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.