2013 Translation Challenge

2013 Translation Challenge Wrap-Up

2013transchallenge-3Ellie at Curiosity Killed the Bookworm hosted the 2013 Translation Challenge, and I joined in order to refocus my reading from US crime fiction to more international novels. Seeing as, overall for the year, I read barely any American crime novels, I was able to meet the goal of 12 translations pretty easily. Nevertheless, I’m glad I joined the challenge to meet new bloggers, find new reading suggestions, and to refocus my reading for the year.

Here is the list of books I read:

  1. The Return by Håkan Nesser (Sweden)
  2. The Devil’s Star by Jo Nesbø (Norway)
  3. Blind Goddess by Anne Holt (Norway)
  4. Room No. 10 by Åke Edwardson (Sweden)
  5. The Summer of Dead Toys by Antonio Hill (Spain)
  6. The Redeemer by Jo Nesbø (Norway)
  7. Blessed Are Those Who Thirst by Anne Holt (Norway)
  8. The Stranger by Camilla Läckberg (Sweden)
  9. Summer Death by Mons Kallentoft (Sweden)
  10. More Bitter Than Death by Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff (Sweden)
  11. The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas (France)
  12. Death of the Demon by Anne Holt (Norway)

As you can see, I was on a definite Scandinavian reading kick the first half of the year as I completed this challenge. Anne Holt is my favorite author of the bunch, and there were only a handful of books that were nowhere near my favorites (Edwardson, Läckberg, and Grebe and Träff). I consider that a good reading experience.

2013 Translation Challenge, France, review, Translated

The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas

ghost riders

The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas, translated by Siân Reynolds
Penguin, June 2013
Originally published as L’armée furieuse, 2011
Commisaire Adamsberg book 7

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher via Edelweiss.

I’m a fairly new fan of Fred Vargas. I read The Chalk Circle Man about a year ago and liked it quite a bit, but I haven’t read any of her other books before picking up The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, the seventh installment in the Commisaire Adamsberg series. While I liked this book a great deal too, I feel a bit conflicted about liking it.

The Ghost Riders of Ordebec is a novel about the workings of Adamsberg’s brain as he investigates the appearance of the titular ghosts, who, according to legend, seize four people who have gotten away with crimes before they themselves die. He makes the trek to Ordebec after a scared older woman approaches him in Paris about her daughter’s vision of the furious army. The old tale is interesting, and it sets up an interesting discussion about the nature of justice. Is retribution the only way to get justice, basically, is the question. The investigation meanders: Adamsberg and his team interview lots of eccentric folks in the community of about 2,000 people, and the police officers are eccentrics as well. Besides the ghost rider investigation, Adamsberg is also investigating the arson murder of a steel magnate in Paris.

My main quibble with the book is that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of action: Adamsberg develops his theories as he talks, and some of his theories are pretty convoluted and based on seemingly insignificant pieces of evidence. Because his theorizing stood out for me, the violence of the crimes they investigate in Ordebec seem to fade in importance, and that makes me uncomfortable. I think what it comes down to is that it doesn’t feel like Adamsberg and his team are grounded in the reality of the crimes they are investigating. I do really enjoy the writing, the humor, the characters, and the legend of the ghost riders, but the combination of the violent crimes with those more pleasant elements of the reading experience felt a bit off to me.

Reviews by people who are more up-to-date on the Adamsberg series appear in  Crimescraps and Crimepieces.

2013 Translation Challenge, Norway, review, Translated

Death of the Demon by Anne Holt

death of the demonDeath of the Demon by Anne Holt, translated by Anne Bruce
Scribner, June 2013
Originally published as Demonens død, 1995
Hanne Wilhelmsen book 3

FTC Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher via Edelweiss.

I’m a fan of the Hanne Wilhelmsen series by Anne Holt (I haven’t tried her other series yet), and Death of the Demon is a good installment in the series. It wasn’t as emotionally affecting as the last installment in the series, but I did enjoy it quite a bit.

