Gunnhildur’s Travails – Thin Ice

I am continually honoured in the presence of genius in the group of Nordic noir lovers of which I am part.  This genius sources in Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Norway even Derbyshire, and, in this case, Hampshire.

The latest tale from this stable is the excellent Thin Ice from Quentin Bates. A local, homegrown talent who continues to excel with his police procedurals about Gunnhildur an officer in the Reykjavik CID.

However, this isn’t a traditional Whodunit as we start with the bad guys and follow their escape when they car-jack a mother and daughter when their getaway driver fails to be at the rendezvous. In parallel with this Gunnhildur battles with the trials of her private life. Her son has now settled with one of his girlfriends and rekindles his relationship with his now-dying father much to her dismay. Along with this, she is troubled by her two grandchildren sired by her son. The getaway driver is then found dead in a fire. Is this accidental?

The pace switches between the criminals, as a long-standing, habitual, criminal and a monster of a man and his side-kick, who doesn’t have a sheet, whilst the main bad-guy has a sheet as long as his and his sidekick’s arm. The former continually waves a gun at his captives and is unafraid to use it. The alternate thread is following Gunnhildur and her colleagues trying to track down the missing women.

The atmosphere and emotion are diverted by one of the captives, as the daughter of the pair becomes involved with the not so bad sidekick  – in this context you could call it ‘Rekjavik Syndrome.’ This adds to the suspense in the story as it leads to an unexpected outcome as a surprise as she – the daughter turns out to be as conniving and deceitful as the criminals themselves.

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I’d made a concerted effort to read all the prior novels before starting Thin Ice, as I love reading in sequence, having read Frozen Out when this blog tour was announced and was invited to contribute. As a result, of this, I had missed out on some story line and even questioned the writer about continuity who pointed me to the two novella, WinderLude and Summerchill which I read in parallel – these filled in some blanks on Gunnhildur’s family story.

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I really enjoyed reading all of these novels and I do wonder with excitement what is next for Gunnhildur. Will she get that promotion? Will her family life settle down?

Watch out for the next in the saga, but in the meantime Thin Ice stands alone as a great crime story, filled with the atmosphere and coldness that is Iceland-Noir.

I highly recommend it and please follow the rest of the blog tour both backward and forwards.

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Credits and references  – Quentin Bates – Author Page

Thin Ice Thin Ice (Gunnhildur Mystery)

Cold Comfort Cold Comfort (Gunnhildur Mystery Book 2)

Chilled to the Bone Chilled to the Bone (Gunnhildur Mystery Book 3)

Cold Steal Cold Steal (Gunnhildur Mystery Book 4)

Winterlude Winterlude (Gunnhildur Mystery)

Summerchill Summerchill (Gunnhildur Mystery)

 

Missing in Malmo by Torquil MacLeod

Another great novel in the Anita Sundstrom series. I love this book – couldn’t stop reading it other than when my eyes gave up. I can’t wait for the next one which is due through my letter box just after Easter. 

Following on from her successes in the previous two novels set in Malmo, Anita investigates the disappearance of an heir-hunter from the UK.

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The man she loves (but won’t admit to him) is still in prison for the murder in the first book but she still visits him on the pretext of getting to the bottom of the murder he committed in England but she is reluctant to do anything about it as he would be sent back to the UK; her ex-husband turns up looking for his young student girlfriend who he unofficially reports to Anita as missing so she has two missing people – one official and one unofficial and as we know Anita can be maverick sometimes. Her son is back with her in Malmo but he’s not in the best of spirits.

Hakim is having trouble at home too – his sister is having arguments with their parents – this leads to some additional domestic intrigue when Hakim stays over at Anita’s whilst she is away working with a UK detective to try to track down the reasons why the heir hunter has been murdered – his body, missing a part of a limb, is washed-up in the Sound.

