Friday, 28 October 2016

Hakan Nesser's Van Veeteren

Hakan Nesser - Swedish author

As we head into a special 2016 Crime & Justice festival feature on Scandinavian writers of crime fiction (more information to follow shortly) I am revisiting authors and their works that grace my home library shelves. Hakan Nesser is perhaps not as well known in Australia as other Swedish writers but his work is worthy of inclusion in any discussion on Nordic Noir.

My introduction to Nesser's work was Borkmann's Point which was the first to be translated into English. The main character is Inspector Van Veeteren, a veteran detective who holds fast to his mentor's rule: Chief Inspector Borkmann believed there was a point at which more information on a crime is superfluous and the answer lies in what is already known.
Van Veeteren is on holiday in the coastal town of Kaalbringen when asked to help the local police investigate what seems to be the work of a serial killer. The local chief of police is about to retire and is more interested in a quick result than the correct result, however, Van Veeteren will not be dissuaded from a full investigation.

As more killings take place, he calls on his colleague Munster to come and join him and they begin to work closely with local inspector, Beate Moerk. Things take a dramatic turn when Moerk goes missing after leaving a message with Munster that she has uncovered something important in one of their reports. As they desperately search for Beate, Van Veeteren is left to wonder if she had reached Borkmann's point and whatever she discovered is the reason for her disappearance.

The series of books featuring Van Veeteren are set in an unidentifiable part of northern Europe while a later series featuring the Swedish Italian detective, Inspector Gunner Barbarotti, are all set in Sweden. In both instances, Nesser's main characters approach their work in a cerebral fashion, favouring detailed intellectual analysis over quick action or assumption-based conclusions.

Nesser has won the Swedish Crime Novel Award three times and has written ten Van Veeteren novels and five featuring Barbarotti.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Here we are in 2016 and about to convene the Crime & Justice festival

When I started this blog in 2012 I was aware of the growing interest in crime fiction from Scandinavia but did not think it would blossom as it has to now being a significant part of any crime fiction section in a bookshop and of my home library.

As I pen this blog, we have marked the twelve-month anniversary of the passing of Swedish crime writer, Henning Mankell.  His character, Kurt Wallander, is widely recognized as one of the most memorable of the genre and is known to a broad audience through the two television series, one featuring Kenneth Brannagh.

My first Wallander was Faceless Killers when it was translated into English in 1997. I had to import a copy as no Australian publisher had the rights to the work. The setting is an isolated farmhouse where the farmer has been tortured to death and his wife left with a noose around her neck. She later dies but not before she utters the word “foreign”. Wallander and his team set about investigating the crime and come face-to-face with the ramifications of the state’s attitude to immigration and national identity. As with all Mankell’s work, there is the opportunity to delve into Sweden’s political and social character and to ponder questions that have the power to divide nations.

As is often the case with crime writers from this part of the world, was politically active and imbued his work with a sense of social commentary. This is part of the attraction for me of Nordic Noir – the deeper, more complex rendering of the society in which the action takes place and against which the characters are set.

Another feature of Mankell’s series of crime novels was the introduction of Linda Wallander, Kurt’s daughter, as a policewoman. I found this sideways tilt from father to daughter as main protagonist to be executed extremely well; the character of Linda was as expertly drawn as that of Wallander himself.

I had the good fortune to meet Henning Mankell on one of his visits to Melbourne and it remains a highlight of my bookselling career. 

I convene an annual Crime & Justice festival in Melbourne and am using this most recent blog as a lead-in to the November event this year and a way of regularly blogging on my favourite form of reading.

For more information about the crowdfunding campaign we have going for the tenth anniversary Crime & Justice festival, please visit: 

Sunday, 27 December 2015

The Voices Beyond by Johan Theorin

Set on the Baltic island of Oland this is a tale of secrets long held that have disastrous effects on many as they come to light. The central characters are the Kloss family who are the most prominent islanders, running a large resort; a retired sailor Gerlof Davidsson; and a man who left Oland in the 1930s as a young boy.  The ‘homecomer’, as he is known, spent decades in Russia, living a brutal and desperate existence. His return to the island is the catalyst for the truth coming to light about the Kloss family; a truth that has this man determined to exact revenge.
Johan Theorin weaves intricate plots that seem to unfold slowly yet build to a devastating crescendo. Each of his titles are self-contained but this is the fourth in a quartet featuring the island of Oland, a place very familiar to Theorin.
The Voices Beyond title signifies those who can be heard down the years through the oral history of a community. It also, in my opinion, refers to the reach of people long gone from this life. Theorin manages to create intricate plots with original characterisations and a sense of the supernatural without in any way testing the credibility of his narrative. He is one of my favourite authors and never fails to impress.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Camilla Lackberg with us at Reader's Feast Bookstore in Melbourne Australia

I am delighted that Camilla Lackberg will be with us at Reader's Feast, my bookstore in Melbourne, Australia, this coming Monday evening, 19 May, 2014. My most recent blog reviewed her latest book, Buried Angels. Full details are on our website - - and bookings are via telephone or email. We love meeting our favourite authors and our readers so if you are near us in Melbourne, do come along. It will be a great conversation. Mary D

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Buried Angels by Camilla Lackberg *Released in Australia May 2014. Event at Reader's Feast, Melbourne

The latest book from Camilla Lackberg, Buried Angels, is thoroughly engaging and entertaining. The married couple, Patrik Hedstrom, policeman, and Erica Falck, author, become embroiled in a mystery from decades earlier on the island of Valö, off the coast of Fjällbacka. This island was home to the summer camp that children from Fjällbacka all attended, but the big white house has lain dormant for many years following the disappearance of the headmaster and his family one Easter Sunday afternoon. There were five pupils staying over that fateful weekend, but they were ostensibly out fishing all afternoon as they were not allowed to join the headmaster’s family luncheon. No-one has ever uncovered what happened to the family of five or why the youngest child, a little girl, was found wandering the house on her own. Fast-forward to the present time and the surviving girl is a married woman who has tragically lost her own child and she and her husband have come back to Valö to renovate the house and set it up as a Bed and Breakfast.

