Raven’s January Round Up #PetronaAward2020 🇪🇺

Ha! Well as you can see I have only posted two reviews for this month,

Jesper Stein- Die For Me

Doug Johnstone- A Dark Matter 

but I have a very good excuse for this.

It is a good excuse- honest!

January is always a reading focussed month as I am in the final throes of reading for the 2020 Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year, and the pace is hotting up as I try to power through the list of eligible entries for this year’s award. There is a comprehensive list below if you fancy a Scandinavian crime read. As always I am keeping my counsel on the books read so far that have put a spring in my step, but rest assured there are some very good entries indeed this year, and as we approach the longlist and shortlist stages I will be able to tell you more, and highlight some of my favourites, so watch this space…

I have also read a couple of couple of historical crime thrillers: Blood & Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson, and The Abstainer by Ian McGuire coming in April ( very excited by the forthcoming screen adaptation of his first book The North Water too). Also have half read a few other books as I have become really quite strict with myself as to how long I can persist with a book that really isn’t shaking my tree 🙂 and again, it seems to be the really over-hyped ones I find myself struggling with, pushing me even further towards those lovely below the radar books.

Hope you all have a brilliant month of reading, an extra day in February too, and here is the Petrona Eligible list as posted by the Petrona Administrator and all-round excellent organiser Karen Meek at Euro Crime 

Jussi Adler-Olsen – The Washington Decree tr. Steve Schein (M, Denmark) Quercus
Stefan Ahnhem – Motive X tr. Agnes BroomĂ© (M, Sweden) Head of Zeus 
Heine Bakkeid – I Will Miss You Tomorrow tr. Anne Bruce (M, Norway) Raven Books (R)
Mattias Berg – The Carrier tr. George Goulding (M, Sweden) MacLehose Press 
Samuel Bjork – The Boy in the Headlights tr. Charlotte Barslund (M, Norway) Doubleday

Arne Dahl – Hunted tr. Neil Smith (M, Sweden) Harvill Secker 
Kjell Ola Dahl – The Courier tr. Don Bartlett (M, Norway) Orenda Books 

M T Edvardsson – A Nearly Normal Family tr. Rachel Willson-Broyles (M, Sweden) Pan Macmillan
Thomas Enger – Inborn tr. Kari Dickson (M, Norway) Orenda Books

Agnete Friis – The Summer of Ellen tr. Sinead Quirke Kongerskov (F, Denmark)Soho Press

Camilla Grebe – After She’s Gone tr. Elizabeth Clark Wessel (F, Sweden) Zaffre
Johana Gustawsson – Blood Song tr. David Warriner (F, France) Orenda Books 

Anne Holt – A Grave for Two tr. Anne Bruce (F, Norway) Corvus
Jørn Lier Horst – The Cabin tr. Anne Bruce (M, Norway) Anne Bruce

Stina Jackson – The Silver Road tr. Susan Beard (F, Sweden) Corvus
Ragnar Jonasson – The Island tr. Victoria Cribb (M, Iceland) Penguin 

David Lagercrantz – The Girl Who Lived Twice tr. George Goulding (M, Sweden) MacLehose Press
Leena Lehtolainen – Where Have All the Young Girls Gone tr. Owen F Witesman (F, Finland) AmazonCrossing
Mariette Lindstein – The Cult on Fog Island tr. Rachel Willson-Broyles (F, Sweden) HQ

Stefan Malmström – Kult tr. Suzanne Martin Cheadle (M, Sweden) Silvertail Books
Niklas Natt och Dag – The Wolf and the Watchman tr. Ebba Segerberg (M, Sweden) John Murray
Jo Nesbo – Knife tr. Neil Smith (M, Norway) Harvill Secker
Mads Peder Nordbo – The Girl Without Skin tr. Charlotte Barslund (M, Denmark) Text Publishing
Mads Peder Nordbo – Cold Fear tr. Charlotte Barslund (M, Denmark) Text Publishing
Andreas Norman – The Silent War tr. Ian Giles (M, Sweden) riverrun

Kristina Ohlsson – The Flood tr. Marlaine Delargy (F, Sweden) Simon & Schuster
Martin Osterdahl – Ten Swedes Must Die tr. Peter Sean Woltemade (M, Sweden) AmazonCrossing

Roslund & Hellstrom – Three Hours tr. Elizabeth Clark Wessel (M, Sweden) riverrun

