The Caller by Karin Fossum, translated by K.E. Semmel

The Caller by Karin Fossum, translated by K.E. Semmel from the Norwegian, is the eighth book in her Inspector Konrad Sejer series of books.  It is not only a mystery with a adrenaline rush, but also a psychological examination of the criminal and victims minds.  Rather than a mystery that needs to be unraveled, Fossum creates an unsettling atmosphere that keeps readers on the edge.  What will happen next, how will the criminal again strike fear into those around him — neighbors, family, strangers.

And yes, this is a book about fear — the fear of death — the fear of death when it calls.  Death is always unexpected when it arrives, but what if you are lulled into an artificial sense of security by your own contented perceptions of your home and neighborhood?  What if something occurs that simply disrupts your preconceived notions of security?  Fossum asks these questions with each new prank and situation, and she ramps up the anxiety with each page turned.  From the very first pages, readers become aware that the Norwegian landscape will darken and tranquility will become tentative.

“Poor little thing, she thought, and tore its thighs off.  She liked the cracking sound the cartilage made when tearing from the bone.  Light and tender, the meat let go easily, and she succumbed to the temptation to stick a piece in her mouth.  It’s good, she thought, it has just enough seasoning, and it’s lean too.  She filled the pie dish and sprinkled on Cheddar cheese.  The she checked the time.  She didn’t worry about Margrete.  If the child sneezed she would know it immediately.  If she coughed or hiccuped, or began to cry, she would know.  Because there was a bond between them, a bond as thick as a mooring line.  Even the slightest tug would reach her like a vibration.”  (page 2)

However, it is the undercurrent under the surface plot that ripples beneath, providing just enough suspicion to keep readers wondering who the true criminal is.  Readers get a sense of Inspector Konrad Sejer as an honest man whose seen it all, but continues to work for the police as a way to ensure justice.  But readers also get to know how much his life has changed over the years and where his strength comes from — his family and young nephew Matteus.  His health may be failing, but the case is always important, pulling him away from his own misery into that of the victims and even the possible perpetrator.

When death calls, even in its mistiest form, The Caller by Karin Fossum, translated by K.E. Semmel tackles the what ifs and the inevitability that comes with that visit, including the reassessment of behavior and routine, love, and perseverance.  The atmosphere of the novel is by turns complacent and topsy-turvy, and Fossum’s characters must navigate the new world into which they are thrust.

About the Author:

Karin Fossum is the author of the internationally successful Inspector Konrad Sejer crime series. Her recent honors include a Gumshoe Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for mystery/thriller. She lives in a small town in southeastern Norway.

About the Translator:

K.E. Semmel is a writer and translator whose work has appeared in Ontario Review, the Washington Post, Aufgabe, The Brooklyn Review, The Bitter Oleander, and elsewhere. He has worked as the Publications & Communications Manager of The Writer’s Center, an independent nonprofit literary organization based in Bethesda, MD that offers over 300 workshops in writing annually and hosts around 50 literary events a year.  He is known for his work translating Simon Fruelund’s fiction, and he has received a translation grant from the Danish Arts Council.

This is my 71st book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.

Novel Places’ Translation Event Draws Crowd

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First, I wanted to reach out and thank those who came to the translation reading, including my wonderful book club.  Second, the day began with an incredible baking spree, so I’d like to thank Anna’s daughter for all of her expert assistance.  We spent a great deal of the morning mixing and mashing and baking Danish and Norwegian treats for the readers and the audience.  The recipes I chose were Danish Apple Cake, Danish Butter Cookies, and Norwegian Spice Cookies.  All of these recipes were easy to follow, so we made these easily with a few modifications, such as no cardamom (which is outrageous at $15+ at the supermarket) and no nuts.

We set up a circle of chairs for an intimate reading at Novel Places, put the goodies out at the front table, and waited.  Books were ready and soon too were the poet and the translators.  K.E. Semmel read first from The Caller by Karin Fossum (you may be able to get a translator signed copy if you contact the local bookstore), which he translated for the U.K. market originally before it was published here in the United States.  I think he read just enough to get everyone interested in the Norwegian author’s mystery novel, which he later said offers some of the most harrowing scenes a parent could read.  He also told the audience that he translated both The Caller and Jussi Adler-Olsen’s The Absent One without any direct contact with the authors.  Given that he is well versed in Danish and Norwegian, he didn’t seem to have any problems.

Following a short reading from Semmel (A BIG THANK YOU to Semmel for the video, since my idiot camera died), the floor opened up to Carsten René Nielsen, the Danish poet of House Inspections, and his translator David Keplinger, a poet and director of the American University MFA in Creative Writing program.  Nielsen would read the poem in its original Danish form and then Keplinger would then read the translation.  They read about six poems from House Inspections and one or two poems from a previous collection.

