The Europeans are Coming, The Europeans are Coming ……..

Anyone watching the new mystery publications recently should have noticed the spate of translations from Europe. There was a time when it was very rare to find mysteries translated from other languages except by those trusty small presses like Serpent’s Tail or Kodansha.

However, something happened to renew the interest of mainline U.S. publishers to get in the game and translate and publish some of the best writers around these days.

Since I have recently been appointed to the Editorial Board of the University of Wales Press new series on European crime fiction, I thought I would share my thoughts on some of my favorite European (non-English language) writers of crime fiction. I assume that most readers are already familiar with the superb and translated works of Henning Mankell, Kerstin Ekman, Arturo Perez-Reverte, and even the pseudo Russian Boris Akunin (aka Grigory Chkhartishvili).

My recent reading pleasures have included relatively new European authors, and some that have been around but are not very well known. There is certainly a plethora of Swedes in this group which pleases me since there is, and has been, such a strong tradition of outstanding crime fiction from that place. Remember Sjowall and Wahloo!

I recently read the Sun Storm by the new Swedish writer Asa Larsson. To use a hackneyed phrase, I was blown away. She sets her story in the north - Kiruna - among a group of creepy Christians, and captures the tension, sleaziness and raw winter climate. She captures plot, place and people with great skill and her sleuth, a Stockholm lawyer, is so fallible and believable. The translation must be superb because the text is flawless in terms of the felicity of the writing. Her next novel is Blood Spilt.

Kjell Eriksson, another Swede, features an Inspector Ann Lindell who operates in the university town of Uppsala. She is a very interesting policewoman, pregnant and smart, with a normal family life. The novel, The Princess of Burundi, won the Swedish Crime Academy award for best crime novel. His most recent novel is The Cruel Stars of the Night.

Helene Tursten’s Detective Inspector Huss is a fascinating story of the seamy side of Goteborg, with cycle gangs and drug runners, etc raising hell with the community. Inspector Irene Huss, a wife and mother in her forties, handles some rough treatment. The novel provides a very interesting window into a slice of Swedish life. Tursten’s next book is The Torso.

A seasoned but relatively unknown in the U.S. (but well known in Europe) Swedish author is Hakan Nesser who features Chief Inspector Van Veeteren (or “VV”) in a series of truly brilliant mysteries. He has won a number of prizes for his work, most recent of which is Borkmann’s Point. His stories are certainly not cozies but usually bloody and fascinating. Another available work is The Return.   

Karin Alvtegen is one of the new stars on the Swedish crime scene. Her psychological novels are excellent and all except for Guilt have been translated and published in English. Shadow, Shame, Betrayal and Missing have all been translated.

There are a couple of very interesting Norwegians in the game too, including Karin Fossum whose Inspector Konrad Sejer series has been distinguished by an award or two and Jo Nesbo, creator of Detective Harry Hole. The latter can be found in The Devil’s Star and Redbreast. Fossum is an Osloite, a poet and a writer of deceptively realistic crimes including When the Devil Holds the Candle and Calling Out for You.

From Italy, more accurately Sicily, comes Andrea Camilleri whose Inspector Montalbano wrestles with the mafia and some excellent cuisine.  This is a superb writer and all too long under-appreciated in the U.S. (See his The Terra Cotta Dog and Rounding the Mark.)

From Barcelona, we are delighted by Alicia Gimenez- Bertlett who is a most popular author in Spain. Her Inspector Petra Delicado is wonderfully secular, sexy and funny as is her goofy sidekick Fermin Garzon. Dog Day is sassy, funny, insightful (especially regarding differences between the Catalans of Barcelona and the rest of Spain) and fun.

A relatively new Greek writer- Petros Markaris- has been producing some very excellent mysteries. His hero is Costa Heritos of the Athens CID and he captures Athens extremely well- another good place writer! His books include, Late-Night News Deadline in Athens and Zone Defense. One does not find too many good Greek mysteries by Greeks these days and these are superb.

Finally, I have been pleased to encounter the Icelandic writer Arnaldur Indriason who uses as his palette the City of Reykjavik. His hero, grouchy Detective Erlender Sveinnson and his two assistants are wonderfully compatible and efficient in these tales. Erlander reminds one a bit of Maigret although his personal life is a mess. One gets a superb glimpse of Icelandic culture in his stories and Reykjavik comes alive. Recent works include Voices and Silence of the Grave.

Clearly the Scandinavians are very talented and all the writers mentioned above are masters of place. They evoke the culture, the environment and the geography with great skill and are a pleasure to curl up with in a soft chair.

George Demko, August 15, 2007

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