In a very special guest post from our friend and fan of the website, Marc Harries, we get to find out what he suggests are the best Nordic reads of 2021, carefully selecting one from each country.
Winner: The Rabbit Factor
by Antti Tuomainen
The Rabbit Factor is the latest release from Finnish author, and winner of 2020’s coveted Petrona Award, Antti Tuomainen. Translated into English by the ever-superb David Hackston, The Rabbit Factor tells the story of Henri Koskinen, an insurance actuary with an obsession for that which can be meticulously calculated.
When his brother Juhani unexpectedly passes away, Henri inherits not only an adventure park named ‘YouMeFun’ but also its eclectic workforce and its issue-ridden, and not always above board, balance sheet. Before long a number of suspect individuals (and that’s putting it politely) arrive on the Park premises demanding reimbursement or at least a pathway to reimbursement; that pathway of course complete with unattractive and wholly unrealistic rates of interest.
Alongside the criminal activity, we are exposed to a ‘will they, won’t they’ romance between Henri and Park Manager/wannabe artist, Laura. As a man used to spending his days surrounded by formulae, figures and spreadsheets, Henri soon finds himself dealing with emotions and feelings; neither of which can be all that easily input into Excel! But how does it all end? That of course, is not for me to say.
I had the pleasure of meeting Antti in February 2020 as part of the Orenda Roadshow. He spoke about his decision to move away from his earlier darker novels (still well worth reading by the way!) to those that, whilst still macabre in parts, bring in dark humour, wit and comedy. He went on to add that he initially held concerns as to how well Finnish humour would translate but its safe to say he needn’t have worried!
The good news as far as The Rabbit Factor is concerned doesn’t end there. It is in fact on its way to the big screen with the loveable Henri to be played by none other than Steve Carrrell.
Winner: Girls Who Lie
by Eva Björg Ægisdóttir
Girls who Lie is the second novel in Eva Björg’s ‘Forbidden Iceland’ series to be translated into English and follows 2020’s opener, ‘The Creak on The Stairs’; itself the deserved winner of both The Storytel Award for Best Crime Novel and The Blackbird Award for Best Icelandic Crime Novel. Set, once again, in Akranes and with Police Officer Elma returning to taking centre stage, ‘Girls Who Lie’ is an at times disturbing, consistently tense and twist-riddled page turner that had me gripped from the very start.
The book begins in a maternity ward with a particularly short chapter introducing us to an anonymous and clearly struggling new mother apologising to her newborn child for them having been unfortunate enough to be born by her. Fast forward not only a few pages but also a few years and
the story quickly shifts to the disappearance of depressed, alcoholic and suicidal single mother, Marianna who, having left a note prior to her disappearance, is assumed to have taken her own life. That conclusion is blown out of the water when not long after her body is found in lava fields with it being abundantly clear that all is not that straightforward.
As the story develops and the case becomes increasingly complex we gain insight into Marianna’s difficult past and her relationship with her daughter Hekla. Eva Bjorg expertly switches between the present and the past and when they catch up to each other; wow, just wow. The question is, will Elma solve it before it’s all too late?
You Might Also Like:
Nordic Watchlist’s interview with Eva Björg Ægisdóttir.
Despite only having a population of around 365,000 people, Iceland is a driving force in crime fiction with the likes of Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Ragnar Jonasson, Arnaldur Indridason and Lilja Sigurðardóttir all consistently producing award-winning, page-turning, literary brilliance. There can be no doubting that Eva Björg is already deserving of being mentioned in the same breath as Iceland’s finest. The third book in the series is due for English release in 2022 and, I for one, cannot wait.
Honourable Mentions: The Doll by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, and Cold as Hell by Lilja Sigurðardóttir
Winner: Anxious People
by Fredrik Backman
Fredrik Backman is a genius. There I said it. I have not yet come across another author able to elicit such extremity of emotion from me. I’ve shed tears at the, sadly personally relatable, ‘And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer‘ and cried very different tears at his latest release, and the one I’ll be talking about here, ‘Anxious People’ (coming to Netflix on December 29th!).
