‘It Came to Me on a Whim’

‘A dreadfully sad occurrence in the quiet village of Vesene. A mother drowned her three children in the washtub while her husband was out at work. Naturally this happened in a moment of insanity, the pastor wrote in his diary that evening.’

I didn’t quite know what to expect from a book about a young Swedish woman who killed her three small children Tor, Efraim and Lucia one cold day in March 1929. True crime at its most gruesome and poignant, and very personal to people affected by it, at the time and now.

Ingeborg Andersson remained quiet and detached throughout her ordeal: interrogation by the local sheriff, being arrested and transported to the prison, and attending the trial. The only thing she could think of and say in response to questioning was that the impulse to do that came to her on a whim. But how can you explain that ‘whim’? What was it really? What has happened to Ingeborg and pushed her to commit such a crime in circumstances that on the surface seemed completely ordinary. Her husband Artur was a kind, calm and hardworking man, a devoted husband and father. His world collapsed in a split second when he saw three lifeless bodies next to the large copper washtub in the bedroom of their well-kept house. The laundry wasn’t done, the lunch wasn’t cooked and the wood he had fetched wasn’t important anymore. How could such mundane things be in the face of tragedy? He was no longer the object of much envy in the village but a totally destroyed human being. Yet the novel’s aim isn’t him but the woman unable to understand own actions.

Ingeborg’s grand-niece Maria Bouroncle felt compelled to follow the story which has been a taboo in her family and a deeply hidden secret. No doubt shame must have been one of the reasons why the past events have not been mentioned. Even at the time of the crime, so much depended on the perception by others, and presenting only one’s best sides to the community. Why talk about a mentally unstable female killer and her victims? Initially Bouroncle was shocked when she had discovered fragments of the story. Afterwards she began to arrange own feelings and questions. It Came to Me on a Whim became her search for truth, motives and reasons, and most importantly her quest to understand the timid woman who had murdered her children and although knew she had deserved the punishment, she could not comprehend her own mind and emotions. Ingeborg was aware of basic religious principles but nothing more complex, relating to social norms: ‘’You were not in full command of your senses when it happened, Ingeborg. You have been very ill and are in need of care.” “Going unpunished is out of the question, since I am so well now,” continued Ingeborg. “In another life I hope to go unpunished”. The process of imagining situations and conversations between prison staff, the doctor in charge and then the hospital employees, as well as uncovering processes that might have been in Ingeborg’s mind seem also a difficult personal journey for the author. Certainly access to archives helped to map the events: ‘The purpose of the psychiatric examination was to assess patients’ grounding in reality and their conformity to social norms, and to test their understanding of religion, history and geography and their general knowledge. The exercises included interpreting proverbs, critically examining apparent illogicalities, and answering questions on abstract and ethical concepts.‘ The result in the form of the matter-of-fact yet compassionate book shows the possible state of the care institutions, and empathy in portraying a deeply-troubled young mother. The author spent years going through various documents, focusing on extensive research into penal history in Sweden about a hundred years ago, and investigating letters and papers connected to the antiheroine.

Tom Ellett’s translation from Swedish is excellent, and I assume it must have been a bit of a challenge when translating Ingeborg’s original letters with their simplicity, repetitions and poor language. She knew limitations of some of her skills: ‘I write ugly’ but had no idea how her actions impacted others, especially her husband: ‘Her emotional side became completely dead […] She gradually brightens up enough that she can feel remorse and be reasoned with, but still exhibits, at the time of writing, catatonic and demented traits.’ Nevertheless, the book is very much alive.

You can find out more about the author on her website Maria Bouroncle.


Excited and with some sense of urgency I wanted to arrive on time. To be in the forest when it happens. To join people who are passionate about books, writing, nature, and art that is both lofty and accessible. To celebrate freedom of enjoying clean air and open spaces. It rained a bit and the sun didn’t appear often in the mostly grey sky yet a relaxed crowd of people gathered near the metro station, drank coffee and then walked towards the small clearing in the forest. Adults, children, dogs. Volunteers, artists, readers, council employees. There the handover ceremony was about to start…Yet months after this special event which took place in June 2022 I am only now writing about that quiet ritual in the modern noise. I’ve been thinking about the Future Library a lot though, especially in the midst of darkness and cold as some of the young trees experience their first winter. But as the tress grow the time becomes irrelevant…

Forests and woodland areas overlook Oslo and Oslofjord. They are indispensable around the city and provide beauty, fresh air, silence, wonder, space to be active and to be peaceful, chance to see, smell, look and enjoy true outdoor near the country’s capital yet distanced from everyday rush. One of the forests is remarkable though as one thousand trees have been planted in Nordmarka. They will grow there for an extraordinary purpose: to supply paper for a special collection of books to be printed in about ninety years’ time. In a meantime one writer every year will contribute a text, and all writings are being held in trust until the proposed date of publication 2114. That’s the idea behind the Future Library project conceived by the Scottish conceptual artist Katie Paterson who imagines and creates multilayered multimedia art projects, taking her creations and inspirations on the micro and macro scale. Like a spark she ignites fire of passion and sense of wonder. When she began envisaging Future Library, she knew that many people would have to be involved in realization of that dream: ‘It began as an idea for a book, but this one actually came off the page and became real.’

