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Invisible Murder – Book Review

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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Not Your Average Crime Novel – ‘Unwanted’

kristina ohlsson book review
Unwanted

‘In the middle of a rainy Swedish summer, a little girl is abducted from a crowded train.’

Suspicion immediately falls upon the husband who has previously been violent towards his estranged wife in the past, but is he really the killer? Despite hundreds of potential witnesses about on the platforms, no one notices that the girl  is taken from an arriving Stockholm train. Days later, she is found, dead, her body dumped outside the emergency department of a hospital, in the far north of Sweden.

If you have followed my blog for any length of time, you will almost certainly know that I have a predilection for crime fiction. Especially Nordic crime fiction. Many of the Scandinavians write in a highly descriptive way that gives a depth to the narrative and the  visual imagery. This sets them apart, I feel, from crime writers from other regions. And it doesn’t help that I like the dark, rain-sodden, fog- filled descriptions of the Scandinavian countryside! Well, I am a winter person, living in a sun- soaked country where everything is hot and dry and brown, so can you really blame me?

‘UNWANTEDis a brilliant first novel by Swedish author, Kristina Ohlsson and gives me  no reason to change my overriding view of  Scandic crime novels. Yet it is better than your average read. Far better. Whilst the crime might be a tad more unsavory than that found in other novels, the reader is spared the goriest of details, yet remains fully aware of the terror taking place.  Skilled writing, I think!

In this novel, you are very much taken along for the ride with the detectives, seeing what they see, thinking what they think. Readers are given more insights into the police process and procedures. We see how it is they try to piece the murder puzzle together: what steps must be followed, what angles have to be investigated, when discovering a new lead and how collaboration reveals important snippets of information. I’ve not found this in other crime novels. So it comes as no surprise to find that Kristina Ohlsson herself has worked for a police organization in Sweden and no doubt this makes her writing all the more authentic, and readable. It seems like real life!

Many crime novels reach their climax via a detective/investigator fitting the pieces of information together by having a private epiphany of sorts, which is only partially  shared with the readers until the final reveal; thus the reader is usually left to figure out his or her genius in crime analysis, for themselves, before a later explanation is given.  But not so with Kristina’s writing. She takes you along, on the roller coaster, with her characters, and I found this terribly appealing and definitely a ‘can’t put down’ factor.

The reader is also reminded that police detectives are humans with their own sets of personal entanglements and dramas and the policeman’s families also suffer from a case. Peder, a mid level detective on the team, with ambitious, slightly misogynistic leanings, begins to have marital problems as he tries to juggle the needs of his infant twins, his tired depressed wife, his long working hours and his own personal needs outside of work. At one point, he breaks down and it is his Mother who attempts to console him in a profound statement:

‘Things will change, Peder,’ she says. ‘Misery has its natural limits. There comes a point when you know for certain that things can’t get worse, only better.’

Now that we have been introduced to Peder, I am sure his personal journey will continue in subsequent novels, in this crime series. I will surely ponder about that.

Overall Rating: 9.5/10

CPD (Can’t put down) Factor: 9.5/10

The good: Wonderful descriptive writing and imagery without being over the top

The bad: Haven’t found anything bad about this book yet.

The Ugly: We learn that police make blunders and have to live with that, somehow.

What will you think of it?

Will you enjoy it as much as me?

Who are your favourite crime authors?

 

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Shadow – Book by Karin Altvegen

Very Lord of the RingsNowadays people talk a lot about chasing happiness. There are a multitude of books courses about being happy. Feeling happy has become something that we constantly desire convinced that when we have found the secret to being happy, everything will fall into place perfectly. Not being happy has come to be equated with failure. Is it possible to be happy each waking day, year in year out? Is it something worth striving for? Karin Altvegen explores this in her novel, “Shadow.”

Prior to reading this book, I had only read one other book by this author. Shame which had been described as:

“An existential thriller about the power of fear and the brains capability to repress things that is to painful to remember. About the fatal consequences of an atypical childhood.  And about the biggest shame of all: The feeling of not having been loved by one’s parents.”

