Monday, August 29, 2011

Stieg Who? Nordic Mystery Writers You Should Check Out!

Well, like many of you mystery readers, I read and fell in love with the Stieg Larsson trilogy beginning with Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  After finishing the third and final book, I was left wanting much more so I immediately began to look for other authors from the region.  As it turns out, there are many Nordic mystery writers who have been very successful in their own country and who are recently receiving the attention of western readers thanks to Mr. Larsson.

The Swedish author Henning Mankell has been writing excellent crime detective novels for over twenty years. The highly popular Wallander series features inspector Kurt Wallander - a boozing, smoking, overweight, regular guy who follows his hunches, obsesses over minute details, and always gets his man. The series is so popular in England that a television series has been created starring English actor Kenneth Branagh that broadcasts on BBC (available here at the library.)

The series begins with Faceless Killers. (Readers may first enjoy a series of short stories called the Pyramid which chronologically precede all the other Wallander books.)  In Faceless Killers, Wallander investigates the brutal and inexplicable murder of a farmer who had no known enemies. The only clue available points to the killer being a foreigner and when the press leaks this information, the community erupts with hostility, unleashing volumes of long simmering anti-immigrant sentiment. Wallander must solve the murder before innocent immigrants become targets of violent retaliation, and do so during a time in which his personal relationships are all unraveling. The Wallander novels are tightly written and are an excellent example of nuts-and-bolts police procedure.

Karin Fossum is a Norwegian author of the crime detective series featuring Inspector Konrad Sejer.  The book, Don’t Look Back, is the first in the Sejer series to be released in the U.S.  The book starts off with a suspenseful twist that will leave the reader hooked. When a sweet teenage girl is found drowned and naked near a local pond, everyone in the tiny village is shocked and horrified to learn of her death.  Inspector Sejer begins his investigation with almost no clues but doggedly pursues the girl’s recent past and in so doing, uncovers dark family secrets beneath the surface of the quiet unassuming town; the darkest secret of them all leads him to the killer.   Inspector Sejer is a very likable, wizened and somewhat melancholic police officer who uses the most minute and seemingly unrelated details of an investigation to solve the case. Fossum does a superb job of building suspense and allowing the reader to suspect nearly every character of hiding something sinister.

Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason’s book, Jar City, is the first in the Reykjavik mystery series featuring Inspector Erlendur. An elderly man is found murdered in his flat and no one seems to even know who he is. Erlendur and his team of detectives begin an exhaustive investigation into the man’s past and a disturbing image appears before them. Inspector Erlendur makes no friends as he disrupts the lives of nearly everyone who ever came into contact with the dead man. Long hidden secrets come to the surface as the team closes in on the killer and forces Erlendur to look at his own life in perspective.

Reading translated books, especially those from original languages so remote from our English, is a different and distinct experience from reading books written in English. I found it entertaining just trying to pronounce proper nouns with six or more syllables. Also, all of the authors do a nice job of describing these exotic foreign landscapes lending great atmosphere to the mystery.

So to all you Stieg Larsson fans out there, I hope you quench your thirst for Nordic mysteries with one of these outstanding authors

Other Recommended reading
Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg (Patrik Hedstrom, book 1)
The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo (Harry Hole, book 3)  

Monday, August 15, 2011

Books to Scream About - Horror Fiction

I have always loved a good horror story. I know that it’s a genre that doesn’t appeal to everyone. But I have always been fascinated by stories that shine the light into the dark corners where the monsters await. For my fellow horror fans, or for anyone willing to try something different, here are a few recommendations.

Carrie by Stephen King  
There’s a reason this is a classic. Carrie is the story of a shy high school girl who is mercilessly picked on by practically everyone at her high school. Unfortunately, her home life is not any better. Her mother, Margaret White, is a religious fanatic whose idea of “discipline” could be more accurately described as child abuse.

But Carrie has one other characteristic that makes her more unusual than everyone else: Carrie is telekinetic. She can move objects with the power of her mind. Like any talent, it has to be strengthened by practice- and Carrie practices in secret. But when she is the victim of a cruel prank at the high school prom, she puts her talent to stunning, murderous use. 

This has been made into a movie, a mini-series and even a Broadway musical. There is something about this story that keeps it modern, even though it was originally published in 1974.

The Ridge by Michael Kortya
If you haven’t heard of Michael Kortya yet, try one of his books today. This young author has written a novel that combines a detective story with horror. In the eastern Kentucky woods, a lonely, eccentric man takes his life. The man is found in his lighthouse, a strange landmark in the mountains, along with pictures and other intriguing clues about the area surrounding the lighthouse, called Blade Ridge.

Kevin Kimble, deputy sheriff, and Roy Darmus, resident reporter, were the last two people the victim contacted before taking his own life. Both Kimble and Darmus have been affected by seemingly unrelated tragedies. But the more they research the history of the Ridge, the more they find that their personal tragedies are connected to each other because of the Ridge.

Audrey Clark, a widow who is fulfilling her late husband’s dream of opening a large-cat sanctuary, gets more than she bargained for when she relocates near the Ridge. All the animals grow more and more agitated in their new home, especially at night. Audrey, Sheriff Kimble and Darmus must all find out the truth, before the Ridge claims more victims.

Hater by David Moody
Danny McCoyne is an average guy with a job, wife and kids. His normal if somewhat hectic life is changed by some unexplainably violent and random acts committed in greater and greater numbers. Isolated random occurrences soon become widespread. Danny struggles to protect his family as people all around him turn into crazed killers. People murder strangers, wives murder husbands, children murder parents, and no one can truly trust anyone, even themselves.

The author manages to perfectly capture the unraveling of an average guy’s world into a nightmare world where you may be the next victim or the next killer. The book is disturbingly detailed in its descriptions of a society falling apart at a rapid pace, while highlighting the desperation of the people left trying to protect themselves and their families. If you enjoy horror fiction, you should read Hater. Do yourself a big favor: don’t read it right before bedtime.

Enjoy a chilling thrill with one of these authors, your flashlight, and Fido!

Other Recommended Titles:
Swan Song by Robert McCammon 
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson  
Strangers by Dean Koontz                                                          
Dark Matter by Peter Straub