Archive for October, 2013

51OKxEMZRZL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_In an Oslo hospital a man lies in a coma guarded by police officers, while cops are being murdered at the scenes of deadly crimes that police investigated but failed to solve. The media are going into a frenzy. 

The best that could be said about this case was that it had brought the two big murder investigation units in Norway-Crime Squad and Kripos-closer together. All rivalry had been cast aside, and for once they were collaborating, with no other agenda than to find the person who had killed their colleague.

I am not going to summarise the plot any further because of the  risk of enclosing any spoilers. The plot of Police is a trip of discovery, as Jo Nesbo tries to mystify, tease, confuse and even scare his readers. There is violence in the book and some of it is upsetting and tragic, but crime fiction has to reflect the society we live in.

Can any violence shock people after the trial of Anders Breivik? The way the prosecutors and court appointed psychiatrists lined up to shake Breivik’s hand before proceedings was more bizarre than any of the strange goings on in Jo Nesbo’s novels.

Although I had worked out [OK guessed] the perpetrator in Police quite early on I was constantly surprised and never quite sure where the plot was taking me. Nesbo is the master of the climax and the anti-climax. In other words Police is a real “page turner”. What makes Nesbo’s plots particularly interesting is that he is never afraid to take an unpopular position or even do something that will upset his readers. 

But convoluted plots alone would not make the Harry Hole series one of the best in European crime fiction, it is his characters that take these books on to a different level. Nesbo creates people you grow to love, and some that you hate with all your being. And as in real life the good don’t always prosper and villains don’t always look like villains and frequently are successful in their professional lives. Characters such as Mikael Bellman and Isabelle Skoyen are dreadful human beings but very believable.

Jo Nesbo’s style may be an acquired taste but I thought Police was a return to very nearly his best work and read the 518 pages in record time!

‘Good leaders know how to inspire their teams.’

Hagen swallowed. Swallowed what he wanted to say. That he was lecturing on leadership at the military academy while Bellman was running around with a catapult. That if Bellman was so bloody good at inspiring his subordinates, how about inspiring him-Gunnar Hagen?      

The new Harry Hole

Posted: October 24, 2013 in Greece, Miss Marple, Scotland

51OKxEMZRZL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_Jo Nesbo created one of the best Scandinavian crime thriller series with his Harry Hole books. In my opinion the series had begun to slip very slightly in The Leopard and Phantom from the incredibly high standards set in the Oslo Trilogy [The Redbreast, Nemesis, The Devil’s Star] The Redeemer, and The Snowman.

 I am 184 pages into Police, the latest in the series, and Jo Nesbo seems back to his tricky confusing best. The reader gets the trademark features of Nesbo’s best books, great characters, puzzling plot twists, corruption at the top, and a brutal serial killer defying the police. And as usual Don Bartlett translates it into easily readable English. Despite the size and weight of my hardback copy I won’t put this one down.

Updating the Harry Hole series [book two is yet to be translated into English]
 
 The Cockroaches

51Y4W4o-IIL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_Elinborg and Sigurdur Oli have been the lead protagonists in the last two books in this series, Outrage and Black Skies, while Erlendur has been on a walking holiday in Eastern Iceland. 

But the introspective Reyjavik detective has been sleeping rough in his parents old ruined farmhouse, wandering through the wilderness and reminiscing about the tragic loss in a storm of his younger brother, Bergur “Beggi”. Erlendur hears about a similar case  in which according to Jakob, now long dead, his wife Matthildur went to hike over to Reydarfjordur in a terrible storm and was never seen again. He begins a private investigation of this 60 year old disappearance and by questioning the Matthildur’s elderly friends and relatives he uncovers a sad story of jealousy, lust, revenge and guilt. The later resonates with his feelings about the loss of Beggi in a similar storm.

It is disappointing when a fine series ends with a fairly weak story, and one that is so depressing. I did find it very difficult to read a tale that features personal loss as such a key element. But frankly the main problem was that although the writing was atmospheric, and had some social commentary about industrial development altering the landscape and the lives of the locals, the narrative was a bit boring, with Erlendur very slowly teasing bits of the story from various elderly grumpy Icelanders.

It seems some old crime series, like old soldiers,  don’t die they simply just fade away. [with apologies to General Douglas MacArthur]

‘But then I start wondering: what about all the others?’

‘Others?’

‘The ones left behind.’ 

‘What about them?’ ‘The people I pity are the ones left to cope with the fallout. Who have to endure sadness for the rest of their lives.’ 

P1040587As part of my weight training program I lifted four books I intend to read over the next few weeks [ authored by Jo Nesbo, Leif G.W.Persson, Hakan Nesser and Robert Harris] in order to photograph them with a few older books authored by people who also sold a few books in their time. 

