Archive for the ‘Denmark’ Category

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.  

 

LeifMr Crime Scraps has made a vow to be nice with his blog comments this year  so I, Grumbleweed, have taken over the blog for today. I do hope I won’t be dragged out of retirement too often. Of course listening to the young whiz kid whippersnappers who work for the BBC this old dinosaur has  learned a lot about the world; Death Valley is in Nevada; Quisling was a Swede; and a couple of weeks ago I was told Istanbul is the capital of Turkey.  Have they moved it recently?

But as Mr Crime Scraps prepares his review on Hakan Nesser’s The Strangler’s Honeymoon, he read it so quickly it must be good, I noticed the cover of the next book he is reading. He Who Kills The Dragon by Leif G.W.Persson. On this is an anonymous blurb which states ‘If You Liked The Killing You’ll Love This. I presume they are comparing the popular Danish TV series with the novel He Who Kills The Dragon [HWKTD]. I haven’t read the novelisations of the TV series but I watched and enjoyed all the series of The Killing. Life is too short to go over old territory however well written.

The comparison between the TV series and the novel is bizarre to say the least. Why would liking one mean you would love the other? The Killing is set in Copenhagen, Denmark. HWKTD in Stockholm, Sweden. Two different countries. The Killing features as its main protagonist a sexy female detective Sarah Lund, who is attractive, liberal in her attitudes, conscientious at work, and wears snuggly Faroese jumpers. HWKTD features Evert Backstrom, a lazy incompetent, heavy drinking, obese, racist, misogynist, homophobe. There is only one person who finds Evert Backstrom remotely attractive, and that is Evert Backstrom.

The Backstrom books are brilliant satires on the Swedish state, written by Leif G.W.Persson, Scandinavia’s most renowned criminologist, Professor at the National Police Board, and a three time winner [1982,2003,and 2010] of Best Swedish Crime novel of the year. The character of Backstrom reminds me a bit of Alf Garnett, in the comedy Till Death Do Us Part that graced British TV screens in the 1960s and early 1970s. Unfortunately some people took Alf Garnett seriously, and did not understand his racist comments were meant to shock people into realising the stupidity of his attitudes. Backstrom’s extremism is hilarious simply because he is so outrageous, but someone unprepared and expecting Backstrom to be a male version of Sarah Lund might not “love” passages such as:

Darkies, darkies, darkies, Backstrom thought, sighing heavily somewhere deep inside. He would never dream of saying it out loud. Not after all the stories  he had heard about Peter Niemi, who was also a foreigner, a bastard Finn, and a northern foreigner to be more precise, and evidently best friends with the twenty-years-younger Hernandez.

or:

What the hell is happening to the Swedish police? Faggots, dykes, darkies and the usual yes-men. Not a single ordinary police constable as far as the eye can see.

Evert Backstrom is probably about as far as you can get from Sarah Lund on the spectrum of police detectives, and it is about time publishers stopped comparing every Scandinavian writer to Stieg Larsson, or Jo Nesbo, or The Killing.  

Looking back: November 2012

Posted: December 5, 2012 in Book Awards, Denmark, USA

My pick of a very good reading month was The Black Box by Michael Connelly, but that was only by a short head from Lime’s Photograph by Leif Davidsen. pickofthemonth201251H1aQ0GtWL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU02_

I am about to finish my 45th crime fiction book of the year, which probably means I will miss my target of 50 for the year; but considering the number and length of the non-fiction books I have read in addition I think I have done quite well. 

 

Lime’s Photograph was written by Danish thriller writer Leif Davidsen in 1998, and won the Nordic Glass Key in 1999. It was preceded as winner of this prestigious award by Jo Nesbo’s The Bat and followed by Hakan Nesser’s Carambole [Hour of The Wolf]. 

Peter Lime is a Danish photographer, a paparazzo, living happily in Madrid with his Spanish wife and daughter. One day he “executes a hit” getting a photo of a married Spanish government minister and a much younger Italian film star, and shortly after that he is visited by Clara Hoffmann, from the Danish Security police, about another photograph he took many years ago. Peter’s life is tragically turned upside down and his story is told in a dramatic  first person narrative which despite the book’s length [371 pages] works well for several reasons. Firstly the author seems to care deeply about his character and despite his profession Peter Lime is a protagonist with whom the reader can develop some empathy. Secondly the book educates the reader as we are given a lot of information about Europe, General Franco, Spain, ETA, the IRA, Denmark, Germany, the fall of the GDR, and the New Russia. Thirdly although the book was written back in 1998 we get some hints as to the causes of the failure of European Union experiment. 

