Monday 27 November 2023

Ten Years of the Petrona: LITTLE SIBERIA by Antti Tuomainen, translated by David Hackston

The sixth post on the first ten Petrona Award winners, is a new article by friend of the Petrona, Ayo Onatade, on the multi short-listed Antti Tuomainen. Antti won the 2020 Petrona Award for LITTLE SIBERIA, translated by David Hackston, which was published by Orenda Books in 2019.

Ayo writes:

It has been ten years since the Petrona Award was established and during that period we have had so many great books make the longlist, and shortlist for this brilliant award. The winners themselves have all written wonderful books.

Finnish author Antti Tuomainen has always been a great favourite of mine and he, together with his most recent translator David Hackston and his earlier translator Lola Rogers, has been shortlisted for this award four times. In 2016 it was for DARK AS MY HEART a story of a mother and son and the search for justice. It's a story about the cost of obsessions, the price of vengeance and the power of love. In 2018 it was with THE MAN WHO DIED, a story of a mushroom entrepreneur who finds himself being slowly poisoned and who then sets out to find out who is trying to murder him with dark and hilarious results. In THE MAN WHO DIED readers are seeing that dark, black humour that he is soon to become well-known for. LITTLE SIBERIA was the third book of his that was shortlisted for the award in 2020 which it went on to win. Once again that dark, black but very funny comedic humour comes to the fore in LITTLE SIBERIA which is a tale of a frenziedly silly crime caper not only involving a military chaplain, but also a suicidal rally driver and a very expensive meteorite. His fourth book to be shortlisted for the award was THE RABBIT FACTOR in 2022. THE RABBIT FACTOR is the first in a trilogy to feature insurance mathematician Henri Koskinen who has lost his job, inherited an adventure park from his brother alongside some rather strange employees and distressing financial problems that bring him into the firing line of some very dangerous criminals that want their money back. Into the mix comes Laura (an artist) whom he can't pin his feelings down for on to a spreadsheet.

The other two books in the series are THE MOOSE PARADOX and THE BEAVER THEORY. THE MOOSE PARADOX sees Henri running the adventure park which is now his but having to deal also with other issues such as the park's equipment supplier being taken over by a shady trio who are making some rather strange demands and a man from his past who re-enters Henri's life causing more chaos for him just as he has reached breaking point in his relationship with Laura.

In THE BEAVER THEORY, the third book in the trilogy, we see Henri trying to cope with two different parts of his life. Running an adventure park that is becoming increasingly dangerous alongside what is now his blended home life that includes his partner Laura and her daughter. As one has come to accept things are not running smoothly. There is a competing adventure park who want to expand their operations using any means necessary. The body count has increased in well. The stakes in all of this have never been higher and Henri has to find a way of dealing with this all. 

There is the cutting, dark but brilliant wit that compel his plots along that make you want to continuously turn the pages. You do not expect to laugh out loud when you read something from a Scandi writer. Dour detectives yes, black humour possibly not. But in Antti Tuomainen you have an exception. Think Carl Hiassen in a wintery situation. Warmly funny, rich with quirky characters and absurd situations the Rabbit Factor trilogy will have you realising that you can forget about the clichéd view of Scandi noir because here you not only have an author that has managed to finely balance intrigue and noir but someone that does it with an ironic sense of humour that will leave you wanting more but still also writing a thriller that is exciting as well. 

One hopes that there is much more to come from Antti Tuomainen not solely because of the way in which he manages to enthuse his books with that dark sense of humour but also because he does it without taking away any of the seriousness that one expects when reading about terrible crimes. More please Antti!

Ayo Onatade 

Ayo Onatade is a CWA Red Herring award winning freelance crime fiction critic/commentator, moderator and blogger. She has written articles and given papers on crime fiction. She contributed to British Crime Writing: An Encyclopaedia (2008) and The American Thriller (Critical Insights) (2014) where she wrote the chapter on Legal Thrillers. She currently Chairs the Historical Writers Association Debut Crown, judges the Ngaio Marsh Award and is also an Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Judge. She is a former Chair of the CWA Short Story Dagger. She is an Associate and a Committee Member of the Crime Writers Association of Great Britain (CWA) and also an Advisory Committee Board Member for Capital Crime.

