The forgotten girls

Sara Blædel

Book - 2015

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MYSTERY/Blaedel, Sara
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Mystery fiction
New York : Grand Central Publishing 2015.
Main Author
Sara Blædel (-)
Other Authors
Signe Rod Golly (translator)
First edition
Physical Description
312 pages ; 24 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by New York Times Review

"THE NEXT STIEG LARSSON" just came through the door, right on the heels of Sweden's Queen of Crime, followed by Denmark's Most Popular Crime Novelist and two Queens of Nordic Noir. Trust me, in the months to come there will be more titles added to the stacks of novels set in cold climates, many featuring dour detectives with unkempt blond beards and chilly blue eyes. This seemingly insatiable craze for Scandinavian mysteries was triggered by the phenomenal success of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" and its two sequels in Larsson's Millennium Trilogy. But it's been almost a decade since that international blockbuster was first published, and there's no sign that the Nordic invasion is tapering off. If anything, publishers appear even more desperate to find and pluck another golden goose. There may very well be a novelist who writes in the same vein as Larsson, someone who shares his political paranoia and sadomasochistic sensibility. But in their zeal to find him (or her), American publishers have been indiscriminately ransacking Scandinavian fiction lists, snatching up any genre novel they can get their hands on, from routine police procedural to bloodless suspense. So who are they, anyway, these contenders? Short answer: best-selling authors in their native countries, cherry-picked for translation and distribution in the English-speaking world. But if you're asking whether they share some distinctly Nordic style, the answer is - not as much as you'd think. What they really have in common is their dour sensibility and their belief that substantive political issues (as opposed to, say, lurid serial murders) are the bedrock of modern crime fiction. Larsson's foreign readers were too smitten with Lisbeth Salander, the sadistic female avenger in his books, to notice that he wrote from a Scandinavian sensibility of profound political disaffection. More than the cold north winds and the long dark nights or even those moody detectives in their baggy clothes, it's those stern authorial voices, raised in anger and despair, that create the "noir" chill. Channeling political protest through detective fiction is hardly a new concept. It was the fundamental principle of the husband-and-wife writing team of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, whose widely translated police procedurals about a dedicated cop named Martin Beck introduced an international readership to the progressive socialism of Swedish society in the 1960s and 70s. As skilled practitioners of a popular genre, they knew how to entertain us. But their brief, as avowed Marxists, was to reform society by exposing systemic corruption in the welfare state. Henning Mankell, who inherited some of their ideology, set the new gold standard in 1990 with the first of his 10 stately, deeply philosophical police procedurals featuring Kurt Wallander, a homicide detective in the coastal town of Ystad who is given to brooding on the decline of Western civilization. The subjects of Mankell's sweeping novels range from homicidal teenagers ("Firewall") to the exploitation of immigrants ("The Dogs of Riga"). But the state of existential despair in which the depression-prone Wallander finds himself is a reflection of the author's own fears that the Swedish model may no longer be viable in a world of wholesale criminal injustice and disintegrating values. KURT WALLANDER IS surely the most romantic Hamlet among his peers (especially as played by Kenneth Branagh in the BBC TV series that ran here on public television), but he's not the only fictional detective troubled by the notion that something is rotten in the body politic of the Nordic nations. Over in neighboring Norway, Karin Fossum writes grim suspense novels on abnormalpsychology themes, but in a perversely delicate style that brings Ruth Rendell to mind. Her stories, many of which feature the introspective Inspector Sejer, are set in insular villages where the locals do their best to ignore appalling crimes committed by homegrown pedophiles, juvenile delinquents and mental cases, while working themselves into a state about a perceived invasion of immigrants. Fossum isn't afraid to kill off a child (sometimes at the hands of another child) when she has to, and in her disquieting recent novel, I CAN SEE IN THE DARK (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25), which is set in a nursing home that takes in "helpless" cases, she tackles the sensitive subject of elder abuse. Both that novel and another, coming next month, have been translated by James Anderson. Fossum's new novel, THE MURDER OF HARRIET KROHN (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24), is told from the tormented perspective of a killer, brooding about the horrific murder he has committed in a quiet neighborhood in a quiet town. ("No God, no other people, only