Not just another ‘best of 2013′ reading list

santa_klausThis week’s post is from Rich Westwood

Back in December 2011, when I was still new to blogging, I was struck by a piece Maxine Clarke wrote for her blog Petrona. Rather than do a simple ‘best of the year’, she opted to follow the ‘End of the Year Book Meme’, which enabled her to highlight more of her year’s reading. She didn’t originate the idea, but it was her
version I saw first.

Everybody who has written for Petrona Remembered has pointed out how supportive Maxine was to other bloggers, and I can only echo that. So here by way of thanks is a Petrona-inspired End of the Year Book Meme.

(Disclaimer: I tend to review classic mysteries, so I’m taking 2013 to mean ‘read in 2013′ rather than ‘published in 2013′. Don’t worry, there are some recent titles in here as well.)


Best book of 2013
‘Best’ is a very difficult thing to pin down. Are we being subjective or trying for objectivity? Petrona’s strapline was ‘intelligent crime fiction from around the world’, so I’m going to offer some global candidates, all of which I awarded five stars.

From Ireland: Gene Kerrigan’s THE RAGE (2012). Set in post-Celtic Tiger Dublin, this is a tough crime novel with a moral core. In true noir style, it focuses on a committed career criminal working on his first big job but about to fall prey to his own weakness – in this case, revenge.

From the US: Patricia Highsmith’s THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY (1955) is an acknowledged classic which, however, seems to divide opinion quite sharply. The moral of the story could be summed up as ‘what a tangled web we weave…’ as we follow anti-hero Tom Ripley in his leech-like career in a beautifully described Italy.

From Holland (sort of): Nicholas Freeling’s GUN BEFORE BUTTER (1963), of which more later.

From France: Didier Daeninckx (trans. Liz Heron) MURDER IN MEMORIAM (1984) is a cold-case story with its roots in the brutal treatment of Algerian protesters in the 60s. The hero Cadin is a wily cop with a talent for making enemies. Despite the unpleasantness that underlies this case, the overall tone is light and reminiscent of Camilleri. Cadin, like Montalbano, is a slight obsessive, adept at blundering through local politics, and has a history of falling in love with witnesses and victims.

Worst book of 2013
Geoffrey Household’s ROGUE MALE (1939)

Having failed to assassinate a European dictator, the protagonist of ROGUE MALE bolts to the English countryside and then disappears from view by digging himself a hole in the bank of a country lane. There are hints of Robinson Crusoe as he builds himself the perfect den.

Why don’t I like it? I can’t stand the (nameless) protagonist. He’s angry, arrogant, and a snob. ‘A hideous word – hiker. It has nothing to do with the gentle souls of my youth who wandered in tweeds and stout shoes from pub to pub. But, by God, it fits those bawling English-women whose tight shorts and loose voices are turning every beauty spot in Europe into a Skegness holiday camp.’

Most disappointing
Michael Innes’ THE JOURNEYING BOY (1949)

This started so well. A fussy schoolmaster named Thewless accepts a job tutoring the problem child of a nuclear scientist and finds himself drawn into a confusing world in which his charge may or may not the target of kidnappers. Meanwhile, somebody has killed the boy’s former tutor. By the half-way point I had no idea what was going on (in a good way). Then I did (in a bad way). Once the mystery begins to resolve itself, the book becomes an adventure story with shades of Enid Blyton. And I lost all interest.

Most surprising in a good way
Scott Turow’s PRESUMED INNOCENT (1987)

I would never have picked up PRESUMED INNOCENT in a million years. A 1980s American legal thriller? No way. But it was one of the Crime Writer’s Association’s top 100 novels and so I tried it.

It is the story of Rusty Sabich, a Prosecuting Attorney in Kindle County, USA. Rusty is already mixed up in a tense and competitive political struggle when his ex-mistress Caroline is found raped and strangled. The book follows his investigation, and then in a volte-face, his trial for Caroline’s murder.

What is fascinating is that Rusty knows the game so well. His trial isn’t about guilt or innocence, it’s about winning. Nobody on his side even considers the question of guilt or innocence. And so the reader has to presume…

Book you recommended to people most
Harry Kemelman’s THE NINE-MILE WALK (1968)

This relatively obscure collection of Harry Kemelman short stories features Nicky Welt, an armchair detective who works as Professor of English at Fairfield University but is often on hand to advise his friend the County Attorney. The stories (which first appeared in ‘Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine’ between 1947 and 1967), are neat little bits of old-school mystery. Kemelman’s virtuoso piece is a thought-experiment in which Welt reconstructs a crime from a chance remark overheard by his friend, so convincingly he realises it must have actually happened.

