The Snowman by Jo Nesbø

snowmanThe Snowman by Jo Nesbø, translated by Don Bartlett
Knopf, 2011
Originally published as Snømannen (2007)
Harry Hole book 7
I bought my copy of the book.

After a few detours to the shorter, stand-alone stuff Nesbø has published in the last year or so, I’m finally back to the Harry Hole series for the very strong entry The Snowman. I understand why Nesbo wants to branch out: it’s a bit ridiculous how much danger Hole and his loved ones and colleagues can be exposed to during the course of the series, and it’s got to be draining to plot out something as intricate as The Snowman. Focusing on novellas including new characters has to be refreshing.

But back to the book at hand: it’s a very thrilling thriller, though I’m not enamored of serial killers generally. I was surprised almost the whole way through– I could predict maybe two twists, but that’s pretty good. I think I liked this installment in the series because Hole wasn’t on so completely a downward spiral and because there was some unexpectedly humane treatment by the police department, which is not something I expect in this series where police corruption has been a common theme. The theme of fatherhood and father figures was also a nice break from the more action-packed parts of the novel as well.

I like this series the great deal, and I think it’s impossible for me to pick a favorite. Part of it is because I tend to read them in quick gulps so even if parts of a book are not my favorite storyline, I read through it so quickly that the parts I like stick in my mind more.

 

Woman with Birthmark by Håkan Nesser

woman with birthmarkWoman with Birthmark by Håkan Nesser, translated by Laurie Thompson

Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 2009

Originally published as Kvinna med födelsemärke, 1996

It’s been over two years since I’ve read Nesser, and getting back to the Van Veeteren series was a delight. I know it sounds a bit off to call a book with multiple murders a delight, but I’ll try to explain. Parts of the story felt very familiar: first there’s an unhappy, lonely detective in an imaginary Scandinavian city, a team of police working a seemingly  impossible set of cases, and a strong social conscience, but the story gelled for me and is one of my favorite reads of the year.

Van Veeteren and his team investigate a series of murders of men killed the same way (shot in the chest and the groin), and the first half of the book is the search to find the link between the victims. The second half of the book is the chase, and it’s a truly sad ending for the victims and the perpetrator. I’m usually not fond of books with sections in the mind of the killer, but I didn’t mind it in this story. Nesser has such sympathy for the killer and the killer’s life that led her to her crimes: it was a very well-done story.

There’s a bit of an odd passage in the book that sounds a bit like the fact that I feel a bit ambivalent about enjoying this book about horrible crimes: Beck at one point muses that he could have been a criminal because he enjoys hunting the killer as much as the killer must enjoy hunting his/her prey. As he gets closer to catching the killer, he is usually horrified by their motives and wonders what kind of society he lives in that breeds such criminals.  While I liked the book for the chasing-down-the-murderer plot, I was also impressed with how sympathetic Nesser made the killer. It was a tragic story.

I bought my copy of the book, and I have the next three books on my shelves. I’m very much looking forward to them.

 

 

The Ravens by Vidar Sundstøl

ravensThe Ravens by Vidar Sundstøl, translated by Tiina Nunnally

University of Minnesota Press, April 2015

Book 3 of Minnesota Trilogy

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

The Minnesota Trilogy is a bit different than what I expected. Sundstøl is a Norwegian author who lived on the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota for some time, and when he returned to Norway he wrote this trilogy of books focusing on US Forest Service policeman Lance Hansen who discovers the dead body of a Norwegian tourist and kayaker at Baraga’s Cross. The books cover Hansen’s unofficial investigation: unofficial both because he was a witness, because the US Forest Service does not have jurisdiction over the murder inquiry, and finally, because he goes off-grid after the second book because he suspects his brother is the murderer.

It’s also an unexpected trilogy for me because the books delve so heavily into Lance’s obsession with local history, both Norwegian immigrants and Ojibwe ancestors: it’s a crime story that’s very much about the small communities that Hansen inhabits and visits and their history.

After a very brief and thriller-esque installment in book 2, The Ravens feels more like a sort of police procedural or amateur investigator story (because Lance’s investigation was informal and not sanctioned by the police). The plot wasn’t nearly as twisty as I’m used to reading, and in that sense the solving of the mystery was a bit of a let-down for me. It’s still a devastating outcome in many ways, but the narrative arc of this book wasn’t as fast-paced as I like.

It’s a trilogy I’m glad I read both because of the setting–it’s always refreshing to read a good book that doesn’t take place on the East or West coasts– and because it’s quite different from other crime novels in terms of pacing and focus. While it’s quite slow and meditative in parts, it’s also a thriller in the second book.

