Saturday, May 30, 2009

New Short Fiction to Celebrate

Just a quick heads up for those who live in or near Vancouver. Tonight (Saturday, May 30th), two of my favourite writers (and favourite people!), Stuart Ross and Alexandra Leggat, are launching new collections of short fiction at Café Montmartre (4362 Main Street, Vancouver, at 7 pm).

Stuart's book, Buying Cigarettes for the Dog, first sent out into the world at its Toronto launch on April 1st, has been racking up sales and laudatory reviews ever since. In Now Magazine, Susan Cole writes: "Ross doesn't waste a word, and the impact is often breathtaking. He knows how to extend a metaphor so that even the most absurd or hallucinatory episodes – and there are many of these – convey deep meaning." In the Vancouver Sun, M.A.C. Farrant writes: "A writer with an original sensibility, he's got a gazillion curious, funny and disturbing things to say about our lives and our world. Read this book – you'll see." And in The Walrus, Mark Medley sums it up thus: "His fiction is often bold, sometimes infuriating, and always rewarding."

For Alexandra's book, Animal, tonight marks not just the Vancouver launch but the launch proper, so as of yet I can't point you to any reviews. But, judging by her previous work, and having had the pleasure of hearing her read a few of the stories from the new book while it was in progress, I have no doubt that it will be brilliant. Read the title story, "Animal," online here and see for yourself.

Of course, for those of us who are nowhere near Vancouver, though we can't celebrate tonight with the authors, we still have access to the best part, the books! Why not mark the final weekend of Short Story Month by ordering yourself a copy of each?

Maj Sjöwall Interview

After nattering on at length about Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö's excellent Martin Beck novels in recent posts (here and here), I would be remiss not to provide you with a link to a recent interview of Sjöwall in the Wall Street Journal. Here's an excerpt:

Back then, Ms. Sjöwall writes by email from Sweden, "Swedish crime-writers wrote Agatha Christie-like books and seldom had policemen as main characters. Crime novels were considered pulp-literature in those days. Intellectuals rarely admitted to reading those kinds of books. We wanted to contribute to improving the linguistic quality, and to changing the way media treated that type of literature." The couple were writing entertainment, "but our intention was also to describe and criticize certain changes in our society and the politics of that decade."

For the rest, click here.

(Thanks to Maxine at Petrona for the link.)

Friday, May 29, 2009

The New Betsy-Tacy Covers

If you're a regular reader of this blog, it will be apparent to you from my frequent references to them that I am a devoted fan of Maud Hart Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy books. I read and reread them countless times as a child and, along with only a handful of other childhood favourites, I have carried them with me into my adult life, continuing to reread them at regular intervals. The series begins with Betsy's fifth birthday in Minnesota circa 1897 and, in ten volumes, documents her childhood and high school years, her early struggles to establish herself as a writer, her solo trip into the Great World (Germany, Italy, France, and England), and finally her wedding and the early years of her married life. The books become steadily more sophisticated in style and content as Betsy matures, thereby continuing to appeal to young readers as they grow up alongside Betsy and her friends.

I love the whole series, but I am particularly partial to the high school books and beyond. So I am extremely happy that these books, which have fallen out of print in recent years, are to be reissued by HarperCollins this fall. And I was positively giddy to learn today, upon following a link to a preview of the new covers at the Betsy-Tacy Society website, that the new editions will feature some of the same Vera Neville artwork that appeared on the covers of the original hardback editions that I borrowed from the library as a child. There have been at least two reissues of the entire series in the intervening years—in the mid-1990s and again in 2000—and while on both occasions I was very pleased that the books were available once again, the less said about their cover art the better. I understand the quest for a modern look to appeal to contemporary readers. But I've always thought that the Vera Neville illustrations have an enduring charm which would appeal to contemporary girls as well as to nostalgic adult readers like me. And, it seems that this time around someone at HarperCollins agrees with me! I love the new covers (reproduced above). Betsy and the Great World is my very favourite of the ten books in the series, and I can't tell you how happy it makes me to see that Vera Neville drawing of a windblown Betsy on the deck of the S.S. Columbic en route to Europe back on the cover of a book. (For an earlier post of mine about Betsy and the Great World, headed by a reproduction of the original cover, click here.)

If you take a close look at the new covers above, you will note that each of the three volumes contains two novels, which seems to me a clever way to get readers hooked on the series. And each volume includes a foreword penned by a famous fan of the Betsy-Tacy books: Laura Lippman, Meg Cabot, and Anna Quindlen respectively. (I'm in good company in my fandom, am I not?)

