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Archive for the ‘Sweden’ Tag

A Swedish Mystery With Plenty of Light   Leave a comment

Image result for still waters book

Still Waters by Viveca Sten is part of the Sandhamn Murders, a Swedish series set mostly on an island near Stockholm. It’s often safe to assume that when the words murder and Sweden appear in the same sentence a dark, somber mystery is in store – the kind that makes you want to keep a light on at night. Sten’s novel breaks the mold, sort of.

Forget the gloom typically associated with Scandinavian who-dunits: Sandhamn is a coastal resort and in a part of Europe where the sun barely disappears from view.

Thomas Andreasson, a detective in Stockholm, grew up on one of the small islands of the archipelago of which Sandhamn is a part. He’s assigned to investigate what initially appears to be an accidental drowning. However, when the dead man’s cousin also turns up dead on Sandhamn, Thomas – and the reader – know this is no mere coincidence.

Along with the detective is his childhood best friend, Nora; she’s a married lawyer and mother of two young sons. The friendship is platonic, although marital issues between Nora and her husband surface. The characters are likable and engaging, but the deaths of the cousins are less compelling. Sten does little to create tension as Thomas works to solve the case. The single event designed to keep one on edge is, unfortunately, predictable.

The only real grit comes from the constant references to the sand. Nonetheless, Still Waters makes for a good summer read with no worries about locking doors or having a night-light.

Still Waters
Three-and-three-quarter Bookmarks
Amazon Crossing, 2008
434 pages

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A Man of Character   2 comments

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This is a good time of year for a heartwarming story, even a predictable one. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman fits the bill.

Ove is a Saab man. He’s not employed by the Swedish automaker, he’s loyal to it. It’s his gauge of measuring a person’s character (in Ove’s world it usually applies to men). Ove is all about character. He raises his eyebrows at those who drive BMWs or Audis; he tolerates Volvos.

Set in his ways like a train on a track, Ove only cares about his route. Except, anyone sharing his path must abide by the same rules he does. He doesn’t necessarily set the directives only that he follows them to an extreme.

At times funny and sad, Ove’s story is initially about his decision that it’s time for his life to end. Of course, this is no laughing matter, but humor surfaces as life intervenes in his efforts to take action. Distractions get in the way. He must contend with neighbors, a stray cat, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and his wife Sonja.

Set in Sweden, Backman alternates chapters to reveal Ove’s past and its impact on the present. It’s easy to visualize Ove as a grumpy old man, although he’s only 59; it’s also not difficult to see, or at least initially suspect, there’s more than meets the eye. It’s most evident in his love for Sonja. What happens comes as a surprise to Ove and the reader.

A Man Called Ove
Three and three-quarters Bookmarks
Fredrik Backman
Atria Books, 2014
337 pages

Picture Perfect Cuisine   3 comments

Erik menu

Our Swedish hosts are practically family; several years ago their son lived with us for a school year as part of an exchange program. He became my Swedish son. We stayed in touch; they’ve visited us twice since Pete was with us. Our trip was a chance to see the places we’d heard about; his parents wanted to treat us to a surprise, in addition to graciously opening their home in Gothenburg and showing us the sites.

The surprise was a two-day trip to Stockholm topped off with a special dinner at Erik’s Gondolen, known for its 33-meter high view of the harbor and fine cuisine. Neither aspect disappointed. As previously noted, dining companions always add much to the experience.

Erik hake

The Pancetta Wrapped Hake was too difficult to resist. The mild, flakey fish wrapped in bacon featured soft-as-butter scallops floating in a pea and parsley cream surrounded by a subtle artichoke foam. It was almost too artistic to eat. Almost.

Erik fish casserole

Gondolen’s Classic Fish and Shellfish Casserole was reminiscent of cioppino, a fish stew. Two orders of the Fried Rack of Lamb with Brisket Sausage completed our order. As much as enjoyed one another’s company, we spoke very little while eating. Our server recommended spot-on wines to pair with our dishes.

Erik lamb

We easily could have left after finishing our entrees, but cloudberries called. These amber-colored, raspberry look-alikes were tart and nicely complimented by house-made vanilla ice cream.

Erikcloudberries

The memories include the view, the food and the friendship.

