Strange Norwegian traditions and a book review

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In my native country of Norway we have a weird tradition called “Easter crime”, in which we read/watch/listen to crime stories during Easter. Looking it up, it apparently began with a very successful ad campaign for a crime novel around Easter time in 1923 which lead Norwegians to start expecting crime thrillers for Easter and we’ve not looked back since.

Easter crime is a tradition I like to uphold not just because I love a good crime thriller but because I have many good memories associated with watching Poirot or Inspector Morse (yes I have also pulled out my Inspector Morse DVDs this Easter) with my mum or reading Nancy Drew mysteries with my friends.

I have (as previously mentioned) a very active and vivid imagination and even now at the age of 35 should not really be reading crime novels right before bed or when home alone, but my sensitivity was even more pronounced as a child and teen. So I loved the adrenaline kick I got out of scaring myself by reading or watching crime stories and I also loved the challenge of trying to puzzle out the whodunit (which, admittedly I’ve always been terrible at!)

I remember listening to an Easter crime radio play with mum one year (I must’ve been 11 or 12) and being particularly terrified. I suddenly realised who the bad guy was because of his tone of voice when he said to the hero, “you have something on your shoulder”, and I was like “no, don’t look, don’t turn around, it’s a trap!!” – and indeed it was. But regardless of how terrified I was in the moment, it was a relatively safe way to “get your kicks” as at least back in those days the crime thrillers always ended well, and there were usually not the sort of grisly murders you get these days.

So, mostly because I have such fond memories of Easters past, snuggled up on the sofa with an exciting book and a mug of cocoa (or as is more often the case these days: a glass of red wine), I turn to crime fiction during Easter. Though it’s increasingly starting to feel like one of those you can never go home again type of things.

Obviously I’m not as easily startled as I was at age 12 – someone saying (no matter how creepy their voice is) “you have something on your shoulder” is not going to make me bat an eye. But… that doesn’t mean I prefer or even like the other extreme which seems to be trending the past 10 years or so, wherein crime fiction writers are in competition over who can write the most vulgar, tasteless, gross and shocking story, where the gratuitous torture and violence seem to have little bearing on the story and is simply there to shock. I’m looking at guys like Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbø (and this is coming from someone who was a huuuuuuge fan, like the biggest, of Jo Nesbø for the first 7-8 Harry Hole books, because back then I found him a brilliant writer and although some pretty horrible things happened they didn’t seem to happen just for shock value – sadly I feel he’s gone over to the dark side since then) as well as some of the “Scandinavian noir” shows that are so popular on Netflix.

What I enjoy is a suspenseful and cleverly crafted whodunit mystery (a little gratuitous violence is OK!) that has me sitting on the edge of my seat unable to put down the book until the very end. I’d like to go “oh of course [person] is the killer, now everything falls into place”, but preferably not until the very end.

So do they still write books like this?? I’d do it myself but I’m not clever enough to come up with a good plot and subtly hint at the solution under way without giving away too much.

Anyway, the first crime novel I picked up this Easter was a pretty decent effort but nothing spectacular.

Book review: The Girl in the Ice by Robert Bryndza

3/5 stars.

So, I love Robert Bryndza from his Coco Pinchard series, and this book gets pretty good reviews so I thought I’d give it a try. And I did like it, but there are a few things that drag it down from “great” to “OK plus” for me:

  • There’s too much superfluous description of surroundings, clothes etc. For instance it doesn’t really add anything to setting/scene/character description that the forensic pathologist has a phone in a leather cover in his lab coat pocket. It doesn’t ring, it’s not hot pink, it’s superfluous (for whatever reason this is the one example that stuck with me..). He also seems to have a thing about people’s weight, at least if they’re big. The book is full of “dumpy” people spilling over the back of their chair or pouring themselves into their skinny jeans. Maybe it’s just me?
  • Erika is way too confrontational and rude without any proper reason. Sure, it’s reasonable to suspect that she’s suffering from PTSD, but that’s never really given as an explanation or excuse for her behaviour. And she’s not confrontational in the arrogantly charming way of say Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock or John Thaw’s Inspector Morse – no she’s just plain rude. Which also makes it hard to see why most of her new colleagues seem to have some loyalty towards her from very early on.
  • While the solution to the mystery is perfectly adequate and plausible, I don’t feel like there were any specific clues laid up towards the killer being the killer – it wasn’t one of those moments (as referenced in part one of this blog) where you went “oh, of course it was [person] all along!”

That being said, Bryndza is still an excellent writer overall, and the story was exciting and at times hard to put down. And though there were superfluous descriptions I also very much enjoyed the descriptions of the different areas of London, which made me feel as if the writer is a local – it came across as convincing even though he may have made half of it up. I classify this as a solid first effort and I’ll give the second one a go soon as I think there’s definite potential here. And bonus points for not being over-the-top grisly or morbid. I’d also like to learn more about Erika’s background, and found the conversations with her father-in-law surprisingly heart-wrenching.