I hope that the new covers will catch the eyes of many new readers when the books appear on bookstore shelves this fall. If you're already a fan of the series, this will be an excellent opportunity to revisit it. And if you haven't yet encountered it, do give the books a try. Of course, you may forget all about them between now and their release date. But, fear not, I will remind you again closer to the time!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Zone of Freedom

Susan Sontag on literature as freedom:

To have access to literature, world literature, was to escape the prison of national vanity, of philistinism, of compulsory provincialism, of inane schooling, of imperfect destinies and bad luck. Literature was the passport to enter a larger life, that is, the zone of freedom.

Literature was freedom. Especially in a time in which the values of reading and inwardness are so strenuously challenged, literature is freedom.

From Susan Sontag, "Literature Is Freedom" in At the Same Time: Essays and Speeches (2007).

Monday, May 25, 2009

Shannon Hale's Book of a Thousand Days

Book of a Thousand Days is another fairy tale brought vividly to life by Shannon Hale. At the centre of the story is Dashti, a mucker girl from the Steppes, who finds her way into the city and takes a vow to serve as lady's maid to Lady Saren just in time to be confined alongside her in a tower for seven years—punishment for Saren's refusal to obey her father's order to marry the brutal Lord Khasar, ruler of a neighbouring realm. The lady in the tower is, of course, a fairy tale standard. But there's nothing conventional about telling the story from the point of view of the lady's maid, a character who gets only a passing reference in the Grimms' tale that first sparked Hale's imagination. And the rich universe that Hale creates as a setting for that fragmentary tale—partly inspired by her reading on medieval Mongolia, and partly her own creation—feels wholly fresh and original.

I won't say any more about the plot than I already have, as I don't want to give too much away. Suffice it to say that Dashti proves herself in a myriad of unexpected ways over the course of the book and, in so doing, earns a place among my very favourite strong and resourceful heroines of contemporary children's and YA fiction (alongside the likes of Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching). I will tell you also that, much as I was enjoying the story, midway through I felt considerable unease, as I couldn't figure out how Hale could possibly end it in a way that would be both emotionally satisfying and true to the universe that she had created. Yet she did, and so I loved the book from beginning to end.

With this one, as with Shannon Hale's first novel The Goose Girl, rather than reading the book, I listened to the audio version produced by Full Cast Audio, and I must heap praise upon them again here. It's an unabridged reading, not an adapted dramatization. But the reading is performed using different actors to voice the narrator and the other characters in dialogue which avoids any confusion while listening and heightens the drama of tale. This made for a very enjoyable listening experience. So I highly recommend not just the book, but also the Full Cast Audio version of it.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Library Loot 6: Under the Influence of Fellow Bloggers


Nearly all of this week's selections were prompted by posts from fellow bloggers. Click on the names of the blogs or bloggers below to link to the posts that piqued my interest in each of these tantalizing books.

Borkmann’s Point and The Return by Håkan Nesser: These are the second and third books in Nesser's Inspector Van Veeteren series (my library doesn't yet have copies of the first, Mind's Eye, which was translated into English more recently than the others). Recent posts at Crime Scraps, Detectives Beyond Borders, and Djs Krimiblog quickly shifted Nesser from the "I'd like to read him someday," into the "I must read him now" category for me.

Blind Justice and Murder in Grub Street by Bruce Alexander: These are the first two books in a mystery series featuring a pair of sleuths, one a fictionalized version of historical figure Sir John Fielding (an 18th Century judge credited as co-founder of London's first police force and, incidentally, also half-brother of novelist Henry Fielding), and the other, Jeremy Proctor, a thirteen-year-old orphan newly arrived in the city and working as a typesetter's assistant on Grub Street. Julie's compelling posts about both (here and here) prompted me to seek them out.

Greenery Street by Denis Mackail: Danielle's post about this one made it sound like a quality comfort read, not necessarily similar in content or style to the likes of Enchanted April and Miss Buncle's Book, but perhaps generating the same sort of reading experience. And the fact that Persephone Books has recently reprinted it adds to the weight of Danielle's recommendation.

A Start in Life by Anita Brookner: This is Brookner’s first novel. I've not read any of her books and, honestly, haven't felt any compulsion to do so. But Mark Thwaite's recent post about his regard for her work made me rethink that.

