norway

The Iron Chariot – Stein Riverton (trans. Lucy Moffatt)

51cw35zyl0lTitle – The Iron Chariot

Author – Stein Riverton (translated by Lucy Moffatt)

Published – 2017 (in English) 1909 (in Norwegian)

Genre – Crime fiction

I was intrigued by the publisher’s description of this book as being one of the greatest Norwegian crime novels of all time. Abandoned Bookshop was publishing, in a modern translation by Lucy Moffatt, what may be the first commercially available English translation of The Iron Chariot. I’m not a fan of everything that’s ‘nordic’ but I thought this should be worth reading.

The quiet idyll of a summer retreat on a Norwegian island is disturbed by the discovery of the dead body of one of the guests. The circumstances make murder seem a possibility and the the local police seem ill-equipped to investigate, so Detective Asbjorn Krag is summoned from the capital of Kristiania to take charge. The story is narrated by one of the guests at the hotel, a young man who is staying there alone. The evening before the discovery of the body he was on a night-time walk and heard a mysterious noise – a rattling and thrumming which a local fisherman told him was the ‘Iron Chariot’, last heard some years previously on the night a local farmer died.

While the opening sees the first oppressive heat of the summer, the author uses the change in weather and landscape and moves a lot of action to the night to create a tense and atmospheric read. The pace is is a little slow but probably what what you would expect from a book of the period.  The investigations of the detective and unusual circumstances give a claustrophobic and disturbing feel as the story reaches its climax. The menace of the ‘Iron Chariot’ adds a potentially supernatural element to the story and the sinister occurrences take their toll on the narrator with an increasing feeling of oppression and sense of dread.

It’s easy to compare Krag with detectives like Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot (or even Columbo!). He’s an odd character who behaves a little strangely and appears to be taking an unconventional approach to solving the mysteries. His success in identifying the ‘Iron Chariot’ however, suggests that in the end he’ll get to the bottom of the murder.

The translation seems to be seamless, there’s never a word or phrase that jars. For a book that’s over a hundred years old it’s surprisingly readable and I’m sure this must owe something to the skills of the translator too! It’s remarkable when you consider the date this was published compared to other more ‘groundbreaking’ crime fiction authors who were writing in English, this really does seem to have been ahead of its time.

Well worth a read. Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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We Shall Inherit the Wind – Gunnar Staalesen

51ePFKhhZXLTitle – We Shall Inherit the Wind

Author – Gunnar Staalesen (translated by Don Bartlett)

Published – 2010 (2015 in translation)

Genre – Crime fiction

I read this title not long after reading The Writing on the Wall which was originally published in 1995 and in English translation in 2004. Here we’ve gone from the twelfth in the Varg Veum series to the eighteenth.

This book is set in 1998, with Veum sitting at the hospital bedside of his girlfriend Karin, recalling the events that have taken place over the previous week and led to her critical situation. The root of the story is Velum’s investigation of a missing wind-farm inspector. He is asked to find the man because he is the husband of Ranveig, an old friend of Karin’s. At the first meeting with Ranveig she is accompanied by a man called Bjorn Brekkhus – former Chief of Police for the area, family friend and coincidentally the man who lead the investigation into the disappearance of the missing man’s first wife some years before. Suspicious eh?

Most of the action centres around a wind-swept island where there are plans afoot to erect a wind farm which is attracting a great deal of interest as the opposing parties meet on the island. The remote location gives some added tension to the plot.

I’m someone who would always choose to read a series in order so the book is already at a disadvantage when there is a gap in the sequence of translations. The second issue which I assume is also due to the order of the translations is that this felt very similar to The Writing on the Wall – a  private investigation where the person approaches Veum before the police. Although a common theme in ‘Scandi’ crime fiction the environmental slant feels a little dated now.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. You can see another point of view on the Crimepieces blog.

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The Writing on the Wall – Gunnar Staalesen

71NZ2toEd0LTitle – The Writing on the Wall

Author – Gunnar Staalesen (translated by Hal Sutcliffe)

Published – 1995 (2004 in translation)

Genre – Crime fiction

Gunnar Staalesen is a Norwegian author of over 20 crime fiction novels, around 15 of which feature his private detective Varg Veum. Staalesen has twice won the Riverton Prize / Rivertonprisen (Golden Revolver) and numerous books have been adapted into a series of successful Norwegian films.

