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review 2018-07-20 20:34
Shades of Nordic Noir
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson

The books comprising the ‘Millennium Trilogy’ have achieved, albeit posthumously, almost legendary status for Stieg Larsson. Having previously delivered the manuscripts to his Swedish publisher, tragically the author died of a heart attack in 2004, aged just 50 and consequently he never witnessed the international plaudits, which were eventually to greet this exceptional work. I read the series a number of years ago, but I wanted to revisit them before reviewing and I was curious to see if my original impressions remained. Clearly, international sales of the books, reported to be of the order of 80 million copies worldwide, is quite a phenomenon. But what is it that continues to strike such a chord with the readers of popular crime fiction?


Powerful yet shocking, violent yet touching, this novel is at its heart a thriller, which contrasts the most depraved, base examples of humanity with the most outwardly unassuming characters. Yet, in investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist and security analyst Lisbeth Salander, Larsson has created main characters who are clearly flawed, but retain a complexity and depth, which is truly absorbing, thrown together as they are, to combat low points in their respective lives and the situational challenges that follow.


At the opening of the book, Blomkvist has just been found guilty of libel against financier, Hans-Erik Wennerstrȍm and is faced with three months in prison as well as a sizeable fine. Salander, a very different kind of investigator, is commissioned by her sometime employer to generate a report on Blomkvist and is intrigued that for such a careful reporter, he appears not to have contested the case. The author cleverly uses the report to inform the reader about Blomkvist and the thoughts of Salander’s boss at Milton Security (CEO, Dragan Armansky) to sketch out an early impression of her. Both are mavericks, with quite contrasting personalities, but as the plot unfolds they are bound inextricably together. Salander has experienced a troubled young life and might be considered a victim, but for her capacity for violent retribution. Brilliant, but emotionally cold, Salander lacks the capacity for empathy, but is drawn towards Blomkvist’s open warmth, humour and laid back attitude. What they share is an insatiable appetite for answers and the need for justice to be served, though Salander is quite bemused by Blomkvist’s attachment to the rule of law.


The ‘Millennium’ of the title is a magazine and Blomkvist’s enforced sabbatical enables him to take up a freelance assignment, for ex-industrialist Henrik Vanger. Ostensibly tasked with writing a biography of the Vanger family, Henrik though is obsessed with identifying the murderer of his great niece and favourite (Harriet Vanger) and persuades Blomkvist to mount an investigation for which he is prepared to pay handsomely and on completion, the prospect of some useful information about Blomkvist’s nemesis - Wennerstrȍm. The investigation centre’s on events which took place forty years earlier on the island of Hedestad, owned by the Vanger family and where generations continue to live in splendid isolation. In that sense there are echoes of an Agatha Christie whodunit, with a limited cast of suspects, but getting to the ‘how’ and ‘why’ is deliciously convoluted. Moreover, the nature of the comeuppance doled out to a series of villains is supremely satisfying.


Curiously this first book in the trilogy introduces the key protagonists and can stand alone as a novel, with a discrete storyline. Books 2 and 3 feels like a further, longer story, dissected into two just to make the volumes manageable, but developing the characters in all their dysfunctional glory. In any event, ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ remains a ground-breaking book, which helped herald the contemporary genre of Nordic noir and propel it into the spotlight of popular literary culture. For me, it is understandably vaunted as a ‘modern classic’, not to everyone’s taste, but quite a ride.

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review 2018-03-21 20:08
A Nordic noir thriller with two fascinating protagonists, D.I. Hulda Hermannsdóttir and Iceland.
The Darkness - Ragnar Jónasson

Thanks to NetGalley and to Michael Joseph for providing me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

I’ve followed with interest the rise in popularity of the Nordic/ Scandinavian Thrillers in recent years, although I have read random titles rather than becoming a dedicated fan of any single writer. (I’ve also watched quite a few of the crime TV series produced in those countries and I’ve particularly enjoyed Wallander, The Bridge, and The Killing). This is the first novel I read by Ragnar Jónasson, although I suspect it won’t be the last.

The novel contains some familiar elements, although with interesting variations. The main character, Hulda, a Detective Inspector, that works in Reykjavík, is 64 and on her way to retirement. She is surprised by the news that this retirement has been brought forward, and, as an afterthought to keep her quiet, her boss tells her she can work on a cold case of her choice. She chooses the apparent suicide of a Russian girl, an asylum seeker because she mistrusts the lead investigator. The novel, written in the third person, mostly from Hulda’s point of view, follows her last three days in the force. I say mostly because there are other fragments that are told from other characters’ points of view, although at first, it is not that clear who they are. We come to understand how they relate to the main story later, but I must clarify that they are clearly distinct, easy to follow, and do not cause any confusion. They do provide additional information, a different perspective, and they help us understand the story and the characters more fully (and yes, they might also mislead us a tiny bit), although I suspect some readers might catch on faster than others as to their true relevance.