I’ve reviewed the entire trilogy:

 

Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin

echoes deadEchoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin, translated by Marlaine Delargy

Öland Quartet book 1

Delta, 2008

Originally published as Skumtimmen, 2007

It’s quite early in the year, but it’s obvious to me that Echoes from the Dead is going to be one of my favorites reads of the year. It’s an enchanting story, it has very vivid characters, and it weaves the past storyline with the present extremely well.

The book begins with the unsolved disappearance of five-year-old Jens Davidsson years before: he escaped from his grandparents’ back garden and encountered an old man calling himself Nils Kant. Nils Kant’s story, beginning with his childhood and his crimes, takes up the other half of the book. Jens’s depressed mother Julia returns to  Öland, the vacationer’s island in the Baltic Sea, when her father Gerlof says there have been developments in the case. The story alternates between the present day missing persons investigation- unofficially carried out by Gerlof and his daughter Julia–and the story of Nils Kant, whose story remains mysterious as well. It takes quite a bit of skill to have two story lines keeping me guessing.

Theorin is so good at capturing the slightly fantastical story, reflecting Gerlof’s love of scary stories told at twilight since he was a boy. The tone works so well and Theorin earned so much goodwill in my eyes that one little bit of action at the end of the book didn’t bother me if it had been in another story. Julia, Gerlof, and even Nils Kant are nuanced characters who I cared about immensely, and that doesn’t happen regularly.

Highly recommended.

Other glowing reviews appear in Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog, EuroCrime  Reviewing the Evidence, and Reactions to Reading.

I bought my copy of the book.

The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel

forgotten girlsThe Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel, translated by Signe Rod Golly

Grand Central Publishing, February 2015

Originally published as De glemte piger, 2011

Book 7 in Louise Rick/Camilla Lind series

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

The Louise Rick and Camilla Lind series pairs a police detective with her friend a freelance journalist, and this particular investigation centers around the death of a woman who supposedly died years before while in the care of a home for mentally challenged children. Both Rick, who recently joined a new division of the police to solve old cases, and Lind, her friend the freelance journalist, interview people surrounding the crime, which broadens to an investigation of a number of unsolved disappearances, assaults, and more.

This is an action-packed book, and the writing was fairly decent. My only hesitation in recommending it is that it’s difficult to jump into the series at this late point. I felt a bit removed from the main character of Louise Rick because she has quite a rough backstory that obviously has affected her deeply. I’m not sure that any part of her past was normal, and that makes her seem a bit unbelievable to me. Believability at the end was also a concern for me.

It’s a book with a horrifying story based in reality (the mistreatment of mentally challenged individuals in institutional settings), and in that ways it reminds me of several other Danish books I’ve read in the last year. This is a good read, but it’s not the best entry to the series.

 

Bäckström: He Who Kills the Dragon

he who kills the dragonBäckström: He Who Kills the Dragon by Leif G.W. Persson, translated by Neil Smith

Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, January 2015

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

 

Bäckström is a despicable, crooked cop who is racist, sexist, homophobic, and more. While the story begins and centers him, there are definitely moments of relief from his mindset. He begins the story after being transferred to a new police district and being given sobering news by the police doctor: he’s in danger of dying soon from his excessive drinking and eating. The chastened Bäckström investigates what appears to be a straightforward murder of a drunken retired accountant, but soon the investigation uncovers that things are not what they seem.

I appreciated the focus on the investigation and on the many layers of hierarchy in various Swedish police forces: too much focus on the evil killer gets old for me. What also stood out was the circling back in time to see crucial events in the storyline from different characters’ perspectives. There’s also plenty of black humor in the story: Bäckström himself is quite ridiculous, and the jokes about corruption and police bureaucracy are quite pointed.

Only the Story of a Crime trilogy and this book have been published in the US, and I’ve read just one previous Persson book, Free Falling, As in a Dream, so I’m not the foremost expert. This edition coincides with the television show, but what from what I’ve read, the show differs quite a bit from the books: Bäckström is not entirely unredeemable, and the plots are not just adaptations of the books. I think I’ll stick with the pricklier books. While I’m fairly new to the series, the characters keep appearing in Persson’s books, which take a very methodical approach/ procedural approach to solving the murder that begins the book. The procedure slows down the book a bit, but all in all it’s a quick read.

Highly recommended.

Other reviews appear in Crimepieces, Col’s Criminal Library, and Crime Scraps.

 

 

The Fifth Woman by Henning Mankell

fifth womanThe Fifth Woman by Henning Mankell, translated by Steven T. Murray

Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, April 2004

Originally published as Den Femte Kvinnan , 1996

I bought my copy of the book.

I’ve put off reading The Fifth Woman for some time because I watched the tv adaptation (Kenneth Branagh) a few years ago: I wanted to wait until I forgot enough of the plot to make the reading of the book suspenseful. Needless to say, I enjoyed the book more than the film, and the book had a subplot or two that I don’t remember in the film, which added extra depth.