Best series you discovered
A toss-up between Barbara Nadel’s Hakim and Arnold, and Anya Lipska’s Kiszka and Kershaw.

I’m a fan of Barbara Nadel’s other series – the Istanbul-set Inspector Ikmen and the Blitz-ridden undertaker Francis Hancock. She’s good at depicting cosmopolitan communities – and the ways in which very different people get along (usually). Nadel brings the same approach to her new PI series Hakim and Arnold. Mumtaz Hakim is a veiled Muslim woman with real courage and strength of purpose. Lee Arnold is a former East End copper with an unexpected soft side.

Anya Lipska is a new author with reader-friendly prose and characters who make for engaging company: Janusz Kiszka and Natalie Kershaw. He’s a successful fixer to London’s Polish community; she’s an ambitious young detective. Some of the most interesting scenes are the meetings between Natalie and Janusz, initially exposing their prejudices: Polish thug vs harmless girl.

Most hilarious book
William Stephens Hayward: REVELATIONS OF A LADY DETECTIVE (1864)
Mrs Paschal is one of those ‘much-dreaded, but little-known people called Female Detectives’. Her eminently Victorian opponents are an enthusiastic mix of aristocratic bank robbers, Italian unificationists, evil nuns, live-rat-eating sideshow performers, the enormous wife of a pork-and-butter merchant, bent solicitors, evil twins, and larcenous postmen. Detection is kept to a bare minimum. Mrs Paschal’s MO is 1. Dress up as a servant. 2. Catch villain.

She displays a sly wit:

‘Thermopylae was not defended by men who lived upon the fat of the land, but by those who ate coarse bread and spring onions – rather objectionable in feminine eyes, but conducive to physical development.’

But more often than not, the humour is frankly unintentional: ‘Oh! How egregiously I have been duped!’ cried the abbess, in despairing accents.

Most thrilling, unputdownable book
John Fowles’ THE COLLECTOR (1963)

I think the putting down of a book depends as much on mood and circumstance as anything else. I can read a good book and find myself leaving it alone for no good reason, or charge through something demonstrably bad just because I am enjoying it. I have noticed this year that I’m no longer a big fan of the classic thrillers. Twenty years ago I hung on to every word of THE DAY OF THE JACKAL; this year I enjoyed it but wouldn’t describe it as immortal any more. Perhaps oddly, the book I had trouble leaving alone was THE COLLECTOR, John Fowles’ story of a butterfly collector who wins the pools and builds himself a prison in his cellar.

Book you most anticipated
Agatha Christie’s CROOKED HOUSE (1949)

This came highly recommended by fellow bloggers, and it is pretty good. Agatha herself rated it very highly: ‘This book is one of my own special favourites… writing CROOKED HOUSE was pure pleasure…’

Young diplomat (and son of a Scotland Yard brass hat) Charles Hayward falls for Sophia Leonides in wartime Cairo, and when the war is safely over he gets in touch to see if she wouldn’t mind awfully getting married. Unfortunately Sophia’s got some baggage in the form of a recently murdered grandfather and a very suspicious family. The family lives together under one roof, and Charles ends up staying with them while the police try to sort it all out.

The end is a classic Christie twist (you’ll kick yourself), and the book is definitely a cut above the majority of country house murder mysteries.

Favourite cover of a book you read
I can tell you the worst, straight off: Georges Simenon’s THE IRON STAIRCASE/THE iron_staircaseTRAIN.

My favourite covers this year are probably from the British Library’s classic crime series, with Mavis Doriel Hay’s THE SANTA KLAUS MURDER being the most seasonal (I didn’t go a bundle on the story, though).

Most memorable character
Tricky: I think I tend to like big, colourful characters best.

The Victorian lady detective Mrs Paschal was a real find. She’s not afraid to get stuck in, adopting a take-no-prisoners approach reminiscent at times of Mike Hammer.

Mortimer Shay, the semi-mythic Royalist spymaster from TRAITOR’S FIELD, has a lot of potential and would be great on screen, I think.

R.M., the anonymous hero of ROGUE MALE, is memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Fred and Miranda from John Fowles’ THE COLLECTOR are neither big nor colourful, but they are a memorable pair. He’s a control freak with a girl in his cellar. She’s a control freak who is, unfortunately, in his cellar. Their struggles for supremacy are gripping.

