Nordic Noir Round Up

I’ve been reading some interesting Scandinavian crime novels over the last few months, saving my reviews for a round-up post. There’s a feeling of nordic noir going through a readjustment at the moment. Long running series are coming to an end and, of the new authors being published, there’s an emphasis on psychological thrillers over the traditional police procedural. I’m sorry to see that some of my favourite authors haven’t got a book out this year – Leif GW Persson and Hans Olav Lahlum for example.

Caroline Eriksson has only recently been translated into English. The Watcher, the first book of hers I’ve read, has a Rear Window feel to the plot. A newly separated author takes a rented apartment and obsesses over the family living opposite her, becoming convinced that the woman intends to kill her husband. As she starts to write a new book, her own life and that of the woman opposite become entwined. I read The Watcher in virtually one sitting and it made for compulsive reading. The relationships were satisfyingly complex and, despite spotting the twist fairly soon in the narrative, it was a compelling read. The translation is by Tara F Chace.

Killed is the final book in Thomas Enger’s Henning Juul series where Juul finally uncovers the events leading up to the fire which left him scarred and which killed his young son. There’s a large cast of characters, hugely satisfying to fans of Enger’s series although which might prove difficult for someone picking this up as a standalone. Killed is, however, a poignant end to the Juul books which have proved to be intelligent and satisfying thrillers. The translation is by Kari Dickson.

Quentin Bates is a writer who spent a decade in Iceland and knows the country well. His series featuring Officer Gunnhildur is always a delight to read. Rather than relying on descriptive passages of the Icelandic landscape, his books are interesting thrillers with a political edge. In Cold Breath, Gunna is in a safe house with the high-profile guest of a prominent politician and her loyalties are torn when details of his life emerge. Bates is excellent at creating tension in a modern-day Reykjavik setting.

Gunnar Staalesen is one of my favourite Norwegian writers and Big Sister doesn’t disappoint. His private investigator, Varg Veum, is asked by a woman who reveals herself to be his half-sister, to discover the whereabouts of a relative, Emma. Veum discovers that the girl has been contact with her estranged father and an act of violence in Emma’s past may hold a clue to her disappearance. Excellently plotted and very well translated by Don Bartlett, this is up with Staalesen’s best.

Advertisements

Nordic Noir Round-Up

Christmas has been an excellent time to catch up on my Nordic Noir reading. We seem to have had a record year for submissions to the Petrona Award for Scandinavian crime fiction and, as well as old favourites, I’ve been trying to catch up new writers to see what they have to offer.

At 467 pages, The Anthill Murders is Hans Olav Lahlum’s longest book yet. Lahlum’s books are distinguished by his classic-crime style plots and the unusual relationship between criminal investigator Kolborn Kristiansen and Patricia, his intelligent, paralysed assistant. The subject matter is unusual for Lahlum. There is a serial killer at large attacking women on the streets on Norway, thereby giving the narrative a wider canvas than Lahlum’s previous books. Nevertheless, I found the plotting to be very tight and, also, without giving too much away, with a nod to Agatha Christie’s ABC Murders. This is probably Lahlum’s best book yet and is translated by Kari Dickson.

The White City by Karolina Ramqvist is the English language debut by a writer whose sparse and moving prose provided a much needed bite of reality over the Christmas period. It’s the story of a woman whose partner, involved in a series of shady dealings, has disappeared. Left with her baby, Dream, in a house that authorities are intending to take from her, Karin tries to track down her husband’s associates to claim his share of any remaining assets. It’s a very short but powerful read and an interesting insight into the partners of those involved in organised crime. I thought the book beautiful written and I hope more from Ramqvist is published here in the future. White City is translated by Saskia Vogel.

Hakan Nesser is one of my favourite writers and he never disappoints. The Darkest Day is the first novel in a new five-part series Inspector Barbarotti. In a small Swedish town, a family are gathering to celebrate two generations of birthdays. When two members of  the family go missing in apparently unconnected events, Barbarotti has to dig deep into family tensions to solve the crimes. The Darkest Day is an unusual book. It’s written in Nesser’s characteristic intelligent style but the resolutely Swedish setting and unusual plot lines are a departure. Although it took me a while to get into the story, it’s a clever and disturbing book. The translation is by Sarah Death.

Snare is the much anticipated English language debut by Icelandic writer Lilja Sigurdardottir. Sonia is a single mother blackmailed into smuggling drugs through Keflavik airport by associates threatening to harm her son if she doesn’t comply with their instructions. A customs  officer, Bragi, beings to notice the smart young woman travelling regularly through the airport. Snare is a taut thriller with strong characterisation and some frank sex scenes. It’s good to read a book with a realistic lesbian character. The translation is by Quentin Bates.

I’ve had Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito on my shelf for a while and I’m sorry I took so long to get around to reading it as it’s a compelling book. Maja Norberg is on trial for her part in a classroom killing which saw her boyfriend, best friend, teacher and classmates killed in a shooting massacre. We see the events leading up to both the killing and the trial through her eyes only, including her take on how her legal team handle her defence. Giolito effectively pulls the reader into the story with a single narrator and there are no easy answers as to motives behind the killings. An excellent translation by Rachel Willson-Broyles serves to highlight the occasional childishness of Maja’s justifications for her actions.

Have you read any good Scandinavian crime fiction over the festive period? I’d love to hear some of your recommendations.

Review: Quentin Bates – Thin Ice

512-pppxjsL._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_It’s my spot on the blog tour for Thin Ice, the new novel by Quentin Bates. Iceland was a country that I’d always wanted to go to, so I signed up for the Iceland Noir event in 2013 as soon as it was announced. It was not only a wonderful festival but I was bowled over by the stunning landscape and the picturesque charms of Reykjavik. I’ve now been there three times and am already planning my next visit.

