Someone to Watch Over Me by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

Guilty until proven innocent…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

someone to watch over meWhen a residential unit for disabled people is burned down, all the residents are killed bar one. Jakob has Downs Syndrome and a grievance – he never wanted to be placed in the unit and he doesn’t like it there. It seems to be an open and shut case but, because of his disability, Jakob is sent to a secure psychiatric hospital rather than prison and it looks like he’ll stay there for life. At least, until one of the other inmates asks lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir to try to get the case reopened…

This is a very well written entry into the field of Nordic crime – Iceland, on this occasion – and the translation by Philip Roughton is first-rate. Apparently this is the fifth in the series, but it’s the first I’ve read. The characterisation throughout the novel is particularly strong and Thóra herself is a likeable lead, strong and capable but with a soft centre. As well as dealing with the case, she’s having to juggle home life as her parents move in on a temporary basis to a house already filled with Thóra’s children, grandchild and partner, Matthew.

Yrsa Sigurdardóttir
Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

In the course of her investigation, Thóra has to deal with people with a variety of severe disabilities. Sigurdardóttir handles this well, managing to convey the difficulties they face without becoming overly mawkish or sentimental. Thóra’s dealings with the relatives of the victims show her sensitivity, particularly when dealing with Jakob’s mother. And her aversion to Jósteinn, the psychopathic child abuser who has hired her, grows steadily as she wonders what his motivation is for wanting to help Jakob. A sub-plot concerning a possible haunting is cut in to short sections between chapters and Sigurdardóttir’s excellent writing makes this part of the story chillingly atmospheric and decidedly creepy. There’s also a real sense of place in the novel, as the culture, weather and recent economic woes of Iceland all play their part.

Overall, a very satisfying read that, together with Läckberg’s The Stranger, has reawakened my enthusiasm for Nordic crime. Highly recommended, and I look forward to backtracking through the rest of the series.

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The Stranger by Camilla Läckberg

The body in the bin…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

the strangerA year or so ago, I was pretty much ready to give up on Nordic crime. Harry Hole was too drunken, Salander was too weird, and frankly the whole genre seemed too angst-ridden and downright miserable to be enjoyable…and I say that as someone hardened by years of dealing with drunks and screwed-up mavericks – all fictional, of course! At the time of my disillusionment, a fellow Amazon reviewer tried to get me to read Läckberg, promising that she was different. Finally, I’ve followed that advice – and I’m so glad I did! Patrik Hedström is that rare and precious creature – a sober, likeable, intelligent detective who works within the rules and has a happy home life. And in this story he proves that that can be considerably more interesting and much more enjoyable than reading yet one more description of binge-drinking, hangovers and cowboy policing.

When Patrik is called to the scene of a fatal car accident, it looks like a straightforward case of drunken driving. But the woman driver was teetotal and Patrik suspects that there may be more to the accident than meets the eye. Meantime the town has been invaded by a reality TV show starring a group of C-List celebs whose claim to fame is that they are willing to get outrageously drunk, party all night and have sex as often as they can, and all with the cameras rolling. This is problem enough, but when one of the celebs turns up dead in a bin, Patrik has two cases to deal with. So it’s lucky there’s a new member of the team – Hanna, an experienced and efficient officer has transferred to the district – especially since more deaths are on the way…

(source: amazon.com)
Camilla Läckberg
(source: amazon.com)

Well written, and well translated by Steven T Murray, this is an intriguing police procedural with a dark and complex plot and a satisfying conclusion. Although Patrik is the lead character, we get to know the members of his team too and their interactions add an extra layer of depth to the story. The picture Läckberg paints of contemporary Sweden is as misery-laden and angst-filled as the most ardent Nordic fan could desire, but is lightened by Patrik’s family life as he and Erica prepare for their forthcoming wedding. Although there’s clearly a running story in the background about Patrik and Erica’s relationship, this book works well as a standalone for anyone who, like me, hasn’t read the previous ones in the series – an omission I now intend to rectify. Recommended.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Open Road. I understand it was previously published under the title The Gallows Bird.

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The Blinded Man by Arne Dahl

the blinded man‘Behind the mystery, there’s a mist…’

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

When two top-level financiers are murdered in quick succession, the Swedish authorities decide to put together a special unit to investigate. Fortunately for our hero, Paul Hjelm, he is asked to join just as he is about to be fired for shooting an immigrant during a hostage situation. As the murder toll continues to climb, the unit is following several leads. Are the crimes to do with something in the men’s pasts? Or is the murderer an insane serial killer? Could the victims’ membership of a Masonic-type secret society be involved? Or is the spate of murders a sign that the Russian Mafia is moving in? Apparently this book was previously published under the name Misterioso – a reference to the Thelonious Monk album of the same name.

I watched the first episode of the Arne Dahl TV series last Saturday (BBC4) and was seriously underwhelmed. I’m glad to say the book impressed me considerably more. Like most Nordic crime, there’s a lot of angst in the book and dark undertones about a society that doesn’t ever seem very comfortable with itself. However our hero, though of course profoundly miserable and with the obligatory unhappy home life, at least is neither a total maverick nor a drunk.

Arne Dahl (source: wikipedia)
Arne Dahl
(source: Wikipedia)

The book is well written and very well translated by Tina Nunnally, and the plotline is satisfyingly complex. Each of the leads is followed through to its conclusion and each shows us a different aspect of Swedish society. The various members of the A-unit are a bit stereotyped – the foreigner (so we can talk about questions of race), the intelligent one who wrestles with moral questions, the older one, trying to prove he’s still got it, and, of course, the beautiful and complicated token female whose main purpose seems to be to allow Hjelm to indulge in some rather unnecessary sexual fantasizing. However, they are in the main developed well and we see them change from a group of strangers into a cohesive team as the book progresses.

Overall, this is an enjoyable, well plotted police procedural with elements of both mystery and thriller and a good deal better than the TV adaptation would suggest. I’ll certainly be looking forward to the author’s next, Bad Blood, which I believe is due out in August 2013, although apparently with a different translator.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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