 

Copenhagen had been designated Cultural Capital of Europe and as happened in Madrid, certain creative personalities had taken this opportunity to milk the coffers of the European Union, Denmark and Copenhagen.

The plot is predictable, but this reader despite spotting  the villain very early on, enjoyed being taken along Peter’s difficult path to the truth. There is a particularly dramatic description of bullfighting, which occurs probably deliberately during  a discussion about Franco’s Spain, and when Peter draws a comparison with the German Democratic Republic. The narrative will take Peter to Berlin, and on to Moscow for a tense climax. 

The Caudillo’s vision was right. Spain had to follow its own course for many years in order to emerge from its past unscathed.” You could hear the echo of servants of servants under other dictatorships. From Stasi informers in the former GDR to fascist executioners in many Latin American countries.

Even Denmark’s utopian social democracy comes in for some criticism. 

We pay for our social tranquility. We pacify them [the forgotten third of society] with welfare handouts.

Leif Davidsen’s clever blending of fiction and real events tells the story of Europe in the later part of the 20th century through Peter Lime’s life from the leftist communes of the 1970s, the democratisation of Spain, on to the collapse of Communism and to the establishment of a new order in Russia. Lime’s Photograph, is a grown up thriller that reminds me a little of the works of Eric Ambler, high praise and therefore I am not surprised it won the Nordic Glass Key.  

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.

When at the request of Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise I listed my ten best reads of 2012 I chose books by only three women authors. 

Icelight, Aly Monroe; The Potter’s Field, Andrea Camilleri; Prague Fatale, Philip Kerr; Outrage, Arnaldur Indridason; Another Time, Another Life, Leif GW Persson; Last Will, Liza Marklund; On Beulah Height, Reginald Hill; Hour of the Wolf, Hakan Nesser; Summon up The Blood, R.N.Morris; The Blind Goddess, Anne Holt. 

But I could easily have chosen any of these fine books by female writers in that selection.

Until Thy Wrath Be Past, Asa Larsson

The Boy in the Suitcase, Lene Kaaberbol & Agnete Friis

Exposed, Liza Marklund

A City of Broken Glass, Rebecca Cantrell

And if I had managed in that time period to read any book by Fred Vargas, Karin Fossum, or Donna Leon they would probably have been included as well.

Interestingly in the last few days the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year was won by Scottish author Denise Mina for The End of the Wasp Season.

So have we entered a new Golden Age of Female Crime Writers?  Will in fifty years the current crop of writers be considered to be anywhere near the same class as Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L Sayers, Margery Allingham, Patricia Highsmith, Ruth Rendell, or P.D.James.

 

Some years I have already read most of the CWA International Dagger shortlist before the announcement is made. This year it will be announced at Crimefest on 25 May in Bristol, and unfortunately my limited reading numbers, and the absence of any Liza Marklund’s books on the eligibility list, may mean that I won’t get round to reading all six. But never mind here is my unofficial shortlist from the books I have read, it may be totally out of kilter with the official choices, but at least has a nice geographic spread, with contenders from Argentina, Iceland, South Africa, Denmark, Sweden and Italy .

Sweet Money: Ernesto Mallo translator Katherine Silver

Outrage: Arnaldur Indridason translator Anna Yates

Trackers: Deon Meyer translator K.L.Seegers

The Boy in the Suitcase: Lene Kaaberbol [also translator] & Agnete Friis 

Another Time, Another Life: Leif G.W. Persson translator Paul Norlen

The Potter’s Field: Andrea Camilleri translator Stephen Sartarelli

The cover photo might give you a clue as to which one would be my winner. 

 

Is it possible for a woman who cannot relate in an adult manner to other human beings to be involved in law enforcement? But enough about British Home Secretary Theresa May.

I watched my recordings of the new Saturday night foreign TV crime series import, The Bridge, last night and I have avoided reading other reviews so I may be in a very small minority with my opinion. 

Firstly I will definitely miss Montalbano which I found watching to be as pleasurable an experience as reading the books. The scripts seemed true to the books, the casting was spot on, the setting beautiful, and the television captured the essence of Andrea Camilleri’s writing which is all about the wonderful characters and less about clever plots. I do hope we get more Montalbanos on TV in the future. 