Most beautifully written
Robert Wilton’s TRAITOR’S FIELD (2013)

I’ve read some excellent prose this year, from Dashiell Hammett’s THE GLASS KEY to Scott Turow’s PRESUMED INNOCENT. Their style is what has made them classics, so I’ve chosen to pick a new entrant.

TRAITOR’S FIELD is set during the English Civil War. It’s the story of two intelligence men working on opposite sides: The Royalist Sir Mortimer Shay and the Parliamentarian John Thurloe. They share an obsession with a suspicious death during a botched attempt at a kidnapping. Wilton’s prose is dense and he is adept at conveying atmosphere – from a besieged town to a run-down prison to a remote country house. His fight scenes are brilliant:

‘Then the nightmare: the earth shuddering and the heads screaming and the drowsy clusters of men dragging themselves awake and somehow up, and staggering and clutching for shoulders and weapons and clarity and the nightmare is on them. The nightmare is Cromwell, vast leather-and-metal men on rampaging horses, exploding dark out of the night, monstrous grey-brown shadows and a madness of noise.’

Book that had the greatest impact on you
Georges Simenon’s THE TRAIN (1964)

This has surprised me a little bit. I didn’t especially enjoy it, in fact I didn’t review it beyond a brief mention in my reading review for September. It is the story of an ordinary man from a small town in France at the very beginning of World War Two. He flees the approaching German army with his family, but loses them and without drawing breath takes up with the Belgian refugee who proves to be his soul-mate. They enjoy a bizarre honeymoon is a refugee camp before his ‘real’ life catches up with him. What’s snuck into my mind and won’t leave, is an incredible act of betrayal in the final few paragraphs. His return to normality, to duty, eclipses everything else. And his soul-mate, of course, understands.

Book you can’t believe you waited until 2013 to read
Nicolas Freeling: GUN BEFORE BUTTER (1963)

Van der Valk is a cop show I remember my parents watching in the 70s (and the theme tune, available on YouTube, will doubtless be familiar to many. However, for some reason I had never considered reading the Nicolas Freeling books until I found this in my local second-hand bookshop. Van der Valk is an unconventional and whimsical detective who I think probably influenced Fred Vargas when she came up with her Commissaire Adamsberg. Van Der Valk is similarly unconventional, a thinker and dreamer whose mental processes do not fit into the standard police mould, but who yet has his uses: ‘He got thrown the queer jobs. Anybody with a funny name or a funny business. Or who talked other languages…’

So there we have it: my pick of the 60-odd books I read in 2013.

Rich blogs at Past Offences and is a regular reviewer for Euro Crime.

Link

This week’s post is from Michelle Peckham, a long time friend of Maxine.

Maxine was a long time friend of mine, as we met back in the early 1980s when we were both PhD students, carrying out research into how muscles work. Some time later, when Maxine was working for Nature, and I’d moved up to Leeds as a Lecturer, I happened to mention to her that I’d quite enjoyed reading some books by Michael Connelly, and had started reading quite a few crime books as a result. Maxine immediately started telling me about all the crime novelists I should try (Michael Connelly being one of her favourite authors). Her love of crime fiction led to her blog at Petrona, reviewing for Euro Crime, reviewing on Amazon and even tweeting snippets of crime news, and I always enjoyed reading her reviews. Maxine always had such good recommendations for books that she knew I’d particularly like, and of these were those from another one of her favourite authors, Arnaldur Indridason.  I am sure that she would have really enjoyed STRANGE SHORES, particularly with the return to the story of Erlendur, the solitary, slightly depressive, detective, forever burdened by the loss of his brother when he was just a young boy, a character she very much engaged with.

Maxine was a beautiful, kind person, with an enviable talent of being able to get under the skin of a book, and she is very much missed.


SShoresSTRANGE SHORES by Arnaldur Indridason is the eleventh in the series of Reykjavik Murder mysteries. This book focuses on the main detective, introduced to us in the first books, Erlendur. He is on holiday (something alluded to in the previous two books) and now we finally find out what he has been doing. There has been a long running story-line throughout these books about the death of Erlendur’s brother, and his continuous underlying guilt that he should have done more to save his brother Beggi from death.

