Shame by Karin Alvtegen

shameShame by Karin Alvtegen, translated by Steven T. Murray

Cannongate, 2006

Originally published as Skam, 2005

I discovered Karin Alvtegen in Barry Forshaw’s Death in a Cold Climate, and I started with Shame (the books are not part of a series) just because that’s the book I located first. I was quite impressed with Shame, and I’ve seen several blogs mention that it’s not her strongest work: I’m looking forward to reading more.

While the blurb on the cover calls it a “compulsive thriller,” I think the book is more suspenseful than full of thrills. Shame is the story of two unconnected women who are dealing with unresolved shame issues about their pasts. Monika is a doctor whose teenage brother died about twenty years before, and Maj-Britt is a woman who became a homebound morbidly obese woman because of her inability to deal with her past. Alvtegen doesn’t exploit her characters: she goes deep into the minds of these damaged women and conveys the depths and changes in their feelings very closely. The book is a compulsive read too because Alvtegen alternates perspectives in each chapter: the cliffhanger at the end of one character’s chapter isn’t resolved until two chapters later. Also, this is a book that deals with psychology, sex, religion, and death, but it’s not really centered on a crime.

I’ve read a few repressed-memory or woman-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown books in the past few months (Elena Ferrante’s Days of Abandonment and Peter May’s The Blackhouse), and I’m spent. I recommend Shame with the caveat that it can put you through the wringer emotionally.

Other reviews appear in Euro Crime and How Mysterious!

I bought my copy of the book.

Invisible Murder by Lene Kaaberbøll & Agnete Friis

invisible murder

Invisible Murder by Lene Kaaberbøll & Agnete Friis, translated by Tara Chace

Soho Crime, October 2012

Originally published as Et stille umærkeligt drab, 2010

It seems I’m returning to series I liked this month–or at least this is the second book in the row that meets the criteria– and I enjoyed Invisible Murder, the second installment in the series featuring Nina Borg, a nurse who moonlights as a nurse for refugees in Denmark. Her work with the Network not only endangers herself, but it has exacted a huge toll on her husband and family, and this book is no exception.

The story centers on two young men who are Roma from Hungary, the younger of whom tries to sell something dangerous to a buyer in Denmark and implicates his brother, a law student on the verge of graduating. The story of Tamas and Sandor is the most affecting part of this book, and I was more invested in their plights than I was in Nina’s. Kaaberbol and Friis also create other sympathetic characters, including the aging investigator Soren Kirkegaard and retired building inspector Sklou-Larsen who has a rocky marriage to a much younger woman. I’m not sure why they don’t portray Nina as a bit more sympathetic: she’s pretty single-minded.

I enjoyed the first and final thirds of the book more than the middle (the second third wasn’t very mysterious to me): the first section told Sandor’s story, and the last section was very brisk as the case came together, but that is my only complaint about the book. I’m not sure why it took me over two years to get back to the series: I’ll be seeking out the rest.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Other reviews appear in EuroCrime, Reactions to Reading, and International Noir Fiction.

 

 

Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet

save yourselfSave Yourself by Kelly Braffet

Crown, May 2014

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher via Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

I was interested in Save Yourself both because it’s described as suspense fiction, because it’s by a woman, and because I need to read some books set in different states of the United States if I’m to make any headway in the Reading USA Fiction Challenge this year.

The story takes place in the small town of Ratchetsburg, Pennsylvania, within driving distance of Pittsburgh, and it centers on Patrick Cusimano, an underemployed depressed man in his mid-twenties as well as Verna Elshere, a high school student entering public school for the first time after being homeschooled by very religious parents. Both main characters are in difficult positions: Patrick is ostracized because his father killed a small child while driving drunk and he is the one who called the police 19 hours after the accident, and Verna is relentlessly bullied at school because of her father’s strong stance on abstinence-only sex education, a fight he took to the school board the year before this book takes place.

Action-wise, this doesn’t feel like what I would call a thriller: there is quite a bit of violence and brutality, but it’s not a racing plot: it simmers mostly, I would say. I somehow didn’t mind the pace of the plot because Braffet is quite good at getting me to care for his characters, all of whom are damaged people dealing with big issues. It is a tough read in spots– probably the toughest book I’ve read this year, but thankfully, there is some hope in the ending. If you are in the mood for a tough book, this one is a rewarding read.

Other reviews appear in Jenn’s Bookshelves and Reactions to Reading.

Spring Tide by Cilla & Rolf Börjlind

spring_tide_final_2Spring Tide by Cilla & Rolf Börjlind, translated by Roy Bradbury
Hesperus Press, July 2014
Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

I gravitated to Spring Tide because of the authors’ background in screenwriting: they’ve adapted Arne Dahl, the Martin Beck series, and the new Wallander series. I expected good plotting after such a background, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Spring Tide begins with a quite gruesome murder twenty-some years ago in northern Sweden, and it also encompasses an investigation into attacks on homeless people in Stockholm as well as other murders. The main characters are Olivia Rönning, a police college student who chooses the old murder as a cold case project during her school break, as well as a retired detective with a sad, sad backstory.

The lead characters are very sympathetic, and the plotting is quite good. Olivia is young but not naive. There are a couple coincidences that drive the plot that bothered me a bit, but that’s a minor complaint. It is a tough read because the violence is pervasive in this book, and the social commentary is quite pointed. After having a tough time with the bleakness of the first half of the book, I enjoyed the second half of the book a great deal.

