Archive for August, 2012

Burned set in Oslo in 2009 is the first in a projected six book series featuring journalist Henning Juul. The author Thomas Enger is a music composer and former journalist and the book has been translated from the Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund. 

Henning has endured the greatest tragedy anyone can suffer, the loss of a child. His son Jonas died in a house fire which left Henning badly scarred, both physically and emotionally. Henning has difficulty sleeping, frightening dreams and exhibits obsessive compulsive behaviour relating to smoke alarms and their batteries.

Henning is returning to work after a two year gap facing several major problems. Life has has moved on without him and he struggles to cope with the   technology at the online news service where he works, and also a different ethical approach to journalism. Online hits are more important than a story’s accuracy in this harsh environment.

And a tighter ship for on-line newspapers that want to survive means more sex, more tits and more porn. 

He is surprised to discover his new boss, the precise and professional Heidi Kjus was once his intern, and shattered to realise when he meets his ex-wife Nora that he is expected to work with her new lover, Iver Gundersen. 

A young woman Henriette Hargerup is found in a tent on Ekeberg Common. She has been half buried, mutilated and brutally murdered by stoning. The fact that Henriette has a Muslim boyfriend, Mahmood Marhouni, leads the police to follow one line of investigation. But Henning thinks that the murder may be more complicated, and reviving contact with his “deep throat” online source starts to interview Henriette’s friends at college. 

As an awkward old codger I am very wary of books that have been hyped and praised by the main stream media, but this is a very good debut. I hope the  horrific actions of mass murderer Anders Breivik, sentenced to 21 years in prison this week, do not inhibit Norwegian crime writers from dealing with some of the very important topics Thomas Enger discusses in Burned. He deals with multiculturalism, sharia, huddud punishments, immigrant drug gangs, racism and indigenous nationalism. 

‘What do you think Oslo will look like in thirty or forty years? We’ll probably all be Muslims,…….’………………..

‘No. But there’s nothing to suggest that might happen, Annetee. Very few people believe that Norwegian law should give way to sharia.’

One less serious sub-plot concerns the police combination of the sexy Ella Sandland and her sad immature colleague Bjarne Brogeland, who spends more time lusting after Sandland than investigating the case. 

With two of the biggest selling Scandinavian crime fiction series [Liza Marklund’s Annika Bengtzon series, and Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy] both featuring investigative journalists  the Henning Juul series might have appeared derivative, but Thomas Enger has succeeded in avoiding that pitfall. Henning is an original character and the intricate details of journalism and interviewing techniques in the book seem fresh. Henning is an intelligent protagonist and the twists and turns in the plot, although possibly over complicated towards the conclusion, are inventive and leave this reader wanting very much to move on to Pierced, the sequel.     

Commissaire Adamsberg, the creation of French historian and archaeologist Fred Vargas is one of my favourite detectives, but I had not read the first book that won Vargas and translator Sian Reynolds the International Dagger back in 2006. Perhaps it not being part of the Adamsberg series had put me off, but after reading Disgrace it was one of those strange coincidences that I should pick up a book about people living in a house called “The Disgrace”. 

I love the Adamsberg books for their quirkiness and sheer eccentricity so was a little surprised at the formal structure of The Three Evangelists. The novel began with a longish set up introducing the characters, followed by the crime and an investigation. The last few chapters involve various false trails and incorrect solutions, then finally the unmasking of the perpetrator. It is almost like a Golden Age Detective story given the special Vargas treatment.

Greek opera singer Sophia Simeonidas is astonished one morning to see a tree has appeared in her garden. Her husband Pierre knows nothing about it and she asks her new neighbours Marc, Mathias and Lucien, and Marc’s godfather/uncle disgraced former cop Armand Vandoosler for assistance. The neighbours dig under the tree, find nothing and replace the earth. Then a few weeks later Sophia goes missing, and a body is found burned beyond recognition in a car. The body is identified from an artefact Sophia always carries with her, and there are multiple suspects. Her husband Pierre, her newly arrived niece the beautiful Alexandra, her ex-lover, her best friend? All have a motive and the evangelists and Vandoosler begin their own private investigation.

For me the best part of the book is the introductory set up as Marc, a medievalist, who down on his luck can’t afford the rent,and persuades other historians, Mathias whose subject is pre-history, and Lucien who studies the Great War to share the house, with his godfather Armand Vandoosler. The elder Vandoosler takes to calling the younger men St Mark, St Luke and St Matthew and so they become the Three Evangelists. It is the complex burgeoning relationships between these characters, with Sophia’s best friend Juliette, who runs a local restaurant, and Sophia’s niece Alexandra that makes the novel so interesting. 

