Book Reviews

As most bloggers have a passion to write,  I have picked the following novels to review, from Scandinavia’s most popular authors, including Jo Nesbo, Camilla Lackberg and  Karin Fossum, and more will be added from time to time.

Click on the title for a link to the page or scroll down for several featured books.

Strange Shores – Arnaldur Indridason

Shadow – Karin Altvegen

The Hypnotist- Lars Kepler

The Darkest Room – Johan Theorin

Anna Marklin’s Family Chronicles – Dorte Hummelshoj Jakobsen

Adventure Inward – Jonathan Wunrow

Karin Fossum – “BROKEN”

This is a story that gives a window into an author’s life and their thinking processes. Reading this book, after having visited the town in which it was set, (Drammen, in Norway), was an added bonus that made the story come alive.

Genre – psychological suspense (Norwegian author)

 A woman wakes one night to find someone in her room. She lies there in terrified silence, unable to move. The woman is an author and the man begs her to tell his story.

Initially, the reader may be a little confused  with this unconventional approach in telling a story, as it is written from the perspective of a writer. At times, the  boundary between the author in the story, and the main character, become a little blurred. The female author imagines the characters, in her future book, to be standing in a queue outside her door, waiting to enter. One man gets sick of waiting and “jumps the queue,” appearing beside the story-teller’s bed one night, begging for her to tell his story. He can’t wait any longer, he tells her:
 “There’s always someone ahead of me — I’m used to that. But I can’t bear it any longer. I’m exhausted. You have to tell my story now — you have to start this morning!”

And so she does. She creates his name, Alvar Eide and begins to tell his story: that of a shy, middle aged social misfit who lives on the fringe of society, seemingly content with his life working in an art gallery. Little does he know that a simple act of kindness will irrevocably change his well-ordered, but predictable, life. A young, thin, drug-addicted girl enters the gallery one day and instead of turfing her out, he offers her a cup of coffee. From then on, he is unwittingly drawn more into her world, while his, spirals out of control. Alvar Eide is a good man, but the vulnerabilities of living a sheltered life lead him to a situation, where he is not only taken advantage of, but also one he cannot control.

“BROKEN” is about vulnerability, control and the perils of good intentions. How much should we become involved in other people’s lives? Is there a personal cost? A suspenseful story rather than a mystery, Broken is a story set in the town of Drammen, Norway and explores issues such as control, emotions and destiny and the role these might have in shaping personality and experience. It is a really enjoyable read and I so liked the window into both the writer’s mind and her thinking processes.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

If you liked this novel, Karin Fossum has a series of other stories, all set in Norway, with Inspector Konrad Sejer as the central character.

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Drammen

Drammen, is a town a little under an hour away from Oslo, the capital. For the tourist, it is worth a visit, not least because of the scenic lookout, called ‘Spiraltoppen’, (see pics attached) accessed by a road tunnel, constructed in 1961,  that spirals six times around inside the mountain itself. Visitors can enjoy the view  at 1650 metres, lunch at a restaurant, or stroll along the many forest walks and winter ski trails. Spiraltoppen also has an open air museum, with well-preserved examples of Norwegian cottages and farm buildings of yesteryear. If you visit in summer, Spiraltoppen comes alive with festivals of folk- dancing, music, traditional painting and craft, and if you are really lucky, you might even spot both moose and deer, enjoying the scenic countryside that you find here.

Here is what you see when you drive to the summit of Spiraltoppen:

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 Camilla Lackberg

Reading crime fiction always gives me something to ponder about and another place in Scandinavia I often ponder about is Fjallbacka, on the Bohuslan coast, where Camilla Lackberg sets her popular crime novels.

Tin Can Bay

Tin Can Bay

Camilla Lackberg is the top-selling Swedish author who has a series of crime fiction mysteries, starring author and mother Erica Falck and her detective husband Patrik Hedstrom.

A Lost Boy – Camilla Lackberg

(Fyrvaktaren) -2009

A man is found dead in his flat, shot through the back of the head, yet there seems to be no one who thinks he is anything but a likeable, responsible guy without any dark secrets. But does he actually have a double life? Who would want to kill him? At the same time, Erica’s former classmate has returned to live on the island off the coast of Fjallbacka, “Ghost isle” an island that has been abandoned for years. Is there a connection between the two?  Does the Ghost Isle hold some dark secrets of it own?

This is the latest book in the series that has been translated to English.  The series is set in idyllic Fjallbacka, on the Bohuslan coast of Sweden, where the author was born.  The characters are now so familiar to me, (having read the books in the order that they were published), that they have become as endearing as an old much loved ‘cardi’. I find myself reproaching Patrik if he fails to investigate a particular clue, and chastising Gosta, and Mellberg, Hedstrom’s bumbling, aged colleagues and their over-inflated sense of self- importance. Whilst some might consider these novels not to be in the top league of crime stories, in terms of twists and turns and plot layers, a level of  suspense and interest in the motives behind crime is maintained throughout every one.

The books often contain wonderfully descriptive passages on the emotions of the characters as well as excellent social commentary on love relationships, especially the position of women in Swedish society, either historically and in contemporary times, as Lackberg often runs two stories simultaneously. I like these stories in that there does not have to be a convoluted plot for one to feel a sense of achievement if/when the identity of the killer is discovered, (that is, if the reader heeds the clues Camilla leaves for us).

The VERDICT

The good: Challenging stereotypes and the position of women. Depictions of the complex nature of relationships

The bad: Incompetent police work

The ugly: Sam

Rating: 7.5 /10

Something to Ponder about.

