The winner of the first Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year will be announced on 1 June at CrimeFest in Bristol. The award has been created to honour the memory of Maxine Clarke who, blogging as Petrona, was tirelessly promoting Scandinavian crime fiction translated into English long before Stieg Larsson grabbed the world’s attention. This year’s shortlist was derived from Maxine’s published reviews of Scandinavian crime fiction published in the UK in 2012 and the contenders are:
PIERCED by Thomas Enger, translation by Charlotte Barslund which Maxine thought even better than Enger’s excellent debut novel (BURNED). In this novel the journalist at the heart of this Norwegian series, Henning Juul is asked to find evidence that a prisoner due for an appeal hearing is innocent of the crime he has been convicted of. The carrot dangled before the vulnerable journalist is that Tore Pulli, the prisoner, claims to know something about the fire which injured Juul and killed his young son. Maxine thought the many threads of PEIRCED “combine to make the novel a great combination of detection and thriller”, found it “endearing that Juul sees the world through the eyes of a wordsmith” and enjoyed the occasional references: for crime fiction aficionados such as the mention of French anti-corruption magistrate and turned novelist Eva Joly.
BLACK SKIES by Arnaldur Indridason, translation by Victoria Cribb, is set partly in the recently turbulent world of the Icelandic financial sector and centres on detective Sigurdur Óli who is asked by an old friend for some discreet help when his sister-in-law and her husband are being blackmailed due to an ill-considered episode of wife-swapping. When Sigurdur Óli discovers the blackmailer dead he decides to investigate the case without telling his colleagues all the salient facts. Maxine’s review includes this summary
…an author as experienced as Indridason never forgets that he’s writing a crime novel first and foremost; the plot is a satisfying and topical one. It is well-paced, as Sigurdur Óli’s and the official lines of enquiry obscure each other until they merge; the story then takes a sudden new direction – which is when the author fully gets his teeth into the financial cowboys (“the new Vikings”) that have wrecked his country’s economy and the lives of many of its citizens. Yet the author also provides us with an excellent character study of Sigurdur Óli, whose arrogance at the start of the book gives way to some personal insight and maturity by the end, partly by his new willingness to examine his relationships with friends and family, but in particular via the tragic case of Anders [a local addict whose revenge fantasy plays out in parallel with the main story].
LAST WILL by Liza Marklund, translation by Neil Smith is the sixth novel to feature Swedish journalist Annika Bengtzon and Maxine thought it “…a fantastic, intelligent crime thriller, containing all the elements [she loved] about the genre.” As it opens Annika is attending the annual Nobel prize banquet on behalf of the paper when the laureate for medicine and the head of the Nobel committee are shot. Because she is a witness Annika is not allowed to cover the incident but does carry on an unofficial investigation. Maxine went on to say of LAST WILL
It is a clever, muscular thriller, combining exciting action with analyses of many contemporary issues: the dangers of security and terrorist legislation, in particular in the tragic case of a man accused of the Nobel atrocity; the plight of modern journalism and what proprietors do to survive in the internet era; the politics of the science profession and the scope for corruption by the financial interests of drug companies; some great descriptions of biological research; the ethics of scientific publication; and, underlying it all, a cracking, puzzling crime – why was the Nobel victim chosen, who was behind the events of that night, and what is the relationship between the first and subsequent crimes? None of these themes is treated as a cliché or in any predictable way; each is attacked with a fresh perspective by the author, abetted by Annika’s characteristic refusal to compromise.
ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER LIFE by Leif G.W. Persson, translation by Paul Norlen, is the second part of a trilogy subtitled ‘the story of a crime’ and opens with a consideration of a terrorist attack on the German embassy in Stockholm in 1975 before moving on to a 1989 murder investigation and an even more modern investigation a further ten years after that. After observing some stylistic and topical links to the work of eminent Swedish crime writers Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo Maxine says of the book’s opening segment
The presentation of this first, short section of the book is so distinctive, setting the tone for the rest. It is measured and sober, describing enormities of violence, procedural deficiencies, and institutional stupidities in dispassionate terms, allowing the reader to absorb their full impact. The author’s refusal to be overtly opinionated at first gives his words a face-value authority, but as the book progresses one sees the extent to which the author is wooing the reader to his particular subversive perception of his country’s criminal justice system.
She finishes her review with these thoughts
There are many layers of subtlety in this gripping novel which I haven’t addressed in this brief review, but which I greatly appreciated – in particular the acute characterisations, including (in some cases) the disparities between people’s thoughts and actions. I can only urge you to read it. I eagerly devoured every word, even though it is a very long book. In its superb anatomy of Sweden using the police and criminal justice system as a metaphor, as well as many of the ways characters are presented and evolve, Leif Persson is the true heir of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, authors of the best crime-fiction series ever written.
You still have a couple of weeks to read all four titles vying for the first Petrona Award and, until 29 May, you can vote on which of the novels you think will win the award and which of them you want to win the award. Head over to Euro Crime to vote and stay tuned to find out which of these fantastic novels takes out the inaugural Petrona Award.