To add insult to injury the body of the ex-husband’s missing girlfriend also gets washed-up in the Sound – she has been raped and her apartment is pristine almost professionally cleaned and only the ex-husband’s prints are found in some places where others there is nothing for forensics to discover. Nordlund and Westermark are working on the murdered girl whilst, as I said Anita is over in England, working with local CID and meeting the heir hunter’s widow and trying to piece things together from what was left over – strangely, however, she is the victim of a burglary around the time of the discovery of his body.

This is a complex plot, the local detective has some baggage with a deputy chief constable whom they interview about the past crime – there was a diamond robbery some time ago which tracks back to the past and action in Australia where one of the culprits was killed by the main detective – the DCC, in fact, the closure of the case made his career. Whilst only one of the diamond heist gang is still alive in England, the other two have died but there is another twist – the hit-and-run of a local English guy.

Anita’s ex-husband is then arrested and charged with the girl’s murder but Nordland is not happy with something and starts digging again but it leads to an unhappy conclusion.

There is some personal and professional tragedy for Anita in this gripping novel but it does bring closure on both local and English fronts and an excellent climax. The culprits are found and in a gripping ending with Hakim finding the heir hunter’s murderers and Anita puts together what Nordland had found out and confront’s the real murderer.

You’ll need to read it – I highly recommend this book to any fan of good police procedurals and or course nordic crime.

Credits and references

Missing in Malmö: The third Inspector Anita Sundström mystery (Inspector Anita Sundström Mysteries Book 3)

Torquil MacLeod

 

An Event in Autumn by Henning Mankell RIP

I write this blog post with an overwhelming sense of loss! I have read every word written about Kurt Wallander and there is nothing more of him nor Henning Mankell although for those of you who follow the Nordic Noir genre they will live long in our collective psyches.

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A classic Wallander story; conflict in himself; with Linda and the world. He wants to desperately live out his days in a more relaxed environment with his love of classical music away from the stress of policing and the city. He takes the opportunity presented by Martinsson, to check out an idyllic place and in doing so he stumbles across a crime scene, in his attempt to find the place to live away from the city. This opens up the under-resourced cold-case investigation that his boss can’t support.

He is lonely and has lost his father, he needs some love. I know how that feels – how the agonising relationship between a father and son can be until one day they are no longer there. His relationship with his ex-wife – there is no longer any contact although he has now rekindled the relationship with his daughter, now a budding police officer herself, after a period of separation. She is a good thing for him if he only realises it in time.

I have felt a kindred spirit with Kurt for some time; I read ‘A Troubled Man’ recognising the signs of type II diabetes in the narrative! Time caught up with him too! One day I will find my children, again or them me, hopefully before it’s too late.

This novella – a simple plot – wasn’t a difficult read, not that any of Henning’s Kurt books are; in fact for me returning to the pages of a Wallander thriller only at the weekend it felt like I was meeting a schoolboy friend with whom I’d not spent any time for years and yet it didn’t feel like we’d been apart for days at all.

It’s Monday night in late November as I write this and ‘An Event in Autumn’ is set in the coldness of late autumn leading into winter in Ystad; snow one minute; then rain and slush! I hate this time of year – going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark!

Kurt unravels things as he usually does, as most great detectives do, by noticing things in people and in places that aren’t quite right! He does the unspeakable and walks into the jaws of a trap without calling for back-up! It all works out in the end.

You know I don’t do spoilers, but I expect most of you will have read this anyway but something in me needed to write this as most bloggers know! The melancholy of a Wallander and most critically for me is the afterword by HK himself a beautiful essay on the life he and Kurt shared! I admit to shedding a tear or maybe two.

On a lighter note I have seen Lassgard; Branagh and Krister Henriksson play Kurt and was fortunate to meet Krister in 2014 at Nordicana. He will always be my Wallander! A wonderfully humble and gracious man overwhelmed by the excitement I showed in meeting him!

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May you rest in peace Henning! Thank you for the gift and legacy you gave us.

