I started reading this book right before I hopped a plane bound for sexy European destinations boasting large quantities of beer, sausage, pickled fis...moreI started reading this book right before I hopped a plane bound for sexy European destinations boasting large quantities of beer, sausage, pickled fish, and potatoes. (That's probably irrelevant, but you know, for reference...) As I angsted over which books to read in-flight, it occurred to me a that things being what they are at the moment, I probably shouldn't take a book entitled The Bomber with me to an airport. Not proud of the self-censorship, but I don't get to take exotic European vacations that often. So I left it, and now I've lost my momentum and have to wait long enough that I forget everything that I read before, so that I can start reading it again afresh. (less)
I picked this one up because in later years, Per Wahloo (with his wife Maj Sjowall) went on to write what have been considered classics of Scandinavia...moreI picked this one up because in later years, Per Wahloo (with his wife Maj Sjowall) went on to write what have been considered classics of Scandinavian detective fiction--or detective fiction in general, even. The Lorry is a really enjoyable novel--and a quick read--albeit not in the manner that you might expect. The book starts with the interogation (fantastic, quick dialog) of a German tourist living in a poor spanish village sometime during the Franco era. We don't know what he's being interrogated for (niether does he), but during the conversation, we figure out that two of his friends (a Norwegian couple also vacationing in the village) are probably dead, and a resident of the village has disappered. The book then cuts backwards--explaining how all of these people met, and what actually happened to them--before returning back to the present.
Narratively clever jumps in time aside, the novel very responsibly (and empathetically) stages its murder mystery against the backdrop of larger social and economical dramas happening behind it. As we discover how events played out and what their resulting consequences have been (these turn out to be far greater than expected), the actions of no one party are wholly condemned or forgiven. At it's end, everyone has been incriminated in some way, and everyone has blood on their hands. (less)
Little known fact: Aside from being a prolific and critically acclaimed author (a recipient of the flippin' Genius Grant, no less) Jonathan Lethem is...moreLittle known fact: Aside from being a prolific and critically acclaimed author (a recipient of the flippin' Genius Grant, no less) Jonathan Lethem is an unabashed kangaroo enthusiast. Seriously, the man loves marsupials. And this is where it all started.(less)
Freudian crime fiction. Turns out, seeing your mother get it on with a man Not Your Father really *will* ruin your life...or at least cause lasting da...moreFreudian crime fiction. Turns out, seeing your mother get it on with a man Not Your Father really *will* ruin your life...or at least cause lasting damage to your psyche. Damn you, mom!(less)
1. Has been disillusioned by past experiences in either the police force or the military (double points if he's been disillusio...moreHallmarks of a good PI:
1. Has been disillusioned by past experiences in either the police force or the military (double points if he's been disillusioned by both).
2. Experiences hot flashes at the thought of meting out Justice (with a capital J), is wholly and unrepentently self-righteous, and yet can see more shades of gray than a color-blind sketch artist.
3. Speaks "Privatese," a language almost entirely composed of overblown similes and metaphors, and peppered with Class A reparte and banter. It's a fluke of the dialect--the more dangerous the situation, the snappier the speaker's dialog.
4. Has friends in very low *and* very high places.
5. Is a sucker for several classes of female: a woman in a tight dress and tall heels, a young girlchild who's hard up with no place to go, and someone's downtrodden mama.
6. But not such a sucker to forget that all women are the source of every good man's problems. Devious, lying, succubi--all of them.
7. Is equally equipped to take and give harsh beatings.
Part of what continues to fascinate me about Scandinavian crime fiction is the routine respect with which the authors approach their genre--the real q...morePart of what continues to fascinate me about Scandinavian crime fiction is the routine respect with which the authors approach their genre--the real quality of the prose and complexity not only of the plots themselves, but of the milieus--the characters and settings peripheral to the events that these books are 'about.' Ekman's Blackwater is currently my favorite example of this--an eliptical rendering of a brutal, unsolved crime in a mountain village in Northern Sweden. For although this crime effectively changes the lives of all of the characters in the novel (three of whom narrate), it isn't truly the point, per se.