Mark Lawson recently wrote in The Guardian an article with the suggestion that we accept flawed foreign TV imports, and they receive gushing praise which would not be forthcoming if they were British. This theory has been touted for some time with regard to books by Mike Ripley at Shots magazine. I can envisage the scene in a dimly lit Copenhagen restaurant.

Sven Svensson [a Swedish TV executive] searching for minute portions of  food on his well designed plate: Thank you for buying me lunch Merethe.

Merethe Knibling [a Danish TV excutive] having eaten her main course in one delicate mouthful: We have a problem Sven that last series we made is no good. We have tried everything detectives in wooly jumpers, detectives in satiny tops, detectives doing the murders, detectives getting killed, detectives sleeping with serial killers, and even forensic psychologists getting blown up, but your latest idea was a flop.

Sven: You mean a detective without a brain, and with the social skills of a rhinoceros.

Merethe: Yes, we have had it rejected by Montenegrin and Moldovan television. But I have been monitoring the BBC website and according to them  Mike Wallace one of the original hosts of 60 minutes, when it began in 1968, went on to interview John F Kennedy. And as the BBC also thought Vidkun Quisling was Swedish, perhaps we can sell this eccentric detective to them. 

Sven: Simples.

There have been some brilliant crime series imports on British TV.

The Wire [USA] was a quasi-Dickensian saga covering various aspects of the problems of inner city Baltimore, a series which had great acting and intelligent story lines. 

Spiral [France] for the first two series had a Gallic flair, some neat plot twists, as well as attractive actors to keep the viewers interest. Braquo [France] was superb television, and showed what a difficult task is faced by an elite task force whose enemies include both criminals, and their own colleagues. 

The Killing [series one] [Denmark] was of course outstanding, and although Sofie Grabol [Sarah Lund] and her jumpers became the big star, it was the superb acting of the supporting cast especially Anna Leonora Jorgensen and Bjarne Henriksen as the distraught parents of the victim that made that series. The blending of three plot strands, a police investigation, the family reaction, and a political intrigue  was something new for British television.

When The Killing was televised I can see the BBC and other television companies thinking all this foreign stuff is great. But this reaction is like reading Sjowall and Wahloo, Karin Fossum, or Arnaldur Indridason and expecting every Nordic book to be of similar quality.

The Danish series, Those Who Kill, was standard stuff with rather predictable plots. But the last program in that series did at least raise the question about whether those countries that let murderers out of prison after six years are in fact more civilized than those who sentence murderers to life without parole.

Viewers who think foreign TV crime series are superior may well have stumbled across the ludicrous, and probably very expensive to make Kidnap and Ransom with Trevor Eve stunned into actually dropping his three mobile phones by the death of his colleague. But there is at least one shining example of a good solid well acted British TV crime series on at the moment; Scott and Bailey, a gritty police procedural set in Manchester. This features Suranne Jones as Rachel Bailey, and Lesley Sharp as Janet Scott; but Amelia Bullimore [2012’s Head of Sustainability] as their boss DCI Gill Murray is the star for me. 

I have digressed so back on to The Bridge-Bron-Broen I wondered how long would Saga Noren, the strange Swedish woman detective, last if working for our DCI Gill “Godzilla” Murray? Not  long I suspect.

Saga goes way beyond the pill popping, bed hopping Carrie in Homeland, and is totally unable to relate to colleagues, victims and the general public in a normal way. She has the social graces of a spoilt child, and appears completely bonkers. Luckily her boss Hans also seems to be on another planet. Her Danish colleague, Martin Rohde seems fairly normal, but has a son who stays up all night playing computer games, but then this might be normal nowadays.

There are three strands to the plot, rather like The Killing, with a police investigation of a brutal murder, a rich woman attempting to get a heart transplant for her elderly husband, and a battered mother with her children being sheltered by a social worker from her abusive drug addict husband. Throw in to the mixture some kind of campaign to show the obvious fact that we are not all equal under the law, and that rich people have a better life than the homeless. Toss in a revolting journalist and make Stefan, the social worker, look like something out the 1970s, and perhaps viewers will stick around to see how it all comes together. 

To stick with a crime fiction series on television or in a book you have to like the characters. Sarah Lund, Salvo Montalbano, Gill Murray, Morse, Foyle, Andy Dalziel are all very varied characters but in their different ways they are likeable. Saga Noren is very weird, and despite some clever touches in the plot I doubt whether when the dust has settled The Bridge will repeat the success of The Killing. But then there is always a novelization.  

