Wednesday 20 December 2023

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

The final post on the first ten Petrona Award winners, is a review by current Petrona Judge, Ewa Sherman, of the 2019 Petrona Award winner THE KATHARINA CODE by Jørn Lier Horst, translated from the Norwegian by Anne Bruce and published by Michael Joseph in 2018. 

NB. Jørn Lier Horst (author), Anne Bruce (translator) and Neil Smith (translator) are the only people to have won the Petrona Award twice (so far).

Katharina Haugen went missing twenty-four years ago, leaving behind her heartbroken husband Martin, a mysterious string of numbers written on a piece of paper, and a methodically packed suitcase. Since then on 9 October each year Chief Inspector William Wisting looks though the files of this unsolved case and analyses all the evidence again, and then a day later visits her husband. What has started as a way to try to comfort and understand the grieving man has turned into a reluctant friendship, as together Wisting and Martin reminisce about Katharina and ponder life questions in general. 

This time on the anniversary of this miserable event, however, Martin is missing, too, and though Wisting feels uneasy and concerned, he has to prepare to investigate another missing person’s case, that of a 17-year-old girl who disappeared as she left a party one night. Nadia Krogh, daughter of a local multi-millionaire businessman, was abducted by unknown perpetrators who demanded a huge ransom. The money was delivered to the arranged place but never collected, and initially her boyfriend became the main suspect, and was promptly charged by the police. This happened in 1987, two years before Katharina’s case.

Now, modern forensic methods have helped to establish that Martin Haugen’s fingerprints were present on the ransom letter, made of cut-out words from a newspaper. To help with the new search, the ambitious insomniac Adrian Stiller from the Cold Cases Group at Kripos in Oslo arrives at Larvik police station to push all possible buttons and establish that Martin was responsible for Nadia’s disappearance. 

Stiller wants Wisting to work secretly and elicit a confession from Martin during a weekend fishing trip, and also asks Line, Wisting’s daughter, to write a series of press articles and to work on podcasts to jog the memory of anyone who might have remembered the teenager’s case and to come forward, and at the same time to set a trap for his suspect. As discreet monitoring is put in place, both father and daughter begin separately to follow Stiller’s plan.

In THE KATHARINA CODE, translated beautifully by Anne Bruce, Jørn Lier Horst puts his main character in a very uncomfortable situation as working undercover is alien to Wisting and has affected his self-esteem: in all his years in the police, he has endeavoured to be honest, direct and combative in encounters with both colleagues and criminals. Hence it is very interesting to follow the process and get to know another side of Wisting as he keeps some information secret from his journalist daughter and at the same time strives to influence Martin and get a confession while assuming a normal friendly demeanour. 

The tension increases as both men spend more time together, while fishing and cooking in an isolated cabin in the woods, and their means of external communication begin to fail. The relationship, quite formal yet coloured by years of memories and slowly built trust, unravels and leads to a shocking finale.

The novel does not focus on the fireworks and excitement of a current urgent investigation but instead develops slowly to explore the past, guilt and how someone ordinary might cross the line and then harbour painful secrets. It’s a good, solid mystery about blame and circumstances.

Ewa Sherman Nordic Lighthouse

Sunday 17 December 2023

Ten Years of the Petrona: TO COOK A BEAR by Mikael Niemi, translated by Deborah Bragan-Turner

The ninth post on the first ten Petrona Award winners, is a review by current Petrona Judge, Jackie Farrant, of the 2021 Petrona Award winner TO COOK A BEAR by Mikael Niemi, translated from the Swedish by Deborah Bragan-Turner and published by MacLehose Press in 2020.