It seems this theme and moral stand is continued in Karin’s novel, Shadow; So it was with trepidation and a pre-conceived idea that I read this book. And it certainly was about not facing one’s fears and loneliness! The shadows of the past can be forgotten, but their imprint might be indelibly fixed.

This is the story of a son trying to emulate his father: a psychological thriller about relationships and how the past can influence the future – how actions live on after they are long forgotten – what starts from a lack of good parenting, is then compounded by a serious lack of communication, ends with characters who take drastic and monumentally tragic couses of action.

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Featuring the writers Alice and Axel Ragnerfelt who hold a dark secret, ‘Shadow’ is a family history marked by what seems almost to be a generational pattern of despair. communication.

“She remembered how at first she was so proud to bear the Ragnerfeldt name. Her friends would get a dreamy look in their eyes whenever he was mentioned, and they wanted to hear all about what he was like. But when they noticed her ambivalence and lack of enthusiasm, she was met with suspicion, as if her words had sprung from envy. No one wanted to hear anything negative about Axel, the national treasure. She stopped saying what she felt and joined his crowd of admirers, at least outwardly. It was easier that way.”

One protagonist ponders the moment at which a personal calamity begins?

“When does the first flake fall that will form the snowball? At what stage does the movement start? Was it the day when he secretly chose the linguistic path, …. By now everything had been in motion for a long time. There was only one hour left until what they thought was theirs would be lost for ever.”

“But even a bell’s invisible crack is revealed by a dull peal. Had the evil always been inside him? Or had it taken over when everything was stolen from him. When all that remained to him was the ability to shatter in order to retaliate.  Too late he realized that he had directed his revenge at himself. That what he had shown himself to be capable of had chained him to a shame too heavy to bear.

So how does he handle it?

Gratefully he felt it (the alcohol) take over. The feeling of liberation when the brain when numb. When he was no longer capable of comprehending the depth of his pain. Why weren’t human beings born this way? With their blood spiked from the start with a small percentage of alcohol? With the defense mechanism disconnected and the soul in a state of peace. Was survival really so important that it outweighed all suffering?

Sometimes I think that today we have trouble finding happiness because of our deep fear of suffering. Is happiness a type of contentment?
Contentment is a feeling of having obtained or achieved what can reasonable be desired. And this novel discusses individuals who struggle with contentment…..the courage to settle down and dare to be satisfied with what they have.Very Lord of the Rings

But then on page 154 Altvegen writes, “Someone who puts caution first stifles the life he’s trying to save.”  and the writer’s astute observations made me ponder more about happiness and life, but in a different way.  A tale of murder and family secrets is not for everyone, yet I wondered why this novel was left sitting on my TBR shelf, for so long. It is seriously good.

Shadow is a novel  by Karin Altvegen from 2007 that has been translated into English.

Rating: 8/10

The good: Skillful and suspenseful convoluted plot that switches back and forth with  surprising twists and turns. The depth and layers of this book gives me somethings to ponder about.

 

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Anne Holt: Fear Not (2011)

Oslo fjord

This novel is the fourth in the Norwegian series with Johanne Vik and Adam Stubø as the husband and wife team, with Adam being the ‘gentle giant’ detective and Johanne, his wife who is an ex profiler with a nose for investigative leads.

Very soon in the novel, we are introduced to several different story threads:

Johanne´s vulnerable daughter, Kristiane, gets lost when the family participates in a wedding in Oslo, and if a mysterious stranger had not saved her, she might have been killed in front of the tram.

Bishop Eva Karin Lysgaard is found murdered on Christmas Eve in Bergen. She is a popular person, well known for her struggle to keep the church united despite the question of marriage of homosexuals.

The body of a seventeen-year-old asylum seeker is found in the harbour of Oslo. The young man was a prostitute, and soon after a homosexual woman disappears from a happy relationship.

Marcus Koll, affluent businessman, lives together with his partner Rolf and his son, Little Marcus. Beautiful and safe on the facade, but apparently Marcus fears he will be the next victim.

What do the crimes have in common? Are old family secrets behind all these crimes, or is the common denominator homosexuality? Johanne Vik is engaged in researching hate crime, and via her research she can point out the connection among the seemingly isolated events to the police.

