Archive for January, 2009

>MY FAVOURITE READS OF 2008

Posted: January 31, 2009 in Uncategorized

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The books I read during 2008 were of a very high quality with only a few exceptions therefore it was a hard task to come up with only five outstanding reads. My favourite reads all had that extra special something  about them and all had memorable characters. 


They were:



The fifth in the Bernie Gunther series was set in Peron’s Argentina in 1950 but with a lengthy brilliantly evocative back story of Germany in 1932. An outstanding detective story as Bernie investigates a murder with similarities to a case in his past. But it is also a novel with a message and warning from history that is relevant to the present day.


Commisaire Adamsberg and his disparate team of detectives investigate murders in Paris and strange events in Normandy. Gallic quirkiness and individuality abound in this mixture of modern mystery and medieval history.


Harry Hole investigates a bank robbery and then makes an unfortunate choice of female dinner companion in this book which is the sequel to The Redbreast and prequel to The Devil’s Star. The opening of Nemesis is absolutely stunning and the narrative grips right through to the end.


This winner of the Best Swedish Debut Crime Novel has a brilliantly different investigator in the elderly Gerlof Davidson and is a master class in the use of a gripping decades long back story. But the main star of the book is the atmospheric setting on the beautiful bleak Baltic Island of Oland.  


A sensational start to this novel is a prelude to a police procedural that is both humorous and intriguing. The ten books in the Martin Beck series written between 1965 and 1975 are all masterpieces and a pleasure to read. 

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The twenty most lent books in Norway last year information via the Salmonsson Agency.

1. Ligge i grønne enger (Anne B. Ragde) 
2. Snømannen (Jo Nesbø) 
3. Luftslottet som sprengtes (Stieg Larsson) 
4. Tusen strålende soler (Khaled Hosseini) 
5. Jenta som lekte med ilden (Stieg Larsson) 
6. Honningfellen (Unni Lindell) 
7. Drageløperen (Khaled Hosseini) 
8. Menn som hater kvinner (Stieg Larsson) 
9. Livstid (Liza Marklund) 
10. Hodejegerne (Jo Nesbø) 
11. Den som elsker noe annet (Karin Fossum) 
12. Frelseren (Jo Nesbø) 
13. Ut og stjæle hester (Per Petterson) 
14. Rødstrupe (Jo Nesbø) 
15. Tyskerungen (Camilla Läckberg) 
16. 1222 (Anne Holt) 
17. Tett inntil dagene: fortellingen om min mor (Mustafa Can) 
18. Sorgenfri (Jo Nesbø) 
19. Nobels testamente (Liza Marklund) 
20. Orkestergraven (Unni Lindell)


The original article in Norwegian by Per Olav Solberg is here. I could not understand it but can see five Jo Nesbo books at 2,10,12,14,18: the Stieg Larsson millennium trilogy at 3,5,8: Liza Marklund at 9.and 19: and Camilla Lackberg at 15.

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Kiruna, 1100km north of Uppsala, in the frozen north of Sweden. 

Leif Pudas is fishing through a hole in the ice from his mobile ark and goes outside without a coat to relieve himself. The moorings on his ark come loose and it blows away in the storm. He has only a few minutes to live in the extreme cold, but luckily he stumbles across his snowmobile with a tool box in the seat. He is able to break the window of a nearby ark and climb through into the interior, where he finds a woman’s body.

The woman has signs of having been tortured before her  murder and Inspector Anna-Maria Mella with her colleague Sven-Erik  Stalnacke begin an investigation. 

When the woman is identified is identified as Inna Wattrang, an executive of Kallis Mining, Anna-Maria asks lawyer Rebecka Martinsson to look into the financial background of the company. Rebecka has only recently recovered from her ‘breakdown’ caused by the traumatic events related in The Blood Spilt, the previous book in the series. 
The separate financial and criminal investigations merge as Rebecka delves deeply into the financial life of Mauri Kallis the boss of Kallis Mining, and when a local suicide turns out to be another murder the story moves to the exciting climax. 