It is 1852, and in Sweden’s far north, deep in the Arctic Circle, charismatic preacher and Revivalist Lars Levi Læstadius impassions a poverty-stricken congregation with visions of salvation. But local leaders have reason to resist a shift to temperance over alcohol. Jussi, the young Sami boy Læstadius has rescued from destitution and abuse, becomes the preacher’s faithful disciple on long botanical treks to explore the flora and fauna. Læstadius also teaches him to read and write – and to love and fear God. When a milkmaid goes missing deep in the forest, the locals suspect a predatory bear is at large. A second girl is attacked, and the sheriff is quick to offer a reward for the bear’s capture. Using early forensics and daguerreotype, Læstadius and Jussi find clues that point to a far worse killer on the loose, even as they are unaware of the evil closing in around them…

TO COOK A BEAR by Mikael Niemi is an utterly fascinating and uniquely different crime novel. Using the real life figure, the Revivalist preacher, Lars Levi Læstadius as the central character, adds an authenticity and deeper level of interest to the book, and being unfamiliar with this highly intelligent, progressive and insightful man, there is a real frisson of Niemi linking the past with the present here. To try and encapsulate in a review the many themes of the philosophical, spiritual and metaphysical, and the razor sharp historical detail that Niemi so confidently and brilliantly entwines in this book won’t be easy, as this is a novel quite unlike any other that I have encountered of late.

On a very basic level, this book is a murder mystery with a small community filled with fear and suspicion as a murderer walks amongst them, preying on defenceless young women in a series of attacks driven by violent rage. As such, even with such a seemingly simple premise, Niemi constructs a chilling and compelling mystery, as the suspicion amongst the local people is attributed by turn to a possible bear attack, to a wandering miscreant, and then far more dangerously into the perpetrator being from the community itself. Reading this from a contemporary viewpoint, I was struck by how little the human race has moved on in terms of accepting peoples’ differences, as the community quickly turns on Jussi, the young Sami boy that Læstadius has taken into his tutelage. This fear of the unknown and the different runs like a vein throughout the book, as even Læstadius himself, with his Revivalist preaching and fervent followers puts him at odds with the men of influence in the town, who value wealth and gaiety over religion and abstinence. Consequently, there are many trials and pitfalls for Læstadius and Jussi, who intent on identifying the perpetrator find themselves in an increasingly perilous position.

What I was increasingly struck by was the progressiveness and intuitive thinking of Læstadius, harnessing clues and applying practical chains of thought to the residual evidence of each crime. Obviously, forensic science was very much in its infancy in this period, but Læstadius neatly assesses and applies increasingly modern methods to his dissemination of the physical evidence he uncovers, based on common sense and lateral thinking. Hence, we see the rudimentary application of the crime scene analysis, we as modern readers are familiar with in its purest form, as Læstadius inches forward with his knowledge and supposition on how to gather clues, analyse them, and catch a killer. From fingerprints to daguerreotypes, from simple pencil shavings to indentations in the landscape, Læstadius draws on his knowledge of psychology, botany, literature and branches of science and pseudo science to close in on the perpetrator. 

I think it serves as a testament to the quality of Niemi’s writing and his erudite turn of phrase, and by turn the sublime translation by Deborah Bragan-Turner, that I revisited several passages throughout my reading of the book. His rendering of this harsh, but beautiful landscape, the sheer drudgery and hardship of these people’s lives, the physicality of his characters, and the more metaphysical musings of Læstadius himself on art, literature and education, held me in their thrall. On the subject of the community he is a part of, I was struck by their deep connection to the land and the way that their lives have this naturalistic interconnectedness, perhaps stronger than faith and education itself. 

You might easily form the impression that the farm-maid or the reindeer herder lacked the disposition for academic study. But even though they didn’t read books, they knew the changes in the movement of the animals at every moment in the year. They knew hundreds of reindeer marks by heart, and manged to find old pasture grounds, berry patches and fishing lakes from the high mountains to the coastline…In many matters, local people had a deeper understanding than all of Uppsala’s professors.” 

As much as Læstadius recognises that these people and particularly their children have the potential for a profession, education and improvement, he never loses sight of this more basic characteristic of his flock that connects them to the soil. Likewise, with his apprentice Jussi, he recognises and respects Jussi’s physical need to wander and be amongst nature, but aims to educate him as fully as possible, and their relationship seems to transcend a simple one of teacher and pupil or even adoptive father and son.

TO COOK A BEAR proved to be an incredibly enjoyable reading experience for me, and as someone who has an innate curiosity of the world and our place within it, I found it tremendously satisfying. Not only did it read as a compelling tale of jealousy and murder, with its nods to early forensic techniques, but it expanded out to envelop a host of larger themes based on religion, morality, art and at its heart an enduring interconnectedness with the landscape and the changing of the seasons. Mikael Niemi has produced a completely fascinating, intelligent, and beautifully written book. Highly recommended.

