Monthly Archives: August 2011

A Classic Detective Novel Swedish Style

The popularity of the Stieg Larsson trilogy has led to a number of northern European novelists gaining popularity in the U.S. market.  Among them is Henning Mankell.  I recently read the first novel in his Wallander series entitled “Faceless Killers”.

The story begins with a brutal double murder of an elderly couple living on a remote farm outside of a small Swedish town.  Inspector Wallander is the lead detective on the case and the last word of the farmer’s wife, “foreign”, leads him to the nation’s refugee camps and beyond.

It was interesting to learn from the novel the current immigration issues in Sweden and how the influx has changed the society as well as the types of crime that are now occurring there.  Drug trafficking, gun running and violent crime are all on the rise.  As is anti-foreign sentiment.

Kurt is a dedicated detective whose personal life is in disarray.  His wife has left him and his daughter is estranged and rebellious.  The back story provides a fleshed out character that you will want to meet again in the rest of the series.

The plot twists and turns and keeps you guessing.  No spoilers from me so I will leave it to you to discover the killers.

I’ll be reading book two for sure.

A Dark Tale of Disillusion

I requested “Caribou Island”, by David Vann, from the e-library a number of months ago, so by the time I actually checked it out I’d forgotten what it was going to be about.  With an ebook there isn’t a back cover or inside jacket to peak at for the synopsis so I just dove in.  Chilly waters!!

The story is about the thirty year marriage of Gary and Irene coming undone.  Gary’s life is a litany of diverted plans, botched schemes and failed dreams.  Irene is haunted by a tragic past and is dealing with a mysterious illness. She senses that Gary is trying to leave her in some way.

The setting is the isolated, prehistoric wilderness of the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska.  Winter is rapidly approaching and Gary is determined to build a cabin on the even more remote Caribou Island.  It symbolizes redemption for him. As with all Gary’s ideas, there is very little planning for the construction and it seems doomed from the beginning.  Irene attempts to help in the construction despite knowing that it isn’t going to work and that they aren’t going to be able to survive a winter out there.

Vann’s prose is spare and dark.  He vividly paints a scene of desolation, despair and unravelling psyches.  His words pull you into that stark Alaskan landscape.  It’s a very powerful and moving book.  I do recommend it as a great read, but, please know that it is not going to be a light romp.

Mysteries Abound!

Last week I read “The Distant Hours” by Kate Morton.  It is the first of her novels that I read and I will be going back for more!

The story weaves itself around events at Milderhurst Castle in 1941 and the impact that they continue to have in the present, 1992. 

Edie Burchill’s mother, Meredith, was sent to live at Milderhurst when the blitz began in London.  It was a time when many frightened parents sent their children to live with strangers in the English countryside to keep them safe from the nightly bombings in London.

Young Meredith ends up with the Blythe sisters, Percy, Saffy and Juniper.  They are all wildly eccentric after having been raised mainly by their father, a famous author, Raymond Blythe who was slipping into madness.  There is a history of mental illness and tragedy surrounding the family.

Edie first learns of this when her mother receives a letter in the mail that had been lost since 1941.  Her mother’s emotional reaction to the contents of the letter and the revelation of her mother’s time at the castle leave Edie burning with questions.

She unexpectedly finds herself near Milderhurst Castle and so begins her search to unveil the mysteries of what happened to her mother back then.  She meets the Sisters Blythe and discovers the youngest, Juniper, has slipped into a madness all her own.  The trigger for her madness was the disappearance of her loved one back in 1941.  Mysteries and secrets abound.

Morton adeptly transports the reader back and forth between past and present from the viewpoints of the various players in the mystery.  She builds tension with the different clues revealed by each characters experiences.  The characters are richly drawn and believable.  Each chapter compels you on to the next.  A definite must read!