In late January 2014, my wife gave me a Kindle as a birthday present. These are the books I’ve read since then. So far, it’s been all about crime and thrillers, and it’s been inescapably Scandinavian, too.
The Shock of the Fall: Nathan Filer
This is a story about mental illness, as told from the perspective of a schizophrenic, Matthew Home, touching on how it impacts on families, and how it can be shaped by external events.
It’s dealt with in a very empathetic manner, but without any unnecessary sentimentality, nor any lazy sensationalism.
But it’s not an easy read, for all that. It might not be hugely challenging, but I found it made me uncomfortable at times, which I’m certain was the intention.
This is the author’s debut novel, and if it’s an indication of the shape of things to come, Nathan Filer has a very successful career ahead of him in publishing.
✪ ✪ ✪
Project Nirvana: Stefan Tegenfalk
Pace seems to be Tegenfalk’s stock in trade, as the plot whips along.
Picking up where ‘Anger Mode’ left off, the story of detectives Grohn and de Brugge continues, as we see them drawn back into the ever-more-complicated web the first part of the trilogy began to weave.
While I’m absolutely certain ‘Project Nirvana’ can stand on its own merits, you need to have read ‘Anger Mode’ to get the most out of it, in my opinion.
Dirty cops, secret societies, xenophobia, loneliness … all get an airing here, with sympathetically drawn characters and a plot dripping with suspense.
I loved this and really wanted to get stuck into the third part of the story (‘The Weakest Link”) immediately. However, as far as I can tell, it is yet to be published in English.
✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪
Anger Mode: Stefan Tegenfalk
This is the first in a trilogy of books from Tegenfalk concerning two detectives, Walter Grohn and Jonna de Brugge. It’s also his first published novel.
A series of random violent killings by people who work in different parts of the criminal justice system kickstart a story that draws in the police, secret services, terror plots and designer drugs.
Considering Tegenfalk confesses to not really having been much of a reader, never mind a writer, until he hit his 40s, this a very well-executed novel. It’s fast-paced but not at the expense of detail. The characters are plausible, as are the scenarios around them.
While reading this book I found myself, for the first time I can remember, feeling anxious on behalf of one of the characters as they were about to be over-taken by events.
Immersed..? You bet.
It was only when I finished it that I realised there was a follow up, which I bought straightaway.
✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪
The Farm: Tom Rob Smith
I was expecting big things of this, the latest offering from the author of Child 44, which has sold millions of copies and has been made into a movie starring Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace.
It tells the story of Dan, who gets a call one day to tell him his mother may be in the grip of some sort of mental health crisis. She, however, alleges to have uncovered crimes, conspiracies and cover-ups soon after she and Dan’s father retired to a small farm in Sweden.
I really struggled to finish this book. Almost half-way in, I was desperate for the plot to show up. By the time it did I’d all but stopped caring, as the over-reliance on a rigid first-person narrative device had turned reading this book into a bit of a chore. There was too much strain being put on long passages of monologue to reveal characters, details, timeframes … everything really.
There’s a decent story trapped in this book, but I’m not sure it’s worth the effort.
Roseanna: Maj Sjöwall, Per Wahlöö
This is the first in a series of 10 books about Swedish detective Martin Beck, and it’s regarded by many as the starting point of the modern detective fiction. There’s a cracking foreword to this edition from Henning Mankell (he wrote the Kurt Wallander books) which helps explain the high esteem held by many for Roseanna.
A body is found in a canal – a young woman presumed murdered and dumped over the side of a passing holiday cruiser. Set in the early 1960s, there’s just enough detail on how Beck and his colleagues go about piecing together this puzzle. There are plenty of twists and turns, but you never lose sense of where the story is going.
There are some lovely humourous touches in an otherwise serious subject, and it had me gripped from start to finish.
I’ll definitely be making my way through the rest of the Martin Beck series.
✪ ✪ ✪ ✪
The Ice Palace: Tarjei Vesaas
If you like intense, almost claustrophobic stories, this is a must read for you.
This story of two school girls who strike up a brief but very intense friendship, and what happens when one of the two goes missing, does an incredible job of transporting you inside the troubled mind of someone under pressure.
It was first published in 1963 and is set amid the ice and snow of a small rural Norwegian community.
The author, Vesaas, was also a poet and it shows. Even through translation into English, The Ice Palace is a very carefully crafted piece of literary work.
Sadly, I found that got in the way at times; I don’t always want to marvel at an artist’s brushstrokes, sometimes I just want to stare in awe at a painting.
I’m also not much of a fan of magical realism, of which there is the occasional whiff in this novel.
For all that, it’s beautifully observed and written. If you like a bit of a literary workout this might be right up your fjord, but don’t expect to find it easy going.
✪ ✪ ✪
Three Dog Night: Elsebeth Egholm
An ex-convict, following the straight and narrow, finds himself dragged back toward the life he hoped to escape, following a series of seeming unconnected events – a young woman goes missing, the body of a fellow inmate gets washed ashore, and a mysterious neighbour with secrets she is running from.
Running parallel to this is the story of the detective leading the hunt for answers – his less-than-squeaky-clean life adding to his complications.
I loved this book, which is set in Jutland, Denmark. The characters are really well put together, the plot moves with a tremendous sense of pace and new elements of the plot seem to suggest themselves, rather than get pushed on you.
It’s a tale of redemption – up to a point – and they can be a little predictable. But there’s enough other stuff going on for you to discount any concerns you might have of this being in any way clichéd.
✪ ✪ ✪ ✪
The Gingerbread House: Carin Gerhardsen
If you’re one of those people who think the only good estate agent is a dead one, then there’s definitely something for you in this Swedish serial killer story, which looks at how some people survive childhood trauma, while others become defined by it.
There are twists, turns, and unconnected crimes aplenty as we follow the detective Conny Sjöberg and his team try to make sense of a series of disturbing events.
I really enjoyed reading this, which is the first in Gerhardsen’s Hammarby series featuring Sjöberg. However, it also appears to be the only that’s been translated into English – apart from the new one (Cinderella Girl out in April), which I’ve pre-ordered.