As children, they were both lost in a blizzard. Erlendur was with Beggi and held his hand until suddenly Beggi was no longer there. Erlendur made it to safety, but Beggi was never found. Erlundur feels if only he could discover what happened to Beggi, it might help to bring some sort of closure. But his decision to come up to the East Fjords is also motivated by another disappearance, the disappearance of a young woman called Matthildur told to him in a story he heard as a child. Matthildur apparently disappeared in a storm many years ago, on her way to visit her sister. The same storm in which several British soldiers were also trapped, soldiers who were part of the occupying force during the war. It was simply assumed that Matthildur disappeared in the same storm, even though the British soldiers, in the same area, hadn’t seen her.

Staying in his parents’ ruined farmhouse, Erlundur thinks about the past, about Beggi, and Matthildur, and tries to find out what happened to both of them. The difficulty with Matthildur is that her disappearance happened long ago, and those who might know something have kept their secrets for many years, and are reluctant to reveal what they know. Moreover, Erlundur is an ‘outsider’ and has to slowly build trust between himself and the people from the area who know what might have happened. But Erlundur’s gentle and insightful approach gradually persuades the various villagers to unburden themselves, and he gradually manages to piece together an idea of Matthildur’s life and the events that lead to her disappearance. In the process, he gradually comes to terms with the death of his own brother, and we learn more of the events at the time when Beggi disappeared, why Erlundur feels such guilt, and the effects on his own family of the disappearance of a beloved child.

STRANGE SHORES is a powerful and emotional book, Erlundur is a complex, quiet yet persuasive investigator that digs away gently to discover what happened long ago. The memories of the past, both his own and those of the friends, family and neighbours of Matthildur bring together an evocative picture of life in the Fjords, the environment and the various occupations of those living there. Erlundur is able to sit and watch quietly and impassively as various key players unburden themselves of events that happened long ago, events that are gruelling to remember and have tortured their emotions, just as the disappearance of Beggi has tortured Erlundur. Perhaps it is the very fact that Erlundur has lived through something similar, that he is able to persuade people to co-operate and tell Erlundur of their own hopes and fears about what happened when Matthildur disappeared. A beautiful book that really digs down deep into how people cope with a traumatic effect, and how it shapes their lives for many years afterwards. If you haven’t read this series of books yet, this can be read as a stand-alone book, and will surely set you off on the trail of reading the remaining eight books available in English.

Highly recommended and one of my favourite reads of the year.

Book Details:

author: Arnaldur Indridason
original language: Icelandic
translator: Victoria Cribb
publication date (UK): 2013 (original publication 2010)

Contributor Details:

Michelle is a regular reviewer for Euro Crime.

In a Word: Murder – An Anthology

in-a-word-murder-coverAs part of the worldwide crime fiction writing and reading community’s tribute to Maxine Clarke an anthology of short stories has been published in eBook format.

The stories all have a focus on crime in the writing, editing, reviewing and blogging world: a fitting environment for a tribute to Maxine whose non-crime reading life included a long career in science publishing. Stories include the murder of an editor of a true crime magazine, a life-or-death short story competition and a killer literary festival in the North of England.

In addition to providing a bunch of short & sharp criminal stories, proceeds from the collection’s sale go to the Princess Alice Hospice so you shouldn’t need any more incentive to grab a copy Amazon (print version due early next year).

Margot Kinberg of Confessions of a Mystery Novelist fame is to be congratulated for pulling together this collection.

COLD HEARTS by Gunnar Staalesen

This week’s post is from Spanish crime fiction lover Jose Ignacio Escribano who takes us on a visit to Norway to catch up with the latest installment of a series featuring a ‘slightly’ alcoholic private detective who’s been on the case since the late 1970′s.

ColdHeartsStaalesenLike many other authors, I discovered Gunnar Staalesen’s books through Maxine Clarke’s blog, Petrona. Paraphrasing Maxine COLD HEARTS ‘has the added advantage of being translated by the superb Don Bartlett, who also translates (among other authors) Jo Nesbo and K. O. Dahl’. In addition to that COLD HEARTS is eligible or, to be more accurate, can be submitted for the 2014 Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year

The story, like most if not all the books in the series, is set in Bergen, the second largest city in Norway. Varg Veum, the leading character is a private investigator. Staalesen had said about him in a 2010 interview with The Scotsman:

“Varg Veum was born in 1942, so he’s five years older than I am; he was 34 when I created him,” says Staalesen, who introduced his flawed detective – a “slightly” alcoholic ex-social worker and the divorced father of one son – in 1977 in Bukken til havresekken (which translates, enigmatically, as Goat of Geese), with the words: “In the beginning was the office, and in the office I sat.”

