Sweden

Faceless Killers – Henning Mankell

Title – Faceless Killers

Author – Hennng Mankell (translated by Steven T Murray)

Published – 1991 (translated 1997)

Genre – Crime fiction

I’ve felt for some time that I had a gap in my reading by never having picked up a Mankell, so I put this to rights with a pack of three books. This is the first Wallander and I knew nothing about the stories or setting, but that didn’t stop me picturing Kenneth Branagh, rightly or wrongly, in the role.

The story starts with a particularly gruesome murder of an elderly couple at an isolated farmhouse, the opening scene with the discovery of the murders is particularly tense.  The police have no leads, but a suggestion that a foreigner may have been implicated in the deaths leads to occupants of a nearby refugee camp coming under attack. This distracts the team and their resources from investigating the death of the farmer and his wife.

The murdered farmer had a secret and once this has been uncovered Wallander believes this will give them the break they need, but despite providing the team with somewhere to start, progress is slow.

I found it disappointing that Wallander made such little progress on the murders during the main part of the book. My personal preference is for a crime book where you can figure out the answers yourself and I’m not sure that was the case here.

Wallander must be one of the clumsiest and most accident prone detectives I’ve ever come across on fiction. I don’t believe there’s a single action sequence where he doesn’t end up battered or bruised. He also fits all the stereotypes – separated from his wife & estranged from his daughter, he’s dishevelled, he works too hard and drinks too much. He’s also not a very good team player and manages some clumsy advances towards a female colleague. Any stereotypes I’ve missed?

I didn’t find this a particularly enjoyable read, but I will persevere with Mankel – if for no other reason than I already have the next two books! You can see a different point of view on the Eurocrime site.

Score – 3/5

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Silenced – Kristina Ohlsson

Title – Silenced

Author – Kristina Ohlsson (translated by Sarah Death)

Published – 2012

Genre – Crime fiction

I received this copy of Silenced – the second crime fiction title by Kristina Ohlsson, from www.thedarkpages.co.uk at a time when I’m feeling a little ambivalent about Scandi crime fiction.

The story surrounds the mysterious deaths of Jakob Ahlbin, a supporter of illegal immigrants, and his wife, that are assumed at first to be a murder/suicide. Investigators soon discover that one of their two daughters also died just days earlier from a drugs overdose. While this initially suggests a reason for the deaths of the parents, it soon becomes clear to the detectives that there is more to the case than meets the eye. There are other threads to the story which are told in parallel – that of Ali, an illegal immigrant who has just arrived in Sweden and a young woman trapped in Thailand.

Much of the book is more involved with the lives of the team working on the case than the mechanics of the investigations. I felt a bit torn about this – the characters were interesting and engaging and I did want to know more, but it felt as if their domestic lives were getting in the way of the plot, and it certainly slowed the pace. There’s also some reference to events in the past which I assume were from the earlier title of Unwanted, but that didn’t really interfere with the story. I was pleased that things didn’t get too bogged down in the processes of the Swedish Police!

I was unsure about the story to start with – in making things quite mysterious at the beginning I felt I was being left in the dark too much, although towards the middle of the book it became a real page turner. Unfortunately, however, the climax of the book and the revelations all came so thick and fast that I really couldn’t keep track at the end.

It did seem to me that despite the huge number of items that were resolved, there were actually quite a few loose ends and I was missing explanations of how some  of the things were achieved. Even a few days after finishing I catch myself thinking “so how did they do that” or “what was the point of

Sadly, as I haven’t yet seen or read The Killing I can’t comment on the cover which says it’s “for fans of …”!

Score – 3/5

The Quarry – Johan Theorin

Title – The Quarry

Author – Johan Theorin (translated by Marlaine Delargy)

Published – 2011

Genre – Crime fiction / Thriller

When I mentioned on Twitter that I had a copy of this book (courtesy of @LynseyDalladay of Transworld) a number of people told me what a great book it was. I’m afraid this is another example of my opinion jarring with other people’s.

The story is set on the island of Öland, and a small community surrounding a disused quarry. Per Morner has inherited a small cabin on the edge of the quarry and hopes to spend time there with his teenage son and daughter, although his daughter is unwell and is currently in hospital on the mainland.

Eighty-three year old Gerlof Davidsson has moved out of the old people’s home he was living in to return to his family home near the quarry, convinced that he is going home to die. He discovers his late wife’s diaries, dating from the 1950’s,  and despite the feeling that he shouldn’t be reading them, he can’t help himself.

Vendela and Max Larsson have had a brand new summer house built on the edge of the quarry. Max is a self-help guru and is about to write a cookbook. Vendela grew up on the island and is returning for the first time in over 30 years.

Morner has been trying to keep his distance from his father, Jerry, but he receives a call from him which he can’t ignore. When he drives to the mainland to collect his father he discovers him injured in a house which has been set on fire. Morner takes his father back to the island and it becomes clear that part of the problem in their relationship is his father’s involvement in the porn industry.

The fire is just the first disaster to befall Jerry and eventually a death raises serious concerns for the safety of Per and his family. Slow progress by the police means that Per begins to investigate Jerry’s seedy past himself.

There is a second strand to the story following Vendela and her sometimes strained relationship with her husband. Vendela believes in, and relies on, the elves of the island and her conviction in their existence is helped by her odd eating habits. Her story is that of her past, growing up on the island and how she came to leave it.

I found the book really slow to get  going, and it was a struggle to persevere with it. I liked the characters of Per Morner and Gerlof Davidsson, but I found Vendela just plain weird. I guess that she was written as a character who had a troubled past, which left her disturbed, but I just wanted to give her a shake! This isn’t helped by her odd relationship with her husband, who seems to be a pretty unpleasant man.

The mystery is well written and intriguing, and the setting is dark and atmospheric, but the strange characters, trolls and elves outweighed the positives for me.

The blurb on the book (from the Observer) says “If you like Stieg Larsson, try a much better Swedish writer”, but for me this doesn’t deliver.  

Score – 3/5