The project started formally in 2014. It’s commissioned and produced by Bjørvika Utvikling, managed by the Future Library Trust and supported by the City of Oslo and various cultural organisations. Anne Beate Hovind, who has over twenty years’ experience of commissioning and producing art in public spaces, is the Future Library’s Fairy Godmother, and combines vision, steely determination, warmth and passion. Anne Beate and Katie approach authors whose writing is connected to the notions of time, nature and long-term thinking, who want to write a book that won’t be read until the hundred-years’ project comes to completion. Of course, nobody knows what the future brings. We don’t know how the world will be shaped and understood, if the trees will grow tall and strong enough, if humans will be on this planet to enjoy works of acclaimed writers. We do know, however, that in the climate emergency and in the atmosphere of unrest and fear, we can still hope that something good and positive will emerge.

Until recently I haven’t paid much attention to the concept of cathedral thinking even though I did know that in the mankind’s history so many artists and craftsmen, especially of medieval and renaissance eras, made projects that were meant to last for centuries, to benefits next generations. ‘In the Dark Ages, architects who embarked on big projects, such as building cathedrals, knew beforehand they weren’t going to finish it. Cathedral thinking means that you take pleasure in doing things that do not immediately benefit you, but which you know future generations will be able to enjoy.’ As perMr. Sustainability. ‘Cathedral thinking, a mindset derived from medieval thinking, is about thinking in multiple generations, rather than one lifetime. When thinking in generations as opposed to one lifetime or even term, the perspective changes.’

The legendary Canadian author Margaret Atwood was the first invited to the project in 2014. She wrote the text titled Scribbler Moon. Since then more authors have written and delivered their manuscripts that are now hidden safely in the purposely designed beautiful wooden vault / Silent Room at the Deichman Public Library in Bjørvika neighborhood in central Oslo. We will never read the books, but we know some titles. From Me Flows What You Call Time by internationally renowned novelist David Mitchell (2015). As My Brow Brushes On The Tunics Of Angels or The Drop Tower, the Roller Coaster, the Whirling Cups and other Instruments of Worship from the Post-Industrial Age by the Icelandic poet, novelist and lyricist Sjón (2016). The Last Taboo by novelist, public intellectual and political commentator Elif Shafak (2017). Dear Son, My Beloved by the Man Booker prize winning South Korean novelist Han Kang (2018).

During last year’s handover ceremony three authors Norwegian Karl Ove Knausgård (chosen for 2019), critically acclaimed Vietnamese American writer and poet Ocean Young (2020) and Zimbabwean novelist, playwright and filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga (2021) were invited to deliver their manuscripts. The pandemic stopped the yearly tradition of handing over manuscripts in 2020 and 2021. Covid also prevented Ocean Young from travelling to Norway for this joint ceremony. However, previously selected authors Sjón and David Mitchell attended together with Karl Ove Knausgård and Tsitsi Dangarembga. Four magnificent writers contemplated the meaning of writing, time and humanity. Hope and trust.

I write about the things that are important to me, and those are things that take place in my environment, my society. And these are not necessarily things that are important to the publishing capitals. If I started to think about writing about things that are important there, I wouldn’t write very well.

Tsitsi Dangarembga on her writing and audience, and being the first person she writes for

Trees are real. Future is unknown. Writings begin in a place that can move to the new universes. Time is subjective, and a concept perceived differently in some cultures. Perceptions are individual. Together all these elements are intriguing and I do hope that Future Library of that unusual esoteric kind will survive winds of change. The trees will keep growing.

Hella – stubborn as hell: Trouble by Katja Ivar

Helsinki, June 1953. Too much summer light and too many dark secrets. Hella Mauzer, now a reluctant private investigator, has been asked by her former boss at the Helsinki murder squad to do a background check on a member of the Finnish secret services. Not the type of job Hella was hoping for, but she accepts it on the condition that she is given access to the files concerning the roadside death of her father in 1942, at a time when Finland joined forces with Nazi Germany in its attack against the Soviet Union. German troops were sent to Finland, the Gestapo arrived in Helsinki and German influence on local government was strong, including demands for the deportation of local Jews. Colonel Mauzer, his wife and other family members were killed by a truck in a hit and run incident. An accident, file closed, they said. But not for Hella, whose unwelcome investigation leads to some who would prefer to see her stopped dead in her tracks.

Katja Ivar’s latest novel can be read as a stand-alone but I would encourage you to check Evil Things and Deep as Death if you are not familiar with these earlier books. (I have just read my previous reviews and noted that I keep encouraging people to become Ivar’s fan!) Trouble has enough background information about Hella, little snippets of memories, reintroduction to several characters, and I’m confident this allows to form a complete picture of her. Yet, finding out more about events in Lapland and in the south of Finland that had led her to the current situation will make getting into the latest story much more exciting. In addition, her search for answers as why four members of her family have died in a hit-and-run accident.

If there were any professional and financial glass ceilings at the time, she would have definitely smashed them. Such concept didn’t exist then and what Hela wants to do, to carve independent life for herself, is considered as madness by society, in particular men as most of women appearing in the story don’t even have the voice to articulate this notion. 

