More Scandi Crime Fiction

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 y450-293memory 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. There51jsnkgzk9l-_sx328_bo1204203200_ 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.

9781910124048In 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.

 

 

 

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: Gunnar Staalesen – We Shall Inherit the Wind

We Shall Inherit the Wind BF AW.inddGunnar 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.

Nordicana – A Festival of Scandinavian Drama and Fiction


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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 7659539Saturday 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.

Review: Henning Mankell – An Event in Autumn

An Event in AutumnFans of Henning Mankell’s Wallander books will know that the series has come to an end. Wallander, for reasons that were narrated in The Troubled Man, will investigate no more cases. However, it appears we have one last story. According to the book’s afterword, An Event in Autumn was originally written for a Dutch publisher to give away to purchasers of their crime novels. It’s not really a novella, more a longish short story but it is, nevertheless, very nice to revisit Wallander’s world.

The now ageing Wallander has always dreamt of owning a house in the countryside around Ystad. His colleague, Martinsson, tells him about a dilapidated house that he has inherited and which Wallander might want to visit with a view to purchasing. However, while inspecting the garden, Wallander discovers a skeletal hand and the police dig soon reveals the presence of two bodies. All the evidence suggests that the victims have been in the ground for a long time, so Wallander is forced to go back decades in time to discover the origins of the tragedy.

While reading An Event in AutumnI couldn’t help thinking that it would have made an excellent full length novel. The story reminded me a little of Colin Dexter’s Morse book, The Wench is Dead It was not only the historic aspect to the narrative but also the part played by Wallander. He’s always been a character who is fails to take his own health seriously. But in this short tale, there’s a foreshadowing of the trouble that comes in the final book.

There’s a decent plot and it’s a shame it wasn’t given the opportunity to open out in Mankell’s trademark way. There could have been plenty of twists and turns before we reached the final conclusion but the length of the story didn’t allow this. Nevertheless, it was enjoyable both for the glimpses into fifties Swedish attitudes and also for the descriptions of the wonderful Scanian countryside that we got when Wallander visited his father in earlier books.

Wallander fans will have already read the story, I’m sure. There’s an interesting essay at the back of the book by Mankell which confirms that this is it. There are no more Wallander tales and we really have reached the end.

Thanks to Harvill Secker for my review copy. The translation was by Laurie Thompson.

Review: Fredrik T Olsson – Chain of Events

Chain-of-EventsI’m a fan of crime novels set amongst cataclysmic events. Of course, as crime readers, we are used to the opposite. From the country house murder in golden age crime fiction to the cold climate of Scandinavian thrillers, it is the thought of evil that runs against the natural order that gives us the biggest shiver. But there is something to be said in setting a crime in the middle of circumstances so monstrous that they are almost imaginable. I’ve reviewed a few of these books on this blog: Ben H Winters’ Last Policeman trilogy, Louise Welsh’s A Lovely Way to Burn and The Healer by Antti Tuomainen. Now we have a debut by Swedish writer Fredrik T Olsson that envisages a different type of scenario that threatens to wipe out the human race.

William Sandberg was a respected cryptologist but a series of family tragedies lead to a failed suicide attempt. When he disappears from his hospital room, his ex-wife Christina refuses to believe he has vanished voluntarily and sets out to discover the identity of the kidnappers. Sandberg finds himself in an ancient castle in a mountainous country and is given mysterious code to decipher. A chance meeting with someone inside the citadel reveals the true nature of the DNA sequences that William is studying and the potential implications of his failure to decode the messages.

Olsson comes from a screen writing background which is immediately apparent in his mastery of how to keep a reader hooked into the narrative. The book is, literally, a page turner and, although long, I can imagine it being possible to finish it in one sitting. There are multiple points of views which, again, I’d expect from someone with the writer’s background. These also work well, the characters are well drawn enough to be distinguishable, but sometimes depth of characterisation is sacrificed to momentum.

