Valhalla: Legend of Thor

Synopsis: No man, woman or child may defy the gods. When Thor and Loki seek refuge in the home of mortals, the youngest son fails to heed a warning from the gods. As atonement for the family’s sins, the gods take the two youngest children under their wing and embark on an epic adventure from Midgard to Valhalla that will see them stare down ruthless giants, barbaric gods and the dreaded wolf Fenrir. 

Brand new Valhalla is directed by Fenar Ahmad, a Danish filmmaker of Iraqi origin, known for the excellent Darkland, a movie about a successful doctor who loses his little brother in a gang-related assault and then gives up his privileged life to become a masked warrior and avenge his brother’s death. In that role was Dar Salim, a familiar face to the fans of Borgen, The Bridge and Dicte: Crime Reporter. Here Ahmad moves from the modern-day issues happening in Denmark and takes on a classic Norse myth of Thor, the God of Thunder.

Two siblings Røskva, played by the incredible young actress Cecilia Loffredo, and her brother Tjalfe (Saxo Moltke-Leth) are taken by two gods Thor and Loki to Valhalla. The youngers know their fate as slaves is sealed but they do not expect how terribly they will be treated during the treacherous travel and when they finally arrive. Tjalfe feels unhappy and struggles silently, doing some pretty disgusting chores, yet he believes that the opportunity to serve gods comes once in a lifetime and only to the chosen few. Although loving her brother to the end of the world and back, literally, Røskva refuses to accept such bad treatment especially as the deities seem to have lost their godly respectable demeanour and engage in pointless name calling, drinking games and general boring unproductive time-wasting. Instead their conduct should be the guidance for the mortals and counterbalance for the Giants, the merciless barbarians, and that is exactly what the girl wants. So she finds her inner strength and challenges the powerful yet resigned Odin, and earns respect of Thor who reluctantly begins to admire her. Roland Møller’s thunderous personality as reckless Thor and his hammer-wielding abilities are to die for, and he becomes a fairly sensible god at the end of the emotional journey. Inspired by the Viking queen-in-the-making, the Valhalla goddesses, mostly silent, also spring into action to defend their empire together with two young mortals and against terrifying giants and the legendary Fenrir.

The intense and dangerous moments and the battle scenes, the visuals of darkness and otherworldly forces create a great atmosphere where you can lose yourself and experience a new brutal reality, based on the ancient rules and whims of supernatural powers. It is a very enjoyable fantasy as the story dips into the wealth of the Norse myths, with quite amazing special effects conveying the mood of fear and despair, and occasional wonder. The film is shot in Danish which adds to the mystery but of course English subtitles make the tale understandable. Just some advice before you venture into Valhalla: dancing with weirdly attractive Death is never a good idea, and watch out for the enormous majestic wolf, and the fish soup. The first one might scare you to untimely death but the second will definitely kill you.

All photos courtesy of Signature Entertainment.

Team Gunnhildur

‘You’re trying to be offensive.’

I don’t have to try. It comes naturally,’ Gunna told him. ‘Especially when people are economical with the truth.

Quentin Bates’ latest novel Cold Malice focuses on two strands: suicide of an enigmatic artist Áskell Hafberg, and the apparent drowning of his wife Birna five years earlier, and the under-the-radar return to Iceland of Ingvar Sturlaugsson, a man considered dead after the Thai tsunami of 2004. Reykjavík detective Gunnhildur ‘Gunna’ Gísladóttir is big on compassion and even bigger on justice. She is of the same school of investigation as Arnaldur Indriðason’s Inspector Erlendur, and will turn every stone until she finds an answer or two to a case that bothers her.

Bates’ convincing plots, precise building up of the tension and effortless narration are mixed with dry sense of humour and in-depth knowledge of Iceland. His novels have contemporary feel with elements of history and understanding of the ways the society works. He has honed his style over the years, thanks to his vast experience as a writer, journalist, and co-founder of IcelandNoir crime fiction festival. As a translator he enabled the Icelandic authors such as Gudlaugur Arason, Indriði G. Thorsteinsson, Sigurjón Magnússon, Ragnar Jónasson and Lilja Sigurðardóttir to enter the worldwide English-speaking market.

I am absolutely delighted to share Lilja Sigurðardóttir’s reflections on Quentin Bates:

‘Quentin doesn’t eat the seared sheep´s head. In fact he makes a funny face while he watches his wife and myself gobble down this local delicacy with a nice helping of mashed potatoes and green beans. And that funny face reminds me that he isn’t an Icelander. In other situations I tend to forget because he is Icelandic in most other ways. That said, many Icelanders don´t eat the seared sheep´s head, especially not the younger ones that grew up with the options of eating food that is actually nice.