Working as a private investigator brings constant practical, financial and psychological challenges. Hella doggedly pursues all possible connections to the man she agreed to check. The official opinion of Johannes Heikkinen him as a perfect citizen and a grieving widower, with a mad cousin disturbing the overall perception, changes when she links casual words, random comments and anonymous letters. Is there a murder lurking in his CV? Is there a point in uncovering truth of the secret agent’s past? At the same time she digs into the uncomfortable Finnish past and begins to understand how some Finns operated during the war, or how they had chosen to survive conflicting loyalties. Her personal life takes unprecedented turn which only reinforces the view of how modern and progressive she is in her attitudes and approach, without realising that she might be a trailblazer. This determination to find the truth and to deal with any obstacles thrown her way by the system and various men can be also exhausting yet personal integrity is so much more valuable than a bare existence. However, even if her independence infuriates people around her, I feel that she still manages to be respected by some, without being it shown of course, though there is excellent working relationship and real friendship with the pathologist Tom, and the complicated, often unsettling, connection with Steve.

Ivar creates an authentic world, full of detailed descriptions and observations about life in the 1950s in the country still scarred by the WWII and next to a menacing presence of its powerful neighbour as the Cold War. Trouble is a slick, cleverly plotted and captivating murder mystery. And I want the intelligent, intrepid (warm under her armour) Hella Mauzer to be my friend.

Huge thanks to Bitter Lemon Press for the ARC of this historical yet contemporary Nordic Noir gem. Paperback of Trouble by Katja Ivar is out on 19th January 2023.

Welcome to 2023! Death In Heels by Kitty Murphy

New day, new month, new year AND new novel that will definitely hook you from the start. Death in Heels, published today 1st January 2023 by Thomas & Mercer, is the thrilling first instalment in the Dublin Drag Mystery series by Kitty Murphy. Never heard of it? Well, time to change this. But before you read synopsis below, here is how the author Kitty Murphy feels about books.

‘How wonderful to be thinking about books that have brought me joy over the years. Books are amazing! There’s nothing like the feeling of falling into a story, being wrapped up in another world, absorbed in the lives and the experiences within the covers.

For the book that has influenced me, I have to pick Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie. I grew up loving reading Christie, as many of us did, and I reread them all the time. There’s always at least one in my reading stack. I relish the puzzle of a good mystery and I find the resolution of crime fiction is comforting in stark comparison to Real Life. Christie’s rich, warm, wild characters play each scene so brilliantly, they’re always a pleasure to read. If pushed, I’m Poirot over Marple, but picking my favourite is difficult. Today it is Nile. Another day it is The ABC Murders… or Five Little Pigs

The book that probably means the most to me, is The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy. In the depths of covid despair, I reread the whole series and I adore them just as much as I did when I was eight. At the heart is this amazing friendship between Mildred and Maud, two young girls learning to be witches at Miss Cackle’s Academy. (Also, there are certain people I would very much like to turn into a pig.)

The book I wish I’d written, is Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier. Dark, twisted, gorgeously romantic, and set in the wild Cornish moorland I know, this is my favourite book of all time. I love the nastiness and the mystery of the story, and the strength that Mary Yellen shows. Ripped from the world she loves when her mother dies, she finds herself embroiled in crime and murder, but she doesn’t back down. The scene on the beach never fails to terrify me, and the end of the book is perfect.

I love a good mystery, and I recently read Murder Before Evensong by Rev Richard Coles. I adored the characters, especially Canon Daniel Clement with his dogs and his mother, and there was so much to the story, so many layers. I can’t wait for the next.

The book I’m looking forward to reading is Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal. I read it when it first came out, finding the gorgeously sprayed edges and the beautiful cover irresistible, but it’s my pick for a book club read so I’m really looking forward to getting into it again. Macneal is one of my favourite writers and Nell’s story here is wonderful, from the beautiful beginnings by the sea, to the betrayal of Nell’s family, to the wildness of the circus, to the way Nell grows and lives, and finds friendship and love in her new life.

That’s the core of it for me: friendship, love, and a little bit of murder sprinkled over the story, here and there…’

Death In Heels follows Fi McKinnery, overwhelmed with pride, watching her best friend Robyn perform his drag debut as the dazzling Mae B at Dublin’s premier drag club TRASH. But the evening is ruined when bitchy young queen Eve Harrington lampoons Mae B’s performance and ruins the show. Eve is unceremoniously evicted from the club, and later that night Fi finds her dead, face down in a flooded gutter. The police decide it was an accident and the queens are keen to move on as well, but Fi isn’t so sure. Eve had made plenty of enemies with her casual cruelty and many people might have wanted her dead. Fi is determined to uncover the truth, even though her ‘Hagatha Christie’ sleuthing is driving a wedge between her and Robyn, whose star is now rising at TRASH. Something dark is lurking beneath the feathers, glitter and sequins of Dublin’s drag scene. Fi is determined to protect her friends, even as they distance themselves from her, and to stop the killer before more people die.

Kitty Murphy lives with her husband, Roger, on the very westerly edge of Co. Clare, Ireland. She adores drag in all its forms and crime fiction in all its chilling splendour. Kitty is bi/queer. From a well-spent youth divided equally between the library and the LGBTQ+ scene, it was only a matter of time until both worlds collided in a flurry of fictional sequins and in a book form.

Thank you Rhiannon Morris of FMcM Associates for the invitation to join the blog tour.

Gott nytt år! And Grattis SELTA!

