Invisible Murder – Book Review

Vejen, Denmark

With the topic of refugees and terrorism very much in the news, this novel by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis, is written for our time and makes for illuminating reading.

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Two impoverished Roma boys are scavenging for something to sell in the ruins of an abandoned Soviet military hospital. Purportedly to improve the lives of themselves and their poverty-stricken families in a rural village of Hungary, one of the boys embarks on a radical plan. Far away in middle class Denmark, Red cross nurse, Nina Borg inadvertently risks her own life and those of her family, to assist a group of Hungarian refugees but little does she know her actions will have disastrous ramifications.

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Source: Economist.com
“Jobbik. It had to be Jobbik, taking to the streets to protest the Jews, Communists and Romas from ‘ruining out nation.’ Lusja straightened herself up pursing her lips as though she had found something disgusting on her shoe. ‘God spare us from any more racist, goose stepping idiots.’ The driver turned in his seat. ‘Jobbik aren’t racists,’ he said. ‘They’re just for Hungary.’ Lusja straightened up in her seat and stared daggers at the driver, 128 pounds of indignant humanism versus 260 pounds of overweight-but-muscular nationalism. ‘And what kind of Hungary would that be?’ she asked. ‘A Hungary clinically scrubbed of all diversity? A Hungary where you can be arrested just because you skin is a different colour? A Hungary where it’s totally okay for Romas to have a life expectancy that’s fifteen years shorter than the rest of the population?’
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Source: Hungarianfreepress.com

A novel that is carefully crafted and well-balanced, allowing you to understand both sides, their personal  motives and furthermore, to feel empathy for the characters woven into the story line: The studious brother who in one brief moment is denied a legal career and betterment for himself, and his family, only because of a racially slanted agenda, his quest to save his wayward orphan brother who, by way of contrast, chooses an extremist, crash-through course of action, and the consequences for each; the innocent bystanders; the well-meaning humanitarians in Denmark, the terrorist thugs and ordinary residents of homogeneous, suburbia integrating with ‘foreigners’.

Are they all helping or hindering the cause? What toll does it take, personally, on those who help the less fortunate, the traumatized, the dangerous, and those on the fringes of society?

In the face of a changing Europe, this Scandinavian novel illuminates some salient points to ponder about inter-related events that shape our modern lives.

Rating 8/10

Other Novels by these bestselling authors: The Boy in the Suitcase

 

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Strange Shores – Arnaldur Indridason Book Review

 

Iceland

Arnaldur Indridason is one of my favourite crime authors, and when I read novels that form part of a series, I  become quite attached to the characters,  as I did, with Detective Erlendur, in Strange Shores. This is the final book in the Detective Erlendur series, although there is the possibility of Erlender prequels being mooted, across the net, at the moment.

Erlendur,  himself, is a bit of a loner; a somewhat sad character who nevertheless has a keen intellect for solving crime. He hails from a family that has encountered hardship, loss and mental instability, which has been the undercurrent permeating story lines in the series, including Jar City, Hypothermia and Silence of the Grave.

Erlendur has, since he was young, been deeply affected by the disappearance of his only brother, who was lost in a Snowstorm, never to be found. It seems guilt is a driving factor in his inability to emotionally move on from this traumatic event.

Strange Shores wraps up this background story in a surprising way as Erlendur, ostensibly on leave in the East Fjords, becomes interested in the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of a young wife back in WWII, in circumstances similar to that of his young brother, Beggi. The subsequent rumours were, that after Matthildur’s disappearance, she returned to haunt her husband, who then later drowned in a storm. During his leave in the area, of his childhood, Erlendur chats to locals, and discovers that there just might be more to the ghost story than meets the eye.

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Iceland – where nature can so quickly turn ugly

This novel is not what one would call, fast-paced, but it does illuminate life in Iceland in the post war period and the public and private difficulties associated with living in a harsh environment, of that era. I found the splashes of history interesting and especially useful in anchoring the story to make it more believable.

Then there is the way the old Icelandic culture contrasts with the modern innovations of industry in contemporary Iceland and this pivots well with the connections between the old and new story lines.  Indridason’s character portraits are well-developed and the ‘old timers’ literally jump out from the pages with their craggy beards and pointed fingers.

One of the few remaining Icelandic sheep farms

In attempting to investigate and perhaps solve the mysterious disappearance of Matthildur, Erlendur comes face to face with his own demons and, in the process, the reader learns a lot about what drives the detective, as a person. This adds an element of psychological depth to the story that I found highly readable, however, this may not be so much the case for first – time readers, of an Indridason novel, as they would not have formed such a strong bond with Erlendur, as a character, as yet.