This book finds Hanne moving ahead professionally and personally: she was recently promoted to chief inspector, a role to which she’s still growing accustomed. She enjoys the investigatory aspects of her jobs a bit too much, and, honestly, her work with her old friend Billy T., recently transferred from the drug interdiction team to the homicide section is one of the high points of the book for me. They have a good rapport.

The story revolves around the murder of the director of a foster home for older children owned by the Salvation Army in Oslo, Agnes Vestavik. This murder does not garner the same media heat as a double murder taking up most of the department’s resources, which is a nice switch from the previous book in the series. The investigation into Agnes’s home and work lives takes up the bulk of the book, and her story runs in tandem with the story of Olav, a twelve-year-old boy who had been living at the home for just a few weeks when Agnes is murdered. His story is told primarily in flashback by himself and by his mother, and it is quite affecting.

Affecting is a word I keep coming back to when I think about this book: Holt has great empathy for her characters: her heroes as well as her villains and their stories. They all have complicated lives, and she does that complication justice. The actual resolution of the mystery was not the strongest part of the story for me (it’s a sort of locked room situation), but that’s not to say the story was weak. I’m just comparing it to other crimes I’ve read about recently.

Other reviews appear in FictionFan’s Book Reviews.

2013 Translation Challenge, review, Spain, Translated

The Summer of Dead Toys by Antonio Hill

summer dead toysThe Summer of Dead Toys by Antonio Hill, translated by Laura McGoughlin
Crown, June 2013

Disclosure: I received an e-galley from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Summer of Dead Toys is one of my favorite reads of the year, and it’s definitely my favorite debut novel of the year. It has an interesting protagonist, Héctor Salgado who sounds like a typical divorced detective with anger management issues, but Hill turns him into a much more rounded character than that. It has other interesting police characters, and it has a morally complex set of crimes to unravel.

The Summer of Dead Toys takes place in Barcelona during a very hot summer. Our main character is Inspector Salgado, a native Argentinian, who returns to Barcelona at the beginning of the novel after a month of leave after he beat Dr. Omar, a suspected human trafficker, quite viciously. He is put in charge of an unofficial investigation into the suicide of Marc Castells, a young man who is the son wealthy man who’s considering moving from the private sector into politics.

Why am I so impressed? Hill handles two plots in great detail: the case of Marc Castells and the case of Dr.Omar. Hill spends plenty of time with his characters, including the police officers, to actually give them backstories instead of just doling out a few details in this book before doling out more in subsequent ones.  I’m also grateful that he spent time with not only Salgado but also his new partner Leire Castro and his superiors. Too often the focus in a police procedural is on the main investigator.

The pacing felt a bit sluggish to me in the first half, and I think that reflects the morass of the investigation in the first half of it. It could also be because the characters are pretty rich, self-absorbed people.

Another highlight was how horrid the crimes were that were uncovered during the course of the book. Sometimes the horror of murder and more take a back seat to the main characters heroics. I also liked the fact that there wasn’t a violent showdown at the end of the book, which I think is an overused plot device.  I’m very much looking forward to the next book in the series, The Good Suicides.

Other reviews of The Summer of Dead Toys appear in Eurocrime and The Game’s Afoot.

2013 Translation Challenge, review, Sweden, Translated

More Bitter Than Death by Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff

more bitter than death

More Bitter Than Death by Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff, translated by Paul Norlen
Simon & Schuster, June 2013
Originally published as Bittrare än döden, 2010
Siri Bergman book 2

FTC Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Siri Bergman is a psychologist who runs a self-help group for victims of violence along with her colleague Aina. The murder at the center of the book is of Susanne, a woman savagely killed in front of her five year old daughter. The book, unfortunately, opens with the violent murder as prologue, but the story doesn’t return to them for a considerable amount of time.

This is sort of an odd crime book because I don’t think Siri is really investigating the murder of Susanne during most of the book. She is busy dealing with her messy personal life and dealing with her work life, specifically the new self-help group she is leading. While Siri’s boyfriend is a police officer, he doesn’t involve her in the investigation to a great extent, which is probably as it should be, conflict-of-interest wise.

