translated

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 Defenceless – Kati Hiekkapelto

810AJmUp3cL._SL1500_Title – The Defenceless

Author – Kati Hiekkapelto (translated by David Hackston)

Published – 2014 (2015 in translation)

Genre – Crime fiction

This is the second book in translation from Finnish author Kati Hiekkapelto in her crime fiction series featuring Senior Constable Anna Fekete.

If you take the definition that Nordic Noir “typically features dark storylines and bleak urban settings” and also “incorporate larger social issues into the narrative of police work” then The Defenceless is a perfect example. Through the investigation of a number of deaths which seemingly have no connection Hiekkapelto explores the issues of immigration and isolation, the treatment of the elderly, drugs, gangs, smuggling…

The police investigation initially concerns the death of an unidentified elderly man who has been run over on a deserted road by a Hungarian au pair. With no obvious evidence to suggest how he found his way to the site the investigation is making slow progress. Then elsewhere a bloody knife is discovered in the snow. At the same time there is concern that a new gang of criminals is trying to expand into the city and it’s Fekete’s colleague Esko who takes the lead on this, using an informant to try to track them down. But as all the investigations progress they become linked to a single apartment block.

The immigration issue is obviously a particularly topical one at the moment and it’s interesting that the book features both those who are obviously immigrants (a young man from Pakistan) as well as those who don’t outwardly appear to be different (Fekete herself is originally from Hungary, a survivor of the Serbo-Croatian war, she immigrated to Finland with her mother and brother when she was a child). This gives the author the opportunity to explore the issues around immigration from multiple points of view – from the young man who is battling against a drug addition and trying to claim asylum, to a young woman trying to blend in with her Finnish colleagues whilst struggling with the distance she is putting between herself and her family. The other side of the issue is explored through Fekete’s colleague Esko, close to retirement he is overtly racist (as well as being a drunk, a bully and sexist to boot) although he does have some moments where redemption seems possible.

I must also mention the translation, which is absolutely seamless, there wasn’t a moment when the writing reminded me that I was reading something which wasn’t originally written in English.

The Defenceless certainly has the melancholic feel that you would expect from Nordic crime fiction and while the plot seemed as if it was going to unfold simply, as Fekete and her colleagues brought the different threads together, it managed to hold more surprises.

Thank you to the publisher of the review copy. You can see another point of view on Vicky Newman’s blog.

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Two short reviews – September 2015

In an(other) effort to make a dent in the (ever-increasing) pile of books I’ve read but not yet reviewed below are two short reviews for The Domino Killer by Neil White and The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indriðason.

91O4gmwxFPL._SL1500_Title – The Domino Killer

Author – Neil White

Published – July 2015

Genre – Crime fiction

A lawyer by profession Neil White has managed to find the time to write nine crime fiction novels and The Domino Killer is the third in his “Parker Brothers Trilogy”. The brothers are Sam (a detective constable) and Joe (a criminal defence lawyer) and the setting is Manchester.

The story is told from several points of view – that of Sam and Joe – as well as a mysterious killer. The story opens with the discovery of a man who has beaten to death in a local park and his murder becomes swiftly linked to another recent, and still unsolved, attack. At the same time Joe comes face-to-face with a man that he believes is linked to a tragedy in the brothers’ past.

The two threads progress with Sam involved in the police investigation and Joe undertaking some investigative work of his own. At the heart of the story is a deceit that Joe has been hiding since his teenage years and when he is forced to confess there is fallout that affects the relationship with his brother as well as his closest colleague.

While I enjoyed the story of the brothers which ends with some gripping action scenes I have to confess to having skipped a few passages (shock!!) but I’m not sure that it really needed more than 400 pages to tell the story. I was also at a disadvantage, and a victim of circumstance, in not having read the preceding titles in the series. I am curious if any mention is made in the earlier books about the brothers’ sister – perhaps it was a teaser that paid off in the final book – something people following the series would appreciate more than perhaps I did.

