review · Sweden · Translated

Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito

quicksandQuicksand is a courtroom drama centered on the trial of an eighteen year old girl charged with murder during a school shooting. The story opens in the classroom, which is a classic gambit to hook the reader because it’s unclear who all did the shooting and who all died (it’s a brief opening interlude). A good chunk of the beginning is a courtroom procedural, and I think it was the strongest part of the book. The book slowed down for me as Maja, the narrator, went into the long background story about her relationship with Sebastian, the boyfriend she allegedly incited to murder.

I thought this book would take a more unreliable narrator turn than it did: it really is a story about a senseless crime spree instead, and in that way it reminded me of Laura Lippman. Ultimately, it’s a book about a hugely unsympathetic group of characters, teenagers and adults, and Maja still remained a mystery to me, which I think is the point. The book is also smart about race and class, which was a welcome part of the story.

Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles

Other Press, March 2017

Originally published as Störst av allt

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

 

review · Spain · Translated

This Too Shall Pass by Milena Busquets

thistooshallpassThis Too Shall Pass is a slim novel about a forty-something woman going through grief after her mother’s death. I picked it out because I’m always looking for new-to-me translated authors, and it sounded a little like a Ferrante novel. Unfortunately this book suffers in comparison. The main character’s meltdown isn’t nearly as harrowing as the main character’s in Ferrante’s Days of Abandonment, and the easygoing style of a long trip to the beach just didn’t have the same sort of pacing and urgency as the Ferrante. I know I should judge the book on its own merits, but it seems obvious to me that the book was picked for publication to take advantage of the craze over Ferrante, so I’m going to go with it.

This Too Shall Pass by Milena Busquets, translated by Valerie Miles

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher via Blogging for Books.

Norway · review · Translated

Beyond the Truth by Anne Holt

beyond-the-truthI like to read series I’ve invested in from the start, and thankfully, this entry in the Hanne Willhelmsen series lives up to the ones I really liked in the series. It’s a story revolving around the murder of 3 members of a wealthy shipping family and a seemingly unconnected freelance writer, all around Christmas time.  I prefer the smaller plots in this book and Death of the Demon than the big political plot in The Lion’s Mouth. I also like Hanne in crisis, and the metaphor about the ragged dog at the beginning of the end being Hanne, on the brink of burnout and worse, is not heavy handed.

What else? Annemari Skar finally gets something juicy to do as the police prosecutor. The characters are actually fleshed out, something I find missing in some other books I’m reading lately. And, I almost forgot, we find out about Hanne’s family– the one she grew up in as well as her new family with her new partner Nefis. The plot isn’t as thriller-y as some of the other installments in this series and the Vik and Stubo series, but it’s a solid procedural with an interesting cast of characters. I think this book works best for readers who’ve read other books in the series, not because of plot reasons but because I’m not sure how compelling the characters are without knowing their paths over the last several books.

Beyond the Truth by Anne Holt, translated by Anne Bruce

Scribner, December 2016

Originally published as Sannheten bortenfor, 2003

Hanne Wilhelmsen book 7

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher

Norway · review · Translated

No Echo by Anne Holt

No echoI was disappointed with this entry in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series. The investigation was too bogged down, and the police procedural elements were so thorough or in such long chapters as compared to the brisk short chapters in the rest of the book that the book didn’t flow for me.

No Echo deals with the murder of a celebrity chef, Brede Ziegler. He remains a cipher through much of the book (he’s the man with “no echo”), and I never felt really intrigued by him, which I was the main reason I was lukewarm about the book. This book also featured Billy T. taking the lead for Hanne Wilhelmsen, who was on leave of absence for several months as the book begins, and while I appreciate the plot point of Billy T floundering without his mentor and best friend Wilhelmsen, Holt laid it on pretty thick in this story. I don’t like being overwhelmed with the details of a police investigation when the investigation flounders for such a long time.

What else? A couple characters felt like caricatures to me, and the plot seemed to depend on clues dropped in mysteriously from above instead of being uncovered organically.  The last book was so good that any follow up would pale in comparison, but this one just didn’t do it for me.

No Echo by Anne Holt and Berit Reiss-Andersen, translated by Anne Bruce

Originally published as Uten ekko (2000)

Hanne Wilhelmsen book 6

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

 

Norway · review · Translated

Dead Joker by Anne Holt

dead joker

Anne Holt’s characters and plots make her one of my favorites: fast-paced stories with a social conscience and a memorable lesbian detective.