Monday 20 November 2023

Ten Years of the Petrona: LAST WILL by Liza Marklund translated by Neil Smith

The fifth post on the first ten Petrona Award winners, is a review, written in 2012, by Petrona Award co-creator and former Petrona Award judge Sarah Ward, of the very first winner of the Petrona Award:  LAST WILL by Liza Marklund which was translated by Neil Smith and published by Corgi in 2012.

Liza Marklund was one of my finds of last year. The excellent VANISHED, featuring reporter Annika Bengtzon was a well-paced intelligent thriller with an interesting protagonist. The series has been both written and translated out of chronological order which can make it confusing for the reader, however as my latest read LAST WILL shows, each book can easily be read as a standalone.

At the end of VANISHED Annika had had a fling with an unhappily married man and was pregnant with his child. In LAST WILL, however, it is now Annika who is in a failing marriage where the pressures of work and children are pushing her and her husband Thomas apart. She attends the Nobel prize ceremony with Bosse, a journalist from a rival newspaper and is witness to a mass shooting. Annika catches a glimpse of the gunwoman's face which immediately makes her a police witness and she is therefore barred from reporting the event. This brings her into conflict with her newspaper and she is put on indefinite leave. Feeling isolated in her new suburban family house, Annika starts investigating the shooting which leads her into the labyrinth-like politics of biotech research. 

This is a complexly plotted book that nevertheless grips the reader. The mystery of the shooting is the central story and we get the narrative of both Annika and the shooter, who is a satisfyingly ruthless and compelling character. Annika, as usual, is admirable for her tenacity and her fragile grip on her personal circumstances. She is taken advantage of by her selfish friend Anne, ignored by her husband and runs into conflict with a new neighbour. Her character is so painfully true to life and you feel for Annika as her plans for a future with her family begin to fall apart. She is clearly trying to do the right thing by moving into a new home and resisting the advances of Bosse, whom she feels attracted to.

The book is also interspersed with extracts relating to the life of Alfred Nobel. The book would have been as good a read without them, but they were interesting enough and did relate to the plot. I've read a couple of novels recently about the machinations of the biotech industry and this book had the feel of one that had been extensively researched. It was particularity good on the rivalries that lie behind advancement of medicine and the difficulties that women face in the industry.

The popularity of Swedish crime fiction is sometimes dismissed as riding on the coattails of Stieg  Larsson and Henning Mankell, but as this book shows, some of the best crime fiction being written today comes from Scandinavia. 

Sarah Ward @Crimepieces

Thursday 16 November 2023

Ten Years of the Petrona: THE SILENCE OF THE SEA by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, translated by Victoria Cribb

As it's the Iceland Noir festival at the moment, our fourth post on the first ten Petrona Award winners focusses on the Petrona Award 2015 winner THE SILENCE OF THE SEA by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, translated by Victoria Cribb and published by Hodder & Stoughton in 2014. 

Today we have a new piece, kindly donated by friend of the Petrona, author Margot Kinberg. Margot has recorded a video post for her In the Spotlight series on THE SILENCE OF THE SEA, and the text is also reproduced below.


For ten years, the Petrona Award has been given to the best in translated Scandinavian crime novels. The award was established to pay tribute to the late Maxine Clarke, who was a great friend to the genre, and particularly knowledgeable about Scandinavian crime fiction. Since its establishment, ten distinguished novels have won the award, and many others have gotten much-deserved recognition. I am privileged to be a part of the Petrona Award’s tenth anniversary commemoration, and In The Spotlight can only be improved by discussing Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s THE SILENCE OF THE SEA, translated by Victoria Cribb. This was the 2015 Petrona Award winner. 

