Final Curtain, by Kjersti Scheen

'I started writing crime fiction just as a bit of fun' said Kjersti Scheen in an interview. She is the Norwegian author of a series featuring private investigator Margaret Moss. She has written more than thirty books, mostly for young people, and is the author of an award-winning series addressing issues such as anorexia nervosa and teenage sexuality.

Final Curtain, by Karin ScheenFinal Curtain is the first Margaret Moss novel in a series that has won a loyal fan-base, particularly in Norway, Germany and Japan. Before she embarked on the project, Scheen immersed herself in work by contemporary female crime writers, an exercise that crystallized what she did and did not want to do.

'I decided not to be politically correct. The wisecracking anti-heroes of Chandler and Hammett with their weakness for dames and alcohol are dear to my heart. Moss like her old Renault, is somewhat the worse for wear. She often feels afraid, but her alter ego is hard-bitten and knows no fear.'

Margaret Moss, the main character in Final Curtain, has tried quite a few things in her life and hasn't really been able to settle down - being a PI at least means she is her own boss and can do everything the way she pleases. She is middle-aged, lives with her daughter Karen, and drives an old Renault.

In Final Curtain, Margareth is doing surveillance on the wife of a banker, who is sure she's having an affair, when an old friend from Margaret's acting days disappears. Her family asks Margaret to dig around and see if Rakel just has a new boyfriend or where she has gone. This is the main story of the book.

I thought the book took a little too long to really get started. But after several encounters with a group of young Neo-Nazi's; some sneaking around on rail lines, in ditches and through overgrown gardens; and assistance from a cute lorry driver, Margaret does finally get to the bottom of what happened to Rakel.

Final Curtain is an entertaining book. The plot is pretty good. The characters are likable and there are both humor and action in this crime fiction novel. However, there are flaws in the plot; not major, but a little annoying - some things are just a little too coincidental.

The translation of Final Curtain unfortunately is not very good. For instance, many of the things that Margaret’s daughter said were clearly supposed to be reflective of the speech of a teenager, but just sounded utterly ridiculous.

The Shadow in the River, by Frode Grytten

The Shadow in the River is a tale of The Shadow in the River, by Frode Gryttenxenophobia in a small Norwegian town. It takes place during a sweltering heat wave in the quiet, desolate town of Odda, located by a deep Norwegian fjord in western Norway. The author, Frode Grytten, is a journalist with Bergens Tidende, a newspaper in nearby Bergen. In 2005, he won the Riverton prize for his novel Flytande bjørn (not yet translated).

Robert Bell is also a journalist, a man with few illusions left. He drinks too much, drives under the influence, has an affair with his brother’s wife, and has a career that is going nowhere. He is smart, at times quite funny in a morbid way, and has a few soft spots. But he is not a very likable man, rather the opposite. Now he investigates the death of a local, who seems to have been murdered. Public opinion relates his death to a group of immigrant Serbs in the community. Apparently the young man had been arguing with them.. Bell’s brother Frank, the police officer in charge of the case, resents his interference.

For Bergens Tidende and other Norwegian newspapers the murder is of considerable interest. There isn’t much happening in Norway during the summer, and a murder, possibly with an ethnic twist to it, taking place in a small town like this, is an event of note. Naturally, the possible connection to immigrants and to xenophobia is an angle the newspapers find particularly interesting – there are some excellent headlines in an angle like that.

So Bell is under pressure from his newspaper to pursue that angle. However, he doesn’t really believe it to be relevant. The few facts that are known certainly do not support it. And Bell resents the fact that the media is stirring up racial tensions and making the community boil. And then Irene disappears -s there a connection between her disappearance and the murder? Robert Bell’s search for the truth uncovers unpleasant and dark secrets hidden in the little town.

The Shadow in the River is an interesting, quite dark and bleak crime fiction. It is an interesting thriller about ethnic conflict, greed and the role of the media. The translation by Robert Ferguson is good. It is a short and sweet book which I enjoyed and recommend.

Last Sermon, by P.R. Hatfield

When the mutilated remains of five women The Last Sermon, by PR Hatfieldare discovered in Central Park even the hardened hacks of New York's finest are shocked and appalled. It is immediately apparent from the medieval symbols branded on the bodies that there is not only a sexual, but also a sinister religious motive.

Jonathan Washberg, one of NYPD's most experienced detectives, realizes that the killer is not only depraved but highly organized and resourceful. It becomes a race against time to stop the sadistic and evasive madman who seeks to pass judgment on the city that never sleeps.

P. R. Hatfield lives with his wife, Ranveig, in a quaint village on the western coast of Norway.

This, however, is a brazen, self-righteous killer emboldened by his self-image as a lone crusader. More women disappear and there is a nasty surprise for Jonathan: the killer has found his Achilles heel: his daughter. Will they be able to catch the killer? Or will a legal nicety mean that the killer eventually finds a safe haven in the arms of the Vatican?

I really enjoyed The Last Sermon! The pace was relentless, the characters well rounded and the finer details well thought out. I was really gripped from page one. Lots of gruesome and gory details which I felt gave the novel some bite. I really felt afraid for the victims as the serial killer was so ruthless, so cruel and so thoroughly driven by his extremist agenda. It was quite a roller coaster with a surprise ending. Even at the end there was still some questions in my mind. I will certainly look out for more novels by this author as he really knows how to get the reader engaged. Well written and fresh!

PR Hatfield has crafted a pacy, cosmopolitan thriller which will not disappoint. Attention to detail and an ability to send an icy shiver up the spine with his descriptions, fill this thriller with suspense and bite. The Last Sermon is an exciting roller coater of a read.

Review by Lisa Gordon
The Writing on the Wall has been moved to the Gunnar Staalesen page!

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