Scandi Crime Fiction Round-Up

Much of my reading over the Christmas period was Scandinavian focused as I caught up on eligible entries for the 2016 Petrona Award that we’ll be awarding in May. There were some favourite authors in the pile and I was impressed by the way in which these three writers in particular continue to write high quality and interesting mysteries.

a-summer-with-kim-novakHåkan Nesser’s series featuring Van Veeteren is one of my favourites. A Summer with Kim Novak is a standalone novel different in tone and narrative style which is set in the early sixties. Fourteen-year-old Erik is obsessed with Ewa, a teacher who resembles Kim Novak. When a tragedy occurs it’s another twenty-five years until Erik’s memories unpick the events leading up to the ‘incident’. It’s a beautiful novel. There have been two translations by Saskia Vogel which I fear may have delayed the impact of the book in the UK market. I thought the first translation fine but I waited until the Christmas period to re-read the new translation. It’s different but still evokes the memories of a long hot summer and a period of lost innocence.

Antti Tuomainen writes beautifully written mysteries and his previous book The Healer had a haunting quality to it. Dark as my Heart has a strong 519xkpynnPL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_protagonist in Aleksi whose mother disappeared one October day when he was thirteen. Convinced that she was killed by millionaire Henrik Saarinen, the now adult Aleksi takes a job as a handyman at Saarinen’s estate to discover what happened to his mother. The book is an unsettling mystery with readers unsure which characters to trust. The darkness of the narrative is reflected in the bleakness of the landscape and it was perfect winter reading. The translation is by Lola Rogers.

Handler1.ashxI always look forward to the latest offering in the series by Mons Kallentoft featuring detective Malin Fors. She’s a grimly realistic detective and the short chapters and choppy narrative make for an usual read. Water Angels,  the sixth book in the series, has Fors investigating the murder of a couple and searching for her missing five year old daughter. It’s an interesting mystery and Malin is still a fascinating protagonist. The translation is by Neil Smith.

 

Review: Mons Kallentoft – The Fifth Season

Mons Kallentoft’s series, featuring detective Malin Fors, is now on its fifth book and is aptly titled The Fifth Season. Kallentoft’s earlier novels featured The Fifth Seasonsingle investigations that were concluded at the end of the books. However, one case has hovered uncertainly in the background throughout the series. The brutal rape of Maria Murvall was first touched up in Midwinter Sacrifice and the police’s failure to solve the crime haunts Malin Fors throughout each subsequent book. In The Fifth Season the case is finally solved.

The body of a mutilated young girl is found in the woods outside Linköping. The method of her killing reminds Inspector Malin Fors of Maria, who is still traumatised and unable to speak following her rape years earlier. When a third attack is identified with similarities to the others, Malin pushes for the cases to be investigated together to discover the perpetrator. But their investigation takes them to the top of Swedish society, and men who are at pains to conceal their role in the crimes.

This is a solid series by Kallentoft that always makes interesting reading. It’s improved considerably since Malin has given up alcohol and the narrative is less concerned with her battles with drink. It’s also good to have the Maria Murvall narrative concluded. It’s been a disturbing case for the reader too and I think has been brought to a conclusion at exactly the right time in the series.

Many of the motifs that we associate with Kallentoft are present in The Fifth Season. The present tense narrative, the voices from the murder victim and the focus on the personal as well as the professional life of Malin. The book could have had an ‘end of era’ feel to it and it’s a credit to the character construction and plotting that this isn’t the case. Instead we get a well-crafted murder story that once more shows the violence done to women.

I know the sixth book is currently in translation which is good news as there’s plenty of mileage left in this series.

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

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.

The Best of April’s Reading

ChelmortonApril is my favourite month of the year and, although spring has come late to Derbyshire, the cold weather encouraged lots of reading. I read eight books in April, and I can see from my list that only two of them were by women. I normally try for a better balance than that so I must make a concerted effort in May to read more books by women. It was good to read books in series that are fast becoming my favourites, including those by Stav Sherez, William Ryan and S J Bolton.

My book of the month, however, was the fourth in a series that has become one of my ‘must reads’. Savage Spring by Mons Kallentoft  brought together many of the strands of earlier books to produce a gripping and thought-provoking narrative.

The eight books I read for crimepieces were:

1. The Wreck of the Margherita by Bill Todd

2. Nordic Noir by Barry Forshawpick of the month 2013

3. We Are Here by Michael Marshall

4. Savage Spring by Mons Kallentoft

5. The Twelfth Department by William Ryan

6. Blessed Are Those Who Thirst by Anne Holt

7. Eleven Days by Stav Sherez

8. Like This For Ever by S J Bolton

Kerrie, at Mysteries in Paradise, is collating the pick of the month from crime fiction bloggers around the world.

