Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Faceless Killers - Henning Mankell

I'm writing this distracted installment of the Vintage Crime Blog from the Labor and Delivery suite awaiting the birth of our second child.  Don't worry!  No contractions yet.

I've just finished my re-read of the first (written) Kurt Wallander novel by Henning Mankell, Faceless Killers.  This was the world's first introduction to Wallander, published in the original Swedish in 1991, and translated into English by Steven T. Murray in 1997.  These novels definitely fall into the procedural crime novel sub-genre, with detailed descriptions of evidence and team meetings.

The novel centers around the brutal murders of two farmers in souther Sweden.  The novel then takes us on a tour of Skåne as Wallander and his team try to solve the murder.  The ending is unexpected to say the least, and I'm not totally happy with it.  Don't worry though, the character development in this novel is priceless and will serve you well as you read the subsequent novels.

Wallander is my second favorite crime novel hero right behind Jack Reacher.  They actually share many of the same qualities.  Great determination and a love (actually in this case, obsession) with coffee.  The major differences would be Wallander is not very confident in himself, kind of a klutz, is out of shape, and doesn't really like guns.

I've read all of the Wallander novels that have been translated into English, and I have to say my favorite things are the idiosyncrasies of Swedish culture.  My favorite is the obsession with coffee.  Wallander is constantly drinking coffee, commenting on the temperature, the taste, and what kind of mug it is being served in.  Reacher fans should be familiar with this too!  I don't think this is just associated with Wallander, as the Millennium Trilogy by Steig Larsson is packed with discussion of coffee too.

Other, more bizarre details of southern Swedish life that recur throughout the Wallander novels include running over hares (rabbits!) on the road, uncertainty about immigration, general dislike of firearms, and for some reason, the men are frequently going outside to urinate (which I really don't understand since the novel takes place in the winter).

The most interesting part of the character development that takes place in this book is the internal monologue that goes through Wallander.   This is best displayed on page 244 of the current paperback edition; "Every time Wallander stepped into someone's home, he felt as though he were looking at the front cover of a book that he had just bought.  The flat, the furniture, the pictures on the walls, and the smells were the title.  Now he had to start reading."

So far, nine of the eleven titles have been translated into English.  I've read them all, and been impressed with them all, especially the later titles.  I hope my random, somewhat distracted recollections of the novel will get you interested in some vintage Swedish crime fiction!

My second daughter is probably going to be born in the next 12-18 hours, so I will be a little distracted for the next couple of weeks. I've brought Casino Royale with me to read while labor kicks into gear.  Now that's vintage!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Persuader - by Lee Child

Merry Christmas from the Vintage Crime Blog.  This week I'm reviewing Persuader by Lee Child, the seventh novel in the Jack Reacher series.  This is actually a re-read of the book for me.  I originally read the book in my Reacher obsession which started in March 2009 and finished in December 2009 with Gone Tomorrow (thank you order history).  Since then I've kept up with the books as they come out.  I started this novel December 17th and finished it on the 22nd.

I need to come out and say this right away: this is one of the top four Reacher novels in the series (The others being Killing Floor, Running Blind, and The Enemy).  This novel firmly cements Jack Reacher as one of my favorite characters.  This is one of those hard-to-put-down books that kept me up until 1 a.m. two nights in a row... on the second read!

Joseph Finder recommends this book as a book for thriller writers to learn from because of the opening.  He's totally right.  The beginning of the book starts in a small college town with Reacher wreaking some serious havoc with 2 Colt Anaconda .44 Magnum revolvers.  The story quickly moves on to a fictional location somewhere between Portland, ME and Saco, ME.  I've looked at google maps and found a perfect location.  The story then bounces between two story lines;  one in the present day and one ten years in the past when Jack was still an MP.  The stories blend well together seamlessly.  

Lee Child sets the perfect scene with the location in Maine.  He is incredibly descriptive without being over the top.  This pretty much applies to the way Lee Child describes everything in this novel.  There is a lot of gun talk in this one, which I can appreciate.  The reason I bring this up is because it is totally seamless in this novel.  Often, writers get hung up on technical descriptions of firearms, but it sounds like they just read a press release from Glock, and put it in the book.  When Reacher describes a firearm, it sounds like he's used it before, and knows exactly what it's going to do.  It really adds to the story in this case.

A lot of what Jack Reacher does in his novels is take an assumption of the enemy, and then turn it against them.  In this book, the bad guys think they are totally isolated and safe on their little peninsula jutting off into the Atlantic Ocean because of the surrounding inhospitable waters with riptide and wall topped with razor wire, etc.  So what does Jack do?  He creates the most memorable scene of the book by using it to his advantage.  I'm not going to say much more than that, but pay attention around page 151 (of the paperback edition) for one of my favorite scenes in ALL of the Reacher novels.

FYI, this story is told in the first person.  I think Lee Child bounces between first and third person between novels, but sticks with one for each novel.  I personally prefer the first person, since it really lets you get inside Reacher's head.

Overall, this novel is just about perfect.  The story is not over complicated there are great villains, and the ending is great.  My only criticism is that one of the main bad guys is a little over the top (Paulie).  You really have to read the novel to understand what I'm saying.  

