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.

Review: Jorn Lier Horst – Ordeal

9781910124758This is my second blog tour in a week which is unusual for me as I don’t normally take part in them. They’re wonderful things but I never seem to be able to read to a particular deadline. However, I definitely wanted to take part in this one as I’m a huge fan of Lier Horst’s writing. I think I’ve reviewed all this English translations on this blog and Ordeal is a worthy addition to the series.

Taxi driver Jens Hummel disappeared six months previously and Larvik detective William Wisting has been criticised for failing to solve the case. Now, evidence suggests Hummel was killed by Danny Brodin who is already in prison for murder. Meanwhile, Wisting’s daughter, Line, helps her friend, Sophie, open a safe inside her grandfather’s house and discovers an old gun and piles of cash. Sophie, already resentful of dead grandfather, tries to cover up the discovery dragging Line into her deception.

Lier Horst’s books are always an excellent mix of police procedural and character study which give them a special place in Scandinavian crime fiction. As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, the highlight of his writing is the relationship between William Wisting and his daughter. Line is now eight months pregnant following the brief fling she had in the previous novel, The Caveman. Line deliberately gives a misleading statement yet Wisting is sensitive to her predicament in staying loyal to her friend. It’s the portrayal of a loving father aware of his daughter’s idiosyncrasies. The town of Larvik is the perfect setting for Lier Horst’s plots: mixing provincial attitudes alongside encroaching twenty-first century problems of increased drugs and violent crime.

Hugely popular in Scandinavia, Lier Horst deserves a much wider audience in the UK and, hopefully, Ordeal will bring him new English-reading fans.

More Scandi Crime Fiction

My reading at the moment is oscillating between Scandinavian crime fiction for the Petrona Award and ghost stories that bring back memories of my teenage years. More of the supernatural in a post next week. Meanwhile, all the Scandi books that I read were by familiar authors and it was a bit of a mixed bag.

 MemoRandom by Anders de la Motte is his take on a familiar trope of crime novels, that of y450-293memory loss. David Sarac wakes up from a car crash and can only remember that he is a police officer and he needs to protect his informant, Janus. As his colleagues desperately try to elicit the identity of Janus, Sarac’s memory returns only in fragments. Natalie Aden, his carer who has also been tasked with spying on him, helps him piece his past together as his life becomes increasingly endangered. As I’d expect from De La Motte,  MemoRandom is a fast-paced thriller with an entertaining storyline. There’s always something enjoyable about a book with a race to the conclusion. The translation was by Neil Smith.

I’m a big fan of Arnaldur Indridason but Oblivion proved to be a disappointment. There51jsnkgzk9l-_sx328_bo1204203200_ were all the elements that I enjoy in Indridason’s writing – the Icelandic landscape, the descriptions of native food and, of course, his detective Erlendur. While the writing was good, I found the plot to be lacklustre which is a shame as I persevered with it until the end. It’s a decent enough read and sits alongside the other books well enough. Fingers crossed for the next one. The translation was by Victoria Cribb.

9781910124048In comparison The Caveman by Jorn Lier Horst is a cracker and his best book yet. There are two storylines both of which were fascinating. William Wisting is investigating a serial killer who may have made his way from the US to Norway. The presence of CIA agents adds to the pressure on his team to find the murderer. Meanwhile, Wisting’s daughter, Line, is doing a story on a man whose body was sitting, undiscovered, in his living room for four months. Focusing on the loneliness of some Norwegians, she soon realises that there is more to the man’s death than a sad story. Lier Horst has always excelled as a writer of police procedurals but here the story telling is second to none. I didn’t want the book to finish as I was so engrossed in the narrative. More please! The translation was by Anne Bruce.

 

 

 

Review: Jorn Lier Horst – The Hunting Dogs

phpThumb_generated_thumbnailJorn Lier Horst’s previous book, Closed for Winter, was on the shortlist for the 2013 Petrona Award for Scandinavian Crime Fiction. His crime novels have only recently been translated into English and the series featuring Chief Inspector William Wisting, if hits to this blog are anything to go by, has been well received over here. I like the books because, although Horst clearly uses his experience as a murder detective to add accurate detail to the narrative, police procedure is never allowed to overshadow the story.

In The Hunting Dogs, Wisting’s role in a murder case years earlier comes under scrutiny when it is discovered that evidence was falsified during the original investigation. Suspended from duty, he uses his enforced inactivity to look more closely into the case and discover where errors were made. Wisting’s journalist daughter, Line, is also investigating a murder on a street in Larvik. In the pursuit of a story for her newspaper she also becomes drawn into helping her father prove his innocence.

