Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Police, by Jo Nesbø

Knopf, 2013
436 pp
originally published as Politi, 2013
translated by Don Bartlett


Police is #10 in Nesbø's wonderful Harry Hole series, and by golly, it's a winner. I have read all but The Bat and Cockroaches from this series, but I don't know whether or not my guts have ever been so twisted  while reading any Nesbø novel prior to this one.  The suspense tempted me so many times to turn to the end, but to my credit, I didn't cheat.

From the very outset, the author delights in playing with your head.  In a guarded hospital room, a man is laying in a coma.  While he's hovering between life and death, someone is luring members of the Oslo police force to their deaths.  The victims seem to be connected to old, unsolved cases, and they die in extremely terrible ways on or near the anniversaries of the crimes.  Harry's old friends on the Oslo police force are stymied ... there is very little in the way of clues or forensics left behind, and the police are under a great deal of pressure to do something about these murders before any more policemen get killed. They're also under pressure from Harry's nemesis Mikael Bellman, the current police chief, to get the cases solved because he has ambitions, and taking credit for solving these murders will help him move up the political ladder.  The team goes behind Bellman's back to try to stop the killer from striking again, but things get really ugly when when a particularly brutal murder hits very close to home.

Around this central plot, which ultimately focuses on the search for justice, there's much more going on.  A particularly nasty suspect gives the police a run for its money; police burner Truls Berntsen and his crony Mikael Bellman are up to their old dirty tricks once more and through it all, things get really twisty as the book comes to a startling conclusion.  I swear -- for once it was me, rather than the characters, who became angst ridden over how this was all going to play out -- my insides were churning waiting to see a) who the killer was and why he/she did what he/she did and b) how much nastier Bellman and Berntsen could possibly get while continuing to manipulate things behind the scenes.  And through it all, you will be kept wondering and guessing.

I don't care what anyone says, I LOVED this book! I know I say this a lot about Nesbø's books,  but this just might be my favorite of the entire series. It is  twisty and turny, frightening and unrelenting in the tension it managed to produce in my insides, and it is truly Nesbø at his writing best.  If you're new to the most excellent work of Jo Nesbø  you may wish to start at the very beginning and make your way forward through the series, as each book builds on what comes before;  if you don't want to take that much time, at least read the novel prior to this one, Phantom.  Highly, highly recommended!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Erlendur returns! Strange Shores, by Arnaldur Indridason

Harvill Secker, 2013
originally published as Furðustrandir, 2010
translated by Victoria Cribb

296 pp


"...part of him would forever belong to this place, a witness to the helplessness of the individual when confronted by the pitiless forces of nature."

Each time a new novel by Arnaldur Indridason is published, I refuse to wait until it's been published in the US and so I go straight to Amazon UK to get my copy. Expensive? Yes. Do I care? No.  Arnaldur Indridason is among the few Scandinavian crime fiction writers I still read since a lot (not all) of what's been coming out lately in that area seems to be a mix of crime, romance and badass chick-lit; he's also up there on my list of favorite all-time crime writers as well.  I've been following the series since it started, well, at least since book three, Jar City, which was the first of the Erlendur series novels to be translated into English.  There are two before Jar City, and according to, there are two more to come after Strange Shores: one, The Match, listed as a prequel, set in 1972, the other with the title Reykjavik Nights.  Strange Shores is easily one of Indridason's best books in the series, and at the same time, perhaps one of the saddest of them all.

If you've followed the entire Erlendur saga, the last time anyone in Reykjavik saw him was during the events of Hypothermia, a case that had stirred up Erlendur's memories of his brother's death in the mountains of Eskifjördur, near to where they'd grown up.  The end of that novel reveals that Erlendur had returned to the "derelict farm that had once been his home;" as Strange Shores begins, he's still there, camped out comfortably in the old croft at Bakkasel.  It's a place he's returned to now and then, "when he felt the urge."  It's a place where he can relive his memories about the day he lost his brother and the reason for the guilt he's carried with him ever since.  As the novel opens, Erlendur is out  walking one day and  runs into a farmer who's an expert on foxes. While they're talking, the farmer tells Erlendur that he had been part of the search party who'd gone to search for Erlandur's brother,  who had gone missing in a blizzard after becoming separated from Erlendur.   He also happens to mention that during the war, a group of sixty British soldiers had also become caught in a storm on the moors, an event that people still remember. What people don't seem to talk about any longer, however, is the disappearance in the same storm of Matthildur, a young woman who had supposedly gone off on foot across the moors to visit her mother in a neighboring town, and caught in the storm,  was never seen nor heard from again.  Talking to her sister  Hrund, Erlendur notes that he has a personal interest in "stories about ordeals in the wilderness,"  and wants to know more about what had happened. As he gets wrapped up in  Matthildur's story,  as his curiosity morphs into a private investigation, and as he continues on his quest, he begins to realize that perhaps there are some people who would rather that he stop dredging up the past. Even as he questions his decisions to move forward, wondering why he should "rake up what was better left undisturbed," he knows he's not going to stop:

  "his sole intention was to uncover the truth in every case, to track down what was lost and forgotten."

As in many of Indridason's Erlendur novels,  Strange Shores dwells largely on the past, and in this book, the Inspector's quest to "track down what was lost" leads him not only to uncover information about Matthildur, but about his brother and himself in the process.  And while regular fans may not like the ending of this novel at all, imho,  it is quite fitting in terms of Erlendur's character -- and offers a sense of completeness to what he's been looking for throughout most of his life.  

Even considering the feelings I have about the ending of this book, it is truly one of Indridason's best, a book no crime fiction reader following this series should miss.  It is the most poignant of the entire series, the most beautifully written, and trust me, one you will not soon forget. Regular readers of Indridason's series know that Erlendur has always been more comfortable with tradition, and that as things have changed around him he's been less than willing to embrace the new and frankly, in some cases, really doesn't understand it. Here, he's in his element, as he is enveloped by the past. At the same time,  Indridason continues his critique of social and other changes, this time regarding the advent of new industry, the building of a new and controversial hydroelectric dam, and work going to lower-paid immigrants, giving voice to his concerns through Erlendur:
"He couldn't understand how on earth an unaccountable multinational, based far away in America, had been permitted to put its heavy industrial stamp on a tranquil ford and tract of untouched wilderness here in the remote east of Iceland."
Do not, under any circumstances, let this be your introduction to Erlendur.  Start with Jar City, and make your way through the series slowly, savoring every second. This isn't a series even remotely close to thriller-ville like a lot of crime writing, nor is it filled with fast-paced action or badass women.  If that's what you want in your Scandinavian crime, go for it, but you won't get that here.  This series is highly intelligent, sophisticated, and is one to be savored.

crime fiction from Iceland