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.

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.