Swedish Book Review: Crime Fiction Special on Kerstin Ekman

Ekman 1Alerted well in advance by Simon Clarke, and via a generous complimentary copy given to Karen of Euro Crime (one for each of us!) at the London Book Fair, I have spent the past couple of weeks browsing through and enjoying 2010's first issue of Swedish Book Review, a crime fiction special. Swedish Book Review takes a literary perspective of the genre, focusing on Kerstin Ekman. I read Ekman's novel Blackwater a year or so ago, on the basis of a recommendation in the back of one of the Martin Beck novels of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. I did not review the novel, however, because I didn't feel I really "got" it all, with its in-depth portrait of an isolated, traditional community as well as the shifts in time (the two main sets of events are 18 years apart, but we don't realise this until some way into the book) so one often did not quite know where and who one was reading about. It is a very sad book, though, in that one of the people who is murdered is a character I grew to like. Since then, I learned from Dorte that Blackwater is about a place and characters that featured 
Ekman 2in previous books by the author (not translated into English), which explains some of my confusion if not all of it. And recently, I learnt that Bernadette began the novel but did not review it, either.

So, with this background I was intrigued by the focus on Kerstin Ekman in the magazine. Translator Anna Paterson writes a lead article (p 3) on Kerstin Ekman and Swedish crime, in which she briefly covers the author's first seven novels, beginning as "playful but conventional variations on the classical detection theme" but (the last four) showing "many signs of departure from the riddle-solving, retributive approach". The only one of these seven translated into English, by Joan Tate, is Under the Snow (1961, tr. 1996), the story of an isolated rural community in the far north of Sweden, "its people held captive by landscape and circumstance. A precise knowledge of place confers originality on an otherwise straightforward story about a murder intended to cover up an inconvenient fatherhood." Anna Paterson identifies Death Knell (Dodsklockan, 1963), a story about elk-hunters in a forest community, as the most prescient of the author's later work.

The author then moved away from this type of novel, and Anna Paterson analyses Ekman's place as a 
Ekman 3major literary figure, which began with a quartet written under the main title of The Women and the Town (1974-1983). Ekman returned to the crime genre much later with Blackwater (1993, tr.1995, also by Joan Tate), again set in the far north and involving themes of the invasion of industrialisation and how this affects the old ways of life. A subsequent crime novel is Revive Me (1996), taking a somewhat different path with the theme of "crimes against humanity". Anna Paterson writes: "As in so many of Ekman's novels, a crime infects the body of the story, but we are never quite sure what happened – let alone why." Then, from 1999 to 2003 (so actually after Blackwater, not before, I think), she wrote the Wolfskin trilogy, set in the countryside around Blackwater and following the fates of a group of people over two centuries, showing how old practices have become crimes as the wilderness was tamed. One crime haunts the narrative and is a core element of the trilogy (only the first novel in this set, God's Mercy, has been translated, by Linda Schenck). 

Ekman's most recent novel is The Practice of Murder (2009), "the story of a doctor who, driven by his 
Ekman 4egotistical longing for recognition, kills to rid himself of an odious senior colleague and at the same time protect an adorable girl from the old man's disturbing attentions."

Other articles in the Swedish Book Review feature translations of extracts of some of these works by Ekman, by Rochelle Wright, Sarah Death, Linda Schenck and Anna Paterson. The novels are: The Practice of Murder, Scratchcards, Revive Me and Devil's Horn. One can only hope that these extracts will attract attention and encourage a publisher to produce English language editions of these novels, one day.

There is more about Swedish crime fiction by other authors in the rest of the magazine. I may return to these in a future post.

You can subscribe to Swedish Book Review here. I'm going to.

Among many other literary works, Anna Paterson has translated one of my very favourite crime novels, which I highly recommend:  Missing by Karin Alvtegen.

Read reviews of Blackwater at DJ's Krimiblog and  The World of Books .


9 thoughts on “Swedish Book Review: Crime Fiction Special on Kerstin Ekman

  1. Maxine: Thanks for the heads-up about the SBR/Ekman special. I think that actually the newly translated God’s Mercy is the first of the trilogy that ends with Blackwater (the central novel not yet translated).

  2. Thank you for an excellent post about Kerstin Ekman!
    And you are right that I got it wrong about the trilogy and Blackwater: Ekman wrote Blackwater first, but in my opinion it would be somewhat easier to understand it if you read the trilogy first. It would also make sense as God´s Mercy begins in 1916, the second volume takes place in the late 40s and the third volume in the 70s.
    And as I have said before, these books are not crime, but they are wonderful literature about a number of strong women.

  3. Thanks, Glenn, very nice to see you here. Yes, God’s Mercy (1999) is the first in the trilogy (according to the SBR). According to Anna’s essay notes, the other two are The Last Log (Sista rompan, 2003) and Scratchcards (Skraaplotter, 2003).
    Dorte – that makes total sense – the trilogy was written after Blackwater but takes place in time before it, hence explains it (if you can read Swedish!). So you and Anna Paterson are both right 😉

  4. Maxine – Thanks for this tip about SBR. It sounds like a very good resource, especially for people like me who are pitifully, painfully and woefully under-read in that area of fiction…

  5. It does seem strange that books are translated out of order because it can’t possibly give a true indication of people’s interests in the author. For now I will have to read all the other Swedish crime writers on my shelves. The new(ish) Johan Theorin arrived yesterday so I shall be getting stuck into that one as soon as I can.

  6. I like to read God’s Mercy, Ekman is one of my favorite writer.
    I read him many times. recently I read an online article about Ekman’s God’s Mercy.
    glad to see the next creation of my favorite writer on my favorite topic.

  7. Excellent, very enlightening post. I was not aware of the changes in style in focus that you describe here 🙂

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