Archive for the ‘Norway’ Category

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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.  

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.  

 

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Karen at Euro Crime is running a feature on the Euro Crime Reviewers 5 favourite reads of 2013

My own five favourite books of 2013 were:

The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas translator Sian Reynolds

This book was joint winner of the CWA International Dagger as Vargas intrigues and teases the reader with more Gallic quirkiness. 

An Officer and A Spy by Robert Harris  

A superb novel retelling the true story of the Dreyfus Affair from the perspective of Georges Picquart. The truth proves to be more astonishing than any fictional plot dreamt up by an author.

Norwegian By Night by Derek B. Miller  

A brilliant novel about loss and ageing that made me both laugh and cry. Definitely one not to be missed and on many people’s best of year lists.

Summertime All The Cats Are Bored by Phillipe Georget translated by Steven Rendall

My discovery of the year, and hopefully this debut novel will be the start of a fine police procedural series set in Perpignan.

Linda, As In The Linda Murder by Leif G.W.Persson translated by Neil Smith

The first in the Evert Backstrom trilogy featuring an obnoxious character you won’t easily forget.

************ 

 There were several fine books that after some thought and a lot of prevarication just failed to make that top five.

These included:

Blessed Are Those That Thirst by Anne Holt trans Anne Bruce-The second book in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series

Into The Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes- A psychological thriller that gripped this reader.

Black Bear by Aly Monroe- The return of Peter Cotton in a spy story set in post war America.

Police by Jo Nesbo trans Don Bartlett- A fine come back by Jo Nesbo after a couple of novels that were in my opinion not up to his usual standard.

Alex by Pierre LeMaitre trans Frank Wynne- A French police procedural with a clever twist and the joint winner of the CWA International Dagger. 

The Strangler’s Honeymoon by Hakan Nesser trans Laurie Thompson- The Van Veeteren series is consistently satisfying with one of the most interesting team of detectives ever created.

 Moving on to new publications in 2014.

Thanks to the hardworking Karen at Euro Crime for producing a lengthy list of the new releases in 2014. I am particularly looking forward to reading:

Deon Meyer, Cobra

Asa Larsson, The Second Deadly Sin

Hakan Nesser, The G File

Leif G.W. Persson, Falling Freely As If In A Dream

Liza Marklund, Borderline  

Ariana Franklin and Samantha Norman, Winter Siege

519EtidIF6L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_“What am I going to do there? I’m an American. I’m a Jew. I’m eighty-two. I’m a retired watchmaker. A Marine. A watch repairman. It takes me an hour to pee. Is there a club there I’m unaware of ?”

Sheldon Horowitz, an eighty two year old marine sniper who fought in the Korean War, has gone to live with his granddaughter Rhea and her new husband Lars in Oslo after his wife Mabel. When a woman from the Balkans is attacked in the apartment on the floor above he opens the door and lets her and her young son into Rhea’s apartment. But the monster from upstairs kicks in the door, and as Sheldon and the little boy hide in the closet the mother is killed. Sheldon and the young boy, whom he names Paul, go on the run pursued by Kosovar drug dealers, the police, and also by Lars and Rhea who believe Sheldon is suffering from dementia. In fact he is possibly suffering from one of the great curses of old age outliving your contemporaries, and having a lot of memories that rush in at inconvenient times.

Throughout this fascinating twist on Nordic crime fiction Sheldon daydreams back over his eventful life, his service in Korea, his marriage, his guilt over the death of his son Saul in Vietnam, and being a Jew.

“It’s complicated, right? Technical ? I wouldn’t understand.” Bill shook his head and whistled. ” You Jews. You’re so clever. There’s nothing you’re not good at.”

Sheldon didn’t take the bait. “Staying out of trouble doesn’t seem to be our thing.”

I had sent Karen at Euro Crime my choices for my best five books of the year before I had read Norwegian By Night and now there is no question in my mind I should have included it. Norwegian By Night is a brilliant book full of insights into life, love and loss.

