Scandi Crime Fiction Round-Up

Reading continues apace for The Petrona Award which we’ll be awarding at Crimefest in May next year. The event in Bristol is one of my favourite crime fiction conferences and I always look forward to it. I see that they have a great Nordic line-up of authors and I’m particularly looking forward to meeting K O Dahl.

I’ve also booked for next years Bouchercon in the Toronto which is very exciting. I’ve been to Canada once before. It’s a beautiful country and I’ve long wanted to visit Toronto. So I’ll be combining crime fiction and sightseeing.

dying-detectiveLeif G W Persson won the Petrona Award in 2014 for Linda, As In The Linda Murder. His books are of consistently high quality and are complemented by Neil Smith’s excellent translations. The Dying Detective is possible my favourite to date. Retired Chief of the National Crime Police, Lars Martin Johansson suffers a stroke. While he is in hospital, his consultant confides that she believes her clergyman father may have been given a clue to the identity of a young girl’s murderer. Lars, from his bedside, rounds up former colleagues and family members to follow the trail of the cold case as his health deteriorates. Superbly plotted it has Persson’s characteristic grasp of the frailties of human nature. I don’t think there’s a writer like him.

9781785761973I’ve read a couple of books by Camilla Grebe which she wrote with her sister Asa Traff. The Ice Beneath Her is the first book as a solo author and is an interesting psychological thriller. Sales assistant Emma Bohman has been abruptly dropped by her wealthy lover, the boos of a famous clothing store. When a woman is found beheaded in his house, police search for the missing tycoon while the narrative rewinds two months and shows Emma’s increasing conviction that she is under threat. The split narrative, in terms of both voice and timeline works well and the readers is pulled in various directions before the final reveal. The translation was by Elizabeth Clark Wessel.

61zk7awsfdlLiza Marklund’s series featuring journalist Annika Bengtzon appears to come to an end with The Final Word. For me, it’s the end of an era; Marklund was one of the early Scandinavian writer’s I read and I’ve particularly loved the the drama of Annika’s private life. The Final Word is, like her other books, a good balance of investigation and personal story although there is a more wistful tone to the narrative. I hope it’s not the end for Annika as she’s one of my favourite Scandi characters. I’ll keep my fingers crossed. The translation was by Neil Smith.

Review: Liza Marklund – Without a Trace

512YKfQrIgL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_Swedish journalist Annika Bengtzon is one of my favourite investigators in modern crime fiction. She’s the principal reason that I read Liza Marklund’s books because, as a character, Annika is so believable. As readers we’ve been taken through a series of failed romances, childbirth, house disasters and work traumas. Annika has remained the same person throughout: tenacious and brave. It’s always a pleasure to revisit her and I’m sorry that we’re nearing the end of the series.

In Without a Trace, Annika is assigned to the story of former politician Ingemar Lerberg who has been found tortured and half-alive in his home. His wife, Nora, is missing and is being hunted by a team led by Nina Hoffman from the National Police Force. But at Kvällspressen, Annika’s paper, her editor-in-chief is being hounded over a documentary he made years earlier about a missing billionaire’s wife, Viola Söderland.

Marklund’s plots often mix politics, work troubles and family life and Without a Trace follows in this vein. She cleverly links the disorder of the victim’s family with that of Annika’s as the journalist attempts to create a home with her new boyfriend, Jimmy, and his children. Her estranged husband, Thomas, is festering after the trauma of captivity in Somalia and his bitterness toward Annika seems extreme but in keeping with his character.

There’s a fair amount of violence at the beginning of the book. The opening chapter isn’t for the faint hearted (like me) but it was great to revisit Marklund’s world. It’s a series that always manages to combine good writing with interesting plots.

Thanks to Transworld for my review copy. The translation was by Neil Smith.

Review: Liza Marklund – The Long Shadow

Poor Annika Bengtzon. She’s one of my favourite characters in crime fiction. There’s something compelling about The Long Shadowher inability to keep her emotions in check and her disastrous love life has the capacity to keep readers entertained for many more books to come. In The Long Shadow, many of the elements that we’ve come to love from Marklund’s series are here but the change in location, from Sweden to the Costa del Sol in Spain, gives the book a welcome freshness.