the empty street outside and her terrified breathing.") Scandinavian police detectives are a morose lot to begin with, and asking them to deal with such cruel crimes in the punishing cold and isolation of northern climates is an invitation to depression. The Icelandic author Yrsa Sigurdardottir bluntly acknowledges that sense of alienation in Philip Roughton's translation of "The Day Is Dark." "If you get lost, no one will search for you. If you fall into the sea, no one will fish you out." But the prince of gloom has to be Arnaldur Indridason, an Icelandic author who is positively obsessive on themes of loss and abandonment. His despondent Reykjavik detective, Erlendur Sveinsson, who has been haunted since childhood by a sense of guilt over the disappearance of his younger brother in a snowstorm, suffers from demonic depressions that grip him during the region's seemingly endless nights and everlasting winters. As Iceland's foreign minister once observed about the outer regions of his beautiful island nation, "You can almost hear ghosts dancing in the snow." When Inspector Erlendur (as he's always called) isn't toying with thoughts of suicide or hiking alone on the moors of the East Fjords, where he periodically goes to look for the bones of his brother, he's usually working on old missing persons cases. "I'm interested in stories about ordeals in the wilderness," he tells us in Victoria Cribb's translation of Indridason's latest book, STRANGE SHORES (Minotaur/Thomas Dunne, $25.99). Here, the detective's imagination is captured by the story of a fisherman's wife named Matthildur who set out in a storm that also engulfed a group of British servicemen, part of the occupying forces during World War II, who had lost their way as they crossed over the treacherous Hraevarskord Pass. But even when he's on a cold case like this, Erlendur broods on current matters, particularly the environmental havoc wrought by heavy industrial projects like the massive aluminum smelter on the Reydarfjordur Fjord and a fiercely contested hydroelectric dam in the highlands. The Nordic nations not only turn out plenty of first-rate genre writers, they also produce lots of readers who love a good mystery. The scenery in Norway is so spectacular, it's a wonder anyone ever wants to come indoors, but one quirky tradition known as "Paskekrim" ("Easter Crime") brings everyone home over the holiday to cut a cord of good Norwegian wood and hunker down by the fire, reading mystery stories and enjoying crime shows on radio and television. and YET, FOR all the genre novels the Scandinavians avidly consume, none of the authors whose books I've read in English translation write like Stieg Larsson. They don't even write like one another - or even their own countrymen. Take Sweden, where the underrated Kjell Eriksson writes with great love for nature and unusual depth of feeling for the pathetic victims and sorrowing survivors of homicides. In his most recent novel, "Black Lies, Red Blood," published last spring and translated by Paul Norlen, a detective on the Uppsala police force is so moved by the death of an anonymous tramp that he hopes this "woeful" soul had one last look at the sky before he died. In Ebba Seberberg's translation of "The Cruel Stars of the Night," another of Eriksson's sensitive cops is so distressed by a murder he has to sit on a rock to let "the paralysis of hopelessness" pass. Another Swedish author, Hakan Nesser, is greatly respected in his home country for his rather ponderous novels set in a made-up country (with a vaguely Swedish coastline) and featuring Chief Inspector Van Veeteren, a cerebral chap given to brooding on abstract concepts of good and evil while dealing with such un-Swedish crimes as the serial killings committed by an ax murderer ("Borkmann's Point"). You can appreciate how his mind works in "The Inspector and Silence" when a friendly chess game with his good friend Mahler inevitably becomes the occasion for a spirited discussion of the nature of God. Among other Swedish authors who made the cut for English translation, Ake Edwardson writes a popular series about a Gothenburg detective, Chief Inspector Erik Winter, who is deadly dull, but in a novel like "The Shadow Woman" has a bead on modern problems like drug wars between rampaging motorcycle gangs. Asa Larsson's heroine, a public prosecutor named Rebecka Martinsson, keeps getting involved in crimes involving religious mania. (A female priest is killed in "The Blood Spilt," and a charismatic preacher is butchered and his remains displayed on the altar of his own church in "Sun Storm.") Jens Lapidus's Stockholm Noir Trilogy concluded last month with LIFE DELUXE (Pantheon, $27.95), a good old-fashioned gangster story about the godfathers of Sweden's criminal underworld. And although Camilla Lackberg's most recent book, "The Hidden Child," deals with the national amnesia about Sweden's World War II heritage, her overstuffed novels are essentially romantic potboilers. These six Swedish authors of crime fiction - not one of them anything like the other - pretty much make my point. And what about that maverick Jo Nesbo? It took seven years before an English translation of his breakthrough novel, "The Redbreast," was published here. But