Hulda is a known standard of the genre: the old detective forced to leave the job that is determined to solve one last case before retirement. Only, in this case, she is a woman, and she does reflect on how difficult things have been for her because she is a woman, glass ceiling and all. She does share some of the other attributes sometimes typical of these characters: she is very good but not that very well liked; she has to work alone because she is not a favourite among the other detectives; she resents her younger boss and many of her teammates; she is effective but might bend the rules slightly; she is reserved and has suffered tragedies in her life… The author is very good at creating a very compelling character and then making us question our judgment. At least in my case, I really liked Hulda to begin with, but after a while, I realised that she might be one of those favourites of mine, an unreliable narrator (or, although not directly a narrator, her point of view is unreliable). She makes decisions that are morally questionable; she drinks a bit too much; and well… I am keeping my mouth shut. My feelings for this character went from really liking her, to not being so sure, to not liking her very much, and then… This change in opinion and perception is cleverly achieved and extremely well done, and it reminded me of books like We Need to Talk about Kevin (not the story itself, but the way the writer slowly makes us empathise with a character to later pull the rug from under our feet).

The story is dark in more ways than one. As I said, there are morally grey areas (or even quite dark): the subject matter and the fact that a young asylum seeker and her death are not considered important and have been all but forgotten a year down the line (unfortunately that rings true), Hulda’s own life and the secrets she keeps, and Iceland. Although there is not a great deal of violence (and definitely not explicit), there is a certain unsettling air and a cold and menacing atmosphere, that comes in part from Hulda’s paranoia and her personality (suspicious and mistrustful), but goes beyond it. The setting is very important and it contributes to the story and its effect on the reader. Iceland is a character in its own right. The descriptions of the many locations in the book create a picture in the reader’s mind and help understand how important the place is to the mood, the characters, and their way of life. A place where light and darkness rule people’s lives, and where the inhabitants have adapted to conditions many of us would find difficult and hostile. The title is apt for many reasons (as we learn as we read on). It is a noir novel, where nobody is exactly as they appear at first, and where red herrings, false clues, and side-stories muddy the storyline, adding layers of complexity to what appears straightforward, at first.

The writing is fluid, and versatile, providing different registers and clearly distinct voices for the different aspects of the story and the varied points of view, and although it is a translation, it is well-written and the style fits in perfectly the content. It is not the usual fast-paced thriller, but one that builds up tension and organically incorporates the psychology of the characters and the setting into the story.

A couple of examples:

Time was like a concertina: one minute compressed, the next stretching out interminably.

‘She’s being deported. It happens. You know, it’s a bit like those games of musical chairs you play as a kid. The music starts, everyone gets up and walks in a circle and when the music stops, one of the chairs is taken away and someone’s unlucky.’

The ending… I will not talk in detail about it but although perhaps not unexpected, is a bit of a shocker.

A great (and not long) novel for lovers of Nordic thrillers, or anybody who enjoys thrillers that deviate from the norm. I’d also recommend it to anybody intrigued by Iceland and unreliable narrators. And I’d also recommend it to authors always intrigued by other authors’ technique and voice. I intend to keep reading the series. And enjoying it.

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review 2016-03-21 10:37
Review: Missing in Malmö (Inspector Anita Sundström #3) by Torquil MacLeod
Missing in Malmö - Torquil MacLeod

Publisher: McNidder & Grace Crime (10th December 2015)

 

ISBN: 978-0857161154

 

Source: Publisher provided review copy

 

Rating: 5*

 

Synopsis:

When a British heir hunter fails to return home after a trip to Malmö, Inspector Anita Sundström doesn't want to get entangled in a simple missing person's case. She shows a similar reluctance when her ex-husband begs her to find his girlfriend, who seems to have disappeared. But when the mysteries take a sinister turn, Sundström finds herself inextricably involved in both baffling affairs, one of which seems to be connected to a robbery that took place twenty years earlier. As the cases begin to unravel, tragedy awaits the investigating team in the third Anita Sundström Malmö mystery.

 

Review:

Having read and enjoyed the first two Anita Sundström mysteries, I was eagerly looking forward to this third instalment. Torquil MacLeod has an engaging writing style that is easy to read and draws you from the outset.