Other reviews appear in Raven Crime Reads and Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings.

The Pledge by Friedrich Durrenmatt

the pledgeThe Pledge by Friedrich Dürrenmatt, translated by Joel Agee

Originally published as Das Versprechen, 1958

Berkley Boulevard, 2000

 

I picked up The Pledge where it’s been languishing on my bookshelves for at least a couple years because it’s short, because of a fairly recent rave review from Jose Ignacio, and because the subtitle, Requiem for the Detective Novel, was intriguing.  It’s a smart book with an effective ending, but because its a novella, I don’t want to say too much about the story.

The crime at the center of the story is the murder of a very young girl. Inspector Matthäi leads the obsessive investigation of her murder, and Dr. H, the retired policeman narrating the story, was his old boss. To add yet another level of the story-within-a-story, Dr. H. tells his story to the unnamed narrator who is a mystery novelist.

An excerpt from the beginning of Dr. H’s conversation with our unnamed narrator gives a clear idea of what to expect from this story:

No, what really bothers me about your novels is the story line, the plot. There the lying just takes over, it’s shameless. You set up your stories logically, like a chess game: here’s the criminal, there’s the victim, here’s an accomplice, there’s a beneficiary, and all the detective needs to know is the rules, he replays the moves of the game, and checkmate, the criminal is caught and justice has triumphed.  This fantasy drives me crazy. You can’t come to grips with reality by logic alone. Granted, we of the police are forced to proceed logically, scientifically; but there is so much interference, so many factors mess up our clear schemes, that success in our business very often amounts to no more than professional luck and pure chance working in our favor. Or against us. (p. 8)

I’m not sure that crime novels of Dürrenmatt’s days were always so tidy, but I admit I haven’t read enough older books to make an accurate assessment. I can definitely think of a few crime novels and crime shows that rely heavily on logic without dealing with luck, but it’s not something I see or read about a lot.

But besides the critique of detective stories, this is a story of a horrible crime, and it affects  the investigators quite profoundly as well. The tone is very dry, and the impact is quite strong. This is one of my favorite reads of the year, and it’s definitely a book that makes for interesting discussions.

I bought my copy of the book.

The Pledge is a book that’s received lots of positive reviews around the blogosphere. Here is an incomplete list: Avid Mystery Reader, Mrs. Peabody Investigates, My Place for Mystery, Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan.

The Good Suicides by Antonio Hill

good suicidesThe Good Suicides by Antonio Hill, translated by Laura McGloughlin
Crown, June 2014
Inspector Salgado  book 2
Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Héctor Salgado  is a police inspector from Argentina who lives and works in Barcelona, and this particular novel takes place six months after the disappearance of his estranged wife Ruth and the end of a particularly violent case that was featured in the first novel, The Summer of Dead Toys. Besides the case of Salgado’s wife’s disappearance, the novel focuses on the apparent suicides of several people who work for Alemany Cosmetics. That investigation slows the book down, I think, and I think it comes down to the fact that I didn’t particularly feel invested in their stories.

My copy of the novel calls it a thriller, but only the first and last sections of the book feel thriller-esque in terms of pacing and reveals. I’m not sure what the marketing or book-cataloging logic was for calling this a thriller: police procedural is not so catchy, perhaps.  It’s a good police procedural, with the caveat that the Alemany Cosmetics investigation led by Salgado is just part of the story. The other and stronger part of the book is Leire Castro’s unofficial investigation into Ruth’s disappearance. Castro is an interesting character: she is a young, female detective young and about to give birth. She stands in contrast to the divorced and depressed Salgado, and what she eventually uncovers makes the story very powerful.

I was a very big fan of the first book in this series, The Summer of Dead Toys, and this book, the second in a proposed trilogy, was a solid entry but not as outstanding as the first novel.

Other reviews appear in EuroCrime (Laura), The Game’s Afoot (Jose Ignacio), and crimepieces (Sarah).

Present Darkness by Malla Nunn

present darknessPresent Darkness by Malla Nunn
Atria, June 2014
DS Cooper book 4

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

 

Malla Nunn is an Australia author who was born in Swaziland, and she writes the DS Cooper series set in South Africa in the 1950’s as apartheid was enacted. The present darkness of the title alludes to, in part, the historical moment South Africa was in, and the mood of the book is quite grim. Nunn does a great job of showing how crime and the background of emerging from World War II played into the development of apartheid and how individual police officers did their jobs while very affected by their pasts.

The story revolves around the investigation into the violent assault on a white schoolmaster and his wife, and the accused is a black student who spent the evening with the family for dinner. He also happens to be the son of one of Cooper’s colleagues. The story takes place both in Johannesburg and a remote part of the Northern Province, and Cooper himself is an outsider in Johannesburg (he’s on assignment there).

I don’t typically read historical crime fiction, but I’m a fan of this particular book. I’m thankful for the many bloggers and commenters who have recommended this series! Cooper is such an interesting character in such an interesting moment in the political history of South Africa and in such an outsider position in the police force as well that it was a great hook for me. I’m also counting this book as my wildcard entry in the 2014 Global Reading Challenge for the seventh continent, which I’m classifying as historical crime fiction.

Other reviews appear in Book’d Out (Shelleyrae), Fair Dinkum Crime (Kerrie), and Aunt Agatha’s.