There are tragic themes in this novel as well, and it does delve into some of these. Society’s loners, recluses, and those suffering with mental illness feature in this novel, with the added issue of  how that may affect the family as a whole. The resilience of the Icelandic folk is self – evident throughout.

Iceland Hekla
Hekla – Volcano Iceland

Traveling through Iceland in the winter of 2008, I remember encountering the occasional abandoned farmstead, some, such as the one below, that Icelandic folk vehemently claimed, is haunted by ghosts. In the barren and unrelenting winter landscape that is Iceland, where nature reigns supreme and man is simply an afterthought, I don’t for one second doubt that the locals find imaginative ways to explain adverse happening such as the ghost in this story. So, it was with this memory and images in my head that I read Strange Shores, a story so Icelandic, with subterranean spiritual and psychological undertones. A fitting end to the Erlendur series.

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The Good: Visual imagery of the characters and landscapes and how life in Iceland is really living at the very edge of possible human habitation

The Bad: Jacob’s treatment of Ezra and the strange dreams Erlendur experiences

The Ugly: Erlendur’s actions in the graveyard

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Something to Ponder About

Proverbial Thursday – Proverbs and Sayings from around the World

I find profound wisdom in proverbs, sayings and quotes and marvel at the way they are so succinct in communicating messages to the reader. Mostly anonymous, they come to us from past generations and across cultures, and speak of the experiences of lives lived and lessons learned. Quotes like proverbs, can make us think more deeply about something.

Each Thursday, I post a Proverb or Saying and a Quote that I find thought-provoking.  I hope you will too.

From Africa this week:geranium1

“A building of sand falls as you build it.” – Cameroonian Proverb

Aesop once wrote, “In trying to please all, he had pleased none.”

 

Something to Ponder About

 

30 Day Book Challenge – A book you hated.

DAY 29. – HUNGER by Knut Hamsun

Hunger is a 1890 novel by Norwegian author Knut Hamsun. Parts of it  were published anonymously in the Danish magazine ‘Ny Jord‘ in 1888.

It is an astonishing book for its time, belonging I think more to the avant-garde modernist writing than to the sometimes considered “proper” late 19th century.  A writer encounters difficulties financially and mentally when he loses his job, and then is left without income for food and essentials in 19th century Christiania, (the former Oslo), where he slowly and agonizingly descends into mental confusion.

George Egerton claims this book is:

“One of the most important and controversial writers of the 20th century, Knut Hamsun made literary history with the publication in 1890 of this powerful, autobiographical novel recounting the abject poverty, hunger and despair of a young writer struggling to achieve self-discovery and its ultimate artistic expression. The book brilliantly probes the psycho-dynamics of alienation and obsession, painting an unforgettable portrait of a man driven by forces beyond his control to the edge of self-destruction. Hamsun influenced many of the major 20th-century writers who followed him, including Kafka, Joyce and Henry Miller. Required reading in world literature courses, the highly influential, landmark novel will also find a wide audience among lovers of books that probe the “unexplored crannies in the human soul”

Notwithstanding the huge body of opinions that this is/was literary genius, I disliked the book, neigh, I hated the book, yet I hung on reading it to the final page.  If I was to read it now, I can honestly say I would never finish it. I found the novel too brutal, raw and dark.  If I wanted to feel utter despair at the world and at the human spirit, I would read it with a passion. But I don’t. Can this really be the role of the writer? To depress readers under the guise of giving them reality, no matter how brutal?

I want my books to be entertaining, to lighten my spirit, to take me to a place where I can momentarily forget the gloom and doom a worldly future might bring. This is not to say that I would read Romantic novels, or smarmy soap operatic stories, rather, I have no patience to be suppressed in the realms of the negative. This is why I hated Knut Hamsun’s book.

But perhaps I missed the point, for there were sections that I admired for their literary power.

“The intelligent poor individual was a much finer observer than the intelligent rich one. The poor individual looks around him at every step, listens suspiciously to every word he hears from the people he meets; thus, every step he takes presents a problem, a task, for his thoughts and feelings. He is alert and sensitive, he is experienced, his soul has been burned…”

But then again, this:

“The heavy red roses smoldering in the foggy morning, blood-colored and uninhibited, made me greedy, and tempted me powerfully to steal one–I asked the prices merely so I could come as near them as possible.”

The sad tale of this writer’s mental demons and his fight to survive without income, in a non-existent welfare state was depressingly repetitive throughout the book, and then one day: (N.B. Spoiler alert!) – he ups and leaves on a ship….. and that’s it? Ummmm, did I miss something? I read pages and pages of long detailed descriptions of hunger, and despair and mental anguish, the complete all encompassing absence of hope,  to reach a point with no closure?????  I felt completely marooned – let down by Hamsun.