Icelandic Intrigue… Frozen Out (Quentin Bates) and Last Rituals (Yrsa Sigurdardottir)

I am back in Iceland after a break in Finland! 

After a break of a few weeks, I have picked up the blog to bring you updates on two books I’ve read both set in Iceland and both featuring female investigators.

Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

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The international best-seller, quoted on the cover as ‘Dark, deep and icy as an Icelandic fjord… a rich and rewarding debut.‘ Mark Billingham.

I have had some time to myself recently as my readership will know, so decided to buy the first three of Yrsa’s ‘Thora’ stories. She is a lawyer by trade, divorced and dealing with kids and work. She has a much-reduced lifestyle as a result.

She gets pulled into this investigation when a German research student, Harald, is found horrifically murdered on the university campus.

Another boy has been arrested and faces an aggravated murder charge and as far as the police are concerned he did it; he can’t prove he wasn’t there, no alibi and as he has no recollection of events due to his drug and alcohol abuse neither, however, can the police prove he is complicit and are relying on his confession which he won’t give them. Harald’s family also believe the boy isn’t guilty and despatch their business ‘security’ adviser Matthew to engage Thora’s help in navigating the legal system, translating and flirting!

Thora and Matthew stumble around unearthing missing relics, documents, and rituals. It appears that Harald had a fascination with witchcraft and black magic and his research diverted him from his main thesis much to the disappointment of one of his tutors, who unfortunately had Harald’s dead body literally fall on him.

Harald’s student colleagues are wrapped up in this somewhere, but it isn’t completely clear; how can you rely on what they say when they were drunk, drugged and loved-up around the time of the death in a very busy bar.

It’s a great novel, well plotted which I have read most recently and enjoyed the interactions between Matthew and Thora as an almost amusing sideline to the novel – a little like in my opinion to the humorous dialogue between Martin and Saga in ‘The Bridge’. It’s a great ‘whodunit’ in my opinion with the traditional amateur sleuth.

I have two of the follow-on books ready to read, but there are more….

My Soul to Take

Ashes to Dust

I shall be diverting back to England for one of my next reads, but before that, I will recollect my other Icelandic adventure.

Frozen Out by Quentin Blake

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I hasten to add I bought his one at Nordicana 2015 in June when I met first Quentin – aka Greybeard (@graskeggur) on the ‘Iceland’ stand when I was buying my copy of ‘Snowblind’ by Ragnar Jonasson which he translated.

I had never read anything Icelandic until then. I felt obliged to buy ‘Frozen Out’ as the author was there and I could get it signed! I do love a signed book! I didn’t regret it, apart from making a friend, I also have a new female fictional heroine to add to my increasing list and a new author to follow.

This is the first of the Gunnhildur (Gunnar) mysteries and an enjoyable and intriguing read from my acquaintance from the Nordic genre with whom I’ve had the pleasure of breaking bread, (it was a naan actually.) 

Gunnar, as we get to know her as is the local police sergeant in fictional Hvalvik, a fishing port of Quentin’s imagination. It’s not too far to drive from Reykjavik. The book is set to the backdrop of the financial meltdown in the Nordics.

She is woken one morning by a telephone call about a body found in the harbour water. The corpse belongs to an employee of a PR firm and apparently drowned miles from where he was last seen. Gunnar is suspicious of this and sets about digging.

There are a number of other layers to this – an anonymous blogger that writes scandalous and possibly libelous reports that contain clues and references to the crimes, there is a shady unidentified man taking taxi rides from Gunnar’s cousin. This man has links to the PR company as a ‘Mr. Fixit’ and in tandem with this there is corruption in government which also has familial links to the PR company in and around the development of industry in the area.

The waters are muddied because we find out that a recent contact of the drowned man was the victim of a fatal hit-and-run accident! No one was caught. But he was very involved in a campaign group against the industrial project.

