Henning Mankell, that giant of Swedish, indeed European, crime fiction writing, has sadly passed away at the age of 67. He had been suffering from cancer. Though not exclusively a crime writer, his Kurt Wallander (pronounced vahl lahń’ der) crime series are known the world over and are must-reads for all fans of the crime fiction genre. The Wallander TV series has also proved a big success, viewers in this country may have been lucky enough to view the series on BBC 4.Mankell is a wonderful storyteller, his writing faultless. Though now passed, I shall continue to think of him in the present tense as he will live on in his books and in his characters.The main character in Mankell's crime novels, Inspector Kurt Wallander, lives and works in Ystad in southern Sweden where he solves crimes with his team of detectives. His daughter Linda follows him into the police force and her uneasy relationship with her dad, and the fact that she works with him on some of the cases, makes for added interest. Central to the series also is Swedish society, and I for one love to see a society and culture portrayed and commented upon through the characters and storyline by native writers in particular. Kurt is a bit of a loner, separated from his wife, with a dad who disapproves of his career choice, and he likes his tipple while listening to classical music. Kurt is a troubled man, his years dealing with crimes having taken its toll on him.There are twelve titles in the Wallander series, and whereas there is some difference in the publishing (in English) order and the chronological order (events timeline), my advice to you is to read them in the following order: Faceless Killers The Dogs of Riga The White Lioness The Man Who Smiled Sidetracked The Fifth Woman One Step Behind Firewall The Pyramid Before the Frost An Event in Autumn The Troubled Man'The Pyramid' is a series of short stories, 'An Event in Autumn' is a novella, while' Before the Frost' in fact features his daughter Linda in the lead role.In terms of Wallander on TV, there were three separate series done, two by Swedish TV and one by the BBC. The first Swedish series stars Rolf Lassgård, while the second stars Krister Henriksson: whereas all the Lassgård episodes are based on the books, most of the Henriksson ones were written for TV. The BBC series stars Kenneth Branagh and consists of six episodes. All three play the character differently, which makes for interesting comparisons if you are a Wallander aficionado. I have to say I loved in particular the Swedish series, I had a little difficulty with the strong English accents in the Swedish countryside in the British production. Though I would watch them again, that be said!Check out the availability of the Wallander DVDs in our online catalogue (yes, you can borrow!).Read also:Henning Mankell Obituary (The Guardian)Henning Mankell, writer - obituary (The Telegraph)Henning Mankell, Writer Whose Wallander Patrolled a Gritty Sweden, Dies at 67 (New York Times)
I think it fair to say that the Nordic countries have not got it all to themselves after all! What might I be referring to, you may ask? The market in crime fiction of course. But maybe some of you never thought they had to to begin with - after all we have always had a wealth of crime fiction emanating from the United States and from Britain, and you could add to that several others including the Italians and in recent times the Irish too. I have to say it IS great to see Irish crime fiction writing blossoming in recent years, a subject I really must blog about soon.But there is another jurisdiction we must visit and pay tribute to also, and that is France. Crime fiction is hugely popular in France; I have read where it says one in five books sold there is a crime novel. As a bit of an aside, I recall many years ago seeing Diva (1981), that wonderful french film about a Parisian mail courier (Jules) in possession of two highly sought-after tapes: the first containing a rare recording of an American opera singer with whom he has fallen in love; the second is a tape slipped into his bag by a young woman just before she is murdered. The unwitting Jules finds himself being pursued by a gang of drug-dealers who will do anything to get their hands on the cassettes. A marvellous film, do borrow the DVD from the library when you get the chance (and sitting on the shelf in Pearse Street Library as I write!).While that was probably my introduction to French noir, in more recent times you may have seen or heard of two famed french crime dramas, Spiral (4 series) and Braquo (2 series) (both links to Amazon). Having seen some episodes of these, it seems to me that the French go for a grittier and darker crime story, where the forces of law and order often seem not so squeaky clean, though in thinking that, I can't say that about the crime novels of one of my favourite authors, Parisienne Fred Vargas. I have written here before about Vargas, and to my mind she is one of the best crime authors writing today. Vargas's stories are always a little quirky, her style distinct and often infused with humour. While there is invariably an element of the supernatural, the surreal, in her stories, it is never such that they stretch incredulity. Her series starring Commissaire Adamsberg you will find a joy to read; do check the catalogue for books by Fred Vargas asap.The seventh and most recent in the Commissaire Adamsberg series is The Ghost Riders of Ordebec . In this Adamsberg travels to Normandy following a visit from an old woman, intrigued by her tale of ghostly horsemen who, since medieval times, have returned time and again to inflict gruesome punishments on some of society's more unsavoury characters. And who now again seem to be wreaking a certain havoc on the village of Ordebec. But while the supernatural often serves to enrich and add intrigue to her stories, real world happenings invariably lie at the centre of events. In parallel, the death of a Parisian businessman, burnt to death in his car, occupies Adamsberg and his team's attention.An author new to me is Pierre Lemaitre, and what an exciting discovery he has been! Alex is the first novel in English translation by Lemaitre, and an excellent one it is. Not an easy book to put down this, it is easy to see why Lemaitre is held in such high regard in his native country. If you can see past the rather gruesome elements, you will see a well crafted, intricate plotline and a novel well worth your attention. There is suspense, there is tension; plus it can be dark and unsettling at times. To boot the characters, each and all, are well developed and of interest for different reasons, but none more so than the tough, resourceful and compelling heroine Alex and the diminutive, brilliant and driven Commandant Camille.The story starts with a kidnapping and a race against time to locate and free the kidnapped woman. But as the story develops it twists and you begin to realise that efforts to predict its path and its outcome will be a waste of time. Your sympathies may be challenged, and you will be kept guessing 'til the end. To say anymore would be to reveal too much. This is a gripping read, quite different from most everything else I have read. I can highly recommend it, it gets top marks from me. Not a Frenchman but...While not a Frenchman, British-born author Peter Mayle has been writing books about France for some time and is probably best known for his books about life in Provence. So it was with a certain curiosity that I picked up and started reading Mayle's 'The Marseille Caper' , in the hope of it taking me to a setting that would enthral me and a story that would absorb me. Unfortunately, it did not quite live up to my hopes and expectations. As a crime novel it lacked suspense, furthermore I thought the dialogue weak, the characters uninteresting and the plot weak. It does have a beautiful setting and you do get fair mention of the local cuisine if you like that sort of thing (which I can do), but all the while I felt as though I was reading a travel writer rather than a true crime writer. Yes, this book might just be the thing to entertain you while lying on a beach in Cannes if you just want a light, relaxing and untaxing read, but I would still prefer to take a Vargas (or a Camilleri or a Leon for that matter) with me. The story itself is of Hollywood lawyer Sam who travels to Marseille with his partner Elena to champion a property tycoon's bid for a seafront development over two rival entries, and the shenanigans that thereafter unfold. But while danger beckons, you do know in your bones that this is going to be a happy ending sort of story. This is a follow up to the 'The Vintage Caper', but it does not seem necessary to have read one before the other. But I do hope you get more from it than I did, should you read it!Other SuggestionsOther French crime writers that I have not yet read but may be worth checking out are Julia Kristeva and Dominique Manotti. One of my favourite crime blogs is Eurocrime, and it has a list of French crime novels, many of which it will have reviews of. The websites Crime Fiction Lover and crimetime.co.uk also have some suggestions.
