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!

 

 

 

The Darkest Room by Johan Theorin

darkest roomThe Darkest Room by Johan Theorin, translated by Marlaine Delargy

Doubleday, 2009

Originally published as Nattfåk, 2008

I bought my copy of this book.

I’ve read more Swedish books than books set any other country this year besides the United States. This is book 7, and my second Theorin novel, and also this is the second book of the Öland quartet. Öland is a Baltic island, and this particular story takes place on the northwest coast of the island at Eel Point, home to two lighthouses and a haunted manor house. It’s a great setting for a story: an isolated coastal home with a history of deaths. Eels disturb me to because they are so much like snakes. And Theorin mentions things like a sacrificial peat bog on the island just to up the strangeness of the story.  It’s simply the most matter-of-fact ghost story I’ve read, and I like the style because I haven’t seen it/ read it lots of times. Additionally, the harsh weather was more frightening to me than the ghosts were creepy.

The story centers on Joakim and his family. His wife Katrine moved from the Stockholm suburbs to Eel Point with her two young children while her husband finished teaching for the school year. Her family has ties to Eel Point: her mother and grandmother lived there when her mother was a teenager, and her grandmother painted a series of famous and missing blizzard pictures. The story weaves stories of the past into the story of the present. After Katrine dies shortly after Joakim moves to Eel Point, he reads the stories of other deaths at Eel Point over many years in a book that his mother-in-law wrote. I was frustrated by how little I learned about Katrine throughout the book: she is really not the focus of the story while her grieving husband is.

The connecting thread in the series is not only the island and the sea but the character of Gerlof Davidsson. His grandniece Tilda is the main police character in this story, and she has, true to form, have a complicated personal life and is an accomplished young police officer. His family history is another thread of the story, and he’s a great character.

This is one of my favorite series.

 

Icarus by Deon Meyer

icarusIcarus by Deon Meyer, translated by K.L. Seegers

Atlantic Monthly Press, October 2015

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

I’ve hopped around the Benny Griessel series by Deon Meyer– a couple early ones in the series, a couple of the most recent stories, and I liked this one a great deal though it’s not as thriller-y in terms of plot twists as what I usually like.  Meyer focuses on an array of police officers, and they are fairly rounded. I think someone who’s read all of the books (I think we have some overlapping characters between series/ standalones) would understand the characters a bit more than I did with the quick summations peppered throughout the story.

Icarus is about the murder of a tech entrepreneur: he founded a company that provides alibis for adulterers, and the premise has a bit of the ripped-from-the-headlines feel. The other main storyline involves a client’s interview with his lawyer just before Christmas, and for a large portion of the book it’s unclear what that interview has to do with the murder investigation. It’s the story of a family of wine-growers, and besides learning a lot about grapes and the wine industry in South Africa, I learned a great deal about a strange, strange family. The twists in that storyline were more interesting to me than the police investigation storyline.

In the police-procedural part of the book, Meyer spends a great deal of time in Griessel’s head as he starts drinking again and tries to stop drinking again. I thought that the scene with Benny’s psychologist didn’t feel shoe-horned into the story though it played the part of providing a snapshot of just how hard it will be for Griessel to stay sober if he continues in his current job.

Finally, one drawback of reading the electronic version of this book is that I couldn’t easily flip between the story and the glossary. The glossaries in this series are full of context that I would miss.

Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich

voices chernobylVoices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich, translated by Keith Gessen

Dalkey Archive Press, 2005

Originally published as Tchernobylskaia Moltiva, 1997

I borrowed this book from the library.

I’m one of those readers that tries to sample award-winning books/ authors from time to time, and it usually takes me several tries before I find something that I’m in the mood to read. Case in point: A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James, recent Booker-prize winner, was a little too disorienting for me to finish, but that’s not to say I won’t try it when my attention span is a bit longer. I was a little leery of the heaviness of Voices from Chernobyl by Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich, but the fact that it’s an oral history made it easy to put it away for a time to get ready to go on.

This is an oral history, and Alexievich calls it her attempt to get at the feelings behind the events. It’s harrowing, it’s enlightening about the horrible things that happen alongside acute radiation poisoning, and it’s enlightening about the government response to the fire at the reactor at Chernobyl. Also, I will say that the first story was absolutely the saddest for me. If you can make it past that, it’s not quite as emotionally raw. It’s still harrowing reading though.

Oral histories are a mixed bag for me. I’ve read some that are simply too long and detailed (Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live), I’ve read bits of some that are too dismaying (I read bits of Elena Poniatowska’s La noche de Tlatelolco  in college), but Voices from Chernobyl felt like the right length and the right sort of mix of stories. She collected stories for three years roughly ten years after the fire, and she gets stories about before, during, and looking to the future as people grieve as well as get sick with the effects of radiation exposure. It’s a little about politics, it’s a little about how to live with suffering, it’s a little about science. It’s a very affecting book, and I am eager to find what gets translated into English next.

 

 

Fear Not by Anne Holt

fear notFear Not by Anne Holt, translated by Marlaine Delargy

Originally published as Pengemannen, 2009

Vik/Stubo book 4

I borrowed this book from the library.