Review: Mons Kallentoft – Savage Spring

Mons Kallentoft is a writer who divides his readers. I’ve reviewed all the books that have been translated into English on this blog andSavage Spring many of the comments, either here or on other reviewers’ sites, suggest that not everyone enjoys Kallentoft’s unusual style of prose. But the series has become one of my ‘must reads’ and I think that the latest book Savage Spring is one of his best.

In the main square of Linköping in Sweden, an explosion outside a bank kills six-year-old twin girls and their mother is seriously injured in the blast. Detective Inspector Malin Fors is called to the scene from her mother’s funeral and like the rest of the team is shocked by the apparently meaningless atrocity. The pain of her estrangement from her own mother, which has its roots in her loveless upbringing, has to be put aside to bring justice for the two girls. However, Malin’s newly acquired sobriety is put to the test by the stresses of the case, family relationships and revelations from the past.

Much of the previous book, Autumn Killing, was taken up with Malin’s descent into alcoholism which culminated in her being admitted into rehab. In Savage Spring, Malin is struggling to stay sober although the lure of drink is forever in her thoughts. The passages involving Malin’s mental state are written with a lighter touch in this book and worked much better alongside the murder investigation. Kallentoft is excellent at showing the long-term impact of alcoholism on a family and even ex-partners who look for new relationships that distance themselves from the past. We also get an insight into why Malin has such a destructive personality and family secrets that remain hidden for decades. These themes resonate with the investigation into the girls’ killing which is bound up with family and dysfunctional relationships. The murders are fairly difficult to read about as it involves small children, although interestingly it’s not always clear who is the abuser and the abused.

As we have come to expect from Kallentoft’s books, we get the voices of the dead, this time those of the two little girls. I thought it worked well here, perhaps because it added to the sense of loss although I appreciate that it’s not to everyone’s taste. The disjointed narrative is also a characteristic of the writer and one of reasons I enjoy the books so much. The fractured nature of the writing echoes both the plot and the characterisation and unsettles the reader to the conclusion.

Savage Spring is probably my favourite in the series to date and suggests the books are getting stronger with each new offering. I’d still like a resolution of the case that has been preoccupying Malin since the first book, Midwinter Sacrifice, but it seems that we are going to have to wait for this.

Thanks to Hodder for my copy of the book. The author’s website is here. The translation, as always excellent, was by Neil Smith.

Review: Mons Kallentoft – Autumn Killing

Autumn Killing is the third book in the Malin Fors series by Mons Kallentoft. The series so far has been distinguished by excellent characterisation and a fragmented narrative style that has suited the often disturbing plots. Kallentoft has taken a brave stance with some of the themes in his books. In thrillers we normally get a resolution of sorts, but Kallentoft has deliberately kept the assault of a young woman unresolved throughout the series. Here, the case is mentioned once more but the overriding theme of Autumn Killing is the disintegration of Malin Fors as the result of her alcohol dependency.

Malin is leading the investigation into the death of Jerry Petersson, a self-made internet billionaire who has used his wealth to acquire Skogså Castle. The family who were ousted from their former ancestral home come under suspicion when Petersson is found dead in the moat, although a teenage car accident seems to hold the key to the killing. Meanwhile Malin, who finished the previous book Summertime Death sharing a home with her daughter Tove and ex-husband Janne, is imploding under the strain of family life. Her drinking is now out of control and impacting on her colleagues, family and the investigation.

Although the effects of Malin’s disintegration dominated this book, I found the portrayal to be moving and entirely realistic. Malin’s denials, puffy face, alcohol tainted breath and skewed view of the world gave her a powerful presence in the book. Tantalisingly, Kallentoft has added another mystery to this book, with hints of an incident in Malin’s childhood which may account for her behaviour. I thought the murder investigation got slightly overshadowed by the focus on Malin’s self-destruction but it still made for a powerful read.

As usual, the book is written in the present tense which I know isn’t to everyone’s taste but adds an immediacy to the writing. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, the narrative is very choppy, with short sections taking the reader around the plot through the eyes of different characters. I like this style although once more, we had the narrative voice of the dead man which I’m not keen on.

With Kallentoft’s writing we get a slightly different view of society than that presented by other crime writers. His books are set in Linkoping, a Swedish town with none of the provincial feel of, say Camilla Lackberg’s Fjällbacka. Instead there is an ever-present sense of foreboding. As Autumn Killing is the third book in a quartet I suspect the fourth book, Savage Spring, is likely to the strongest of the series, where divergent plot strands finally come together. I’m looking forward to it.

Thanks to Hodder for sending me a copy of the book.

Camilla Ceder – Frozen Moment

One of the strengths of Scandinavian crime fiction is the role that the landscape plays in shaping the narrative. In some of the strongest crime novels coming from Scandinavia, including Mons Kallentoft’s Midwinter Sacrifice and Jorn Lier Horst’s Dregs, isolated communities, and the secrets buried within them, are at the heart of the plotting. This theme is continued in Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment where a crime committed fifteen years earlier is revisited  and atoned in the present day.

