First Impressions: A Scandinavian Crime Fiction Face Off!

10776592So, it turns out that in the summertime I really crave Scandanavian crime fiction.

For awhile I didn’t even know this was a thing. Over the past few summers, I’ve read and re-read and adored Stieg Larsson (yes, there are many problems with the Millenium books. That doesn’t make me enjoy them any less), but I had no idea there was such a ‘genre’ as Scandanavian crime fiction. But when I started work in a library, I began to realize there’s an awful lot of books by authors with extra vowels in their names, and they all seem to deal with similar issues and themes.

Which leads me to a face-off. I picked up novels by Lene Kaaberbol and Jo Nesbo and read them back to back, to see how they stacked up.

The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol

The setup: The first book by Danish writer Lene Kaaberbol to feature Red Cross nurse Nina Borg, it starts with a bang as Borg, thinking she is doing a simple favor for an estranged friend, picks up a suitcase from a train station locker and opens it to find a drugged toddler. Soon on the run from a dangerous hit man and the police, Borg struggles to keep the child safe and learn where he is from. Meanwhile, the child’s Lithuanian mother works to piece together her son’s abduction and the people who took and lost him him desperately try to get him back.

The outcome: I enjoyed the fact that Kaaberbol dealt extensively with the meaning of motherhood, both willing and unwilling, something I haven’t seen often in my past experience with mystery and crime fiction. Nina Borg was a fascinating, deftly written character with a backstory I was itching to uncover as I tried to understand her motivation. Unfortunately, the plot is fairly unsurprising, and in order to try and keep it surprising, Kaaberbol ignored some key characters until pretty late in the novel. They were really interesting characters, and I wish I had known them earlier in the book. I figured out the reason for the kidnapping pretty early on (I won’t spoil it just in case, but the big reveal left me feeling pretty ‘meh’), and the ending was way too neat and tidy.

Rating: 3 stars

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo 465226

The setup: The Redbreast is Norwegian author Jo Nesbo’s third book featuring inspector Harry Hole, but the earliest translated into English, which is why I chose it. Shoved into a new job title that’s supposed to keep him from causing trouble, Hole uncovers an assassination conspiracy involving Norweigan soldiers who fought for Hitler at the Eastern Front. There are Neo Nazis, people with Multiple Personality Disorder, tangled and twisty plots, and lots and lots of bird imagery.

The outcome: The past- and present- setting of The Redbreast kept me on my toes and kept me guessing. The characters were incredibly complex, with no easy heroes and villains. Everyone had mostly empathetic motivations, even the Nazis. There were actual stakes; it’s not just the bad guys who have things to lose. And the prose was often surprisingly beautiful for a tense crime thriller. It was a long novel–weighing in at over 500 pages–but it I enjoyed every second of it.

Rating: 4 stars

Ultimately, I think Nesbo has fully moved onto my reading list. I can’t wait to read more of his work. But I’ll probably pass on Kaaberbol in the future. Her prose was good and Borg was a fantastic character, but I’m not hooked enough to check out the rest of her work.



Filed under Book Review, Book Talk, First Impressions

6 responses to “First Impressions: A Scandinavian Crime Fiction Face Off!

  1. I read Nesbo’s ‘The Snowman’ at the beginning of this year, and really enjoyed it – he’s an author I’d definitely return to. For other Scandi-crime, I’d also recommend Svowall and Mahloo’s Martin Beck novels (who arguably kicked off the genre in the 1960s), and Karin Fossum’s Inspector Sejer series – beautifully written, but also hard as nails.

    • hlmorris85

      Ooh, thanks for the recommendations! The list is currently a billion books long, but those authors have been added 😀

  2. Nesbø really sets the bar very high for crime fiction, with convoluted plots and twists. He is the master, although the snowman apparently, has some really dark moments where the author felt he went too far. I am about to read that one, having read most of the series (except the Bat – which is the first but only recently translated to english) I agree with you in part about the kaerberbøl book, but it is hard competition when you are up against Nesbø. Perhaps you should compare this first novel in a series with Nesbø’s first novel. You will find two Nesbø novels reviewed here:

    • hlmorris85

      It wasn’t neccessarily that Kaaberbol suffered in comparison to Nesbo, it’s more that The Boy In The Suitcase didn’t grab me sufficiently enough to actively seek more out, especially with my reading list is as long as it currently is. I didn’t dislike it by any means, but I didn’t love it either. I like your reviews, though (and now there are yet more books to add to the list!)

      • I know what you mean. My TBR shelf is so full of books. And I do agree with your point about Nina Borg’s story. But I will give them another go, because they are Danish and I like to read stories set in Denmark.

  3. Pingback: Review: THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis | Something to Ponder About

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