 

515tqOJGpWLTitle – The Draining Lake

Author – Arnaldur Indriðason (translated by Bernard Scudder)

Published – 2004 (2007 in translation)

Genre – Crime fiction

I stared reading this book before going to the inaugural Iceland Noir in 2013 and I finished it last month – so just shy of two years. Which I think will tell you something abut my feelings about this book and I realise that anything I say here will risk the friendship of the scandi/nordic crime fiction fans – but this was so dull!

The water levels in a lake in Iceland have dropped, exposing a skeleton alongside an old Russian radio transmitter. The mystery of the remains is investigated by Detective Erlendur and in the course of the investigation he meets a woman whose husband vanished in the 1960s. Erlendur’s obsession with those who are missing fuels his desire to find the man and he tracks down the car he was driving at the time of the disappearance and this leads him on a search for a missing hubcap.

Peppering the book is a second thread providing the backstory about a group of Icelandic students who went to study in Leipzig during in the 1950s.  The relevance of the narrator of these sections is kept hidden but it is clear that he became disenchanted with communism during the time in East Germany.

The story is a mystery and as Indriðason is committed to keeping a low body count in his books this means that it is more credible than many that feature serial killers, but it perhaps also explains a lack of pace. For me, however, the sense of loss that pervades the book, Erlendur’s dour demeanour and the grim experience of those in Leipzig made this an unrelentingly gloomy read.

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Snowblind – Ragnar Jónasson

9781910633038-275x423Title – Snowblind

Author – Ragnar Jónasson (translated by Quentin Bates)

Published – 2011 (2015 in translation)

Genre – Crime fiction

Score – 4/5

It’s an odd situation that Ragnar Jónasson has been a familiar face on the crime fiction circuit for some years, but this is the first opportunity for those of us who only read English to judge his ‘Iceland Noir’ credentials and he is not found wanting.

Ari Thór Arason is a recently qualified policeman living in Reykjavik with his medical student girlfriend. When an opportunity for his first posting comes up it’s in Siglufjörður, a small, isolated fishing town right the way up in the north of Iceland. Although his girlfriend is unenthusiastic about the situation he accepts the position and quickly moves, alone, to this close knit community. The setting for the book is incredibly important; the location is particularly isolated, not only is it physically remote but during the winter it is in perpetual darkness and the inclement weather only adds to the difficulties of going to, or escaping from, the town. It’s a small community where people don’t lock their doors and nothing ever happens – but of course if that were the case we wouldn’t need our intrepid detective!

Although Ari Thor is the main character, the story is told from multiple points of view and I found it a little difficult to get a handle on who each character was and what their relevance was to the story – but it all became clear in the end. The story is a ‘small-town’ one, initially involving the seemingly accidental death of a prominent member of the community who is involved in the local dramatic society, something which Ari Thor’s boss believes only requires a perfunctory investigation. Jónasson uses the choice of setting to his advantage, making the most of the conditions as a way of limiting the pool of suspects and adding an extra layer of tension. It’s actually quite surprising how many of the community are outsiders – people hiding from something, whilst those born there are perhaps more prone to seek an escape to the south. It’s perhaps Ari Thor’s position as an outsider that lets him question his boss and pursue the case.

The small town nature of the setting means that the investigation focuses on long hidden secrets, illicit affairs and long held grudges. Jónasson’s writing hones in on the minutiae of the characters’ lives and memories, but pay attention because hidden in all of this detail are clues crucial to the resolution of a number of different threads within the story.

It’s impossible to review this book and not make a reference to Agatha Christie. The reason is that Jónasson is renowned for being a huge fan, having translated fourteen titles into Icelandic. I wouldn’t say that this has obviously influenced his writing style, but the setting is perhaps an Icelandic St Mary Mead where people know, or think they know, each other’s business. The clever plotting, attention to detail and red herrings are certainly in the Christie style.

Snowblind is the first in Jónasson’s ‘Dark Iceland’ series and there are currently 4 more books to be translated. It’s interesting that the translation is by Quentin Bates, a successful author in his own right who sets his own books in Iceland, although writing them in English. A book can be spoilt by a poor translation, something you only notice when a phrase jars and you’re reminded that the work was originally written in another language. Fortunately, as you would expect, there is no such issue here.

Thank you to the publisher of the review copy. You can see another point of view on My Little Pile of Rocks.

