Nordic Crime Fiction: A Menacing Quartet, February 1, 2012

Judging by the icy stories presented here, cool Nordic crime fiction is still hot with U.S. publishers and readers. And Sweden, land of the Midnight Sun and Stieg Larsson, remains the genre’s heart of darkness as Åke Edwardson’s Inspector Erik Winter and Liza Marklund’s ace reporter Annika Bengtzon deal, respectively, with wartime crimes and murder at a Nobel Prize dinner. Also tackling a case of the Scandinavian blues is Kristina Ohlsson’s Swedish federal investigator Frederika Bergman, making her American debut. Finland’s racial tensions take James Thompson’s tough cop Kari Vaara into dangerous territory. [Irene Huss, Helene Tursten’s Swedish inspector, returns in Night Rounds, reviewed on p. 52.‚ Ed.]

Edwardson, Åke. Sail of Stone: A Chief Inspector Erik Winter Novel. S. & S. Mar. 2012. c.336p. tr. from Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles. ISBN 9781451608502. pap. $15. M

In his sixth outing (after The Shadow Woman ), Erik Winter investigates two missing-person cases in Gothenburg, Sweden. One involves the disappearance of an old girlfriend’s father, who traveled to Scotland to search for his own father, presumed to have died during World War II. When the missing man is found dead, Winter goes to Scotland to determine whether wartime smuggling activities played a part in this case. In an unrelated story line, Winter’s colleague Anetja Djanali investigates a case of possible domestic abuse. The more she tries to contact the possible victim, the more she is stonewalled by the woman’s family. VERDICT Winter and his team are usually involved in murder investigations, and so the twisty plots here are a departure from Edwardson’s regular procedural format. And the fascinating character of Djanali, an African Swedish detective, is more fleshed out and developed than in previous books. Fans of Scandinavian mysteries, especially those who like Camilla Läckberg, Kjell Eriksson, and Håkan Nesser, will enjoy adding this award-winning author to their reading list. [See Prepub Alert, 9/23/11.]‚ Jean King, West Hempstead P.L., NY

Marklund, Liza. Last Will. Emily Bestler Bks./Atria: S. & S. Apr. 2012. c.416p. ISBN 9781451606928. $25. M

While covering a Nobel Prize dinner at Stockholm’s City Hall, hard-nosed investigative reporter Annika Bengtzon (Red Wolf) witnesses the brutal assassination of a recent science winner and the prize’s famous benefactress. Unable to shake her visceral memories, facing increasing scrutiny at her newspaper job, and fighting ongoing ennui and hostility in her home life, Annika dives into investigating the crimes, which leads her to a professional killer named The Kitten, hints of scientific intrigue and international terrorism, and an old play concerning the life of Alfred Nobel. VERDICT With its insistent crosscutting, this Swedish thriller is confusing and disengaging. Marklund’s characterizations lean toward the narcissistic and self-absorbed, producing a tone of mean-spiritedness against the backdrop of murder. Fans of this series will likely remain loyal; however, potential new converts might be deterred. [See Prepub Alert, 10/21/11.]‚ Jennifer Rogers, J. Sargeant Reynolds Community Coll. Lib., Richmond

Ohlsson, Kristina. Unwanted. Emily Bestler Bks./Atria: S. & S. Feb. 2012. c.368p. ISBN 9781439198896. $25. M

Swedish federal investigator Frederika Bergman is an academic whose intellect assists her in formulating unique theories during her investigations. Unfortunately, her mostly male colleagues show contempt at her lack of previous police experience and push aside her findings and opinions. But before Frederika can quit and work in a profession more appropriate for her talent, a simple custodial interference case quickly turns into a serial kidnapping and murder spree. VERDICT This award-winning first volume in an acclaimed Swedish crime series spends a significant amount of time introducing and setting up Frederika’s investigative team. While this makes for a slightly lengthy thriller, it does not take away from the compelling story line. Ohlsson’s U.S. debut is a complicated novel that delves into every parent’s nightmare. Fans of detective or thriller fiction will delight in discovering this excellent addition to the Scandinavian mystery genre. [See Prepub Alert, 8/26/11.]‚ Jennifer Funk, McKendree Univ. Lib., Lebanon, IL

Thompson, James. Helsinki White: An Inspector Vaara Novel. Putnam. Mar. 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9780399158322. $25.95. M

After the decapitated head of Finland’s top minority-rights crusader arrives at the offices of an immigrant political group, the country erupts in racial violence. Inspector Kari Vaara is tapped to lead the investigation, despite being compromised on several counts‚ he’s a new father, a recent surgery to remove a benign brain tumor has left him incapable of feeling emotion, and he’s up to his neck in corruption, leading a rogue black-ops group that steals drugs, guns, and money from criminals. With the help of a Finnish-born former French Legionnaire‚ turned‚ spy (!), Vaara and his team connect the dots between the murder and an unsolved kidnapping, a discovery that imperils the cop and his family. VERDICT In his third Vaara thriller (after Lucifer’s Tears), Thompson adeptly conveys the ugliness of the racial intolerance currently permeating Western Europe. Less successful is the cartoony covert-ops angle (think Stieg Larsson meets The A-Team) and the choice to strip Vaara of his conscience. Crime fiction readers with a taste for Nordic ultraviolence will be satisfied, but those yearning for less gore and more depth will be left cold.‚ Annabelle Mortensen, Skokie P.L., IL