Monday, June 29, 2015


My new review of Heda Margolius Kovály’s distinctive Czech crime novel Innocence is now live at The

Friday, June 19, 2015

An Irish book and a Swedish movie

Ken Bruen's Green Hell seems at first to be a series finale, but by the end it leaves open the possibility of future entries focused on his melancholy former Garda Jack Taylor. There's a lot of metafiction in it: an American student becomes fascinated with Jack and abandons his research on Becket to write a biography of the Galway private detective, and a good part of the first half of Green Hell is his research on the project. Bruen himself makes an appearance as a customer/drinker in a bar, and Iain Glen, who plays Taylor in the TV series based on these books, also makes a cameo appearance. There is a crime plot, but it mostly takes place offstage. There are some interesting characters, including Ridge, the female cop who's a running character who has survived (many haven't) and a new Goth who seems a bit modeled on the dragon-tattoo-girl (that seems to be the source of the U.S. cover art fro the book). And as usual there are a lot of references to and quotes from crime fiction and crime TV series.

But all of the above is finally subsumed in the same pattern as has appeared in all the Taylor books. The evocative writing serves to set up Taylor's rise from the gutter and his ultimate descent thereto. A regular reader will know immediately upon the entry of a new companion (canine) what the animal's fate is likely to be. I've read most, but not all, of the Taylor books, but I find myself reading them rather rapidly (they're short books, but also easy to cruise through at high reading speed), and growing impatient with the persistent pattern. If this is indeed not the last of the Taylor series, it may still be the last for me.

Johan Theorin's Echoes from the Dead is an impressive crime story set on the Swedish island of Öland that gives a reader a lot in the way of interesting and rounded characters, plus echoes of a larger frame of reference that is mythic or nonrational (without ever abandoning realism). The movie recently made from it maintains the emphasis on character but doesn't manage to convey the fairy tale or mythic quality of the book (maybe that sort of thing is difficult in a film format, unless you go all the way into horror of fairy tale territory). The story develops slowly in both formats, following a double story of a post-World-War II crime and its consequences in subsequent decades. There's a final twist that would seem to upend the life of the cenral character, a woman who lost her child decades earlier and must now return to Öland to help her father (whom she has always blamed for her child wandering away) close up his house after he has moved into a retirement home. But a code gives some consolation, so that the story doesn't end without a note of grace.

All in all, Echoes from the Dead makes a good movie, though a little less distinctive and involving than the book on which it's based.