Jackie Farrant @ Raven Crime Reads

Monday 11 December 2023

Ten Years of the Petrona: WHERE ROSES NEVER DIE by Gunnar Staalesen, translated by Don Bartlett

The eighth post on the first ten Petrona Award winners, is a review by current Petrona Judge, Ewa Sherman, of the 2017 Petrona Award winner WHERE ROSES NEVER DIE by Gunnar Staalesen, translated by Don Bartlett and published by Orenda Books in 2016.

March 2012. The only way to save Varg Veum from a spiralling descent into self-destruction is another case into which he can sink his sharp investigative teeth. Three years after his fiancée Karin’s death (following the events in WE SHALL INHERIT THE WIND) his personal and professional life is in tatters. Thankfully ‘a fifty-nine-year-old private investigator, of the so-called hard-boiled variety’ gets his chance to rise from despair and depression to help a full of guilt, grieving mother in search for answers as to what happened to her three-year-old daughter Mette who vanished without a trace in September 1977. Maja Misvær approaches Veum as the expiry date for the statute of limitations draws nearer, her husband having moved away with their son soon after the disappearance.

One moment little Mette is playing in a sandpit in a secure garden of five houses, a so-called co-op, an idea of an architect Terje Torbeinsvik who wanted to bring together a small community of parents and children living safely in friendly yet liberal environment: ‘a kind of modern, Nordic variant of the Mediterranean extended family’, or how Veum puts it: ‘semi-hippie colony, semi mafia’. The next – she is gone and lives are shattered. Five happy families are no longer so. Divorces, suspicions, failures, promising futures never realised. But as Veum digs into new snippets of old and new information he slowly realises that something else must have affected the tiny and close-knit group of the tranquil suburb of Nordås.

The original investigation was thorough yet completely fruitless. Every avenue has been considered and explored. It included a short detention of Jesper Janevik, from the island of Askøy and a friend of one of the families, and accused of indecent exposure ages ago. Veum analyses all possible evidence, and embarks on a painful journey of hidden memories and most personal experiences. He barges uninvited into concealed shameful secrets, and most of the time he leaves devastation in his wake. But his experience as a social worker in child services will not allow him to leave any stone unturned until he finds the truth, closure and understanding of actions. As always Varg Veum works on the edges of the policing world, but finds out that a robbery in a jewellers, three months earlier, resulting in a shooting of a passer-by might have some connection to the Mette case.

To say that Gunnar Staalesen is the Master of Nordic Noir is an understatement. He is one of the finest storytellers, his prose elegant and restrained yet raw, powerful and totally heart-wrenching. With the strong authentic sense of location and perfect portrayal of changing times, some elements of this fictional reality never change, for example ‘the bartender with the red braces’ who is both real and symbolic, with a solution to Veum’s feeling that ‘the Sahara had opened a new branch in my mouth’. 

This complex stunning and emotionally charged novel (in Don Bartlett’s perfect translation) ends with a touch of hope and optimism not just for Mette’s mother but also for Varg Veum: ‘The choice was mine. The rest of my life was mine. All I had to do was choose’.

Ewa Sherman Nordic Lighthouse

Thursday 7 December 2023

Ten Years of the Petrona: FATAL ISLES by Maria Adolfsson, translated by by Agnes Broomé

The seventh post on the first ten Petrona Award winners, is a review by current Petrona Judge, Miriam Owen, of the 2022 Petrona Award winner FATAL ISLES by Maria Adolfsson, translated by Agnes Broomé and published by Zaffre in 2021.

“What year was it they came here? Sixty-nine?” 

“Seventy” says Kloes says. “Same year my youngest boy was born. I remember when they arrived in their Peruvian knitted hats, talking a big game about organic agriculture and living off the land and all kinds of nonsense like that. They were going to share everything, they said. 

Are you one of those people who reads the end of the book first? FATAL ISLES will satisfy your weird reading habits if you are. I am not one of those readers. When I read I do not give much thought to solving the crime preferring to wallow in the locations, characters and the decisions they make. FATAL ISLES really allowed me to enjoy these aspects in a very satisfying way. 