As in real life, horrible, arbitrary and unexplained things happen and the consequences often resonate for years to come. But even when one has been directly involved with such an event, the mundane, quotidian dramas--the (failed) romances, the family dysfunction, the fights with neighbors, the gossip, the trouble at work, the community struggles with the political, the racial, the progressive--these things are the real fabric of one's daily life. (If the book missteps, it is simply in an overzealous exploration of this environment—occasionally, her affection for the intervening lives of her characters pulls the narrative off course, although I confess enjoying such tangents for their sheer thoroughness and imagination.)
And so Ekman--coincidentally one of Sweden's foremost novelists (not only in the genre of crime fiction) and an ex-member of the Swedish Academy of Letters (she resigned in protest over what she deemed to be the society's underwhelming response to the 'Rushdie Affair')—allows her crime to precipitate the action of the novel, without defining it. We meet Blackwater’s ostensible narrator twenty years after the crime was committed, when a mysterious man reappears in the village. This leads to a prolonged flashback of the crime itself and all the events surrounding it at the time. We then return to the present, where the crime is eventually solved. However, such a protracted search for ‘The Truth,’ for an explanation of what Really Happened, is relatively useless. It doesn’t resolve anything or give the events more meaning. It merely is, leaving the characters to make their peace with such arbitrary violence as best as they are able.
Tursten's 2nd novel with Inspector Huss--The Torso--is one of those buzzed-up novels that people who care about these sorts of things really went nuts...moreTursten's 2nd novel with Inspector Huss--The Torso--is one of those buzzed-up novels that people who care about these sorts of things really went nuts for awhile back. So I figured it couldn't hurt to start at the beginning. D.I. Huss has a lot going for it: Swedish female detective who moonlights as a Judo master (no, really), familial tension as a microcosm of greater societal tension (one of her daughters becomes a skinhead midway), Hell's Angels, BDSM photos as evidence, and general police squad drama.
This book definately reads like a primer, however. Tursten spends a lot of time establishing who her characters are, often by following them through a scene only to have them repeat it verbatim ten pages later to another character. A lot of space and time is wasted on this rehashing. The dialog also runs away with itself at times, with characters melodramatically emoting and responding to what are actually some very important social issues in Sweden (treatment of foreigners, such as the Finnish maid; the rise of the aforemention Skinhead youth culture, etc). My last pet peeve was simply the fact that the reader is forced to go through every minute aspect of the police investigation--the meetings, the dead ends, the interviews with sad old ladies. This, I admit, is not so much a fault of the book but a preference of my own. Make a note: Police Procedurals and Crime Novels--very different things.
At any rate, I am still looking forward to The Torso, whose grotesque crime apparantly leads the detectives on a wild chase through Sweden and Copenhagen. Skal!(less)
This book began with a great premise: in the wake of his girlfriend's murder, a man discovers a picture of her having (porno-style) sex with another m...moreThis book began with a great premise: in the wake of his girlfriend's murder, a man discovers a picture of her having (porno-style) sex with another man. Though this is his only clue, and despite the fact that he is still the police's main suspect, he decides--vigilante-style--to solve her murder himself. Along the way, he begins to sleep with a woman who not only resembles his deceased girlfriend, but who also works for the same airline. The Hitchcock-ian echoes compound when he begins spying on his neighbors (and they on him) from his...Rear Window. Unfortunately, even for these great (and as it has been pointed out to me--Thanks, M. Asher--rather De Palma-esque) cinematic flourishes, the narrative simply cannot sustain itself under the equal weights of empty characterization (we know that the main character is a war reporter and a technophobe, but don't know why or really see any traits in action) and a foolish plot which presupposes the downfall of contemporary civilization via the evils of digital television.
Rather than give us a true picture of our anti-hero, Larsen hides the man behind incendiary speeches about the masses' inability to understand modern art, society's dumbed down morality and passivity, and strangely damning monologues about having raped women who he knew actually 'really wanted it in the end.' Which doesn't really give us any reason to invest in this person when the plotline--hinging on the untamed power and evil of High Definition Television (that is, H.D.T.V!)--spirals into a the paranoiac realm of such Technopocolypse classics as "The Net."
