iceland
Book review

The Darkest Room – Johan Theorin

Imagine a bitterly cold Swedish winter, on the bleak treeless coastal island, in an old manor house built from the wood of a wrecked ship in which scores of sailors drowned, where one’s only neighbours are 2 lighthouses, one of which no longer works and is haunted. Is there any better location for a thriller/murder mystery?

Iceland

I’d not heard of this author before, but I have had more opportunity to read lately and picked up this Swedish novel, set on the very real Swedish island of Oland, in mythical locations. This is the world that the character, Joakim Westin has recently moved to, with his family of wife and two small children. The grand plans to renovate and rejuvunate the manor house is destroyed when shortly after their move, one of the family drowns not far from the house.

Joakim struggles to come to terms with the death, while others on the island become immersed in a struggle of their own. One is a young female police officer finding her feet in a new beat, and another is a young man involved in petty crimes, who becomes haunted by his the results of his misdemeanors. As Christmas approaches, a sageful relative of the police officer tells of an old Swedish folk tale where the dead come back to visit the living on the darkest night of the year. What does this mean for Joakim, and his family, isolated in the manor house during one of the worst blizzard’s of the decade?

Atmosphere by the bucketload is what you get from Theorin’s spine- tingling novel. Whilst it remains a murder mystery, those who like supernatural touches or ghostly happenings would get their kicks from the story. Theorin weaves a mystery into believable occurrences, yet manages to get the reader to sympathize with the bereaved man and remain hungry for the next chapter.

Theorin also gets into the head of the protaganist and takes the reader on a psychological journey of grief. Themes of retribution/karma also simmer under the surface when it becomes clear what happened to Ethel.

emotion

Despite a head splitting migraine, I was determined to finish the book, such was the effect this story had on me. Be warned….

The good: Dark windswept landscape expertly described. You are there in the blinding snow along with the characters.

The bad:   Would a father leave his children alone?

The ugly:  Depiction of alcoholic tarts…….

Rating out of 10: 9

xmas
Community

Three Seconds – To the Dark Side

It is a strange feeling when you start to feel support for a villain, even if it is just a fictional character. If  on reading this post, you’re thinking that sounds a tad like the so-called, ‘Stockholm Syndrome,’ you’d be right, – because I have just finished reading Three Seconds, a Swedish crime novel, set in Stockholm, an offering from writers Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom.

city hall stockholm
Stockholm in Winter

Being set in Sweden, with vignettes in Denmark and Poland, was enough to pique my interest in the story, but that increased tenfold when I began reading about Ewert Grens, the ageing Swedish detective. He is the kind who stubbornly refuses to give up on unsolved cases, and the plot contrasts him with another character, Piet Hoffman, a man with a secret life, who risks everything he loves every single day. As I read on, I thought, ‘Could these men ever be free of the choices they’d made?’

20161015_162120

The book makes you think and such is the skill of the authors that the reader might even find him/herself, as I did, admiring the villain, who is known to you from the start. No matter how murky his world becomes, no matter how much deception or corruption this character engages in, the reader is, surreptitiously, drawn to the ‘wrong’ side of the moral and legal fence, rather than championing the side of the police hero, who solves the crime.

I began to admire the criminal’s intellect, his fortitude and his cunning, to the point that I even began to secretly wish for him to ‘to come out on top,’  to be free, to beat the odds, yet knowing that he couldn’t possibly ever win. It was then that I thought, “How could I be siding with criminality?”

On reflection, I think, it is because the villain in this story is so human. He is just like any of us, a man faulted with good and bad feelings, a man with mixed emotions. A man who shows tenderness, and hardened self-control, but also one that faced some tough choices in navigating a duplicitous existence in the criminal underworld. Yes, that is why he has my sympathy.

Freedom is a package deal – with it comes responsibilities and consequences” – Anonymous

And so the plot continues until the final reveal and ‘twist,’ that arrives almost in the very last sentence! You are on the edge of your seat until the last. Wow… my kind of writing!!!

The inclusion of a final appendix of ‘notes,’ felt as if the authors wanted to answer the questions I already had spinning around in my head. That’s a unique and welcome surprise in a crime novel, especially considering the plot is not completely fictional! Knowing that gave me so much more to Ponder About.

Winner of the Swedish Crime Novel of the Year for 2009, Three Seconds dominated the Swedish best Sellers list for 18 months and was translated into English, in 2010.

Highly Recommended.  Forestwood’s Rating: 9/10

Stockholm, Sweden
Stockholm, Sweden

Save

Save

snow
Book review, Community

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

Community

30 Day Book Challenge – A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t.

DAY 12. – The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

After selling more than 90 million copies and combining the genres of detective, thriller and conspiracy fiction, I must be the only person who has NOT read this book in the western reading world.

Being a fan of thriller and detective novels, I have always been intrigued, but there has been so much talk and media about this novel, that it never seemed a priority to buy it. (no pun intended).

I once read an account of the Historical figure of Jesus Christ, as opposed to the legendary or spiritual), and I was initially hoping this book would be of the same ilk, but it appears to be completely fictional or so it’s critics claim.

Did Jesus in fact, marry or have an intimate relationship with Mary Magdalene? Are these Kings really descended from Jesus? Even if Jesus died without a progeny, someone must be related to him, distant. I seem to be related to half of Denmark, from my Danish genealogical research going back 500 years.

Getting back to the book itself, one day I will have to obtain a copy, but because of the media hype, it will most certainly come from a library, and not a book shop!

Something to Ponder About

Still to come:

DAY 13. – A book that disappointed you.
DAY 14. –  Book that made you cry.
DAY 15. – A character who you can relate to the most.
DAY 16. – Most thought-provoking book.
DAY 17. – Author I wish people would read more.

Book review, Community

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