FATAL ISLES is set in Doggerland. A group of islands in the North Sea between Denmark and the United Kingdom. Maria Adolfsson paints a vivid picture of a northern island community with traditions, powerful (and poor) families and incomers. The island weather game is strong; harsh winters, ferry travel can be rough, unkept eroded roads. Doggerland is definitely a character in its own right in FATAL ISLES. It all feels so authentic … except it is totally fictional! Completely made up by Adolffson but it came alive on the pages so much you would never guess. There is something about that small island dynamic I enjoy, real or fictional. 

Our main character is DI Karen Eiken Hornby. She is a likeable character who left Doggerland and then returned. She seems to enjoy her job despite having a hard time climbing the ladder. Her colleagues are a mixed bunch and the variety of relationships she has with them keeps things interesting. The main story revolves around the murder of a woman who was the ex-wife of Eiken’s immediate boss. This means, as the lead investigator on this case she needs to question her boss. Always fun. The tension is high! There really is a great cast of interesting characters in FATAL ISLES. Eiken links the murder to a commune that existed on the island in the past. So if that kind of thing appeals to you (as it does to me) then you are in for a treat. She also takes her time to describe the food in FATAL ISLES which is a small but important aspect that I really appreciate in books. I found this to be a solid, really well written police procedural and I really want to go back to Doggerland. 

Miriam Owen @Nordic Noir

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.]

Friday 27 October 2023

Ten Years of the Petrona Award

It's been ten years of the Petrona Award: 2013 - 2023, and to mark the occasion we will be revisiting the first ten winners.

Starting from next Thursday, we will be posting classic reviews from former and current Petrona Award judges as well as some new material from 'friends of the Petrona'.

To be notified of these posts, why not follow this website using or bloglovin' (see righthand sidebar for details) and/or like the Euro Crime Facebook page.

Here's a reminder of the first ten winning titles:

LAST WILL by Liza Marklund, translated by Neil Smith 

LINDA, AS IN THE LINDA MURDER by Leif G.W. Persson, translated by Neil Smith

THE SILENCE OF THE SEA by Yrsa Sigurđardóttir, translated by Victoria Cribb,

THE CAVEMAN by Jørn Lier Horst, translated by Anne Bruce

WHERE ROSES NEVER DIE by Gunnar Staalesen, translated by Don Bartlett,

QUICKSAND by Malin Persson Giolito, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles

THE KATHARINA CODE by Jørn Lier Horst, translated by Anne Bruce

LITTLE SIBERIA by Antti Tuomainen, translated by David Hackston

TO COOK A BEAR by Mikael Niemi, translated by Deborah Bragan-Turner

FATAL ISLES by Maria Adolfsson translated by Agnes Broomé

Thursday 12 October 2023

The Petrona Award 2023 - Winner


Winner of 2023 Petrona Award announced

The winner of the 2023 Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year is: 

FEMICIDE by Pascal Engman, translated from the Swedish by Michael Gallagher and published by Legend Press.

Pascal Engman will receive a trophy, and both the author and translator will receive a cash prize.

The judges’ statement on FEMICIDE:

This year’s Petrona Award winner is a page-turning, absorbing and uncomfortable Swedish thriller. FEMICIDE tells of a young woman, Emilie, who is found murdered in her Stockholm apartment in the same week that her violent ex-boyfriend is released from prison. Detective Vanessa Frank is assigned the case. Meanwhile, we hear the story of young journalist Jasmina, the survivor of a recent, severe sexual assault. Author Pascal Engman dives into the world of incels through Tom, a very believable character who is part of a weaponised gender war brought about by, amongst other things, misguided hatred, feelings of being ignored by society, and sexual frustration. FEMICIDE comes to a pinnacle as the attacks against women escalate on a huge scale. 

Continuing in the tradition of fellow Swedish authors Sjöwall and Wahlöö, and Henning Mankell, Pascal Engman uses his writing to comment on societal values making FEMICIDE an interesting, fictional take on the multifaceted topic of violence against women. The book stood out to all the Petrona judges for several reasons. The way FEMICIDE opens the reader’s eyes to the steadily increasing threat of the incel movement and what makes these men tick was felt by all the judges. FEMICIDE is a challenging read that broadens thinking. The writing is well informed, the book has a good sense of urban space, and it picks up pace in a satisfying manner. There is a cast of interesting, and sometimes unconventional, characters for the reader to get to know. All the judges felt this book offered something creatively original that captured the zeitgeist of the early twenty-first century and it is a deserved winner. 

