Not Your Average Crime Novel – ‘Unwanted’

kristina ohlsson book review
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?

 

Advertisements

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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:

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Reading crime fiction always gives me something to ponder about.


Book Review – Henning Mankell THE FIFTH WOMAN

Published in 2009, and ably translated by Steven T. Murray, this is part of the Kurt Wallander series. Kurt is an iconic figure in Swedish crime literature and TV. Tough, lonely, socially awkward, intuitive, and gritty are all words that could be used to describe this character, but he never fails to identify the killer.

This story of Kurt’s adventures explores just what it is that triggers a person to kill? Mankells message seems to ask: Just what is it that ultimately pushes someone over the brink, from terrible evil thoughts, to action ie: the decision to kill. And how did they arrive at this point? Is it a sudden impulsive act or a carefully planned act of revenge?

In the Fith Woman, Kurt has just returned from a holiday with his father in Italy, during which he has reconnected again with his estranged father, and ponders a relatively normal life in the suburbs with his new lady-love. However as fans of Mankell books know, Ystad’s serenity is not to last, as first Kurt faces his father’s death, and then, those of several murder victims. What is so disturbing about these crimes, is the brutal and violent way in which they are murdered.  Wallander’s Ystad investigative team is pushed to the limit of its tolerance in more ways than one.

In this instalment of the Wallander series, Mankell tell us that revenge can have almost no limits . The culprit/s not only wants the victim to suffer an agonizing death, but also wants to send a clear message, that takes Kurt and his team some time to interpret correctly. What is the common thread, Kurt ponders; Where is the point where the lives of the seemingly randomly selected victims intersect?

It is not a difficult mystery to solve from the reader’s perspective, but it is intriguing following the path and practices of the team, as they try to identify the killer. At times, they are tired, exhausted, shot at, severely wounded, disgusted, and frustrated.

The theme of the novel is the silent and awful emotional cost that unrelenting physical and/ or emotional abuse has, upon a women, and the triggers that push women, or citizens, to take revenge. Women rarely take revenge on their tormentors. Reading this book made me think just what would it take for a woman to be pushed that far?  Wallander is said to say something he has not said before: [That the killer ]”…may be intelligent and insane.”

” All this violence” she said. “Where does it come from?” 

“There aren’t many people who are truly evil,” Wallander replied. “At least they’re few and far between. On the other hand, there are evil circumstances, which trigger all this violence. It’s those circumstances that we have to tackle.”

“Won’t it just get worse and worse?”

“Maybe,” Wallander said hesitantly. ” If that happens then it’s because the circumstances are changing. Not because there are more evil people.”

And that is something I shall ponder about in the coming days.

To sum up:

The Good: Evocative descriptive text of the climate of Ystad and surrounds. Discussion of abuse against women and revenge (a subject that is often brushed under the carpet in society)

The Bad: Not too much mystery on who the killer is…

The Ugly: The method in which the victims are killed. But the descriptions of the murder scenes are not gratuitous,  and are far better than that found in any Patterson novel.

Rating: 7 /10