The story is narrated in a long flashback. For some reason, Veum can’t take it out of his head. He was working on this case in January 1997, six months ago. On a Monday morning, Veum receives a visit from Hege Jensen in his office. She was in the same class as his son Thomas at secondary school. If she was his age, she must be around twenty-five. In fact, they had been dating for awhile. Now, to make a living, she sells herself. Since last Friday, she hasn’t seen her friend Margrethe, Maggi for short. That day she turned down a punter and Tanya took him instead. When Tanya came back, she was a flood of tears, all bruised and beaten. Hege can’t even consider going to the police. ‘You know how they treat cases like this when it’s about people like me and Maggi’. Veum decides to take up the case.

After an unpleasant encounter with two unfriendly characters, Kjell and Rolf, Veum finds out they were driving a car belonging to a firm called Malthus Invest. ‘What they invested in was not clear from the name, but it was obviously everything from property to what they would no doubt prefer to call the entertainment industry.’ Instead of browsing the Internet, Veum believes it safest to skim through the telephone directory. ‘There was one person in Bergen with the surname Malthus. Oddly enough his first name was Kjell.’ He couldn’t find anyone called Margrethe Monsen. Nor, for that matter, Hege Jensen. Since he didn’t feel competent enough to use the Internet for detective work, Veum rang Karin Bjorge to ask if she would mind checking a name for him. A meal at Pascal’s was much more his style. Karin finds one Margrethe Monsen with a Minde address, born on 14 April 1970. Her father Frank died four years ago. Her mother Else has the same address as Margrethe, Falsens vei. An older sister, Siv, lives in Landas and her younger brother, Karl Gunnar is in prison.

Next, Veum, heads to the red light district and finds Tanya. Despite her initial reluctance, finally, she tells him they were two Norwegian, way over fifty. Only one did it. The other waited around the corner. When she tried to get away, he held her down. The one in the outside got into the backseat, placed a rope round her neck and threatened to tighten it. She remembers it was a black car and the first three numbers on the plate.

As he tries try to find out more, Veum will have to face a brutal reality. Soon the first body will be found, and it won’t be the last. Under each stone that he raises, some dark secret is hidden. Ultimately the pattern of wounded people, worm-eaten lives, and hearts long since grown cold proves deadly – for someone. (Arcadia Books).

COLD HEARTS is excellent crime fiction. The story is intelligent and very well written. It does have a great sense of place. The characters are credible, Varg Veum turns out to be extremely interesting. The plot is well structured and, at the end, all the different pieces of the puzzle will fit with each other. Staalesen provides us with a view of the welfare state that may not be for everyone taste, but no one can ignore its existence, and thus he adds an element of social criticism that is thought-provoking. This is a highly recommended book, by a superb writer, unfortunately not very well known.


Book Details:

author: Gunnar Staalesen
original language: Norwegian
translator: Don Bartlett
publication date (UK): 2013 (original publication 2008)

Contributor Details:

Jose Ignacio Escribano blogs at The Game’s Afoot where he takes the international flavour of crime fiction up a notch by reading and reviewing in both English and Spanish.

The Stockholm City Lights Were Slowly Starting to Rise*

This week’s post is devoted to a location rather than a specific book or author. Writer and crime fiction blogger Margot Kinberg highlights a city that has become as familiar to those fans of the genre who like to read translated crime fiction as New York or LA are to fans of the American form of the genre. Even those who’ve never visited.


I haven’t (yet) visited Stockholm, although I’m told (and have seen in ‘photos) that it’s a beautiful city. It’s the largest city on the Scandinavian Peninsula and it’s connected in many ways with the rest of Europe and beyond. What’s more, Stockholm is one of Sweden’s major cultural and economic hubs, not to mention its capital. So it’s not surprising that a lot of Scandinavian crime fiction takes place there. Maxine Clarke was an expert on Scandinavian crime fiction and taught me much about it, so in her memory, let’s take a look at some of the novels and series that take place in Stockholm.

The Harper Perennial editions of the series released from 2006 make a great looking set and each has an introduction from a leading contemporary crime writer.

