Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Mysteries of the north

Northern Europe seems to be a hotbed for mystery novels, mostly of  the hard-boiled variety. The books by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo (Sweden) have been popular since the 1960s. Henning Mankell (Sweden) became widely known for his Kurt Wallander novels in the 1990s. More recently Stieg Larsson, also from Sweden, has written international bestsellers.

In addition, one can now find English translations of novels by K.O. Dahl (Norway), Håkan Nesser (Sweden), Ysra Sigurðardóttir (Iceland), Camilla Läckberg (Sweden), Jan Kjærstad (Norway), Åsa Larsson (Sweden), Åke Edwardson (Sweden), Arnaldur Indriðason (Iceland), Karin Fossum (Norway), Anne Holt (Norway), Gunnar Staalesen (Norway), Mari Jungsted (Sweden), Jørn Lier Horst (Norway), Jan Arnald (Sweden), Karin Alvtegen (Sweden), Helene Tursten (Sweden), Inger Frimansson (Sweden), Johan Theorin (Sweden), Unni Maria Lindell (Norway), Andrey Yuryevich Kurkov (Ukraine), and probably a few others I haven't heard about.

Recently I've been reading two mysteries from that part of the world, The Princess of Burundi by Kjell Eriksson, set in Sweden, and  Nemesis by Jo Nesbø, set in Norway. They are both pretty good, although I found the former easier to enjoy. Eriksson's novel is about the torture and murder of an unemployed family man, a former low-level criminal, with a passion for tropical fish. Nesbø begins with a bank robbery that leaves a woman dead but few clues about the identity of the killer.

Eriksson has no major character. Rather the mystery is solved by various officers in the police department, including a woman on maternity leave who just can't stop herself from becoming involved in the case. Nemesis, on the other hand, has the more traditional single hero, even if Harry Hole himself is hardly traditional. Hole is an alcoholic police officer who manages to keep his job only because he is a much better detective than anyone else on the force.

Unfortunately, Hole wakes up in a stupor one morning and discovers that the woman he thinks he may have spent the night with is dead, an apparent suicide. He doesn't think she killed herself, and he tries to discover what really happened without making himself a suspect in a murder case.

Much of Nemesis seems a little hard to swallow, and Harry Hole isn't a particularly likeable character. I found The Princess of Burundi (I love the title, considering it's a story set in Sweden) more rewarding.

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