divide readers, I’m sure. I’ve read a few reviews of this book and some of them have been brutal. But I started reading crime fiction as a teenager because I loved the fact that, once started, I couldn’t put the books down. Nesbo, for me, carries on this tradition.

Thanks to Karen at Eurocrime for my copy. The translation was by Charlotte Baslund.

The Best of January’s Reading

January is always a productive time for crime fiction. Along with new publications, we also get advance review copies of Janus-Vaticannovels not hitting the bookshop shelves until spring and sometimes the summer. I reviewed a mixture of these, from Peter May’s recently published Entry Island to Louise Welsh’s A Lovely Way to Burn which is out in March. I also caught up on some of my reading for the The Petrona Award for translated Scandinavian crime fiction. Of everything I read, it was Welsh’s book that made the strongest impression. I’m a fan of apocalyptic fiction anyway but the quality of Welsh’s writing made this a compelling read.

The six books I reviewed for Crimepieces were:

1. The Second Deadly Sin by Asa Larsson

2. A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh

3. The Disappeared by Kristina Ohlsson

4. Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo

5. Entry Island by Peter May

6. Strange Shores by Arnaldur Indridason

Review: Jo Nesbo – Cockroaches

For those of us who were early readers of Nesbo’s books, the order in which they were translated into English was Jo Nesbo - Cockroachesproblematic. Hole had clearly spent time in both Australia and Thailand working on cases that had impacted on his professional and personal life. But we, as readers, had no idea of the substance of these investigations. The Australian conundrum was finally solved last year with the publication of Nesbo’s first book The Bat which, confusingly, introduced us to a sober Harry Hole. Nesbo’s second book, Cockroaches, has also recently been translated and, finally, we discover what actually happened during Harry’s Thai sojourn.

Harry Hole, off the Jim Beam but killing himself with beer, is sent by his boss to Thailand to investigate the death of the Norwegian ambassador in a motel room. Following a recent scandal involving a prominent Norweigian citizen and child pornography, the governments of both Norway and Thailand are keen to avoid any scandal. Harry discovers that the death consists of layers of deception that need unravelling in the Thai heat. We get a glimpse into the excesses of expat life, the seedy underbelly of prostitutes plying their trade and a police force trying to solve a crime under the scrutiny of those wanting to protect their political positions.

Although only Nesbo’s second book, this is a much more assured narrative than The Bat. We see Hole using his intuition and investigative skills to solve a case, while wrestling with his demons from the past. The fact that he’s not always successful in either case adds an air of vulnerability to the character and uncertainty for the reader as to how many victims we can expect until the plot is resolved. The Thai setting is a familiar one for crime readers although we also get a fair bit of the history of the country which I thought was well done. The Bat was criticised by some Australian readers for its incorrect portrayal of the Aboriginal past. I wonder how successful Nesbo was also at accurately depicting the history of the sex trade in Thaliand but it certainly made interesting reading.

I’m sure that Nesbo’s existing fans will enjoy this book. For me, it was one of the most engaging ones that he’s written although I can never make up my mind if his plot’s are deceptively simple or fiendishly complicated. I suppose the fact I can’t decide is a credit to the writer.

Thanks to Vintage for me review copy. The translation was by Don Bartlett.

Review: Jo Nesbo – Police

PoliceI only keep a watching eye on the internet search terms that bring readers to my blog. However I couldn’t help noticing the amount of traffic that came to my review of Jo Nesbo’s Phantom with the question ‘Is Harry Hole dead?’ Phantom ended with Hole lying bleeding to death on the floor in a drug addict’s apartment. It looked like it was the end for the detective and would have provided a fitting finale for the series. However, Hole is back in Police with the promise of a new direction for future books.

A serial killer is murdering police by luring them to the scenes of their unsolved crimes. The Oslo police force, led by Mikael Bellman, are coming under increasing political pressure to solve the case but the killer leaves no DNA traces at the scene and is able to entice his victims with apparent ease to their deaths. In desperation the investigating team turn to Harry Hole, sober once more and teaching at a university. Although initially refusing to take on the case, the death of a close former colleague draws him into the path of the serial killer.

Police is a huge book, around 500 pages long, but it contains much that is enjoyable about Nesbo. It provides a taut and edgy mystery with return of some characters from earlier books such as forensics expert Beate Lonne and psychologist Stale Aune. Nesbo has previously said that he could have finished his series with this which is his tenth book. And in many respects Police has a fin-de-sciecle feel to it with the resolution of a number of strands of earlier novels. But, as we would expect from Nesbo, the book has an edge to it. There is more explicit sex in Police than previous books and although the violence is toned down slightly there is a shocking murder half way through the narrative. Nesbo is excellent at making the murders appear both realistic and slightly fantastic and things are no different here.