once this Norwegian author surfaced, he immediately commanded attention with his bold and brutal novels about Harry Hole, a macho homicide cop in perennial pursuit of foaming-at-the-mouth psychopaths. This may sound like heresy, but I find him more Yankee than Scandi, with his aggressive style and off-the-charts serial murders. (By my count, he's used up Norway's homicide allotment for the next decade.) But once he broke from the pack, Nesbo was predictably declared "the next Stieg Larsson." And now that he's become a bona fide superstar, publishers are pushing their own unknown authors as "the next Jo Nesbo." For all the melodramatic American influences in his novels, Nesbo has always been in touch with his nationalist roots. Deep in the heart of "The Redbreast" is a chilling look at Norwegian society during World War II, when the country was under German occupation. Currently, he seems to be fixated on the breakdown of civilization in Sweden, which he sees reflected in the deterioration of Oslo. There are the usual sensationally gruesome deaths in his novel "Phantom," his best book after "The Snowman," but three years in Hong Kong have taken the edge off Harry Hole's sharp perspective on his native land, and he's stunned to see the wide-open, free-trade marketing in drugs, the swelling ranks of street prostitutes, the asylum seekers from all over the globe changing the face of the old neighborhoods. As far as I'm concerned, the Nordic invasion can continue until the ice melts. But I sometimes worry about certain impressions I've picked up from my reading. I doubt that real-life Norwegian police officers are as undisciplined and self-destructive as Harry Hole, or as crude, rude, vulgar and sex-obsessed as the Oslo detectives Gunnarstranda and Frolich, the slob heroes of K.O. Dahl's crime novels. My notions of Iceland probably wouldn't hold up to reality either. Do vast numbers of Icelanders really commit suicide by walking blindly into white-out snowstorms, the way they do in Arnaldur Indridason's novels? I'm inclined to take the word of Yrsa Sigurdardottir that psychics and clairvoyants make a good living among Iceland's superstitious citizens. But what about those ghosts, trolls, ogres and elves in her mysteries? I'd hate to think she's making it all up. The other thing that bothers me is that I'm missing the subtext of novels imported from countries that might share the same sector of the globe, but are distinctive in ways I just don't get. Some of the scars from individual national traumas are obvious: Anders Breivick's murderous spree in Norway; the financial meltdown in Iceland; the fallout in Denmark from the publication of those controversial cartoons; and, of course, the assassination of Sweden's prime minister Olof Palme in 1986, a crime that is still unsolved. But certain recurring themes in genre fiction, mainly the rise of neo-Nazism and the impact of mass migration, seem to transcend the borders of insular nations and speak to a shared identity crisis. According to James Thompson, an American writer who lived in Helsinki until his death last summer and wrote bleak crime stories about a cynical cop named Kari Vaara, Finland's politically pure reputation is "a great myth" intended for foreign consumption. "Like the rest of the Nordic countries," he observed in his 2012 novel "Helsinki White," "Finland is going through an ugly extreme right-wing phase with strong anti-foreigner sentiments." To my mind, some of the most politically acute Scandinavian crime novels are being written by women who are grappling with these generalized woes in more specific ways. In Sara Blaedel's novels, her truculent Danish homicide detective, Louise Rick (a housebroken Lisbeth Salander), responds to the influx of immigrants by taking up the cause of marginalized women, including Muslim girls menaced by the tradition of honor killings and Eastern European girls recruited for the sex trade. In THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS, coming out here in February (Grand Central, $26), she expands her net to include girls and young women abused in mental institutions. Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis are even more persuasive on the subject. "The Boy in the Suitcase" and its sequel, "Invisible Murder," feature a Danish Red Cross nurse named Nina Borg who performs dedicated work on behalf of children from Eastern bloc nations sold into slavery by criminal traffickers. With all the novels flying in from Scandinavia, I'm beginning to feel overwhelmed. But I can't forget the disturbing fiction of Jussi Adler-Olsen, the son of a Danish clinical psychiatrist who herded Jussi and the rest of his family from one residency to another in the various mental asylums where he worked. The villains in Adler-Olsen's books like to throw their helpless victims into underground cells. And in a novel being published this February, THE ALPHABET HOUSE (Dutton, $27.95), two British soldiers behind enemy lines in World War II are locked up in a German mental hospital. I'm sure more Nordic crime novels will arrive in the next mail. But for now I'll just sit here on the floor with a blanket over my head and relax with a little Kafka. MARILYN STASIO writes the Crime column for the Book Review.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [October 19, 2014]