One of the classic police procedural series (and one which I think should be on the reading list of any crime fiction fan, to be honest) is Maj Sjøwall and Per Wahløø’s Martin Beck series, which takes place largely in Stockholm. The ten novels that comprise this series follow Martin Beck and his fellow investigators through several changes in their own lives. They also examine critically Swedish social, economic and cultural life. In Murder at the Savoy for instance, there’s a hard look at the Swedish class system of the day and at the business and political elites who perpetuated it. In THE ABOMINABLE MAN, Martin Beck and his team investigate the murder of a fellow cop, and we get a look at the Swedish police system and the abuses within it. And in THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN and THE TERRORISTS, we get a look at Stockholm’s relationship with other nations, among other things. Since this is a police procedural series, we also see a lot of the city of Stockholm as Martin Beck and his team interview people, follow up leads and the like. What’s interesting about this series too (at least in my opinion) is its timelessness. Yes, fashions have changed, the Vietnam War protests are over and the like. But the larger questions addressed in this series are still important questions today.

TheBomberMarklundLiza Marklund’s series featuring journalist Annika Bengtzon also takes place mostly in Stockholm. Through Bengtzon’s eyes, we get to see several facets of life in that city. For instance, the main action in THE BOMBER begins when an at-first-unidentified woman is killed during a bomb blast at the newly-constructed Olympic Village. While the story doesn’t focus on the Olympic Games themselves, it does reflect the fact that Stockholm has twice been the host city for the Olympics. And in STUDIO SEX (aka STUDIO 69), Marklund explores the ‘backroom’ deals that go on among powerful politicians and businesspeople. In this case, the discovery of Hanna Josefin Liljeberg’s body in Kronoberg Park leads Bengtzon to Stockholm’s sex clubs and underworld meeting places. It also leads her to some possible government cover-ups and ‘dirty deals.’ As Bengtzon goes about gathering information for her stories, we also get to see what living in Stockholm is like.

Stefan Tegenfalk’s Walter Gröhn/Joanna de Brugge trilogy (ANGER MODE, PROJECT NIRVANA, THE MISSING LINK) is also based in Stockholm. Stockholm County CID Inspector Walter Gröhn and CID trainee Jonna de Brugge are drawn into a series of bizarre murders and later, a hostage situation. The complicated case leads both of them into a web of international intrigue, computer crime and larger questions about the limits of science. A lot of people see this trilogy more as a set of thrillers than more typical crime fiction, and some even call them ‘techno-thrillers.’ Either way, they show among other things how international a city Stockholm has become.

TheSavageAltarLarssonSeveral of Åsa Larsson’s novels featuring attorney Rebecca Martinsson take place in northern Sweden. However, the series starts in Stockholm, where Martinsson works for a large law firm. In THE SAVAGE ALTAR (aka SUN STORM) she returns to her home in Kiruna to help a friend who’s been accused of murder. Although she more or less remains in that area, she still has strong ties to Stockholm. For instance, her on again/off again lover Måns Wenngren lives there and wants her to move back. She also stays in contact with her good friend Maria Taube, who works for the same Stockholm law firm. One of the interesting things that we see in this series is the way Stockholm is perceived in other parts of Sweden. For example, at the beginning of the series, Martinsson dresses in a very particular, professional kind of way, with stylish clothes, coat and boots. That’s how she fits in to the environment. But that way of dressing is perceived as too ‘slick’ – too ‘Stockholm’ – in Norrland, where she’s from and to which she returns. So little by little, Martinsson adapts her ‘Stockholm’ ways and wardrobe to local expectations. It’s an interesting reflection of the way the other parts of Sweden and Stockholm view each other.

SomeKindOfPeaceGrebeAnd then there’s Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff’s series featuring Stockholm psychologist Siri Bergman. In her first outing, SOME KIND OF PEACE, Bergman becomes the target of what seems like a stalker determined to ruin her reputation and her practice – and worse. When the body of one of her clients is found on her property, she also gets drawn into a murder investigation. In MORE BITTER THAN DEATH, Bergman and her friend and business partner Aina Davidson agree to host a weekly group session for women who’ve survived domestic abuse. This leads Bergman into a high-profile case of murder when Susanne Olsson is murdered, and the boyfriend of one of the group’s members becomes the prime suspect. This series also gives the reader a strong sense of daily life in Stockholm, and both novels address some larger issues such as the domestic abuse and the state of mental health care.

Stockholm is a fascinating city and it’s been the source of inspiration to several writers. Little wonder there is terrific crime fiction that takes place there. I’ve only had space to mention a few examples. What’s your favourite Stockholm-based novel or series?

