Archive for February, 2014

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Karen of Euro Crime has met with the three knowledgeable judges: Barry Forshaw, Kat Hall and Sarah Ward to determine the shortlist for the 2014 Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year.

Karen also asked which books readers would have on the shortlist, and which would be our winner. I haven’t read as much Scandinavian crime fiction as in previous years, but I am always willing to give my opinion. I think there are five outstanding eligible books that should be on that shortlist, and frankly I could not pick a winner as you could make a case for any of them as worthy recipients of the award. 

Lifetime: Liza Marklund trans Neil Smith [In my opinion you really can’t have a Petrona shortlist without an Annika Bengtzon book because Maxine Clarke, for whom the award is dedicated, liked that series so much]

The Strangler’s Honeymoon: Hakan Nesser trans Laurie Thompson

Police: Jo Nesbo trans Don Bartlett [Maxine’s favourite translator]

Blessed Are Those Who Thirst: Anne Holt trans Anne Bruce

Linda, As In The Linda Murder: Leif G.W. Persson trans Neil Smith

I am looking forward to discovering the real Petrona shortlist next month with the winner announced at Crime Fest-Bristol in May.  

51OADLTxBaL._I requested an ARC of The Fire Dance by Helene Tursten because I had enjoyed the first book in the series, Detective Inspector Huss. The Fire Dance is number six in this series set in Goteborg, Sweden’s second largest city.

I was a little surprised to see that a blurb from NPR’s Fresh Air on the back cover stating that this ‘mystery holds its own alongside the best feminine hard-boiled novels currently being written by Englishwomen Val McDermid and Liza Cody….’.

Is this the first time that Val McDermid from Kirkcaldy, Fife [a lifelong Raith Rovers supporter along with Ian Rankin and ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown] ever been called an Englishwoman? 

Fifteen years before the main events in The Fire Dance Irene Huss was asked to question a child Sophie Malmborg, whose stepfather had been burned to death in a fire. The theory was that Irene, a mother with twin daughters, would relate better to the young girl, but Sophie would not talk to anyone and the case was shelved and the fire explained as the stepfather falling asleep with a cigarette.

Now fifteen years later Sophie, aged 26, has been found dead, burned by fire after having disappeared for three weeks. Irene still happily married to chef Krister with teenage twins , Jenny and Katerina is assigned the case. There are several sub plots involving a gang war involving Hell’s Angels, who are mostly from Latin America, Irene’s worries about her daughters, and rather long accounts of the relationships and activities of Sophie’s dysfunctional family. 

Sophie is a dancer and has choreographed a ballet called The Fire Dance which has moves from the Brazilian dance and combat system capoeira. Does this hold the solution to the present murder and the case in the past? 

The Fire Dance was a fairly good police procedural with a lot of detail about Irene’s family life, but sadly this book was a disappointment to me because the plot was frankly a bit thin. My attention frequently wavered onto the Winter Olympics, and the terrible weather. Perhaps I have just read too much crime fiction with too many dysfunctional Swedish families. This one had little tension, and seemingly several characters were inserted  just to pad out the predictable narrative. I am sure that several books 2-5 in the Irene Huss series are better reads than The Fire Dance, but when a book contains the sentence:

“What’s a suppository?” asked the Superintendent. 

I think there is either something wrong with the translation, or the Goteborg Murder Squad live a very sheltered life. 

Scandinavia is not all crayfish parties, Abba, beautiful forests, Volvo, fjords, Carlsberg, efficiency and good design, extended paternity leave, and 09-22-321beautiful blondes. It is now a place of difficult relationships and a social model that is breaking down under the strain. Of course it was never the social democratic utopia repeatedly painted in the media, and as long ago as the 1960s and 1970s Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo were telling a very different tale.

The so called Welfare State abounds with sick, poor, lonely people living at best on dog food. The Locked Room: Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo 1973

The Bridge II finished a gruelling ten episode run last weekend. The actual bridge featured in the TV series connects Copenhagen and Malmo, a city that in recent years has gained a somewhat unpleasant reputation. Especially sad in the light of the great deeds that were done across the Oresund Strait in October 1943. Sometimes well meaning liberal ideals clash with the harsh reality of our modern world. The Bridge II was a very dark series involving some very unhappy wealthy people and a group of environmental activists, who thought they could  save the world by killing people. The complexities of the plot and the way the crimes are apparently solved, closed and then reopened with yet another plot twist reminded me of the earlier novels of Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo. He would have Harry Hole solve a case with about 200 pages to go and then produce plot twist after plot twist for the reader’s pleasure.

Only one western country Sweden has had two leading politicians assassinated in recent years, the Prime Minister Olof Palme in1986, and Foreign Minister Anna Lindh in 2003. They have also had the targeted shootings of immigrants by John Ausonius [the Laserman] in 1991-1992, and a Malmo copycat “Laserman 2″in 2010. Norway had the tragedy on Utoya Island, a mass murder perpetrated by right wing fanatic Anders Brevik. Perhaps the days have gone when people said there were more murders in Henning Mankell or Karin Fossum novel than in real life Sweden or Norway.

The Bridge II featured two main protagonists Saga Noren, Malmo County Police…. the police designation almost became part of her name and 800px-The_Bridge_season_2_Kim_Bodnia_as_Martin_Sofia_Helin_as_Saga_Photo_Carolina_Romare_2012_(8724803961)Martin Rohde of Copenhagen Police. The part of the blunt frighteningly honest Asperger syndrome like Saga, was played brilliantly by Sofia Helin, and Martin by Kim Bodnia, an actor with the sort of lived in face that is very expressive when things go wrong. And in The Bridge things go wrong, very wrong. The series also gave viewers a helping of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, lesbianism, homosexuality, masturbation and incestuous love. Agatha Christie’s Poirot it wasn’t. And it also provided the viewer after the tragic ending of series one with yet another depressingly miserable finale worthy of the darkest moments in the works of Strindberg, Ingmar Bergman, and Arnaldur Indridason’s Jar City.

I wondered if the character of the socially inept Saga Noren, Malmo County Police is another version of Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking, Karin Alvtegen’s Sibylla Forsentrom, or Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander? Derivative or not, Saga was a marvellous creation and ironically her blunt behaviour sometimes introduced a rare touch of humour into a very dark and bleak story. It was her very lack of social graces that probably made her a good detective.

on suicide: Sweden lead the world by a margin that seemed to grow larger from one report to the next. Cop Killer: Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo 1974

But the misery filled finale reminded me of those books by Scandinavian crime fiction authors that are not content to leave the reader shattered by the characters going through hell; they are not satisfied until they pile on yet another final tragedy to rip the heart and soul out of the reader. A happy ending is out of the question. It must be the result of those long dark Nordic winters. 

The Bridge was superb dramatic television but I am not sure I could suffer like that every week. Some Scandinavian authors such as Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, Leif G.W.Persson and Hakan Nesser balance their bleak analysis of the Swedish social democratic experiment with some humour and satire; but others take the dark melancholic path.  I prefer the lighter approach, but would readily watch a third instalment of Saga Noren, Malmo County Police.