Monday, 9 February 2009

Three mysteries in translation. . .

It's been one of those weeks when my brain has been feeding on nothing but crime novels. So I managed to fully complete one of the categories in my Lost in Translation reading challenge, by devouring three mysteries in translation. And I can highly recommend them all.

Bernhard Schlink's bestselling book The Reader has been in the news a lot lately given the movie's Best Picture Oscar nomination and all the accolades and acting awards coming Kate Winslet's way. I also enjoyed Schlink's recent novel Homecoming which covers some of the same themes of second generation Germans trying to grapple with their Nazi past. Self's Punishment by Schlink and Walter Popp, translated by Rebecca Morrison, is the first in a series of crime novels featuring Gerhard Self, a man in his late sixties who also has to deal with a personal shameful episode stemming from the war. It is many years later, and he is hired to investigate a possible security breach at a local factory run by an old friend. Just when he thinks he has found the man responsible, a murder ensues, and the case becomes far more complicated. Of course I won't give it away, but the ending was shocking and unconventional for a mystery novel. I very much liked the character of Self - he's self-aware and self-effacing - and I look forward to reading more of his adventures.
I've been a big fan of Fred Vargas for a few years and love her Commissaire Adamsberg mysteries. My favourite so far has been Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand, mainly because it was partially set in Canada and featured a terrifically improbable but no less brilliant and original take on how to foil the police and exit a country via a major international airport without detection. I've just finished her latest to appear in English - The Chalk Circle Man, translated by Siân Reynolds - even though it actually is the first Adamsberg book she wrote (don't you just love how translation decisions are made?) This doesn't really pose a problem as all her books read perfectly as stand-alones and can easily be read out of order. It's nice to go the beginning however - Adamsberg has just arrived in Paris and his new colleagues are eyeing his methods rather suspiciously. Still, he knows that there's something sinister behind a series of blue chalk circles that show up on Paris sidewalks during the night. Each has the same engimatic quotation written around its edge and contains a seemingly innocuous object in the center. Until one night a murdered body is found in one of these circles. And then another. Vargas excels at interesting, quirky characters - suspects and members of the police force alike - and her plotting is second to none. She's probably my current favourite among contemporary mystery writers. I loved this book!

I also enjoy Nordic crime novels and my newest fave is Iceland's Arnaldur Indridason. His latest is Arctic Chill, translated by Bernard Scudder and Victoria Cribb. His detective Erlendur, must surely be the gloomiest of all the fictional sleuths working the bookshelves, and probably the only Icelander who has ever preferred the winter to the summer (Iceland only gets about two or three hours of daylight during the winter). He has problems with his estranged grown-up children, a complicated love life, and an unhealthy obsession with missing persons reports, stemming from a childhood trauma when his younger brother disappeared during a blizzard and was never seen again. This latest mystery touches on some of the current racial problems facing many Scandinavian countries as immigrant workers try to integrate into society despite language and cultural barriers. A young Thai boy is found murdered near his apartment building and in searching for his killer, Erlendur comes up against these racial tensions. It's an apt title - the identity of the killer truly is chilling. This is the fourth Erlendur mystery that I've read and I think it's the best one so far. I look forward to seeing if (and how) Indridason deals with Iceland's current bankruptcy in future novels.
Time for a break from mysteries now - I feel the classics calling to me.

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