As the novel opens, a luxury yacht crashes into a Reykjavík pier. Oddly enough, there’s no-one on board. There’s plenty of evidence that the yacht was occupied, but it’s empty now. It’s all over the news, so attorney Thóra Guðmundsdóttir is well aware of the incident when she gets a visit from Margeir Karelsson and his wife, Sigrídur Veturlidadóttir. It seems that their son Ægir, his wife Lára, and their twin daughters Arna and Bylgija were on board the yacht. They haven’t returned to their home, and there was no sign of them on the boat, so although there’s no incontrovertible evidence, Margeir and Sigrídur believe they’ve died. The only member of the family that’s left is Ægir and Lára’s baby daughter Sigga Dögg, who was staying with her grandparents. Now, Margeir and Sigrídur want help navigating the insurance paperwork that will provide a future for the baby. Thóra agrees to take their case, knowing that she will have to prove to the insurance company’s satisfaction that the policyholders are dead and did not commit fraud. 

Then, the body of one of the yacht’s crew members is discovered near the boat. The police begin a thorough investigation, and here, their interests align with Thóra’s. The goal in both cases is to find out what happened to the captain, the other crew member, and Ægir and his family. As the story goes on, we learn that the yacht had been en route from Lisbon to Iceland, and that the company Ægir worked for was handling the repossession of the yacht from its former owner. Little by little, Thóra talks to people who knew the family and the crew, as well as the yacht’s former owner, and she pieces the story together. And in the end, we learn what happened to the people on the yacht. 

The novel is told in alternating timelines, just a few days apart. In one timeline, Thóra talks to people, works with the police and other agencies, and finds out what she can. In the other, we follow along as Ægir and his family board the yacht and set off on their journey. As their trip continues, we learn what happened to everyone. Readers who dislike dual timelines will notice this. That said, each timeline change is set off with a change in perspective (mostly Ægir’s and Thóra’s), so readers know which timeline is being described.

The novel is atmospheric. The yacht trip is not the sun-drenched luxury experience that’s shown in brochures and travel advertisements. Without spoiling the story, I can say that there’s a strong sense of gathering menace. The tension is increased as it slowly becomes clear that some things are not what they seem, and that not everyone can be trusted. There is a sense of almost ghostlike eeriness, although there’s nothing paranormal in the novel. 

In keeping with that atmosphere, the novel is very sad. Learning the truth about what happened does not make anything alright again, and more than one family is left devastated. Although there isn’t gratuitous gore, this is not a light novel in which all is well at the end. 

Still, the novel does have some light moments. Thóra has an ongoing conflict with her assistant Bella, and that offers some funny comments and scenes. Fans of the series will be pleased to know that many of the regular characters, like Thóra’s partner Matthew, her children Gylfi and Sóley, and of course, Bella, make appearances in the story. In fact, in one sub-plot, Gylfi is on the brink of an important decision, and Thóra must reckon with his choice.

THE SILENCE OF THE SEA tells the eerie story of a family that takes what they think will be a straightforward, even fun, trip on a luxury yacht. It’s dark, but not completely bleak, and features characters whose fateful decisions turn out tragically. Have you read THE SILENCE OF THE SEA? What elements do you see in it?

Margot Kinberg @ Crime Writer Margot Kinberg

Sunday 12 November 2023

The Petrona Award 2023 Trophy

Here is the Petrona Award 2023 Trophy, made by Bristol Blue Glass, which is currently winging its way to Pascal Engman in Sweden:


Thursday 9 November 2023

Ten Years of the Petrona: LINDA, AS IN THE LINDA MURDER by Leif G W Persson translated by Neil Smith

The third post on the first ten Petrona Award winners, is a review, written in 2013, by Petrona Award co-creator and former Petrona Award judge Kat Hall (aka Mrs. Peabody Investigates), of the 2014 Petrona Award winning LINDA, AS IN THE LINDA MURDER by Leif G W Persson which was translated by Neil Smith and published by Doubleday in 2013.