For my next book I'm really going vintage!  The original Kurt Wallander novel by Henning Mankell!  Faceless Killers, the novel that set off my 5 month 9 novel obsession with Henning Mankell novels.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Reread of Vanished by Joseph Finder

I was recently inspired to reread Vanished by the news that Joseph Finder will be releasing the next novel in the Nick Heller series in the next few months.  Let's just say I'm pretty pumped up for Buried Secrets after reading the first novel over the last week.  Vanished was recommended by a mentor of mine who originally recommended Killing Floor to me.  By the time I first read Vanished in January 2010 I had already read all of the available Lee Child Novels.

Nick Heller is an ex-special forces guy turned consultant for an elite security company, who just happens to be the son of a modern day robber baron who got caught, and is now in prison.  The story centers around the kidnapping and retrieval of his brother, Roger, who is an attorney for a large privately held construction company.  There are several twists and turns (as expected) and overall the novel is excellent.

Let's just say Jack Reacher is my baseline for all ex-military crime novel heroes.  Nick Heller is not quite Jack Reacher in physical stature, but I think he has a little more finesse.  Per the novel, "I'm six-foot-two, served in the Special Forces in Iraq, and I'm still in decent shape.  Also, there were rumors about my dark skills, things I'd done in Iraq and Bosnia, that swirled around me.  None of them were true, but I never bothered to set the record straight.  I didn't really mind having a scary reputation." (Location 1,281 Kindle Edition)  This description really cements the character for me.  He's tough, well built, but knows enough about the way people think to make things work for him.

Vanished has a great beginning description of the kidnapping of Roger Heller in the first few pages, followed by a short tale of Nick Heller finding some stolen cash that could be a short story in it's own right.  From then on, it's pretty much non-stop action throughout the rest of the novel.  I'm not going into spoilers!

One of the standout sections of the novel for me involves Nick breaking into the offices of Paladin international (Location 6,276 Kindle edition) that was just as exciting the second time around!  It really is a well thought out plan that is fun to read.  It could almost be a video game scenario.

One of the most glowing recommendations for the novel is that my wife read it, and asked me if there were any more available in the series.  She's anxiously awaiting the release of Buried Secrets too.

On a side note, this was the second novel I had read on the Kindle (the first was Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child).  I've had the Kindle for a year now, and I have to say it is the best reading experience if you compare it to printed novel, iPad, computer, etc.

Up next:  Climbing out of my 6 month dive into Swedish crime fiction with a reread of Persuader by Lee Child.  Hey, Joseph Finder recommends it!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Henning Mankell's The Pyramid: and Four Other Kurt Wallander Mysteries

The Pyramid: and Four Other Kurt Wallander Mysteries

I first heard of Henning Mankell after reading The Millenium Trilogy by the late Steig Larsson. I have a the tendency to read the wikipedia pages of the the books that I read after I finish them. I stumbled upon Henning Mankell as an influential author of Steig Larsson’s style. Since I like the dark moodiness of Larsson’s books, I thought I would give Mankell a try. I purchased the first two novels in paperback at the Barnes & Noble near Wrightsville Beach, NC while I was on vacation.

I think I was instantly hooked on Mankell’s style of writing, but more importantly the character of Kurt Wallander. He’s lonely, occasionally depressed, eats lots of junk food, and most importantly drinks tons of coffee. I myself am a coffee addict largely because of my job, which requires me to work long hours, which are often irregular.

Henning Mankell’s attention to small details is often what gets me the most excited. Portions of his novels are spent discussing the characters coming down with the common cold, or even thinking that they are coming down with the common cold. I think this recurring theme is one of the nice touches of his novels.

The book that I am reviewing today is entitled the pyramid and four other kurt wallander mysteries. That is exactly what it is, meaning “The Pyramid” is what really shines in this collection of five short stories. The stories range in length from 26 pages to about 150 pages. “The Pyramid” really is a classic Wallander tales, with lots of coffee drinking, eating of sandwiches, and roundtable meetings between the investigative team. In typical Wallander novel fashion, the team has pretty much locked the case down with a fair amount of the story left, and the last portion of the story is spent actually finding the villain.

Two other short stories in the book, “Wallander’s First Case” and “The Death of the Photographer” are excellent Wallander tales. Two very short stories, “The Man with the Mask” and “The Man on the Beach seem as if they were written for a magazine (which they very well may have been) but are still interesting. These compare favorably to Joseph Finder’s “Waiting for the Train to Minsk” recently published in the New York Times.

All in all, this is a must read for the serious Henning Mankell/Kurt Wallander fan and highly recommended. Even though all of the stories take place before the first Wallander book Faceless Killers, I would recommend reading it after reading at least three Wallander novels.

Up Next: My re-read of Joseph Finder’s Vanished.

Hello World

Getting the obligatory first post out of the way.  This is going to be a blog dedicated to reviewing (mostly) crime fiction.  Since did not read crime/mystery novels prior to 2007, I have mostly been reading older fiction, trying to "catch up" on the massive amount that has already been published.

I first started reading crime fiction about three years ago when one of my co-workers recommended Killing Floor by Lee Child.  I have since read all of the Jack Reacher novels and enjoyed them all.  I then branched out into crime fiction by Joseph Finder, Andrew Vachss, Cody McFadyen and others.

One of the most signifcant set of novels I have read is The Millenium Trilogy by Steig Larsson, as it incited an interest in Swedish crime fiction, most notably that of Henning Mankell.  Mankell's character Kurt Wallander is quirky, smart, and has a love of coffee and sandwiches.  I find all of these characteristics fascinating, which resulted in my reading nine of his novels since July.  My first book review will be of The Pyramid, the final Wallander novel translated to English.

Keep an eye on the blog for book reviews, and feel free to follow me on twitter @spencerkoch.