 

The two missing persons cases that form the plot are both intriguing and confounding, and as Anita and her team delve further, some astonishing facts are revealed. Just when I thought I knew who had done what, another revelation was revealed. There are more twists and turns here than your average rollercoaster!

 

Feisty Anita Sundström is one of the most fascinating characters I've come across in the last couple of years, so getting to learn more about her personal story in Missing in Malmö was a much appreciated bonus to this fantastic story. Her trip to the UK, accompanied by her amusing perceptions of British mannerisms, adds a touch of humour that is both welcome and unexpected.

 

Thanks to McNidder & Grace for the review copy, which was provided in return for my honest review.

 

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review 2015-01-19 23:34
Someone to Watch Over Me
Someone to Watch Over Me: A Thriller (Thora Gudmundsdottir) - Yrsa Sigurdardottir

By Yrsa Sigurdardottir
ISBN: 9781250051479
Publisher: St Martin's Press/Minotaur
Publication Date: 2/17/2015
Format: Other
My Rating: 4 Stars

 

A special thank you to St. Martin's Press, Minotaur Books, and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME, Yrsa Sigurdardottir’slatest complex crime thriller (Thora Gudmundsdottir #5 Series)reminding you of the classic, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,with this multi-layered dark spine-chilling psycho- Nordic noir.

Set in Iceland, a fire, an arson eighteen months earlier. A young man, Jakob with Down's Syndrome had been convicted of burning down a residential assisted living facility and killing five people.

A fellow inmate of the Secure Psychiatric Unit (SPU) at Sogan has requested Thor’s assistance, and says Jakob is his friend. He is twenty years old and may spend the rest of his life here. Karlsoon says Jakob did not do it, and wants Thora to prove it.

Until 1992, prisoners with mental health problems had either been placed in institutions aboard or simply kept among the general population at Litla-Hraun prison. Neither option was ideal. The first option: the language barrier, untold hardships and the distance from their family and friends. The latter: The prison was not an adequate healthcare facility.

Thora did not know how well the prisoners considered to be of sound mind would interact with those suffering from mental illness, and she could not imagine how the harsh conditions of prison life could possibly be conducive to the treatment of the criminally insane. All seven places at Sogna were always occupied.

The guy hiring her is no run of the mill inmate, due to lack of evidence in several cases, he received suspended sentence of six years for false imprisonment. Twelve years later he sexually assaulted a teen, and this time there was no neighbor who intervened. However, when reading through the records, the police had received an anonymous tip telling them exactly where to find certain things.

He was found guilty but declared no criminally liable due to insanity. This meant he was acquitted of criminal charged and sentenced to the SPU, until the court proposed he was no longer a threat. He now has been here eight years and says he has inherited money from his mother. And he says, “A child who’s had their fingers burned might still want to play with tire. “ (now wonder what he means by this) we soon find out.

The mystery heats up as one case turns into several involving arson, murder, rape, and financial corruption. Thora continues to receive texts from an unidentified sender who seems to be feeding her enigmatic clues. A mysterious set of numbers and letters appears in a text, as well as on a frosted window and in the drawings of an autistic boy. Then, there is a haunted house and a ghost. And how is the multiple murder connected to the death of a young woman, killed in what was supposed to be a hit-and-run?

Wow, Thora is really thrown into a complex case(s), and in addition dealing with the disabled, family of those with disabilities, as well as the world of rehabilitation, she is dealing with criminals--she has to question.

There are numerous pieces to this mysterious puzzle and Thora is tenacious, in getting to the core to connect all the dots. At the same time she relates to Iceland's recent financial and economical issues, and other items of reference to provide vivid descriptions and settings of the area. Many secondary characters, with twists and turns for a complex multi-layered engrossing suspense, and the cases all come together for an explosive ending.

Well written and intense, with extensive research into mental illness, emotional and social issues, with a nice balance of Thora’s work and personal life. My first book by this author, and look forward to reading more!

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1093770038
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review 2014-10-31 18:35
Not Fossum's Finest
I Can See in the Dark - Karin Fossum

As someone who has read every book by this author, this was my least favorite Karin Fossum book.

I didn't find this book as approachable or engaging as I have found others in her series. On that note, I will say as a true Fossum fan and the catalyst who led me into my love of Nordic Noir, her irony of writing on a criminal who was charged with a crime he didn't commit was hilarious.

On that note, if one is new to Nordic Noir, I would start with her Inspector Sejer series.

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