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Scandinavian Skies.


Contributor Details:

Margot Kinberg is an Associate Professor working in the fields of linguistics and literacy, a published crime writer and prolific blogger. At Confessions of a Mystery Novelist her daily posts on the themes and ideas explored in crime fiction are always thought-provoking and the back catalogue is a fabulous resource for anyone even vaguely interested in the genre. Margot’s occasional quizzes are fiendish fun for the aficionados. Those familiar with Margot’s blog will not be surprised to see she has found a Billy Joel connection to Scandinavia :)

ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER LIFE by Leif G.W. Persson

This week’s much loved crime novel is a modern Swedish epic and is the choice of Yvonne Klein, editor of Reviewing the Evidence, one of the web’s oldest and best sites devoted to this genre.


UK cover

UK cover

In the heady days of 1975, a band of young people took over the West German Embassy in Stockholm, holding hostages, mining the place with explosives, and demanding the release of members of Baader-Meinhof, the Red Army Faction (RAF), then being held in a German prison in harsh conditions. The Swedish police, perhaps a bit unclear on the concept, waited for the “Stockholm syndrome” to kick in, but before the affair was over, two hostages were shot and killed, and two Red Army Faction members were dead or dying as a result of accidentally detonating their own bombs. Persson recounts the events, which indeed happened, in the detached and faintly sardonic tone that characterizes the style of the narrative as a whole. Eleven years later, the Swedish prime minister, Olof Palme, was assassinated. The perpetrator has never been established, but RAF did claim responsibility for the murder, via a group calling itself the Holger Meins Commando, Meins being a jailed member who died during a hunger strike in prison in 1974. All this is essential history for the weighty novel that follows from it.

Clearly, the terrorists must have had help, and local help at that. Who these may have been was not established and there seems to have been a curious reluctance on the part of politicians and police to pursue the matter too closely. In the end, the matter is allowed to die out, swaddled in the notion that terrorism was somehow so “un-Swedish.”

US Cover

US Cover

We leap forward to 1989, to the scene of a fictional murder of a government statistician named Kjell Göran Eriksson, stabbed in his flat. He might have survived had not the emergency services been otherwise employed thanks to a mass rally of Swedish nationalists and neo-Nazis commemorating King Charles XII. The investigation falls rapidly into the sweaty hands of Inspector Bäckström, who comes almost instantly to the unshakeable conclusion, based on the undeniable neatness of Eriksson’s flat and the tastefulness of his furnishings, that Eriksson was the victim of a homosexual affair gone wrong,. Bäckström, who also appeared in the first novel in this trilogy, BETWEEN SUMMER’S LONGING AND WINTER’S END, is an appalling toad, obsessively fixated on possible homosexuality wherever he looks. His vocabulary consists almost exclusively of anti-gay terms of abuse, of which he has a limitless store. As for women, he views his female colleagues all as “temporary,” (real police being, of course, male) and if they are insufficiently subordinate, as “attack dykes.” He is, moreover venal – in this case sneaking back into Eriksson’s flat to pack up the victim’s suitcases with as much liquor as he can manage and lifting as well some bath towels to which he has taken a fancy. In time and to no one’s surprise, the investigation peters out.

But just before the statute of limitations will run out on the embassy attack, it surfaces once again in March, 2000 and this time, much has changed. There is a strong political motive to clarify the identity of the Swedish citizens who abetted the German terrorists. The bulk of the investigation is carried out by a group of women police officers, one of whom Bäckström viewed as temporary ten years previously. And their police work is inspired. Gradually the embassy case intersects with the Eriksson murder to produce a brilliant solution to both crimes. Do the women police get credit for their labours? Well, not everything has changed in Sweden. Is strict justice done? Well, that depends.

ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER LIFE is a monumental novel, of a kind that with its irony, coolness, and thinly disguised fury at the decline of social democracy is hard to imagine being presented as a crime novel in America. If it were not for the wistful hope of the emergence of a new Stieg Larsson, I wonder if it would have been translated at all. And readers who also hope for another Lisbeth Salander will be sadly disappointed. ANOTHER TIME is very short on action, deficient in thrill, and infinitely detailed. It does, on the other hand, effectively meld fiction with historical fact and situate a crime within the context of massive historical change. It is also engrossing and provocative and, in Paul Norlen’s translation, very readable indeed.