With the Man Booker Prize going to young Eleanor Catton for The Luminaries, a nineteenth century murder mystery, that weighs in at 832 pages I wonder if this is all part of a cunning plot to sell Kindles, and other electronic reading devices. Readers faced with such huge books will have no choice but to download an electronic version, or face permanent wrist and shoulder pain. 

 Annika Bengtzon turns down the offer from Anders Schyman to be lead editor at the Evening Post and finds herself on a rota with Patrik, her new boss, giving her orders. Then a 515i2VGp3SL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_story comes her way as the news agency inform them about a whole family killed by gas used in a break in in Spain. 

‘Every break in uses gas. Gas-detectors are more common than fire-alarms in the villas of Nueva Andalucia.’ 

Annika learns that there is a large Swedish colony on the Costs del Sol, and the murdered family are the Soderstroms. The husband Sebastian was an ex-NHL ice hockey star who ran a tennis club, and the mother Veronica, a corporate lawyer with an office in Gibraltar, and probably some shady clients. When Annika realises that a teenage daughter Suzette was not killed in the gassing  she becomes involved in a difficult search for the missing girl which will take her across two continents

The Long Shadow is a direct sequel to Lifetime and I would advise anyone to read that book immediately before attempting this one. If there is too big a gap you might forget whose who! There are many characters and numerous familial connections with that novel. I wished I had made a chart of all the characters and their relationships because complex and convoluted don’t go far enough to describe a plot full of coincidences.

There are certain features that seem standard in recent Scandinavian crime fiction. There is a massive amount of detail packed into the 568 pages; the reader learns about the European drugs trade, money-laundering and financial crimes, narcotic drugs, naloxone and fatal doses of morphine, how journalists work in Sweden, and how Swedes enjoy the jet set lifestyle in Spain. The Swedish title of The Long Shadow is appropriately “en plats i solen”-A Place in the Sun.

The novel is an easy read because the narrative closely follows Annika’s progress and to enjoy these books you have to like or be interested in Annika Bengtzon. She is however a flawed heroine, egocentric and at times  impossible to work with; her clashes with photographer Lotta are one of the best parts of the story. Liza Marklund’s male characters are unfaithful pathetic creeps or violent villains, and It is sad that Annika has such poor judgement when it comes to her sex partners, and the reader is teased into thinking the unthinkable. Will she take trophy husband Thomas back?

I don’t think this is one of Marklund’s best books but despite the length, the very complex plot, being taken down paths that turn out to be dead ends or themes for future books, and the scattering of anti-Brit comments [which may be Agatha Christie like clues] I enjoyed reading about Annika’s adventures in the sun.

‘One in five households won’t join our little association because of the membership fee, which goes into gardener’s wages, pool maintenance and the satellite television dish. Isn’t that just dreadful?’ She drank some more wine.

‘They’re not welcome here. And guess what?’ She whispered in Annika’s ear: ‘They’re all Brits.’

Racism comes in all shapes and colours, Annika thought.

I read this third novel in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series back in July, but didn’t at the time do a full review. I realise now that the notes I took were too brief, but I do 51gMjXibQ6L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_want to say something about it for two reasons. Firstly I think it could be a contender for both the Petrona Award and the CWA International Dagger, and secondly because it is only 262 pages long. In an age when most crime fiction books require heavy lifting equipment it is a rarity when the reader is presented with less than 300 pages, and when those pages have so much content and little padding. Agnes Vestavik, director of the Spring Sunshine Foster Home, an institution for troubled children and young people, is found murdered at her office desk. Olav, the very troublesome new 12 year old resident has gone missing, and the recently promoted Chief Inspector Hanne Wilhelmsen is put in charge of the case.

“Probably it’ll turn out that they all originate from the children and adults at the home. In other words-“

Hanne interrupted him again. “In other words we’re facing the most enjoyable and classical of all police work!” She leaned forward smiling .

Billy T did likewise, and with their faces only twenty centimetres apart, they chorused, “Tactical investigation!”

The narrative is told from several perspectives, with Olav’s traumatised mother telling her tale of bringing up a child with deviant behaviour, the story of the murder investigation uncovering the secrets and back stories of the staff, their contacts and lovers, and Olav’s journey through a frozen city seeking his mother. This is one of those books that pays tribute to Agatha Christie’s formula of a limited number of suspects, all of whom have a motive and each of whom  at various stages of the book the reader is quite convinced committed the crime.

We are also given a deeper insight than in the first two books in the series into Hanne’s relationship with Cecille, her relationship with Billy T, and her efforts to adapt to her new professional responsibilities. The book was written in 1995 so perhaps some of the commentary on the Norwegian social system is out of date, but I highly recommend this novel and the series.

“I’ve discovered who we’re looking for,” Hanne said.

“So have I,” said Billy T. They stopped.

“Why do I have a feeling we haven’t arrived at the same person?” Hanne said softly.

“Because we probably haven’t,” Billy T said just as quietly.  

My reviews of the first two Hanne Wilhelmsen books:

The Blind Goddess

Blessed Are Those That Thirst