My books are translated into many languages so I know translators. I have worked with so many of them but Quentin is not your usual translator. He has never studied translation or Icelandic but relies solely on his natural talent, of which he has plenty. And because he is a writer himself, he knows his crime fiction in and out so his translations benefit from that. Because translating is not only about knowing a language and then re-writing a text into your own language, it is about culture. And that´s why I tend to forget that Quentin isn’t Icelandic. Because he not only knows the culture, he has lived it. Being a fisherman on the turbulent seas around Iceland, having family here, eating (some of) the strange food for years on end has shaped his character into being so much like these few strange people that inhabit this island.

There is a saying in Iceland:  Glöggt er gests augað (sharp is the guest´s eye) that means that guests sometimes see things that locals are not noticing anymore or take for granted. And that is the thing that makes Quentin so special: he is a local Icelander but at the same time he is also still a guest with a sharp eye that takes in things that an Icelander normally wouldn’t.

In his books about Gunna (detective Gunnhildur Gísladóttir) Quentin is at his best both as a local Icelander but also a sharp-eyed guest. Icelanders read those books and feel they are written by a local but English speakers would also find enough explanation of cultural and natural phenomena to enjoy the “Icelandicness” of the story.  I always look very much forward to a new book from Quentin and I won´t be able to wait until Cold Malice is published in Icelandic, I will have to read it first in English as soon as it´s out. Gunna is one of my favourite crime fiction characters and nobody that gets to know her will regret it.’

You can read further thoughts on Cold Malice via the following links:

Nordic Noir Blog

Cafe Thinking

The Book Trail

Novel Heights

Raven Crime Reads

Mrs. Peabody Investigates

NordicNoir Atlas

It is no secret that Newcastle Noir festival began as a love letter to Iceland. In May 2014 Jacky Collins aka Dr Noir chatted about books with Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Ragnar Jónasson and Quentin Bates whose combined experience in writing, translating and co-founding the IcelandNoir festival sown the seeds for a bigger future event. No photographic evidence from me. I have joined as a volunteer the following year. The appetite for the writing from the cold climate was growing as were the ambitions of the festival organisers.

Disclaimer: some introductory wording about the authors comes from the relevant festival programmes 2015 – 2019 and might seem out of date yet I wanted to bring back some memories. Over the years the circle of authors and their works expanded and so did the knowledge about their worlds. Now in spring of 2020 no introductions are needed.

In 2015 Iceland was represented again by Ragnar Jónasson and Quentin Bates (author and translator from Icelandic) at the Crime in Translation panel. Sweden and Finland joined.

NN2015 – Cilla and Rolf Börjlind 

Cilla and Rolf Börjlind are Sweden’s most praised script writers of crime and thrillers, and also bestselling authors (Spring Tide and Third Voice). They have written 26 Martin Beck scripts for film and television, and most recently the scripts for Arne Dahl’s A-group series. In 2004 and 2009 Swedish television showed their long crime series The Grave and The Murders.

Finland in a form of Kati Hiekkapelto shook us. The bestselling author, punk singer, performance artist and, formerly special-needs teacher, living on the island of Hailuto in northern Finland, has taught immigrants and lived in the Hungarian region of Serbia which inspired her crime novel The Hummingbird. The sequel The Defenceless was translated into English by David Hackston.

Norway arrived in 2016. Gunnar Staalesen was born in Bergen in 1947 and is the author of over 20 titles, which have been published in 24 countries and sold over four million copies. Twelve film adaptations of his Varg Veum crime novels have appeared since 2007, starring the popular Norwegian actor Trond Epsen Seim.

NN2016 – Gunnar Staalesen and Mari Hannah

That year Iceland brought incredible talent of four Ice Queens:

Sólveig Pálsdóttir, lives in Reykjavík, and is the author of three best-selling crime novels: the first two The Actor and The Righteous have been translated into German. The third Spotless was published in Iceland last spring.

Lilja Sigurðardóttir is an Icelandic crime-writer and playwright. Her first novel Steps was published in 2009 and later translated into German. Her second novel Forgiveness was published a year later, and the latest Trapped was out in October 2015.

