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.

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A short interlude

I’m aware that it’s over three weeks since I last posted on Crimepieces.  First of all, to make my excuses, here’s what I’ve been up to. I’ve been finishing the first draft of my fourth book. The photo doesn’t give much away, I’m afraid, even the title but it’ll be the fourth book in my DC Connie Childs series. The narrative is split between the present day and the 1950s and it’s been fascinating to research this interesting decade.

At Crimefest in Bristol the 2017 Petrona Award for Scandinavian crime fiction was presented to Gunnar Staalesen for Where Roses Never Die. A really excellent book. I’ve now started to read for the 2018 award, beginning with The Thirst by Jo Nesbo. It’s a substantial book at 537 pages and Nesbo is always eminently readable. Translated by Neil Smith, the prose has you turning the page but, be warned, it’s the most violent Nesbo yet. The killer has a way of dispatching his victims that’s gruesome in the extreme and Nesbo cleverly uses the rise of social media, and Tinder in particular, to frightening effect. Lovers of Harry Hole will  be delighted but it won’t be for everyone.

I’ve also read two new books, one coming later this month and one early next year. Both were excellent. Kathy Reichs is best known for her series featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan. Two Nights marks a departure for her.  Her new protagonist, Sunnie Knight, is an ex police officer who is hired by a wealthy woman looking for her granddaughter. A bomb explosion killed other members of the family but the girl was lost in the confusion. Sunny heads to Chicago with enemies on her trail to track down the girl. The book is different in style and tone from Reich’s other books and is perfect for fans of Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky. Her new protagonist will easily carry a new series and I’m looking forward to reading more. Two Nights is out on the 29th June.

I then had a reading break as a number of books I picked up were put down again, unable to get beyond the first couple of pages. We all go through reading slumps like this, I guess. However, mine was revived by an excellent book, The Confession by Jo Spain. It’s a bit naughty including it here, as it’s not out until next year but it really is excellent. A woman watches her husband being brutally attacked and the next day the assailant hands himself in. We know who did it but not why and the narrative gradually reveals the reason behind the attack. I won’t say any more except that you’re in for a treat next year.  It was a delight to read. You can follow Jo Spain on Twitter @SpainJoanne.

I hope I’ve managed to pique your interest about some of these books including mine! We’ve three months to wait until A Patient Fury is out but I have some lovely things happening around that time. More soon.

I’ll also be appearing this month in the British Library at the Bodies from the Library event to talk about Elizabeth Daly. I’m a big fan and if any readers of Crimepieces are too do please let me know.

Nordic Noir Round-Up

My Nordic reading continues for both The Petrona Award and for Granite Noir where I’ll be interviewing three Scandi authors: Kristina Ohlsson, Kati Hiekkapelto and Gunnar Staalesen.

9781509809486chameleon-peopleChameleon People is the fourth book in the series featuring detective Kolbjorn ‘K2’ Kristiansen and his trusted advisor Patricia. As usual Lahlum mixes Golden Age writing style and plot structure  with political intrigue, in this case Norway’s 1972 vote on whether to join the EEC. It’s a substantial book and I enjoyed the fact that K2 has to investigate the case largely by himself due to Patricia’s antipathy towards his girlfriend, Miriam, and her own love life. Lahlum’s style is distinctive and I suspect you’re either a fan of this writer or you’re not. I always look forward to each new novel. The translation is by Kari Dickson.

41mxo4kt01l-_sx322_bo1204203200_Kati Heikkapelto writes books of a consistently high quality and The Exiled is no exception. Her protagonist, Anna Fekete, has returned to the Serbian village of her birth for a holiday but, after her bag is snatched and the perpetrator found drowned, she is dragged into an investigation that throws up questions about her own father’s death decades earlier. Probably Hiekkapelto’s best book to date, The Exiled  looks with insight and compassion at the lot of displaced people migrating through Europe and depressingly familiar attitudes to Roma. The translation is by David Hackston.

unwantedKristina Ohlsson is a security police analyst in Sweden and her books clearly reflect her in-depth knowledge of  criminal investigations. Unwanted  was her first book, published in English translation in 2011. A child is abducted on the Stockholm underground and initially the girl’s family comes under suspicion. In the finest tradition of Swedish crime fiction, the case is solved through meticulous team work, in this case by Investigative Analyst Fredrik Bergman and detectives Peder Rydh and Alex Recht. The subject matter makes it a shocking read which is balanced by the sobriety of police investigation. The translation is by Sarah Death.