Anne Holt writes a couple intersecting series set in Oslo as well as standalones, and they are one of my current favorite series even though I can’t point to an individual book that’s blown me away. I’m a fan because I’m fond of the characters and, of course, I want to know how Hanne Wilhelmsen was shot and paralyzed. Because the US books were published way out of order (1222, book 8 in the Wilhelmsen series came first in the US), I’m hooked.

But back to the Vik/Stubo series. Johanne Vik is an academic who trained as a lawyer and consults with the police, and she is married to Adam Stubo, a policeman who’s first wife and child were murdered. The home-life sections of the book are quite drama-laden, or at least there is a lot that’s happened in the past, as well as Vik’s understandable anxiety about her children, particularly her neuro-atypical daughter Kristiane who is threatened in this book. In some ways it reminds me of Camilla Läckberg with the home and work sections, but the Läckberg book I have read seemed too heavy on family life. The home life is very well-balanced by the rest of the story, which involves a series of murders that are meant to look as suicides or accidental deaths excepting the Christmas Eve murder of a very popular minister. The one thing that does feel out of balance in the book is the sheer number of characters and threads in the first half of the book. I mean, I expected them to be tied together, but it was a disorienting read for a long middle stretch of the novel.

There are a few things I really like about this series: I like seeing characters who are good at what they do. I like seeing investigators who aren’t just haunted by alcohol. I like complicated plots, but ultimately I was not blown away by this particular solution.

Finally, Hanne Wilhelmsen does make an appearance, and I’ve looked up other books that haven’t been translated yet and have discovered that the fact that Holt co-authored a few installments might be holding things up. In any case, I’m tracking down as many English translations as I can find.

Finally, a note about the title. The Norwegian title is Moneyman, which gives a better sense of the conspiracy involved in the book than the English title of Fear Not, which seems to focus just on the minister’s murder, which, while important, is not the entire story. Like I said, there is a lot of plot to be unravelled.

 

Linda, as in the Linda Murder by Leif GW Persson

linda murder

Linda, as in the Linda Murder by Leif GW Persson
Translated by Neil Smith
Doubleday, 2013
Originally published as Linda — som i Lindamordet, 2005
Evert Bäckström book 1

I borrowed this book from the library.

I’ve been mulling over this book for over a week now: in part that’s a sign that there’s much to delve into in this book, and in part it’s because my reaction is so mixed. Persson dedicated this book to Sjöwall and Wahlöö, and I feel like this book was part homage to the Martin Beck series and part a whole different animal: this is the most procedural-heavy writer I’ve come across. Though the book has a lot of pages, the story passed briskly in parts and felt slow in parts. There are some flourishes I liked a great deal, but overall I’m left feeling a little overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the book.

Linda, as in the Linda Murder focuses on the murder of a trainee police officer in Smaland. Evert Bäckström , a comedically horrible character from Stockholm somehow ends up leading the investigation in the summer months. I found Bäckström a bit easier to take in this book than in He Who Kills the Dragon, the next entry in the series. His attachment to his goldfish, was ridiculous to balance out his extreme sexism, etc. And his particular ending was satisfying.

The book goes into detail into the investigation with the national police team and the local team, much like the other Persson novels I’ve read. While this makes the book realistic to a certain degree, it makes it a slog for me. I could have done without the shenanigans in the police hierarchy, and the “voluntary” DNA collection from possible suspects went on a long time. I understand the point Persson was making about the sketchiness of the police’s actions, but he could have made differently. I think I prefer procedurals to be a bit less realistic than what Persson writes.

Finally, I will say that I was a fan of the ending, particularly the coda to the story. I needed more of the character of Lisa Mattei and other voices of reason in the story. The ridiculousness of Bäckström and several other characters could have been tempered a bit more.

 

Reading Persson has made it difficult for me to  watch hourlong crime dramas. I can spot the clues a mile away after being awash in information while reading this book.

The Fire Engine That Disappeared by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

fire engineThe Fire Engine That Disappeared by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö
Originally published as Brandbilen som försvann, 1969
Sphere Books, 1973
I bought my copy of the book
Martin Beck book 5

I’ve arrived at the halfway point in the Martin Beck series and I’m still surprised by the books.

  1. They feel contemporary, despite the references to late 1960’s political crises and the Vietnam War.
  2. The plotting, even when the pace mimics the first installment, Roseanna, was still shocking.
  3. I’m surprised that I can keep so many detectives straight. It’s not just Beck and his team that’s made up of distinct characters: the investigation calls on a detective or two in another city and those characters are distinct as well.
  4.  I appreciate a few homages to the series that I see in Henning Mankell and Leif G.W. Persson now. Persson’s Bäckström is an extreme version of the character Gunnar Larsson in this book. The neverending car smuggling ring that Wallander investigates is central to this particular episode of the Beck series.
  5. I’m taken aback by how young the sex workers in this book are.