Swedish crime writing has always had a good reputation, and its popularity is greater now than ever, largely because of the movie and TV spin-offs which have served to highlight two writers in particular, namely Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson. There are several others, but I will write a second post soon where I will focus on those other fabulous writers. There is just too much material for one post! So in this post I am going to concentrate on the two biggies, introducing you (as if I need to) to the books that give us those now famous characters, Liz Salander and Kurt Wallander.Henning MankellHenning Mankell is of course the undisputed giant of Swedish crime writing (though not exclusively a crime writer), and his Wallander series has over the past couple of years hit the TV screens big time, courtesy mainly of BBC 4. If you haven't seen them, where have you been??The main character in Mankell's crime novels, Inspector Kurt Wallander, lives and works in Ystad in southern Sweden where he solves crimes with his team of detectives. His daughter Linda follows him into the police force and her uneasy relationship with her dad, and the fact that she works with him on some of the cases, makes for added interest. Central to the series also is Swedish society, and I for one love to see a society and culture portrayed and commented upon through the characters and storyline by native writers in particular. Kurt is a bit of a loner, separated from his wife, with a dad who disapproves of his career choice, and he likes his drink a bit while listening to classical music. Kurt is a troubled man, his years dealing with crimes having taken its toll on him. Mankell is a wonderful storyteller and his writing is faultless.There are eleven titles in the Wallander series, and whereas there is some difference in the publishing (in English) order and the chronological order (events timeline), best maybe to take them in the following order:Faceless KillersThe Dogs of RigaThe White LionessThe Man Who SmiledSidetrackedThe Fifth WomanOne Step BehindFirewallThe PyramidBefore the FrostThe Troubled ManThe Pyramid is a series of short stories, while Before the Frost in fact features his daughter Linda in the lead role. The Troubled Man I have just finished, and it definitely seems to be the last in the series. More the pity. I might now just have to start reading from the start again!In terms of Wallander on TV, there were three separate series done, two by Swedish TV and one by the BBC. The first Swedish series stars Rolf Lassgård, while the second stars Krister Henriksson: whereas all the Lassgård episodes are based on the books, most of the Henriksson ones were written for TV. The BBC series stars Kenneth Branagh and consists of six episodes. All three play the character differently, which makes for interesting comparisons if you are a Wallander aficionado. I have to say I loved in particular the Swedish series, I had a little difficulty with the strong English accents in the Swedish countryside in the British production. Though I would watch them again, that be said! Check out the availability of the BBC versions starring Branagh in our online catalogue (yes, you can borrow!).Stieg LarssonStieg Larsson is a more recent phenomenon, and that word best describes the impact he has had on the world literary crime scene. And he has achieved these heady heights on the strength of just three novels, as he died at the young age of 50 before he could write any more (though rumours of an incomplete fourth are very strong!). I understand 10 novels were originally planned.The three novels comprise the Millennium trilogy and were published after his death, so he never got to witness the success of his writings. It is important to read them in order; thus, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo first, then The Girl Who Played with Fire, and finally The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest. The actual Swedish title of the first translates as Men Who Hate Women, but the title was changed for some reason unknown to me for the English-language market. The two main characters in the stories are Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist; she a troubled, intelligent young woman who has suffered terribly at the hands of man and institutions, and who is also a wiz with computers; he an investigative journalist with his own magazine. Whereas the first story is quite self-contained, the following two build on it and lead us more into the background and events that have been central to Liz's life.These three books are really great reads with excellent story lines, and it is no wonder they have all made it to the big screen courtesy, I am happy to say, of the Swedish film industry. But there is also an American remake already in the works, so if your thing is not sub-titled films, then you will have to wait. But the Swedish films are excellent I have to say, and now too you have reason to brush up on your Swedish!...and nextWhereas these two writers are the best known and most widely read Swedish crime writers, there are several other Swedish writers I have found to be fabulous and I am dying to introduce you to them. But that is for another day, but soon hopefully!Enjoy reading, and enjoy your local library!Read also: Swedish Crime is on the Climb! (Part Two) and (Part Three).