Day 1103: A Man Called Ove

Cover for A Man Called OveI avoided reading A Man Called Ove for some time, because I had a feeling about what kind of book it would be. But my curiosity won out. Sadly, I was right the first time.

This is another one of those novels I put under the “heartfelt” category. Not that there is anything wrong with something that is truly heartfelt. But I think there is a rash of novels like this lately that manipulate us into sentiment.

Ove is a sad man with many tragedies in his life, which he handles by presenting a curmudgeonly exterior. Most recently, he has been given early retirement six months after his beloved wife Sonja died. He decides his life has no purpose.

The plot of this novel is predictable, as Ove gets pulled out of his self-absorption by the troubles of various neighbors and acquaintances. All of these characters are stick figures, and Ove himself only has two sides to his character. In fact, he is really just a caricature of a grumpy old man, as I can’t imagine there is actually anyone on earth this extreme.

The novel is supposed to be funny, but the humor is forced and cumbersome. And we’re supposed to find it funny that Ove’s repeated attempts at suicide are always interrupted by his neighbors. Ha ha. As you can tell, this one was not for me.

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Day 1027: In the Month of the Midnight Sun

Cover for In the Month of the Midnight SunI enjoyed Cecilia Ekbäck’s first novel, Wolf Winter, very much, so I was delighted to hear that her second was out and ordered it right away. This novel is also set in the Lapland area of Sweden, near the fictional Blackåsen Mountain, but it takes place about 75 years later, in 1856.

Magnus Stille is an administrator at the Bergskollegium, the Swedish Board of Mines. His father-in-law, who is also the state minister of justice, asks him to travel north to investigate a situation that has developed. Three men have been murdered, apparently by a Lapp. The minister wants to make sure the murder is not related to a Lapp uprising, which could put a huge mining agreement in jeopardy.

At the last minute before Magnus leaves, the minister asks him to take along his sister-in-law, Louisa. Louisa has gotten into some kind of trouble, and her father is apparently throwing her out of the house.

These two characters act as narrators of the novel, along with Büjá, an older Lapp woman who is grieving for her husband. Also speaking at times is Nila, Büjá’s dead husband.

Magnus has not been asked to go all the way to Blackåsen Mountain, but when he meets the Lapp, he is not sure he believes he is the murderer. So, he decides to walk all the way to the remote village. Once he gets there, he feels there is something terribly wrong at the foot of the mountain.

Like Wolf Winter, In the Month of the Midnight Sun features tension between the native ways of the Lapp and the settlers’ Christianity. It also has a supernatural element to it. The unusual setting makes these novels really interesting, as does Ekbäck’s talent for depicting her characters.

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Day 1022: The Girl Who Played with Fire

Cover for The Girl Who Played with FireHaving started this series with the last book, I am finally finishing it with the second. As with the original Larsson trilogy, this graphic novel begins to get into the conspiracy by SAPO to criminalize Lisbeth Salander.

Lisbeth is on vacation on a tropical island after the events of the first novel. Mikael Blomkvist and his magazine are working on an issue about human trafficking with Dag Svensson. Meanwhile, Mr. Bjurman, Lisbeth’s guardian, is trying to figure out a way to control her.

Lisbeth has returned home when Dag Svensson and his girlfriend are found murdered. Also dead is Bjurman, and evidence links Lisbeth to the murders. Lisbeth realizes that all this is pointing back to her past, and she must follow clues while a huge manhunt is going on for her.

Despite being the transitional second novel, this one is engaging, with a lot going on. The art is just excellent. Even though the graphic novels are taken from a hefty series, these writers and artists have managed to condense the Millenium trilogy into an effective series.

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Day 986: The Lost Boy

Cover for The Lost BoyI’ve been inconsistent in reading Camilla Läckberg’s Fjällbacka series, mostly because I realize they are not actually very well written. Läckberg still has trouble producing anything resembling snappy dialogue, and her writing is cliché-ridden. (At least her characters have stopped slapping their foreheads.) Still, she manages to come up with some fairly inventive plots, and her main characters, Patrik Hedström and his wife Erica Falck, are likable and appealing.

I liked The Lost Boy a little less than I have some of Läckberg’s other novels, even though it features ghosts, which is usually a plus. I think one reason is that a major plot point is telegraphed by the title. What is supposed to be a big surprise at the end was something I guessed very early on.

Nathalie has undergone some traumatic experience. We don’t know what it is, but it involves blood. She has fled with her son Sam to an island off Fjällbacka that is owned by her family. It is called Gräskär, but the locals call it Ghost Island.

Nathalie’s high school boyfriend Matte has also returned to the area. When he hears Nathalie is there, he takes a trip out to the island. Nathalie feels reassured by his presence, and they spend the night together. When she awakens, he is gone. A few days later, he’s found shot to death in his apartment.

Patrik is back to work after health problems and the funeral of Erica’s sister Anne’s baby. Erica is coping with newborn twins, Anne’s own children, and Anne’s depressed withdrawal.

In Denmark a woman is in hiding from her abusive husband. Slowly, the police discover possible links between Matte’s previous work for a women’s refuge and his murder. But then, why is a bag of cocaine in the trash outside his apartment?

link to NetgalleyAlso, there is a huge new spa soon opening in town. There is some sort of scam surrounding this project. Matte was the project economist and had some questions about the finances.