Jónína Leósdóttir played a key role in establishing The Icelandic Women’s Literary Prize, and is the author of a dozen plays, ten novels, two biographies and numerous articles. She writes both for adults and teenagers. Among the awards she has received for her work is the poetry award Ljóđstafur Jóns úr Vör, the IBBY Iceland Award for her novels for teenagers, and playwriting competition prizes.

Yrsa Sigurðardóttir is the bestselling and award-winning Icelandic crime author of the Thóra Gudmundsdóttir series as well as several stand-alone thrillers. She made her crime fiction debut in 2005 with Last Rituals, the first instalment in the Thóra series. The latest book to be published in the UK is The Undesired, preceded by the Award-winning Silence Of The Sea and Someone To Watch Over Me, chosen by the Sunday Times as the best crime novel published in the UK in 2013.

NN2016 – Antti Tuomainen, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Lilja Sigurðardóttir, Dr Noir and Sólveig Pálsdóttir

Finland was represented by Kati Hiekkapelto again, and by Antti Tuomainen, the award-winning author of five novels. He has been called ‘The King of Helsinki Noir’ by the Finnish press. In 2011 his third novel The Healer was awarded the Clue Award for Best Finnish Crime Novel and has subsequently been published in 27 countries. His fourth novel Dark as My Heart has been voted the best crime novel of the past decade by the readers of a Finnish crime fiction magazine.

Sweden returned in 2017 with stars. Camilla Grebe has written four crime novels with her sister Asa Traff, featuring psychologist Siri Bergman. The first two were nominated for Swedish Crime Novel of the Year. Camilla has also written the popular Moscow Noir trilogy with Paul Leander-Engstrom. Last year she published her first novel as a solo author, the psychological thriller The Ice Beneath Her. Duo Jerker Eriksson and Håkan Axlander Sundquist write under the pseudonym Erik Axl Sund. Their trilogy The Crow Girl made the New York Post’s Best Summer Reads list in 2016 and was The Observer’s Thriller of the Month. They’ve been working on the second in their Melancholia series, the first being Glass Bodies.  

The honorary Swede Johana Gustawsson, the co-author of a bestseller On se retrouvera published in France. Her first solo novel Block 46 introduced criminal profiler Emily Roy and French true-crime writer Alexis Castells and was due to be published in May 2017.

NN2017 – Johana Gustawsson, Camilla Grebe and Erik Axl Sund

Norway introduced two legends.

Kjell Ola Dahl is an acclaimed Norwegian author, one of he first in the Nordic Noir genre. His debut novel was published in 1993 and he has now written eleven books, mostly crime with a psychological interest. By that year four of his novels have been translated into English. Thomas Enger made his debut with the crime novel Burned in 2009, which became an international sensation before publication. It was the first of five books featuring journalist Henning Juul which delves into the depths of Oslo’s underbelly.

Also, Denmark appeared on the horizon with Greenland in the background thanks to Nina von Staffeldt. Her debut novel Frozen Evidence published in 2016 was awarded Best Danish debut crime novel 2016 by the Danish Crime Academy. The sequel novel was planned for publication in 2017.

NN2017 – Thomas Enger, Kjell Ola Dahl, Nina von Staffeldt, Antti Tuomainen and Quentin Bates

Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden were back in 2018, with Lilja Sigurðardóttir, Quentin Bates, Antti Tuomainen, Thomas Enger, Kjell Ola Dahl and Johana Gustawsson respectively, before the final Nordic explosion the following year.

NN2018 – Thomas Enger, Lilja Sigurðardóttir, ES and Kjell Ola Dahl
NN2018 – writers and their translators: Lilja Sigurðardóttir, Quentin Bates, Dr Noir, Roxanne Bouchard and David Warriner

In 2019 the festival was held at the new venue, with more exciting latest voices from Sweden, Denmark and Iceland.

NN2019 – Masters of the genre: Gunnar Staalesen and John Harvey

Another honorary Swede Will Dean, author of Dark Pines and Red Snow, studied Law at LSE, and worked many varied jobs in London, before settling in rural Sweden with his wife. He built a wooden house in a boggy forest clearing, where he compulsively reads and writes.

NN2019 – Antti Tuomainen, MJ Arlidge, ES, Miriam V Owen and Will Dean

Christoffer Petersen writes crime books and thrillers set in Greenland. His main protagonists include retired Greenlandic Police Constable David Maratse, Commissioner Petra Piitalaat Jensen, and the first female sledge patroller Fenna Brongaard. Christoffer lives in Denmark and has spent 7 years in Greenland, including a year teaching at Greenland’s Police Academy.