Following each reading, the translators were asked questions about their process and experiences, as well as about what makes a good translation. Keplinger and Nielsen work collaboratively on the poems, with Nielsen sending English literal translations to Keplinger, who does not speak Danish, to fiddle with to make the content, music, and essence of the poem shine through in the English version in the best way possible. Keplinger said that he offers Nielsen a few different options when translating the poems, allowing Nielsen to pick the one he likes best. In terms of “Wistfulness,” Keplinger and Nielsen said it took them a while to capture the meaning of the Danish word properly.  Keplinger said it is just one of the poems in the collection that he can read over and over and never be tired of it.  (Photo at the right:  Danish poet Carsten René Nielsen speaks with audience member Susi Wyss, author of A Civilized World)

It was great to mingle with fellow translation enthusiasts, eat some goodies, buy some books, get some autographs, and chat.  It seemed like the audience, which was mostly my own book club (thanks guys and gals), had a good time and learned some interesting things about translation.  What surprised me the most was that it seemed as though the poetry books may have outsold the fiction thrillers!

Washington D.C. Gets Literary This Weekend

September is a big literary month here in the Washington, D.C., especially with the largest reading events of the year — The National Book Festival, the Virginia Festival of the Book, and the Baltimore Book Festival.

Even before these big festivals get kicked off, starting with The National Book Festival this weekend, Novel Places in Maryland is celebrating the 75th anniversary of The Hobbit.  Tonight at 6 p.m. readers will descend on the bookstore in Clarksburg to celebrate the book and the Tolkien legacy.  With moss hanging from the rafters of the upstairs bookstore in Clarksburg’s historic district, patrons are encouraged to dress up as their favorite characters from the books and take in the atmosphere as they walk through Bilbo Baggins’ door into the shire.  There’s even a prize for best costume.

Bookstore owner Patrick Darby says of The Hobbit, “It was the late 70’s when I picked up the The Hobbit, which is about the time Dungeons & Dragons rose to fame. It shaped my ‘personality’ when I role-played different characters and creatures. Even though The Hobbit is written as a children’s book, the descriptions of scenery and character interaction is brilliantly detailed. Its somewhat simplistic plot, where it was just an adventure with no reason for starting the quest, made a good primer to the intrigue of the ring in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.”  To learn more about the celebrations of Tolkien’s 75-year-old book, go here.

Also this weekend is the two-day book extravaganza that promotes reading not only among adults but kids as well.  The National Book Festival is in its 12th year.  I can hardly believe it’s been that long since the first one.  This year, I won’t be attending the first day of the festival, Saturday, Sept. 22, because my book club meets for our discussion of The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield at Novel Places.  But I do plan to attend some poetry readings, meet Charlaine Harris of Sookie Stackhouse fame, and generally relax with books around on Sunday, Sept. 23, the second day of the festival.  Please check out the rest of the goings on at the festival this year, plus the new online interactive media the festival is using this year.  So even if you don’t live in the D.C. area and cannot make the trip for your favorite authors, you can still hear them speak through the Library of Congress Website.

In addition to our book club meeting at the store, we’ll be attending a reading and discussion from two great translators, one of whom I consider a friend, and a poet whose work was translated.  If you are in the Clarksburg, Md., area, please stop by Novel Places to interact with Danish Poet Carsten Rene Nielsen and his translator David Keplinger as they talk about their work on House Inspections.

My friend, K.E. Semmel also will be on hand to talk about his two translations that came out in August, which I’m sure you’ve heard me go on and on about.  Hopefully, he can forgive me for not reading The Caller by Karin Fossum and The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen ahead of the event.  They are on the to-read list and I had hoped to be finished with the book club pick sooner, but life gets in the way as worries about my dad and his surgery occupied my mind to distraction.

You probably thought I was done, but we also have two more festivals to look forward to next weekend:  The Baltimore Book Festival, which always showcases some great local authors and businesses and Virginia Festival of the Book, which I have yet to attend but receives rave reviews ever year.  Both of those festivals are the weekend of Sept. 28.  I’ll let you know more about those next week.

What bookish plans do you have for the weekend?

Mailbox Monday #193

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is BookNAround.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received:

1.  Edge of Oblivion: A Night Prowler Novel by J.T. Geissinger, which came unexpectedly from Wunderkind PR.

In a dark underground cell, Morgan Montgomery waits to die. A member of the Ikati, an ancient tribe of shape-shifters, Morgan stands convicted of treason. And Ikati law clearly spells out her fate: death to all who dare betray.

