Two Swedish Crime Novels

I read a couple Swedish crime novels this month in succession, and writing this post takes me back a few years when I used to read a lot of them. Today’s post is about The Abominable Man and Firewall, a dash of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö and Henning Mankell.

The Abominable Man is a story about police brutality and how it gets entrenched in the police force. The book is nearly 50 years old, and it reads like it could have been written today. It’s a short and forceful story. It opens with a brutal murder of an ill retired police officer, and the climax of the book is a lengthy set-piece of a brutal attack on a number of police officers in Stockholm.

It’s a great, taut story, and I didn’t entirely expect the level of violence there was, in part because of this snippet about the painstaking process of criminal investigation early in the book:

Police work is built on realism, routine, stubbornness, and system. It’s true that a lot of difficult cases are cleared up by coincidence, but it’s equally true that coincidence is an elastic concept that mustn’t be confused with luck or accident. In a criminal investigation, it’s a question of weaving the net of coincidence as fine as possible. And experience and industry play a larger role there than brilliant inspiration. A good memory and ordinary common sense are more valuable qualities than intellectual brilliance. p. 31

Additionally, I remember Roseanna, the first installment in the series, being quite a slow story in terms of action. This is a great and interesting and scathing set of books, at least what I’ve read so far.

Next, I read Firewall by Henning Mankell, which while a police procedural spends a lot of time on just one inspector vs. The Abominable Man, which focused on a number of detectives. Firewall is a bit slow in comparison: Mankell spends plenty of time with the depressed and burnt out Wallander who is contemplating retirement. There are also several mentions of prior cases in prior books, so the fact that it’s been over 3 years since I read a book in this series was not a hindrance. It’s a story about some seemingly unrelated murders that are linked (of course), and as the case progresses, it involves a global conspiracy. It’s not a conspiracy-thriller though: it’s firmly a set of murder investigations.

Firewall is interesting to because it involves hackers years before The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, and it’s a sort of period piece because technology in 1998 is a world away from technology today. I must say, I prefer something a bit more thriller-like or with a tauter plot at this point in my reading life, though.

I recommend both books highly, and The Abominable Man is going on my list of best reads of the year.

The Abominable Man by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö , translated by Thomas Teal

2nd Vintage Crime/ Black Lizard edition

Originally published as Den vedervärdige mannen från Säffle , 1971

Book 7 in Martin Beck/ Story of a Crime series

Source: I bought my copy.

Firewall by Henning Mankell, translated by Ebba Segerberg

Originally published as Brandvägg , 1998

Book 9 in Wallander series

Source: I bought my copy.

A Rare Benedictine by Ellis Peters

A Rare Benedictine
A Rare Benedictine by Ellis Peters, Myserious Press, 1989

Source: My bookshelves

Project: Read-from-by- Bookshelves continues since I was last able to check books out from my library on March 14. I picked up A Rare Benedictine: The Advent of Brother Cadfael, a collection of short stories that are prequels to the Brother Cadfael series, on the recommendation of someone at a library sale some time ago. I miss book browsing, and I’ve also got a stack of books to donate too from the past two months. Some day, right? Anyway, back to the book.

This mystery is one of the few historical crime novels I’ve read, and the compactness of the stories made them perfect for reading this weekend. The three stories take place in 1120 as Cadfael leaves the Crusades and joins the monastery in Shrewsbury, and in the span of just 150 pages, he solves a kidnapping, a theft of silver candlesticks, and an attempted murder in Shrewsbury. Compact stories are good for my short attention span.

Reading a new-to-me author writing about the twelfth century was a project in vocabulary, notably about the plants and herbs that Brother Cadfael grows and uses. My favorite plant name was orpine, also known as “witch’s moneybags.” I have at least two more Brother Cadfael books on my shelves, and I’m looking forward to them.

 

The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai

 

alisha rai coverI expect great things from an Alisha Rai book, and I really liked The Right Swipe even though I think I preferred the angst-heavy Hate to Want You a little more. I was worried by the cover that it wouldn’t be angsty enough for me, but I was wrong.

The story is about Rhiannon, who runs a dating app, and Samson, a former partner who’s an ex-pro football player who is working for a rival company. The story is long enough to get into each of their backstories: she went through professional and personal hell in a past relationship, and he cared for his dying father and uncle who dealt with CTE after years playing football. The story is also long enough to start to get into the supporting characters’ backstories, which, given that this is the first book in a series, makes sense.

My quibbles about the book are few: 1. I cannot stand it when a character claims a guy makes her ovaries explode, or in this case “sigh.” It’s not repeated throughout the book, which grates on me even more, but still, it’s annoying. 2. I was worried about the kooky matchmaker character for most of the book. Rai does make her more complicated than she seems at the beginning, but I’ve run into her type of character too often.

Overall, I really liked The Right Swipe: the characters and their competence, the emotional angst, the heat level, and the fact that the complications in the plot didn’t feel artificial.

The Right Swipe (Modern Love #1) by Alisha Rai

HarperCollins, July 2, 2019

Disclosure: I read a review copy of the book.