Although a Swedish crime novel, Chain of Events is much more located in the international thriller genre. The pandemic that threatens to wipe out civilisation needs a fair amount suspension of disbelief and yet the writer also manages to make the chase to decode the biological time bomb fun and interesting. The ending is, perhaps, a little pat but that’s the problem with dystopian narratives. Once you stare over the abyss, how can anything be the same again?

Thanks to Sphere for my review copy. The translation was by Dominic Hinde.

 

 

Review: Jo Nesbo – The Son

Nesbo is an interesting writer. He’s hugely popular around the world it’s not difficult to see why. His books are always immenseson-jo-nesboly readable and he is able to create larger than life characters that jump off the page. His novels are substantial reads. The Son runs to 496 pages but, once you are into the narrative, it’s virtually impossible to put down. Although not part of the series featuring detective Harry Hole, after the disappointment of Nesbo’s previous standalone, HeadhuntersThe Son is a return to form. Assuming, as always, you can stomach the violence.

Sonny Lofthus is the son of a policeman who killed himself when he was revealed as the mole in the Oslo police department who was passing secrets to a criminal known as The Twin. Sonny is a drug addict incarcerated in prison who has become famous for his confessor-like status amongst inmates. During one confession, he discovers something that brings into question his father’s guilt. Escaping from jail, he wreaks justice on those he holds responsible for the destruction of his family. Simon Kefas, a colleague and friend of Sonny’s father, pursues the fugitive convinced that he can also unpick the truth about the identity of the real mole.

Nesbo is one the main proponents of Norweigian crime fiction and, in his earlier books, brought to life the city of Oslo for those of us who have never been. The Son is unusual in that, at times, I forgot it was set in Scandinavia. The narrative world is insular, focusing mainly on life inside a hostel for drug addicts and then the wider criminal community. As in previous Nesbo books, there’s a shocking reveal as part of the plot which I only guessed in the preceding few pages.

The most successful part was the depiction of the life of Sonny Lofhus. In many ways he’s not a particularly innovative creation and yet Nesbo always manages to make me sympathise with his criminals. In particular the tension in his relationship with hostel worker, Martha, was well depicted however improbable the scenario.

Nesbo will continue to divide readers, I’m sure. I’ve read a few reviews of this book and some of them have been brutal. But I started reading crime fiction as a teenager because I loved the fact that, once started, I couldn’t put the books down. Nesbo, for me, carries on this tradition.

Thanks to Karen at Eurocrime for my copy. The translation was by Charlotte Baslund.

Review: Elsebeth Egholm – Three Dog Night

I attended a Danish crime fiction event on Monday evening as part of the Manchester Literature Festival along with Karen EEgholmMeek from Eurocrime. Karen has given the evening an excellent write-up on her website and it was good to see that, judging by the turnout, the Scandinavian crime fiction wave is still going strong. In advance of the event, I read one of the featured authors’ books. Three Dog Night by Elsebeth Egholm is a solid read with an interesting premise. It was also the book that author spoke about at length and once more I was struck by how interesting it is to hear of how a novel came into being.

Ex-convict Peter Bautrup moves to a remote rural community following his release from prison. His nearest neighbour is Felix, a woman bearing the scars of a past accident. When they both stumble on the body of Ramses, a man Peter knew in prison, their fragile peace is shattered. The discovery of a young girl’s body in the town’s harbour doesn’t appear, at first, to be connected to the convict’s death but the remote community is harbouring old secrets that are finally resurfacing.

Three Dog Night has a great sense of place that communicates itself to the reader from the first page. A frosty New Year’s Eve provides the backdrop to the introduction of the main protagonists and conveys to the reader the isolation of the community. Egholm has created an excellent cast of characters who have interesting back stories. Peter, in particular, struggles to disentangle himself from his former life. There is a strong emphasis on sickness, in terms of both physical and mental exhaustion. While this adds to the sense of a community fraying at the edges it can occasionally make it difficult to distinguish the individual characters. However, I was impressed by the well constructed plot with a convincing ending which I find is sometimes a weakness with Scandinavian crime fiction.

