A Scandinavian Trio


In the past week, I’ve needed some fun reading to escape from the continuing annoyance of too-slowly healing over-extended knee ligaments and the major heat wave that has been plaguing our area. Hence the plunge into Nordic fiction.

So, many thanks to Net Galley and the publishers for making said reading available at just the right time.

While I read that these authors have been published and have a following, I was only familiar with Gunnar Staalesen, having read one book previously. Not much compared to what is available… All three books were fun reads with many twists and turns, interesting well developed characters (with warts and all), and very different social contexts.

The first one I read is The Night Ferry, written by Danish authors and set in part in Denmark. Set in 2010, it starts with a strange incident during which a man jumps onto the deck of a ferry, kills the captain and some passengers, jumps into the water and swims away. The boat steers onto the path of another ship and sinks, killing a group of Japanese schoolchildren. The investigators seek to figure who the man was, who was his intended target, and the reason behind the dreadful incident. Well, that would have been too simple… The investigation unearths a much more complex series of connected events that take the investigators to Bosnia, to an observation post that had been manned by Danish soldiers and was informally called “Little Denmark”. And they eventually find the links to a previous murder in Denmark, the death of a mentally damaged veteran, and the obsession of a young police officer murdered on the deck of a ferry. Detective Chief Superintendent Konrad Simonsen and his team struggle with the complex case as well as their own emotional response to the events, and some attempts at sabotaging their investigation.

My second pick was Big Sister. This novel features the work of Varg Veum, Staalesen’s Bergen-based social worker turned PI. He is around 60 years old, fit but obviously not in special-forces kind of shape. He does get into a fair bit of trouble, suffers a major concussion, but recovers quite quickly. The trigger for his multi-faceted investigation is a visit from an older sister born out of wedlock and given up for adoption. While he had been aware of her existence, he had not ever contacted her. Once over the initial shock, he starts enjoying getting to know her. She had come to ask him to help find the daughter of a friend who had moved from her island home to Bergen on the Norwegian coast to study in a nursing program and has suddenly disappeared after moving out of the apartment she shared with two other students. Varg’s sister is not the only big sister in the book and the other secondary “big sister” plot takes Varg on the investigation of a long-ago sexual assault and gets him in trouble with a criminalized biker gang. In the end, he does find the missing woman, but loses his newly found sister to an accident, finds that he may also be an illegitimate child and uncovers a strange website that leads unmoored desperate people to make suicide pacts.

Tonight, I finished The Ice Swimmer, which I read the fastest because I could hardly put it down. It was originally published in Norwegian in 2011 and just recently translated. In this book, we follow the tribulations of Lena, a police officer who struggles professionally as well as personally. She gets involved with an attractive investigative journalist during the investigation of two suspicious deaths that turn out to be linked. And the plot follows the convoluted actions of journalists, politicians, lobbyists, government officials, agents from the secret police in their attempts at uncovering information, preventing or creating a scandal, getting annoying people out of the way (in all sorts of ways), in order to uncover a connection between a state pension fund and business dealings involving a phosphate plant in occupied territories in Western Sahara that may conflict with Norwegian policy. All the while Lena has to deal with a breast cancer diagnosis and a difficult relationship with her mother.

After this crime reading binge, I will probably get back to some more nerdy fiction or literary nonfiction… who knows what will jump at me next.


Dahl, Kjell Ola. The Ice Swimmer. Orenda Books, 2018. (coming out Oct. 1)

Hammer, Lotte and Søren. The Night Ferry. Bloomsbury, 2018. (came out July 3)

Staalesen, Gunnar. Big Sister. Orenda Books, 2018. (coming out Sept. 1)


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