 The Redeemer – Jo Nesbo

Harry Hole gets under my skin, and I feel ambivalent about him as a cop. There is much to dislike, in Nesbø tough, cool and marginal hero, but still I like him because he is almost as familiar as a dog-eared toothbrush. Just when I am feeling comfortable, the story is at an end and it’s time to start a new one.  And so it is with the Nesbø books.

They are fantastic reads, and one becomes so close to the central character, Harry, that one can predict his every move. Then he surprises us with a twist we did not see coming.

As luck would have it, I have just finished reading not only, ‘ The Snowman’, but also, ‘The Bat’, which was Nesbø’s first novel, although it was published, in English, much later in the Harry Hole series. The Snowman refers to circumstances from The Bat, although I had no way of knowing that it would be so relevant. Harry is convinced a serial killer is operating in Norway, and his expertise from his Australian trip (detailed in The Bat), both assists and arrests progress in identifying the killer/s. (excuse the pun). An alarming number of wives and mothers have gone missing over the years, often occurring when the first snow comes to Norway…..

The house was large and yellow. Too big for a family of three, Harry thought, as they walked up the shingle path. Everything around them dripped and sighed. In the garden stood a snowman with a slight list and poor future prospects.

In an interview, Nesbø said he felt he went a little far in this and the next novel, The Leopard, which I am yet to read, and that he regrets that. He also said that the seemingly indestructible Harry will be killed off/retired in future novels.

There is some interesting commentary about policing in the novel when Katrine Bratt, a new detective from Bergen is assigned to help him on the case. Also interesting is the discussion of whether beautiful people are more preoccupied with beauty than ugly people  being  obsessed with looking good, (even to the point of undertaking cosmetic surgery) –

“I don’t know.” Karine said. “People with high IQs are so fixated on IQ that they have founded their own club, haven’t they? I suppose you focus on what you have. I would guess you’re fairly proud of your investigative talent.” 

” You mean the rat-catching gene? The innate ability to lock up people with mental illnesses, addiction problems, well under average intellect and well above average childhood deprivation?

Later in the book, Aune, Hole confidante and former psychological colleague, make a meaningful commentary about society, and punishment of crime.

 “The more aged I become, the more I tend to the view that evil is evil, mental illness or no. We’re all more or less disposed to evil actions, but our disposition cannot exonerate us. For heaven’s sake, we’re all sick with personality disorders. And it’s our actions which define how sick we are. We’re equal before the law we say, but it’s meaningless as long as no one is equal. During the Black Death, sailors who coughed, were immediately thrown overboard. Of course they were. For justice is a blunt knife, both as a philosophy and a judge.”

This story has the hallmark of Nesbø twists and turns, but the astute reader should be able to determine the culprits, despite the detours Nesbø puts in place. As one questions the various dances, the author makes his characters play, it is becoming easy to see I should listen to those questions more, if I want to solve the crime sooner.  Nesbø is a fantastic author and if you have never before read Scandinavian crime fiction, he is the one to read……

The VERDICT:

The good: Descriptive, intriguing, and there is a snow man in the story!

The bad: Hole’s miscalculations and errors…. he is starting to slip up.

The Ugly: The crimes themselves……

9/10

Timeless crime fiction – Cop Killer: Sjowall and Wahloo

The Cop Killer is one of the ten novels in the Martin Beck series by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo – Swedish crime writers. this is the second book I have read in the series and is a far better read than “The Man on the Balcony,” however, both are timeless stories that are just as relevant today as when they were written in the sixties and seventies.  I do believe it is possible to detect an undercurrent of concern about the erosion of morals in these writings, but the commentary on violence in Swedish society in this story, particularly when it comes to trigger-happy cops, and whether Police should be able to carry loaded weapons is certainly a moot point, even today.

Much is made of abnormally high suicide rates in Sweden in the book, but this seems to date the book, somewhat, as it was a popular myth 50 years ago and is indeed, disputed. Now that former Soviet block and fundamentally Catholic countries do actually report their country’s rates, Sweden ranks 44th in the world, well behind Finland, at 19th place and indeed lower than all other Scandinavian countries, even Greenland, which holds the dubious 1st place!

But I digress slightly here, so back to the story itself. A middle-aged divorced woman disappears in Skåne, in rural southern Sweden, (near Kurt Wallander territory), and the suspicion immediately falls to her neighbour, who is a bit odd, and did time for a sex murder many years before. But is he the real killer?

Gun-ho cops attempt to apprehend a couple of youths nearby and through a series of police bungling and separate events, the murderer appears to be discovered, but not without a terrible toll for all concerned. This spills over to the debate for one officer as to whether police should be able to carry arms. Do English ‘Bobbies’ still walk the beat armed only with trudgeons?

I enjoyed this crime fiction book from the swedish pair and it really surprised me to find it was published way back in 1975. Particularly, I found the descriptions of the southern swedish countryside with the walls of fog, to be rich and detailed.Book - The cop killer

THE VERDICT

The Good: Descriptive settings

The Bad:   Crime is moderately easy to solve. Current retail price way too high.

The Ugly:   Seemingly unrelated threads are a bit too obviously connected to the main storyline.

Rating: Read in 1-2 days. 7 /10

Recommended due its timelessness.

Does the fact that Police carry loaded weapons means they are more likely to

impulse shoot without consideration? Something to ponder about.

Next on the TBReviewed pile: Anne Holt 1222

Something to ponder about.

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2 Responses to Book Reviews

  1. an interesting blog post. Thanks for writing. Sjowahl and Wahloo are favourites of ours…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: No Dead bodies – Just a True Story of Courage and Love | Something to Ponder About

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