Comments from the winning author, translator and publisher:

Pascal Engman (author):

It feels incredibly significant to win this award. Several of my major idols and heroes in this genre have been recipients of it. I consider it an honour, a great honour. Writing FEMICIDE was a unique experience. The research on the incel movement was very challenging. I was pulled towards their darkness in many ways. Therefore, I also want to thank Linnea, my fiancée, for putting up with me then, as she does now.

Michael Gallagher (translator):

FEMICIDE was a fantastic book to work on. Pascal Engman certainly belongs to the Nordic Noir tradition, but his writing and his characters deftly reflect the tectonic shifts underway in Sweden and the wider world. Always unsettling and compelling, he is not bound by conventions or old cliches. I am delighted that the jury has recognised his talent and that my translation seems to have done it justice!

Cari Rosen (Legend Press Commissioning Editor):

We are so thrilled that FEMICIDE has been chosen as the winner of this year's Petrona Award. The novel delves into the world of incels after a series of brutal attacks against women, and perfectly encapsulates the pace, drama and drive of Pascal's writing. The Vanessa Frank series has sold more than a million copies worldwide and everyone at Legend is delighted to be able to bring this, the first of three books, to an English-speaking audience thanks to Michael Gallagher's expert translation.

The Petrona team would like to thank David Hicks for his continuing sponsorship of the Petrona Award.

Wednesday 4 October 2023

Change to Winner's Announcement Date

With many apologies but due to unforeseen circumstances the winner of the Petrona Award 2023 will now be announced on 12 October 2023, rather than 5 October 2023.

Thursday 7 September 2023

The Petrona Award 2023 - Shortlist


From the press release which was embargoed until 8.00am today:

Outstanding crime fiction from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland shortlisted for the 2023 Petrona Award 

Seven impressive crime novels from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland have been shortlisted for the 2023 Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year. The shortlist is announced today, Thursday 7 September and is as follows:

Pascal Engman - FEMICIDE tr. Michael Gallagher (Sweden, Legend Press)

Anne Mette Hancock - THE CORPSE FLOWER tr. Tara F Chace (Denmark, Swift Press)

Håkan Nesser - THE AXE WOMAN tr. Sarah Death (Sweden, Mantle)

Petra Rautiainen - LAND OF SNOW AND ASHES tr. David Hackston (Finland, Pushkin Press)

Joachim B Schmidt - KALMANN tr. Jamie Lee Searle (Switzerland, Bitter Lemon Press)

Lilja Sigurðardóttir - RED AS BLOOD tr. Quentin Bates (Iceland, Orenda Books)

Gunnar Staalesen - BITTER FLOWERS tr. Don Bartlett (Norway, Orenda Books)

The winning title will be announced on 5 October 2023. 

The Petrona Award is open to crime fiction in translation, either written by a Scandinavian author or set in Scandinavia, and published in the UK in the previous calendar year.

The Petrona team would like to thank our sponsor, David Hicks, for his continued generous support of the Petrona Award. 

The judges’ comments on the shortlist:

There were 43 entries for the 2023 Petrona Award from six countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland). There were twenty-one female, nineteen male, two female/male pairs and one male/male pair of authors. The novels were translated by 22 translators and submitted by 22 publishers/imprints. 

This year’s Petrona Award shortlist sees Sweden represented with two novels and Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland with one novel each. The judges selected the shortlist from a particularly strong pool of candidates with the shortlisted titles ranging from police procedural and private investigator to historical. 

As ever, we are extremely grateful to the seven translators whose expertise and skill have allowed readers to access these outstanding examples of Scandinavian crime fiction, and to the publishers who continue to champion and support translated fiction. 

The judges’ comments on each of the shortlisted titles:

Pascal Engman - FEMICIDE tr. Michael Gallagher (Sweden, Legend Press)

FEMICIDE is a page turning, absorbing, thriller featuring Detective Vanessa Frank. A young woman is found murdered in her apartment in the same week her violent ex-boyfriend is released from prison. Meanwhile, we hear the story of Jasmina, a survivor of a recent severe sexual assault. Engman dives into the world of incels through Tom, a very believable character who is part of a weaponised gender war. 