The Odd Women by George Gissing: From the back cover description: "Five odd women—women without husbands—are the subject of this powerful novel, set in Victorian London, by a writer whose perceptions about people, particularly women, would be remarkable in any age and are extraordinary in the 1890s." It was a recent post by Dorothy that piqued my interest in this one.

Unseen by Mari Jungstedt and Lewi's Journey by Per Olov Enquist: Two very different books by very different authors. The former is the first in a mystery series set on the Swedish island of Gotland, the latter a historical novel by one of Sweden's foremost writers of literary fiction. What they have in common is that they're both translated by Tiina Nunnally and they were both recommended by Reg in response to my recent post seeking suggestions of novels which would expand my acquaintance with Swedish literature (and who better to get such recommendations from than the translator of some of my favourite Swedish writers including Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson?).

Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih: Maud Newton’s appreciation of this Sudanese novel highlighted its status as one of the few classics of Arabic literature readily available in English translation and sent me racing out for a copy.

Lost at Sea by Bryan Lee O'Malley: I've been making a few forays into the realm of graphic novels of late, and Nymeth's post about this one made it sound irresistible.

And finally, a couple that I came up with all on my own: A Concise History of Sweden by Neil Kent (more background for my upcoming trip to Sweden), and Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg (a debut crime novel by a well-known Canadian lawyer which is said to bring vividly to life the sights and sounds of Toronto, my current home).

It's a tribute to the glories of my local libraries, is it not, that I have all of these books in hand so soon after resolving to read them? (That's the Toronto Public Library, with occasional side trips to the York University Library, in case you’re wondering.) I love the library.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Enduring Influence of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

In my post last week about Roseanna, the first in the Martin Beck series by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, I quoted from Henning Mankell's introduction to the new edition and remarked on some parallels between Martin Beck and Mankell's Kurt Wallander. Now that I'm into the second in the series, The Man Who Went Up in Smoke, I'm entertaining myself by pursuing another link between the respective oeuvres of these crime fiction greats. In The Man Who Went Up in Smoke, Beck leaves his familiar Stockholm stomping grounds to search for a Swedish journalist who has disappeared in Budapest. The search has him wandering about Eastern Europe, caught up in international intrigue at the height of the cold war. Those familiar with Mankell's work may remember that the second book in the Wallander series, The Dogs of Riga, has a similar international dimension. The novel opens with the discovery of two murder victims who have washed up on the beaches of Wallander's hometown of Ystad, Sweden. The victims are traced to the Baltic state of Latvia, and when Wallander travels there to continue his investigation, he finds himself unwittingly entangled in the violent political turmoil then flowing from the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

I've been thinking as well about Stieg Larsson's ambitious plan for a ten-book series beginning with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, sadly cut short at three books by his premature death, and wondering if he took some inspiration from his fellow journalists turned crime writers, Sjöwall and Wahlöö, who began their Beck novels with an overarching plan for a ten book series already in mind. A count of ten is a superficial link, of course, but Larsson can certainly be regarded as an heir to Sjöwall and Wahlöö in his use of the crime fiction genre as a vehicle for a sophisticated exploration of the social issues confronting Swedish society.

It's not necessary to engage in such speculation to chart the enduring influence of Sjöwall and Wahlöö however, as many contemporary authors have publicly expressed their admiration for the Martin Beck novels and written of the impact that reading them has had on their own writing and on crime fiction more broadly. One need look no further than the introductions to the new Vintage Crime/Black Lizard reprints for this. I already noted that Henning Mankell wrote the introduction to Roseanna. For the second installment, The Man Who Went Up in Smoke, Val McDermid does the honours. In her introduction, she identifies a number of elements that have become standard in police procedurals but that felt almost revolutionary when Sjöwall and Wahlöö originated them. This is the bit that particularly stood out for me:

The police procedural was home to a singular hero. There was no room to share the limelight. The books of Sjöwall and Wahlöö are different. Although they are generally referred to as the Martin Beck novels, they're not really about an individual. They're ensemble pieces. […] [Beck] is part of a team, each member of which is a fully realized character. His strengths and weaknesses are balanced by those of his colleagues. He relies on them as they rely on him. This is a world where ideas are kicked around, where no individual has the monopoly on shafts of brilliant insight. Nor are the repetitive tedious tasks carried out offstage by minor minions. Both action and routine are shared between Beck and his underlings. Friendships and enmities are equally tested in the course of the ten books, and everyone is portrayed as an individual who has virtues and vices in distinct measure.

