I’ve been on a big reading binge recently mainly due to long distance travel to Bouchercon, the US crime fiction convention. I’m going to do a series of round-ups of the next week or so as I have read some excellent books that I want to share with you.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m one of the judges for the Petrona Award for translated Scandinavian crime fiction. It’s usually around this time of year that I start to increase my Nordic Noir consumption to make sure I get my reading done in time for the judging in March.
Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s The Undesired is a standalone novel that looks at the historic abuse in a juvenile detention centre. A single father, Odinn is in charge of the investigation following the unexplained death of a colleague. He finds a disturbing link to an accident that killed his former wife and is forced to look behind the official files to discover the reason for the children’s deaths. Yrsa is a master of ramping up the tension in her books and here is no exception. I particularly liked the claustrophobic nature of the setting and the gradual revealing of the horror at the heart of the killings.
Stallo by Stefan Spjut is a fantastical tale that chronicles the abduction of children my mysterious creatures. Susso runs a website dedicated to sightings of these beings and when she receives news of a creature that has been spotted outside an old woman’s house she installs a camera to see if she can finally confirm their existence. The book is a meaty tale that will delight fans of writers such as Justin Cronin. It’s a mixture of crime and fantasy and I thought the translation to be excellent.
Kati Hiekkapelto’s The Hummingbird was shortlisted for last year’s Petrona Award. Her follow-up The Defenceless is also a powerful read tackling illegal immigration and the role of gang members in exacerbating the desperation of migrant workers. Hiekkapelto is unflinching in her chilling descriptions and, once more, it is her police investigator protagonist, Anna Fekete, who dominates the narrative.
Thanks to Hodder, Faber and Orenda Books for my review copies.
We haven’t seen the volume of Finnish crime novels translated into English as I’d have expected given the rise in popularity of Nordic noir. I’m not sure why this is the case. Most of the books from Finland that I’ve read recently have been excellent but it may well be that we’re getting the cream of crime fiction from the country. The Hummingbird by Kati Hiekkapelto is a strong addition to the genre. There’s a rawness to the writing that comes from an author willing to take risks with their work.
Anna Fekke arrived as a child in Finland as a refugee from the Yugoslavian wars. She is now beginning a career as a criminal investigator in a northern Finnish town but is assigned to a team that seems oblivious to casual incidences of racism. Her first week is marked by the murder of a woman jogger and Anna’s inexperience as an investigator is exacerbated by her paring with a racist partner. Another murder, soon after the first, suggests the possibility of a serial killer which stretches the resources of the small team.
The Hummingbird is almost two separate narratives that intertwine to provide a substantial read. Firstly we have the murder and its investigation. There’s a serial killer thread which includes the placing of a ‘trophy’ on the victims. However, there’s a nice to twist to this storyline and I thought it well done. The book’s real strength, though, is the character of Anna Fekke and the focus on her coming to terms with her refugee past. You see Anna’s conflicted views towards both her own community which she tries to untangle herself from and also her new ‘home’ in the police which isn’t as expected. She’s a flawed character which adds to the depth of her portrayal.
Hopefully we’ll have further books from Hiekkapelto as the writing is crisp and refreshing. As a small addendum, I think the book cover is one of the nicest I’ve seen in a long time. I rarely pay any attention to them, but I thought this one beautiful.
Thanks to Arcadia Books for my review copy. The excellent translation was by David Hackston. The Hummingbird has been shortlisted for the 2015 Petrona Award for translated Scandinavian crime fiction.