My childhood was rich in book experiences, especially those coming from other countries. The first encounters with the Swedish literature happened thanks to Teresa Chłapowska, the outstanding translator from Swedish to Polish. She was the one who had bridged two languages with knowledge, precision and fun. Her exquisite translations allowed us to we get to know authors such as Tove Jansson, Astrid Lindgren, Selma Lagerlöf, Gösta Knutsson and Åke Holmberg. The social climate at the time in Poland encouraged publishing the books which are rightly considered classics all over the world. Fizia Pończoszanka (Pippi Långstrump / Longstocking) and The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, The Six Bullerby Children, and the entire Moomin world have always been part of my education and reference points in the literary context.

Years later I began to read Swedish literature in English and discovered a new universe of English translators who work tirelessly to bring all genres of books across the language border. Many of them (all?) are members of The Swedish-English Literary Translators’ Association SELTA. The association aims to promote the publication of Swedish and Finland-Swedish literature in English, and to represent the interests of those involved in the translation process. SELTA held its first Annual Meeting in April 1982, and throughout November and December 2022 it has been celebrating its 40th birthday. Today might be the last day of the celebration yet it is not the end of hard work, collaboration between publishers, cultural and literary organisations, Embassies and many individuals who make this happen and continue. SELTA also produces the online Swedish Book Review which does indeed expand horizons, with its variety of texts, translated extracts of Swedish works, reviews etc SBR covers popular genre fiction, literary fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama and novels for young adults.

Rather than summarizing the articles and practical information that SELTA shares on its website which in itself is a fantastic resource for anyone interested, I would like to share some of my reviews and to reintroduce translators who are simply brilliant and together with the Swedish authors bring unique works to the English-speaking readers. You might have read these books, you might want to add them to the reading list for future. New year 2023 is round the corner. So shall we read as we enter the unknown…? BUT: there is absolutely no pressure to click on all those links below… As I was searching for names of authors and translators, and the English titles, I realised that we are really lucky have so much to choose from, and I enjoyed looking back and remembering what I have read over the years… Another case of too many books, too little time?

Let me start with the winners of the Petrona Awards for the best Scandinavian Crime Novel published in the UK in a previous calendar year. Agnes Broomé translated Maria Adolfsson’s Fatal Isles, winner in 2022. Deborah Bragan-Turner translated Mikael Niemi’s To Cook A Bear, winner in 2021, Rachel Willson-Broyles Malin Persson Giolito’s Quicksand, winner in 2018, and Neil Smith, translator of Liza Marklund’s Last Will (winner in 2013) and Leif G W Persson’s Linda, as in The Linda Murder (winner in 2014). In the ten years’ history of the Petrona Award Swedish books took half of the trophies.

It appears that I have read and revied several books translated by my favourite Swedish (and Norwegian) translator Neil Smith: Watching You by Arne Dahl, Hunted by Arne Dahl, Water Angels by Mons Kallentoft, Souls of Air by Mons Kallentoft, Earth Storm by Mons Kallentoft, The Final Word by Liza Marklund, The Other Son by Alexander Söderberg, The Silenced by Anders de la Motte, MemoRandom by Anders de la Motte, The Crow Girl by Erik Axl Sund, The Dying Detective by Leif G.W. Persson, The Gilded Cage by Camilla Läckberg, The Lies We Tell by Kristina Ohlsson and The Wednesday Club by Kjell Westö. Plus the following translations by Sara Death The Darkest Day by Håkan Nesser and The Root of Evil by Håkan Nesser. Ian Giles Dark Music by David Lagercrantz, Geiger by Gustaf Skördeman, Good Girls Don’t Tell by Liselotte Roll and The Silent War by Andreas Norman. Elizabeth Clark Wessel 3 Hours by Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström, The Ice Beneath Her by Camilla Grebe and After She’s Gone by Camilla Grebe. George Goulding and Sarah De Sanarclens Hell and High Water by Christian Unge. George Goulding The Carrier by Mattias Berg. Rachel Willson-Broyles A Nearly Normal Family by MT Edvardsson, Fog Island by Mariette Lindstein and The Tunnel by Carl-Johan Vallgren. Fiona Graham 1947: When Now Begins by Elisabeth Åsbrink. Agnes Broomé For the Missing by Linda Bengtsdotter and For the Dead by Linda Bengtsdotter. Marlaine Delargy The Flood by Kristina Ohlsson, An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten, The Silent Girl by Michael Hjorth and Hans Rosenfeldt, The Man Who Wasn’t There by Michael Hjorth and Hans Rosenfeldt and The Voices Beyond by Johan Theorin. Susan Beard The Silver Road by Stina Jackson and The Last Snow by Stina Jackson. Saskia Vogel  A Summer with Kim Novak by Håkan Nesser. Tiina Nunnally The Ice Child by Camilla Läckberg.  Michael Gallagher The Invisible Man from Salem by Christoffer Carlsson and The Thin Blue Line by Christoffer Carlsson.

Happy New Year 2023! Gott nytt år! Godt nytt år!

Animal Life by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir

Do you remember getting lost in the Arnaldur Indriðason’s series featuring detective Erlendur Sveinsson who is unable to let go of hope to find his missing younger brother? Erlendur knows there is no chance of finding the boy who had disappeared during bitter winter many years ago. But he longs for some closure to quieten his own guilt. That’s what I kept thinking about: snowdrifts, cold, darkness, unpassable roads, while reading the moving and tender Animal Life in which death is also mentioned but in a different context: ‘In order to be able to die, a human first has to be born.’

Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir’s latest book is definitely not an example in the crime fiction genre but a slow burner of an exploration of life and nature of humans. It tells a story of a midwife Dómhildur, with sixteen years on maternity ward behind her, as she delivers her 1,922nd baby and contemplates life and death in the days leading up to Christmas. This period often brings quietness or chaos and in her case these two are entwined. A terrible storm approaches Reykjavik and people are preparing for possible devastation. Dómhildur, forced to take unused holidays, decides to make some changes in her apartment, inherited from her grandaunt of the same name, renowned for her unconventional methods and down-to-earth logic, and discovers decades worth of letters and manuscripts hidden amongst her grandaunt’s clutter. While the weather gets worse, the mood in the real and symbolic four walls lifts. Questions and answers float around, and the archives are surprising.

The first Dómhildur embarked on a project to write about practices and skills of midwives whom she started interviewing during her summer holidays. What began as simple conversations in 1970, continued for another quarter of a century, and meant to become a published book on ‘living experiences of seven female midwives and one male midwife in the north-west of the country. the father of light Gísli Raymond Guðrúnarson, known as Nonni.’ It amazed the narrator: the old interviews, full of descriptions and original thoughts, ‘were mostly of my great-grandmother’s generation, born between the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, and shared the common practice of travelling by foot or on horseback to attend to birthing women. A midwife could say she had seen other horizons, said one of the interviewees about her vocation.’ And here the connection to Erlendur comes: ‘Most of the accounts described the hardships of travelling in bad winter weather. The midwives were escorted by sturdy young men, who according to their accounts, often gave up due to fear of the dark or exhaustion, so the women would carry on alone, getting lost in blizzards, and having to grope their way, trying to find a familiar rock, sinking into the snow up to their waists, then climbing over or down a mountain pass. They waded across unbridged rivers, trudged over barriers of ice, barely crawled out of avalanches alive, and when they finally arrived at their destination and unwrapped all their shawls, the child was often already born, either dead or alive, because the weather doesn’t always bend to the requirements of a woman in need.’ Harsh nature, difficult living conditions, everyday hardships are common threads in the past; however, they can still be found in modern times in the country where darkness takes over the soul. The query about sunshine, light and warmth is never far: ‘Is there any light to be found in this country, is there any light in this world?’ Light is essential for Kristín Marja Baldursdóttir’s Karitas and for the ordinary Icelanders who in 2013 ‘voted for the most beautiful word in their language. They chose a nine-lettered one, the job title of a healthcare worker, the Icelandic term for midwife: ljósmóðir. In its reasoning, the jury stated that the word is a composite of the two most beautiful words: móðir (mother) and ljós (light).’ It is not a secret that metaphorically speaking ‘man grows in the dark like a potato’ and needs a lot of help and care to grow and develop after being born.

Light and darkness. Warmth and coldness. Past and present. Here I focused only on some of the themes in Animal Life which is so much richer, deeply moving, immersed in the Icelandic folklore and filled with delicate humour and touching recollections on human nature. Above all, it brings some joy and some calm and stops you to wonder how subtly and masterfully Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir composes her stylistic wordy world, and how beautifully and sensitively Brian FitzGibbon translated these thoughts into English. Let me leave you with this one, positive and wise:‘For even in the depths of an Icelandic winter, new life will find a way.’

Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir is a prize-winning novelist, playwright and poet. Auður Ava’s novels have been translated into over 25 languages, and they include Butterflies in NovemberHotel Silence and Miss Iceland, also published by Pushkin Press. Hotel Silence won the Nordic Council Literature Prize, the Icelandic Literary Prize, and was chosen Best Icelandic Novel in 2016 by the booksellers in Iceland. Miss Iceland won the Prix Médicis Étranger and the Icelandic Booksellers Prize. 

Brian FitzGibbon translates from Italian, French and Icelandic. Recent translations include Woman at 1000 Degrees by Hallgrímur Helgason as well as Hotel Silence and Miss Iceland by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir.

Thank you to Pushkin Press for the early copy of the book and for the invitation to join the blog tour.

Jólabókaflóð – The Christmas book flood, part 7

Jónína Leósdóttir is one of Iceland’s best-loved writers, with a career behind her as an award-winning journalist, playwright, translator, biographer and writer of novels for young adults, before turning to crime fiction with her Edda series that has proved highly popular in Iceland. Deceit is the first in a new series of crime novels featuring Reykjavík detective Soffía and her ex-husband, English psychologist Adam. Deceit is also the first of her books translated into English by Quentin Bates. Jónína was instrumental in establishing The Icelandic Women’s Literary Prize in 2007 and is now an honorary member of the association that awards the prize. In 2013, she published Jóhanna and I, a memoir of life with her partner Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, Iceland’s former Prime Minister.

Here Jónína Leósdóttir shares her thoughts about Jólabókaflóð.

For me, books and Christmas have always been linked. Entwined, really, as I have never experienced Christmas without books, lots of books, from as early on as I can remember.

Books were at the top of my wish list for Father Christmas, as the annual ‘book flood’ in early winter was publication time for at least two new translations of Enid Blyton stories (and I was an avid collector), novels by Astrid Lindgren and other Scandinavian authors and, naturally, also books by Icelandic writers. My haul was usually four or five books and everyone in my family got books, too. Anything else would have been unthinkable.