I won’t spoil the story plot too much, but we do find a lot about our central character which sets us up for the follow-on novels about Gunnar both inside and outside of her work. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel as Gunnar is a really interesting character facing a number of professional and personal challenges. Please find time in your schedule to read her (his) stories – I hope I’ve teased you enough. Here are two of the follow-on books linked below:-

Cold Comfort

Chilled to the Bone

Quentin, also know for his translation work, is English and lives not too far away from me on the south coast. His Icelandic language skills come from his time working there I believe many years ago, so he is familiar with the culture and no doubt the climate.

I’m also keen to state that he has also translated Nightblind by Ragnar Jonasson which is due out in December on Orenda Books another one from Iceland I am very much looking forward to.

I’ve been somewhat remiss since the summer so I should now endeavour to pick up and read a relatively local crime novel.

In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward 

I am eager to boast about this as I also have a personally signed hard-copy of this one from when I met Sarah at Nordicana 2015 and it’s been creeping up the list. It’s also just been published in paperback.

I will eventually put some words together on this one too!

Happy reading – there is no excuse now that it’s cold and wet and miserable in England!

Defenceless in Finland

I am still in fictional Finland and having finished the book, filled with the bitter-sweet emotions one gets – the sense of achievement conflicting with the loss of being with those people who have filled my imagination this last few days.

On this occasion I was holding back tears as I had been wrapped-up in the lives of the key players in Kati’s second Anna novel:-

  • Anna Fekete,
  • Esko and
  • Sari.

We get even closer to Anna and Esko in this the sequel to The Hummingbird which I reviewed only recently. The crime threads aren’t connected so you can read them standalone I hasten to add.

Without giving anything away this is full of personal emotion for Anna and leads us on to the next one without leaving loose crime threads. At some points I did wonder if Anna would herself unravel if we pulled too hard.

On September 8, 2015 I was fortunate to be able to attend a book event at Blackwell’s in Portsmouth. Both Gunnar Staalesen and Kati Hiekkapleto were the star turns on a short tour on their way to Bloody Scotland.

The local event had been arranged by Karen Sullivan (Orenda Books) and the MC was Quentin Bates (known on social media as ‘GreyBeard;’ a local writer in his own right and also translator of note).  Both authors answered questions about their work and also gave us the honour of reading small passages from their latest.

Kati read from The Defenceless  where two girls go out into the forest to smoke purloined cigarettes and discover a crime scene.

Afterwards a small group of us went for food in a local restaurant where I was able to enjoy the company of Kati and her lovely teenage daughter. She is a fan of fantasy in the written word citing ‘Lord of the Rings’ as one of her favourite books.

I was also privileged to have both Kati’s books dedicated and also Gunnar’s We Shall Inherit the Wind.

Anyway, I had started to read The Defenceless  in earnest only that day having read a few chapters before going back to read The Hummingbird to get the back-story on our key players e.g. Anna, Esko and rest of the violent crimes unit.

I had only literally finished Anna 1 the evening before and written the review you will find on previously on this blog.

The Book of the Blog

The Defenceless 

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We start this story from the perspective of a character called Sammy, who is with us throughout the story, and his escape from his homeland from persecution and death on his journey to Finland.

As we rejoin Anna and her colleagues, the plot forks off into a number of threads; the investigation of a road traffic accident where a Hungarian girl has apparently run over and killed an old man – who is miles from home; two girls that find a blood-stained crime scene have decided to report it to the police so we now have three strands and two crimes at the beginning of a complex and twisting plot.

Anna, now a senior constable, and Sari are working on these threads. Anna’s brother isn’t helping but she manages to clear the way for him in his fight against booze and he ceases to be as much of a distraction for her. Although the Hungarian girl begins to irritate both Anna and the reader – well she did me – cropping up at the wrong moment on occasions.

Then a neighbour of the apparent road accident victim disappears; a drug dealer is found dead with serious injuries in his flat in the same building. The links between these new investigations, Sammy our refugee and the conflict between The Hells Angels and The Black Cobras gangs builds this into a taut and complex plot.