Dead Joker is a downer. Hanne Wilhelmsen is going through personal and professional burnout, and it’s rough going. The book starts with a decapitation (most Holt books aren’t so gruesome at the beginning) and turns from murder to other disturbing crimes that could feel overwhelming, but Holt is so good at pacing and fleshing out her characters that I didn’t feel overburdened by everything in the story that could be too much. I know it’s hard to write something that proceeds at such a clip when it could have felt even heavier given the subject matter. Short chapters help, and spending time with all of her main characters over the length of a substantial book helps too.

Dead Joker is a police and legal procedural with a cast of characters who’ve developed over the series: Hakon and Karen the lawyers and Billy T. and Hanne the detectives. If you haven’t read earlier books in the series, you may not feel as invested in the characters, but on the other hand, this book summarizes lots of the earlier books as well so a new reader doesn’t miss out on crucial plot developments. Holt spends plenty of time with other characters too, and the decline of the prosecutor accused of murderer was very vivid. Other characters are a bit more of a mystery (Billy T.), but I assume he’ll take the lead in another book instead.

My review is a little vague to counterbalance the copy on the back of the book that gives away practically everything. This book is for fans of the series, most of all, and it feels like a sort of summing up of Hanne’s career in the police. It looks like there are just a three more books to be published in English: No Echo, Beyond the Truth, and Offline. I will track them down.

Dead Joker by Anne Holt, translated by Anne Bruce

Originally published as Død joker, 1999

This edition: Corvus, 2015

I bought my copy of the book

Norway · review · Translated

He Who Fears the Wolf by Karin Fossum

he who fears the wolfEveryone just read Karin Fossum already.

It took me until book 3 in the Inspector Sejer series by Karin Fossum to be a convert, but now I am. As the book started in the head of a schizophrenic young man having horrifying visions, I wasn’t sure what I was in for. Thankfully it’s not gruesome book, but it is one that hit me.

The story is dominated by Errki, the schizophrenic young man from the first chapter and Morgan, the bank robber who takes him hostage. Sejer is tied to the bank robbery investigation because he was in the bank right before it happened, but his work is dominated by the murder investigation into an older woman living in a remote mountain hut who is found murdered by a young juvenile delinquent named Kannick who found her while escaping to practice archery, his obsession.

He Who Fears the Wolf is kind of an atypical crime novel in that the police procedural is not so dominant. In fact, I may know more about how tracking dogs work than how the police work after reading this book. The story takes place over a day, and most of the time is spent with the bank robber, his hostage, and the young man who discovered the murder victim. It reminds me a bit of a Laura Lippman books that way, but in Fossum’s case, there’s even less a police presence.

This book sticks with me. Fossum humanizes everyone in this story, which is remarkable, especially given the relatively short length of the book. Fossum is also interested in bigger issues, like mental illness and crime, and while she addresses them in speeches by Errki’s psychiatrist Dr. Struel, it felt just a bit on the nose.  How the crimes and their aftermaths unfolded felt overwhelmingly sad to me. And Sejer’s grief about his wife hit me as well.

He Who Fears the Wolf by Karin Fossum, translated by Felicity David

Originally published as Den som Frykter ulven

Harvest/Harcourt, 2006

I bought my copy of the book.

Iceland · review · Translated

The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indriðason

draining lakeI think I’ve missed a review or two of the Erlendur series, but I love it a great deal, The Draining Lake being no exception. The book starts with an odd premise, the draining lake of the title. A human skeleton that is murdered and tied to a Russian radio device appears as the lake drains. While a theory about why the lake is draining appears pretty early in the book, the mystery of the skeleton is a much more involving plot, and it involves East Germany, spies, and university students during the height of the Cold War.

I’m not always a fan of books that shift between the past and present, but I was so wrapped up in the backstory (political and personal), and so impressed that the switches between the past and the present felt organic instead of a forced structure that I didn’t mind. Not only is the paranoia in East Germany rendered very vividly, there are just terribly heartbreaking elements threaded throughout the story. I was very impressed with this book.

On the police-procedural-in-Iceland front, I was glad that every main detective had a big non-work plot going. Erlendur’s romantic and family relationships keep moving along (or at least moving in circles), Elinborg launches a successful cook book, and we actually see Oli’s personal life in glimpses.

I read this book while watching early episodes of The Americans, and while I love spy stuff, I realize that I can’t double up on it or my dreams take a very strange turn.Or maybe I just don’t expect my stress dreams to involve spying.

The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indriðason

Translated by Bernard Scudder

Vintage Books, 2010

Originally published as Kleifarvatn, 2004

I bought my copy of the book.