The Fire Engine That Disappeared focuses on a horrible fire that kills a number of people in an apartment building as well as someone’s suicide that happened around the same time. It’s not surprising that the two events are related: it seems especially obvious in a book as short as this. There’s no room for plot digressions. The arson scenes and explanations of the fire investigation are incredibly vivid and harrowing. The actual investigation is slow in parts and then incredibly fast in others, and the fact that the arson was so extreme amps up the tension throughout the story. Finally, I’m particularly fond of this installment because we actually get some of Beck’s backstory- why he became a policeman, his childhood, and his family life today. It’s about time.

On a side note, I thought of Moira’s blog during a description of a particular blue corduroy suit that is very 1969.

I continue to be a huge fan of this series, and I’m inclined to finish reading this series soon. It might not make for the most varied blog fodder, but reading a few authors in bulk seems to be my latest reading pattern.

Eva’s Eye by Karin Fossum

evaseye

Eva’s Eye by Karin Fossum, translated by James Anderson
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013
Originally published as Evas øye, 1995
Inspector Sejer, book 2

I bought my copy of the book.

I backtracked in my reading of the Inspector Sejer series to read the first installment, Eva’s Eye, also published as In the Darkness, and I really liked it.  The book begins with two unsolved crimes: a stabbed man’s body is found in the river, and it is determined that it’s the body of Egil, a man missing for six months. He disappeared around the time that a prostitute named Maja was murdered, and Sejer investigates these semi-cold crimes for the first third of the book. Then Fossum shifts to Eva Magnus, a struggling artist and single mother who was one of the last people to see the murdered Maja alive and was the person who discovered Egil’s corpse.

I appreciate that Sejer is not as troubled or depressed as lots of other detectives in books I read, though his penchant for working alone is pretty typical. I’m not sure I’ve ever read about such an experienced skydiver, though: over 2000 successful jumps is quite impressive.

Fossum has a great deal of sympathy for Eva, and she also knows how to write creepy and thrilling setpieces. Or maybe I’m especially susceptible to scenes that happen in remote mountain cabins at night: they automatically frighten me.  This book felt juicy in terms of characters and the slide into criminality: there’s much to discuss. Finally, I liked the way Fossum talked about Eva’s artistic process more than I like Louise Penny in the Three Pines series. I could picture Eva’s paintings more vividly than I could Penny’s character’s works.

Other reviews appear in Euro Crime, Reactions to Reading, and Crime Fiction Lover.

 

Death in Oslo by Anne Holt

deathinosloDeath in Oslo by Anne Holt, translated by Kari Dickson

Vik and Stubo book 3

Sphere, 2009

Originally published as Presidentens valg, 2006

I bought my copy of the book.

Death in Oslo is kind of a misleading title: this book is about the disappearance of the United States’s first female president during her first state visit of her presidency, which happens to be in Oslo. Holt alternates perspectives in every chapter, and it’s a pretty large cast of characters, including the return of Hanne Wilhelmsen, who still remains my favorite Holt character.

I bought this book because I’m an Anne Holt completist, not necessarily because I was interested in the disappearance of the first female president of the United States in Oslo. I tend to prefer books that aren’t in the broad-government-conspiracy/ international-conspiracy realm, and I liked the character through-lines in the Vik and Stubo and Hanne Wilhelmsen series a lot more than I liked the investigation in this particular book. Holt wrote the book in 2006, imagining a world where George W. Bush was not reelected in 2004. It’s a bit hard to read because the criticisms of the US Patriot Act and government surveillance feel old now (and they haven’t hanged much since this book was written).

Holt knows how to serialize: I get just enough tidbits about Vik and Wilhelmsen to keep me reading these books, as difficult as they can be to find. Ultimately, the conspiracy storyline wasn’t my favorite because the antagonists were sketched pretty broadly, but I liked the pacing and I liked most of the characters. I’m looking forward to The Lion’s Mouth and Dead Joker in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series.

Other reviews appear in Scandinavian Crime Fiction and DJ’s Krimiblog.

To the Top of the Mountain by Arne Dahl

top mountainTo the Top of the Mountain by Arne Dahl, translated by Alice Menzies

Originally published as Upp till toppen av berget (2000)

Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, August 2015

Intercrime book 3

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher

I’m a fan of this book about a big, major, complicated set of crimes that sees the A-Unit of the first two books in the Intercrime series back together again. Compared to what I’ve been reading lately, it’s bigger, more brutal, and full of characters, as the A-Unit is made up of a large number of investigators. To the Top of the Mountain is in part a police procedural focusing on the elite A-Unit that deals with big crimes of an international nature and in part a sort of conspiracy thriller. It begins with Paul Hjelm and Kerstin Holm investigating a killing in a crowded bar and soon becomes a much larger investigation into drugs and child pornography. It’s difficult subject matter, but thankfully there are lots of plot threads to give the reader a break from the more harrowing parts of the story.

So far my favorite of the series is still the opening book, MisteriosoThe investigation and the novel felt brisker than this one, and the crimes weren’t as hard to read about.  I also think it’s best to start the series from the beginning instead of reading this installment first. There is too much backstory about the detectives and about the A-Unit itself to make this a good starting point.