And what comes next? The introductions to the reprints of books three and four, The Man on the Balcony and The Laughing Policeman, are provided by Jo Nesbø and Jonathan Franzen respectively. And for books five and six, The Fire Engine that Disappeared and Murder at the Savoy, due out in early June, it will be Colin Dexter and Arne Dahl. I can't wait to see who the publishers have got lined up for the rest. The main draw is the books themselves of course, but these introductions definitely add an extra layer of interest for me.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas

The Chalk Circle Man is the fifth of Fred Vargas's Commissaire Adamsberg novels to be translated into English, but it's actually the first in the series. Readers like me who are already committed fans will relish the opportunity it offers to explore Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg's origins—the beginning of his career on the Paris police force, the evolution of his partnership with his favourite inspector (and mine), Adrien Danglard, and some background to his one-time relationship with the elusive Camille and its continuing effect on him. And those new to the series have the option now of beginning at the beginning and reading the books in order.

Commissaire Adamsberg is a police detective like no other. Of course there are many fictional detectives who use their intuition, but Adamsberg is all intuition. Rather than doggedly searching for answers, it's as if he simply drifts about until answers find him. You wouldn't think this would be a popular approach with the investigators who find themselves working under his supervision. But Adamsberg's reputation precedes him, and within weeks of his arrival in Paris they witness some of his successes first hand, so they soon begin to embrace the man and his methods. When the mysterious blue chalk circles that have been appearing overnight in various districts of Paris prove to be not a prank but something more sinister, as Adamsberg alone suspected, and he and his team go out to investigate, we see this gradual embrace through the eyes of the more methodical and conventional Danglard:

Adamsberg had spoken without haste. It was the first time Danglard had seen him giving orders. He did so without seeming either self-important or apologetic about doing so. It was an odd thing, but all the inspectors seemed to be becoming porous, letting Adamsberg's way of behaving seep into them. It was like being caught in the rain when your jacket can't help absorbing water. The inspectors were becoming damp and without realizing it they were imitating Adamsberg; their movements were slower, they smiled more, and were absent-minded. The one most altered was Castreau, who as a rule liked the gruff, manly responses their previous commissaire had expected of them, the military commands barked out without any superfluous commentary, the ban on looking to either side, the slamming of car doors, the fists clenched in the tunic pockets. Today, Danglard hardly recognized Castreau. He was leafing through the victim’s pocket diary, quietly reading out sentences to himself, glancing attentively at Adamsberg, apparently considering every word.

Though the other police officers provide something of a contrast to Adamsberg, he is by no means the only eccentric character in the novels. The whole of Vargas's fictional Paris is a bit off kilter, full of odd characters and esoteric detail. In The Chalk Circle Man, prime among them is Mathilde Forestier, a famous oceanographer, who lives her life according to a rather original theory of the breakdown of the days of the week, and spends a good bit of her time tailing strangers around the city taking notes on their activities. She is drawn into the plot when one of the subjects of her scrutiny turns out to be the chalk circle man of the title.

I thoroughly enjoyed all of this, but I have to concede that The Chalk Circle Man is not as strong as subsequent books in the series. It suffers a bit from the first-in-a-series tendency to fill in the background with a lot of description, and I would rather simply watch Adamsberg's unorthodox methods of detection in action than be told about how his mind works. Also, although, given those unorthodox methods, logic and believability are rarely central concerns, the plot doesn't come together as convincingly or conclude as satisfyingly as in later installments. In fact, I'd say there's a gaping hole in the resolution of the central mystery. Nevertheless, I still recommend it. Even when not at her best, Vargas is still awfully good. And wherever you enter into it, her Comissaire Adamsberg novels comprise an excellent series that is well worth reading.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Library Loot 5: A Decidedly Swedish Flavour

This summer, I'll be visiting Sweden for the first time and, as I like to make at least a preliminary acquaintance with the literature of a new destination before embarking, Swedish titles are beginning to dominate my reading list.

I'm already quite well versed in Swedish crime fiction, and on the children's literature front, Astrid Lindgren is an old friend. But I want to venture into other literary realms as well and I thought that Literature in Sweden, a slim paperback reference volume, would give me some ideas. Here's the back cover description: "What's going on in contemporary Swedish literature? Are there any clearly marked trends or tendencies? What themes interest Swedish authors? This book presents a selection of contemporary authors with the emphasis on the 1980s and 1990s. In separate sections, three writers give their view of contemporary poetry, prose and drama."