Yes, perhaps I missed the point!       – Something to Ponder About

30 Day Book Challenge Update

It has been over 30 days, but I admit that I had reservations as to whether this challenge could be done. Read here

Final day of the 30 day Challenge:
DAY 30. – Book you couldn’t put down.

30 day Book Challenge – A Book that Made You Laugh Out Loud

Day 26 – Håkan Nesser – The Mind’s Eye

“Van Veeteren was generally able to decide if he was looking the culprit in the eye in nineteen cases out of twenty, if not more.  No point in hiding his light under a bushel.”Birch tree

Such is the wry humour behind Swedish crime fiction novelist Håkan Nesser 1993 novel’s protaganist: Inspector Van Veeteran, (which has been ably translated from Swedish to English by Laurie Thompson), published in 2008.

This novel I have chosen to profile for Day 26, is philosophical at times, due mainly to comments raised by the alleged perpetrator, Janek Mitter’s, (a philosophy and history teacher). Comments which inspire the reader to ponder more about the nature of life and death. This occurs several times throughout the book, and is something rarely found in the crime fiction genre, and therefore, makes this author special.

The story itself, revolves around a disconnected innocent husband (isn’t it always the husband? according to ‘Harry Hole’), who is held to trial for the murder of his wife. He claims he is not guilty, his only pathetic defense is memory loss. In the novel, he wakes with a severe headache and an enormous hangover, and can’t remember any events of the previous night except that he finds his wife dead in the bath tub, (behind a locked bathroom door). Suspiciously, upon finding her, he cleans the flat and to add to his worsening prospects, he ridiculously claims in court, that he “will admit to everything if someone would give [him] a cigarette!

Despite this, Van Veeteran has reservations that he is the real killer and this is confirmed when, a month after Mitter’s imprisonment in a psychiatric facility, he is murdered. The dead wife, a sex goddess type with a dysfunctional family background is another real mystery, and the colleagues at the school where Mitter worked, seemed unwilling to support him in any way so his guilt seems obvious, except that he is also now dead.

“Eva Ringmar turned up in the fourteenth chapter of his life. Between pages 275 and 300, she played the role that overshadowed all others: the priestess of love, the goddess of passion, and then she went away, would probably continue for a while to live a sort of life between the lines, but soon she would be forgotten. It had all been so intense that it was preordained to come to an end. An episode to add to the plot? A sonnet? A will-o’-the-wisp? Finished. Dead, but not mourned. End of valediction. End of contradicton. No doubt this must be the state of shock that was driving his thoughts into such channels. That had crushed and demolished everything, made it impossible for him to grasp what had happened. To grasp what was happening to him….?

Van Veeteran’s tenacity comes from his belief in a “determinant” and this helps him solve this puzzling crime, even in the absence of leads.

It’s an unusual story, solvable but only in the dying pages of the book. The humour is apparent from page 1 and really sets Nesser’s novel apart from other crime writers. One cannot get enough of them, and it comes highly recommended.

If you are hoping to read about the real Sweden in these pages, forget it, as the locations are as mythical as the stories themselves! Still the Scandinavian genre of murder mysteries is evident in the wintry, cold rainy atmosphere so pervasive in this book!

The Good: Humour, in small to moderate doses that compliments the story and the philosophical touches

The Bad:  The frustration a reader feels when one’s instinct tells one that the wrong person will be jailed. And the tragedy that leads to the murder and depressing nature of institutional life.

The Ugly: The meaning of the title?

Rating: 9 out of 10

Here is a list of Nesser’s Van Veeteran series that have been translated, thus far:

1993 The Mind’s Eye translated 2008

1994 Borkmann’s Point translated 2006

1995 The Return translated 2007

1996 Woman with Birthmark translated 2009

1997 The Inspector and Silence, translated 2010

1998 The Unlucky Lottery, translated 2011

1999 Hour of the Wolf, translation 2012

The following are available but am not sure if that includes Australian bookstores at this point:

  • 2000 – Ewa Morenos fall English translation: The Weeping Girl, 2013
  • 2001 – Svalan, katten, rosen, döden English translation: The Strangler’s Honeymoon, 2013
  • 2003 – Fallet G; English translation: The G File, 2014

Nesser is the winner of the Best Swedish Crime Novel Award three times over and a Glass Dagger Award in 2000 for another book in the Van Veeteren series.

Nesser has written another detective series, none of which have yet been translated into English.

I have ordered the two more of his books from Amazon! Does that say something that I am pondering about?

Other entries worth reading:

http://keatspeare.wordpress.com/2014/12/10/30-day-book-challenge-day-26/