Crime-fiction columnist Adam Woog shares two Nordic crime-fiction standouts.
Nordic crime fiction continues to be perennially popular and first-rate, with good reason. Case in point: “The Reckoning” (Minotaur, 384 pp., $26.99, translated by Victoria Cribb) is the second in a trilogy by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, generally acknowledged as Iceland’s premiere crime novelist. At the heart of this complex, nuanced tale are a police detective and a psychologist called simply Huldar and Freyja.
The cop and the psychologist, who specializes in troubled youth, investigate a bizarre circumstance: murders predicted by an unsigned note in a time capsule buried a decade earlier by teenage students. Worse, the note spells more death, and the case leads to a horrific pattern of past childhood trauma.
Sigurdardottir has remarked that the book was inspired by a real event, but notes that Iceland is still remarkably safe: “This is annoying for me as a crime writer because inspiration cannot be sought from the bungling idiots we call criminals here.” She relies instead on her formidable imagination.
The banter between Huldar and Freyja, who share a messy romantic past, balances the book’s gravity with humor. That said, this book is not for the faint of heart: “The Reckoning” is dark, grave and graphic — but also gripping and compassionate.
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Like “The Reckoning,” Swedish writer Helene Tursten’s “Hunting Game” (Soho, 289 pp., $26.95, translated by Paul Norlen) is a solid and absorbing story. It combines elements of typical police procedurals with those of classic “country-house” tales (think a limited number of suspects, isolated setting) and a hint of romance. Detective Inspector Embla Nystrom is on vacation, participating in a long-held tradition: an annual moose hunt that brings her family and friends together in Sweden’s deep woods. Joining the usual guests is an enigmatic newcomer, and another hunting party is in the same area.
Inexplicable things happen as the hunt begins, culminating in two events: a death and a disappearance from among the other party’s wealthy participants. Long-simmering revenge, the reader knows, is behind the crimes.
Tursten takes her time staging the story, focusing on fine descriptions of her rugged setting and the engaging, tough young detective. In this book, bad things happen more to animals than to people, so critter lovers beware — Tursten’s descriptions of the hunt and related violence are seriously explicit.