NN2019 – Christoffer Petersen and G.D. Abson

Óskar Guðmundsson’s debut novel Hilma was chosen as the best criminal novel published 2015, received the Icelandic crime fiction award The Blood Drop, and was Iceland´s contribution to the Glass Key, the Nordic Crime Fiction Award in 2017. The Icelandic production company Sagafilm has secured the rights to adapt it for television.

NN2019 – Óskar Guðmundsson, Sólveig Pálsdóttir and Quentin Bates

The class of 2020 should have included new personalities appearing together with Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Johana Gustawsson, Thomas Enger and Kjell Ola Dahl. Due to the global pandemic the festival has been postponed. However, the literary life continues behind the scenes and online, including this #blogtour and via electronic and paper books. Norwegian Marit Reiersgård recently spoke online of the fine Easter tradition in her country, tradition that involves hiding away in a cabin and reading crime fiction. The Girl with no Heart is her only novel translated into English so far. Sif Sigmarsdóttir, writer and journalist from Iceland, living in London, is the author of a feminist Nordic noir thriller for young adults called The Sharp Edge of a Snowflake.  Eva Björg Ægisdóttir‘s debut novel The Creak on the Stairs won the Blackbird Award, a crime-writing prize hosted by prolific well-known Icelandic authors Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Ragnar Jónasson, and it is out now.  

I do hope for the appearance of these three writers at #NN2021 to continue the Nordic Who’s Who in Newcastle https://newcastlenoir.co.uk/programme/

Steffen Jacobsen: Retribution

To temporarily and mentally move away from the current global situation I reached for a book that has been published in February 2016, four years ago by Quercus.

On a warm autumn afternoon, Tivoli Gardens – Denmark’s largest amusement park – is devastated by a terrorist attack. 1,241 people are killed. The unknown bomber is blown to bits; the security forces have no leads.

It left the country in total shock. One year later those behind the massacre are still at large. Detective Lene Jensen, dealing with personal tragedy, becomes entangled in the web of secrets threatening the national security.

Retribution is set a year after the most horrendous atrocity in Copenhagen. One September day a lone bomber blew himself and more than thousand people in popular Tivoli Gardens, Denmark’s largest amusement park. The devastation shook the entire nation to its core and shocked the police who have no leads whatsoever. Nobody claimed responsibility. Frustration and anger are the main feelings in the overtired police force who don’t rule out another devastating attack but seem powerless to prevent it.

Superintendent Lene Jensen, forty-five-year old, burnt-out and surviving on a cocktail of alcohol and sleeping pills, is dealing with the effects of personal tragedy. To compensate for not spotting signs shown by a suicidal member of her family, she volunteered at the helpline to support others where she became close in a way with a young Muslim woman. Their formal telephone-only relationship took a different dimension when she received a call from terrified Ain, begging for help as she was being followed. Reluctantly Lene agreed to meet Ain at the neutral train station but by the time she had arrived there the woman was dead. Shaken by this turn of events Lene started own investigation into this death, and her initial findings suggested that Ain was unknowingly part of a secret service research project, under the patronage of the charismatic and extremely well-connected consultant psychiatrist Irene Adler. As Lene digs deeper, she’s silenced by her bosses. Even her allies are convinced that her actions pose a serious threat to national security. When the fanatical Kim Thomsen from the Danish Security and Intelligence Service appears amidst these tense circumstances, Lene realises that the truth might be the most dangerous thing to uncover. Thomsen seems unhinged but protected by his superiors. Michael Sander, elusive secretive ‘security consultant’ becomes Lene’s only friend.

The subject of terrorism affecting Denmark has been explored in TV series and in books, yet this is the most terrifying vision yet. The orthopaedic surgeon by day, Steffen Jacobsen can definitely write! He puts an alternative perspective as he tries to get into the terrorists’ heads and understand  reasons for the growing numbers of suicide bombers wanting to destabilise the West. He also creates strong interesting and believable female characters: Lene’s powerful brilliant boss Charlotte Falste; the psychiatrist Irene Adler, and also Nazeera, the Arab woman whose intelligence, strength and skills are sought by various adversaries. In a context of the bigger-picture investigation and personal power-play all women are memorable and credible. However, my sympathy lies with Lene who will not stop: a good cop and a decent human being, reminding me of another fictional Danish heroine who first graced the TV screens before appearing in the books: Sara Lund with her uncompromising determination, bordering on obsession to uncover the truth. Inspector Malin Fors created by Mons Kallentoff is in the same league where dedication to the job borders on self-destruction.

