The Frozen Woman by Jon Michelet

I found The Frozen Woman at a local book shop and because I was in the mood for crime in translation, I got it. I’d never heard of Norwegian crime writer Jon Michelet before. He seems to be highly popular in Scandinavia, where he’s been publishing for five decades. We all know that this doesn’t guarantee a translation and so it’s not surprising that this is one of the first of his novels that has been translated into English. It’s part of a series and has won the Riverton Prize for best Norwegian crime.

The story can be summarized very quickly. A murdered woman is found frozen in the garden of a notorious lawyer. The police suspect him immediately, although it seems highly unlikely that he killed her. But why was she found in his garden, since she wasn’t killed there but somewhere else? Retribution? It complicates matters that the police can’t find the woman’s identity. Nobody is missing her. She looks foreign, so possibly she’s an illegal immigrant?

That’s as much as I can say about this book without giving away too much.

What a peculiar reading experience. I don’t think that this has happened to me very often. At first I really liked this novel. Then I didn’t. Then I liked it again . . .  And so on and so forth. Funny enough, once I read the last page I thought – hmm . . . I might read another one of his novels after all.

Looking back it’s easy to say why I reacted like this. The plot is rather thin and not very suspenseful. While it starts like an ordinary police procedural, with the point of view of the police, it then suddenly shifts to the POV of possible suspects and from there to a business man, who is somehow linked as well. This made the book uneven but at the same time, it’s also its strength because the characters are so well done. They are complex and quirky, each with a distinctive voice. I especially liked the detectives Stribolt and Vaage. Stribolt is a very cultured, laconic man. A bit sarcastic, very dry but not too hardened. His thoughts made me smile quite often. Vaage, his partner, is equally unusual. The book ends with her and Thygesen getting to know each other better. Since this is a series, these three characters will return in other books or have already been in other books.

If you’re not looking for a crime novel whose main appeal is suspense and if you like crime writing duo Sjöwall and Wahlöö, and your crime to be on the political/social commentary side, this book, or another one of the series, might be for you. 

Introducing Nele Neuhaus – German Crime


Nele Neuhaus has just been published for the first time in English (Snow White Must Die) and I thought that was a good opportunity to see for myself what this highly acclaimed German crime writer has to offer. Neuhaus entered the German crime scene with her self-published  novels. They were so successful that a big German editor bought them and re-edited and re-published the first ones and now her later novels too. Her very first book was a standalone called Unter Haien (Among Sharks), the second was the first in a series. What has currently been published in English is the fourth volume in the series with Chief Inspector Oliver Bodenstein and his colleague Inspector Pia Kirchhoff.

I like to start series with the first book and since I read German, I bought it to find out what the fuss was about. There is a new crime writing star every few years in Germany, some like Charlotte Link have been popular for years, others, like Neuhaus are new. At the moment, whenever Neuhaus publishes a book, it will be a huge success with hundreds and hundreds of amazon reviews.

Now on to the book. In German it’s called Eine unbeliebte Frau – An unlikable woman. A young extremely beautiful woman is murdered and the inspectors soon find out that she had a lot of enemies. It’s a classic whodunnit. As I said, I read the first in the series and it became quickly obvious why the English editor went for no. 4. I enjoyed it, I thought it was very gripping but not in a manipulative, cliffhanger-at-the-end-of-every-chapter kind of way. Rather in a laid back way. I liked that. What didn’t work so well was the way the two inspectors were introduced. It seems this gets better from book to book. They are a bit pale in this one. Bodenstein less than Kirchhoff but still, they don’t feel like characters in a series yet but rather like inspectors in a standalone police procedural.

The story as such is gripping. There are at least 6 or 7 suspects and it takes almost the whole book to make clear what happened. I liked that.  I also liked what little we get to know about Kirchoff and Bodenstein, despite the fact that they are a bit pale, not very charismatic.

The setting of the books is the Taunus region, near Frankfurt. Frankfurt is one of the biggest German cities and also one with a high crime rate. There are quite a few crime series and novels set in this town, the best known are certainly the Kayankaya novels by Jakob Arjouni who just died a few weeks ago. Choosing the Taunus region, and not the big city was a deliberate choice. It allows much slower stories and to integrate one of the core themes of the series, the wish of the two main characters to start a new life which should be less stressful and closer to nature.

While this may not have been the most exciting crime novel I’ve ever read, nor is it literary – the writing gets the job done, it’s not refined -, it’s still a solid police procedural. It is well constructed and with a nice pace. I thought it was a promising start to the series which introduces good-natured characters, and I know I’ll read another one sooner or later. For English readers the good news is that it seems you can start with no. 4 and you will not miss out too much. No. 6 in the series has just been published in Germany. If you like your crime gripping but not too fast-paced, this is a good choice.