A Swedish entrepreneur with a history of dodgy business deals is murdered with the rest of his family in Spain. Information coming through from the Spanish police is scant and Annika is sent by her newspaper to report on the case. Accompanied by an glamorous local interpreter, she soon discovers that one of the family’s teenage children is missing. Annika sets out to track down the teenager but the affluent expat lifestyle hides sinister feuds that stretch from Colombia to Sweden. Annika also finds old cases are connected to the present and, predictably, her love life is once more a complicated tangle.

The Long Shadow has many of the motifs of previous Marklund books. We have a complicated and interweaving narrative involving a murder with political overtones. This is set to the backdrop of Annika’s professional life working on a busy newspaper which is struggling to maintain its circulation figures and her usual domestic turmoil. Marklund has created a character with plenty of depth: someone who despairs at her turbulent domestic situation but recognises her own weaknesses and is immersed in her job which, in effect, comes before anything else.

The Spanish setting works well and we enter the world of Swedish expatriate life. One amusing note is the anti-English element expressed by one expat in particular who bemoans the golf playing, wine swilling life enjoyed by many elderly British residents.

This book is up with Marklund’s best and it could easily be read as a standalone by those unfamiliar with the series. I’m not sure I like the direction that Annika’s life is taking at the end of the novel but hopefully Marklund has something up her sleeve.

Thanks to Transworld for sending me the novel. The translation was by Neil Smith.

Review: Liza Marklund – Lifetime

LifetimePoor Annika Bengstrom. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse (house up in flames and husband off with another woman) her estranged ex is now fighting for custody of the kids. Of course it’s Annika’s mix of vulnerability and determination that makes her such as fascinating read and I was delighted when Liza Marklund’s latest book Lifetime came through my door. And as I’ve come to expect from Marklund you get much more than simple murder plot and it’s the diversions that you take in the story that make her books such an interesting read.

David Lindholm is a nationally renowned police officer who is found murdered in his apartment. His wife, Julia, who is found splattered with blood in the bathroom is arrested as the chief suspect. However the couple’s four-year-old son, Alexander, is missing and Julia claims that he was taken by ‘the other woman’. Soon Julia is indicted for murder and even her close friend, police officer Nina Hoffman, is convinced of her guilt. However, Annika, soon scents something amiss about the case. Despite his fame, David Lindholm had a nasty streak to his character and there are some anomalies in his past investigations. His serial philandering also appears to have produced a stalker who may hold the key to the case.

In Lifetime, we move away from the broad sweep of Last Will, which had as its backdrop the Nobel Prize ceremony. This time, we get what appears to be a domestic tragedy which although opens out to involve David’s job, the extent of the human tragedy is never lost. The turbulent domestic life of the victims mirrors Annika’s own problems. She is now homeless and looks for help in finding a temporary place to stay. And of course the people who might help, in particular her friend Anna, come remarkably short of the mark. Even in the direst situations, she manages to find the strength to keep working and digging away at a story. She’s far from perfect: her treatment of a junior colleague is cruel but Annika’s prickly defensiveness is part of her makeup. And her desperation is all to real – which includes agreeing to babysit her children at the house of her husband’s mistress.

There’s a lot in this book apart from the killings. Annika’s newspaper is facing staff cuts and it’s fascinating to read about the internal machinations, including the work of the union rep. There is also an interesting link to the last book and the continuation of the story of that novel’s killer. However, ultimately Annika is the reason, I suspect, a lot of people read Marklund’s books and I think she fast becoming one of my favourite characters in crime fiction.

Thanks to Transworld for the copy of my book. The translation was by Neil Smith.

The Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year

I’m delighted to be one of the judges for the 2014 Petrona Award for Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year. The award will celebrate the work of Maxine Clarke, one of the first online crime fiction reviewers, who died in December.

The press release can be found here: http://eurocrime.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/the-petrona-award-for-scandinavian.html

Scandinavian crime fiction is experiencing a boom both here in the UK and abroad and there are a vast range of translated titles to choose from. There’s some exciting reading ahead.