Iceland, of course, has some fine home-grown writers and Arnaldur, Yrsa and Ragnar all make regular appearances on this blog. Quentin Bates knows the country well, having lived there for over ten years and is fluent in the language. His knowledge of the country comes across in Thin Ice, where he doesn’t go overboard on descriptions of the landscape but tells a thrilling tale to the backdrop of an Icelandic winter. Two small-time crooks botch up an armed robbery, seize two hostages and hole up in an isolated hotel. Meanwhile in Reykjavik, Bates’s regular detective, Officer Gunnhildur (Gunna) investigates the disappearance of a mother and daughter and the death of a thief in a house fire.

As with previous books, Bates expertly takes the reader around the mishaps of those existing in the underbelly of Icelandic society. The minutiae that we discover is fascinating, including how seamen wash their underpants. The star of the book, as usual, is Gunna who combines practicality with an adventurous spirit.

Thin Ice is a meaty read with plenty of twists and turns. I particularly enjoyed how the pace quickened as we reached the denouement. I devoured the book over a cold, snowy February weekend and it was perfect winter reading.

Review: Quentin Bates – Summerchill

Quentin Bates is one of the organisers of Iceland Noir, an excellent event that I’ve attended since it first started. He translates51hN2ErUx7L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_ Ragnar Jonasson’s books from Icelandic into English but is also a very good writer himself. He recently published a novella, Summerchill, featuring his protagonist Gunnhildur (Gunna) Gisladottir which was a lovely read for the July sunshine we had here.

At the end of a warm summer, a man goes missing from his home in the Reykjavik suburbs. Gunna and her partner Helgi investigate his disappearance but discover that he has been keeping some unsavoury company. The challenge is to follow both the missing man and his nemesis before murder is committed.

Novellas are a great way to try new writers and Summerchill certainly gives readers a flavour of Bates’s style of writing. Its title is a clue to the atmosphere of the book. You get an insight into Iceland in the summer with its long hours of daylight and an empty-ish Reykjavik. The pace of the narrative is perfectly suited to a novella form. The action is fast with a regular influx of new characters. Unlike many crime stories, you don’t necessarily sympathise with the alleged victim but become engrossed in the chase for a resolution to the mystery.

A great, short read to take away on your kindle this summer.

Iceland Noir 2014 Day One

It’s that time of year again when all lovers of Scandinavian crime fiction get together in Iceland. There’s an excellent line-up at this year’s conference and the panels start properly today.

imageHowever, yesterday a couple of events took place which I’m sure will be of interest to Crimepieces readers. Firstly, William Ryan, as well as being a writer of excellent historical fiction, also runs workshops for those who wish to try their hand at crime writing. I’ve always been curious about these events and was determined to use the opportunity whilst in Iceland to attend one.

I took a taxi to Kópavogur public library in a Reykjavik suburb. It’s a huge building with excellent facilities. There I joined sixteen other people at an event that was a mixture of information on how to construct a crime novel combined with a series of exercises to let us have a go. Chatting to the people afterwards, it was clear that most people were already writing something and that the challenge is to complete their works of fiction. I’m sure this workshop will have inspired people to do just that.

Thursday evening is traditionally the time we get to hear authors read aloud from their works. We had a rich variety of writers last night inimage a room at the Solon bar in central Reykjavik. Readings were in both English and Icelandic and it was particularly nice to hear Antti Tuomainen give an extract from The Healer, a book I enjoyed last year. The photo to the right, show Peter James reading from his latest novel. James is an excellent reader and is a good example of how an author can bring their works to life by their performance.

So, the event starts in earnest today but I thought you’d like an update of what’s happened so far. Yesterday was largely about catching up with friends as well. Can you spot the crime writers in the photo below?

image

Iceland Noir #1

IMG_0828Reykjavik is currently hosting its first festival of crime fiction, Iceland Noir, an idea conceived by the Icelandic brach of the Crime Writers Association at their inaugural meeting in June during Crimefest. To have pulled together an event of this scale in such a short period of time has been a huge achievement and the event had a great start yesterday with the opening session featuring Norweigian writer Jorn Lier Jorst.

Regular readers of this blog will know I’m a fan of Horst’s writing and my only regret is that his books have been translated from mid-series onwards so we’re missing a huge amount of backstory in relation to his main protagonist, William Wisting. Yeserday, the writer was interviewed by his Icelandic translator, Sigurdur Helgason, who questioned him about both his crime IMG_0833fiction and children’s books. Like other crime writers I’ve seen interviewed, he cites the influence of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö on his work and had originally intended to write ten books in his own series. However, having just written his ninth book, he now intends to continue with William Wisting. Until a few months ago, Horst was a serving police investigator and the in-depth knowledge he has accumulated over the course of his career was touched upon. According to the writer, he has seen an increase in both violent and organised crime with less people employed to investigate cases.

What I thought fascinating was that despite his police background, Horst cited his love of crime fiction as one of the reasons he started writing in the genre. It’d always a relief to hear a writer say he loves to read crime novels and interestingly, like me, he came to the genre via the books of Enid Blyton and those featuring Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.

In the evening, I attended a reading featuring writers Quentin Bates, Ann Cleeves and Jorn Lier Horst, along with other IMG_0838Icelandic authors such as Ragnar Jonasson who are yet to be translated into English. It was an enjoyable event and it was wonderful to hear the rhythm of readings in a language I can’t understand. Special mention goes to Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson who I met earlier in the day. I read and reviewed his excellent Flatey Enigma last year on the recommendation of  the late Maxine Clarke at Petrona. Meeting him has reminded me that I need to catch up with the rest of the series. Good to catch up too with fellow blogger Sue G from Novel Heights and her husband Jim.

Thanks to everyone for all their hard work in making Day 1 such as success.