This fast-paced unstoppable thriller, translated by Charlotte Barslund, never lets you pause to take in all that’s happening. Excellent novel, considering the fairly recent terrorism-filled atmosphere in Europe where only the best eagle-eyed security consultants, analysts and spies could untangle the webs of connections. To be honest this is a terrifying prospect; however, an engaging gripping story. Highly recommended for the fans of Norwegian Jo Nesbø, and fellow Dane Jussi-Adler Olsen, and anyone who enjoys the edge-of the-seat suspense.

A taste of BalkaNoir

Noir is a word that certainly appeals to us. Add an adjective or a location and hey presto! a new universe of literary possibilities opens. But what do we know about a mysteriously called BalkaNoir? Is the World Book Day a good reason to venture into the unknown?

Some lucky English readers had a chance to sample BalkaNoir at NewcastleNoir crime fiction festival in 2019 when three Romanian authors Anamaria Ionescu, Teodora Matei and Bogdan Hrib shared their enthusiasm, creativity and books. Their writing is original and brings a new interesting perspective to the European table.

Anamaria Ionescu, a journalist and a writer, has been working for the Romanian Broadcasting Company for over twenty years.  She had her literary debut in 2008 in the literary section of a national publication with a short story called Travelling Family. In 2014 she published the first novel of her Sergiu Manta mystery and thriller series Code Name: Arkon. The series keeps track of an IT specialist also a biker and a rocker, whose destiny pushes him into being an assassin.

Zodiac, the second novel in the Sergiu Manta series, was out in 2016:

When investigator Sergiu Manta is handed the investigation into a series of bizarre murders, he has no idea what he’s getting involved in as he has to work with regular detective Marius Stanescu who has his own suspicions about the biker he has been told to work with, and wants to get to the truth. The twists and turns of the story take both men from the city of Bucharest to the mountains of rural Romania, and back.

Teodora Matei is the deputy chief editor of the online magazine Gazeta SF. Her debut novel in print was The Butterfly Man (cyberpunk-crime, 2015), the first volume of the trilogy with the same name, written together with Lucian-Dragoș Bogdan, a Romanian SF/ romance/ thriller author.

Living Candles:

The discovery of a woman close to death in a city basement sends Bucharest police officers Anton Iordan and Sorin Matache on a complex chase through the city as they seek to identify the victim. As they try to track down the would-be murderer, they find a macabre trail of missing women, and realise that this isn’t the first time the killer has struck. Iordan and Matache hit one dead end after another, until they decide they would have to take a chance that could prove deadly.

Stylistically the novels differ: Zodiac is pacey, impatient, international, with a touch of a Bond fantasy. Living Candles is much more low-key, quieter, understated. And dangerous. Both books, however, are strongly anchored within the recent history of Romania which demonstrates itself in the social attitudes and past perceptions of women. Female characters seem to be in the background of the society, essential yet not recognised for their own abilities. There’s a hint of fury in a female assassin and eagerness of a young pathologist to make a mark in a man’s world. Nevertheless, machismo rules on most of the fronts. Anamaria Ionescu and Teodora Matei observe what happens around them, and are fully aware of all changes.

English, Icelandic and Romanian connections: Quentin Bates, Teodora Matei, Anamaria Ionescu, Bogdan Hrib and Marina Sofia (world literature champion) at NewcastleNoir 2019

Bogdan Hrib’s varied career encompassed the professions of photographer, journalist, lecturer and book publisher as a co-founder of Tritonic Publishing Phillips. He has been instrumental in bringing other Romanian crime writers into English publication. He also contributed short stories to and edited several crime fiction collective books such as: Noir de Bucuresti, GastroNOIR (including contributions from Teodora Matei as well) and Noir de Timisoara.

His debut as a crime fiction writer came in 2007 with Filiera greceasca / The Greek Connection:

A Greek holiday abruptly interrupted by the murder of a Russian girl. The primary suspect is a Romanian man, and when journalist Stelian Munteanu happens to be nearest person to the crime scene, he soon gets pulled into the sordid tale where nothing is what it seems. A pursuit from Greece to Rome, Bucharest, Vienna and finally across France, Munteanu finds himself entering the dark world of diamond smuggling and stolen furs, where a mysterious ex-KGB agent knows it all.

And the Nordic connection?