Review by Booklist Review

The dark secrets of a closed mental institution are revealed in this mystery by Denmark's queen of crime. Detective Louise Rick is just starting her job heading the newly established Special Search Agency when an unidentified woman is found dead in the woods. The body turns out to be that of one of two identical twins, both brain damaged at birth and from then on inseparable, who had been proclaimed dead in 1980 by the institution that housed them, where they were called forgotten girls. When a woman is found raped and murdered in the same area, Rick and colleague Eik Nordstrom must seek the perpetrator as well as the other twin. The searches are complicated by being in Rick's home area, where she is recognized as the woman whose fiancé committed suicide years earlier. Meanwhile Nordstrom, who was not Rick's choice for her team, proves his worth as chemistry flares between them. This is the first of a trilogy featuring Rick, a sharp protagonist who wrestles with her own failings and fears, in a skillfully told story that is typically dark in the manner of Nordic crime fiction.--Leber, Michele Copyright 2010 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In the chilling fourth Louise Rick thriller to be published in the U.S. from Danish bestseller Blaedel (after 2012's Farewell to Freedom), the former Copenhagen homicide detective craves a fresh start as head of the fledgling Special Search Agency, but the unit's first case plunges her back into a nightmare she has spent decades struggling to forget. Before the body of a middle-aged woman found in the forest can be identified, a toddler's cries lead Louise and her enigmatic new partner, Eik Nordstrom, to a brutally slain babysitter, not far from the first corpse-the very place where a teenage Louise suffered the tragedy that would shape her life. As the dogged investigator and Eik-to whom she finds herself attracted despite his alcoholism and other issues-pursue links to a long-shuttered mental institution, it starts to look as if the past could prove key to catching a present-day monster. The swiftly moving plot and engaging core characters help make up for serviceable prose and a hard-to-swallow denouement. Author tour. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

This is Blaedel's fourth Det. Louise Rick and journalist Camilla Lind mystery (after Farewell to Freedom) to be released in the United States, although this is actually the fifth in the series. Hoping she hasn't made a huge mistake with her career, Louise Rick now heads the new Special Search Agency, which investigates missing-person reports. The job isn't off to the best start when Louise has to retrieve her new partner Eik Nordstrom from the bar where he is passed out. Their first case is an unidentified woman found dead in a forest near where Louise grew up, and scans show the victim was mentally disabled. Heading to the forest to investigate, Louise and Eik encounter another body. As the danger mounts, the case forces Louise to confront the reasons she left her hometown while she tries to find the killer before he strikes again. VERDICT Already an international best seller, this outing by Denmark's "Queen of Crime" offers trademark Scandinavian crime fiction with a tough detective and a very grim mystery. Blaedel is incredibly talented at keeping one reading even as one wants to look away from the graphic scenes. Recommend to fans of Camilla Lackberg and Liza Marklund. [See Prepub Alert, 8/22/14.] (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Taking charge of Copenhagen's Special Search Agency, detective Louise Rick (Farewell to Freedom, 2012, etc.) catches the case of a young woman who's been found dead more than 30 years after her death certificate was issued.Responding to a public announcement, Agnete Eskildsen, a former care assistant at the Eliselund facility for the mentally disabled, identifies the distinctively scarred woman who recently took a fatal fall as Lisemette, who was one of the young patients at Eliselund a generation ago. The complication is that Lisemette turns out to be two people, Lise Andersen and her twin sister, Mette, and that they were both pronounced dead at age 17 on the same day back in 1980. Louise's recent corpse is clearly Lise, but how can she have been alive (and having sex) until very recentlyand what's become of Mette, whom the Special Search Agency no longer has any reason to assume is actually dead? Ragner Rnholt, Louise's new boss, wants her to mark the case closed now that she's identified the dead woman, and you can see why. The murder of child care provider Karin Lund has reopened the search for a rapist who may have been preying on women in the neighborhood of Hvals ever since 23-year-old Lotte Svendsen went missing in 1991. But Louise, egged on by both her new colleague Eik Nordstrm and her old friend Camilla Lind, keeps dogging the surviving staff at Eliselund until she uncovers long-buried secrets as ugly as you could wish. This first installment of a new trilogy for Louise and the Special Search Staff is perhaps the most tightly knit of Blaedel's grim procedurals. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.