Saturday, March 3, 2007

Bulletin: Crime In Translation

I say "Bulletin," because I'm probably going to be doing this every once in a while. I am big into crime in translation, even above and beyond Crime & Punishment.

This week I finished Åsa Larsson's latest, The Blood Spilt. Larsson is Swedish, and her first book, Sun Storm, was excellent; in it, a young lawyer gets caught up in the aftermath of a ritualistic murder that occurs in a church in her rural home town. This time, however, is totally different--the same lawyer accidentally gets caught up in a completely different ritual murder in a church, this one a few towns down the river from her rural home town.

No, really. Wacky coincidence, huh? Surely the next book won't be...

But to help her friend, and to find the real killer of a man she once adored and is now not sure she ever knew, Rebecka must relive the darkness she left behind in Kiruna, delve into a sordid conspiracy of deceit, and confront a killer whose motives are dark and impossible to guess ...

That's the blurb for Larsson's next book, and I don't know if I'm terribly interested in returning to Kiruna with Rebecka, to be honest. I was certainly happy to be there with her this time, though--The Blood Spilt is a fine book. Larsson is essentially a literary novelist disguised as a crime writer; you should read this book not for the plausibility of its plot but for its small, careful observations of small town life. I wish more American crime writers would take this tack--crime is a social and psychological phenomenon, the result of friction between the individual and the society, not some Lord-Of-The-Rings-style battle between good and evil: literary fiction is the perfect vehicle for it.

The other thing I've been enjoying--I'm about halfway through--is Natsuo Kirino's Out, which Junot Diaz recommended to me a couple of weeks ago when he was in town. It's the story of four women who work together at a boxed-lunch factory in Tokyo; when one of them murders her abusive husband, the others help out by chopping him up and distributing the pieces all over town. It's a hideously gruesome book, and the writing is nothing special...but its portrayal of Japanese working-class life is stunning, and unique among books I've read. These women have to change their mother-in-law's diapers, fend off credit agencies, talk rapists out of attacking them, and endure the demeaning insults of their depressed husbands as they cover up the murder; the shrewdness of their deception is only possible because they've sharpened their chops fending off a society that despises them. Heavy going, but fascinating.

I posted this early by mistake--sorry if you saw it getting cut off in mid-sentence!


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