Again, I liked this novel more than I wanted to, especially as the lives of several of the regular characters seem to be descending into soap opera. Still, Läckberg hid the identity of the murderer from me until late in the novel.

This book has strong themes about the abuse of women. In fact, that has been a theme since early in the series, when Anne was married to an abusive husband, but it is even stronger here.

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Day 801: Wolf Winter

Cover for Wolf WinterBest Book of the Week!
It is 1717. A few days earlier, Maija and her family arrived at their new home on the side of Blackåsen Mountain in the Lapland area of Sweden. They moved away from Finland because Maija’s husband Paavo, formerly a fisherman, began to see dead men in the water. But here on the mountain he is ineffective and frightened.

Maija’s daughters Fredericka and Dorothea are out with the goats when they find the body of a man. Although the nearby settlers are quick to claim an animal attack, it is clear to Maija that the man, Eriksson, was killed by a person using a lance. She has already felt an unease on the mountain and believes they must find the murderer. Unfortunately for the search, Eriksson seems to have been disliked by all.

Maija’s family has had some experience with the older ways, even though they are forbidden by the church. Fredericka, however, was being instructed in them by her grandmother without her mother’s knowledge. Fredericka finds herself being haunted by Eriksson, who wants her to find his murderer, and tries to seek help in the supernatural from the Lapps.

Another important character is the new priest for the region. He comes to visit the area and tries to help with the investigation. At first, he seems cold and unready for a position in such a wilderness. But he is actually bewildered. He was a court priest and a friend to the king until he was abruptly sent away from court.

When the snow comes early and kills the harvest, Paavo decides to travel to the coast to earn some money. Maija is left to struggle through a particularly harsh winter with the girls. There are wolves on the mountain, and some of the settlers believe the mountain itself is evil. No one has found Eriksson’s killer, but Maija is still looking.

link to NetgalleyThis novel creates an atmospheric, fully realized world that captured me from the first words. Although it is centered around a mystery, it is just as successful as a historical novel, with a touch of the mystical, set in an unusual place and time. You can easily imagine the cold and hardships. This novel is excellent.

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Day 768: The Asylum

Cover for The AsylumJohan Theorin takes a step away from the island of Öland, the setting of his previous novels, to present this even darker thriller. Its main character is Jan Hauger, a young man whose version of events isn’t always to be trusted.

Jan is  a child care worker who takes a job at a preschool attached to a mental asylum. The preschool is for the children of the inmates, to allow the children to see their parents regularly. Although Jon cares about the welfare of the children, it is clear early on that he has other reasons for being there.

One thing we soon find out about Jan is that as a young man he kept a little boy captive for several hours. We don’t learn why for some time.

Jan has an interest in getting into the asylum, for he believes a woman he once knew as a girl is inside. He has been captivated by thoughts of her for years. Soon, he finds there are ways into the asylum from the preschool.

The asylum has some famous inmates, the most renowned of whom is the serial killer Ivan Rössell. When Jan accepts an unauthorized but seemingly harmless task of secretly delivering mail into the asylum so that the guards can distribute it to the inmates, he finds that Rössell gets the bulk of this mail. But Jan also sees a way to get a message to his friend.

As Jan’s story emerges in three different time streams, we begin to feel his judgment may be impaired. There is something dangerous going on that he is unaware of. As usual, Theorin’s book is atmospheric and compelling.

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Day 750: The Quarry

Cover for The QuarryThe Quarry is the third of Johan Theorin’s dark novels set on Öland, an island off the coast of Sweden. The Quarry is more of a traditional mystery than my favorite of these novels, The Darkest Room, but it does have uncanny overtones.

Gerloff is an old man who has talked his family into releasing him from a retirement home so that he can return to his cottage in Stenvik near the quarry. Nearby, in the house that belonged to his friend Ernst, is Per Mörner, who inherited the house from Ernst.

Per has just had a run-in with another neighbor, Max Larsson, who almost hit Per’s son Jesper with his car. But Per has much more to worry about. His 13-year-old daughter Nilla is in the hospital with an aggressive cancer.

Per is trying to visit the hospital, but his father Jerry keeps calling him. Although Per has kept his distance from his father, who is a notorious pornographer, he has had to help him sometimes lately since he had a stroke. Jerry has difficulty talking and no use of one arm. When Per finds his father at his studio, he has been stabbed. Upstairs the house is on fire, and he realizes there are people in the rooms that he can’t get to. He is just able to get his father and himself out and thinks he sees a man leave the property.

The police find two bodies in the house—that of Hans Bremer, Jerry’s partner, and a woman. When Per asks Jerry who stabbed him, he answers “Bremer,” which doesn’t seem possible as Bremer died upstairs in the fire. Soon, both Jerry and Per begin receiving anonymous phone calls.

As new neighbors, Max and Vendela Larsson decide to throw a party for the little enclave above the quarry. Vendela is actually a local girl whose family held some secrets, one to do with the quarry.

The mystery concerns why someone is going after people associated with Jerry’s old porn business, which Per begins to investigate. But the diaries Gerloff’s wife left behind also help solve a mystery about Vendela’s family.

If you decide to read any of Theorin’s novels, I think you’ll find them difficult to put down. He has a way of building atmosphere around the history and landscape of the island, and his characters are interesting. These novels are worth searching out.

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