The Valedictorian of Being Dead by Heather B. Armstrong

dooce coverI think I started reading memoirs centered on mental health well over ten years ago because books like The Glass Castle and Prozac Nation were book club picks. I’ve read a few more since then, but I’m by no means an expert in the genre. The Valedictorian of Being Dead centers on Armstrong’s experimental therapy for severe depression that involved extreme anesthesia instead of electroconvulsive therapy. She’s pretty explicit about her reasons for writing the book: she wants to eliminate the stigma around depression and explain what depression and treatment felt like for her. It makes for rough reading, but it’s also fascinating to hear about the experimental trial and her positive response to it.

The Valedictorian of Being Dead by Heather B. Armstrong

Gallery Books, April 23, 2019

Disclosure: I received a review copy.

American by Day by Derek Miller

american by dayThe most accurate blurb/ review I’ve read about American by Day is that it’s a hybrid sort of crime novel. But a hybrid of what, exactly? It’s a story about a crime, and it’s a story about a Norwegian police chief taking an unexpected trip to America. But it’s not really a thriller, and it’s not really a methodical investigation like a police procedural.  It is a book that has stayed with me, despite the fact that I’m not as fond of it as I was by the first book in this series, Norwegian by Night.

American by Day starts shortly after the shooting at the end of Norwegian by Night. Sigrid, the police chief in the first book, is still grappling with the aftermath of the first case when she finds out from her father that her older brother is missing in the United States, where he’s lived for a number of years. Sigrid reluctantly travels to the US, and the plot slows a bit, and Miller is explicit about his narrative principle when Sigrid explains her investigatory technique: “Observations first. Questions next. Interpretation last.”

And the observations are about America, race, police, and more. Sigrid’s brother is suspected of murdering his girlfriend, and African American university professor who was despondent about her young nephew’s death at the hand of the police in his backyard. Sigrid is skeptical, and eventually she uncovers the truth, and that’s the satisfying part of the read, while the sociology-of-the-US portions are the parts of the book that make me more ponderous.

American by Day by Derek Miller

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 2018

I received a review copy from the publisher.

Night Rounds by Helene Tursten

night roundsGuess what: I still really like Scandi Crime! It’s been a busy year, and I haven’t really read much crime fiction because what I was picking up was stressing me out. So I decided to dig through my wish list on my library account and picked up a Tursten novel I haven’t read yet, book 2 in the Irene Huss series. I loved reading a good, smart procedural instead of an unreliable-narrator type of crime novel that’s hard to avoid lately.

Night Rounds is the story of a ghost nurse who allegedly committed murder in a private hospital on the brink of financial disaster in Göteborg. It’s a story that involves family drama and work drama at the hospital in question so it kept me interested because the motive for the killings wasn’t obvious from the beginning. And it was nice to read a procedural that was methodical and full of interviews with a series of characters that kept my interest. And finally, it was nice to read a book with a tidy ending.

A few random thoughts:

  • I’m ready for a book centered on Ms. Strikner, the pathologist.
  • It’s nice to read a book with a detective with a messy but not entirely dysfunctional homelife.
  • I may be wrong about the tidy ending. There’s an epilogue to the book that may just be creepy or ominous for the sake of being ominous, or it could mean that my misgivings about some other characters who aren’t being prosecuted for murder are in another book.

I’ve only read two other books in the series: the first installment, which is Detective Inspector Huss, and The Fire Dance. I loved the first and not the other, and I recommend this installment highly.

 

Night Rounds by Helene Tursten, translation by Laura A. Wideburg

Irene Huss series book 2

Originally published as Nattrond, 1999

Soho Crime, 2012

Source: I checked it out from the library.

The Chalk Artist by Allegra Goodman

chalk artistAllegra Goodman is on my auto-buy list. I really, really liked The Cookbook Collector about a pair of sisters in California, a bit of a taking down of dot com business culture, a bit of a love story with smart characters. I like her for the same reasons as I like Meg Wolitzer: sweeping drama, smart people, over a lengthy period of time. The Chalk Artist, unfortunately, didn’t quite work for me.

The Chalk Artist deals with a group of teenagers and a group of adults all somehow connected to Arkadia Systems, a videogame company. Goodman is so sympathetic towards her characters, and in that way it reminds me of My So-Called Life or other Herkowitz show. But I didn’t love the story because I’m not really into fantasy or video games, and while I was impressed by a couple of the scenes describing the immersive gaming-in-the-round universe of UnderWorld, I ultimately didn’t love it.

Another thing that sort of annoyed me is that the young-teacher storyline turned a bit into a teacher-as-savior story, which I loved when I was say, under 25 years old, but I don’t now.

My criticisms are because I loved other parts of the book. An intelligent take on young love was great- it’s what was missing from say, Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot. The art stuff was very cool and very vivid. The technology part was sort of cool but I felt distanced because gaming is not my thing.

The Chalk Artist by Allegra Goodman

Dial Press, June 2017

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.