Stockholmviewii

Erik’s Gondolen
Five Plates
Stadsgården 6 (Slussen)
Stockholm 104 65
Sweden

Shrimp in Name Only   Leave a comment

heavensign

Panoramic views of Gothenburg (on Sweden’s west coast) competed with high-wow factor platings at Heaven 23. The majority of the dishes coming out of the open kitchen featured the King Size Deluxe. This is a monster serving of shrimp piled tall on greens, hard boiled egg, slices of cucumbers all hiding what must have been a scoop of mayonnaise topped with dill. Oh yeah, this all sat on a thin piece of bread.
heavenshrimp

Four of the six at our table ordered this house specialty, which is a spin on the open-face shrimp sandwiches sold throughout the region. None of those versions come close to Heaven 23’s in size, presentation or flavor combination. According to our server, each serving contains 200 grams of the hand-peeled arctic shrimp; that’s almost half of pound! Ironically, the large portion was inspired by the U.S, where almost anything is available in a super size.

The menu describes the shrimp as prawns, but these are small, slightly sweet and remarkably tender. We had two renegades at our table: one ordered the risotto and the other the lamb. I tasted the former, which was chewy and rich with asparagus. The plate for the latter was in danger of being consumed because of the desire to eat every last bite.

heavenrisotto

Our experience was enhanced by the friends with whom we shared our meal. Good conversation tested our efforts to leave as little of the shrimp as possible. This was, indeed, quite a challenge, but a very tasty one.

Heaven 23
Four-and-a-half Plates
Gothia Tower
Massans Gata 24,
Gothenburg 412 51, Sweden

Cold Crime   Leave a comment

 

The Ice Princess (Fjällbacka Series #1)

Camilla Lackberg’s The Ice Princess is my recent discovery in Scandinavian crime genre. She’s touted as Sweden’s version of Agatha Christie. While I might not go that far, I did enjoy the mystery set in Fjallbacka, a Swedish fishing village turned tourist community north of Goteborg.

It’s no surprise that within the first few pages a body, an apparent suicide, is discovered. The twists come in the form of small town connections. Erica, the second (living) person on the scene is a childhood friend of the victim, Alex. The two had lost touch with one another long ago, but Erica has fond memories of their friendship.

Erica, an author of biographies, is asked by Alex’s parents to write what amounts to an expanded obituary. They are convinced Alex did not kill herself. The more Erica learns of her estranged friend, the less likely it seems that Alex would have taken her own life.

Plenty of characters populate Lackborg’s novel, and surprisingly few are extraneous. Besides Erica, a major player is Patrik, a local police officer. They, too, had known each other as kids. As a boy, Patrik was enthralled by Erica. Alex’s death brings them together in more ways than one.

Lackberg doesn’t rely on the mystery; she includes romance, domestic violence and long-held secrets. The result is an engaging story that moves at a comfortable pace. It’s not necessarily a rapid-page turner, but is likely to keep you reading later at night than you might like.

The Ice Princess
Four Bookmarks
Pegasus Books, 2010
393 pages

Frozen Days, Nights and Hearts   Leave a comment

The images of a very pregnant police investigator and the frozen tundra evoked the movie Fargo. However, these are the only similarities with Asa Larsson’s Sun Storm. Larsson, no relation to Steig of the Dragon Tattoo mysteries, has crafted a novel rich with imagery but lacking in true suspense.

Rebecka Martinsson is a tax attorney in Stockholm called home to Kiruna, in northernmost Sweden, to help a friend suspected of murder. The gruesome, ritualistic crime takes place in a church run by the pastors who long ago banished Rebecka from their community. The back story, including the strained relationship between Rebecka and Sanna, more a former friend than a true one, fill most of the pages. What’s noteworthy is how compelling this is. In fact, at several points it’s easy to forget a murder investigation is underway, or that a threat has been made against Rebecka.

Larsson’s writing is stark, like the landscape of which she writes. Yet, it is easy to imagine the corrupt church leaders, their disappointed wives, the aggrieved Sanna, and a friendly neighbor. Rebecka is both insecure and confident. She tries hard to maintain an emotional distance from the area she was forced to leave. These very efforts make her interesting, but not altogether warm and engaging.

The only completely likeable character in the bunch is Anna-Maria Mella, the female investigator. It turns out, she actually is somewhat like the Frances McDormand role in the Coen Brothers’ film: intelligent, caring and ready to give birth.

Sun Storm

Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Delta Trade Paperbacks, 2007
310 pages