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MURDER IN A COLD CLIMATE

August 12, 2016 at 9:51 AM by Cathy Polovina


Since the wildly popular Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, American readers have flocked to the works of dozens of newly translated mystery writers from Finland, Denmark, Iceland, and especially, Sweden.    For those who enjoy the Scandinavian mysteries that are coming out as quickly as translators can decipher them for English readers, the good news is that the library is stocking earlier titles in the catalogs of popular writers such as Camilla Lackberg, Jo Nesbo, Anne Holt, Karin Fossum, Liza Marklund, and Ajvide Lindqvist  Likewise, newer sensations like the mysterious Lars Kepler are capturing the imaginations of readers here in the U.S..  Happily, translators are starting to catch up with the Viking literary tide and the Kenosha Public Library is happy to pass the spoils on to its patrons.

As far back as 1993, Peter Hoeg’s novel  (and subsequent film), Smilla’s Sense of Snow created a mild sensation , but it wasn’t until 2008’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by  Steig Larsson, and, to a lesser extent, Henning Mankell and his detective character Wallander (played on PBS by a suitably brooding  Kenneth Branagh), that Americans discovered the stark charm of Nordic noir.  Now that the floodgates of translation have opened, plenty of excellent authors and series have emerged to keep the trend going.  Each of these  writers makes use of both the frigid isolation of Scandinavian geography and the saturnine character of its people to create seriously creepy crime stories.

     Sweden’s  Camilla Lackberg  made her American debut in 2008’s, The Ice Princess, introducing her investigative team of writer  Erica Falck, who returns to her small coastal town of  Fjallbacka  after the death of her parents, and local police detective Patrik Hedstrom There they are caught up in parallel strands of a mystery involving the suspicious death of Erica’s childhood friend.  The author reunites the team in several more adventures, always with an emphasis on mood and psychological suspense.

     Already a leading alternative to Larsson for American readers  is Norwegian Jo Nesbo, who also pens children’s books, and whose world weary protagonist Harry Hole is often compared to Michael Connelly’s popular L.A.  Detective Harry Bosch. Nesbo’s breakthrough in the U.S, The Snowman gives us Hole in pursuit of a serial killer who leaves an eerie snow effigy of each of his female  victims.  Oslo, the setting for all his books, provides an urban grittiness that also echoes Larsson’s series set in Stockholm.

    

A popular mystery writer in her Native Norway, Anne Holt, made an intriguing debut in America with 1222 (which refers to altitude), featuring ex-policewoman and reluctant sleuth Hanne Wilhemsen, who is confined to a wheelchair, but is compelled to investigate the murders of three of her fellow train passengers when they are stranded in a mountain resort during a blizzard.  Her U.S. publisher has released five  more books in the series in short order since 2011.

     For pure horror, it’s John Ajvide Lindqvist , Sweden’s answer to Stephen King, , whose Let The Right One In (aka Let Me In) was made into excellent Swedish and American  film versions.  After tackling the vampire and the zombie (in 2010’s Handling the Undead) genres, this prolific young writer produced two more creepy spine-chillers in The Harbor, and Little Star.  Like his fellow Northerners, Linqvist uses the frozen solitude of the Stockholm archipelago, whether the city itself or one of its isolated islands, to evoke a mood of sinister unease punctuated with often graphic terror.

Lars Kepler made a splash in Sweden with the bestseller The Hypnotist in 2009, introducing the brilliant but flawed  police inspector Joona Linna. The book was published without an author photograph which kindled speculation about the true identity of the new crime fiction star—was it the great Henning Mankell, attempting to wean himself from his Kurt Wallander character, or, as the New York Times suggested, an “author-bot” designed to further Scandinavia’s “takeover of the global publishing industry”?   Kepler eventually emerged as a pseudonym used by the husband wife writing team of Alexander and Alexandra Ahndoril who have since produced The Nightmare (2012), and The Fire Witness (2013). The Inspector Linna series is gripping and lurid, not for those who like their crimes cozy.

Readers of English must work a little harder to put the ten titles of Norway’s “queen of crime” Karin Fossum’s  Inspector Sejer series in order, but all are now translated and waiting for discovery. The first in the series, 1995’s Eva’s Eye, for instance was not released in the U.S. until 2012, but completes the series for Fossom’s avid followers.   Konrad  Sejer, one of fiction’s less neurotic police inspectors has a perfect solve record, so that in this series, it is the crime and its perpetrator that capture our attention.  In the forthcoming, Murder of Harriet Krohn, the reader will get caught up in the slow build-up of suspense just as he sympathizes with the poor murderer.  I would also recommend Fossum’s quirky stand- alone thriller Broken, a sort of “meta-mystery”, wherein the author has to contend with her queue of characters impatient for their stories to begin.

Liza Marklund introduced herself to American readers with The Postcard Killers (2010), as one of James Patterson’s many co-authors. The plot of the bestseller revolved around a New York cop and a Swedish reporter chasing a serial killer through Europe.  Marklund introduced her series character, another investigative journalist, Annika Bengtzon  in her Swedish debut The Bomber (2001).  Unlike with Fossum’s thought provoking style and pacing, Marklund’s six titles are best read in order, since the life and character of Bengtzon add a lot to the enjoyment of the storylines.