Review: MacBeth – Jo Nesbø

4 of 5 stars
Published in 2018

Thrilled to have received a Netgalley Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of this book, I got started right away but it took me awhile to finish due to being on vacation and having less time to read! I’m also amused to see the cover of the book making reference to The Snowman, an earlier Nesbø novel since I’m sure that’s the publicity machine’s effort to tie it into the recent movie made from The Snowman. Never mind.

This is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare project, bringing up to date a series of Shakespeare plays written as novels by many of the best writers we have currently. Who better to write about war, gangs and wrestling control at the top of the heap than crime novelist Jo Nesbø? In this novel, it takes place in the 1970s and the police in a Northern Scottish town are fighting against the Norwegian drug dealer gang, one of two drugs gangs operating in the area at the opening of the story. There’s also a lot of political maneuvering in the ranks of the various police branches with the ultimate prize of the chief of police, a powerful position, at stake.

Duncan is the commissioner as we open the story. MacBeth is the head of the SWAT unit and his ambition is sparked by his lover Lady, who runs a casino. (Mac)Duff heads up the Narco unit and he’s already got a full portion of ambition.There are three witch-like characters whose bubbly brew is filled with addictive meth. Even without the Shakespeare connection, this is a crime-noir thriller, dark, gritty and very well put together story. Corruption, loyalties, insanity, power, ambition, guilt, it’s all there. It follows the basic story of the play within the confines and power structure of the Police Commission, power and politics are still relevant even in a different environment, day and age.



Review: The Thirst – Jo Nesbø

4 of 5 stars
Published 2017

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson started me on a trail of books by mainly Norwegian and Swedish crime writers with a few other Scandinavian ones thrown in as I discovered them. Jo Nesbø is one probably my favourite. Most of his books have Detective Harry Hole (“Hooleh”) as the protagonist. Harry is deeply flawed, an addict and a brilliant cop, focussing particularly on serial killers.

Harry keeps trying to get out of the police business but keeps getting drawn back in to help his old colleagues. In this, the 11th in the series, Harry is lecturing at the Police College where his stepson is also attending classes. As always, there’s a murder and then another one and soon, Harry is coerced back in to help solve the crime.

Harry is married to his Rakel and is happy and almost second guesses it. He still dreams about the one that got away, the one killer he didn’t manage to catch, Valentin Geritsen. In the blurb for this book, they mention the new crimes as harkening back to Harry’s nemesis and that’s the name of one of the books. The new crimes are even more grisly and the serial killer is given the nickname  of Vampire Killer. Harry plays cat and mouse with him but even then, tries to pull away from the investigation due to Rackel having a health crisis but it’s in his blood. It’s not really a spoiler to say that the killer gets caught this time around but maybe there’s more to it than that. Harry certainly has a nagging doubt and sure enough, the twists just keep on turning.

Some familiar faces return. Followers of Harry will remember some of the details of their personal lives. There’s an exciting confrontation at the end, but which is becoming a somewhat regular occurrence in these stories. I wonder if this series is reaching it’s natural end and I’m sure the author is getting tired of trying to keep Harry’s world tense and exciting, trying to make the usually bloody endings with a fresh flavour of inventiveness and gore.

I wonder if Harry’s mixed feelings about staying away from the police force and getting dragged back in all the time are reflective of Nesbø’s with the character. Surely he must be to the point of wanting to write about someone different and I think it shows a little. I still very much enjoyed The Thirst. While I’d miss Harry, I’d also not want him to become a shadow of his former self so if at some point Nesbø gives Harry Hole a fitting ending, moving on to something else, I’ll go with him. He’s a talented writer and the translator seems to be spot on in keeping the book’s intended atmosphere alive.

Very much looking forward to the first American film made from a Nesbø novel this fall, The Snowman starring Michael Fassbender as Harry Hole.

Review: Twenty-One Cardinals – Jocelyne Saucier

4 of 5 stars
Published 2006
Translated from French by Rhonda Mullins

The Cardinal family is reuniting after nearly 30 years. They haven’t all been in the same place at the same time since a tragedy in a local mine tore them apart but the secret behind that tragedy is about to come out after being hidden for so long.

There were 21 children in the family. They were out of control, nearly feral in the town of Norco, a mining town in Quebec, the mine their prospector father discovered. The mine that was ultimately their undoing. Told from the point of view of several of the siblings, we hear about their escapades, their united front, their guilt and how they deal with it as adults, their conspiracy to hide the truth of the  disappearance of one of them from their mother and youngest brother, but the real truth was something none of them saw coming.

The truth of the disappearance is known to the reader through most of the book but the plot doesn’t seem forced or trite. It’s probably a bit unrealistic perhaps, but you believe it. The final twist might not be a surprise by the time you’ve learned more about the missing sister. This is a translated book and the translator’s prose is beautiful. I can only imagine how lovely it might be in the original French.


Lost in the translation

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye – book cover

I’ve been a big fan of the Steig Larsson books, the Millennium trilogy (Lisbeth Salander, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo….that series). The author died but a couple of years ago, another Swedish writer took up the mantle. David Lagercrantz released The Girl in the Spider’s Web. I read it. I thought it was not *quite* as good or gripping but… not bad either. A Worthy successor and it was popular enough to become a legitimate best seller. Why did they even bother, some might ask? Leave well enough alone. Maybe yes. But why not? There are a lot of books and series that take up the characters in Star Wars, Star Trek etc. Not quite the same thing since they weren’t books to start with but authors are still creating new works about well known characters.

