The 2014 Petrona Award for the Best of Scandinavian Crime Fiction – Shortlist

The shortlist for the 2014 award is as follows:petronaaward2

CLOSED FOR WINTER by Jørn Lier Horst tr. Anne Bruce (Sandstone Press)

STRANGE SHORES by Arnaldur Indriðason tr. Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker)

THE WEEPING GIRL by Håkan Nesser tr. Laurie Thompson (Mantle)

LINDA, AS IN THE LINDA MURDER by Leif G W Persson tr. Neil Smith (Doubleday)

SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir tr. Philip Roughton (Hodder & Stoughton)

LIGHT IN A DARK HOUSE by Jan Costin Wagner tr. Anthea Bell (Harvill Secker)

There were a number of strong contenders for the 2014 award and deciding on with the shortlist provoked plenty of lively debate amongst us judges. The winner will be announced in Crimefest in May. More details of the award can be found at the Petrona Award website.

The judges’ comments on the shortlist are as follows:

CLOSED FOR WINTER: This highly atmospheric novel sees Chief Inspector Wisting investigate an off-season burglary and a disturbing case of murder on the Norwegian coast of Vestfold. As ever, author Jørn Lier Horst’s police background lends the novel a striking authenticity, with readers treated to the outstanding plotting and characterisation that typify this quality series.


STRANGE SHORES: Drawn back to his childhood home by the unresolved disappearance of his brother, Inspector Erlendur takes on the most personal and difficult case of his career. Exploring the series’ enduring themes of loss and the impact of Iceland’s twentieth-century social transformation, this remarkable valedictory novel is one of the finest by a truly incisive writer, the undisputed king of Icelandic crime fiction.


THE WEEPING GIRL: While supposedly on holiday, Detective Inspector Ewa Moreno is pulled into the case of a missing teenage girl and the much earlier murder of a woman. This quietly compelling novel from Swedish author Håkan Nesser, with its distinctive European feel, is full of the assurance readers have come to expect from the Van Veeteren series. There is not a single misstep as the grim implications of the narrative are teased out.


LINDA, AS IN THE LINDA MURDER:  Leif G W Persson’s sprawling, state-of-the-nation novels make deft use of crime fiction conventions to expose the faultlines of Swedish society. This more closely focused novel is a brilliant exploration of a young woman’s murder, press sensationalism, and the inner workings of a police investigation, with readers introduced to the blackly humorous and truly unforgettable police detective Evert Bäckström for the first time.


SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME: When a young man with Down’s Syndrome is convicted of arson and murder, lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir is hired by one of his fellow inmates to investigate a possible miscarriage of justice. This ambitious Icelandic crime novel, which skilfully weaves multiple narrative strands together with elements of the supernatural, is another gripping and highly entertaining read from author Yrsa Sigurðardóttir.


LIGHT IN A DARK HOUSE: Still mourning the loss of his wife, Finnish detective Kimmo Joentaa is called to investigate the strange murder of a comatose woman in hospital. German author Jan Costin Wagner delivers another wonderfully written and tightly constructed instalment in the Joentaa series, notable for its moving portrayal of a grief-stricken policeman and its in-depth exploration of victim and perpetrator psychology.

Review: Yrsa Sigurðardóttir – Someone to Watch Over Me

Yrsa Sigurðardóttir is one of my ‘must read’ writers. Her series featuring lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir has been consistently strong YSwith solid plots that provide a clear-eyed view of modern Iceland. The last book I reviewed was a departure for Yrsa. I Remember You was a supernatural thriller that, while enjoyable, didn’t feel quite as innovative as her crime books. However her latest offering, Someone to Watch Over Me, is a return to form and another Scandinavian book that deals with the devastating effect of fire.

Jakob, a young man with Down’s syndrome is convicted of starting a fire that burned down his care home, killing five people. He is sent to a psychiatric unit where one of his fellow inmates is convinced of his innocence. However, Josteinn is psychopath who repulses those he comes into contact with. Thora is reluctant to take on the case but soon becomes convinced that a cover-up has taken place and that the murderer is still at large. However, a key witness is suffering from locked-in syndrome and struggles to communicate the true version of events of the fateful fire.

Part of the charm of this series is the way in which the personality of Thóra Gudmundsdóttir is allowed to direct the narrative. We get a strong sense of Thora’s personal struggle with the official version of events, the way in which the police investigation is handled and the problems associated in dealing with a client who is a multiple murderer. All of this shapes the course of events as Thora digs deeper into the past. I was initially concerned about yet another portrayal of a victim with locked-in syndrome. It is such a rare illness and yet is seems to pop up with relative ease in crime novels. However, here it was handled well and there are no easy solutions for the victim.

The book gives a fairly damning portrait of social service care in Iceland. Patients with multiple and differing needs are lumped together in institutions that fail to adequately care for patients. It is left to families to try to unlock solutions to their children’s conditions and in this atmosphere poor judgements are made.

The book is an excellent read in a series that goes from strength to strength.