This gives Esko, working alone something to focus on as well as dealing with his boozing and smoking and their effects on his fitness and general health. But as they say every dog has his day – Esko gets some kudos in this novel after all he is a long-serving and good ‘copper’ even though he is a stereotypical racist.

Written from the perspective of a number of the characters; Sammy, Esko and of course Anna the pace of this novel is really good. The swap between their angles keeps the pace moving nicely as a small clue will be dropped and then you are inspired to read-on to find out what happens next.  Anna’s life is as usual the main thread running through this and last, with her family issues coming to a head again in this one.

In addition to the crimes and Anna’s life, we are given a microscope on the plight of an individual refugee. How they are prepared to live in desperate circumstances as opposed to being captured and killed in their own country for religious reasons as in this case or because their country was at war and they wanted to escape the horrors. It also looks at how intelligent, law abiding people are sometimes prepared to cross the line when it comes to helping others.

I love this book as I did the previous instalment. It is better I would say but different in that it isn’t a police procedural although there is crime scene investigation, the unit meetings with their boss, the autopsy scenes and the detectives at their work but in this and the other book so far it is also about the people, the social condition and their lives. Kati brings into this the seasonal changes as Anna’s exercise regime changes from jogging to skiing. Even a glimpse into the female condition is something I understand now was threaded in for a good reason.

Last but not least it is topical; it makes an important statement about what is happening in the world as I write – tens of thousands of misplaced human beings escaping from war and terror and religious fanaticism. Presenting an economic and political challenge for the leaders of both our countries and those of the wider EU community.

Whodunit?

I couldn’t possibly even start to explain the outcome of this book in a few words and anyway as you’ll now know if you read me that I don’t do SPOILERS but as I always say there are I hope enough TEASERS to inspire you to get this one and read it for yourself.  We are definitely left with a reason to want to come back to Anna, I can’t wait for Anna 3.

Credits

Humming with thrills and suspense….

It doesn’t look like my feet have touched the ground since my last blog; I now feel that I am writing from Finland…..

I am, I hasten to add writing this off the back of being given a copy of The Defenceless by the same author courtesy of Orenda Books to review. I quickly determined that for my peace of mind I needed to go back to the beginning and read The Hummingbird before getting too involved in the plot of the sequel.

I don’t regret it one bit! It’s a thrilling read and I hear the sequel is even better.  I would counsel reading books in order. 

The Book of the Blog

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In Kati’s work I’ve met yet another character at the start of a set of Nordic crime thrillers in Anna Fekete. She has already got under my skin like a lot of my other police heroes and heroines.

Anna, as we learn over time, is a Serbian-Hungarian immigrant who has lived in Finland since coming over with her family to escape the war in Yugoslavia. She is working at her first job as detective constable. She has returned to her adopted home town where her brother and their old friends live.

Instead of being tasked with the mundane she is plunged into a high-pressure environment in the violent crimes unit. The team starts investigating the murder of a jogger – shot beyond facial recognition on the forest paths in late summer.  Anna not only has to deal with the investigation – she is also a habitual jogger now reluctant to go out so she resorts to the kind of exercise I subscribe to – a cigarette and a beer!  Her brother isn’t helping her situation as he hasn’t acclimatised to Finland as well as she has.

Her new colleagues are a mixed group too; a racially-bigoted, alcoholic and chain-smoking guy to whom she is assigned as partner – he is unkind and intolerant, a woman who keeps receiving anonymous and threatening text-messages – as does Anna, and the other male on the team who doesn’t like going home as his marriage is falling apart.

There is a sub-plot which wraps around the main murder investigation about a muslim honour situation trigged by an emergency call from a teenage girl.

Then, when another jogger is shot with a similar modus operandi it gives them a clue to the fact that a serial killer is on the loose.  A love triangle is introduced into the plot amongst the suspects and hence a motive.  Anna’s own promiscuity and morals are brought into question which contrast with the ‘above and beyond’ follow-up she demonstrates against orders on the honour case!

