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Updated Sunday, February 10, 2013 at 09:15 AM

A bookshelf of new Nordic noir

By Adam Woog
Special to The Seattle Times

Crime fiction

If dreary winter nights are getting you down, maybe some hair-of-the-dog crime fiction from someplace really chilly — the Nordic region — will help.

As Helene Tursten’s“The Golden Calf”(Soho, 338 pp., $26.95, translated by Laura A. Wideburg) opens, Detective Inspectors Irene Huss and Tommy Persson of the Göteberg, Sweden, police are calling on a murdered rich guy’s widow. She’s an obvious suspect but is nearly mute, even if providing an alibi might exonerate her.

The case soon gets shockingly tangled. For one thing, the couple’s marriage was a sham, and the rich guy was not the biological father of their infant son. There’s also a link to the murders of two men with close ties to the widow. All of these figures were part of an international financial scandal a few years previously. One key player in that affair is now missing. And then there’s the rich guy’s first wife, who died while sailing — was it an accident?

Tursten has overloaded her plot, and readers may need score cards to keep things straight. Luckily, Huss and Persson are empathetic and attractive characters, willing to take the extra step to navigate the case’s Byzantine complexity.

It’s summer in Sweden in Inger Frimansson’s “The Cat Did Not Die” (Pleasure Boat Studio, 302 pp., $18.00 paper, translated by Laura A. Wideburg) — so it’s not literally cold. But the atmosphere in this intriguing psychological thriller is still seriously frigid.

An emotionally threadbare couple has retreated to their summer place, grieving over the deaths of premature twins. Thinking she’s protecting herself against an intruder, the woman kills a simple-minded local man and the terrified couple buries the body. When the woman begins having intense panic attacks, the reader’s feeling of dread deepens, aided by Frimansson’s deadpan, rather formal prose.

Local connection: Laura A. Wideburg, the translator of both books, lives in Seattle.

Over in Finland, homicide detective Kari Vaara returns in “Helsinki Blood”(Putnam, 320 pp., $26.95) by James Thompson, an American and longtime resident there.

Vaara, violent and unpredictable, is not doing well. He’s in agonizing physical pain from his last case. His beloved wife has deserted him and their infant daughter. Not to mention that bad guys are after the fortune that Vaara and two colleagues have stolen. (No one ever said that Vaara’s an angel.)

Keeping the cop’s world from falling apart is his loyal posse of friends. They rally round to care for Vaara and the baby and find his wife. Meanwhile, Vaara privately takes on the case of an Estonian girl who may have been lured into the sex trade — a job that he hopes will absolve him of previous sins and win his wife back.

And then there’s Iceland, the home of Thóra Gudmundsdóttir, an attorney starring in Yrsa Sigurdardóttir’s“The Day is Dark”(Minotaur, 384 pp., $15.99 paperback, translated by Philip Roughton). The book, published for the first time in America, lacks fully developed characters, but Sigurdardóttir presents an absorbing, unhurried plot and writes eloquently about her unforgiving, eerily beautiful setting.

A motley search team is headed to remotest Greenland, where two Icelandic mining engineers have disappeared. Among the rescuers is Gudmundsdóttir’s banker boyfriend, whose employer is associated with the engineering firm.

He talks Thóra into coming along, and she finds no shortage of unanswered questions. Are the disappearances connected to another recent disappearance in the region, or to the long-ago and unexplained vanishing of a small community nearby? Why do the hostile locals think that the engineers’ camp is cursed? Will the alcohol-fueled bickering among the team reach a tipping point? And could one of them be hiding an explosive secret?

Adam Woog’s column on crime and mystery fiction appears on the second Sunday of the month in The Seattle Times.










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