Monday, September 26, 2011

Stefan Tegenfalk, Anger Mode

Stefan Tegenfalk's Anger Mode (recently published under the new Nordic Noir imprint in translation by David Evans) is sort of like a combination of Jussi Adler-Olsen's Danish crime novel The Keeper of Lost Causes (aka Mercy) and the novels of Swedish crime/thriller writer Leif GW Persson. Like The Keeper of Lost Causes, Anger Mode starts with a horrific car crash and proceeds according to the revenge motive of a survivor. Like Persson's novels, Anger Mode shifts from one set of characters to another and plays off the regular police against Sápo, the security police (and as in Persson's work and for that matter Stieg Larsson's, Sápo is both stupid--or at least so narrowly focused that they can't see the truth--and ruthless).

Anger Mode also has, like Adler-Olsson's novel, a detective who relies on unorthodox methods and a character from Syria whose name is a running joke (the Danish novel features a mysterious police contractor named Hafez el-Assad and the Swedish one has a criminal informant named Omar Khayyam). But like the most recently translated of Persson's novels, the detective has a young female partner who both struggles against and disproves the sexism of the police force.

The strength of Anger Mode is the plotting, which is devious and avoids the obvious (right to the end, which points to a pair of sequels). The writing (or the translation, and perhaps some Swedish speakers can help us here) is sometimes a bit wooden, especially in the dialogue (sometimes stiff and over-explaining rather than natural). The diverse characters have a bit more life and considerably more backstory than Adler-Olsson's, their individuality indicated by the narrator's comments but only revealed fully more slowly, by their actions. There's one character, a villain, whose total package of personality traits seems a bit strained to me: one moment he's an ideologue, the next a scheming embodiment of greed: it's not impossible that those elements could be combined in one character, but the shift from one to the other is a bit abrupt (and perhaps the two strains will join together later in the trilogy).

Anger Mode is long-ish (about 470 pages) but reads quickly (except for some of those turgid dialogue passages, and skimming over those speeds things up, after all). It's a worthwhile addition to the translations of the Nordic crime wave, though not among my top-ranked novels (and perhaps those who rejected my previous negative comments about Adler-Olsson will find even more to like in Tegenfalk's writing than I did). I'm simultaneously reading (or rather listinening to) Kate Atkinson's Started Early, Took My Dog, which is very well written and contains totally natural, believable dialogue--but in which things happen glacially rather than rapidly. I don't fault either Tegenfalk or Atkinson for their different aims and approaches, but perhaps there are some writers out there who combine their virtues?

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