Norway · review · Translated

The Lion’s Mouth by Anne Holt and Berit Reiss-Andersen

lionsmouthI’ve read a lot of Anne Holt, in part because her approach on writing a series is to have a few recurring characters whose place in the story varies. Some of the early books in the series feel like thrillers or police procedurals while 1222 is a locked-room sort of mystery, and Death of the Demon felt almost like a novella with a very obvious social conscience. It’s great to read different kinds of stories with different characters taking prominence, but, unfortunately, this politics-heavy installment in the Hanne Willhelmsen series didn’t quite grab me.

This is a political story: prime minister Birgitte Volter is found shot dead in her office, and the Norwegian government is in crisis. There are a lot of characters to introduce both in the investigatory teams and the political teams.  Hanne Willhelmsen appears as an afterthought: she is living in California and on leave from the police but consults with her good friend, Billy T, another unorthodox detective.

Because of the large cast of characters, the book feels a bit long to me. We get inside everyone’s heads. Also, the book veered into political wrangling and party politics where the points got a bit speech-y or maybe preachy. This may have grated on me more because we’re in the middle of presidential debate season here and I’ve had my fill of political speeches. All in all, this is not my favorite in the series, but I’m curious to read the next installment, Dead Joker.

The Lion’s Mouth by Anne Holt and Berit Reiss-Andersen

Translated by Anne Bruce

Scribner, 2016

Originally published as Løvens gap, 1997

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

 

 

review · Sweden · Translated

The Black Path by Åsa Larsson

black pathI’m catching up with one of my favorite series, this time reading  The Black Path, book 3 in the Rebecka Martinsson series. The book starts off pretty close to the ending of the previous installment, now finding Martinsson in a mental hospital after her breakdown at the end of the last book. It’s heartbreaking. The police procedural aspect starts a bit later: Rebecka continues to improve and starts working for the prosecutor in Kiruna. She helps Investigator Anna-Maria Mella on a murder case by digging into the victim Inna Wattrang’s financial and business past. She worked for a mining company, and the financial side deals with the expansion of mining operations in Uganda.

The elements of murder and big financial operations are there and could have turned the story into a thriller of sorts, and there are definitely sections of the book that feel more fast-paced, but  Larsson is most interested in characters. She spends a great deal of time in all of her characters’ heads as they are going through the time of the police investigation, but the actual investigation fades into the background quite often.

The strongest parts of the book for me were the sections told from Rebecka’s perspective and from the perspective of Ester, an artist who is the half-sister of Kallis, the mining company executive. She is a painter whose clairvoyance felt a bit off to me. She was adopted by a Sami family and lives with her half-brother after her mother dies, and the scenes of her painting are quite good. The link between Rebecka, who lost her mother at a young age, and Ester, who was adopted as a baby, is quite good. Like I said, the characters’ and their pain affected me more than the murder plot. This is a good entry in the series.

*********************************************

The Black Path by Åsa Larsson, translated by Marlaine Delargy

Quercus, 2012

Originally published as Svart stig, 2006

I bought my copy of the book.

 

review · Sweden · Translated

Hour of the Wolf by Håkan Nesser

hour of the wolfHour of the Wolf by Håkan Nesser, translated by Laurie Thompson

Originally published as Carambole, 1999

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

It’s been a few years since I’ve read Nesser, and I was happy to skip to book 7 in the series, Hour of the Wolf. I know I missed a few resonances in the characters in the police’s backstory because I haven’t read Münster’s Case, for example, but I didn’t feel too lost.

Hour of the Wolf begins in the mind of a killer, and after a decent amount of time the focus changes to the police. The beginning follows a man who kills a teenage boy while driving drunk and leaves after hiding all evidence of his crime. He is later blackmailed, and he kills the supposed blackmailer at their arranged pickup time.  Unfortunately the murdered man is someone close to Van Veeteren, and the sections of the book dealing with Van Veeteren’s grief are quite sad.

Van Veeteren is a bit of a stereotype: pessimistic, atheist, loves chess and esoteric classical music and antiquarian books. Thankfully the focus isn’t only on him so his persona doesn’t become too onerous. He does have a profound effect on the inspectors he trained, especially Reinhardt and Moreno, and even when Van Veeteren is not in the book, his presence is obvious.

It’s not a fast-paced book in any part. It’s quite procedural heavy, but the detectives’ conversations again are sometimes reflective and sometimes funny. Tone-wise, it’s a heavy read because it’s disheartening to be in the mind of the killer. That said, I still enjoyed the book a great deal. Now to catch up on a couple installments I’ve missed!