As presents are exchanged after the evening meal on Christmas Eve, I took the books to bed with me and never heeded the ‘reading curfew’ set by my parents (I had a torch hidden under my pillow). And during the holidays, when I had finished my own books, I started on my sibling’s presents, although we didn’t share the same taste… my brother being four years younger than me and my sister nine years older. But, as an Icelandic saying goes, ‘when times are hard, you feed on whatever you can lay your hands on’. And then it was time to skim through the books that the adults in the family had been given for Christmas – until the library opened again at the beginning of January.

Late autumn is still the time when most books are published in Iceland and I still feel the same excitement about ‘the Christmas book flood’ as I did as a child. Now, however, I don’t have to wait until Christmas Eve. That’s one of the great things about being a grown-up. I can buy exciting books as soon as they hit the stores and read all night if I feel like it. And if I run out of reading material during the holiday season, there is always Amazon.

I also love giving and lending new books to my friends and family and then have long and often heated discussions about them. That’s a huge part of the pleasure of books; talking about them at length. Oh, don’t get me started!

‘When can we open our presents?’ Jónína and little brother, Árni.

According to recent statistics, each Icelander still receives / buys three books at Christmas. I find that both wonderful and amazing, considering the competition books now have from all kinds of media. There was no television in Iceland until I was twelve…

Christmas Eve. There are obviously books under the tree,
but my sister and aunt make sure I don’t touch the presents.
An older cousin turns up, dressed as Father Christmas, with more presents.

Winner of the Petrona Award 2022

Winner of 2022 Petrona Award announced

The winner of the 2022 Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year is:

FATAL ISLES by Maria Adolfsson, translated from the Swedish by Agnes Broomé and published by Zaffre. Maria Adolfsson will receive a trophy, and both the author and translator will receive a cash prize.

The judges’ statement on FATAL ISLES:

This captivating winning novel is the first in a proposed trilogy featuring the beautifully flawed protagonist Detective Inspector Karen Eiken Hornby, whose take on life and work make for a strong down-to-earth and modern heroine in the relicts of a man’s world.

Set in the fictional yet completely credible location of Doggerland, this three-islands archipelago in the North Sea, reflects Scandinavian, North European and British heritages. Doggerland is shaped and influenced by its geographical position; the  atmospheric setting, akin to the wind- and history-swept Faroe and Shetland Islands, and Nordic climes, enhances the suspenseful and intriguing plot of a police procedural that combines detailed observations and thoughts on the human condition. A brutal murder sets in motion an investigation into layers of hidden secrets and of societal attitudes, and the interaction between the superbly portrayed characters creates a thrilling tension and believable environment.

Comments from the winning author, translator and publisher:

Maria Adolfsson (author):

I feel so honoured and want to send my warmest thanks to the Petrona Award jury. This appreciation for my work means a lot to me!

For me it is especially exciting that the British readers enjoy exploring Doggerland together with me. I’ve always been interested in what unites people in Scandinavia and the British Isles, how we are culturally linked, and what sets us apart. To me, Doggerland is – or at least might have been – the link between us. Or to quote Herman Melville: “It’s not down on any map; true places never are.”

Agnes Broomé (translator):

I am deeply honoured to receive the Petrona Award 2022. With such an impressive shortlist it is truly humbling to be chosen. I am grateful to the jury for their unswerving commitment to bringing Scandinavian crime literature to an English-speaking readership. My warmest thanks to everyone at Zaffre for their support along this journey and, above all, to Maria Adolfsson for introducing me to Detective Inspector Karen Eiken Hornby.

Zaffre (publisher):

Many thanks to the jury for choosing Fatal Isles as the worthy winner of this year’s Petrona Award. It’s wonderful to see Maria’s brilliantly imaginative crime debut, expertly realised in English by Agnes Broomé, recognised for its excellence. DI Karen Eiken Hornby is a universally relatable character and Adolfsson’s vividly drawn island nation, Doggerland, is a perfectly picturesque place for the darkest deeds to occur. It is such a pleasure to publish this internationally bestselling series.

Maria Adolfsson (b. 1958) lives in Stockholm where she writes full-time.
The Doggerland series has fast become an international bestseller.
Photo © Caroline Andersson Renaud, Bonnier Rights website

The Petrona team would like to thank the following: firstly, David Hicks, for his generous sponsorship of the Petrona Award; secondly the co-creators and original judges of the Award: Barry Forshaw, Dr. Kat Hall and Sarah Ward and thirdly, Adrian Muller for his support via the CrimeFest platform. The Petrona team are: Jackie Farrant (Raven Crime Reads), Miriam Owen (Nordic Noir blog), Ewa Sherman (me) Nordic Lighthouse, and Karen Meek Euro Crime website & blog.

Petrona Award 2022 – longlist and Petrona Award 2022 – shortlist

FATAL ISLES is the tenth winner of the Petrona Award. Previous winners are Liza Marklund for LAST WILL, translated by Neil Smith; LINDA, AS IN THE LINDA MURDER by Leif G.W. Persson, also translated by Neil Smith; THE SILENCE OF THE SEA by Yrsa Sigurđardóttir, translated by Victoria Cribb; THE CAVEMAN by Jørn Lier Horst, translated by Anne Bruce; WHERE ROSES NEVER DIE by Gunnar Staalesen, translated by Don Bartlett; QUICKSAND by Malin Persson Giolito, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles; THE KATHARINA CODE by Jørn Lier Horst, translated by Anne Bruce; LITTLE SIBERIA by Antti Tuomainen, translated by David Hackston, and TO COOK A BEAR by Mikael Niemi, translated by Deborah Bragan-Turner.