 Two of the most knowledgeable experts on Nordic Crime Fiction, Ali Karim and Barry Forshaw, recently came together on The Rap Sheet to discuss Barry’s new book Death in a Cold Climate. At the end of  an interesting interview Ali Karim put Barry Forshaw on the spot asking  “For readers who want to get a flavor of Scandinavian/Nordic crime fiction, but don’t have a lot of extra time, which five or so works would you recommend their reading?”

His choices were: Smilla’s Sense of Snow [1992] Peter Hoeg, The Laughing Policeman [1968] Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo, The Redbreast [2000] Jo Nesbo, Firewall [1998] Henning Mankell, Woman with Birthmark [1996] Hakan Nesser, Jar City [200] Arnaldur Indridason. 

These lists are always a minefield for the creator, and it would be very difficult to argue against the inclusion of any of these authors. Apart from Sjowall and Wahloo who were writing before it was first awarded all the others have won the Nordic Glass Key  [Hoeg 1993, Nesbo 1998, Mankell 1992, Nesser 2000, Indridason 2002 and 2003] a pretty good judgement on their standard of excellence.

I am not sure I agree with all the specific book selections, particularly with those books chosen for Henning Mankell, and Hakan Nesser, but my main quibble is with the lack of women authors. [Five and a half men to half a woman!]

Also as you can see from the dates there is not much new blood on that list. I think potential readers should be offered a wider choice of books, so here is my long list. Some are my favourites and some are not, but they are a cross section of the very different types of Scandinavian crime fiction on offer:

The Inspector and Silence: Hakan Nesser – Deadpan humour, introspection and terrible crimes blended together by one of my favourite Swedish authors.

The Locked Room: Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo- More humour and a new twist on the locked room mystery in one of my personal favourites from the series.

Missing: Karin Alvtegen- Astrid Lindgren’s great niece writes a superb thriller about Sibylla Forsenstrom, an outsider on the run, five years before Stieg Larsson created Lisbeth Salander.  

The Gallows Bird: Camilla Lackberg- If you are trying to get a flavour of Nordic Crime Fiction you can’t ignore a writer who sells such huge numbers of books. Domesticity mixed with crime is popular. 

Sidetracked: Henning Mankell- I read this a long time ago but still remember it as one of the best Mankells I have read. It won the CWA Gold Dagger in 2001.

Echoes of the Dead: Johan Theorin, a stunning prize winning debut with an octogenarian investigator. An almost perfect blending of a back story with the present day, and a twist in the tale.

The Redbreast, Nemesis, The Devil’s Star: Jo Nesbo- the brilliant Oslo trilogy that introduced readers to Harry Hole, and Norway’s problems with right wing extremists. Sadly prophetic.

Exposed: Liza Marklund- a recent read for me, but with so many interesting and relevant themes to today’s situation,  from journalistic ethics to political chicanery, it is surprising it was written in 1999. 

The Water’s Edge: Karin Fossum- A writer who respects her readers and whose psychological crime books are more interested in the effect of crime on complex human relationships.

The Draining Lake: Arnaldur Indridason- Another superb book with a clever back story, with Erlendur unravelling the past, while dealing with present day problems. 

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest: Stieg Larsson-  By the time he wrote book three Stieg was avoiding some of the 150 page digressions of  his previous two books. This book promised so much …………

Mercy: Jussi-Adler Olsen- an inventive beginning for a series that has two fascinating and contrasting protagonists. 

Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End: Leif G.W.Persson- Not the easiest read, but the professor wins prizes, and this convoluted book is an example of the Olof Palme conspiracy sub genre of Swedish crime fiction. 

***********************

A baker’s dozen of authors, a very varied collection of books, and four and a half women authors. Simples. 

Kerrie’s meme at Mysteries in Paradise that requires you to pick your best read of the month rather than leave it to a year’s end memory test is a good discipline. Although I will probably only read fifty to sixty books during the year my memory is such that it will make it much easier to pick a selection of five best reads of the year.

I really got bogged down in February, and did not read as much as I had hoped, but there was one outstanding read:

The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis. Lene Kaaberbol translated the book into English. The story studied the stark contrast between rich and poor , the plight of the undocumented and the vulnerability of women and children. 

February’s other highlights were reading Outrage by Arnaldur Indridason [not quite as good as The Boy in the Suitcase in my opinion] and watching a fine performance by Gary Oldman play George Smiley in John le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. If The Artist had not been the flavour of the month I think the Oscar might have gone to Oldman.