Friday, March 23, 2007

Now, "that's" bleak ...

Well, not really, but Håkan Nesser's The Return is a bit bleaker than the same author's excellent Borkmann's Point, about which I posted here earlier this week.
Nesser has given the targets of the police investigation in this novel more desperate lives than their predecessors in Borkmann's Point, which he published a year earlier. (1994 for Borkmann's Point, 1995 for The Return. The English translations followed in 2006 and 2007, which makes one wonder why this splendid writer was not rendered into English earlier.) In addition, the lead investigator, Inspector Van Veeteren, struggles with a medical problem throughout The Return. (He survives.)
The tone here is harsher, the questioning of suspects and others more psychologically brutal than in the earlier novel. Yet there is precious little, if any, melodrama or self-pity in either book. It is characteristic also of Nesser's playfulness that even as Van Veeteren is laid up while the investigation progresses, he makes a sly reference to that other crime classic about a bedridden investigator, Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time.
Nesser may have refined his technique as a mystery writer in the interval between the two books. Van Veeteren's solution of the killings in Borkmann's Point has a faint whiff of cheating to it, which I can obviously not detail here. But please do not let this deter you from reading either novel. Borkmann's Point and The Return are not just two of the finer crime novels I've ever read, but two of the most distinctive.
And now Nesser had better get translation deals for more of his novels, or I'll have to start learning Swedish.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not reading your review as the book is not out here yet -- but I will save it on my archive so I can read it when I've read the book. I love to read reviews after reading a book (one reason I like Eurocrime). Strange of me, I know. But like you, I enjoyed the first in this series so am looking forward to The Return.

March 24, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

If your curiosity gets the better of you and you do decide to read my comment on The Return before you read the novel, there are no plot spoilers. Even if I were to reveal that bit of what I thought was cheating in Borkmann's Point, I really wouldn't be giving anything away.

I would like to bring it up, though, because it would make a good discussion question for crime/mystery readers.

Re translations of Nesser, Pantheon has published just two of the Van Veeteren books in English in the U.S. At least six of them have been translated into Dutch, on the other hand, which I found out because I've just started corresponding with a Dutch blogger on this pleasant subject.

I should check to see if there are any English versions of the Van Veeteren novels other than the two published by Pantheon.

March 25, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A new correspondent here (a blogless one), who very much enjoys the site.

Regarding translations, it's worth pointing out that an enormous amount of Scandinavian crime fiction (and indeed crime fiction in general) that hasn't been published in English has been translated into German. Including about 17 of Nesser's books.

As someone who reads a lot of crime fiction in German translation, it's generally quite good - and much better than waiting years for out-of-order Engish versions. Germans must be extraordinarily interested in "krimis"!

You can find a lot more information about Scandinavian fiction in German here:

(The site has no connection to me. It's just something I found when I should have been working on my PhD - and it's given me even more ways to procrastinate.)


March 25, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the kind words. I am about ten years overdue on a master's thesis myself, so I well understand the will to procrastination. If I can delay your Ph.D. just a bit -- even just a year or two -- I'll be happy.

I hadn't known that so much Scandinavian crime fiction had been translated into German, though I did notice that far more of Nesser had been translated into Dutch than into English. I guess those countries move more within one another's cultural orbits than any of them does within the American one, which is too bad.

And thanks for that link. I discovered some new names from just a quick glance.

If you read German and you like crime fiction, perhaps you've come across the great Friedrich Glauser:

March 25, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My PhD is in a German field, so perhaps I can delude myself that anything read in German counts as research!

I have indeed come across Glauser. I read his books in German several years ago, and also looked at the first in translation. It's an excellent version - and I do like the idea of Studer being more accessible. (I like him better than Maigret, who certainly hasn't suffered from a lack of publicity!)

There does seem to be a cultural affinity between Germany and Scandinavia, which may explain the extraodinary amount of work available. Swedish, Danish and Norwegian appear to translate stylistically very well into German. But there's so much from other cultures that has been translated - I've discovered quite a few obscure Italian authors, as well as some French works, and the standard hordes of American writers. However, there seems to be a lot less that was originally written in German, or at least less from the major presses and with large sales figures. I wonder if there's a cultural taboo there now about using certain key genre elements for enjoyment, given the past. A subject for further investigation, methings. A cursory glance has found me this:

If I ever get around to starting a blog of my own, I'd love to write a bit more about the obscure Scandinavians, Germans etc. Until then, I might lurk around here, if that's OK!

March 26, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...


I'm glad to learn that you liked the Glauser translation. Mike Mitchell has translated the four Studer novels published by Bitter Lemon Press Two more are to come). Not only do they read well in English, but Mitchell obviously had issues of standard German vs. Swiss dialect to deal with, and I thought he did so rather deftly. Not all translators can do this. Steven (?) Sartarelli does not always come up with good English prose equivalents for the dialect and slang in Andrea Camilleri's novels, for instance. Mitchell says interesting things about his approach to translation here:

I've seen the Studer-Maigret comparison before, but I never noticed any particular similarities until The Chinaman (Der Chinese). Studer has a sympathy for downtrodden characters in this book that is even more intense than Maigret's. One suspects that he was recalling some of his own unfortunate experiences as he wrote. I also like Studer better than Maigret, but then, I like Glauser better than just about any other crime writer I've ever read.

With respect to a lack of crime fiction from Germany, I read a blog comment recently (who knows? It might have been from you) that speculated on that very subject. This thoughtful person speculated that Germans, because of their disastrous transgressions of the last century, have been so respectful of law and right that they have hesistated to write about crime (A woman once barked at me HALT!!! IST ROT!!! when I tried to cross a deserted street against a red light in Berlin.)

If you read Italian, you might discover some authors on this site: The keeper of the site has filled it with biographies and bibliographies. And I am happy to have you lurk and even show yourself here, though I take no responsibility for any procrastination that ensues.

March 26, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lauren - yes I found that on holiday in Austria last year, lots more of the Ake Edwardson and Indridaarson books translated into German than are available in english. Unfortunately I only had the presence of mind to pick up 1 book in German, should have got more. And it probably isn't just Scandinavian crime either:- just yesterday I found a German translation of a non-series Vasquez Montalban thriller, the Quarter. I wasn't even aware that he had written any non-series books!

Maxine - yes, I also like to read reviews after the book - to see if other people thought similarly to me about the book!

March 28, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for joining the discussion, Laura. As it happens, I've just seen a list of your must-reads. It did my heart good to see Jean-Claude Izzo, Friedrich Glauser and Yasmina Khadra on the list. You're obviously a woman of taste and discernment! I've posted about all three authors at some length here. Feel free to browse; comments on old posts are gratefully accepted.

I found your comments about German translations interesting as well. I've read that English readers read a far higher proportion of translated crime fiction than Americans do, and it seems that continental readers may do the same as well.

I also like to look for books while on holiday. I discovered last year that Tunisia has not much of a crime-fiction tradition, for instance, but that same trip led me to The Tremor of Forgery, the first Patricia Highsmith I had read.

March 28, 2007  

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