The 2013 shortlist, which is based on Maxine’s reviews and ratings, has some great books on it too. They are:

PIERCED by Thomas Enger, tr. Charlotte Barslund (Faber and Faber)
BLACK SKIES by Arnaldur Indridason, tr. Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker)
LAST WILL by Liza Marklund, tr. Neil Smith (Corgi)
ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER LIFE by Leif GW Persson tr. Paul Norlen (Doubleday)
another time another life
Pierced
LWillBlack Skies
Who would you most like to win out of these?

The Best of February’s Reading

Cat and FiddleThe short month of February caught me by surprise hence the late timing of this post. After a panic when I realised that only one book in my January reads had been written by a woman, I redressed the balance in February. Eight out of the ten books I read were by female authors.

Like last month, I have a tie for my book of the month. In February it is between Belinda Bauer’s Rubbernecker and Liza Marklund’s Last Will. The books are poles apart – Bauer’s a standalone set in South Wales while Marklund’s is the latest in the series featuring reporter Annika Bengtzon. What unites them is excellent storytelling, which is the main reason we love crime novels isn’t it?

The nine books I read for crimepieces were:

1. Rock Creek Park by Simon Conway

2. Dead Scared by S J Bolton

3. Dead Man’s Land by Robert Ryan

4. Dying Fall by Elly Griffiths

5. Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer

6. The Golden Box by Frances Crane

7. Thirteen White Tulips by Frances Crane

8. Last Will by Liza Marklundpick of the month 2013

9. The Senior Moment by Eva Hudson

I read one book for Eurocrime, Lyndsey Davis’s excellent The Ides of April, the review of which will appear nearer the April publication date.

Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise is putting together a list of reviewers’ favourite books for February.

Review: Liza Marklund – Last Will

Liza Marklund was one of my finds of last year. The excellent Vanished, featuring reporter Annika Bengtzon was a well-paced intelligent LWillthriller with an interesting protagonist. As I mentioned in my post, the series has been both written and translated out of chronological order which can make it confusing for the reader. However, a useful guide to the series can be found at the blog, Crimescraps and as my latest read Last Will shows, each book can easily be read as a standalone.

At the end of Vanished Annika had had a fling with an unhappily married man and was pregnant with his child. In Last Will, however, it is now Annika who is in a failing marriage where the pressures of work and children are pushing her and her husband Thomas apart. She attends the Nobel prize ceremony with Bosse, a journalist from a rival newspaper and is witness to a mass shooting. Annika catches a glimpse of the gunwoman’s face which immediately makes her a police witness and she is therefore barred from reporting the event. This brings her into conflict with her newspaper and she is put on indefinite leave. Feeling isolated in her new suburban family house, Annika starts investigating the shooting which leads her into the labyrinth-like politics of biotech research.

This is a complexly plotted book that nevertheless grips the reader. The mystery of the shooting is the central story and we get the narrative of both Annika and the shooter, who is a satisfyingly ruthless and compelling character. Annika, as usual, is an admirable for her tenacity and her fragile grip on her personal circumstances. She is taken advantage of by her selfish friend Anne, ignored by her husband and runs into conflict with a new neighbour. Her character is so painfully true to life and you feel for Annika as her plans for a future with her family begin to fall apart. She is clearly trying to do the right thing by moving into a new home and resisting the advances of Bosse, whom she feels attracted to.

The book is also interspersed with extracts relating to the life of Alfred Nobel. The book would have been as good a read without them, but they were interesting enough and did relate to the plot. I’ve read a couple of novels recently about the machinations of the biotech industry and this book had the feel of one that had been extensively researched. It was particularity good on the rivalries that lie behind advancement of medicine and the difficulties that women face in the industry.

The popularity of Swedish crime fiction is sometimes dismissed as riding on the coattails of Steig Larsson and Henning Mankell, but as this book shows, some of the best crime fiction being written today comes from Scandinavia. And luckily for us fans of Marklund, there is a new book, Lifetime, coming out in April. As with earlier books in the series, this will be translated by Neil Smith.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, Transworld.