It’s only when a third jogger is shot, do the pieces start to all come together in this gripping and exciting police procedural. This very well written narrative devotes valuable time to the cultural social and economic issues around migrants in Finland, paralleled I think today in a lot of EU countries; in fact as I was reading and am now writing the Syrian exodus is playing out across our European states and the politics is getting very interesting.

The other facet of this book that I very much like is that it reminds me of Arne Dahl’s A-Unit books, in how the narrative is seen from the perspective of some of the other key police players and not just from Anna’s side. I like multiple layers as it spreads the story and adds intrigue!

I may have also learnt some Hungarian expletives – I doubt I can pronounce them though.😜

Whodunit?

I won’t tell but there is a thrilling twist when a not so obvious culprit is charged, but you’ll have to get the book and read it because I DONT do spoilers. I like to think I do TEASERS!

By way of teaser I have the sequel The Defenceless and am already hooked. Later today I get to meet the writer. I hope she likes my review!

Credits

It was my great pleasure and honour to meet Kati in Portsmouth at Blackwell‘s on September 8 with Orenda Books on a whistle-stop tour before Gunnar Staalesen and Kati Hiekkapelto wend their way to Bloody Scotland via a UK mini-tour. Thanks to all involved for a great evening!

Nothing ever happens….

I am on my literary travels again but this time in Iceland; still, I believe considered Nordic.

I’m writing this somewhat isolated on my continuum of not going anywhere as I am advised to rest and not to drive due to my recent head injury.  I suppose therefore I feel mildly like Ari Thor does when he accepts his first police job in an isolated and close-kit community; there the similarities end as here right now as I write the sun is shining.

Doing a job in the police is not easy in any circumstances and I sympathise a little with Ari Thor as I was once a special constable in coastal Hampshire. Where I was based was literally a walk in the park compared to Siglufjördor with it’s ice, wind, mountains, perpetual nighttime and blizzards to the point of there being no way out. 

I like Ari. I had a long-distance relationship 10 years ago which didn’t work out. I had also moved for a new job which enabled me to start a new life which I am now happily enjoying but new surroundings, new people, new job and a different pace of life – these are a challenge. 

The Book of the Blog

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We first meet Ari Thor in Reykjavik when he finishes Police college and gets the opportunity to start his first job in the former Icelandic hub of herring fishing. He leaves his girlfriend behind on bad terms to take up the position where ‘nothing happens’ according to his new boss. He plans to go home at Christmas but events turn against him in this respect and in parallel with that he starts to have feelings for a local girl, with links to the cast of characters, who could be enmeshed in the investigation.

Ari finds himself trying to fit into the tight-knit community where everyone knows everyone else. Then something happens! A famous local writer is found dead after rehearsals for the local amateur dramatic society’s latest production. Which one of the group is guilty? He does feel trapped when the roads are blocked and the onset of the winters’ 24 hour nighttime closes in on him.

To add insult to injury in the town where they are now all stranded due to the weather another violent crime has been committed – a woman is found stabbed and bleeding.

I read this book some time ago with enthusiasm  in fact during a hot British summer so a stark contrast to the book’s setting.

The plot is built cleverly as there are only a few people who could have perpetrated the crimes and it all comes to a not obvious conclusion in this well written and engaging novel. I think it does make it more sinister as you never really know if he is safe walking around in the deep snow and perpetual dark. Who can he trust?

Whodunit?

As I always say you’ll have to read it yourself! I can only finish by dangling the carrot for the next instalment NightBlind which is out in late this year/early 2016. I can’t wait!

Credits

  • Nordicana 2015 where I bought the book
  • Quentin Bates the translator a writer in his own right
  • Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books
  • Ragnar Jónasson last but certainly not least for a brilliant book that had me frozen to the spot at times.
  • Goldsboro Books from whom I got a double-signed copy