There’s something fascinating about the reopening of an old investigation. I think it’s a mixture of the uneasy dead waiting for final closure but also the fact that these cases can rest heavily on the original detectives. The death of Cecilia Linde hasn’t lost any of its poignancy, even after a significant lapse in time, and the reader is firmly behind Wisting as he tries to find out who compromised the original investigation. Like Horst’s earlier books, The Hunting Dogs is well balanced between police investigation and family ties. The relationship between William and Line is explored further in the book and conveys the love and respect between this father and daughter.

The Hunting Dogs is a more substantial read than either Dregs or Closed for Winter.  Winner of The Glass Key for the top Nordic crime novel in 2013, it’s my favourite book so far in this excellent series.

Thanks to Sandstone Press for my copy of the book. The translation was by Anne Bruce.

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.

Iceland Noir #1

IMG_0828Reykjavik is currently hosting its first festival of crime fiction, Iceland Noir, an idea conceived by the Icelandic brach of the Crime Writers Association at their inaugural meeting in June during Crimefest. To have pulled together an event of this scale in such a short period of time has been a huge achievement and the event had a great start yesterday with the opening session featuring Norweigian writer Jorn Lier Jorst.

Regular readers of this blog will know I’m a fan of Horst’s writing and my only regret is that his books have been translated from mid-series onwards so we’re missing a huge amount of backstory in relation to his main protagonist, William Wisting. Yeserday, the writer was interviewed by his Icelandic translator, Sigurdur Helgason, who questioned him about both his crime IMG_0833fiction and children’s books. Like other crime writers I’ve seen interviewed, he cites the influence of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö on his work and had originally intended to write ten books in his own series. However, having just written his ninth book, he now intends to continue with William Wisting. Until a few months ago, Horst was a serving police investigator and the in-depth knowledge he has accumulated over the course of his career was touched upon. According to the writer, he has seen an increase in both violent and organised crime with less people employed to investigate cases.

What I thought fascinating was that despite his police background, Horst cited his love of crime fiction as one of the reasons he started writing in the genre. It’d always a relief to hear a writer say he loves to read crime novels and interestingly, like me, he came to the genre via the books of Enid Blyton and those featuring Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.

In the evening, I attended a reading featuring writers Quentin Bates, Ann Cleeves and Jorn Lier Horst, along with other IMG_0838Icelandic authors such as Ragnar Jonasson who are yet to be translated into English. It was an enjoyable event and it was wonderful to hear the rhythm of readings in a language I can’t understand. Special mention goes to Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson who I met earlier in the day. I read and reviewed his excellent Flatey Enigma last year on the recommendation of  the late Maxine Clarke at Petrona. Meeting him has reminded me that I need to catch up with the rest of the series. Good to catch up too with fellow blogger Sue G from Novel Heights and her husband Jim.

Thanks to everyone for all their hard work in making Day 1 such as success.

Review: Jorn Lier Horst – Closed for Winter

Jclosed for winterorn Lier Horst’s Dregs acquired a number fans when it was published in 2012 including Maxine Clarke at the Petrona blog. It is sad to note that Lier Horst’s second book to be translated into English, Closed for Winter, has been submitted as an entry for the 2014 Petrona Award for Translated Scandinavian Crime Fiction which was set up in Maxine’s memory. Dregs picked up the story of police inspector William Wisting more or less mid series and the publishers have made the wise decision to translate the books forward from this point so that there is continuity in the narrative.

Ove Bakkerud arrives at his summer cottage in the middle of winter to discover that it has been ransacked after a burglary. Checking the neighbouring properties, he discovers the body of a man beaten to death. William Wisting investigates the case which is complicated by the presence of his daughter living in a cottage near to the scene of the murder. When more deaths follow, he travels to Lithuania to follow the trail of what is clearly more than a burglary gone wrong.

Lier Horst has recently retired as a senior investigating officer in the Vestfold police district. As in the previous novel, his experience in investigating crime comes through clearly on the page and the reader is often treated to small snippets of why the investigation proceeds in a particular way. This makes for a solid police procedural with a strong emphasis on the method by which crimes are solved.

Wisting is an attractive character, grieving for his dead wife but happy with a new partner. His relationship with his journalist daughter, Line, which was one of the highlights of Dregs, is explored further here.  I wasn’t was enamoured of the ending as some other reviewers but overall the book was an excellent read. I’m looking forward to hearing more about the series when Lier Horst speaks at the Iceland Noir event.

Thanks to Sandstone Press for my review copy. The translation was by Anne Bruce.