Lilja Sigurdardottir – Cage tr. Quentin Bates (F, Iceland) Orenda Books
Yrsa Sigurdardottir – The Absolution tr. Victoria Cribb (F, Iceland) Hodder & Stoughton
Gunnar Staalesen – Wolves at the Door tr. Don Bartlett (M, Norway) Orenda Books
Viveca Sten – In the Shadow of Power tr. Marlaine Delargy (F, Sweden) AmazonCrossing
Soren Sveistrup – The Chestnut Man tr. Caroline Waight (M, Denmark) Michael Joseph

Antti Tuomainen – Little Siberia tr. David Hackston (M, Finland) Orenda Books
Helene Tursten – Hunting Game tr. Paul Norlen (F, Sweden) Soho Press
Helene Tursten – Winter Grave tr. Marlaine Delargy (F, Sweden) Soho Press

Joakim Zander – The Friend tr. Elizabeth Clark Wessel (M, Sweden) Head of Zeus

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#BlogTour- Jesper Stein- Die For Me

A depraved stalker. An unsolved murder. A cop who will stop at nothing to catch the killer. A brutal stalker is preying on women in Copenhagen. DI Axel Steen begins an obsessive manhunt that sends him spiralling out of control.  The investigation is fraught with heart-stopping near misses, dark mysteries, and a final revelation with devastating consequences. 

I was fortunate enough to take part in the blog tour marking the release of the first Axel Steen thriller Unrest which proved an exhilarating and thought provoking series opener. In common with the first book, Jesper Stein has no reticence into plunging his reader into a nightmarish scenario, with a particularly vicious and sadistic individual stalking the streets of Copenhagen…

On the basis of the first two books, it comes as no surprise that they have been optioned for television by the producers of The Bridge, and if they find the right actor to bring the right level of tortured maverick detective, well, it will be an absolute must see! What Stein achieves so beautifully is manipulating the old clichĂ© of crime fiction, that of the maverick cop with mental and physical weaknesses, estranged from personal relationships, lives for the job and so on, by making his protagonist Axel Steen utterly mesmerising. He’s strong-willed and tenacious, somewhat foolhardy at times with his physical wellbeing, both by his own actions and by putting himself in the path of danger without a moment’s hesitation, but what I really like about his character is the absolute certainty and steadfastness he brings to every action he takes in his professional life.  His doggedness of purpose and the absolute empathy he has with both the murder victim, and the women who have been subjected to the most violent and degrading attacks, sets him apart admirably from his colleagues, and more importantly instils a faith in the women that their attacker will be caught and punished. To balance it out nicely, his personal life is not so clear-cut and leads to times of procrastination, doubt, and complete tactlessness but hey, he’s only human, but there is also an insidious presence in his day job who would probably tick off even the most mild mannered individual, to add to his troubles. Steen carries within him a mercurial mix of hot-headedness, empathy, compulsiveness, and sheer bloody-mindedness that makes him unpredictable, but also fascinating. A complicated man to be sure, but a great character…

Dealing with such an emotive and troubling subject as violence against women and rape, I think there is a danger of readers becoming desensitised slightly to the effect of these crimes, and the fear, shame and anger that women live with afterwards. I found this central theme in the book was handled in a particularly sensitive and balanced way, that whilst not shying away from the more visceral physical details of what these women have been subjected to, there is a real sense of understanding throughout of how this impacts on both their lives, and physical and mental wellbeing post-trauma. It felt to me that Stein had either researched this extremely thoroughly, but more evidently had spoken to women who had experienced this extreme violence, and what it had meant to live with the memory and affect of this crime. I may be wrong, but the book felt that it had a deeper connection to, and empathy with, victims of violence, rather than some of the more lazy depictions I have read. Equally, Stein succeeds admirably in steering clear of the mawkish, having a cool and clearheaded approach to the specifics of the crimes, a sense of sympathy to the victims, but wholly adhering to the natural aspect of the Scandinavian crime fiction tradition, where character and plot are so completely bound up with one another.

As well as focussing on the emotional and physical effects of the crimes perpetrated, there was also a dizzying amount of detail regarding the forensic investigation, written in a very natural and engaging way, and not just clumsily shoehorned into the narrative. Admittedly, those of us who practically inhale crime fiction would be aware of some aspects of forensic detection, but I learnt some really interesting stuff along the way, in terms of forensic investigation, reading a crime scene, and the intrinsic correlation of science with intuitive investigation in approaching cold cases. In conjunction with the extremely unpredictable Axel Steen and  the slow burning tension of a complex and twisting investigation, I thought this was a great follow-up in the series. With the usual precision and sheer readability of a translation by Charlotte Barslund, Die For Me is to be recommended. Excellent.