‘Do you have a car?’

‘We don’t have a car, because of our little problem with money.’

The Three Evangelists was originally published as Debout les morts in 1995, and won the 2006 International Dagger ahead of Andrea Camilleri’s Excursion to Tindari and Hakn Nesser’s Borkmann’s Point. It is certainly an easy read with a lot of clever Gallic charm packed into a mere 292 pages and well worth reading. 

The  Commissaire Adamsberg series [English publication date in brackets]:
 
1996 The Chalk Circle Man*** and here [2009]
1999 Seeking Whom He May Devour [2004]
2001 Have Mercy on Us All [2003]
 

Jo Nesbo’s Headhunters: the movie

Posted: August 25, 2012 in films, Norway

I watched the movie Headhunters, based on the book by Jo Nesbo, last night and really enjoyed it.

Perhaps you have to be 1.68m to really appreciate the story of Roger Brown, a short recruitment consultant  who moonlights as an art thief ;-).

Roger’s gorgeous statuesque blonde wife Diana is much taller than him and an expert in art history. The insecure Roger feels he needs to provide her with luxuries, and support her new gallery in order to ward off the predatory taller males that she naturally attracts. Trouble arises when handsome Clas Greve, ex-mercenary and former CEO of a major military  contractor who is currently between jobs, attends an exhibition at Diana’s gallery and Roger learns that Clas has a valuable painting in his apartment.

The action and excitement then accelerate with a rising body count and some typical Nesbo twists and turns to keep viewers guessing. At times you have to suspend disbelief  especially when Roger is squeezed between two enormously fat policemen in a vehicle that goes off the road, but this movie is a fun thriller not a work of art. 

Headhunters is a Scandinavian thriller with no pretensions to movie greatness, but it does have some memorable set pieces, and  interesting over the top acting performances.  

It will be fascinating to read the book in a few weeks and compare it with the movie.   

You can read my review of The Minotaur’s Head by Marek Krajewski over at the encyclopaedic Euro Crime website. 
Marek Krajewski’s creation Eberhard Mock has been called the most  outrageous detective in crime fiction, but he does have a two redeeming features. He plays chess and hates the Nazis. 
 

The first book in the Department Q series featuring grumpy detective Carl Morck [Kvinden i buret:The Woman in the Cage] was published as Mercy [in the UK] and The Keeper of Lost Causes [in the USA] to great critical acclaim. I thought Mercy was one of the best books I read last year and was looking forward with great anticipation to the rest of the series. My review of Mercy

Unfortunately number two in the series Fasandraberne [The Pheasant Killers] published as Disgrace in the UK, and The Absent One [in the USA] was  a  disappointment for this reader. Weighing in at over 500 pages with the villains identified at almost the start I found it  boring, and somewhat derivative.

I had hoped for more on the mysterious background of Assad, Carl Morck’s Syrian assistant, which was hinted at in the first book; more on the investigation of the ambush that left one colleague dead, and another Carl’s friend Hardy lying paralysed in a hospital bed; and just more of Carl and Assad. But in Disgrace the factors that made Mercy such a good read were almost relegated to the back burner, and the insertion of a new member of the team the abrasive Rose seemed to alter the chemistry between Carl and Assad.

A cold case file appears on Carl’s desk, it concerns a murder of a brother and sister twenty years earlier for which a man is already serving a prison sentence. Possible suspects in the case included a gang of spoilt rich boarding school brats, with wealthy influential contacts. Since that murder  some members of the gang have met their deaths in mysterious circumstances, others have become millionaires joining Copenhagen’s business elite, and in the case of one, Kimmie disappeared from society living by her wits on the city streets. Carl is told to stop the investigation by his superiors, and of course this makes him determined than ever to follow up any leads.

But from this promising beginning we are subjected to a catalogue of  stories about the cocaine addicted boarding school gang’s brutal crimes, describing scenes of extreme violence against women, men and animals.

As the man began to hyperventilate, Ulrik ran the blade along his nose and across his trembling eyelids………At last Ditlev nodded calmly to Ulrik and turned his attention towards the man’s legs. In a moment when Ulrik cut  his face, he would see them jerk in fright……Nothing else in Ditlev’s life could equal this kick. 

I did not enjoy the image of Kimmie, when pregnant, being subjected to violent assaults by another member of the gang.  Kimmie’s story is very tragic, but the illogical twist at the end had me totally confused, and the character was far too strange to elicit much sympathy. A far better tale of a woman living on the streets was  written by Karin Alvtegen in her Nordic Glass Key award winning novel Missing .