There was a sequel written many decades after Gone With the Wind, approved by the estate of Margaret Mitchell called Scarlett. It wasn’t bad but it was more of a bodice ripper type historical romance than the original which was very, very good and while did centre on Scarlett O’Hara’s loves, was also set in the Civil War and the lives of people in the South during and after. The sequel was more about Scarlett’s campaign to get Rhett Butler back. The mini series they made from it was appalling. Even though the author of the sequel wrote the mini series, she still changed the ending which made no sense to me. Why have a different ending from the book you wrote if you figured you’d be selling the filming rights to it anyway? (without looking it up. perhaps she even got the contract to write the book with the knowledge that she’d be writing a filmed version, for all i know).

Never mind that. The Spider’s Web book was quite good even if not quite the same treatment of the characters that Larsson created. There’s a new sequel coming out this fall called The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye. Oh dear. Not too keen on that title. I don’t really like the cover either. The series has mostly not had the same English titles as the Swedish books. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was titled differently and was a translation from the Swedish to English title “Men Who Hated Women”. “The Girl Who Played with Fire” is a direct translation. “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” should have been “The Air Castle That Exploded” when translated from the Swedish which sounds very awkward and Spider’s Web translates to “That Which Does Not Kill Us”.

Sure enough, the new book is titled in Swedish as Mannen som jagade sin skugga and translates to ”The Man who Chased his Shadow”. Again, why couldn’t they have gone with that? Probably because the publishers for the English Speaking World originally wanted to use something that ties them all together and make it a recognizable series. I would think they might not have wanted to alienate people with The Man Who Hated Women and since the plot centers on Lisbeth Salander, they went with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and a series was born.

What baffles me is why the Lagerkrantz books, at least, didn’t stay with “The Girl Who…” titles since that’s what they would inevitably be in English anyway. Larsson’s books weren’t published until after his death so he didn’t know what they’d be titled in English. I expect the publisher took the title of the second book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and ran with that as the theme.

The plot of the new book, according to this Swedish site (though it’s in English), says that Lisbeth is in a harsh women’s prison and gets new information about her past. It’s about Lisbeth taking revenge. Nothing new about that. That’s been a common thread in all of these books. I think the more I look at it, the more I intensely dislike the English title they’ve chosen for it.

Entertainment Weekly has a short interview with Lagercrantz. He says that the plot will revolve around the history behind the massive dragon tattoo on Lisbeth’s back. The author is also contracted for another book after this one.

One thing I have to mention, however, is the overall translation of the book to English. It is quite an accomplishment to translate a book from one language to another and have the essence of what the original author wanted to convey captured really well. Authors have a style, they have their own ways of using language and grammar, and it brings the book and the characters to life. That must be very difficult for a translator to do well. I don’t read any other language so perhaps the English translations would be a let down, I don’t know. But translations I’ve read from various languages all seem to be excellent and these are no different. I read these books and have never felt like the story suffered for the translation, that it didn’t flow or that it felt awkward at all. I’ve read books translated from Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic, Japanese, Russian and French, just to name a few. Translators are unsung heros, I think, and I wonder how many of them must be writers in their own right?

The next news on this same subject is the films. I saw the original three Swedish films with Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth. They were excellent. Sony made an American version of the first book in 2011 starring Rooney Mara and it did ok I think. I liked it well enough but the Swedish version had a bit more atmosphere, I think. The second and third books were supposed to be filmed with the same cast but have had scheduling problems and I haven’t heard anything about it. I don’t think they’re going to be made at all because there isn’t even a placeholder for either film on IMDB. It seems that Sony is jumping into Spider’s Web instead but not using the same cast as the first American version. It will be interesting to see who they end up casting. The IMDB placeholder is here but they only have credits for the director and writers so far.

The trivia on the IMDB page speaks about the possibility of casting either Natalie Portman or Scarlett Johansson but I wouldn’t like either of them in the role. Far too “Hollywood”. The first Hollywood version used an actor who was less known and I think it worked better. Another name that’s been mentioned is Alicia Vikander who is Swedish and was the robot in Ex Machina. Might have possibilities there. She appears to be filming a new version of Tomb Raider so she will likely have the chops to do action.

I’ll be following this with interest and I am pretty sure I’ll be buying the book when it comes out in the fall.

Ooh, and in doing some research, I discovered a Wiki for the Millenium books, here. Excellent. I shall have a good rummage around there.

Review: Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All

2017: 22
5 of 5 stars
Published September 2015

Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All by Jonas Jonasson (translation from Swedish to English by Rachel Willson-Broyles)

Another hit from Jonas Jonasson! I always know I’m going to read one of his books with a smile and this is no different. His books are quirky and off the wall. The book cover itself calls the adventure “madcap” and yes, yes it is. The humour is wry and dry and there’s always a satisfactorily happy ending.

This book tells the tale of a homeless hotel receptionist, Pers,  who lives in a cheap hotel that used to be a brothel, a defrocked female Protestant Vicar, Johanna, who doesn’t believe in God anymore and a violent criminal,  Anders,  who breaks bones for money who find themselves in the business of formally organizing the criminal’s daily attacks, paid for, not just by other criminals, but by anyone that wants to teach someone a physically painful lesson. They draw the line at murder for money but are not adverse to more broken bones. But when Anders the criminal finds God, an inadvertent result of conversations with the priest, he doesn’t want to hurt people anymore. Pers and  Johanna have become accustomed to the dirty money and have to come up with another plan.

Their plan is to start a church, the church of Anders, cashing in on Anders’ newly baked obsession. In his newly benevolent state, Anders has gained a lot of positive publicity in the tabloid press by giving away a lot of the money he made for the revenge hits, including money he took but didn’t do the jobs at all. As a result, Stockholm’s criminal element are looking for him. The new church might bring in the krone, but it might also be the death of them all.

These adventures and more are recalled in the book. It’s about money, charity, stupidity and even love. It’s about overcoming the expectations of your family and finding who you really want to be. And it’s about taking charge and changing your life. As are all his books!