AUTUMN KILLING: MONS KALLENTOFT trans NEIL SMITH

Posted: November 4, 2012 in Scandinavia, Sweden

Linkoping, Sweden in the autumn. Jerry Petersson, lawyer and self made IT millionaire, is found murdered in the moat of the castle at Skogsa, which he bought from 

the aristocratic Fagelsjo family. The murder will be investigated by an interesting team of detectives, among whom were Zeke Martinsson, whose son earns a fortune in the NHL in North America;Waldemar Ekenberg, who is an old style policeman with a tendency to violence; and Malin Fors, mother of Tove and an alcoholic…..

It all seemed so promising and the blurbs about previous books were gushing so why 501 pages later was I so disappointed. An author owes their readership a good story well told and the reader owes the book their best attention. So perhaps I am partially to blame for not giving this one all my focus, and perhaps I should have started the series at number one and not number three. One blurb calls Malin’s flaws “intriguing and endearing” I found her repetitive moaning about how much she loves her daughter Tove interspersed with her falling down drunk far from endearing. Perhaps I expect better behaviour from a mother than someone like Harry Hole. If that is sexist I plead guilty.

It was the American journalist and short story writer Ambrose Bierce who once reviewed a book saying ” The covers of this book are too far apart”. I wouldn’t be so cruel but there is possibly a good 300 page novel hiding in Autumn Killing’s 501 pages. 

I found the author’s technique of using short sentences and switching perspectives unsettling, it was probably meant to be. An idiosyncratic style doesn’t necessarily make a book literature. I quite like stories which switch back and forth, between characters and between time periods, but only when they add something to the plot. In this case the plot was a bit lightweight, and some of the stereotypical characters were far from endearing. We are given pages and pages of the introspective thoughts of  every character, even italicised reminisces from the dead. I may be in a minority yet again, but I found it all intensely irritating.

Are we now getting the average Swedish crime novel translated simply because it is Swedish?   

Comments
  1. Maxine says:

    Repetitive is so right. I enjoyed the first 150 or so pages but after that I felt like screaming. The author needs to learn that constant repetition (of themes from earlier books as well as within this one) is not the same as plot/character development and becomes boring. Particularly with his style of three-word paragraphs of yet more repetition of what we’ve read several times before. I was not as kind of you and in my review (submitted to Euro Crime) suggested 250 pages would have been a far better length for this content!

  2. Norman Price says:

    Thanks very much Maxine. i thought it was just me. :-) I will really look forward to reading your review now.

  3. Norman – What a thoughtful and well-written review! I think you’ve hit on one big problem with a lot of today’s longer books. They really are repetitive. As Maxine says, repetitive does not equal further character or plot development.

  4. Good question at the end there — once it was impossible to find Scandinavian crime fiction in the U.S., and now it’s everywhere. I’d rather have the latter, but thanks to reviews like this we can steer away from the less deserving.

  5. Norman Price says:

    Thanks Margot and Karen.
    It is not that long ago that you could not find Scandinavian crime fiction in the UK. During the memorable day my wife and I spent with those superb translators Reg Keeland and Tiina Nunnally back in 2009, Reg dashed into a book shop in Bath looking for one of “his books”. We only found one, a Karin Alvtegen, on the bargain shelf. Within a few months you could not enter a bookshop without facing a huge display of Stieg Larsson novels, backed up by all the others including reissued Henning Mankells.

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