There are many things to like in this series, but it seems to me that Holt has this tendency to involve Johanne and her children every time. Exciting for the characters, and fundamental to the storyline perhaps, but not very credible. But then it is fiction, isn’t it? So why quibble?

I guess that whilst I enjoyed this Anne Holt story, it does lack a little of the intensity I feel when I read the Hanne Wilhemson’s series. Perhaps I feel more for the character of Hanne, for her keen detective sense and her stoic, rigid and sometimes arrogant manner, than I do for Johanne Vik and Adam Stubo who seem to be awfully familiar to another couple in a similar detective series written by a Swedish crime writer.

If you are a Nordic crime fiction fan, you won’t be disappointed, but the bar is getting ever higherin the realms of Mordic crime fiction with many more excellent writers, emerging from the colder regions of the world, each year.

Rating: 7/10

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Something to Ponder About

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Enjoy Scandinavia without the long flight!

A while ago, I was invited to write a post about Scandinavian books and have reproduced some sections and updated others here:

Have you ever dreamt of visiting Scandinavia: the lands that gave us Ikea, Santa Claus, and Hans Christian Andersen? Perhaps you have thought of getting close and personal with a Viking in the fjords of Norway, or the unique landscape of Iceland, but have found neither the time nor the funds?

You can still experience the arctic world without leaving the comfort of your own home through the literary works of Scandinavians. Gaining popularity here not just because they write good crime mysteries, but also because they focus more on story and descriptive plot, giving the reader an impression of, “being there.”

So select your destination and read on:

Denmark

Visit the fairy tale land of Denmark through the eyes of writer Elsebeth Egholm, an excellent crime fiction writer, (Title: Next of Kin), set in the author’s hometown of Århus. Or you could get a feeling for Greenland and snow with Peter Høeg’s thriller “Smilla’s Feeling for Snow”, or even watch the 1997 movie version of the same name, starring Julia Ormond. But if historical fiction is more your thing, Per Olov Enquist will transport you to the Danish royal court of King Christian VII of Denmark and the 1700’s – the time of ‘enlightenment,’ with a tale of romance, lust, treachery and intrigue.

Sweden

A short train ride from Copenhagen, takes one to Sweden, across the Bridge over the Oresund, which is a central theme on the TV series, “The Bridge” (available on DVD). The first season was so popular a second one is set to come. Most people are familiar with Henning Mankell’s ‘Wallander’ books and film, but there are many other Swedish authors whose writings bring Sweden into your own home. Camilla Lackberg is an author who writes about Fjallbacka, a small town on the Swedish Bohuslan coast, with journalist turned home-maker Erica Falck, helping out her policeman husband solve puzzling murder mysteries such as The Ice Princess, which is first in the series.

No one can dispute Stieg Larson’s, ‘Millenium Trilogy’ has brought Swedish crime fiction to Hollywood, and the world, but not everyone likes crime fiction, even if it is Scandinavian. ‘Hanna’s daughters,’ (a story of three generations of woman and their journeys through life’s stages), together with  ‘Inge and Mira’, and ‘Simon and the Oaks’, are three fiction novels of human drama, peppered with a little history, and a central theme of  “friendship,” which the author believes, is more important than family.

Karin Altvegen’s describes marginal life in Sweden’s suburban fringes, in the psychological thriller, ‘Shame” whilst John Ajvide Lindqvist’s “Let the right one in”- is a horror fiction story about vampires, but don’t let that put you off. I would never read a story on vampires, yet this one is a more intimate account of childhood bullying than vampires themselves and, furthermore, was made into a successful movie, then remade by Hollywood. Very atmospheric and highly recommended!

Finally, Lars Kepler is selling out in bookstores as his atypical but brilliant Finnish detective solves even the most brutal and complicated crimes in a most unusual way. I would suggest The Hynoptist and The Fire Witness.

