Scott (no wine) and Tom (no grits), I’m okay. Not even depressed. Practically happy. Did not sample the pretty rosé but did eat half of the angel food cake and now I’m going to bed with Chess Men. Third in a series I like. Crime in the Hebrides. Wild and spooky islands off the coast of Scotland. Over an hour at the gym, good day at work. Amazing how life snaps right out of its sullen little fits. Sometimes. Back to travel tomorrow.
I hear childcare is expensive…eating up most of many mothers’ or fathers’ salaries. But wait until you have to support a butler! Not easy on my pay. And unlike Carson, who seems so wise and kind at heart in spite of that stern exterior, my butler has started playing with knives and other blunt but potentially deadly implements. Seems more than usually surly lately too. So when that snotty old lady who lives next door disappeared and I remembered Butler Hyde had been sharpening the knives a lot lately, I did wonder. But it wasn’t until he asked me if I knew where our shovel was that I grew seriously suspicious. But enough about my problems…
I do take things very literally and always from a crime fiction perspective. So a mystery is a mystery is a mystery and there’s always crime involved. None of this mystery of nature, life, truth and beauty stuff for me.
It’s 2pm on a holiday weekend afternoon. I’ve just launched a new travel blog (Social Studies for Adults: a Travel Blog at nesetm.com) and am having a Blue Moon or two to celebrate. Then I must vacuum—of such diversity is life made!
Meanwhile I’ve committed to a 365 blog finishing up Crime/Denmark today and I’m only halfway through the second book about which I intended to write. Wish I had a lot of photos of Copenhagen I could post instead…but can’t find any. That is a sad travel commentary. I must pay better attention.
We were trying to figure out what makes Carl Mørck Danish in manner and appearance. No conclusion really except that he is attractive if a little rough around the edges. In the book I’m currently reading, “A Conspiracy of Faith,” the sexy shrink finally spent the night with him so I guess it’s safe to describe him as weather-beaten but hot?
A few words about the middle book of the Department Q trilogy (so far) which I read a week or so ago. “The Absent One.” Basically it is the story of a gang of extremely unappealing, can we just say sick/disgusting/frightening/creepy former boarding school students, one (the girl) of whom escapes and seeks revenge on the others for some horrific acts from the past. There are country estates and a whole lot of exotic animals involved. Mørck and his trusty sidekick, Assad, have numerous hits and misses on the way to solving the case but it ends relatively well …of course…there are many more tales from Department Q in our futures.
What makes Adler-Olsen’s books so popular is partly standard stuff (scruffy hero, chilly atmospherics) and partly Adler-Olsen’s original villains. I am thinking that Scandinavian crime fiction is such a prime commodity right now that it must be extremely difficult to get in on the action. However this guy has elbowed in there with the granddaddies of them all (at least in this new wave of northern noir): Henning Mankell of Sweden first; followed closely by Stieg Larsson, also Swedish and Jo Nesbo of Norway. Henning Mankell has concluded his Kurt Wallander series and Stieg Larsson is dead so it seems that Jo Nesbo and Jussi Adler-Olsen may be battling it out for top spot right now.
Let me say they are not my favorites although I enjoy them immensely. These two are a little less psychologically oriented and a little more blood-and-guts than the best—in my humble opinion. In fact the Scandinavian women may be in the process of out-writing the boys but that’s another blog or two.
Back to Adler-Olsen. The pleasures (in order of importance) of the three: “The Keeper of Lost Causes,” ‘The Absent One,” and “A Conspiracy of Faith” include funny/sarcastic/befuddled/independent-to-the-nth-degree Carl Mørck; cleverly introduced and painstakingly described villains (in fact we get to spend almost too much time with them); and plot lines that have enough complications to keep us guessing. Since we know the identities of the bad guys from the beginning, the suspense lies largely in whether the victims we’ve come to like (a littlle) can be rescued in time.
The first two books have dangerously wild and grandly original finales so I am assuming “A Conspiracy of Faith” will as well. As you might have guess from the title religion figures prominently in this one and I am astounded by how many religious cults exist in rationalist Denmark. Also in “A Conspiracy of Faith” Mørck gets yet one more wacky impertinent assistant which further enlivens life in Department Q’s basement home.