Bogdan Hrib said that BalkaNoir couldn’t be more different than NordicNoir regarding the social context as Romania is still trying to come to terms with massive changes of moving from capitalism to totalitarian state and back to capitalism. It is all about survival and adjusting to the new reality. Yet Romanian Noir looks up to Nordic Noir. But even if the concept of the crime fiction is different to what we’ve become familiar with coming from Nordic and Scandinavian countries, the essence of the writing is the same: good gripping narrations, interesting characters, search for answers.

Bogdan Hrib representing Romania at IcelandNoir in Reykjavik in 2014

I feel that this is a beginning of something much bigger and BalkaNoir (or RomanianNoir?) is just about to conquer the world.

Jo Nesbø’s Knife

Harry Hole wakes up with blood on his hands and no memory of what has happened the night before. Soon he has to deal with the most personal case yet to catch the killer who has completely destroyed his life.

If you are familiar The Thirst / Tørst you will know that Harry Hole didn’t have an easy time (my review via Crime Review is here). Hence the consequences of different events following the vampirist case in the previous novel The Thirst reverberate through Knife. One of them is that Harry Hole had killed Valentin Gjesrsten who unknown to him was Svein Finne’s son and so revenge seems to be a strong motive here.

The rapist and murderer Svein Finne, called Fiancé, made his victims pregnant and killed them when they didn’t give birth to his child. Harry was a young detective and worked tirelessly to put him behind the bars. He succeeded. But that was ages ago and now the most infamous serial killer is free, and hungry to pick up where he had left. His methods haven’t changed and are still horrendous. Women of Oslo aren’t safe. The first victim is a lonely teacher Dagny, too scared to report rape to the police, especially as Finne imposes his own rules, plus has an uncanny ability to know all about women he targets.

I have read nearly all of the Harry Hole books and thought that the maverick brilliant damaged detective had to deal with enough trauma that his creator Jo Nesbø had thrown at him over the years. Being the alcoholic serial-killers-catcher, fighting personal demons, losing the plot on professional level, always going against the grain… I didn’t expect that he could cope with any more pain. However, again he has no choice but to follow his notorious gut feeling and face his darkest most personal case yet. Back in his own flat, drinking himself stupid, suspended from work and desperately missing his wife Rakel who had thrown him out about three months earlier. When he wakes up with blood on his hands and no memory of what has happened the night before it means that things can only go downhill. The memory lapses are nothing new yet in this particular situation even he is shocked and overwhelmed by the complete amnesia. Soon he needs to handle the most devastating murder, shattering his life into millions of hurting pieces, and destroying future of Oleg, Rakel’s son who came to treat him as his own father. Confrontation with Finne is on the cards.

Jo Nesbø writes like a rock star that he is, creating a dangerous world, populated by fully shaped psychologically believable characters, and confident to push his hero deeper into the crisis that would have killed any normal human being. Harry, deeply flawed and existing on the cocktail of strong alcohol and savage emotions, still attracts female adulation and touches of respect from those who understand how he operates, what triggers his methods, how he will walk through fire and water to find the murderer. Even if he becomes the suspect of the murder. And yet, I wanted so much for him to survive, to find the killer, to find a tiny bit of peace and some justice.

Knife is brutal, raw and nerve wrecking. It focuses on manipulation and the outrageous choices that people have to make. It has everything you would want from a thriller so confidently penned by the best-selling author. Dubious moral choices. Weak leaders and hypocritical lawyers. Domestic dramas and power fights. Different type of violence, less graphic but equally shocking, Quite phenomenal considering this is Harry’s twelve outing, intense, both fast paced and occasionally full of slow-motion melancholy. Neil Smith translated this Norse tragedy in four acts superbly.

Jo Nesbø and his band Di Derre on stage during Elvestivalen 2019. Drammen, Norway

Hardback was published by Harvill Secker in July 2019, and paperback was out last month.

What Are You Like

‘Sadie had stepped out of her comfort zone but it was cold out there so she went back in.’


What Are You Like published by Postbox Press, the literary fiction imprint of Red Squirrel Press.

Shelley Day’s debut novel The Confession of Stella Moon published in 2014 took on challenging subject. A killer released from prison had returned home to a decaying, deserted boarding house choked with weeds and foreboding. Memories of strange rituals, gruesome secrets and shame hang heavy in the air, exerting a brooding power over young Stella Moon. She was eager to restart her life but first had to confront the ghosts of her macabre family history and her own shocking crime. All seemed ambiguous as guilt, paranoia and manipulation spun a tangled web of truth and lies. Stella Moon was certain of only one thing: that she had killed her own mother.