Only a handful of his books have been translated into English so far, and of course those in the Veum series haven’t been translated in order. The Writing on The Wall is eleventh in the series with two earlier titles also in translation.

The book has a sombre opening – the death of Judge (rumoured to have been found in women’s underwear) and the funeral of the husband of Veum’s ex-wife. On returning to his office after the funeral Veum discover’s a potential client waiting for him – the mother of a missing teenage girl. Worryingly Torild has already been missing for some days and although her father (her parents are separated) has mentioned her disappearance to the police, no-one seems to be looking for her. Veum doesn’t have high hopes and his pessimistic view is proved correct when her body is discovered some distance from the town. Although no longer employed by the parents his interest is piqued when he takes Torild’s mother to view the spot and he realises that something doesn’t add up.

His investigation, both before and after the discovery of Torild’s body, introduces him to a world that she and her friends have been careful to keep secret from their unsuspecting parents. There is a flourishing prostitution industry in Bergen and the young, and under-age, girls are being recruited by unscrupulous criminals.

There are other threads to the story – the death of the judge, a macabre death threat to Veum – and a few red herrings on the way to the resolution. In the traditions of hard-boiled detectives like Marlowe or Spade the writing certainly evokes the atmosphere of the traditional American PIs. Although set in Norway this isn’t the sort of book where the author waxes lyrical about the location, the prose isn’t particularly descriptive – certainly not a book where the setting is important, the heart of the story is the issue and the plight of the girls. It feels quite similar, though, to the slightly less dark Season of the Witch by Árni Þórarinsson.

I came to this book with expectations that as it had been written 20 years ago it might feel dated but despite the fact that time and more importantly technology, have moved on this wasn’t the case.

I really liked the writing and for the most part it didn’t feel like a translation (always a plus for me). One quite quirky aspect is the dialogue. While it is the case the in real life people talk in half-finished sentences the dialogue is rammed full of ellipses as people break off mid sentence or pause when speaking. Just odd…

I hear that Orenda books will be publishing more English translations – I’m looking forward to them.

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Dregs – Jørn Lier Horst

dregsTitle – Dregs

Author – Jørn Lier Horst (translated by Anne Bruce)

Published – 2010 (2011 in translation)

Genre – Crime fiction

Jørn Lier Horst is a Norwegian writer of crime fiction and relatively unusual in being a serving police officer at the time his first books were published. I came across him last year when Sarah of Crimepieces was extolling the virtues of his latest title and then I met him when he took part in the first Iceland Noir event. It wasn’t long before I treated myself to the first translated work (although this is the sixth in the William Wisting series).

In the course of a single week four feet are washed up on the shore. Not two pairs of feet, but four feet from separate individuals, complete with shoes. The police, led by Wisting, are puzzled about the origin of the feet and as well as trying to identify the ‘owners’ they also set about trying to discover the location of the corpses they were attached to.

At the same time as the investigation is taking place Wisting’s journalist daughter, Line, comes home to visit. Perhaps influenced by her father’s occupation, she is working on an article for a weekend magazine looking at the effect of severe punishment and lengthy spells in prison on offenders. This leads her to interview some ex-prisoners from the local area who are convicted murderers, and the story of one in particular piques her curiosity.

The police investigation gathers some pace as a group of elderly missing people are linked to the feet, but the possible motive and location of the bodies remain a mystery. The police work is dealt with believably (as you would expect) with a steady pace which allows the reader to try to put together the clues. Wisting isn’t your clichéd troubled detective, although there seem to have been some dark episodes in his past, but he is quite an introspective character. During the course of the book reference is made to some background issues, especially regarding relationships, which must have been covered in previous titles, and it might have been nice to know a little more but this is one of the disadvantages of publishers translating from the middle of a series.

My one real issue with the book, and what spoilt it for me, was the translation. Translated fiction often feels different when you’re reading it, even if the translator is a native English speaker there is still something about the use of language and flow that sets it apart, but I found phrases like ‘many more stones to unturn’ distracting.

This is an excellent example of Nordic crime fiction, well-plotted and with an enigmatic lead character.  Take a look at Sarah’s blog to see what she thought of this book at Crimepeices. You also have the chance to meet Jørn in Bristol next week – http://www.crimefest.com/programme.html

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