What's worst for me, however, is that we're seeing, yet again, a novel that begins with an exciting, meaning-laden, and (gasp!) entertaining concept, degenerate immediately upon trying to tackle--with a remarkable lack of foresight--some bigger, grander issue. Because apparently, one murder is not enough for us, and nothing really counts unless we can attach some grand, global crisis to it. (less)
Arnaldur Indridason’s third ‘Icelandic Thriller’ finds his Inspector Erlendur in a plush Reykjavík hotel five days before Christmas trying to puzzle o...moreArnaldur Indridason’s third ‘Icelandic Thriller’ finds his Inspector Erlendur in a plush Reykjavík hotel five days before Christmas trying to puzzle out yet another gruesome murder—the brutal stabbing of the hotel handyman cum Santa Claus—that seems to have its roots in the past. Indridason’s previous efforts (the multi-award winning Jar City and Silence of the Grave) practiced such hindsight to rather compelling effect: rather than celebrate in the killers’ capture, we empathize with their motives. In fact, we almost applaud them for enacting what feels like a sort of karmic justice. Some people, it turns out, just really deserve to die.
In Voices, however, Indridason’s sympathies cast too large a net for either himself or his stodgy Inspector to reel in. It takes up the familiar cause of the downtrodden—battered women, abused children, victims of rape, those suffering from substance additions—but clumsily adds to it, trying to evoke even more reader compassion for Indridason’s new cast of prostitutes, pedophiles, and homosexuals. Unfortunately, trying to empathize with so many different characters leaves us not feeling for many of them at all. Moreover, reading Indridason’s frequently clunky prose (no fault of the translator—a seasoned veteran with Old Norse sagas and a fistful of modern Icelandic literary translations to his credit) reveals a distinct lack of authorial understanding. He wants to empathize with the hardships of gay men coming of age in 1980s Iceland, but doesn’t quite know how to, or even why. The act of empathizing has then become a knee-jerk reaction, and virtually abandons true insight into the experiences of another person for the satisfaction of arelatively empty gesture.
It’s pity that defines Voices—and a shame, too. For as we had seen in Indridason’s previous work, Iceland may be a small country where the phone book is alphabetized by first name, but its problems are not so different from our own.
A great example of how genre-fiction can be "literary." A really enjoyable, quick read that plays with the conventions of the western without straying...moreA great example of how genre-fiction can be "literary." A really enjoyable, quick read that plays with the conventions of the western without straying into self-aware parody.(less)
Although many of Ekman's future concerns--tensions between the Sami communities in Northern Sweden and Swedish society, small town politics, the meani...moreAlthough many of Ekman's future concerns--tensions between the Sami communities in Northern Sweden and Swedish society, small town politics, the meaningless violence that comes as the consequence of violence with motivation--are also elemental in this, her first novel, Under the Snow definitely reads as a primer for better things to come. Namely, Blackwater. If this had been the first novel of Ekman's that I had read, I wouldn't necessarily believe that she'd develop into so fine a prose-writer. Her characters lack a real emotional depth, her dialog is witty and clever to the point of embarrassment. But she does have an excellent sense of atmosphere and setting and uses these to her advantage here. Even so, Under the Snow is imminently skippable for all but the most anal completist. (less)
Not being a terribly big fan of 'procedurals,' I was skeptical about this book when I received it. (I was also pretty skeptical about Mankell, in that...moreNot being a terribly big fan of 'procedurals,' I was skeptical about this book when I received it. (I was also pretty skeptical about Mankell, in that I had previously completely given up on his Sidetracked after slogging through 60-odd pages of epically boring stalemates and interviews, dead-end clues and a few of the unidentified killer's faux-Hannibal Lecter internal monologues. And this, Ladies and Gents, was a book which included a scalping and a young girl's self-immolation in a field of flowers. Any book which includes either of the latter--let alone both--should be anything but boring.)
Faceless Killers is generally referred to as one of Mankell's best (it received the Glass Key Award--an honor bestowed to the author of the best Nordic crime novel every year), and this makes a lot of sense. In it, we have a good dose of inexplicable, brutal violence acted out upon people who seem entirely undeserving, racial tensions underneath a facade of societal homogeneity--both hallmarks of the region's forays into the crime genre--a case that consumes the protagonist for over a year, and a balancing subplot of familial discontent and personal readjustment on the part of Mankell's Inspector Kurt Wallander. The pacing works better here--even when Wallander hits up against a brick wall, there's enough momentum divided between the subplot and various red herrings to keep us interested.