Hungry? Time for a coffee break? Enhance the full Scandinavian experience with an authentic Norwegian Waffle with Swedish Cloudberry Jam and cream?   Recipe found here

Norway

Waffles are delicious while reading works by Norwegian writers: Jo Nesbø with the infamous Harry Hole, Karin Fossum, whose character exist on the fringes of society, or Anne Holt, former Norwegian Justice Minister turned crime writer, with her detective Hanne Wilhelmsen series.Recently, I read “Finse 1222”, set at one of the highest points along the Oslo-Bergen train line, wherein Holt’s descriptions of a winter snowstorm are so real, that when you read it, you will be shovelling snow in your dreams. Again, if you prefer something that does not have dead bodies, I recommend Per Pettersen, (To Siberia, Out Stealing Horses) or Jostein Gaarder (Sophie’s World – a Fiction story that introduces you to philosophy in a fascinating way).

Iceland

Finally, your Scandinavian tour is complete when you get a taste for Icelandic landscapes and culture in Arnaldur Indridason’s police procedurals: Jar City, Arctic Chill, and Hypothermia. (my favourite detective stories), or a depiction of Icelandic rural life, is found in Halldor Laxness’, “Iceland’s Bell.”

Travel fiction of note:

Andrew Stevensen – Non- Fiction; “Summer light”; A Walk across Norway. Not a Scandinavian writer, but nevertheless a great travel account.

True North – Gavin Francis: Travels in the Arctic, following the travels of ancient Nordic explorers.

I recommend checking out Euro crime for seeking details of other Scandinavian authors and further listings of individual Scandinavian titles to ponder about. Bon Voyage!!

 

Something Scandinavian to Ponder About

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Proverbial Thursday – Global Proverbs and Quotes

Proverbial sml

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

[“Livet er fullt av store ting for dem som evner a omgas de sma ting fortrolig”]

Life is full of great things for those who have the innate ability to enjoy the small. – Norwegian proverb

And from a great author who recently passed away here is a quote that I really believe is so true, especially in my case:

“You can have more than one home. You can carry your roots with you, and decide where they grow.”~ Henning Mankell   *

*Many Thanks to Cocoa for this quote cocoaupnorth.wordpress.com ]

Something to Ponder About this Thursday

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Friday Fiction Review : Hypothermia – by Arnaldur Indridason

 Hypothermia  – by Arnaldur Indridason

Book - The cop killer
Nordic crime fiction books

A Reykjavik Murder Mystery

It is a cold Autumn night, the ice has already formed in chunks on Lake Thingvellirvatn… In a holiday cottage a Doctor’s wife is found hanging. She has a history of depression and her Mother recently died of a terminal illness. But is it suicide… Erlender the gloomy and withdrawn Rejkjavik detective must decide. This case is unofficial, it won’t change the outcome of the case and everything is clear cut. Yet Erlender pursues it like a murder case with a drive to find out why the woman’s life ended in such an abrupt manner. As he begins to collects information, he again faces his own personal demons and confronts cold missing persons cases that have laid dormant for years with some suprising results….

The Good:  A wonderfully written Scandinavian crime mystery; a delight for continuing readers of Indridason as the character continue their own personal story; atmosphere plus in descriptions of Glacial lakes, blizzards and cold desolate landscapes..

The Bad:  Hard to find fault… but I am partial to this genre…

The Ugly: Predictable in parts, but not boring…. No happy ending…. but this is not ugly either…

Verdict: RECOMMENDED

Other titles by Indridason: ( these have been translated to English)

Jar city ( aka Tainted Blood)
Silence of the Grave (to be read soon I hope)
Arctic Chill
Voices
The Draining Lake

Book review

30 Day Book Challenge: Favourite Author

Day 19 – Karin Fossum

Often called the Norwegian Queen of Crime, Karin Fossum is undoubtedly my favourite, although she does have competition from the likes of other Scandinavian writers.

I have read all but two of her 13 books that have been translated to English, most of them featuring the strong and dependable Police detective Konrad Sejer. However, the latest translation: ‘I Can See in the Dark’, offers a first person crime fiction story narrated by the perpetrator, and is not part of the Sejer series.