Frankly I  got bored with the lengthy cast of characters. 

Now all the nasty K’s [shouldn’t that be Ks] in her life lined up before her as the voices howled inside her, laughing hysterically as they gave her a scolding. Kyle, WillyK., Kassandra, Kare, Kristian, Klavs and all the others who crossed her path.

But among  all the confusing Ks I was pleasantly amused to find a wonderfully named character called Mannfred Sloth. Mercy was slightly different from the run of the mill crime fiction books, but Disgrace with its explicit violence and inefficient Bond type villains was just another charmless thriller.

I will read the third book in the series, Flaskepost fra P: Message in a Bottle, to be published as Redemption in the UK with interestingly a third different translator for the UK series. But that is only because it won the Nordic Glass Key, and surely has to be an improvement on Disgrace. My advice is read Disgrace, and make up your own minds.

The spectacularly successful and brilliantly organised London 2012 Olympics are over, and before the Paralympics start on 29 August and in an amazingly short space of time the country has returned to worrying about train fares, jobs, the weather, inflation and traffic. But despite the gloom, and the British summer weather, crime fiction aficionados can look forward to the annual Agatha Christie Festival in Torquay. 

Check out the website and download a programme here.  

I hope to be able to attend at least one of the celebratory events and report back.    

BEASTLY THINGS: DONNA LEON

Posted: August 8, 2012 in Italy, review, Venice

A man’s body with multiple stab wounds is found floating in a Venetian canal. The victim was suffering from a rare disfiguring disease that Brunetti hopes will help him in the identification of the man. 

Beastly Things is the 21st book in the Commissario Brunetti series, and once again reading Donna Leon felt like putting on a comfortable pair of old slippers. If the Brunetti series is written to a formula it is a both well trodden and fully satisfying one. The crimes are almost an afterthought to the task of bringing together a group of interestingly predictable characters and cataloguing their interactions. The fact that two of the series main characters are Italy and Venice with their multitude of faults and idiosyncrasies keeps the books entertaining. 

Beastly Things deals with corruption in the Italian meat industry, but also blends in discussions on infidelity, Mafia, power, the horrendous Italian losses in the First World War and whose relatives and friends are more influential. All the main characters from the series, Paola, Guido, Vianello, Signorina Elettra and Vice-Questore Patta appear in the novel and  by their actions or inactions encapsulate the problem that is modern Italy. 

To manage the arrest of the highest members of a Mafia clan in a major city was to guarantee transfer to some backwater in Molise or Sardegna, where major crimes included theft of livestock or public drunkeness. Thus perhaps Patta’s professional longevity in Venice, where the mounting evidence of Mafia infiltration did nothing to spur his efforts to combat it.

And later in the book Guido and Paola discuss a problem at the university.

‘You said he’s politically well connected,’ Brunetti said, ‘Aren’t you afraid of that?’ She smiled the shark smile he had come to recognize when she was at her most dangerous. ‘Not at all. My father is far better connected than his patrons are, so he can’t touch me.’

There is an amusing passage where Brunetti and Vianello discuss what would be the reaction of their wives if they were unfaithful. Vianello decided he would be shot, while Brunetti had a choice between being pushed off the balcony after Paola had spread the word he was very depressed, or a rapid transfer arranged by her father to a Mafia infested small town in the South. 

Beastly Things is a solid police procedural in which there is social commentary and exploration of the way Venetian society functions. It is an easy read and Leon’s Brunetti with his lovely wife, children and happy home life is always a pleasant change from other divorced alcoholic  miserable male detectives. 

I know I will continue to read this fine series.
 

Girl Power Identity Parade: an update

Posted: August 4, 2012 in Quiz

This proved to be my most popular post since I switched to WordPress, but still no one has identified number 6. 

From the left top the writers were: 

Frances Fyfield, Liza Marklund, Asa Larsson, Karin Alvtegen

Mari Jungstedt, number 6, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Camilla Lackberg

Karin Fossum, Esther Verhoef, Dominique Manotti, Helene Tursten

Agatha Christie, Val McDermid, Saskia Noort, Fred Vargas

Six Swedish, two English, two Dutch, two French, one Norwegian, one Icelandic, one Scotttish and one ?? female crime writers.

Who is number six? 

Looking Back: July 2012

Posted: August 1, 2012 in memes, Norway, Scandinavia

July was another successful month in which I read four excellent books. It was a difficult choice to pick a best book, but discovering a new author, who has created characters you want to meet again, is always such a great pleasure that my vote goes this month to The Blind Goddess by Anne Holt. This story of corruption among the wealthy dates from 1993 but still seems fresh and relevant today.