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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Stranger by Camilla Läckberg

strangerThe Stranger by Camilla Läckberg, translated by Steven T. Murray
Also published as The Gallows Bird, 2011; originally published as Olycksfågeln, 2006
This edition: Open Road Integrated Media/ Pegasus Books, 2013

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

The Stranger is the fourth Patrik Hedstrom-Erica Falck novel by Läckberg, and it’s the first one I’ve read in this series. Set in a small town in southern Sweden, the novel follows Patrik’s investigation of a single car accident that he suspects was homicide as well as the investigation of the murder of a reality show contestant living in town for five weeks. His fiancee Erica is a true crime writer, but she doesn’t do any writing in this book: she’s in the midst of caring for her sister Anna and planning her wedding.

I’m new to Läckberg, and I didn’t know what to expect. This book is heavy on personal drama in all of the personal lives of its characters, including Patrik’s boss Melberg, and it’s lighter on the mystery. I read it very quickly despite the fact that I didn’t feel a lot of tension mounting in the plot.

There are a couple writing tics that bothered me about this book: Patrik is a perfect police officer (he has a fabulous memory, he gets along with everyone), and Läckberg withholds information from the reader after Patrik gathers it in a phone call, for example. I think she does the latter because there are so many characters to juggle in the story, and the mystery takes a back seat to the investigation to a certain degree. Despite my quibbles with the book, I’m willing to try The Ice Princess to see how it compares to this one.

Other reviews appear in Crime Scraps and Fleur Fisher in her world.

Blessed Are Those Who Thirst by Anne Holt

blessed are those who thirst

Blessed Are Those Who Thirst by Anne Holt, translated by Anne Bruce
Scribner, 2012
Originally published as Salige er de som tørster, 1994
Source: library

Blessed Are Those Who Thirst is a short novel in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series by Anne Holt, and I’m not sure how representative of the series it is. 1222, the first book to be translated into English, is a much later book in the series that’s essentially a locked-room mystery at a ski resort. The first book, Blind Goddess, is a police procedural centering on a murder investigation. Blessed Are Those Who Thirst, on the other hand, centers on a rape investigation as well as a batch of extremely bloody crime scenes where the victims are missing.

It’s a book that’s very amped up: it’s a very hot late spring in Oslo, the police are swamped with lots of violent cases, the bloody crime scenes are dubbed the Saturday night massacres within the department, and there is a very brutal rape of a medical student that is the focus of the novel.

I will admit that sometimes in the course of a police procedural I lose sight of the crime at the center of the novel and become more wrapped up in the chase for the perpetrator, but that didn’t happen while I read this novel. Holt has a lot of sympathy for Kristine, the rape victim, and her father, who are tempted to pursue justice outside the criminal justice system as they search for Kristine’s attacker. The book is a meditation on what justice is– and whether you can get justice by becoming a vigilante.

In terms of its place in the series, the novel advances police attorney Håkon Sand and detective Hanne Wilhelmsen’s personal stories a bit, but since it’s such a short story, it’s just a small bit of the story that will play out more in subsequent installments.

Finally, I want to comment on some of the flourishes that make this book stand out to me. Holt, a former minister of justice, knows bureaucracy. It’s nice to read a police procedural that acknowledges the extremely large workload of public servants and how things fall between the cracks in such a busy system. I don’t expect crime novels to be completely realistic (that wouldn’t be entertaining), but it’s nice to have a dose of reality from time to time. I also appreciated the information about the counsel for the victim and victim compensation systems in Norway, since they are unlike what exist in the U.S..

Sarah at Crimepieces and Norman at Crimescraps have also reviewed this book.

Blind Goddess by Anne Holt

blind goddessBlind Goddess by Anne Holt, translated by Tom Geddes
Scribner, 2012, originally published in Norwegian as Blind gudinne in 1993
Hanne Wilhelmsen book 1
Source: library

I read a lot of police procedurals, and it’s my favorite sub-genre of the last few years. Blind Goddess is a bit more than a police procedural: it follows both the police and the prosecution, much like the long-running TV series Law and Order. The main characters are Hanne Wilhelmsen, a detective with about ten years of experience and Håkon Sand, a police prosecutor who graduated at the bottom of his law school class but is nevertheless a dogged and effective prosecutor. The third main character is civil lawyer Karen Borg, an old friend of Sand’s who discovers a drug dealer whose murder sparks the investigation at the center of the novel.

My main impression of the book is that it feels busy: the plot that starts with the murder of a drug dealer becomes more gruesome and involves a broader conspiracy that will play out in subsequent books. I much preferred all the time Holt spent with the three main characters and their work and personal lives. I suspect it felt busy to me because Holt was laying the groundwork for plots that will cover the next novels in the series. That being said, I really like the main characters and I’m eager to read more.

A couple unrelated items in the book struck me: (1) is it really not a problem for a witness to a murder investigation to serve as a criminal defense lawyer in the case? I understand why Karen Borg was a defense lawyer, but I expected there to be more opposition to her serving as defense counsel; and (2) the reliance on fax machines was a blast from the recent past.

This is the second Hanne Wilhelmsen book I’ve read and the first one in the series. In the U.S., the locked-room mystery 1222, the eighth novel in the series, was published first, and unfortunately, it gives away a significant part of Hanne’s story. That being said, I’m eager to read books two through seven as they’re translated. Blessed Are Those Who Thirst has already been published, and Death of the Demon is due later this year.

Blind Goddess has also been reviewed by Maxine at Eurocrime and Norman at Crime Scraps