Not everyone will love Fossum’s books, even some Norwegians I know, don’t like her writing, but don’t let that stop you. It is presumably because Fossum’s characters are those who live on the fringe of society: They are troubled souls, who don’t always  feel they ‘fit in’  to society – sometimes they are the victim, sometimes the perpetrator and sometimes, the ones left to cope with the consequences of the crime. They may have a mental illness, or a borderline personality disorder, or disability, or they may just be lonely, but it is this quirkiness that makes them interesting.

I have not really thought too much about why these books appeal to me, but Karin writes in such a way as to enlicit empathy for the poor devils in the story. And, I also like the meticulous way her detective, Sejer identifies the culprit. But Sejer isn’t always there. In the psychological suspense novel ‘Broken,’ (2006),  Karin writes about characters within a story that come to life. But do they really come to life? Or, is this just another device, cleverly used by the author to tell a story? Click here to read my review of Broken.  Opening a window into the mind of an author just shows Karin’s versatility as an author. As her characters often narrate the story, I feel this gives her the opportunity to discuss their intentions, motivation and attitudes more than other writing styles.

In Elskede Poona (translation title: The Indian Bride 2005) Fossum’s character is that of an older single man looking for a woman to keep him company. There is much in that novel that sticks in my mind, even today. It was a tragedy from many angles, and interestingly has an American translation from 2008.

The plot lines hold my attention, and the books are crafted stories, not overly long or complicated.Every word Fossum uses is important, sometimes right down to the very last sentence!

Finally, I like that real towns and places in Norway are featured in Karin Fossum’s stories and that means I can visualize them better. ‘Broken’ was set in the Norwegian town of Drammen, one that I have visited several times.

If you like crime fiction: check out Karin Fossum

You can find the full list of her books here

I have just finished  (I Can See in the Dark) where Karin draws on her real life experience working in a nursing home to add authenticity to the plot.

Day 20 – Favourite Childhood Book

Something to Ponder About

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30 Day Book Challenge – Author I wish people would read more.

DAY 17. –

Elsebeth Egholm  An Author I wish people would read more.

“Elspeth who?” I hear the Australians, who read my blog, say with a rising inflection!!!  For this author is almost unknown in that part of the world.  Hailing from Denmark, she has only had two of her six novels, translated to English, but given the rise in popularity of Scandinavian fiction in this country of late, and how good the books are, I am a little surprised.

In fact, the books are so good, she has, to my mind, toppled the great Nesbø of his pedestal! [Pondering the ensuing riot in the comments section, right now!]

Egholm, (pronounced “E” holm),  is a Danish born journalist who writes a series based on investigative journalist: Dicte Svendsen, who lives in the University town of Århus, in Denmark. There are I believe, plans for three films/mini-series based on the novels. Please correct me if anyone has more accurate information.

Elsebeth claims to have been inspired by Nesbø and Liza Marklund, another favourite author of mine, from Sweden, who also has a journalist heroine, ( although somewhat atypical). I also like that Egholm’s protagonist has come from a dysfunctional and rather unique background, that of being raised in a religious cult, and fell pregnant at 16.

In Egholm’s book Next of Kin, the author chillingly foresaw the videoing of the Muslim be-headings that were published on the net so very recently, except in the book’s case: a video CD was sent to Dicte’s newspaper, and not the net as a messenger. This story unearths some unpalatable moments from Dicte’s past and it is a story written at the time of the Iraq war and the pervading terrorism phase of our history, – so its very topical.

Next of Kin and the Later novel, which I am yet to read: Life and Limb, published 2011 and 2012 respectively. Take a look.

Next:

DAY 18. – A book you wish you could live in.
DAY 19. – A favourite author.
DAY 20. – Favorite childhood book.

Something to Ponder About

 

 

 

 

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The 30 Day Book Challenge – Day 2. – Favourite Side Character

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The 30 Day Book Challenge

Day 2 really made me think. I have a lot of favourite side characters in film and television, particularly Scandinavian crime series, but do I have a favourite side character in a novel???

I really like the brash, but family-minded and a bit impulsive,  Martinsson, who often goes off half-cocked, in the Kurt Wallander (Henning Mankell’s) novels, but has my image been bolstered by the tele-series made from these books?

