My reading at the moment is oscillating between Scandinavian crime fiction for the Petrona Award and ghost stories that bring back memories of my teenage years. More of the supernatural in a post next week. Meanwhile, all the Scandi books that I read were by familiar authors and it was a bit of a mixed bag.
MemoRandom by Anders de la Motte is his take on a familiar trope of crime novels, that of memory loss. David Sarac wakes up from a car crash and can only remember that he is a police officer and he needs to protect his informant, Janus. As his colleagues desperately try to elicit the identity of Janus, Sarac’s memory returns only in fragments. Natalie Aden, his carer who has also been tasked with spying on him, helps him piece his past together as his life becomes increasingly endangered. As I’d expect from De La Motte, MemoRandom is a fast-paced thriller with an entertaining storyline. There’s always something enjoyable about a book with a race to the conclusion. The translation was by Neil Smith.
I’m a big fan of Arnaldur Indridason but Oblivion proved to be a disappointment. There were all the elements that I enjoy in Indridason’s writing – the Icelandic landscape, the descriptions of native food and, of course, his detective Erlendur. While the writing was good, I found the plot to be lacklustre which is a shame as I persevered with it until the end. It’s a decent enough read and sits alongside the other books well enough. Fingers crossed for the next one. The translation was by Victoria Cribb.
In comparison The Caveman by Jorn Lier Horst is a cracker and his best book yet. There are two storylines both of which were fascinating. William Wisting is investigating a serial killer who may have made his way from the US to Norway. The presence of CIA agents adds to the pressure on his team to find the murderer. Meanwhile, Wisting’s daughter, Line, is doing a story on a man whose body was sitting, undiscovered, in his living room for four months. Focusing on the loneliness of some Norwegians, she soon realises that there is more to the man’s death than a sad story. Lier Horst has always excelled as a writer of police procedurals but here the story telling is second to none. I didn’t want the book to finish as I was so engrossed in the narrative. More please! The translation was by Anne Bruce.
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.
Håkan 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 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.
I 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.
Gunnar Staalesen is a Norwegian author whose books haven’t had the attention that they deserve in the UK. Only a few have been translated into English leaving us with a tantalising glimpse into what looks like an excellent series. Now, however, Staalesen has a brand new English publisher, Orenda Books, and his first translation in a number of years, We Shall Inherit the Wind. It’s been worth the wait.
It’s 1998 and private investigator, Varg Veum, is at the bedside of Karin, his seriously injured girlfriend, in a Bergen hospital. Blaming himself for the attack, he takes the reader to the beginning of the story and his investigation into the disappearance of Mons Maeland. Maeland is reported missing by his wife who believes his disappearance may be connected to his desire to build a wind farm on his island. But there is already a mystery connected to the place. Maeland’s first wife disappeared in the 1980s and is believed to have drowned although no body was ever discovered. The two strands of the case come together when a body is discovered and the realities of environmental activism are revealed.
Staalesen’s greatest strength is the quality of his writing. The incidental asides and observations are wonderful and elevate the book from a straightforward murder investigation into something more substantial. It’s soberly written but compelling story of passion and revenge.
Varg Veum is rightly revered in Bergen and he fits into the classic lone investigator role. It is his personality that carries the narrative and his relationship with Karin, which is gradually recalled in loving detail as she lies mortally wounded, is a moving part of the plot.
We Shall Inherit the Wind fits well with the other books by Staalesen that have been translated into English. Despite gaps in the series, there is a sense of continuity and I can’t wait to read more of this excellent writer’s work.
Thanks to Orenda for my review copy. The translation was by Don Bartlett.
Next weekend the Troxy in Stepney, East London will be hosting a festival to celebrate Scandinavian drama and fiction. Nordicana is in its third year and promises an array of talent from prime TV shows including The Bridge’s Sofia Helin and Sofie Gråbøl, who played Sarah Lund in The Killing. The full schedule is available on the Nordic Noir TV website.
It should be an excellent two days but the highlight, for me, will be the book event that’s taking place on Saturday 6th June. Crime fiction expert, Barry Forshaw, will be discussing the origins of Nordic Noir with a panel of guests. Joining me will be Quentin Bates author of a crime fiction series set in Iceland and Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen from the UCL Scandinavian Studies department. It promises to a fascinating conversation.
Any readers of Crimepieces who want to attend are able to buy tickets for the day’s event on the Troxy’s website. However, what struck me recently was the number of readers who contact me through this blog to ask questions about Scandinavian crime fiction. I know you live all around the world; it’s absolutely fascinating to discuss this genre by e-mail so please don’t stop getting in touch. However, I thought if you wanted to post any specific questions to me, we could discuss them on the panel.
You can do this in two ways: via the comments section below which will send your question direct to me by e-mail or you can reply to this post so other readers can see what you’re interested to learn. I’ll be giving a prize for the best question. Scandinavian crime fiction related. So do let me know if you’d like to ask the experts something.
Otherwise, bring your questions along on the day. See you there.