I struggled to choose a single book for the month, feeling like there were several books equally deserving of the title. But in the end I’ve decided on Sulari Gentill’s MILES OFF COURSE which I finished two weeks ago but which still puts a smile on my face when I think of it. There is something I particularly treasure about a book that makes me happy and this combination of whodunnit, exploration of a lesser-known part of our history and old-fashioned fun is an absolute delight.
I finished 12 books for the month and all the rest are recommended reads (anything rated 3 or more)
The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012
Two of the books were by Australian woman (counting towards the total of 10 I’m aiming for) and I managed two genres as well
I also kept up as best I could with what other challenge participants are saying about the challenge in these round-up posts
Other, non-review related posts this month
What about you…was January a good reading month? Did you have a favourite book? Or did you acquire anything you’re itching to read? Any issue you need to get off your chest?
If you want to see other people’s crime fiction picks of the month head over to Mysteries in Paradise for the Pick of the Month meme
The third reading challenge I have completed this year (or ever for that matter) is the brainchild of the delightful Amy from The Black Sheep Dances who proposed that participants read 6 books from the region that bought us Lego, Ikea and Carlsburg. I signed up immediately, hoping to expand my Scandinavian reading from its heavy concentration on Sweden which started when I discovered the other Larsson (Asa) a couple of years ago.
Dorte, who would know because she actually is Scandinavian, says that officially Scandinavia is only Denmark, Norway and Sweden but for the purposes of this challenge we were allowed to include Finland and Iceland too. Hopefully this has not caused any embarrassing international incidents or UN resolutions. I decided to read a book from each country plus an extra from somewhere. Of course me being me all the books were crime fiction.
From this admittedly small sampling of books I feel confident in busting a couple of myths:
- There is no ‘next Stieg Larsson’. There are a swag of great writers in the region but they have writing styles, personalities and storytelling abilities all of their very own and don’t need to be marketed as the next anyone.
- Scandinavians, even the ones in crime fiction, are not all dour and/or at the mercy of seasonal affective disorder. They can be sarcastic and tell jokes like the rest of us. Who knew?
Here is a quick reminder of the books I chose in the order I read them
- Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indriðason (Iceland) – a sad, thoughtful, beautiful story that for me was all about yearning.
- The Serbian Dane by Leif Davidsen (Denmark) – a suspense-filled tale about a planned crime and those who would thwart it that had me feeling sorry for an assassin.
- The Mind’s Eye by Håkan Nesser (Sweden) – an upside-down procedural featuring a confident and very funny investigator
- The Darkest Room by Johan Theorin (Sweden) – a chilling mix of whodunnit and ghost story in the most atmospheric of remote island settings
- Snow Angels by James Thompson (Finland) – an absorbing look at the ups and downs of living in a small community set against the backdrop of a harrowing investigation
- The Redbreast by Jo Nesbø (Norway) – a complex tale about choosing sides in a war and living with the consequences which introduced me to Inspector Harry Hole, a character who made me swoon
Though Hypothermia squeaks into top spot as my favourite of the bunch the others all have elements to recommend them and there isn’t a single dud in the group. About the only downside to the challenge is that it’s added a swag more titles to my TBR both now and into the future. Thanks Amy
This is the fifth of six books I need to read to complete the Scandinavian Reading Challenge and is the only one set in Finland.
If there is a Kittilä Tourism Authority I’m guessing James Thompson isn’t on their Christmas card list. In Snow Angels, part police procedural and part observation on Finnish culture and traditions, he has painted a unflattering portrait of the winter holiday resort in the northern part of the country. Against the backdrop of the investigation of a brutal crime Thompson shows us a country with one of the world’s highest suicide rates, where alcoholism is prevalent and resentment and abuse of foreigners is if not universal then fairly widespread. If that were all he showed then the book wouldn’t be much of a read but, using knowledge and experiences gained during his ten years living there, Thompson, who is American by birth, also depicts some of the subtleties of the culture which help to explain why people act the way they do. He also highlights some positive things like the community’s practical and drug-free way of dealing with a resident with mental health issues. For me this exploration of the customs and cultures of the region was the most successful aspect of the book.
The crime in question is the murder and disfigurement of a beautiful Somali immigrant, Sufia Elmi, who had gained some fame as an actress in her adopted country. It is an uncommon crime but Inspector Kari Vaara is confident he can solve it. When evidence points to the new lover of his ex-wife as the murderer things do start to get complicated for Vaara and the investigation spirals out of control fairly early on. At one point Vaara seemed to be following a logical, evidence-based trail but then story then morphed into pondering his series of weird and wacky theories, based more on guesswork than facts. I think this loss of plot strength stemmed from the first-person point of view in which the whole story is told. This POV also provided for some clunky exposition which would have been far more smoothly integrated in a third-person story.
The characters in Snow Angels go a fair way towards making up for the plot problems though. Kari is hiding some demons of his own but not to the point of being a hopeless alcoholic like so many of his fellow fictional detectives. His new marriage to an American woman is portrayed believably, with her difficulties in adapting to the country being thoughtfully depicted. Having once had to go to hospital in a country where I didn’t speak the language I could entirely identify with Kate’s fears and frustration at the way she perceived her treatment in such a circumstance. Most of the minor characters, like the succession of truly horrid people inhabiting Sufia Elmi’s life and Kari’s fellow police officer Valtteri, are also credible even if some of them are abhorrent. I do agree with Maxine at Petrona though that the victim is never really fully fleshed out so it was difficult to become wholly absorbed by finding out what happened to her. The book could have spent less time repeating the horrible mutilations done to her and more time letting us get to know her back story and how she ended up in such horrid circumstances.
Reading this book made me think about the impact of the author’s perspective on storytelling as it’s the only one of the books I’ve read for this challenge written by someone who isn’t Scandinavian by birth. It’ fairly common to read books by ‘outsiders’ set in the US or UK or even Australia but to come across a non-local but knowledgeable perspective of a fairly closed society like this one is fascinating. Overall I enjoyed the read and could forgive some of the plot problems of the debut novel because the setting and characterisations were well realised and I will happily read another story in which they feature. Though I’ll hope it’s summer time and the poor folk get a bit of sunlight in their lives.
Snow Angels has been reviewed at DJ’s Krimiblog, Material Witness and Petrona
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 3/5
Publisher Putnam 
Length 264 pages
Format Uncorrected Bound Proof
Source my collection (bookmooch)