What's a Common Reader -- and what is Uncommon Reading?

Virginia Woolf defined a common reader as someone who is not a scholar; not a critic. A common reader "reads for his own pleasure rather than to impart knowledge or correct the opinions of others. Above all, he is guided by an instinct to create for himself, out of whatever odds and ends he can come by, some kind of whole." By that definition, I'm definitely a common reader -- reading an uncommonly large and diverse collection of books.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Scandi-Crime Mania: Uneven Results...

Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell have a lot to answer for. Around the world, publishers are eagerly seeking out the next new Scandinavian crime writer, someone who can draw in the readers and generate the kind of profits they've earned from Mankell's long-running Kurt Wallender series and the phenomenon (no other word fits) of Larsson's Millennium trilogy (staring with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). Sadly, at least in this reader's opinion, the results haven't been overwhelming.

I've tried and failed to get into Arnaldur Indridason's Jar City twice (it's the Icelandic author's first novel in a series that has only recently been rolled out for American readers) and was not very impressed by Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardottir (and nope, it has nothing to do with the fact that I couldn't begin to pronounce that author's full name). I was initially very impressed with Camilla Lackberg's series featuring a police detective on the west coast of Sweden, but despite the fact that the plotlines are intriguing and the setting is interesting in its own right, after The Ice Princess (the author's debut), the books have been less compelling and I've even found myself wondering if her character, Patrik Hedstrom, might be slightly dim-witted, given his ability to overlook the obvious. (A dead giveaway is when Hedstrom notices that someone he's interviewing is withholding information -- and instead of pressing them, wanders away pondering the fact. Hmm -- any journalist I know doing that would unemployed in short order...) Karin Fossum, a Norwegian, is competent but the one book of hers I read didn't persuade me to buy more; I've yet to give Jo Nesbo, another Norwegian, a fair trial, I admit, so I'll refrain from judgment for now and report back when I've read The Redbreast.

And so to my latest foray in Scandi-crime: Red Wolf by Liza Marklund. I wish I could say this was a great discovery, but I can't. The underlying plot line has potential: the journalist heroine is investigating a 1960s terrorist attack that may have been committed by local Maoists -- hey, it was that era, after all. One mysterious death follows another, and Annika ends up as a kind of lone crusader, betrayed by all those who are closest to her in one way or another. So far, so OK: it's kind of the standard crime template, which, in solid hands, can make for a rewarding read. But the book ends up as being only so-so, partly due to its characters. Some are stock personalities; others are simply not believable. (The female characters, in particular, seem to have so many dizzy spells and feelings of being ill, I wanted to ship them off to a doctor.) And the writing is sometimes clunky, though it's hard to say how much is due to the author and how much the translator. For instance, what does "hair like an apple" mean?? I did pass an entertaining few minutes pondering what the woman being referred to might look like with a juicy McIntosh, Spy or Granny Smith perched atop her neck and shoulders, at least. The bottom line: this isn't bad, but with so many good mystery series competing for our attention on the shelves, I wouldn't really recommend it. 3.3 stars; I'll try the next one that becomes available here just in case part of the problem was jumping into the books midway through the series (several don't seem available on this side of the Atlantic; I'd have to order them from the UK and I'm not impressed enough to do that.) Stick to Larsson; I'm planning to discover Mankell next.

Note to followers: Staring next week, look for "Mystery Mondays", a feature that will focus on what I've been reading in the world of mysteries, thrillers and suspense novels.

A quick followup note as of June 20: Last night in London, Hakan Nesser (author of yet another Scandi-crime series) spoke in London to a group of bibliofans (Karen Fossum was also there.) According to a "tweet" from the London Review Bookshop (organizer of the World Literature Weekend event of which this converation among crime authors was a part), Nesser commented that the current wave of Nordic crime books has become a "tsunami", and that it's a bit "embarassing'. Five years from now, he predicted that Sweden will be back to music and tennis. Now, I'm not sure what music and tennis has to do with it, but I'll be glad to see a handful of great writers make it into translation, rather than a tsunami of adequate ones!


  1. I haven't really delved into Scandi-Crime (love the moniker, by the way) since THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO...where my love for Liz Salander began. I read the first four (five?) of Henning Mankell's KURT WALLENDER series....before i joined LT...hence no reviews and my memory is shaky except for "Wow!"

    Love your blog in its entirety from layout to content...You go, girl...I'll FOLLOW you anywhere


  2. Thanks, Jude! Amazingly, the day after posting this, I got the new Vine newsletter from Amazon. While this book wasn't on my targeted list, others were offered "The Hypnotist" by Lars Kepler, yet ANOTHER Swedish entrant into the Scandi-crime sweepstakes. It's billed as follows: "combining the addictive power of the Stieg Larsson trilogy with the storytelling drive of The Silence of the Lambs, this adrenaline-drenched thriller is spellbinding from its very first page." Could ANY book live up to that??

  3. Mankell got me started on scandi-crime - have read all of his Wallander books. The Hypnotist was excellent, I also enjoy Jo Nesbo, Karen Fossum, Arnaldur Indridason. It is the atmosphere of these nordic countries - life is stark yet cozy and all these books are great page turners too!

  4. Many of these authors have been translated into French before they appear in English, and usually in England or Canada before the US and there is not much on Kindle yet at all.

  5. Anne, yes, I see the allure. I just wonder whether, given the rush to find the next Mankell or next Stieg Larsson, there aren't some books being published and bought simply because they are Scandi-crime? (A bit like the dot com companies back in the late 1990s!!) And yes, here in the USA we're definitely way behind in the trend, but I think we're about to get a deluge of these titles and authors!