Asa Larsson’s The Black Path is the third in a planned six book series featuring two disparate investigators workaholic tax lawyer Rebecka Martinsson, and mother of four police Inspector Anna-Maria Mella.
The previous books in the series The Savage Altar [Sun Storm in the USA] and The Blood Spilt were respectively named Sweden’s Best First Crime Novel in 2003, and Best Swedish Crime Novel of 2004. The Black Path has been nominated for a Hawaii Five-O police procedural award at the Left Coast Crime Festival 2009.

This along with the nomination of Karin Alvtegen for an Edgar shows that Scandinavian crime fiction is getting some well deserved recognition in the USA.

I really enjoyed The Black Path but had a few minor reservations which were probably more related to my wandering concentration levels than any failures by the author. This dark mysterious novel covers so many of the main themes of modern crime fiction that at times I felt a bit overwhelmed. 
Mauri Kallis is a walking success story, who as a child was put in care, but has become a very rich man with business interests all over the world and a private estate where his various relatives live like feudal vassals. The ‘American Dream’ but in Sweden.
The murder victim Inna Wattrang is charismatic, beautiful, sexually promiscuous with rich older men, and has a ‘strange’ relationship with her weak brother Diddi. Diddi and Inna are the beautiful acceptable face of Kallis Mining, a face that hides the company’s amoral exploitation of Africa’s mineral resources and other illegalities.
 
Mauri Kallis has a 16 year old half sister Ester, the offspring of his mother and an Indian fellow inmate of the psychiatric ward, who is an artist and was brought up in a Sami family. Ester has unusual abilities but only her artistic talent is noticed and because of her age and exotic Indian and Sami background she is ripe for exploitation by trendy gallery owners.

Asa Larsson gives us a lot of the back story for these characters and others explaining some of the psychological background for their present state of mind. She gives us multiple points of view and multiple narrative threads and she does it very well. But at times I found myself wanting the investigation to move forward with more of Anna-Maria and Sven-Erik, and less of Rebecka’s numerous problems, and Diddi’s pathetic behaviour. 
This might be just be my impatience because this is a very good book with a very strong message about the brutality of modern global business and the exploitation of the weak. 

“….but I pulled myself together and started to speak Finnish instead, and then she thawed out.”
Airi Bylund laughed.
“Oh yes, she probably thought you were a rousku, one of those bastards who can only speak Swedish.”

But at least amid all the darkness the book does end with a glimpse of possible personal happiness for two of the characters. I look forward to reading the next book in this continuing series because it shows how a writer like Asa Larsson is pushing the boundaries by creating an amalgam of psychological thriller, social commentary and police procedural all in one novel.

You can read a couple of fascinating  reviews of The Black Path here and here.

>THE SWEDISH APACHE

Posted: January 25, 2009 in Uncategorized

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There is an interesting post at Scandinavian Crime Fiction that refers to a discussion by Mike Carlson here as to the reason why Nordic crime has attracted all this current attention from UK journalists.


The key section selected by Barbara at Scandinavian Crime Fiction  is “But it remains puzzling to me why, that when contemporary British writers have done so much to move their genre into more challenging territory it takes two Swedes [Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson ?] to get British critics to notice.” 

I think the answer is simple, the media pick on something as the flavour of the moment, and in the process they drain the story of every drop of vitality they can and then they abandon it and move on. 
In their view British crime fiction has been around a long while, it has been on television in various guises for many years and therefore is not as newsworthy as something new such as Swedish crime fiction. [I have noted that two of my first creaking blog posts back in September 2006 referred to Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo]
The critics think here is a ‘new TV series’ with a ‘new detective’ Wallander, starring Kenneth Branagh, and which is set in a beautiful location, so we must write about it. The fact that the televised Mankell books were published in English between ten and six years ago is irrelevant. 