Yes, on second thoughts, I could take the easy road and pick Camilla Lackberg’s Patrik Hedstrom, whose partner, and later wife, is just as involved in solving the crimes, as he is. After all, he is a very important side character as the police detective. Patrik’s wife Erica, has a habit of poking her nose into each and every crime which makes her the main character, but her husband important no. 2. But do I like this Hedstrom character?

Frankly: NO! Hedstrom is a little bit unbelievable, and a tad annoying, with his bumbling of more than one criminal investigation, (which this reader finds screamingly frustrating), and his erratic highway driving which endangers the lives of those he holds dear. No, if there was a ‘don’t like’ button, I would press it.

I could, of course, talk about Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander, a poster girl for feminism if there ever one. Lisbeth is very different, has Asperger syndrome  and a chequered and dysfunctional past, is not only a strong, female heroine but calls a spade, a blunt object. I love her attitude, her unfaltering intelligence, her weaknesses and her differences. So many readers are fond of her character, yet she is the underdog, she is from the ‘other side of the tracks,’ from the vulnerable, and often, marginalized part of society. But I hesitate because I picked Stieg’s book for the topic on Day 1, so…I’ll think some more.

Nesbo? He is my favourite author, but Nesbo’s protagonist: Harry Hole, often acts alone. Is there really no side character, you ask? Well, Harry has several police partners in the series: a couple of them who die and there’s a third that is hospitalized in a mental institution, so they are not too promising a selection. However: Harry Hole does have an old school friend, (if Harry could ever be considered to have a ‘friendship’ with anyone), and it is he, that gets my vote as favourite side character.

Øystein Eikeland, is a fellow alcoholic, who drives taxis around Oslo for a living and is, according to Wikipedia, “possibly the person with whom he, [Harry Hole] is closest,” .  Øystein is the sort of friend we all want: reliable, trustworthy, resourceful, yet doesn’t get in your hair or crowd your style, but is there when we really need him. Øystein has no expectations of Harry, and does not try to ‘save’ him from his own vices, (sometimes aiding Harry’s wild alcoholic behaviour), but still, Øystein is there to empathize and supply critical information when things go so very wrong, which they do in Nesbo’s stories. In some novels, Øystein has even been instrumental in leading to breakthroughs in the investigations, yet he remains ,at all times, in the background never, for one minute,  taking the spotlight off Harry. Just the sort of character a good protagonist needs, one that has your back!!!

Yep: Øystein gets the prize for favourite side character in the Harry Hole series by Jo Nesbo

Who is your favourite side character?

Join in and find the topics for the book challenge here

Something to Ponder About

Book review

Book Review – Karin Fossum “Broken”

As most bloggers have a passion to write,  I have picked the following novel to review, from one of Norway’s most popular authors, Karin Fossum, as it 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.

Karin Fossum – “BROKEN”

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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Reading crime fiction always gives me something to ponder about.


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Crime Fiction Book Review – Camilla Lackberg The Lost Boy

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 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 do 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.

Camilla Lackberg

The Lost Boy

(Fyrvaktaren)

2009

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.

 

 

 

 

It is thanks to my evening reading alone that I am still more or less sane.
From Vertigo
Book review, Community

Book Review – “The Snowman”- Jo Nesbø; Harry Hole Series

Book review - The REDEEMER by Jo Nesbø, Crime fiction pick of the monthHarry Hole gets under your skin, and you feel ambivalent about him as a cop. There is much to dislike, in Nesbø tough, cool and marginal hero, but still we like him because he is almost as familiar as a dog-eared toothbrush. Just when you are feeling comfortable, it is at an end and time to start a new one.  And so it is with the Nesbø books.

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

As luck would have it, I have just finished reading The Bat, Nesbø’s first novel, (although published in English much later in the Harry Hole series), and The Snowman, refers to circumstances from The Bat, although I had no way of knowing that it would be releveant. 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 and when discussing whether beautiful people are more preoccupied with beauty than ugly people  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……

Rating:

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

Next on the TBR pile: Anne Holt 1222

Something to ponder about.