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.

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.