I also consulted an online survey of Swedish literature that delves further back, and the name that jumped out at me was Hjalmar Söderberg. He's described as "one of Scandinavia's most prominent modernist authors" and the back covers of his novels are peppered with such words as stark, brooding, bitter, and tragic. How could I resist? I've chosen The Serious Game ("Set against the bustling cafés, newspaper offices, parks and hotels of Sweden’s capital city at the turn of the last century, The Serious Game tells a compelling story of love and delusion, passion and despair.") and Doctor Glas ("A masterpiece of enduring power, Doctor Glas confronts a chilling moral quandary with gripping intensity.") as my entry points into Söderberg’s oeuvre.

Back in the realm of crime fiction, I also picked up Kerstin Ekman's Blackwater ("On Midsummer's Eve, 1974, Annie Raft arrives with her daughter Mia in the remote Swedish village of Blackwater to join her lover Dan on a nearby commune. On her journey through the deep forest, she stumbles upon the site of a grisly double murder—a crime that will remain unsolved for nearly twenty years, until the day Annie sees her grown daughter in the arms of one man she glimpsed in the forest that eerie midsummer night."). This was the first of Ekman's novels to be translated into English (in 1995) but by then she had already been well known and her books much lauded in Sweden for decades, and I'm curious to check out some of her earlier books as well.

And finally, another crime novel: Camilla Läckberg's The Ice Princess, and I've ordered a copy of the follow-up, The Preacher, as well. Läckberg was already on my radar, but it was Dorte H. who rocketed her books back to the top of my TBR list when she mentioned that Läckberg is another Swedish writer who has referenced an Astrid Lindgren character (Ronia this time) in a contemporary crime novel.

I've got plenty to work with for the moment, but I would be very happy to receive recommendations of other Swedish writers whose work I ought to include in my admittedly sketchy and idiosyncratic crash course in Swedish literature in the months leading up to my trip.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Trick of It

I generally like to sort out my feelings about a book before posting on it here, but Michael Frayn's The Trick of It is due back at the library today, so this time you're getting my immediate response in all its ambivalence.

I found the premise of the novel irresistible: a young scholar meets and marries the novelist whose work is the primary focus of his academic career. This seemed to me a very clever way to explore the vexing interrelationship between fiction, biography, and literary criticism. And it was. But I'm not sure that the book ever transcended its premise to become something more than a clever idea.

Part of the problem may have been the structure of the novel. It takes the form of a series of letters from the narrator, who teaches at a university in England, to a friend and fellow literary scholar in Australia. So we are privy only to the narrator's version of events, indeed, only to the particular version of events he crafts for the benefit of a friend who he clearly seeks to impress and entertain. We never get an independent glimpse of JL, his novelist wife, or of their interaction with one another. As a consequence, neither she nor the narrator ever became fully realized characters in my mind.

But then—and here's where I begin to vacillate wildly in my assessment—perhaps that is as it should be. For if they were fully fleshed out, then the focus would be on them as individual characters and on their particular relationship rather than on the broader categories of literary scholar/critic and novelist which would surely dull the novel's satiric edge. Also, that the narrator's story of his relationship with JL is abroad in the world in the form of letters becomes important later when the spectre of biography arises.

Another facet of the book which could be regarded as a strength or a weakness is the humour. It's very funny at some points. By way of illustration let me offer up a paragraph that follows upon the initial seduction:

No, I shall certainly not post this letter. Now I know that you will never read it I can be completely frank. Because the terrible truth is this. It seemed to me, even as I broke it, that I had discovered a new taboo governing mankind, one which must have existed unknown since the dawn of time until I stumbled upon it yesterday evening — a taboo against intercourse with an author on your own reading-list. New to me, at any rate. I never heard lewd references to it in the changing-rooms at school, not even from Tony Gleat, who made obscene references to his own and other people's mothers. I have never come across it in Sophocles or the News of the World. This is worse than the love that dare not speak its name; this is the love that doesn't even have a name to speak. Somewhere in common or statute law there must be a distant parallel; illicit sexual relations with a reigning monarch, perhaps. Is it a taboo that you have ever come across? You have probably considered it no more than I ever did. Less, in fact, since your chances of sharing a glass of water late at night on a narrow guest-room bed with Goethe or Mörike down there in Melbourne are so remote. But when you think about it (as you suddenly are at this present moment, surely), when you think of your hand (yes, that hand, it doesn’t matter which — either of the hands with which you were so recently typing Goethe’s name in reverential tones) — feeling the irresistible smoothness of his knee … now sliding under his skirt … now reaching the lace trimming along the edge of his knickers ... then at once you feel (am I right?) the authentic shock of sheer moral horror.