Jólabókaflóð – The Christmas book flood, part 6

Michael Ridpath is the author of the Magnus Iceland Mysteries, the most recent of which is Death in Dalvik. His blog is Writing In Ice: A Crime Writer’s Guide to Iceland. Below Michael recommends three books that should definitely find their way under your Christmas tree.

Sadly, I have not yet spent a Christmas in Iceland, so I haven’t experienced Jólabókaflóð, the Christmas Book Flood. As a writer and reader it sounds wonderful. I do receive a fair few books each Christmas, and I make sure to place them at the top of my reading pile. I find the quiet few days between Christmas and New Year a wonderful time to devour books.

So what do you give someone who, like me, reads English and is fascinated by Iceland? Well, there is an ever-growing list of Icelandic fiction writers, especially in the crime genre, but here are three recently published non-fiction books that I found fascinating, informative and entertaining.

How Iceland Changed the World by Egill Bjarnarson is the most accessible account of Iceland’s history and is also very funny. To understand a country, you need to understand its history: I wish this book had been written when I started out on my own Icelandic crime series fourteen years ago. Egill covers the whole of Iceland’s history from Ingólfur throwing his home pillars into the sea in 874 to decide where he should land, to the great women’s strike of 1975 when 90 per cent of Icelandic women stopped doing what they were expected to do, and the country came to a complete halt. 

It has some useful tips for understanding today’s Iceland, including the best suggestion I have come across for English speakers wrestling with pronouncing that notorious volcano Eyjafjallajökull – “Hey I forgot your yoghurt” – spoken quickly, confidently and defiantly. 

Egill recounts my favourite bit of Icelandic history: on 9 May 1940 Hitler invaded Belgium and Holland and that same day Britain invaded Iceland, an action so mildly embarrassing that we never really talk about it. Egill does, though.

Looking for the Hidden Folk by Nancy Marie Brown, deals with that thorniest of Icelandic subjects, the hidden people. The question isn’t simply do they exist? but, do modern Icelanders really believe that they exist? Like me, Nancy has fallen in love with Iceland, and also like me she has a hard-headed, sceptical view of superstition. A rational person might ask how can so many people in a modern, well-educated society like Iceland’s entertain the concept of hidden people or elves? This book is her answer, and it’s fascinating. She shows how the stories of Iceland’s hidden people are a natural human response to the island’s extraordinary landscape, and makes the reader question whether dismissing such belief as irrational is itself irrational. 

It’s also the narrative of how Nancy Marie Brown, who is a keen owner of Icelandic horses as well as a writer, fell in love with Iceland. She has visited the country thirty times since 1986 and has an acute ability to observe Iceland’s ever-changing landscape of lava, glacier, rock and moss, and to record it for the rest of us. Her story resonates with me, as I am sure it will resonate with many who find themselves drawn back there.

Finally, Secrets of the Sprakkar by Eliza Reid is the story of Icelandic women. The Sprakkar of the title is an old Icelandic word for outstanding or extraordinary women. Eliza Reid is a Canadian (and now Icelandic) journalist who has spent most of her adult life in Iceland. She married a historian who in 2016 became President of Iceland, giving her the perfect vantage point to write about Iceland’s remarkable women. 

And they are remarkable. Iceland has one of the most gender-equal societies in the world, thanks partly to favourable legislation, but in a greater part to the can-do attitude of its sprakkar. Women have climbed to the highest rungs of Icelandic society: President, Prime Minister, Bishop (there is only one) and National Police Commissioner. There is much that the rest of the world can learn from them. But Eliza is clear-eyed enough to admit to and dissect continuing problems: domestic abuse being perhaps the most striking.

This is also a collection of warm and often wry portraits of a range of different women in Icelandic society, from politicians to knitters, from football players to fishermen. Fisherwomen? 

Eliza allows her own story to seep through into her narrative: how a Canadian farmer’s daughter met an Icelandic fellow graduate student in Oxford, how they married, and how she became Iceland’s “first lady”. She is a likeable guide to a likeable country.

I mentioned earlier that to understand a country you need to understand its history. Maybe you need to understand its women, too.

Petrona Award 2022 – Shortlist

Exceptional crime fiction from Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden shortlisted for the 2022 Petrona Award.

Six outstanding crime novels from Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden have been shortlisted for the 2022 Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year. The shortlist is announced today, Wednesday 16 November and is as follows:

Maria Adolfsson – FATAL ISLES tr. Agnes Broomé (Sweden, Zaffre)

Helene Flood – THE THERAPIST tr. Alison McCullough (Norway, MacLehose Press)

Ruth Lillegraven – EVERYTHING IS MINE tr. Diane Oatley (Norway, AmazonCrossing)

Anders Roslund – KNOCK KNOCK tr. Elizabeth Clark Wessel (Sweden, Harvill Secker)

Lilja Sigurðardóttir – COLD AS HELL tr. Quentin Bates (Iceland, Orenda Books)

Antti Tuomainen – THE RABBIT FACTOR tr. David Hackston (Finland, Orenda Books)

The winning title will be announced on Thursday 8 December 2022. The winning author and the translator of the winning title will both receive a cash prize.