Maxine Clarke shared Yvonne’s enjoyment of this novel and posted her own review last year which prompted the book’s inclusion on the shortlist for the inaugural Petrona Award.

Book Details:

author: Leif G.W. Persson
original language: Swedish
translator: Paul Norlen
publication date (UK): 2012

Contributor Details:

In addition to being an editor and regular reviewer at Reviewing the Evidence Yvonne Klein is a retired professor, writer and translator living in Montreal.

THE DRAINING LAKE by Arnaldur Indriđason

This week’s much-loved crime fiction heralds the third appearance of Icelandic author Arnaldur Indriđason here at Petrona Remembered. The tiny country definitely punches above its weight in the hearts of crime fiction fans, including the appropriately mysterious host of Mrs Peabody Investigates


TheDariningLake1This review of Arnaldur Indriđason’s 2004 novel THE DRAINING LAKE was my first post on the crime fiction blog Mrs. Peabody Investigates, and was published with great anticipation on my part at the beginning of 2011. Much to my disappointment – as is the way with new blogs – it went pretty much unnoticed and unremarked (a good few weeks passed before I started making proper links in the crime blogging community and readers started engaging with my posts).

In March 2011, Maxine found the blog, and from that point onwards was often the first person to comment on my reviews. She became a constant, encouraging presence for me as a rookie blogger, and taught me an enormous amount about the crime genre by allowing me to tap her vast knowledge of the field.

One of the moments I felt Maxine’s support most keenly was in April 2012, when she left a comment on the now year-old review of THE DRAINING LAKE. She had taken the time to go back and read through some of my early posts, and I remember really appreciating that she’d provided this poor, neglected review with some feedback at last. Her comment and my reply are still the only responses on the post, and for that reason it remains very special to me.

Although this 2004 novel is written by an Icelander and set in Reykjavik, it’s firmly indebted to the classic Swedish police procedural. Detective Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson can be viewed as a third-generation representative of the Swedish police investigator, following in the footsteps of Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Martin Beck, and Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander. Morose, cynical and consumed with self-doubt, these policemen have become progressively more embattled and isolated with each generation. In Erlendur’s case, he’s forced to question the extent to which his absence as a father is responsible for his daughter’s slide into a drug addiction – one the novel describes in sober and hard-hitting detail.

The draining lake of the title is Lake Kleifarvatn, whose mysteriously receding waters reveal an old skeleton weighed down with a heavy Russian radio device. As Erlendur and his team begin the painstaking process of investigating this strange find, they are transported back to an era of international espionage and political unrest during the Cold War, whose consequences can only now be fully understood.

Two things lift this crime novel a cut above the average police procedural. The first is the fascinating insight the novel gives into the Cold War period, and in particular, the experiences of young, idealistic, Icelandic communists who were offered the opportunity to study in East Germany in the 1950s. The second is the sensitive treatment of the theme of ‘the missing’ and of the impact that losing someone without knowing his or her final fate can have on the individual.

A number of the characters, including Erlendur, have lost someone close to them, and the novel is haunted by their many absences. While some eventually learn what happened to their loved ones, others are not so fortunate. They, and crucially the reader, are left without an adequate resolution to the story of these disappearances, a deliberate omission that adds tremendous power to the narrative. Thus, while the central murder is solved, other aspects of the plot are left open, questioning the notion that a case can ever be fully solved. We might know who the murderer is, and understand what motivated them, but the void left by ‘the missing’ remains.

THE DRAINING LAKE is well written, enjoyable and thought-provoking: a first-rate, multi-layered crime novel. Erlendur is a welcome and worthy successor to Beck and Wallander, and the novel’s Icelandic setting adds a beguiling and unusual dimension to the chilly subgenre of dark, Nordic crime.

The novel is the 4th in the ‘Reykjavik murder mystery series’, and in my view, it’s the best so far.


This review was first published at Mrs Peabody Investigates on 2 January 2011 (and is reproduced with the permission of the site owner)

Book Details:

author: Arnaldur Indriðason
original language: Icelandic
translator: Bernard Scudder
publication date (UK): August 2007

Contributor Details:

Mrs Peabody is the pseudonym of a UK-based academic and crime fiction fan who has been blogging about crime novels, television and movies at Mrs Peabody Investigates since 2011 and reading within the genre for several decades. One of her fascinating subjects of special interest is an ongoing research project to develop a database of German, English and foreign-language crime novels (or novels using elements of the crime genre), which explore the history, memory and legacy of National Socialism.