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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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Season of the Witch – Árni Þórarinsson

season of the witchTitle – Season of the Witch

Author – Árni Þórarinsson  (translated by Anna Yates)

Published – 2005 (2012 in translation)

Genre – Crime fiction

We met Arni Thorarinsson when we attended Iceland Noir in 2013 and I’ve managed to get to his book before we head back again later this month. He is an experienced Icelandic journalist and has published a number of screenplays and crime novels – this novel was nominated for the Icelandic Literature Prize and I believe it’s the only one currently available in English.

The story is told in the first person by Einar, a journalist (specifically a crime reporter) who has recently been transferred from Reykjavik to the small town of Akureyi.  His transfer is the result of a change in management at the newspaper and due to some personal issues he seems to have had with alcohol. In fact this novel is the fourth in the series featuring Einar so Icelandic readers probably have a better idea of the background than those of us reading only this title. Einar is pretty disgruntled at the move, not only is he missing the more exciting buzz of the capital city, he’s also missing his daughter who has stayed behind and this is compounded by the fact that he doesn’t get on with the only other permanent employee at the Akureyi office.

As the lone reporter Einar is required to cover all sorts of stories and these include the death of a woman on a rafting trip, a local school production of an Icelandic folktale and a missing dog. However, he can’t put his investigative skills behind him and he soon becomes involved in a police investigation when the leading actor from the play disappears. Assisted by Jóa, the photographer temporarily assigned to the paper, he pursues the stories to the bitter end.

The book offers much of what you would expect from Nordic fiction. There’s a thread that deals with local politics and the subject of immigration, one that I think most people will recognise wherever they live. There’s a sprinkling of folklore as well as more contemporary issues like drugs.  Thorarinsson gives you a feel for the country and its people without spending a lot of time on long descriptive passages. It has a steady pace and a likeable lead character, a few twists and turns and the odd humorous moment to lighten the mood.

I try not to look at other reviews of books before I write mine, but when I updated Goodreads I couldn’t help but notice that it has a fairly low rating and I really can’t see why. Personally I hope more titles are translated.

You can see another review on the Petrona blog.

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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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I Remember You – Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Title – I Remember You

Author – Yrsa Sigurdardottir (translated by Philip Roughton)

Published – 2012

Genre – Horror

It’s hard to believe that this is the first part of my Icelandic reading where the author is actually Icelandic. A featured author at Iceland Noir, Yrsa Sigurdardottir is better known for crime fiction than horror or ghost stories. In fact I hadn’t heard of this book until I saw Yrsa on a panel about writers who wrote books in more than one genre at Crimefest in May. Having enjoyed the books in her Thora Gudmundsdottir series I was curious to read something more scary and with our trip to Iceland just days away it was the perfect time to pick this up.

There are several different plotlines in the story. The main one features three friends who are embarking on a project to renovate a house in an isolated (and seemingly deserted) village in the Westfjords of Iceland. The location is so remote that they have to be ferried to the village by boat leaving them no means of leaving until the boat returns. They’re not really cut out for either the harsh conditions or the task of renovating the building, but their efforts are soon cut short when mysterious things start to happen.

The other main thread is more akin to crime fiction and centres around a psychiatrist, Freyr,  who is based on the mainland across the fjord. He consults for the local police and becomes involved in their investigation into a break-in at a local school, as well as the apparent suicide of an elderly woman. Freyr himself has suffered a tragedy in the past and a chance event means that, with the help of a female police officer, he starts his own investigation.

I did find the book slow to get going. The chapters switch between the different plotlines and perhaps this meant that I wasn’t quickly gripped by either. As this was also the first translated work I’d read in a while the English felt a little stilted, which didn’t help to engage me. But perseverance (and it didn’t take a great deal of effort) paid off.

The characters could be a bit irritating and a little on the dim side (if a small boy said to me “Don’t go to the bad place. You won’t come back.” I would be tempted to take notice). But Freyr and Katrin (one of the women renovating the house) are both sympathetic and strong characters, prepared to face their demons.