The psychological aspects and darkness of mind weave their way into the collection of short stories aptly titled What Are You Like where Stella appears again. But is she the same person? The interlinked vivid tales are akin to tiny gems, all individually polished and shiny and separate in their own right yet fitting perfectly together, creating an unusual exploration of themes close to anyone’s heart: love, loss, family, friendship. As the author continues to travel through time, social attitudes and own reflections on life and world, various voices enter and add to the intricate unforgettable portraits of situations and emotions. Such as the complex relationship between two ‘chalk and cheese’ sisters Sadie and Cara and that incomprehensive untamed monster of depression that engulfs one of them:

‘I used to wonder whether blood actually was thicker than water. Because when you think of it, families are where shit happens. I mean that seriously, you’ve more likely to be murdered by in your family than in some dark alleyway, more likely to be killed by a rello than by a deranged stranger. I mean blood can literally be blood.’

Deftly rendered thoughts and images bring a strong sense of various Norwegian and North England’s locations, detailed depictions of distinctive areas, and the dialects representative of social groups. Imaginative miniature visual masterpieces surprise with metaphors: ‘And once again the bag is packed; there, on the floor, it gapes its wound, its innards spilling out. Or vulval, it’s private parts exposed to my current indecision.’

Some of the stories set in Norway show deep passion for the generosity and inspiration of the landscape, changing seasons and the enteral power of nature. My favourite tale must be Svarverkjær which is a delicate yet compelling stunning love story between a small wooden house named Svarverkjær and the Elk; story about passage of time, of natural cycles of nature; of care and understanding how humans, animals and objects fit within the specific environment. It is touching and moving and so sensitively drawn you can sense the sunshine, hear the rain on the decrepit roof, tremble in the freezing cold, and taste the memories of summer just as the Elk eats the fallen apples and the old house worries about the huge majestic animal losing its status in the ancient forest. Pure poetry!

From her prose you can glean the way Shelley Day feels about the eternal want for learning from the greats and their mastery of words, her passion for language and its mysteries. To slightly paraphrase her own writing: ‘You always like to re-read on holiday because a different time a different place makes the words entirely new’, this collection will be calling you back.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web

The famous Swedish scientist Professor Balder contacts the crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist, dedicated to exposing corruption and abuse, but within hours he is murdered and Blomkvist finds himself in the centre of the police investigation. The genius hacker Lisbeth Salander is hot on the trail of the cyber criminals who threatened Balder.

As I am musing over a completely different book which focuses on Stieg Larsson and his lost files relating to the assassination of the Swedish prime minister Olof Palme (review of Jan Stocklassa’s The Man Who Played With Fire to follow) my thoughts go back to reading the first of a ‘new’ Millennium novels written by someone other than the original creator of the now legendary Lisbeth Slander fighting right-wing villains.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked Hornets’ Nest were reissued by MacLehose Press in June 2015, ahead of publishing Lagercrantz’s book in August the same year.

Following overexcited publicity, rumours and secrecy surrounding translation and publication of The Girl In The Spider’s Web I was hoping that aside from creating the outrage that David Lagercrantz took on the iconic modern-day super-heroine, that the novel will live up to the expectations of Lisbeth Salander’s fans. And thanks Odin (Norse mythology), it’s a good story. In fact, it’s really great, especially if you don’t compare it with Larsson’s legacy which is in a different world / era – which I won’t.

The premise is relatively modest. A renowned Swedish scientist Professor Frans Balder returned from America to his homeland. Living like a recluse, he has recently started caring for his autistic eight-year-old son August and recognises that the boy is a savant, with extraordinary mathematical and artistic skills. Balder fears for his life, after his computers have been hacked by a dangerous group called Spiders, headed by Thanos (supervillain of Marvel Comics origin), yet he refused protection offered by the secret police Säpo. One night he deletes years of his Artificial Intelligence research and contacts the uncompromising investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist who is currently stuck in a professional rut. A couple of hours later the professor is murdered.

Blomkvist also finds out that a genius female hacker has been in touch with Balder, aside from breaking into the most secure computer systems of the American National Security Agency. That could only be ‘Wasp’ (comic book superhero): Lisbeth Salander. She is following her own agenda, tracking her vicious powerful twin sister. Salander’s character seems to take the centre stage, and she is as Larsson’s original creation as I can remember. At first Blomkvist appears more as her sidekick – though those roles evolve naturally as the investigation into the murder progresses. Full of contradictions, Salander is the fighter for justice: especially for the abused women and children. She’s ruthless and merciless yet compassionate, breaking every possible rule, and I want her to succeed. And so does Blomkvist.