Egholm’s sequel to Three Dog Night, Dead Soulsis out in November. Featuring once more Peter Bautrup, the blurb suggests that it promises to be an equally intriguing read.

Thanks to Headline for my review copy. The translation was by Charlotte Barslund and Don Bartlett.

Review: Asa Larsson – The Second Deadly Sin

Asa Larsson’s books encapsulate everything that is great about Scandinavian crime fiction: they have a strong sense of place Second-Deadly-Sin-2-130x200combined with well-developed plots and interesting characters. That said, I’ve found the series featuring lawyer Rebecka Martinsson to be slightly patchy, not helped by the fact that the books have been translated out-of-order. The last novel to be published in the UK, The Black Path, was disappointing, principally because we lost that sense of a close knit community tying to protect itself from evil within. This is, thankfully, back in The Second Deadly Sin although, once again, I found the slightly over-the-top ending marred what was an interesting narrative.

In northern Sweden, hunters gather to shoot a wounded bear circling its community. Inside its stomach they find the remains of a human hand. In nearby Kiruna, a woman is found murdered in her bed with the word ‘whore’ daubed above her. Her grandson, Marcus, is traumatised by events and no-one is prepared to take on the responsibility of looking after him. Rebecka is assigned as prosecutor to the case, which is hampered by the refusal of the insular community to give up its secrets. But the key to the investigation is a crime that took place decades earlier.

The split narrative was one the most interesting aspects of this book. Both the modern-day murder investigation and the early twentieth doomed romance were depicted equally well. I became quite enamoured of the story of the young school teacher who falls in love with the local mine owner, despite it being clear from the beginning that it would end badly. The present day investigation worked best when Larsson was teasing out the complexities of relationships fraught with past disappointments. The actual resolution was less satisfying but that could have been because of the sheer pointlessness of it all.

I was looking forward to reading this book and overall enjoyed being taken back into the closed community of northern Sweden. It’s still a ‘must read’ series for me and the novel’s ending hints at new directions for Rebecka which should shake up future books a little.

Thanks to MacLehose Press for my copy. The translation is by Laurie Thompson

Review: Kristina Ohlsson – The Disappeared

THE_DISAPPEARED_1373318561PAnother huge tome of a book, The Disappeared runs to nearly 600 pages so it’s not surprising that it took me around a week to read. When a book is that long you inevitably look to see if there is any padding that could have been left out. The Disappeared’s length is mainly down to the author’s style of writing which, although initially frustrating, made the book a substantial and complex read.

When the body of a woman is found buried in woodland, newly bereaved Alex Recht from the Stockholm police believes it to be that of the missing student, Rebecca Trolle. But the grave holds further secrets when it’s discovered that other bodies have been buried there, with the deaths having taken place years apart. As the team uncover the dead girl’s past, and her link to an elderly children’s author, their personal lives become entangled in the investigation leading to an internal inquiry.

This is the first book I’ve read by Ohlsson and I am now tempted to read her earlier novels. There is a clear backstory to all the principal police protagonists which is hinted at the text but never allowed to dominate it. In many respects, The Disappeared has all the hallmarks of a quintessential Swedish crime novel. The landscape forms an important part of the narrative, in the position of the dead bodies and the role it plays in some of the violent scenes. We also get a mix in the narrative of the police investigation and the characters’ personal lives. There’s a sense in the book of lives on the cusp of change which I’m sure will strike a chord with many readers.

The investigation is both shocking and slightly depressing. The idea of snuff films has been written about before in crime fiction although I think the author did well to include male murder victims to balance some of the extreme imagery. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, there’s only so much violence against women that I can stomach.

For me, this was an excellent introduction to a writer that I hadn’t read before. Other readers often comment on the fact that they don’t like to start books mid-series. I did so here; it was fine and, if anything, made me inclined to read the earlier books.

Thanks to Simon and Schuster for my review copy. The translation was by Marlaine Delargy.