But at other points the humour is so strongly reminiscent of such classic comic novels as Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim or David Lodge's Changing Places, that I found myself checking the publication date thinking it must be from an earlier decade. Now Frayn's characters are literary fellows of course, and a couple of times the narrator even refers to himself as "a comic novel." So perhaps these echoes are deliberate homage. Then again, perhaps they're just overly derivative.

So, I'm left undecided on the overall merit of The Trick of It. Nevertheless, I don't hesitate to recommend it. I found it very funny at some points, as I said, and surprisingly disturbing at others, but consistently thought provoking throughout.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Meeting Martin Beck


With their Martin Beck novels—a ten book police procedural series published between 1965 and 1975— husband and wife writing team Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö have been credited as the originators of contemporary Swedish crime fiction. Of course Sjöwall and Wahlöö weren't first to this genre in Sweden. But apparently their books marked a decisive shift from the British-style puzzle mysteries then predominant to a new kind of detective story in which the characters were more complexly human, the police work more realistic, and the plots focused on, and illuminating of, current social problems.

Having just read Roseanna, the first in the series, I can already understand why Sjöwall and Wahlöö hold this exalted status. Although, as noted above, it was originally published in 1965, it feels like an altogether modern read. It's clear from the details that it's set in another time—the men wear hats, everybody smokes everywhere, transatlantic communication is slow, and a good bit of the final resolution of the case involves waiting next to a telephone. But Martin Beck, the melancholic police inspector at the centre of the action, could easily have walked out of a 21st century crime novel. Of course, that familiarity is a testament to his influence and he's no less intriguing a character for it.

Interestingly, in an introduction to the edition that I read, Henning Mankell praises Beck and the books in which he features for the same qualities that I praised Mankell's Kurt Wallander series when I first encountered it. Mankell emphasizes Martin Beck's humanness and fallibility:

I haven't counted how many times Martin Beck feels sick in Roseanna, but it happens a lot. He can't eat breakfast because he doesn't feel good. Cigarettes and train rides make him sick. His personal life also makes him ill. In Roseanna the homicide investigators emerge as ordinary human beings. There is nothing at all heroic about them. They do their job, and they get sick.

He also remarks on the innovative use of time in Roseanna:

...let me say that it's probably one of the first crime novels in which time clearly plays a major role. There are long periods during which nothing happens, when the investigation into who murdered Roseanna and threw her into the Göta Canal seems to be standing still; then it may move a few centimetres before coming to a halt again. It's quite clear that for Martin Beck and his colleagues, the passage of time is both frustrating and a necessary evil.

This facet of the book really struck me as well. It seems to me a very difficult thing to convey the intermittent, slow, sometimes plodding quality of investigative work in realistic fashion without generating a slow and plodding reading experience. Yet Sjöwall and Wahlöö have accomplished the former here in a taut, gripping novel of little more than 200 pages.

Roseanna proved an excellent read, and I can't wait to begin on the other nine books in the series. I borrowed Roseanna from the library, but I've resolved to buy myself a copy of it and of the rest of the series as well, as I'm already quite sure that these are books that I'm going to want to own. Happily they all are, or soon will be, readily available in lovely paperback reprint Vintage Crime/Black Lizard editions, complete with introductions by such luminaries as Mankell (quoted above), Val McDermid, and Jo Nesbø.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Wallander on TV

I'm stealing a moment from my end-of-term grading to pop in here and give a quick heads up to fellow North American fans of Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander novels. The BBC television series based on the books is making its debut on this side of the Atlantic this month on PBS, with the first episode set to air this Sunday, May 10th. The series features Kenneth Branagh in the role of Wallander, something which I confess I'm rather dubious about. I admire Branagh's acting, but he's such a familiar face that I fear I won't be able to forget he's Branagh and embrace him as Wallander. Still, I've heard nothing but praise for the series since it originally aired in Britain late last year. And I gather that it was actually filmed in Ystad, Sweden, so it will be a treat to get a proper look at the landscape Mankell brings so vividly to life in the books. Check your local listings and tune in with me so that we can compare notes afterward! Click here for more information.