Tag Archives: Denmark

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)

Continuing Love Affair With Literature From Cold Countries: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland


In 2012, I planned a trip to Stockholm. I had been reading Swedish police procedural and noir for some time and I had a lifelong fascination with Scandinavia, thanks to the Puck novels by “Lisbeth Werner”, a pseudonym for two Danish writers (who wrote novels for girls”).

In order to prepare for the trip, I came up with a reading list (see here). That was quite a lot of fun and very educational. I have continued reading a variety of authors from the region, expanding beyond Sweden.

The current to-be-read pile is quite impressive at this point, and I am hoping to get through some of it in 2017 (while most likely growing the pile in the meantime!).

Here we are in random order:

Aki Ollikainen. La faim blanche. (Finland)

Jonas Karlsson. La pièce. (Sweden)

Audur Ava Ólafsdóttir. L’embellie. (Iceland)

Carl-Johan Vallgren. Les aventures fantastique d’Hercule Barfuss. (Sweden).

Tarjei Vesaas. The Boat in the Evening. (Norway)

Tom Malmquist. À tout moment la vie. (Sweden)

Agneta Pleijel. Fungi. (Sweden)

Guđrún Eva Mínervudóttir. Album. (Iceland)

Tomas Espedal. Marcher (ou l’art de mener une vie déréglée et poétique). (Sweden)

Sara Lövestam. En route vers toi. (Sweden)

Audur Jónsdóttir. Tourner la page. (Iceland)

Eiríkur Örn Norđdahl. Illska. (Iceland)

Kim Leine. Les prophètes du fjord de l’Éternité. (Denmark)

Alexander Söderberg. The Andalucian Friend. (Sweden)

Lars Gustafsson. Bernard Foy’s Third Castling. (Sweden)

Kerstin Thorvall. Le sacrifice d’Hilma. (Sweden)

Anna Jörgensdotter. Discordance. (Sweden)

Per Olov Enquist. Le départ des musiciens. (Sweden)

Per Olov Enquist. Le second. (Sweden)

Per Olov Enquist. L’ange déchu. (Sweden)

Per Olov Enquist. La bibliothèque du capitaine Nemo. (Sweden)

Göran Tunström. La parole du désert. (Sweden)

Göran Tunström. L’oratorio de Noël. (Sweden)

Göran Tunström. Le voleur de bible. (Sweden)

Göran Tunström. De planète en planète. (Sweden)

Jón Kalman Stefánsson. Entre ciel et terre. (Iceland)

Jón Kalman Stefánsson. La tristesse des anges. (Iceland)

Jón Kalman Stefánsson. Le coeur de l’homme. (Iceland)

Jan Guillou. Les ingénieurs du bout du monde. (Sweden)

Kristina Ohlsson. The Disappeared. (Sweden)

Anne B. Ragde. La tour d’arsenic. (Norway)

Insane, you are thinking? Nothing like a list to make that quite obvious, I say. And the authors are still mostly from Sweden, which somewhat surprises me… It was hard to tell without making the list. That is 31 books, some of which are sizable tomes and/or challenging reads.

Please do let me know if you have any other suggestions for the future. I doubt the obsession will ever abate.

The Visit of the Royal Physician, by Per Olov Enquist


This is my second book by Per Olov Enquist and I do have a third one awaiting me on the bookshelf, which I very much look forward to reading. I have already read Lewi’s Journey (see my comments HERE) and I thought it was a difficult book to read. Not so with The Visit of the Royal Physician… It was thoroughly enjoyable, a very engaging read.

The plot: This is a historical novel. We are in the 1760s in Denmark. The king dies and the new king, Christian VII, is really not up to the task. He is very young, terrified of most social situations, and extremely easy to manipulate. The skillful politicians at court do that. The king is married off to the young sister of George III of England. The king decides to go on a grand tour of Europe. The hidden purpose is to find a prostitute he had become attached to who has been exiled by one of his senior advisor in order to get rid of her. A medical doctor is hired to accompany the king on this tour and to take care of him. Upon their return to Copenhagen, the doctor stays on as a senior advisor to the king and rapidly acquires more power than others at court. The medical doctor was called Struensee. His greatest fault may have been his desire to effect change by following the ideas of the enlightenment and to have been guided by them in his policy-making. This creates him many enemies. He also becomes the lover of the queen and they produce a daughter together. One senior court advisor and the queen mother devise a coup to get rid of him and this ends with his beheading and the exile of the young queen.

Enquist uses the same devices in this writing as I saw in the first book I read. He teases the reader by frequently announcing that some piece of the plot can be used to explain subsequent events without specifying which one. This helps carry the plot forward and gives it a sense of urgency. He also uses some amount of repetition throughout the text. He repeats some expressions, or restarts the telling of an incident by using the same words but then describes a different aspect of it. I love the rhythm of his writing.

The intensity of this “court drama” based on a real-life story makes it compelling reading. There is certainly no need for added fantasy like what is found in George R.R. Martin… Reality does make a great story and the novel form enables the author to speculate about emotions and intentions.

King Christian VII has been described as mentally ill, or as a “half-wit”. What Enquist describes is not a lack of basic intelligence, but an inability to deal with social situations, difficulties in managing anger and frustration and an inability to “read” social situations. The metaphor that he uses is that of the theater. The king can “learn his lines” and interact with others in highly scripted situations but finds himself unable to “improvise”. He is correspondingly terrified of the unknown and of ambiguity. The author also repeatedly describes a concern with being an imposter, with having been born a peasant child and having been put in this role of a member of the royal family has a mistake. This is used as a way to manifest a desire for greater freedom that that allowed in his role as a royal.


Enquist, Per Olov. The Visit of the Royal Physician. Vintage: 2003. (Original publication in Swedish in 1999)

Superb translation by Tiina Nunally.

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