Bleaker than bleak

For some reason, it took me ages to read Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. I’ve been told it’s been very popular in book groups and it’s been shortlisted for a few literary prizes. It was one long read, but not because it was boring or dreary, far from it, I had settled into a reading malaise and just didn’t read very much.

Cover of Burial rites

This is Hannah Kent’s first novel and it is based on fact. Burial Rites tells the story of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last person to be put to death in Iceland, in 1829.

A servant with a past as bleak as an Icelandic winter, Agnes is found guilty for her part in the murder of two men, one of whom was her employer and in the book, her lover as well.

The author has used a great deal of factual information and certainly done her homework to make details as accurate as possible, but also filled in the emotional details and made a sympathetic case for Agnes’ innocence with fictional aspects. Agnes is regarded still today in Iceland as an evil woman of almost witch-like proportions.

I loved the book, it was very evocative of the landscape, time period and people, and Agnes became very real to me, a woman whose circumstances overwhelmed her control over her own life and future. Knowing it was based on a person who existed and met such a tragic end, made it all the more riveting.

Since becoming obsessed with Vikings through the television series, and Danish crime dramas such as The Killing, The Bridge and Borgen, anything set up there in the cold Northern climes piques my interest. The intense, dark and never ending winters, the hard lives and meagre existences hold a great deal of fascination.

I look forward to Kent’s next book.

Zen Doodling and Murder – Holiday Heaven

I thought my holidays would be filled with reading, gardening and wondrous dinners out. How wrong I was. Instead it was filled with Zentangles, cleaning out cupboards, a sojourn to Timaru and the third season of The Killing. cover of the joy of zentangle

I first came across Zentangles through a library blog, thanks to tazliz. I dutifully put my name on the holds list and received a copy of The Joy of Zentangle right smack in middle of my break.

I’ve found it to be just as described. Relaxing, easy, cheap and as challenging or simple as you want it to be. I’m not sure I’ve reached any zen state while doing it, but it is a great way to unwind. You feel no pressure to create a masterpiece, but you can really get into it and try more and more complex designs and ideas. I love the concept that there are no mistakes and if you mess something up, you just work out a way to disguise it or incorporate it into a new design. It’s very portable and I’ve brought it to work to do in my lunch hour as well, so my reading is even more neglected.

The Killing, a Danish murder mystery series, has gripped me from the very first episode of the very first season, and I’m now two thirds through the third and final season. The Library collection has all three seasons. The first season, an epic 20 episodes, had  more twists than an extremely twisty thing, and this season, mercifully only 10 episodes, is just as tangly.cover of The Killing

The Danes appear to love their politics, so there is a healthy mix of mystery, mayhem and political intrigue, and it got me hooked on all things Scandinavian with subtitles. I’m thinking about reading the book by the same title by David Hewson. I’m unsure though as it was based on the series as an afterthought, so may not live up to expectations.

Mind you, with all the Zentangling going on, it might be a while until I get to it anyway!

What great books did you read over the holidays, or did you get side tracked?

Cold crime

CoverIf you think our winter has been unreasonably cold, consider Scandinavia and Scotland. Perhaps the reason their crime authors are so prolific has nothing to do with any criminal propensities, but is simply down to the need to entertain themselves during long gloomy winters.

I certainly find I enjoy reading their ice-bound stories during winter. I can imagine myself there better when there is frost on the ground. And reading the details of life in the freezer makes me feel I’m not so hard done by.

Having read my way through such Scandinavian authors as Henning Mankell, Karin Fossum and Ake Edwardson, I am now reading Camilla Lackberg’s offerings. They have a cosy domesticity to them that nicely counters the frozen landscape, along with excellent characterisation and absorbing mysteries.

I may, I fear, run out of Scandinavian authors soon. Happily though a seemingly endless supply of new Scottish writers still awaits me. Even Ian Rankin has recently promised that he is bringing back Rebus soon for an encore. Having found myself in a queue for the Scandinavian authors I am hoping I can beat the rush by signing up to some not quite so heavily reserved Scottish authors such as Gordon Ferris, Tony Black, Karen Campbell and Louise Welsh.

Scotland has so many mystery writers that it recently launched a Scottish crime book festival. Sadly I won’t be attending, but their website is a great source of information about Scottish crime writers and if you can’t find a good Scottish read on our book list, try their website for ideas.