Hole is sober throughout and I actually prefer the alcohol free character with his ever-present demons. He doesn’t appear until at least half way through the story and its testament to the power of the character that the story doesn’t seem to get going properly until Hole’s appearance. There’s a fairly irritating plot strand early on involving an obsessive student. On one hand it seems entirely in keeping with Hole’s character that he is attractive to his female students but is brusque in his refusal sleep with the girl. However the whole scenario had an element of male fantasy about it and the girl appears both vulnerable and psychotic.

It’s difficult to see how the series will develop with a newly sober and settled Harry. There are hints at demons that refuse to disappear which may be a clue to future books. Nesbo is now at that difficult stage with a series that is about to enter its ‘teens’. Fingers crossed that he manages to keep up the quality.

Scandi Crime Fiction Events Round-Up

Barry Forshaw, Jo Nesbo, 2013Last week-end was a crime fiction bonanza as I attended events in both Manchester and Scotland. I could have saved time by seeing all of the authors in Stirling as part of Bloody Scotland. However, I was keen to support the launch the Manchester Literature Festival by watching Jo Nesbo being interviewed by the excellent Barry Forshaw. I first saw Nesbo in Harrogate around seven years ago when The Redbreast had just been published. Since then he has achieved superstar status as evidenced by the tour he has been undertaking around the country to promote his latest book, Police. In Manchester, the event filled the banqueting room in the Town Hall with fans interested to know the impetus behind Harry Hole’s latest story.

For me, what was interesting was the writing process behind Nesbo’s lengthy books. Nesbo creates a long synopsis, up to 100 pages in length, and then proceeds to ‘damage’ it in the writing process. Police, which I’ve just started reading, was described by the interviewer as one of Nesbo’s most sexually graphic novels. This may, in part, be due to a need to counterbalance Harry’s sobriety in this latest book. I quite liked the sober Harry in Nesbo’s first book, The Bat, so it should make interesting reading. It promises to be a bumper year for fans of this series, with book 2, Cockroaches, set to be published in November.

Bloody Scotland, now in its second year, featured a wide range of authors from around the world. En route to friends in Edinburgh, I wanted to catch two Scandinavian writers who I haven’t yet seen: Arne Dahl and Mons Kallentoft. Despite arriving late for the Dahl event due to a horrendous M6, I found him to be a fascinating speaker and, again, the room in the Albert Halls was packed for his interview with Peter Gutteridge. Dahl also creates detailed synopses for his writing which helps shape his complex plot lines. His explanation for the popularity of Swedish crime fiction was interesting: that its style is close enough to British and American thrillers to be recognisable. I’ve just finished book 2 in the Intercrime series and can attest to the book’s complexity which is one of its greatest strengths. The review is to follow later this week-end.

Mons Kallentoft’s books are a personal favourite of mine. He seems to divide readers with his distinctive style and alcohol soaked female protagonist. I was interested to hear the background to Malin Fors’s creation. Looking at British crime fiction he liked the idea of a central character with a raft of personal problems and decided to use them in a female protagonist.  There is a stong sense of place in Kallentoft’s books but Linköping, the town where his books are set, was a place he couldn’t wait to leave as a teenager. As a reader, I am pleased to hear that in Kallentoft’s next book The Fifth Season which is due to be published next year we get to find out what happened to the rape victim whose case has been a preoccupation of Malin’s since the first book.

One common theme to all three interviews was the adaptation of their books to film and television. Nesbo’s Harry Hole series has yet to make it onto the big screen although the books have been optioned by Martin Scorsese. Arne Dahl’s Intercrime series, which has been shown on BBC4, is one of the reasons for the author’s popularity. I personally prefer the books to the series but I suspect I was in the minority at the event. Kallentoft revealed that he had turned down TV offers. Apparently  for every decent Scandinavian crime series there are plenty that are well below standard. BBC commissioning editors take note!

All three authors paid tribute to their English translators: Don Bartlett, Rachel Willson-Broyles and Neil Smith. The quality of English translations are, in my opinion, one of the reasons the books are so popular here. It’s good to know the authors recognise this.

Thanks to Barry Forshaw for sending me the photo of him and Jo Nesbo. As usual, mine were dire.