In the case of  Stieg Larsson the interest has undoubtedly been stimulated as a result of three factors: he died tragically young, the advertising campaign, and the unique character Lisbeth Salander

Will the professional journalists/critics move on to all the other Scandinavian crime writers who have not been televised and who have not been the beneficiary of a Stieg Larsson like marketing campaign [well deserved on the evidence of The Girl Who Played with Fire] ? 
I very much doubt it as the media are quite fickle, but unfortunately the problems dealt with in the books concerning the breakdown of society, single parenthood, gangs, abuse, immigration and drugs are with us for the long haul. 

In 1990 when Sweden was probably a more homogeneous population a Sami, who was very drunk, started a conversation with us on a train from Uppsala to Stockholm. He complained that he was a ‘Swedish Apache’, a depressed and oppressed minority in his own country. We were rather shocked because that winter we had seen a beautiful country, which appeared snow white in more than one sense, a country where even the bag ladies dressed smartly. We were relieved that this was a short journey because he was very drunk, but as we were about to leave the train he said “if you are going to be oppressed this is the best country in the world to be oppressed.”

Perhaps a lot of the interest in Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson is caused by the fact that the liberal media still believe that Sweden is some sort of socialist utopia and are intrigued by the concept that it is a ‘real’ country.    

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Over at the Picador Blog I see that my article on the Inspector Montalbano novels Appreciating Camilleri is no longer the most recent offering. The newest post is an article about the Nobel committee’s decision to award the literature prize to the unknown Jean-Marie Le Clezio.

 

Picador are publishing a series of blog posts on Andrea Camilleri to coincide with the release of The Paper Moon the ninth Inspector Montalbano in paperback. Thanks to the good offices of Lady Maxine of Petrona they asked me to contribute. 
I got a bit carried away and wrote a much longer article but the folks at Picador did an excellent job of editing it down to manageable length. I won’t criticise those writers of  door stop novels for a few weeks. 

Upcoming articles in the Camilleri series include a review of The Paper Moon by Maxine Clarke and Stephen Sartarelli discussing the delights and challenges  of translating Camilleri. 

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Dorte has kindly explained the relationships between Astrid Lindgren’s creations, Kalle Blomqvist and Pippi Longstocking, and Stieg Larsson’s creations Mikael Blomqvist and the memorable Lisbeth Salander here.


I was interested to read here that Karin Alvtegen, just nominated for an Edgar for best novel for Missing, is the grandniece of Astrid Lindgren

I think Lisbeth, the adult Pippi Longstocking, could have fitted in very well in the only Karin Alvtegen book I have read, Betrayal.


You can find an excellent summary of the numerous posts concerning Lisbeth Salander collected together by Maxine of Petrona here.

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On this historic day when President Barack Obama becomes the 44th President of the United States I thought I would set one of my little quizzes just for a bit of fun.


But first my thoughts today are influenced by the fact that my oldest friend is a black Jamaican. I remember very well that when we first met 46 years ago the USA was a very different place. I think that as well as congratulating President Obama on his achievement we should congratulate the American people on their long  journey since those dark days of the 1960s. 

I have a suspicion that George W. Bush will not be judged as harshly by history as he is today. He was dealt a very difficult hand to play with and made some poor decisions. But the fact that he brought African Americans into high office might be seen in a hundred years time as a defining moment in American history. 
Now the USA has a new charismatic leader with a crushing weight of expectation on his shoulders. 
President Barack Obama has an almost impossible tasks in front of him, but so did many American leaders in the past from George Washington to Abraham Lincoln to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 
We can only wish him well. 

The Questions:

1] Who was the only American President for whom English was not his first language?

2] Who was the only American President who died outside the United States, and was not officially mourned in Washington?

3] Which American President are these quotes referring to:

‘May God give our country leaders as faithful, as wise, as noble in spirit as the one whom we now mourn.’

