Reviews by David Steinberg

Just when I thought I had read all of Henning Mankell’s crime novels, I find one I hadn’t cracked – Mankell’s “Firewall.” It’s one of his Kurt Wallander police procedurals that simultaneously, fluidly, explores larger societal issues while solving murders.

I happened onto a copy – the 2004 Vintage Books’ English translation – and within a few days finished it. Loved it.

Mankell, who is Swedish, is one of the top dogs of contemporary Scandinavian crime fiction.

Since I’m always on the lookout for crime novels from that region, I am thrilled to advise that there’s a young Danish female crime novelist with a new book I recommend. Her name is S.J. Gazan and her recently published book is titled “The Arc of the Swallow.” (Quercus)

Set in present-day Copenhagen, this novel, like Mankell’s, is not simply about crime. A death is the spark of the story; the hanging  of the eminent, single-minded scientist Kristian Storm. Storm’s death is officially considered a suicide. Pursuing separate, unofficial investigations are a devoted student of Storm’s, Marie Skov, and a detective who chafes at the bureaucracy, Soren Marhauge. Both begin to think Storm was murdered.

Set in present-day Copenhagen, the novel, like Mankell’s fiction, is not simply about solving crimes. Gazan’s novel probes the influence of pharmaceutical companies on supposedly independent drug research and the power of the World Health Organization over vaccines. Indeed, Storm’s team’s research in the African country of Guinea-Bissau concludes that the DTP vaccine (for diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough) has a negative impact on the immune system, causing a rise in child mortality rates. If his study’s conclusions become public, it could undermine one drug company’s millions in profits, the reputations of WHO and of some scientists.

Other occurrences in Guinea-Bissau – the strange death of a Storm colleague, the sabotage of research data, property damage – force Skov and Marhauge to be seek justice.

At the same time, Skov wants to continue her mentor’s research. However, she must deal with breast cancer.

The novel also takes the reader inside the family life of Skov and Marhauge. Skov is a young mother and wife. Marriage lives with a young, beautiful woman, helping her raise her daughter.  There is yet another layer of exploration: Skov’s and Marhauge’s families have lived on the same block.

These multiple layers of storytelling form a dramatic structure that is easy – and exciting – to follow.

“The Arc of the Swallow” is an great read and a welcome addition to the body of writing known as Scandinavian crime fiction.  Gaza’s previous (and award-winning) crime novel is “The Dinosaur Feather.”   

Let’s move from Denmark to Germany for more new crime fiction. Sascha Arango’s debut novel “The Truth and Other Lies” (Atria Books) hits the street June 23. I read an advance copy.

It’s an edgy nail-biter about a duplicitous fellow named Henry Hayden. He’s a celebrated novelist. But he keeps secret the true authorship of his popular books. His wife knows, but she’s a hermit and doesn’t care if she doesn’t gets credit. Not even his editor knows the truth. His editor, as it happens, is also his mistress and she is carrying his baby.

Therein lies the love – and the literary – triangle that turns murderous. Are the local cops smart enough to figure out Hayden’s next moves and motives? Will a man from Hayden’s youth be wise enough to reveal the truths of Hayden’s past? The conclusion is surprising.

Does the name John Sandford ring a bell? If you haven’t read this American’s bestselling crime novels, then you could start with his newest book, “Gathering Prey.” (Putnam) It is the 25th in his “Prey” series featuring very cool police detective Lucas Davenport. In this latest installment, Davenport, who works for the state of Minnesota, is brought into uncovering a web of criminality involving a nomadic people who are known as Travelers. Davenport travels (in his Porsche or Mercedes Benz SUV) outside of of his jurisdiction to track down a particularly evil band of Travelers who murder innocents without cause. The band has been operating under the radar in California and now in the upper Midwest, in the Dakota, Wisconsin and soon in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Sandford’s has a knack for writing propulsive, gritty prose that grabs you from the get-go. Here is the opening page: “Skye saw the devil go by in his ’85 T-top, crooked smile, ponytail, twisty little braids in his beard. His skinny blond girlfriend sat beside him, tats running across her bare shoulders like grapevines, fretted filed to tiny sharp points. Skye turned away, a chill running down her back.”

Need another recommendation for Sandford fan? Ask Stephen King: “If you haven’t read Sanford yet, you have been missing one of the great summer-read novelists of all time.”

Sandford, by the by, lives in Santa Fe.

Advertisements