Go to http://scandinavianbooks.com/crime-fiction/danish-crime-book.html for information about a few other Danish crime fiction writers. I think I wrote something about “The Boy in the Suitcase” awhile ago even though the book wasn’t one of my favorites. One the other hand “Smilla’s Sense of Snow” was a brilliant book and definitely worth buying. Enough with the Danes…on to Iceland.
Scandinavian thrillers are most frequently written by men and feature semi-loser but scruffily endearing crime solvers of one north country or the other. The gender balance appears to be shifting. Of my stack of new murder mysteries from the Village Bookstore in Grand Rapids the majority are the work of female writers. And what an interesting bunch they are.
Women crime solvers aren’t societal models for mental health or organized living either but their flaws are definitely more interesting than the average male investigator—at least up north. The two books I’ve just finished “Some Kind of Peace” by Camilla Grebe and Asa Traff and “Last Will” by Liza Marklund feature high-powered women who screw up at work a lot (while overall performing brilliantly of course!), have real relationship difficulties and between them exhibit characteristics of mental illness, intense jealousy, inordinate bouts of indecision/self-doubt and alcoholism (this latter being a stable of their male counterparts across much of global club of crime solvers.
“Some Kind of Peace” was written by sisters, one with a business/econ background and one a psychologist—both areas of expertise which figure prominently in the story. Essentially a personally troubled youngish prettyish therapist who drinks way too much finds herself in the same position as a client—believing she is going mad. Her disbelief that she might be the target of a killer leads to excessive consumption of wine and messy work relationships before she finally believes that—yes, someone is trying to kill her.
The setting is Stockholm and as with many of the best in this genre the location figures prominently in the story. It’s one of those books you wish you had read while you were there in that very city so you could walk down that same street and go wine-drinking in the very neighborhood where something suspicious happened, etc. The terribly flawed but equally terribly appealing heroine, Siri Bergman, grows on you even as you want to pour out all of the wine in her house and sober her up so she can better keep an eye out for the very bad guy.
“Some Kind of Peace” can be safely labeled a psychological thriller with lots of interesting references to various mental illness diagnoses. My favorite class when pursuing an MSW was on the DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) where we analyzed and diagnosed all of the characters in “Prince of Tides” (Pat Conroy). Reading this book was a little like that.
“Last Will” by Liza Marklund also takes place in Stockholm with that same strong sense of place. Down that street, over to that neighborhood, bar, restaurant—the smells and sounds of a climate and place. In this case our crime solver is a journalist for a tabloid paper—a possibly failing enterprise where she is not very popular anyway. Annika Bengtzon is smart, conflicted about her job and home life, and manages to get herself in the middle of a situation involving Nobel prizes, the Karolinska Institute, multinational pharmaceuticals and a whip-smart and beautiful female assassin just a little too reminiscent of Lisbeth Salander (but in this case she’s not anything close to being the main character.
Bengtzon takes a little longer to warm up to than Siri Bergman because, while being a disposed to a certain amount of chaos, she is less vulnerable. Still, it takes her too long to realize she might be in personal danger even as she connects with a number of people with extensive credentials and in impressive positions. Unfortunately none are without possible ulterior motives for the various bloody deaths that make of the murder part of this murder mystery.
Both “Some Kind of Peace” and “Last Will” are perfect examples of why I prefer crime fiction that does NOT originate in the U.S. The main characters are both fleshed out and smart and flawed enough for the reader to care about them and identify with them. And, best of all, this is good good writing. Brilliant, maybe not, but damn good—which is generally NOT true of most American crime writing.
Footnote: In Iceland, my granddaughter, friend and I participated in a city tour featuring the sites and sounds of that country’s plethora of chilly crime. It wasn’t a very good tour but the idea is brilliant and could be further developed. For example, if I win Powerball my contribution to the world could be to live comfortably as I develop these crime-reading sojourns in the world’s really fine murder sites like Stockholm, Reykjavik, Oslo, Cape Town, etc.