Gary Guinn

Literature of the Ozarks

Tag: Nordic Noir

Review: Sun and Shadow, by Ake Edwardson

Overview Cover photo of Edwardson, Sun and Shadow

Sun and Shadow, the first Detective Erik Winter novel by Swedish writer Ake Edwardson to be translated into English (1999), is a dark psychological mystery that chronicles two grotesque double murders and the exhausting investigation that follows. The plot is complex, and it delivers the build-up to a suspenseful ending.  (See review of The Preacher, by Sander Jaboksen)

Edwardson’s Style: Dialogue, Description, Verbs, Filtering

Dialogue-

Edwardson’s style is literary. The writing is strong, especially the descriptive language and the dialogue. After Detective Winter visits his father, who has just had a heart attack and with whom Winter has had a strained relationship, he tells his lover, Angela, about it:

“ What was it like, seeing him again?”

“As if we’d been chatting only last week.”

“Sure?”

“Depends what you mean. We spoke about safe subjects.”

“Everything takes time. He has to get better first.”

“Hmm.”

“Are you tired?”

“Not so tired that I can’t indulge in a glass of duty-free whiskey. What about you?”

These spare conversations, circling around a subject like a dance, are common. In effect, dialogue carries the narrative.

Description-

Edwardson avoids extensive descriptive passages that tend to slow the narrative movement. Yet often the descriptive language is strong. Here is an example of a strong and spare description:

“It was night in the apartment, no lights burning anymore. A standard lamp had been on all day, but the bulb had gone. As dawn broke, autumn sidled in through the venetian blinds and a roller blind in the bedroom let in patches of light.”

I would quibble with a couple of things (pet peeves of mine) in Edwardson’s style. (I should add here that it’s entirely possible that the first of these problems results from translation and may not exist in the original.)

Verbs-

First, Edwardson works the poor, overused verb “to be” to within an inch of its life, both as the main verb in a sentence and as the helping verb used with a main verb in the “–ing” (progressive) form. I’ll italicize examples in the following short paragraph to demonstrate:

“Winter was walking along the Ricardo Soriano. It was evening again. He went into the cerveceria Monte Carlo and ordered a glass of draft beer at the bar. The place was full of men watching a football match on a large screen. Real Madrid versus Valladolid. He drank his beer and felt comfortable among all the shouting. There were no women inside the bar. They were sitting at tables on the pavement outside, waiting for the match to end and the evening to begin.”

Five “to be” verbs in a short paragraph. The problem: All these “to be” verbs kill the immediacy of the reader’s experience of what happens. Compare the following possibilities: “Winter walked along  . . . “ or “The bar overflowed with men watching . .” or “All the women sat at tables on the pavement outside . . .” Revising “to be” verbs into action verbs is a staple of good writing.

Filtering-

My second quibble: Edwardson tends to filter sense experience instead of giving it to the reader directly. Here’s what I mean. Detective Winter goes into a bar, and the narrator tells us: “Winter could hear people speaking Norwegian, Swedish, and German.” The readers should experience the bar, not have Winter experience it for them. It would be easy to revise this passage to say, “People at the tables around him spoke Norwegian, Swedish, and German.” That way the reader experiences the polyglot with Winter instead of being told that Winter experienced it. This kind of filtering is too common in the novel.

Summary

Okay, with all that said, this book was a good read. I recommend it, especially for fans of Scandinavian crime fiction. It’s a strong example of the genre. The complex plot builds slowly and in the end delivers a powerful, driving finish.

 

 

The Preacher: Nordic Noir in Clear Prose and Diffuse Plot

The Preacher

The Preacher, a Nordic Noir mystery/thriller by Dagmar Winther and Kenneth Degnbol, a.k.a. Sander Jakobsen, offers a beautiful prose narrative. Not surprisingly for Scandinavian crime fiction, the style leans toward the literary. It tells the story of two murders, each of a woman, apparently unrelated. As the police draw closer to solving the first, they realize the second is indeed closely related. 

Style:

Cover image of Nordic Noir novel The Preacher

The novel opens with the murder of the wife of the vicar of a small Danish village. The writing is evocative throughout. After the investigative team has finished their work, “Then, once again, calm spread its wide blanket over the vicarage.” And as the vicar stands looking over the disarray, “His body had sensed and recorded it, the distance to reality dulled by death itself.” He walks around the house observing all the little memorabilia of his dead wife. They are like “treasures in a museum, when Karen’s death in small incomprehensible bits invaded and claimed him.” The style here reminds me of Thomas Enger in his novel Cursed (See my review here).

Characters:

The main characters—Thorkild, the vicar; Frank, the brother of the second murder victim; Birgitte, the old girlfriend who moves in with the vicar to take care of him after his wife’s murder; and Thea, the detective from Copenhagen, who is drawn into the case emotionally as well as professionally—are well developed, very human, and sympathetic. The reader pulls for them, identifies with them.

Point of View and Plot:

If I have complaints about the novel, they have to do with point-of-view and plot. The point-of-view is third person subjective, alternating between all the main characters and even some of the lesser ones. As a result, the reader struggles to find a sympathetic center. The title, The Preacher, leads the reader to assume that the vicar is intended to be that center. But, in fact, the detective, Thea, often steals that role. The problem becomes that none of the characters take control of narrative perspective. In the end, the point of view is diffuse and unsatisfying.

This diffuse p.o.v. reflects, and to some degree creates, a diffuse narrative structure as the novel attempts to juggle and maintain several competing plot lines—solving the first murder, solving the second murder, the relationship of Thorkild and Frank, the relationship of Thea and Thorkild, and the role of the killer in all of these. I began to feel like a ping-pong ball, going back and forth, never landing on a narrative thread I could anchor everything to. The title role of the novel—the role of “Preacher”—can ultimately apply not only to the vicar, but to Frank, who preaches an angry laissez faire philosophy, or to the killer, who “preaches” a Nietzschean doctrine of the Superman. At times the “preaching” overcomes the narrative drama.

BUT, in spite of all this, I consider the novel a good read. The problems are technical, and perhaps my pet peeves, rather than total failures in the story.

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