I’m trying to figure out why this book was such a fast read for me though I was ultimately unsatisfied with it. I think it’s because the book spends so much time in therapy and self-help sessions with the patients, and that’s fascinating (Träff is a psychologist herself). The last section of the book, however, was more investigatory, which moved more quickly for me. Grebe and Träff are also good at fleshing out their characters except the antagonist, who is still somewhat of a mystery even by the end of the story.

2013 Translation Challenge, review, Sweden, Translated

Summer Death by Mons Kallentoft

summer death

Summer Death by Mons Kallentoft, translated by Neil Smith
Originally published as Sommardöden, 2008, also published as Summertime Death
Atria/Emily Bestler Books, June 2013
Malin Fors book 2

FTC Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher via Edelweiss.

The scene is an incredibly hot summer in the relatively small city of Linköping, and Malin Fors is called to investigate the rape of a teenage girl close to her own daughter’s age. She is found in a park without a memory of what happened to her. The investigation then turns to murder when another teenage girl’s body is found near a lake in town.

The investigation itself is slow: it’s slowed by the hot weather, it’s slowed by several dead ends, and it feels slow because Kallentoft spends time with everyone in the investigative team. Malin, the main character, is a divorced woman who is obsessed with her work, has an alcohol problem, and struggles with communicating with her teenage daughter and her ex-husband of ten years for whom she still has feelings: she has a lot of issues to deal with while dealing with a gruesome set of crimes.

While the book has many pages and spends time with a large number of characters, and deals with a very convoluted investigation in the majority of the book, the last section of the book proceeds very briskly (if a bit obviously) and graphically. I prefer a little less gruesomeness in my crime novels, or maybe it’s just that I prefer the suggestion of evil instead of lots of passages in the minds of the killer, as this book has. I think that’s a fair request: I’d rather know as much as my main character investigating the crime knows about the perpetrator’s motives instead of having more information about motive than that.

Though I’m new to this series, I think this book is a fine introduction to the series that doesn’t leave a newbie at sea at all. I’m interested in continuing because I’m interested in the character of Malin, but I’d prefer a novel in the series that doesn’t have over 400 pages.

2013 Translation Challenge, Norway, review, Translated

The Redeemer by Jo Nesbø


The Redeemer by Jo Nesbø, translated by Don Bartlett
Originally published as Frelseren, 2005
Knopf, May 2013

FTC Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher via Edelweiss.

I really like police procedurals, and I, among millions of others, eat up the Harry Hole novels by Jo Nesbø. Harry is an interesting character, the plots are full of twists, and there’s a lot at stake for the characters. This is probably my favorite Harry Hole book of the four I’ve read so far: Harry isn’t in as horrible place as he’s been in in previous books, the plotting isn’t too convoluted, and the story doesn’t involve a serial killer. I recommend reading the three books that come right before The Redeemer (The Redbreast, Nemesis, and The Devil’s Star) to provide more background about Harry and what’s happening in the police department, but starting with The Redeemer won’t be too confusing to a reader who’s new to the series.

The Redeemer begins with a sober Harry Hole welcoming– if that’s the right word– a new boss, Gunnar Hagen, a former military man who replaces his protective boss Bjarne Møller. This particular investigation centers on the shooting of a Salvation Army member in a busy square in Oslo during a concert before Christmas. The story turns into a cat and mouse game between Harry and The Little Redeemer, a contract killer from the former Yugoslavia. Nesbø is good at switching points of view from the hunter to the hunted, and he’s very good at building suspense. He also spends plenty of time fleshing out the story of The Little Redeemer, which humanizes him.

Besides the suspense of the main criminal investigation, which brings Harry and his colleagues into the world of the Salvation Army’s leadership and the people they serve, the novel spends plenty of time on Harry’s personal life and life within the police department. There are threads that I’m sure will be played out in other novels as his situation in the department evolves.

This is a very strong book in the series, and I recommend it highly.

For other positive reviews of The Redeemer, see Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog, and The Game’s Afoot.