As expected this is not a comfortable read, addressing the whole incel phenomenon which is of growing concern. The well written characters and increasingly tense plot strands keep the reader absorbed as the story comes to a pinnacle as the attacks against women escalate.

Anne Mette Hancock - THE CORPSE FLOWER tr. Tara F Chace (Denmark, Swift Press)

Journalist Heloise Kaldan is trapped in a nightmare. One of her sources has been caught lying. Then she receives a cryptic letter from Anna Kiel, wanted for murder, but not seen by anyone in three years. When the reporter who first wrote about the case is found murdered, detective Erik Schafer comes up with the first lead. Has Kiel struck again? As Kaldan starts digging deeper she realises that to tell Kiel’s story she will have to revisit her own dark past.

A dark and compelling story with echoes of Stieg Larsson's THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, this is an exceptionally strong start to the series, with a balanced blend of journalistic detection, psychological thriller and police procedural.

Håkan Nesser - THE AXE WOMAN tr. Sarah Death (Sweden, Mantle)

The fifth and final Inspector Gunnar Barbarotti novel from Håkan Nesser, sees Barbarotti returning to work after a personal tragedy and tasked with the investigation of a cold case, based on the unexplained disappearance of Arnold Morinder five years previously. Morinder's former partner Ellen Bjarnebo, who had been previously convicted of the brutal murder of her first husband, is sought by Barbarotti for more information, but she too has disappeared.

Håkan Nesser's credentials as a superior storyteller are once more in evidence in THE AXE WOMAN, with its impressive narrative arc and peerless characterisation, coupled with a perceptive translation by Sarah Death.

Petra Rautiainen - LAND OF SNOW AND ASHES tr. David Hackston (Finland, Pushkin Press)

LAND OF SNOW AND ASHES is set at a prison camp in Finnish Lapland in 1944 during the occupation by Nazi Germany, and in 1947 when journalist Inkeri arrives in remote Enontekiö on an assignment to chart the area’s social development. Inkeri gets to know the small community, discovers disturbing silenced crimes, and tries to find out what happened to her missing husband. Rautiainen weaves in the elements of Finland’s recent hidden history in the European context, and gives voice to the Sámi people, while Inkeri’s personal investigation shows the painful truths of human brutality and the cost of survival in extreme conditions. 

A harsh yet beautiful landscape adds to the mystery and allows for reflection and thought in this striking historical but contemporary novel. 

Joachim B Schmidt - KALMANN tr. Jamie Lee Searle (Switzerland, Bitter Lemon Press)

A local hotel owner and entrepreneur has gone missing, then Kalmann Odinsson discovers a pool of blood in the snow in the quiet village of Raufarhofn. Kalmann is an engaging, highly observant,  neurodiverse character who sees the world his own way and who can easily become overwhelmed. He hunts and makes fermented shark and his usually quiet life in the small community falls into turmoil as the police arrive to investigate formally. 

This quirky Icelandic story quickly draws the reader in, and information is revealed slowly as the mystery is solved. KALMANN is a beautifully written, absorbing, character-driven tale set in a rich Icelandic landscape.

Lilja Sigurðardóttir - RED AS BLOOD tr. Quentin Bates (Iceland, Orenda Books)

Following the events in COLD AS HELL, the UK-based financial investigator Áróra Jónsdóttir still searches for her sister Ísafold in Iceland, now convinced she will only find her sister’s body. Teaming again with Daníel, an old family friend and a detective, she becomes involved in the murky, violent, criminal underworld when the entrepreneur Flosi’s wife gets kidnapped. 

The chilling scenery and tight plotting with unexpected twists propel the novel into the uncommon sphere of financial crime mixed with a strong sense of unease and danger. The writing is sharp, intelligent and witty, and the characters authentic. Sigurðardóttir surprises at every step with her exciting style, faultlessly brought into English by Quentin Bates. 