Opening line
: It was a neighbour who found Linda, and, all things considered, that was far better than her mother finding her. 

The dedication at the front of Linda, As in the Linda Murder reads ‘for Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö – who did it better than almost anyone’. In this newly-translated novel, first published in 2005, author Leif Persson undoubtedly pays homage to the godparents of the Swedish police-procedural, and in particular to the first in Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Martin Beck series, Roseanna, published exactly 40 years prior to Linda in 1965. Consider the following:

  • both novels are named after a young female murder victim
  • both open with the discovery of the victim’s body, on 4 July and 8 July respectively
  • both are set outside Stockholm in smaller Swedish cities (Motala and Växjö)
  • both depict the police investigation in exhaustive detail
  • both critique misogynist attitudes in Swedish society and foreground the female victim

However, the lead investigator in Linda, tasked with solving the murder of 20-year-old trainee police officer Linda Wallin one hot summer night, is no Martin Beck. Meet Detective Superintendent Evert Bäckström, also known as ‘that fat little bastard from National Crime’, whose egotistical, sexist, racist, homophobic, vain and supremely-blinkered mind we are invited to see in all its dubious glory. Bäckström is a darkly comic tour-de-force, a monstrous creation who cares solely about his financial interests, maintaining a steady supply of drink, and the welfare of his pet goldfish Egon. His character is used to shine a spotlight on a less-than-heroic side of Swedish policing: while he is busy impeding the progress of the investigation, capable detectives such as Jan Lewin are forced to work around his prejudices and incompetence as best they can.

Thus, while paying tribute to Sjöwall and Wahlöö, Persson stamps his own style on the Swedish police procedural, imbuing it with a highly satirical edge. Other aspects of Roseanna, such the critique of the press’s prurient interest in female murder victims, are also extended further in Linda.

In the context of Persson’s own work, Linda forms a departure from his first two hugely ambitious novels, Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End and Another Time, Another Life, which are set against the much larger political and historical backdrop of post-war Sweden and the Cold War. In Linda, the focus is kept deliberately local, with the exploration of the consequences of just one crime, and strongly drawn characters such as detectives Jan Lewin and Anna Holt, as well as the murderer and the victim’s mother. Hats off also to translator Neil Smith, who captures Persson’s dry, satirical tone perfectly.

In sum, Linda is a rich and satisfying read from an author who’s now one of my absolute favourites.

Sunday 5 November 2023

Ten Years of the Petrona: QUICKSAND by Malin Persson Giolito, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles

The second post on the first ten Petrona Award winners, is a review, by current Petrona Award judge Ewa Sherman, of the 2018 Petrona Award winning QUICKSAND by Malin Persson Giolito, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles published by Simon and Schuster in 2017. 

Eighteen-year-old Maja Norberg has spent an excruciating nine months in custody (the first seven months at the juvenile detention centre, then at the women's jail) to show the public that she wasn't given any special privileges after being accused of shooting five people at school. She was kept in complete isolation and refused contact with her parents and younger sister. At the time of shooting a cross-section of modern Swedish society was represented in the classroom. People who don't usually hang out together. Left-leaning practical teacher Christer, a self-described social activist. Dennis from Uganda, foster kid, notorious for selling drugs, and not fitting in the class of well-off kids. Samir, son of immigrants from Middle East, intelligent eager foreign-correspondent in the making. ‘Dramatic, silly, theatrical and superficial’ Amanda, Maja’s best friend. And her boyfriend Sebastian: charismatic, troubled no-limits son of the richest man in Sweden, Claes Fagerman.

Now at the beginning of a three-week trial Maja goes into painful details of her personal life, to work out how guilty she really is. A popular and good student from Djursholm, the affluent part of Stockholm, remembers little details of her obsessive love for Sebastian, relationship with Samir, excessive parties and desperate feelings of betraying everyone, losing herself in the life filled with drugs and quick pleasures, and against the bullying stance of Sebastian’s father. She seemed lost in the world where no one wanted confrontation, especially against completely unacceptable behaviour of those who are rich and hence more powerful, influential and reckless. She couldn't understand why Sebastian chose her but this made her unique and famous by association and ultimately completely responsible for his behaviour. 