It is December in a small town in the Gothenburg region and a local garage owner has been shot in the head and then repeatedly run over by a car. Inspector Christian Tell is called in to investigate the strange killing which may have its origins in a local family feud. When a second man is killed in similar circumstances however, Tell has to look beyond the confines of the community and try and link the two murders.

Local journalist Seja Lundberg is attracted to Inspector Tell but has her own secrets. She recognises the first victim and slowly becomes aware that events of fifteen years earlier play a key role in the crime. She must then try to resolve her own involvement in the case with her burgeoning relationship with Tell. He in the meantime is uncomfortable at becoming involved with a witness and finally realise that Seja knows more than she is revealing.

This was a very interesting, albeit slow read where the isolated, icy community dominated the narrative descriptions. I had a strong visual sense of the landscape and the isolation felt by those in such a small community. Another strength of the book was the relationship between Christian and Seja, two older people who have had their share of failed relationships but are attempting to develop something new.

The crime story was well plotted although the parallel story of Maya Granith, set in 1993 I found less interesting. The fact that it was narrated from the victim’s point of view meant that it was a shock when she was killed although this did mean her personality hung over the subsequent narrative .

I found the book an interesting, slowly unfolding read which stayed with me for a long time. I thought the translation by Marlaine Delargy was excellent and am looking forward to future books by this writer.

The book has also been reviewed at the Nordic Book Blog, Reactions to Reading and Eurocrime.

The best of January’s reading.

January, a miserable month for us living in the northern hemisphere, was redeemed by some excellent crime fiction reading. I read 10 books for crimepieces and perhaps because there was a stong Scandinavian presence, the common theme seemed to be murders set to the backdrop of freezing winters. However, the highlight of my month was set in a much warmer climate, the Australian Desert. Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland combined sparky writing with a great sense of place and one of the best female detectives around.

The books I read in January were:

1. Death and the Spanish Lady by Carolyn Morwood. (completed as part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge).

2. The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart

3. The Winter of the Lions by Jan Costin Wagner

4. Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George

5. Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland

6. V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton (also reviewed for crimesquad.com)

7. The Mask of Glass by Holly Roth

8. The Final Murder by Anne Holt

9. 1222 by Anne Holt

10. Midwinter Sacrifice by Mons Kallentoft

Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise is hosting a meme summarizing the crime fiction recommendations for January 2012.

Midwinter Sacrifice by Mons Kallentoft

I’ve literally just finished Midwinter Sacrifice by Mons Kallentoft and rather than add it to my “Review” pile I feel the need to review the book while it’s still fresh in my mind. I found the book both wonderful and frustrating and I’m trying to work out why. I am a fan of Scandinavian crime fiction. I think the books are largely well written, the authors have individual mannerisms that mean that they’re not a hegemonic whole but can be identified and remembered individually. Many of the books are also that lovely mixture of police procedural and reflective storytelling that seems to fit so well in the cold and sparse landscape.

In many ways, this book has many of the characteristics that I associate with the genre. It is set in one of the coldest ever Swedish winters and police detective Malin Fors is called to the countryside outside the town of Linköping where a man is found mutilated and hanging from a tree in the frozen wastes. Initial investigations suggest that it could be connected the ancient practice of a ‘midwinter sacrifice’, making offerings to the gods in return for happiness. However, the murdered man Bengt Andersson was a target for teenage bullies and his complicated family history may have a role in the crime.

I thought that the book was very well written. It is narrated in the present tense, something I personally don’t mind but not, I know, to everyone’s taste. The book started a little slowly but once it got going I did find it hard to put down. I liked the choppy nature of the narrative as the reader is moved around different characters. I also thought the characterisation was excellent, with minor characters such as Malin’s partner Zeke Martinsson and the journalist Daniel Högfeldt made interesting. He also writes well about the mother/daughter relationship although Malin does seem incredibly liberal in her attitudes.

What didn’t I like about the book? The parts written from the point of view of the dead Bengt Andersson were well written but I’ve come across a few books recently with passages incorporating the voice of the dead victim, most recently Åsa Larsson Until Thy Wrath be Past. The trouble is it rarely accords with what I would consider it like to be dead. I don’t find it distasteful, just extraneous I suppose to the narrative. The ending also left one particular plot strand without resolution. I found this disappointing mainly because the crime had been so horrific and I genuinely wanted to know the reason behind that particular savagery.  It’s unlikely to reappear in future books and I felt slightly cheated by the fact it remained unsolved, particularly as it involved a violent crime on a woman.

But I have to say the book caught me up in its narrative and it became impossible to put it down.

Other favourable reviews of the book can be found at crimesquad.com, crimesegments and at Eurocrime.