The reader is offered glimpses into the past, well before the headmaster and his family existed, through the portrayal of Dagmar, a desperately isolated woman living at the beginning of the 20th century, her daughter Laura, and, in turn, her daughter, Inez. These parallel stories, of the generations of the women of one family and the headmaster’s family, will intersect towards the end of the novel in a surprising and fateful way.

Concurrently, the lives of the five pupils, all boys, who were on the island at the time of the family’s disappearance are scrutinized and we come to realize that they have been holding secrets from that time all their lives. Nazism is part of this side of the narrative; Nazi Hermann Göring is thought to have visited one of the islands in the Fjällbacka archipelago, and this fact is woven into the plot, with his apparent visit to Sweden pivotal to the lives of Dagmar and her offspring.

Lackberg has created an intricate plot, spanning decades and generations of local families. As the reader works through it, and various things are revealed, it loses none of its fascination, keeping you engaged to the end. I think this is Camilla Lackberg’s best so far and I am thrilled that we will have the opportunity to hear Camilla speak of Buried Angels, and all her novels, when she joins us at Reader’s Feast in Melbourne, 19 May. Full details:

Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Son by Jo Nesbo

This just-released title by the creator of Harry Hole is an accomplished work, with an interesting storyline and a great twist at the end. The son of the title is Sonny Lofthus, a convicted and jailed murderer and drug addict who also happens to be the son of a deceased policeman. Sonny is special among the prison population. He attracts other inmates to him, seeking redemption; they believe he can bless them and relieve them of their guilt. Sonny plays this role, almost by default, his silence and stillness generating the response in others. We learn fairly quickly that Sonny is still using drugs, not least because he is being looked after by other prisoners but also because he is a scapegoat for the assistant prison administrator and others. They fabricate evidence that suggests Sonny, on day release, killed again thereby ensuring for him a supply of drugs and earning them a smokescreen for their actions.

As the story progresses we come to understand that Sonny is pivotal in many peoples' lives, people in positions of power and authority wanting to remain untouchable. When he escapes from prison, Sonny begins a quest to avenge his dead father, a man who supposedly took his own life because he was corrupt. This has never sat well with Sonny and he sets out to kill those he believes were in fact responsible for Ab Lofthus' death.

Another central character in the story is Simon Kefas, a policeman and one-time colleague of Sonny's father. He is regarded as somewhat of a maverick and a difficult man to work with; his wife is in the midst of a health scare that is robbing her of her sight and he is assigned a new detective whom he rightly picks as a woman on a fast-track through the police force to greater things. We learn early on that Simon was very close to Sonny’s father and, as the story unfolds, we also learn that there was a third policeman with whom both men were close and who is now in the higher ranks of the force.

Nesbo creates two equally captivating characters in Sonny and Simon. He also introduces a third character, Helen, who spends her life working with addicts and whom we come to have great sympathy for as her life intersects with the two men. As always with Nesbo, this is a book that has moments of great violence but it is not as extreme or shocking as in some of his earlier works. Nonetheless, he is an author for the seasoned crime fiction reader. The twist at the end is unexpected but, at the same ttime, utterly believable.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The Gingerbread House by Carin Gerhardsen

It has been far too long since I added to my blog so this is the first of regular posts, beginning March 2014. I have been reading Nordic crime,  perhaps too much, as time for blogging has been non-existent. But, here we go....
The Gingerbread House introduces us to Inspector Conny Sjoberg, a welcome new addition to my list of interesting crime fiction characters. Conny has a young, big family and is in a happy marriage. This is, as readers of crime fiction will know, rather unusual; most lead detectives have any number of impediments to a stable family life!
Conny becomes involved in a very unusual case. An elderly woman, returning to her Stockholm home from an extended stay in hospital, discovers the body of a man in her kitchen. She has no known connection to the man and there is no apparent reason for him to have been in her home. As he and his team are grappling with this mystery, Conny hears of other suspicious deaths but does not immediately relate them to the dead body he is investigating. He will, though, come to realise that he has a serial killer at work.
Whilst we are reading of the Inspector's struggle to find a motive for the murder, we are also reading of Thomas, a completely isolated man who was the victim of dreadful bullying at school as a very young boy. We quickly realise that one of Thomas' classmates was the man found dead in the old woman's kitchen.
Gerhardsen cleverly manipulates the reader; we are so sure of the correlation between Thomas' revelations to us and the focus of Conny's investigation that we believe we know the killer and the motivation for the murders. You will have to read it to discover if this is in fact, true. Originally published in 2008, this is the first of a series, one I am looking forward to reading as more are translated into English.