Wallander investigates a batch of seemingly unrelated, horribly violent murders in the fall when his father dies, and the crimes and his grief affect him deeply. The investigation is quite long and involved because the police do not have any viable theories of the case for a number of weeks, and that makes for a bit of a slow read in the middle of the story. The conclusion is very brisk, and I’m most impressed with the epilogue which basically involves Wallander reflecting on the crime and himself, which felt like a necessary part of the story because he felt so on edge during the investigation.

This series is one of my favorites, but I’ve decided to write just a few thoughts about it because it’s one I’ve blogged about before.

 

Irène by Pierre Lemaitre

ireneIrène by Pierre Lemaitre, translated by Frank Wynne

MacLehose Press, December 2014

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher

Book 1: Commandant Verhoeven

I read Irène without knowing much about it. I’ve had the second book in the trilogy but first to be translated book, Alex, in my TBR folder on my Kindle for ages, I know Lemaitre’s books tend to be quite violent, but other than that I went into the book blind. But while I went into the book blind, I unavoidably have to talk about what to expect.

Irène involves the short Commandant Verhoeven with a very pregnant wife, Irène, leading the investigation into a series of killings inspired by crime novels. The murders are quite brutal, and I admit that I skimmed some gruesome sections in order to get on with the story. I admit that I missed some of the resonances because I’ve only read one of the books that inspired one of the murders, but that particular section was a very good homage to the original.

The rest of the story focuses on the dynamics within Camille’s team, and they are an interesting bunch. I’m also particularly interested in their police interrogation techniques because I recently read an old New Yorker article about the Reid interrogation technique in the United States and how it may contribute to false confessions. Seeing a different approach in fiction in France was a good antidote to that approach.

The book feels very indebted to other crime novels, and not in a disturbing way like the serial killer’s homage to those fictional murder scenes. But there is a major twist in the story that explains why the violence is so incredibly brutal in the majority of the book, and for that I’m inclined to give Lemaitre a pass for the horrible murders. I’m a bit reluctant to do so  despite the twist and despite the explanation. See also Herman Koch’s Summer House with Swimming Pool. It’s hard to get involved with a story that seems to be so much about proving a point about violence (or misogyny in Koch’s case) because I’m still reading a very violent or misogynistic book. I’m still unsettled by the book.

What Never Happens by Anne Holt

what never happensWhat Never Happens by Anne Holt, translated by Kari Dickson
Grand Central Publishing, 2008
Originally published as Det som aldri skjer, 2004, also published as The Final Murder
I borrowed this book from the library
Vik and Stubo book 2

I’m a huge Anne Holt fan, even though I started with a book far into the Hanne Willhelmsen series, 1222. This series runs concurrently with the Willhelmsen series, just outside Oslo, with detective Adam Stubo and his now-wife Johanne Vik, a profiler who just gave birth to their first child. Adam leads the investigation into a series of murders of public figures: a tv talk show host, a politician, and an upcoming television news figure. Vik, on maternity leave, consults unofficially on the case.

First for the positives: Vik and Stubo’s homelife with a newborn is spot on: the exhaustion, the hormones, the craziness induced by the sleeplessness. Also, Holt humanizes almost all of her characters and has much to say about how police investigations, even if you’re not charged, turn your life upside down for no good reason.

But ultimately, the ending felt a little unsatisfying because the murderer seemed too unrealistic. This may be my serial-killer-storyline fatigue talking, or the murderer seemed especially unrealistic because the other elements of the story felt more so. I loved the first two thirds of the book but not the final third.

Other reviews appear in DJ’s Krimiblog, EuroCrime, Crimepieces, and Mysteries and Paradise.

The Snow Woman

snow womanThe Snow Woman by Leena Lehtolainen, translated by Owen Witesman

Amazon Crossing, December 2014

Originally published as Luminainen, 1996

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher

I’m new to this series, which was recently translated nearly 20 years after it was published. Maria Kallio is a detective in Espoo, outside Helsinki, and her career background is both as a lawyer and a policewoman.

The case involves the mysterious death of Elina Rosberg, a feminist psychologist who is found frozen near the grounds of her home and workplace, the Rosberga Institute, where she conducts therapy and runs workshops for women only. The novel follows the stories of the women who are staying there over the holidays, including a woman escaping a religious sect and wanting custody of her nine children. Kallio also investigates other crimes along the way (an assault, an arson, etc), and the main police department storyline involves the release of a dangerous prisoner who is searching for Maria and her partner Pihlo.

Overall the book was only a fine read form me, for a number of reasons. I think the feminist ass-kicking heroine was a bit more novel in 1996 than she is today. And the two main storylines didn’t feel connected enough for me. The characters Kallio encountered in her investigation had the makings of good plotlines (the woman escaping the religious sect, an astropsychologist whose job is just as odd as it sounds), but overall the novel didn’t work for me.