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Nordic Noir

Branagh's Kurt Wallander

Branagh’s Kurt Wallander

Although it’s springtime, the wintry weather seemed to be blasting us from the North throughout March, and so my reading theme chimed with the Nordic-based weather front.

A librarian friend jokingly suggested that I should spend each month dressed according to my reading theme; she was particularly looking forward to last month’s Regency theme with empire-line dresses, fans and smelling salts. I disappointed her, but suggested this month I might appear in the library wearing the same, cable-knit jumper, unbrushed hair and a permanently surly expression. I resisted.

And so I started with Henning Mankell. I have had every intention of watching the TV series (both the original Swedish and BBC versions) but only seem to have found the time to have watched one episode of one BBC series. Similarly, I had accumulated a few of Mankell’s crime novels and looked forward to ‘meeting’ Wallander in his original form.
I started with Sidetracked, only because it’s the earliest (fifth) in the series I have on my shelf. Faceless Killers is somewhere on my Kindle and The Dogs of Riga is issued to me from my local library.

Wallander is as darkly dour as I had been led to expect, with a typically troubled personal life. but in this novel, he seems able to embark on a new relationship, cares for his dementia-troubled father and has genuinely good working relationships with his team, I underestimated the facets of the character at first. The writing is good, introducing a few strands of the story in the first few chapters, describing a visually dramatic suicide early on, killing a character we’d been ‘observing’ in minute detail only pages before, and, in particular, beginning the narrative inside the head of the murderer. Of course, none of this is new, but these techniques quickly and effectively create psycholocial suspense and intrigue which might take longer or not be possible in a more ‘plodding’ crime narrative. The action takes place in particular geographic locations; the Swedish geography is described in detail; the MidSummer setting of Sidetracked provides an interesting counterpoint to the self-immolating suicide and the psychological darkness of the perpetrator.image

I confess, I like Harry Hole. Jo Nesbo’s The Redbreast has introduced us and I’d like to spend more time in his company. This thriller is longer, denser and more complex than Sidetracked, the narrative jumping between Winter 1999-2000 (including a visit from the US President to Sweden) and events on the battlefield and camp hospitals in the late 1940s. issues of loyalty, justice, identity, love and retribution resonate through the years. Gripping and chilling.

Harry Hole is, as expected, a character in conflict; an unsatisfied personal life, unresolved issues, hidden depths waiting to be explored in further investigations. He has a network of relationships, both personal and profiessional; he antagonises and infuriates colleagues and superiors. And has a very particular dress sense. (He reminds me a little of a Swedish Rebus in Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh-set novels)

Do you ever hang onto books ‘in case you might get round to reading it one day’? I do. I was reminded of this when I picked up my copy of Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow when a charity shop receipt fluttered out. It was dated 2001. At least the book’s now off the shelf, being read. It’s a downbeat, dour, snow-laden mystery, although I’m only four chapters in; I doubt it’ll become an all-singing, all-dancing up-beat affair though. If, indeed, I finish it; it’s not gripped me yet, sadly.

 

imageThe wonderfully titled The 100-Year-Old Man Who Jumped Out of a Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson was, by happenstance, March’s reading group choice. I was looking forward to this best selling, quirky story of a centenarian’s journey (both literal and metaphorical) through his life. However, I didn’t warm to Allan Karlsson’s on his Forrest-Gump-ian adventures but I did make it to the end (too late for the group’s meeting) and was amused by some of the more bizarre situations he found himself in.

(A further confession: the final few days of March found me gripped by Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: apparently, ‘the addictive no.1 US best seller that everyone is talking about’. It was gripping; a rollercoaster ride of a thriller, with many twists and turns, dips and peaks which kept my light on well past my bedtime.)image

I ran out of time for the further adventures of Lisbeth Salander, any of Anne Holt’s crime thrillers, John Ajvide Lindqvist or the novelisation of The Killing. A slightly disappointing reading tally this month, certainly compared to last month’s Regency romp, but my reading appetite is whetted to venture north again to hook up with Harry Hole, Lisbeth Salander, Kurt Wallander and Oskar & Eli. Hej da…

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Murder in my library

Although it’s more than half way through the month of May (although you’d not be able to tell that by the weather we’ve been having in the North East!), I’m only now starting to settle into this month’s ‘classic British Crime Fiction’ theme.

Instead, I’ve been battling alongside Edward IV and his wife, Elizabeth Woodville, at the end of the Wars of the Roses in the 1470s and ’80s. Phillipa Gregory’s excellent The White Queen has absorbed me.

And the small matter of planning, preparing and producing my son’s London-themed 7th birthday party last week has gobbled up much potential reading time.

I now have time to look at my bookshelves again and indulge in the great pleasure of piling up the next  books to read.

Following on from The White Queen, I naturally seguewayed into Josephine Tey’s ‘classic’ The Daughter of Time, reappraising the character of Richard III.

I love detective fiction, prefering the ‘cosy’ British sort rather than the rather overblown, somewhat sensationalist recent offerings from over the Atlantic. Despite being constructed around murder, these novelists don’t dwell on the more gory aspects of it. I like the puzzle aspect, although rarely deduce the murderer before the detective reveals it.

The detectives or sleuths are also appealing characters. All misfits, with unusual characteristics or an unexpected context, they hold the novel together; guiding us through the maze, introducing us to suspects and interrogating them within our earshot, uncovering the corpse (and their relationships), and then neatly wrapping up the puzzle by the end.

And they’re often short. (the novels not the detectives)

Perhaps this ‘genre’ is comparable to a good game of Cluedo which can be enjoyed over a few enjoyable, solitary hours.

And so, awaiting me is: an almost complete collection of Agatha Christies, a good stock of Patricia Wentworth, all of GK Chesterton (on Kindle), some Margery Allingham and Dorothy L Sayers, one Frances Iles. Of the contemporary reworkings I have a few Carola Dunns (Daisy Darymple adventures), Alan Hunters (George Gently) and Jaqueline Winspear (Maisie Dobbs).

I also succumbed to a few paperback offers which were too good to miss: a large selection of Gladys Mitchell, Josephine Tey and Edmund Crispin. I also have the complete Anna Katherine Greene on my Kindle (although I know she’s not British).

Anyone got any other suggestions or recommendations?

Just how much murder, sleuthing and ‘cosy’ detecting will I realistically be able to fit into the next fortnight? Charge your cup (of tea); off we go….

 
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Posted by on 19/05/2012 in End of month review

 

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