I felt empathy with this story because of my own family’s service in two world wars. I also know quite a bit about the US Marine Corps from my reading when I dreamt of going back to university to study history. My own brand of dementia. We have even driven through the Marine Corps camp at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in the middle of a military convoy, waved through by a marine who looked about twelve years old. That was back in April 2001 in the days before 9/11 presumably enhanced the security.

Author Derek B. Miller has covered so much ground in a concise 290 pages from the complicity of some Norwegian police in the Holocaust to the Vietnam war, and the story of the Kosovo Liberation Army that went from fighting against Serbian ethnic cleansing to drug running and mass murders.

“Romeo and Juliet. Find a boy and girl from different sides who are fucking. Get the Serbian one to find out if the community is protecting the boy. In return, we don’t tell their parents. And their parents don’t kill them. Makes sense, no?”  

The author informs the reader about the naive optimism of Norwegian immigration policy and the determination of an old man to retain his dignity in a foreign land. The reader is educated with stories about Rabbi Saul of Tarsus, and Sheldon’s son Saul in Vietnam. It is a wide ranging novel discussing politics, war and the problems of old age. The supporting cast of characters are well drawn especially recently promoted police officer Sigrid Odegard and Sheldon’s granddaughter Rhea, and the simple plot is enhanced by the flashbacks to Korea, the USA and Vietnam. 

Hiding a North Korean in Norway is hard. Hiding one in New York is like hiding a tree in a forest.

This is one of those novels that has great characters, as well as blending humour and violence in a way that provides very readable crime fiction that both educates and entertains.

The author Derek B. Miller was born in Boston and is now living with his family in Oslo where he is director of The Policy Lab, and a senior fellow with the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research. He has a PhD in International relations from the University of Geneva, and a MA in National Security Studies from Georgetown, in cooperation with St Catherine’s College, Oxford. Norwegian By Night won the CWA John Creasy Debut Dagger for 2013. 

Seven hundred and seventy -two Norwegian men, women and children, who were Jewish, were rounded up by the Norwegian police and the Germans, and deported. Most were sent to Auschwitz.

Thirty-four survived.        

51AQPJFPPKLThe terrible weather, hiccups with my computer, and a very busy time with relatives and friends mean that my Christmas good 519EtidIF6L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_wishes are a little late this year. But I wish everyone a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2014.

This year because of illness and other commitments we only had four instead of the usual seven or more at Christmas lunch. It seems like only yesterday when there were a dozen 0r more of us round the table but………that’s life. I really enjoyed a quiet Christmas Day evening watching a recording of the film Casablanca with my 15 year old granddaughter. I know the film off by heart having watched it numerous times, and could not resist stopping the recording several times to point out the special passages, political ramifications and catch phrases. She was kind and said despite my annoying interruptions it was a  very good film; and hopefully my verbal historical annotations might help her with her exams.

My reading over the last couple of weeks featured a prize winning novel that was absolutely brilliant. I like reading books in my comfort zone and this wonderful novel fitted me like a glove; I refer to Norwegian By Night by Derek B. Miller. I was very pleased that so many other people seemed to agree with my view even though they do not share my background. [A review to follow next week].

 I will end my blogging year with a quote from Norwegian By Night. Sheldon Horowitz as his granddaughter Rhea attempts to persuade him to go to live with her and Lars in Oslo comes up with this gem.

“What am I going to do there? I’m an American. I’m a Jew. I’m eighty-two. I’m a retired widower. A Marine. A watch repairman. It takes me an hour to pee. Is there a club there I’m unaware of?”       

Ove Bakkerud goes to close up his summer cottage at Stavern, 100km southwest of Oslo, for the winter. He discovers it has been broken  into51BvycWWroL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_ and ransacked. After reporting the break-in he notices a light in the cottage owned by Thomas Ronningen, a television personality. If Ronningen’s cottage has been burglarised as well the police will prioritise the matter. But when he arrives at Rottingen’s cottage he finds a dead body. William Wisting chief of police for the Department of Larvik the local town is in charge of the investigation, which is complicated once they find other cottages have been ransacked, discover another body, and Wisting’s daughter Line, an investigative journalist with an unsuitable boyfriend, decides to spend time in their summer cottage nearby.

