Tuesday, 12 June 2018

What I'm Reading Now - Nordic Noir

Since I don't have as much time for writing, I thought I'd talk about some Scandinavian crime fiction I've read recently.

I don't read tons of crime fiction, but it's easy to find in most libraries, especially in a foreign language section, so I tend to binge from time to time. The sort I like have a strong sense of place and culture, an interesting main character as well as a good crime story. I especially like Donna Leon for her Venice Brunetti series and Ian Rankin for his Edinburgh Rebus series even MC Beaton's Hamish MacBeth's novels set in the Highlands of Scotland are a fun way to spend a few hours. So after reading Stig Larsson's Millenium series shortly after we arrived in Finland, I decided branch out into some other Nordic Noir novels.

I won't do an in-depth review or synopsis for these, just some background info and a quick feeling for each.

Phantom - Jo Nesbø - This is part of a popular series, former policeman Harry Hole comes back to Oslo, Norway to help someone from his past and get embroiled in drugs crime that has its fingers into all levels of the city. The writing is strong and the main character is witty, flawed, likable but also layered. This book is mid-way through the series, but you don't feel like you've missed too much as Harry's relationships with people from his past are built up again for the reader. It uses the dead character speaking, but it's well done, offering red herrings, filling in gaps in Harry's point of view and gives us a sense of the characters away from Harry. It's easy to see why this has such a wide international following. I think there's a Hollywood movie underway as well, unfortunately.

Snow Blind - Ragnar Jónasson - His debut novel is set in a remote town in Northern Iceland that gets snowed in by avalanches regularly. This plays on that overwhelming sense of remoteness, darkness of the mid-winter that is typical of Nordic Noir. I get a similar feeling every winter here in Southern Scandinavia to a much lesser extreme, without the murders, of course. There was lots of background information on the characters, maybe too much, but I didn't really gel with the lead at all, a just-graduated police recruit with a theology background. There are at least four other books in The Dark Iceland Series.

Until Thy Rath Be Past Åsa Larsson - Set in Northern Sweden where many of the characters still speak a form of Finnish this was a part of Scandinavia I wasn't familiar with and the book delves into the impact of WWII on this isolated area  which again I didn't know much about. Another series with at least 5 books now. The main characters didn't have enough depth for me. There were two strong women leads which was nice to see but they were a bit stereotyped, an overworked mother/ police inspector and a work-aholic single prosecutor Rebecka Martinson who the series is based around who seems to get to do lots of investigating. A knowledge of Finnish gives part of the game away towards the end, but most will miss it.

Hypothermia - Arnaladur Indridason - An Inspector Erlendur novel, so again part of a series set in Iceland. As with many of these novels, the case was secondary here to the main character's angst and history, but I felt I had missed a lot of previous information from earlier in the series, so I couldn't connect with  Erlendur. Family members and old familiars pop up laden with emotional history and Erlendur's own brother's disappearance in his childhood hangs heavily over the novel, so much that I wished they would focus on that. the book was well written and I was getting a feeling for Erlendur, so I might try the series from the beginning.

The Sheriff - Reijo Mäki - Jussi Vares is a private detective in Turku, Finland and takes the hard-boiled, hard-drinking private eye to the limits of its definition. He seems to spend most of his time totally wasted with his layabout mates and occasionally goes out to solve the crime which I just couldn't get into though it had an interesting set-up. Nine of the 26 Vares books have been turned into movies, Google tells me, but I'm assuming that's in Finnish only. The novel explores sides of Finland I've not come across before, definitely its less attractive sides, but the main character and his too-merry band just weren't likable to me.

Copper Heart - Leena Lehtolainen - third book in the Maria Kallio series. I enjoyed this book, a good view of small town Finland, lots of interesting charachters with backgrounds that weren't too complicated or heavy. Some of the series is set in Helsinki and Espoo, so I'm interested in reading those as this is the Finland I know.  In this title, Maria Kallio goes back to the small town she grew up in to fill in for the current sheriff, so her past relationships come into play while she tries to figure out whodunnit. 

Of these titles, I'd probably read more of Jo Nesbo's and Leena Lehtolainen's books, but who are we kidding, I will read almost anything I can get my hand on here. Helsinki has great libraries, but their English language choices are limited, so I am reading what I can find at any branch I happen to drop into if I've forgotten to reserve titles. It's definitely widened my reading circle.


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