Gunnar Staalesen - BITTER FLOWERS tr. Don Bartlett (Norway, Orenda Books)

BITTER FLOWERS is set in Norway in the 1980s during the heated atmosphere of toxic waste environmental protests. Private investigator Varg Veum is just out of rehab for his alcoholism. The story starts with a body found under suspicious circumstances in a swimming pool. The lifestyle of the rich, their power and the privilege their money affords them comes into question.

Staalesen is an expert at making his characters just complex enough that the reader can empathise with the human condition in the majority of them. BITTER FLOWERS is finely crafted and translated giving the reader a clear sense of location and an array of vivid characters to spend their time with.

The judges

Jackie Farrant - creator of RAVEN CRIME READS and a bookseller/Area Commercial Support for a major book chain in the UK.

Miriam Owen - founder of the NORDIC NOIR blog, passionate about the arts, she moderates author panels and provides support at crime fiction festivals.

Ewa Sherman - translator and writer, and blogger at NORDIC LIGHTHOUSE

Award administrator

Karen Meek – owner of the EURO CRIME blog and website.

On social media, please use #PetronaAward23.

Tuesday 8 August 2023

The Petrona Award 2023 - Longlist

 From the press release which was embargoed until 8.00am today:


Twelve crime novels from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland have made the longlist for the 2023 Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year.

They are:

Jussi Adler-Olsen - The Shadow Murders tr. William Frost (Denmark, Quercus)
Lina Areklew - Death in Summer tr. Tara F Chace (Sweden, Canelo Crime)
Kjell Ola Dahl - Little Drummer tr. Don Bartlett (Norway, Orenda Books)
Pascal Engman - Femicide tr. Michael Gallagher (Sweden, Legend Press)
Anne Mette Hancock - The Corpse Flower tr. Tara F Chace (Denmark, Swift Press)
Susanne Jansson - Winter Water tr. Rachel Willson-Broyles (Sweden, Hodder & Stoughton)
Håkan Nesser - The Axe Woman tr. Sarah Death (Sweden, Mantle)
Petra Rautiainen - Land of Snow and Ashes tr. David Hackston (Finland, Pushkin Press)
Joachim B Schmidt - Kalmann tr. Jamie Lee Searle (Switzerland, Bitter Lemon Press)
Lilja Sigurðardóttir - Red as Blood tr. Quentin Bates (Iceland, Orenda Books)
Gustaf Skördeman - Codename Faust tr. Ian Giles (Sweden, Zaffre)
Gunnar Staalesen - Bitter Flowers tr. Don Bartlett (Norway, Orenda Books)

The significantly increased number of entries for this year’s Petrona Award illustrates the continuing popularity of Scandinavian crime fiction in translation. The longlist contains a mix of new and established authors including previous Petrona Award winner, Gunnar Staalesen.

Both large and small publishers are represented on the longlist, with Orenda Books leading with three entries, and the breakdown by country is Sweden (5), Denmark (2), Norway (2), Finland (1), Iceland (1) and Switzerland (1), with translators Don Bartlett and Tara F Chace having translated two entries each.

The shortlist will be announced on 7 September 2023.

The Petrona Award 2023 judging panel comprises Jackie Farrant, the creator of RAVEN CRIME READS and a bookseller/Area Commercial Support for a major book chain in the UK; Miriam Owen, founder of the NORDIC NOIR blog, passionate about the arts, she moderates author panels and provides support at crime fiction festivals, and Ewa Sherman, translator and writer, and blogger at NORDIC LIGHTHOUSE. The Award administrator is Karen Meek, owner of the EURO CRIME blog and website.

The Petrona Award was established to celebrate the work of Maxine Clarke, one of the first online crime fiction reviewers and bloggers, who died in December 2012. Maxine, whose online persona and blog was called Petrona, was passionate about translated crime fiction but in particular that from the Scandinavian countries.

The award is open to crime fiction in translation, either written by a Scandinavian author or set in Scandinavia and published in the UK in the previous calendar year.

More information on the history of the Award and previous winners can be found at the Petrona Award website (

The Petrona team would like to thank our sponsor, David Hicks, for his generous support of the 2023 Petrona Award.

Monday 8 May 2023

The Petrona Award 2023 Entries

Here's a sneak peek at the forty-two Petrona Award 2023 entries. Full details to follow.