David Lagercrantz signs copies of The Girl… in London

The first half of the book concentrated on laying the foundations and delivering a sophisticated tractate on the AI concept, explaining the most intricate details of the cyber world/ underworld security, and painting a political and business backdrop for the troubled Millennium magazine. And then suddenly it takes off! I couldn’t read fast enough from the point when Blomkvist realises that the exquisite yet unsettling drawings found at the murder scene are in fact drawn by August, a witness to his father’s murder. It was like a slow climb up the ski slope in preparation for the longest ever ski flying in the air where you cannot get out for the fear of missing out while being targeted by the cyber and real criminals at the same time. Lagercrantz’s brilliant craftsmanship is visible in characterisation and plotting narrative of the novel, translated masterfully by George Goulding who not only conveyed the atmosphere of this thriller but also managed to make the mind-boggling (for me) issues of cyber espionage and the mathematical algorithms understandable. The Girl in the Spider’s Web, fast and pacey, violent and intelligent, is a worthy successor to the original trilogy.

Reykjavikin Murtomies / Cold Steal by Quentin Bates

Spot the ‘odd’ one out

I am sure you have heard of Quentin Bates in one or all his guises: journalist, translator, writer and one of the founders of IcelandNoir crime fiction festival. Immersed in Icelandic culture and nature Bates effortlessly brings various aspects of this fascinating country to English readers as he translates technical texts, classics (Gudlaugur Arason’s Bowline and Indriði G. Thorsteinsson’s Cab 79) and crime fiction. Thanks to him we are lucky to read Ragnar Jónasson’s atmospheric Dark Iceland series consisting of Snowblind, Nightblind, Blackout, Rupture and Whiteout, and Lilja Sigurdardottir’s stunning Reykjavik Noir trilogy: Snare, Trap, Cage.

However, I want to draw your attention to his own series of novels set in and around Reykjavik, featuring Officer Gunnhildur Gísladóttir, also known as Gunna, the no-nonsense down-to-earth detective with excellent skills, solid experience and a dry sense of humour. Gunna featured in Frozen Out / Assets, Cold Comfort, Chilled to the Bone, Cold Steal, Summerchill, Thin Ice, Winterlude and Cold Breath. Here are my earlier reviews of Cold Breath via Crime Review pages and Summerchill via Euro Crime blog spot but of course I would encourage you to find out for yourself about Quentin Bates and read his books https://graskeggur.com.

And I have one copy of Reykjavikin Murtomies (Cold Steal) translated by Raimo Salokangas into Finnish and recently published in Finland by Blue Moon.

A successful housebreaker who leaves no traces and no clues as he strips Reykjavík homes of their valuables has been a thorn in the police’s side for months. But when one night the thief breaks into the wrong house, he finds himself caught in a trap as the stakes are raised far beyond anything he could have imagined. Gunnhildur Gísladóttir of the Reykjavík police finds herself frustrated at every  turn as she searches for a victim who has vanished from the scene of the crime, and wonders if it could be linked to the murders of two businessmen with dubious reputations that her bosses are warning her to keep clear of.

I will be more than happy to send Reykjavikin Murtomies to one Finn based in the UK in return for telling me why they should have this book, and then spreading the word. In Finnish, English, Icelandic or any other language.

Happy 105th Birthday, Tove!

It was a lovely warm Saturday evening of 9th August 2014 when my mum Krystyna Konecka and me were wandering around the old Hietaniemi Cemetery in Helsinki. Nothing sinister. Just a visit to the grave of an incredible woman Tove Marika Jansson to pay our respects and to leave some flowers.

I could talk for hours about the inspirational and exceptional fine artist and writer who had found international fame and was mostly known for creating the magical Moomin trolls. Instead I would like to invite you to read my earlier post charting our ‘pilgrimage’ to Finland five years ago. It was published on the NordicNoir https://nordicnoirblog.wordpress.com blog:

https://nordicnoirblog.wordpress.com/2018/01/11/travels-in-moominland-tove-janssons-islands/

and our conversation (in Polish) about Scandinavian fascinations, Moomins and Tove Jansson, from the pages of the Polish Literary and Art e-magazine https://pisarze.pl:  

https://pisarze.pl/2019/06/25/finskie-slady-pani-od-muminkow-w-rozmowie-krystyny-koneckiej-z-ewa-sherman/

Hyvää syntymäpäivää!