The book is equal parts hilarious, ridiculous, thought-provoking and heart-warming. The premise is a bank robbery gone wrong that shortly afterwards results in eight attendees at an apartment viewing being held hostage. Between them, at least on the surface, the eight couldn’t be more different but as the story develops it becomes clear that they all have one thing in common; they’re human.
The longer the hostage situation carries on, the deeper and more profound the secrets disclosed within the apartment get and ultimately the bank robber is left with somewhat of a conundrum; exit the apartment and face the police now surrounding it or stay put and deal with the increasingly agitated combination of a retired Ikea-loving couple, a wealthy bank director only visiting to see how the poorer half live, the young lesbian couple soon to be new parents and the endearing 80-year-old Estelle who has lived long enough to be markedly unimpressed by all that’s going on.
I can guarantee that you will be able to resonate with either one particular character or with bits of pieces of a number of them and it is that inherent ability to make one self-reflect that makes Backman a master of his craft.
The third book in his ‘Beartown’ series was released in Sweden earlier this year and is due for international release throughout 2022.
Honourable Mention: The Last Snow by Stina Jackson
Winner: The Butterfly House
by Katrine Engberg
Following on from her incredibly successful 2020 debut ‘The Tenant’, Katrine brings us the second in her Kørner & Werner series in, ‘The Butterfly House’. For those unlucky enough not to have read The Tenant, let me quickly introduce the feature characters; Jeppe Kørner, reeling from a divorce and forced to move back in with his mother is a murder investigator in the Copenhagen police. His partner, in work sense alone, is Annette Werner though she herself is also reeling having just given birth following an unexpected and very much unwanted pregnancy.
The Butterfly House begins in the cardiology department of Copenhagen’s National Hospital. An unnamed nurse approaches an elderly patient and injects him with an overdose of the heart medication, ajmaline causing instant death. Five days earlier, in the early hours of the morning, a young paper-boy finds the naked body of a female, face down, in Copenhagen’s oldest fountain. On forensic inspection, her arms have been marked with small incisions. The cause of death? Desanguination; her body had been slowly drained of blood.
Kørner leads the investigation but a longing for work and a return to normality leads to Werner doing some investigating of her own. As the bodies continue to mount up, it is vital that one of them connects the dots before it’s all too late.
The third book in the series, The Harbour, is due for UK release in March 2022 and is already on my pre-order list!
Winner: The Seven Doors
by Agnes Ravatn
The Seven Doors is the second of Agnes’ novels to be translated into English and follows her impressive 2016 opener ‘The Bird Tribunal’ (worth buying for the cover alone!). Set in Bergen in the midst of winter, The Seven Doors centres on a university professor, Nina, her doctor husband, Mads and their headstrong daughter, Ingeborg.
When the latter’s home succumbs to silverfish and Nina and Mads’ own property (and Nina’s childhood home) is scheduled for demolition they are left at a slight crossroads. Their only real choice is to move into a property left to Mads by his Aunt; the problem being it’s currently rented out to single mother Mari and her young son. The story really gets going when, shortly after asking Mari to leave, she disappears without trace leaving her son behind.
The police soon become involved but dissatisfied with their lack of progress Nina takes it upon herself to begin her own investigation; an investigation that leads to her uncovering information that brings with it consequences for both her and her immediate family.
The Seven Doors offers a nice change of my pace from my usual reads and some would probably describe it as a ‘slow burner’. For me the slower pace works perfectly here. You can feel the tension bubbling away under the surface as chapter and chapter the story starts to unravel. That coupled with the superbly described landscapes leads to an incredibly atmospheric piece of work that I managed to finish in a little less than 48 hours. I only hope we don’t have to wait another four years for Agnes’ next book.
Guest Feature by Marc Harries
All these great books are available now from the usual stores, including our friends at Orenda Books.