Closed for Winter is the seventh book in the Wisting series, and the second to be translated into English after Dregs, which I haven’t read. This makes it somewhat difficult for me to fairly judge the book as the characters were strangers whom I had not got to know over previous books. But I am able to say it is a solid police procedural full of detailed investigative methods. 

By far the best part of the novel is when William Wisting and Martin Ahlberg travel to Vilnius, capital of Lithuania, to question the associates of one of the men found murdered near the location of the burglaries. This allows the author to point out facts that in another context might be considered politically incorrect. Do the Schengen agreements that allow free movement across international borders for citizens of member countries facilitate criminal activities?

It had surprised him to learn that there were no more than 3.6 million inhabitants, since Lithuanians comprised a disproportionately large proportion of the total number of foreigners in Norwegian crime statistics.

The picture painted of Lithuania is not a pretty one, with massive amounts of stolen goods being sold in open air markets that provide too much employment to be closed down by the police.

The contrasts in wealth were more noticeable after nightfall. Open prostitution and poverty existed side by side with rich men emerging from expensive cars in the company of long-legged blondes. 

This is a serious book and while it lacks humour it does not lack humanity, and a strange kind of morality. 

‘We have the same sun and same moon in Norway and Lithuania,’ she said. ‘We live on the same earth, but our world is split in two. We are poor. You are rich.’…………………………..

‘It’s better to steal from Norway, because it is a wealthy country, than a poor country where people don’t have so much.

Jorn Lier Horst’s latest book The Hunting Dogs won the prestigious Nordic Glass Key so I will definitely read his next book in this series. Closed for Winter is a good crime fiction novel with some interesting social commentary, but it is not at the Leif G.W. Persson, Jo Nesbo or Hakan Nesser level because the characters are a little bit dull.    

51gVF35NXJL 515Lxi9mZ8L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_51diL7EFSdL._I finished reading John Lawton’s Then We Take Berlin last week [review to appear in due 51BvycWWroL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_course at EuroCrime] and have moved on to read some of the books eligible for the 2014 Petrona Award.  

Full details at http://petronaremembered.com/the-petrona-award/

At the moment I am over half way through the 600+ page Hakan Nesser blockbuster The Strangler’s Honeymoon and enjoying it immensely, despite the length. The book, translated by Laurie Thompson, is over 10 years old as it was originally published in Swedish in 2001 as “Svalan, Katten, Rosen, Doden” which translates as “Swallow, the cat, the rose, the death”. Curious, but no doubt all will become clear before the conclusion.

Incidentally the award for the Best Swedish crime novel of 2013, and the Best translated novel will be awarded on 23 November details below of the nominees, who include three previous winners of the basta svenska kriminalromaner. Hakan Nesser won in 1994, 1996 and 2007; Johan Theorin in 2008; and Arne Dahl in 2011. My own selection for the svenska oversatta kriminaroman, having read three of the nominated books, would be Polis by Jo Nesbo, but we won’t have long to wait to discover the judges verdict.

Svenska Deckarakademin har nominerat årets bästa svenska kriminalromaner:

Christoffer Carlsson: Den osynlige mannen från Salem, Piratförlaget
Arne Dahl: Blindbock, Bonniers
Håkan Nesser: Levande och döda i Winsford, Bonniers
Johan Theorin: Rörgast, W&W
Katarina Wennstam: Stenhjärtat, Bonniers

Nominerade till 2013 års bästa till svenska översatta kriminalroman är:

S. J. Bolton: Odödlig, översättning: Karl G. och Lilian Fredriksson, Modernista
Gillian Flynn: Gone Girl, översättning: Ulla Danielsson, Modernista
Dror Mishani: Utsuddade spår, översättning: Nils Larsson, Brombergs
Jo Nesbø: Polis, översättning: Per Olaisen, Pirat
Ferdinand von Schirach: Fallet Collini, översättning: Lena Hammargren, Bonniers

Vilka böcker som får pris som årets bästa blir klart lördagen den 23 november då Svenska Deckarakademin håller sitt höstmöte på Deckarbiblioteket i Eskilstuna.     

 

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?      

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. 

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