Her wealthy parents arranged for star criminal lawyer Peder Sander to defend their daughter. The big shot ordered a separate investigation into the mass shooting. But from the very first moment when the news broke Maja has been vilified by the media and victims’ families, as she was the only one unharmed, and not dead. The forensic evidence suggests that she should be found guilty of multiple killings, and so she’s hated by the whole nation, and most of all by the prosecutor Lena Pärsson, portrayed as the figure of law, devoid of emotions.

Malin Persson Giolito weaves two styles throughout the story: emotional adolescent musings of a ‘spoilt, out of touch with reality’ rich kid, and the clinical bored observations from the trial. QUICKSAND, the insightful psychological study and a courtroom drama with a difference, was the best Swedish Crime Novel Award winner in 2016. It’s Persson Giolito’s fourth book, but the first to be published in the UK, brilliantly translated by Rachel Wilson-Broyles. It draws on the author’s professional experience as a lawyer working for the biggest law firm in the Nordic Region. Her use of legalese isn't excessive, just enough to enable readers to follow the proceedings. As Maja describes each day at the court, she finds it incredibly boring, partly because she has lived through the shooting, the investigation, endless interrogations, and hours of preparations for the trial. Also, she’s been trying to remain a detached outsider which could be interpreted as coping mechanisms to allow her to survive constant scrutiny. Or maybe it’s her personality. Read and decide.

Ewa Sherman Nordic Lighthouse

Thursday 2 November 2023

Ten Years of the Petrona: THE CAVEMAN by Jørn Lier Horst, translated by Anne Bruce

To start off this series of posts on the first ten Petrona Award winners, we turn to Barry Forshaw, co-creator of and former judge for the Petrona Award* and leading expert on Scandinavian Crime Fiction.

Here is his contemporaneous review of the 2016 Petrona Award winner: THE CAVEMAN by Jørn Lier Horst, translated by Anne Bruce and published by Sandstone Press in 2015.

While the excellent Chief Inspector William Wisting novels of Jørn Lier Horst have remained caviar to the general (much appreciated by those lucky enough to discover them, but falling short of the kind of sales accorded to some other, lesser, Scandinavian writers), the fourth novel in English to feature the detective, THE CAVEMAN, may well be the breakthrough book in the UK for this most unusual crime writer (Horst is Norwegian) - particularly in the civilised translation by the ever-reliable Anne Bruce. Once again, the novel utilises the author’s own personal experience, which marries the authenticity of the police procedural with a slightly phantasmagorical approach (rendering Norway in somewhat unreal but always pungent fashion). The decayed body of a man is discovered sitting in front of his television set; he has been dead for months. Viggo Hansen - when alive - was an inconspicuous figure, known to few, despite the fact that he was part of a close-knit community. Detective Wisting’s daughter Line is a reporter, and decides to focus her attention on the death of this unremarkable man. But another body discovered in the forest presents an unexpected revelation, and soon Wisting is involved in one of the most ambitious criminal investigations in the history of Norway - one that even involves the CIA. 

We are given here a ticking clock scenario (which admirers of Jørn Lier Horst will be aware that he is extremely adroit at delivering), but there is a peculiar and very individual character to this book which marks it out from its predecessors: a structure that may appear to be conventional on the surface, but which is subtly fragmented, and a utilisation of language which seems more idiosyncratic and unorthodox than before. Non-Norwegian readers may, of course, wonder how much of this is the province of Horst himself and how much of it is due to the linguistic intervention of Anne Bruce, but that particular conundrum is a matter for academic debate. All that finally matters is that THE CAVEMAN is yet another thoroughly disquieting entry from the talented Mr Horst.

Barry Forshaw @ Crime Time

[*Click here for the reason the Petrona Award was founded.]