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?

 

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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

30 Day Book Challenge – Book You Couldn’t Put Down

DAY 30 – To SiberiaPer Pettersen

I was fourteen and a half when the Germans came. On that 9th April we woke to the roar of aeroplanes swooping so low over the roofs of the town that we could see the black iron crosses painted on the underside of their wings when we leaned out of the windows and looked up.

In this exquisite novel, readers will find the crystalline prose and depth of feeling they adored in Out Stealing Horses, a literary sensation of 2007.

And it is all true, I enjoyed every minute of this novel. Couldn’t put this one down until the final page, type enjoyment. Written by a Norwegian but set in Denmark, it is a beautifully written coming of age novel about a brother and sister growing up in a small coastal village in Denmark just prior to the Nazi occupation. The children’s life is their own, as their parents take little interest in their upbringing. With a authoritian mother, that is too distant, and a father that is too busy with work in order to provide income for the family, the children rely on each other for companionship and affection and develop divergent dreams as they get closer to adulthood.

There is an underlying sadness in this book, and this may in part be the author’s way of conveying the danish psyche, or it may have more to do with a child’s vanquished dreams and the realities of adulthood. If you do read it, let me know if you agree.

I read an English translation of this novel and it is a moot point just how the translation itself changes words and meanings of a text, sometimes quite radically from what the author may have intended. These nuances of language were the subject of long discussions at my Scandinavian bookclub when we reviewed this book.

Above all, it is a book you should read. It captures the impending fear of those who lived through that period of history.

I give it 9/10

And this is the final post of the 30 day Book Challenge. To see links to each of the previous days, click here (for those obsessed with numbers, and precision, the challenge took longer than a month, but I did anticipate this).

Something to Ponder About

30 Day Book Challenge – Book you tell people you’ve read, but haven’t

Day 20 – Harry Potter Series

Okay, I admit it – I haven’t read them!!! My kids have, and I half listened to their reading aloud, in their primary school years, so that counts??? and I read the first three chapters, but that was it.

This series just didn’t grab me like it did the entire population of the Western world.

Perhaps the heady commercialism of it all put me right off.

Perhaps if Harry and Hermione took off to Stockholm or Fjallbacka, I might sit up and take more notice.

Perhaps if I was interested in Twilight, I would like Harry Potter?

I really don’t know what more I can say on this day’s topic.

Oh! And I am not into Twilight either!

Something I don’t ponder about – ever.
DAY 22. – Least favourite plot device employed by way too many books you actually
enjoyed otherwise.
DAY 23. – Best book you’ve read in the last 12 months.
DAY 24. – Book you’re most embarrassed to say you like/liked.
DAY 25. – The most surprising plot twist or ending.
DAY 26. – Book that makes you laugh out loud.
DAY 27. – Book that has been on your “to read” list the longest.
DAY 28. – Favorite quote from a book.

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