The Petrona Award is open to crime fiction in translation, either written by a Scandinavian author or set in Scandinavia, and published in the UK in the previous calendar year.

The Petrona team would like to thank our sponsor, David Hicks, for his continued generous support of the Petrona Award. 

The judges’ comments on the shortlist:

There were 31 entries for the 2022 Petrona Award from five countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden). The novels were translated by 23 translators and submitted by 14 publishers/imprints. There were 16 female, 14 male and one male/male pair of authors.

This year’s Petrona Award shortlist sees Norway represented with two novels; Sweden with two and Finland and Iceland with one each. The judges selected the shortlist from a particularly strong pool of candidates with the shortlisted titles ranging from police procedural and domestic noir to the darkly comic. 

As ever, we are extremely grateful to the six translators whose expertise and skill have allowed readers to access these outstanding examples of Scandinavian crime fiction, and to the publishers who continue to champion and support translated fiction. The significantly increasing number of female writers being translated is also to be commended. 

The judges’ comments on each of the shortlisted titles:

Maria Adolfsson – FATAL ISLES tr. Agnes Broomé (Sweden, Zaffre)

Maria Adolfsson’s gripping debut, FATAL ISLES, set in Doggerland – a group of islands in the North Sea between Denmark and the United Kingdom –  paints a vivid picture of a northern island community with traditions, rich and poor families, and a stormy climate. Doggerland comes alive on the pages so much that you would never guess it is totally fictional. DI Karen Eiken Hornby is tasked with investigating the murder of her boss’s ex-wife. Does the motive have any connection to a secretive commune that existed on the island in the past? FATAL ISLES is a high tension, character driven, atmospheric police procedural.

Helene Flood – THE THERAPIST tr. Alison McCullough (Norway, MacLehose Press)

A man goes missing under mysterious circumstances. Police detective Gundersen is officially working the case whilst therapist Sara tries to understand where her husband is. Set in the leafy Oslo outskirts, THE THERAPIST is a tense read that keeps us intrigued with unsettling twists and turns. Sara is constantly analysing herself and the people around her as her whole life is turned upside down. At the same time she fears for her own safety and tries to remain professional with her clients. Author Helene Flood is a trained psychologist who has used her experience to inform the characters and the narrative in this page-turning debut thriller. 

Ruth Lillegraven – EVERYTHING IS MINE tr. Diane Oatley (Norway, AmazonCrossing)

EVERYTHING IS MINE is the story of two happily married professionals, Clara an ambitious child rights activist at the Ministry of Justice, and Henrik, a compassionate paediatrician. Dedication to their twin sons and their respective causes begins to crack when they are faced with cases of murder and abuse and an unravelling of a tangled web of emotional secrets follows. A powerful narration and detailed observations show a stark contrast between social standing and geographical differences in Norwegian life, and leave the readers with questions of how, and if, individuals can deal with unfairness and pain. EVERYTHING IS MINE combines important issues, thrilling action and a smart intricate plot, with a strong focus on social injustice and complex family relations.

Anders Roslund – KNOCK KNOCK tr. Elizabeth Clark Wessel (Sweden, Harvill Secker)

Anders Roslund has published nine novels to date as part of the successful writing duos of Roslund & Hellström and Roslund & Thunberg, as Anton Svensson, and has been the recipient of numerous, prestigious international awards. Since the death of Börge Hellström, Roslund has continued their Ewert Grens series and KNOCK KNOCK is his first solo venture. Set over the course of three days, KNOCK KNOCK is another fine example of Roslund’s talent for seamlessly blending together a solid police procedural with a high octane thriller, leading to a gritty and fast-paced read set against his astute observations on the societal and political issues of contemporary Sweden. 

Lilja Sigurðardóttir – COLD AS HELL tr. Quentin Bates (Iceland, Orenda Books)

COLD AS HELL, the first novel in a new slick series, introduces Áróra who returns from UK to her homeland Iceland following the disappearance of her estranged sister Ísafold. She uncovers a corrupted world of dark secrets but needs help from her policeman uncle to navigate an Icelandic society with which she is now unfamiliar. The author creates a chilling and tense atmosphere where the midnight sun hides crimes and all relations are tested. The richness and intensity of the writing makes the investigative accountant Áróra, who will stop at nothing to understand and trace her sibling, a thoroughly modern and captivating protagonist in a league of her own.  

Antti Tuomainen – THE RABBIT FACTOR tr. David Hackston (Finland, Orenda Books)

Antti Tuomainen was shortlisted for the Petrona Award twice before winning it in 2020 with, LITTLE SIBERIA. THE RABBIT FACTOR, which was also shortlisted for this year’s CWA Dagger for Crime Fiction in Translation, superbly demonstrates Tuomainen’s singular gift for dark, absurd crime fiction undercut with poignancy. THE RABBIT FACTOR puts at its heart an ordinary man drawing on his previously undiscovered and extraordinary resolve, to carve out and keep his place in a hostile world, with often darkly funny results. 

The judges

Jackie Farrant – creator of RAVEN CRIME READS and a bookseller/Area Commercial Support for a major book chain in the UK

Miriam Owen – founder of the NORDIC NOIR blog and creator of content for communities

Ewa Sherman – translator and writer, and blogger at NORDIC LIGHTHOUSE. 

Award administrator

Karen Meek
 – owner of the EURO CRIME website and blog.

Further information can be found on the Petrona Award website: http://www.petronaaward.co.uk