‘a majestic figure who stood like a rock of consistency’

‘He taught us the power of brotherliness’

”It is believed to be the most remarkable demonstration in American history of affection, respect , and reverence for the dead.’

No prizes but hopefully it might take your minds off the dire economic situation for a few minutes.

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Iain at Quercus has asked me to direct readers to a new web site devoted to The Girl Who Played With Fire here. There will be more content over the next few months but there is already a link to Maxine‘s Euro Crime review of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

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Janek Mitter, after a night of heavy drinking and lovemaking, stumbles into his bathroom to find his beautiful wife of only 3 months Eva floating dead in the bath. Mitter’s problem is that he cannot remember anything except making love and falling asleep.

Chief Inspector Van Veeteren questions Mitter at length and at some stage he is sure Mitter will start to remember what happened but when will that be?  

This is the first book I have read by Hakan Nesser and my excuse is that I have been waiting for The Minds’s Eye [or The Wide Mesh Net in Swedish ‘Det grovmaskiga natet’] the first book in the ten book Inspector Van Veeteren series to be published in English. too many times have I found myself reading Nordic books out of order.
Numbers two and three Borkmann’s Point and The Return have already been published and number four Woman with a Birthmark is to be published later this year therefore I will be able to follow the series as it was meant to be read. 
The Van Veeteren series is set in the fictional town of Maardam population 300,00 in a unspecified Northern European country like Sweden, Poland, Germany or the Netherlands.

I assume the fact that it is a ten book series is a tribute to the ten books in the great Martin Beck series. 
There is an interesting interview with Hakan Nesser here at Detectives Beyond Borders.

The Mind’s Eye won the Basta Svenska Debut in 1993, and Hakan Nesser is the only author to have won the Swedish Best Crime Fiction novel three times in 1994, 1996 [beating Henning Mankell], and 2007.
He was also nominated in 1995,1997,1998,1999, 2000, and 2001, a very formidable record. 

I really enjoyed reading The Mind’s Eye which is both a psychological thriller and police procedural rolled into one with a nice twist in the plot at about the midpoint of the story. Anyone who thinks Swedish crime fiction is all darkness and gloom has not read Hakan Nesser because in this novel there is a juxtaposition of the police investigation of a murder contrasted with some withering deadpan humour. The crimes are terrible but the narrative includes some humourous episodes and the almost lighthearted dialogue between the detectives breaks the growing  tension. I would think that police officers who have to deal with horrific crimes have to cope with it in this way.

‘Our teachers are women, our house matrons are women, our school caretakers, our gardener, our kitchen staff- all of them are women. I’m the headmistress and I’m a woman.’…….
Van Veeteren nodded and tried to sit upright. He had a pain in the small of his back, and what he wold really like to do was lie on the floor with his legs on the seat of the chair, that usually  helped. But something told him that Miss Barbara di Barboza didn’t like men lying on the floor of her study.

The sullen cynical Van Veeteren has a team of dedicated police officers to help him; Munster, his badminton partner, Reinhart, Rooth, deBries, Jung and Heinemann, his flock.

But in any case, his collection of police officers was not a particularly impressive bunch to be honest. 
Not something to line up for a live broadcast, he thought.

Van Veeteren, who listens to Bach and Julian Bream, likes his solitude to think about the psychology and motives behind the crimes in order to work out the solution. He tries to instruct the slightly naive Munster in his method and make him think systematically.
Naturally Van Veeteren is estranged from his wife, this is almost compulsory for Nordic detectives with the notable exception of Irene Huss

Despite his disillusion with his job and the seriousness of the crimes he is investigating Van Veeteren seems to have the ability to laugh at his situation and that is what gives this book that extra sparkle and makes it very readable. 
I hope to read the other two translated Van Veeterens before Crime Fest in Bristol when Hakan Nesser will be one of the guests. 

>DISCUSSING CRIME FICTION?

Posted: January 18, 2009 in Uncategorized

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