I can say for certain that Sigurdardottir knows how to crank up the tension! Most chapters end on something of a cliff-hanger and there were some incredibly tense scenes that I really wouldn’t have wanted to read when I was on my own. There is very little graphic horror but much more the fear of what you can’t see – what’s around the corner or behind the door. The story fits in well with the supernatural elements that often appear in Scandi and Nordic fiction and in an environment so harsh and with such long hours of darkness you can see why the supernatural plays a large part in their traditional and contemporary stories.

A chilling ghost story with real tension and a resolution that is very cleverly written. You can see another review at Crimepieces.

Score – 4/5

Blood Sisters – Alessandro Perissinotto

Title – Blood Sisters

Author – Alessandro Perissinotto (translated by Howard Curtis)

Published – 2011 (UK)

Genre – Crime fiction

This is the English translation of a title originally published in 2006. Thanks to @hersilia_press for the review copy.

The book is narrated by Anna Pavesi, she’s in her late thirties, recently single and living in an apartment she shares with her cat.  The book opens to a gripping scene as in the middle of the night Anna is struggling to dig through the ground on the outskirts of an industrial park to uncover a dead body. From there it shifts from the present tense to the past as she recalls the circumstances that brought about her current situation. There are further snippets from the present peppered through the book, reminding you of the (almost) ultimate outcome of the story.

Anna is a psychologist by profession but suffering some recent financial difficulties she agrees to help investigate the mysterious disappearance of the body of a young woman who died in a road accident. The incident happened in a small town on the outskirts of Milan, which Anna finds is a seedy area that seems to be perpetually shrouded in fog and has a good number of prostitutes plying their trade at the roadside.

Surprisingly for Italian crme fiction this lacks a high body count or even much in the way of violence of any sort. The story is slow to develop and the fog of the plain outside Milan seems to be echoed in the sordid goings on that Anna uncovers.

The brighter part of the story is Anna’s home in Bergamo and the flavour of this is more traditionally Italian. Anna herself seems to be dealing with her situation with a fair amount of equanimity but to the reader her single suppers shared with her cat and her various sexual exploits make her seem quite a sad character. Nevertheless she has a lot of determination and sticks with her investigation both when her employer seems to loose interest and when it appears that the outcome may have serious personal consequences.

You can read another review over at Crime Scraps Review.

Score – 3/5

The Summer of Dead Toys – Antonio Hill

Title – The Summer of Dead Toys

Author – Antonio Hill (translated Laura McGloughlin)

Published – 2012

Genre – Crime fiction

I heard quite a lot about this book when it was first published last year and had been watching out for a copy in my local bookshops. When I saw that this had been by read Mrs P of Mrs Peabody Investigates and mentioned my lack of a copy she very kindly sent me hers :-).

The story is a police procedural set in a very hot Barcelona. Inspector Hector Salgado is the main character and, like DI Damen Brook in The Unquiet Grave, Salgado is returning to work following a suspension – in his case for beating up a suspect in a human trafficking case. Instead of being assigned a case on his return he is asked to “unofficially” investigate the death of a young man who has fallen from a window in his home on the night of San Juan.

The “investigation” involves three wealthy families and there are many layers of intrigue and deceit that Salgado must unravel to try to achieve a resolution for the boy’s mother. As the investigation takes ever more serious turns it becomes more official and delves into the past both for the families involved and Salgado’s own boss.

There are multiple other threads too – the case involving the suspect that Salgado attacked has repercussions, Salgado has his own personal issues with his family, and his new young partner has some developments of her own to deal with. This highlights one of the strengths of Hill’s writing and that is the characterisation – all the characters, from the main protagonists through to the most minor appearances, were all well-defined and believable, and Salgado himself is a sympathetic and engaging lead.

For me the book missed a trick in not making more of Barcelona as the setting. I have only visited once, very briefly, but other than the names of streets the author didn’t really bring the city to life for me. Personally I find one of the joys of reading fiction set overseas is the chance to get a glimpse of other places and cultures, but this didn’t quite deliver.  I also thought (and I will say this quietly) that in some places the language felt a bit stilted and reminded me that it was a translation.

The book finishes on a real cliffhanger – so I will have to hope that I manage to find The Good Suicides in a bookshop…

You can see another review of this book at Crime Scraps Review.

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