I’m in the middle of two other Scandi books. The Midwife by Katja Kettu (on my kindle) and Who Watcheth by Helen Tursten. Reviews of these and more Nordic Noir coming soon…

Christmas Giveaway from Crimepieces 🎁🎄❄️

Christmas is fast approaching which means it’s time for my annual Scandi crime giveaway. I’ve been reading lots of Nordic Noir in readiness for March’s judging session of the Petrona Award. I’ll also be moderating some great Scandi panels at the forthcoming Granite Noir in Aberdeen.

I have a selection of this year’s Petrona eligible books to give away this festive season. To enter, all you need to do is sign up to my newsletter by clicking on the snowy image of the books below. The newsletter is sent out quarterly so you won’t get bombarded with e-mails but it includes updates on the Petrona Award and other exclusive book news.

If you already receive my newsletter, simply share my Facebook post or retweet the post. The competition is open to everyone, regardless of where you are geographically. I’ll be selecting the winner at 7pm on Sunday 18th December.

Good luck!

** The competition is now closed. Congratulations to Andrew in Essex, UK**

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Review: Erik Axl Sund – The Crow Girl

The-Crow-Girl-by-Erik-Axl-Sund-665x1024The Crow Girl is a book that I’ve been dying to read for the last few months. It’s been marketed as this year’s hottest Scandinavian thriller and I was intrigued to discover what makes it stand out amongst the other Nordic offerings. It’s also been translated by my favourite Scandi translator, Neil Smith. His translations are always a joy to read which is crucial for this book because, at 768 pages, the prose has to be compelling enough to keep the reader interested. I don’t mind reading a book this length, at least not once in a while, but it’s impossible to carry around the hardback in your bag which meant snatched chapters here and there when I sat down to read.

However, one sleepless night I got seriously into the book and read about half of it into the early hours. It’s the perfect time for a book where the violence is dark and shocking. Regular readers of this blog know that excessive descriptions of gore don’t do it for me and you should be warned that the threat of horrific death is there from the first chapter. However, like Pierre LeMaitre’s excellent, Alex, the violence is essential to the plot. For the crow girl of the title is the damaged Victoria Bergman whose abuse from an early age is explicitly detailed. This is more than a story of the abused becoming an abuser, however. The relationship between Victoria and her psychiatrist Sofia Zetterlund is complex and contains plenty of surprises as does Sofia’s romance with detective Jeanette Kohlberg.

Unusually I’m not going to precis the plot. It would be too easy to giveaway spoilers and one of the book’s strengths is the complexity of the narrative strands where nothing is as it seems.

So what keeps the interest going for such a lengthy book? Firstly the character of Victoria is fascinating in its complexity and the reader never feels comfortable in making any assumptions about her motives. Secondly the authors (Erik Axl Sund is a pseudonym for Jerker Ericsson and Hakan Axlander Sundquist) have cleverly constructed the plot so that reader is sent in all directions. The chapters are very short, sometimes you feel ahead of the police and others you’re left scratching your head as to what is going on.

Like all great crime novels, the resolution pulls all the narrative strands together  although I must admit there are a couple of points where I’m not sure I understand what happened. What I should do at this point is reread the book but I’ll have to leave that to a time in the future.  However, in my opinion The Crow Girl deserves the plaudits it has received and I was delighted to read a book where neither the length nor extremity of violence felt gratuitous.

Review: Jorn Lier Horst – Ordeal

9781910124758This is my second blog tour in a week which is unusual for me as I don’t normally take part in them. They’re wonderful things but I never seem to be able to read to a particular deadline. However, I definitely wanted to take part in this one as I’m a huge fan of Lier Horst’s writing. I think I’ve reviewed all this English translations on this blog and Ordeal is a worthy addition to the series.

Taxi driver Jens Hummel disappeared six months previously and Larvik detective William Wisting has been criticised for failing to solve the case. Now, evidence suggests Hummel was killed by Danny Brodin who is already in prison for murder. Meanwhile, Wisting’s daughter, Line, helps her friend, Sophie, open a safe inside her grandfather’s house and discovers an old gun and piles of cash. Sophie, already resentful of dead grandfather, tries to cover up the discovery dragging Line into her deception.

Lier Horst’s books are always an excellent mix of police procedural and character study which give them a special place in Scandinavian crime fiction. As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, the highlight of his writing is the relationship between William Wisting and his daughter. Line is now eight months pregnant following the brief fling she had in the previous novel, The Caveman. Line deliberately gives a misleading statement yet Wisting is sensitive to her predicament in staying loyal to her friend. It’s the portrayal of a loving father aware of his daughter’s idiosyncrasies. The town of Larvik is the perfect setting for Lier Horst’s plots: mixing provincial attitudes alongside encroaching twenty-first century problems of increased drugs and violent crime.

Hugely popular in Scandinavia, Lier Horst deserves a much wider audience in the UK and, hopefully, Ordeal will bring him new English-reading fans.

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.