My main beef this time was simply that the whole affair was, after over a year of empty investigations, suddenly solved within the last 15 pages--and without much to do whatsoever. Perhaps this is relatively common to police investigations--after staring at the same information over and over, an investigator is finally able to see a new angle and all of the pieces fall into place. But, if I may continue to abuse this quickly-expiring horse: what happens in real life is often (frequently) of no particular interest or use in fiction. In real life, coincidences seem eerie and surprising. In fiction, they seem narratively cheap and kind of a cop out.
It also bears mentioning that the only solid clue that the investigators have to work with at the start (one of the victims whispers the word 'Foreign' before dying) is resolved in a fairly automatic, and dare I say reductive, fashion. But to devolve into this debate would require some pretty fantastic spoilers, and since, as mentioned, the resolution happens in the last 15 pages, I'll leave that discussion for another time. (less)
The basic premise is this: Detective Chief Inspector Van Veeteren of the (imaginary) city of Maarsdam is vacationing in the nearby seaside town Kaalbr...moreThe basic premise is this: Detective Chief Inspector Van Veeteren of the (imaginary) city of Maarsdam is vacationing in the nearby seaside town Kaalbringen. Although he’s scheduled to go back to work, he’s recruited to stay in town and join forces with the local Kaalbringen police after a man murdered with an ax is discovered. Shortly after, there is another murder—similar in method, although the victims have nothing apparent in common. While he quickly bonds with the members of the Kaalbringen police force (particularly the clever inspector Beate Moerk and DCI Bausen), Van Veeteren sees no solution, even as the case drags on for two months and results in yet another murder.
Some thoughts on the tepid execution (no pun intended) of this story:
1.Borkmann's Point now has the dubious distinction of introducing the most transparent killer since my Mary Higgins Clark reading days. I honestly guessed the killer on page 59 (the book is 321 pages total) and while there were moments throughout that were meant to telegraph the murderer's identity to the reader, it's clear that the big reveal at the end is supposed to be a shocker. But it isn't, except perhaps to Van Veeteren, who for months has been dispensing sage advice and telling people that he'll “only have to set eyes on [the murder’s] type” and then he'll know whodunit. If this is supposed to be ironic, it doesn't come across at all.
We are later supposed to believe that Van Veeteren was actually on to the killer much sooner, but Nesser purposefully cloaks his hero's thoughts—and much of his investigative work—in secrecy. We're told that VV makes calls to follow up on hunches, but we don't know to who or what he finds out. He takes trips to check out clues, but he doesn't tell us (or his underlings) where he is going. It's like reading an Agatha Christie novel, but without the charm. The only thing that makes this any more bearable is that the police inspector who joins Van Veeteren from Maarsdam—Münster—frequently notes that his boss is “sitting there, playing the asshole and being mysterious again,” which does provide a nice bit of relief from The Great Detective's ego.
2. Nesser is awful at writing women. There is a chapter in which inspector Beate Moerk is at home, contemplating the case, her weight, and her status as a single woman and a female detective, during which Nesser writes, “She started soaping her breasts...still firm and bouncy; another recurrent thought was that one day she would start to dislike her breasts—the whole of her body come to that. But naturally, that was a trauma she shared with all women.” Ugh.
Later, Van Veeteren meets a woman in the course of the case and makes an empty promise about how long it'll take him to crack it. The woman leaves, comforted, and VV snickers to himself: “How easy it is to fool a woman...a woman you've only known for five minutes.” Again, there might be some underlying irony here—Van Veeteren is arrogant about fooling ladies all while he's being fooled himself. But even so, the sort of easy chauvinism here only made me like him less than I already did.
3. These people are investigating a serial ax murderer and yet, not much investigating seems to really happen. Even if there aren't a lot of clues, it seems to me that it'd be worth spending far more time tracking down former associates, lovers, flat-mates, etc. to get more insight into the lives of the victims. Find possible connections. Right? As is, everyone spends the day kinda-sorta talking about the case at the local pastry shop and they all go home at the end of the day with a bit of a shrug. Van Veeteren spends night after night with DCI Bausen playing chess, eating rich gourmet dinners, and sampling multiple bottles of fine vintage wine from Bausen's private collection. No one really seems all that fussed, honestly, except for Münster, the skeptical inspector from Maarsdam who wants to go home to his wife and kids. Which makes me think that maybe we'd all be better served if the book was about Münster—who cares even a little about the outcome of the case—as opposed to Van Veeteren. (less)