I’m aware that it’s over three weeks since I last posted on Crimepieces. First of all, to make my excuses, here’s what I’ve been up to. I’ve been finishing the first draft of my fourth book. The photo doesn’t give much away, I’m afraid, even the title but it’ll be the fourth book in my DC Connie Childs series. The narrative is split between the present day and the 1950s and it’s been fascinating to research this interesting decade.
At Crimefest in Bristol the 2017 Petrona Award for Scandinavian crime fiction was presented to Gunnar Staalesen for Where Roses Never Die. A really excellent book. I’ve now started to read for the 2018 award, beginning with The Thirst by Jo Nesbo. It’s a substantial book at 537 pages and Nesbo is always eminently readable. Translated by Neil Smith, the prose has you turning the page but, be warned, it’s the most violent Nesbo yet. The killer has a way of dispatching his victims that’s gruesome in the extreme and Nesbo cleverly uses the rise of social media, and Tinder in particular, to frightening effect. Lovers of Harry Hole will be delighted but it won’t be for everyone.
I’ve also read two new books, one coming later this month and one early next year. Both were excellent. Kathy Reichs is best known for her series featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan. Two Nights marks a departure for her. Her new protagonist, Sunnie Knight, is an ex police officer who is hired by a wealthy woman looking for her granddaughter. A bomb explosion killed other members of the family but the girl was lost in the confusion. Sunny heads to Chicago with enemies on her trail to track down the girl. The book is different in style and tone from Reich’s other books and is perfect for fans of Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky. Her new protagonist will easily carry a new series and I’m looking forward to reading more. Two Nights is out on the 29th June.
I then had a reading break as a number of books I picked up were put down again, unable to get beyond the first couple of pages. We all go through reading slumps like this, I guess. However, mine was revived by an excellent book, The Confession by Jo Spain. It’s a bit naughty including it here, as it’s not out until next year but it really is excellent. A woman watches her husband being brutally attacked and the next day the assailant hands himself in. We know who did it but not why and the narrative gradually reveals the reason behind the attack. I won’t say any more except that you’re in for a treat next year. It was a delight to read. You can follow Jo Spain on Twitter @SpainJoanne.
I hope I’ve managed to pique your interest about some of these books including mine! We’ve three months to wait until A Patient Fury is out but I have some lovely things happening around that time. More soon.
I’ll also be appearing this month in the British Library at the Bodies from the Library event to talk about Elizabeth Daly. I’m a big fan and if any readers of Crimepieces are too do please let me know.
The Crow Girl is a book that I’ve been dying to read for the last few months. It’s been marketed as this year’s hottest Scandinavian thriller and I was intrigued to discover what makes it stand out amongst the other Nordic offerings. It’s also been translated by my favourite Scandi translator, Neil Smith. His translations are always a joy to read which is crucial for this book because, at 768 pages, the prose has to be compelling enough to keep the reader interested. I don’t mind reading a book this length, at least not once in a while, but it’s impossible to carry around the hardback in your bag which meant snatched chapters here and there when I sat down to read.
However, one sleepless night I got seriously into the book and read about half of it into the early hours. It’s the perfect time for a book where the violence is dark and shocking. Regular readers of this blog know that excessive descriptions of gore don’t do it for me and you should be warned that the threat of horrific death is there from the first chapter. However, like Pierre LeMaitre’s excellent, Alex, the violence is essential to the plot. For the crow girl of the title is the damaged Victoria Bergman whose abuse from an early age is explicitly detailed. This is more than a story of the abused becoming an abuser, however. The relationship between Victoria and her psychiatrist Sofia Zetterlund is complex and contains plenty of surprises as does Sofia’s romance with detective Jeanette Kohlberg.
Unusually I’m not going to precis the plot. It would be too easy to giveaway spoilers and one of the book’s strengths is the complexity of the narrative strands where nothing is as it seems.
So what keeps the interest going for such a lengthy book? Firstly the character of Victoria is fascinating in its complexity and the reader never feels comfortable in making any assumptions about her motives. Secondly the authors (Erik Axl Sund is a pseudonym for Jerker Ericsson and Hakan Axlander Sundquist) have cleverly constructed the plot so that reader is sent in all directions. The chapters are very short, sometimes you feel ahead of the police and others you’re left scratching your head as to what is going on.
Like all great crime novels, the resolution pulls all the narrative strands together although I must admit there are a couple of points where I’m not sure I understand what happened. What I should do at this point is reread the book but I’ll have to leave that to a time in the future. However, in my opinion The Crow Girl deserves the plaudits it has received and I was delighted to read a book where neither the length nor extremity of violence felt gratuitous.
I’m a big fan of Jo Nesbo’s books. I know he’s not to everyone’s taste but I love the sheer readability of what he produces and, if I’m to be honest, the bloody nature of his narratives. He’s best known, in translation at least, for his series featuring the Oslo detective Harry Hole although I also enjoyed his two standalone books, The Son and Headhunters. Now, with the publication of Blood on Snow, we have a new series to enjoy and a new translator of Nesbo’s writing into English.
Olav is a ‘fixer’ employed by Daniel Hoffman to eliminate extraneous people from his life. When he is tasked with killing Hoffman’s wife, Olav’s only worry is whether he will be allowed to live afterwards, given the amount of dirt he now has on his employer. But when he catches sight of the beautiful Corina all thoughts of killing her disappear. He instead murders the man with whom she has been having a violent affair and sets off a chain of events that leaves him in the sights of two rival gangs.
Blood on Snow is an interesting book in that it provides many of the things we as readers demand from Nesbo. There’s often a lack of demarcation between the hunter and hunted and Olav finds himself in the position of needing to kill before he is killed. Nesbo has been criticised for his excessive use of violence and there’s plenty of gore here. It’s a difficult one because it feels an essential part of Nesbo’s style of prose and therefore not gratuitous. In fact, it was the sex scenes that were slightly awkward although these were partly explained in the plot’s conclusion.
Blood on Snow is a short book at 198 pages of quite large print. But it packs in plenty of action and, unlike some of Nesbo’s more recent books, feels resolutely set in Oslo. The translation was by Neil Smith who, as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, is my favourite translator of Swedish and Norwegian crime fiction. He’s done an excellent job with this new Nesbo and is busy translating the next book in the series. This, based on the blurb, promises to be an even more appealing read.
Poor 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.