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(With thanks to Mirror Books for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

 

Blog Tour-Jesper Stein- Unrest

When the bound, hooded corpse of an unidentified man is found propped up against a gravestone in the central cemetery, Axel Steen is assigned the case. Rogue camera footage soon suggests police involvement and links to the demolition of the nearby Youth House, teeming with militant far-left radicals. But Axel soon discovers that many people, both inside and out of the force, have an unusual interest in the case and in preventing its resolution. With a rapidly worsening heart condition, an estranged ex-wife and beloved five-year-old daughter to contend with, Axel will not stop until the killer is caught, whatever the consequences. But the consequences turn out to be greater than expected – especially for Axel himself…

In the best possible way, Unrest is very much a what you see is what you get type of thriller, as it ticks every single box required of a Scandinavian crime novel, and is extremely reflective of the genre as a whole. Indeed, as I was reading, I felt echoes of Nesbo, Larsson, Staalesen and Nesser throughout the book particularly in terms of plot and characterisation, and the density and slow burning feel of the plot again fulfils perfectly the familiar characteristics of the genre, so plenty to enjoy here for the Nordic noir fan…

The reader is thrust straight into the familiar realm of police conspiracy, so beloved of the Scandinavian set, suffused with the gritty, unflinching gaze on the political and social ills of Danish society. With a riot in full flow, the discovery of a body would seem an ordinary occurrence, but Stein perfectly hinges his whole narrative on why and how this victim is of such significance on a much larger canvas, and the wider ramifications of this killing. Stein presents a broad spectrum of issues including immigration, police corruption, the drug trade, trafficking and so on, and generally  this is one of the more slow burning Scandinavian thrillers I have encountered, as reasons for, and suspects of the killing are slowly addressed, investigated and discounted as the plot develops. It did take me a while to slow down to the pace of the plot, and begin to appreciate the more laborious style of investigation that the main police protagonist, Axel Steen, finds himself embroiled in, in contrast to say the more compact style of other Nordic writers. I think Unrest is extremely reminiscent of some of the fine Nordic TV dramas that we love, with chicanery, social and political division and big meaty issues at its core.    Consequently, the political and social elements of the plot and the tensions between the investigative branches , engaged me more, and I very much enjoyed Stein’s warts-and-all portrayal of Copenhagen. I thought he depicted beautifully the chasm between the areas of the city, both monetarily and structurally, and I loved the way his writing had shades of the old fashioned flaneur, with the very visual and observant tone of his descriptions, as  Steen traverses the different neighbourhoods.

I’m sure regular readers of my reviews know of my general aversion to too much being made of the familial and romantic upsets of the main police protagonists, and to an extent this book did irritate me slightly in terms of this. Personally I grew a little tired of Steen’s domestic woes and his sexual involvement with a key witness, and the less said about his reves humides the better, but on a more positive note I found his professional persona contained some of my favourite characteristics of an officer operating to his own agenda and with his own methods. Stein imbues his detective with the cynical and slightly hangdog air so beloved in the genre, but this pall of negativity usefully detracts other people’s perceptions of Steen, thus revealing a keen mind and nose for a conspiracy. He’s also not afraid to get his hands dirty or to take a knock or two along the way, skating the boundaries of professional behaviour, but delighting us with his aversion to following the rules.

Overall, I enjoyed this new-to-me author, and judging by the praise the author receives across Europe, I think there may be more enjoyment to come in the company of Detective Superintendent Axel Steen. A solid Scandinavian thriller, and recommended for fans of the genre…

(With thanks to Mirror Books for the ARC)

‘Jesper writes about a Copenhagen that’s both full of change yet always the same. Its harsh, dark, yet with a warm, beating heart at its core.’ LARS KEPLER, author of The Hypnotist ‘

‘Jesper Stein’s crime novels cast a strong light on contemporary Denmark in such a way that they deserve readers far beyond Danish borders.’ GUNNAR STAALESEN, winner of the 2017 Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel Of The Year

‘Stein’s first novel establishes a whole new Scandinavian style.’ ROLLING STONE (Germany)

Follow the blog tour at these excellent sites: