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Category Archive for 'Nordic Noir'

Thirteen is certainly not an unlucky number for Norwegian author Jo Nesbo, whose thirteenth crime novel has just been released in English. Winner of countless prizes, including the prestigious Glass Key Award, the Edgar Award, and Norway’s Peer Gynt Prize, Nesbo has written ten novels in the Harry Hole series, and three stand-alone novels, Headhunters, The Son, and now Blood on Snow, a novel quite different in length, focus, and tone from all that have gone before. Readers who admire Nesbo for his ability to write in a variety of thriller subgenres from horror (The Snowman) to an historical about Norway’s Nazi past and neo-Nazi present (The Redbreast) – have come to expect complex, multi-layered plots punctuated by action scenes of almost unimaginable violence. This short novel about a hired killer introduces a newer style, however – leaner, cleaner, and more introspective, with wonderful ironic humor new for readers of Nesbo. Though the novel certainly has its excitements, much of the novel capitalizes on the ironies which exist between the thinking of Olav Johansen, the young, dyslexic main character, and his actions as a “fixer.” It is through Olav’s running commentary that the reader understands the narrative, and one cannot miss the tongue-in-cheek attitude of the author who is controlling this character.

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Jussi Adler-Olsen’s fifth novel in the Department Q series, under the “leadership” of Copenhagen Detective Carl Morck, continues the story of Morck and his unconventional assistants who operate out of a basement office dedicated to the solution of cold cases. This novel begins obliquely. A man from a Baka village of pygmies in Cameroon, Louis Fon, is working with a Danish bank which funds development work in the rural Baka area of the country. After receiving a cellphone call in the jungle, he realizes that his discovery of funding irregularities puts his life at risk, and he has only enough time to type out a message (which is unreadable) before he is attacked. Further development of this plot line shows the massive corruption of the funding bank in Denmark, and the administrators in Cameroon who are responsible for using the funds for the betterment of the rural Baka area. A second plot line takes place Copenhagen, where a group of gypsies, mostly children, under the leadership of a sadistic and violent “spiritual” leader, roam the streets, picking pockets, begging, and doing petty crimes in order to meet their monetary quota each day. Marco, one of the young men still in his early teens, publicly challenges the leader, his own uncle, and, as a result, finds himself running for his life. A third subplot concerns a cold case in which a woman is killed in the explosion of the houseboat on which she lives, and questions arise as to whether this was an insurance scam, a murder by her husband, or some other kind of crime. Adler-Olsen has always excelled at keeping interest high both through his dramatic action and through his use of wonderful repeating characters as they continue to develop.

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What unites the characters in the first three novels of the Copenhagen Quartet is that all are acutely aware of the role art, music, and beauty in bringing peace to the damaged souls of the main characters as they explore the themes of love and death, freedom and confinement, commitment and betrayal, and the worldly and the spiritual within their Danish environment. The final novel, Beneath the Neon Egg, set in winter, also explores these themes, but it does so within a still different genre from the other three (each of which differs from the others), as Kennedy writes a noir novel of a lost man who haunts jazz clubs and bars in Copenhagen, looking for happiness in alcohol and experimental sex. Employed, ironically, as a translator, Patrick Bluett, a forty-three-year-old transplant to Copenhagen, can work when he wants, the only requirement of his job being that he produce five translated pages a day, leaving him ample time to “follow desire, abandon his work, [and] escape to the wild.” A man who feels betrayed in his marriage but who still wants to be part of his children’s lives, Bluett does not have a clue about what it takes to be a grown-up as he looks for quick and easy fixes for his malaise. Throughout the novel, he plays John Coltrane’s music, with “A Love Supreme” being a favorite, because it “swells his heart with acknowledgement of his existence,” and author Kennedy uses the structure of this four-part suite for his chapter divisions within the novel.

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Norwegian author Jo Nesbo never writes the same book twice, even within his best-selling series of ten Harry Hole thrillers. From The Redbreast, an historical novel which examines Norway’s Nazi era past and its neo-Nazi present, to The Snowman, a horror novel which out-horrors Stephen King, and The Leopard, with action which moves from Norway to Hong Kong and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nesbo always keeps the narrative moving at a ferocious pace, and the excitement at fever pitch. Though the reader does come to know Harry Hole and those who share his life to some extent during these ten novels, the emphasis has always been on action and thrills. Harry, an alcoholic loner at heart, has never been complex. Nesbo’s focus changes with The Son, a standalone novel. Though the plot here is every bit as fast-paced as those of Nesbo’s Harry Hole novels, the scope is smaller and more intimate, and for the first time, Nesbo seems to be allowing the reader inside his characters, making his characters and themes more complex and fully-developed. I loved it.

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Strange and twisted characters, the vivid but often sinister lives they inhabit in their imaginations, and their almost universal preoccupation with death make this collection of short stories compelling, even mesmerizing, despite the sense of menace lurking within each story. The characters all appear on the surface to be “just like us,” ordinary people with similar sensibilities and familiar goals for the future, but as they develop during the fifteen unusually short stories in this collection, Danish author Dorthe Nors slowly and subtly reveals how off-kilter they really are. Virtually all these characters are lonely and unloved, craving companionship, if not a lover, and they depend on their imaginations to provide the excitement which is missing from their real lives. Most them, however, do not recognize that there is a fine line between their harmless daydreams and the nightmarish visions which sometimes threaten their equilibrium and control their actions. Dorthe Nors writes in a compressed style in which each story becomes the equivalent of an outline in a children’s coloring book for which the reader sometimes has to color “outside the lines” before the story takes full shape. Some of the stories are dramatic, some are extremely sad, some are mystifying, and some genuinely touch the heartstrings. All, however, are filled with ironies (and occasionally humor) based on the ways that the reader fills in the blanks to draw his/her own conclusions.

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