But there is a glimmer of hope. Thanks to her friendship with Jenna, the new queen of the Ikati, Morgan has one last chance to prove her loyalty. She must discover and infiltrate the headquarters of the Expurgari, the Ikati’s ancient enemy, so they can be destroyed once and for all. The catch? She has only a fortnight to complete her mission and will be accompanied by Xander Luna, the tribe’s most feared enforcer. If Morgan fails, her life is forfeit. Because Xander is as lethal as he is loyal, and no one—not even this beautiful, passionate renegade—will distract him from his mission. But as the pair races across Europe into the heart of Italy, the attraction blooming between them becomes undeniable. Suddenly more than justice is at stake: so is love.

2.  Bowling Avenue by Ann Shayne, which is from the author for review after a recommendation from Alma Katsu.

Welcome to 603 Bowling Avenue, a lush, empty Colonial Revival house tucked away in a leafy Nashville neighborhood. Who’s that in the ratty attic bedroom, holed up like a squirrel, writing real estate ads as fast as she can? Delia Ballenger, former Nashvillian. She’s back in town to sell the house that her tender-hearted big sister inexplicably left her after dying in a car crash. Delia needs to get back to Chicago as fast as possible. But uninvited people keep showing up at the front door: • Her mother, Grace Ballenger. Brilliant federal judge and the number-one reason Delia lives in another state. • A patrician and poorly socialized neighbor, Angus Donald. • Shelly Carpenter, the watchful housekeeper who raised Delia. • Brother-in-law Bennett Schwartz, a wretched surgeon, along with his girls Cassie and Amelia—the nieces she’s never known. • And, most vexing, a charming real estate agent, Henry Peek. Delia finds herself up to her eyeballs in a flood of mysteries, secrets, and the sort of love that sneaks up on you. For everyone who has muttered “You can’t go home again,” here’s what happens when you go anyway. You’ll laugh. You may cry, if you’re the weepy type. And you’ll cheer for Delia even as you wonder how she can eat a Pop-Tart as an entree. Like THE DESCENDANTS, BOWLING AVENUE is a story of learning how to let go, hold on–and bail water.

3.  The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan for review from Riverhead Books in January.

1878 Paris. Following their father’s sudden death, the van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without his wages, and with the small amount their laundress mother earns disappearing into the absinthe bottle, eviction from their lodgings seems imminent. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opéra, where for a scant seventeen francs a week, she will be trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir.

Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modeling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. There she meets a wealthy male patron of the ballet, but might the assistance he offers come with strings attached? Meanwhile Antoinette, derailed by her love for the dangerous Émile Abadie, must choose between honest labor and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde.

4.  Beautiful Lies by Clare Clark for a TLC Book Tour this month.

London 1887. For Maribel Campbell Lowe, the beautiful bohemian wife of a maverick politician, it is the year to make something of herself. A self-proclaimed Chilean heiress educated in Paris, she is torn between poetry and the new art of photography. But it is soon plain that Maribel’s choices are not so simple. As her husband’s career hangs by a thread, her real past, and the family she abandoned, come back to haunt them both. When the notorious newspaper editor Alfred Webster begins to take an uncommon interest in Maribel, she fears he will not only destroy Edward’s career but both of their reputations.

Inspired by the true story of a politician’s wife who lived a double life for decades, Beautiful Lies is set in a time that, fraught with economic uncertainty and tabloid scandal-mongering, uncannily presages our own.

5.  Murder Most Austen by Tracy Kiely for review from Kaye Publicity.

A dedicated Anglophile and Janeite, Elizabeth Parker is hoping the trip to the annual Jane Austen Festival in Bath will distract her from her lack of a job and her uncertain future with her boyfriend, Peter.

On the plane ride to England, she and Aunt Winnie meet Professor Richard Baines, a self-proclaimed expert on all things Austen. His outlandish claims that within each Austen novel there is a sordid secondary story is second only to his odious theory on the true cause of Austen’s death. When Baines is found stabbed to death in his Mr. Darcy costume during the costume ball, it appears that Baines’s theories have finally pushed one Austen fan too far. But Aunt Winnie’s friend becomes the prime suspect, so Aunt Winnie enlists Elizabeth to find the professor’s real killer. With an ex-wife, a scheming daughter-in-law, and a trophy wife, not to mention a festival’s worth of die-hard Austen fans, there are no shortage of suspects.

6. Out of True by Amy Durant for review and giveaway in October.

The poems in Out of True flow through stories of life and love, deep feeling and light perspective, all with a foundation in the elemental core of the human spirit. Amy’s poems speak to all of us with a bruised heart still willing to embrace hope and joy.

7. King Solomon’s Ring by Konrad Lorenz, which I purchased at Wonderbook for out book club discussion in November.

Solomon, the legend goes, had a magic ring which enabled him to speak to the animals in their own language. Konrad Lorenz was gifted with a similar power of understanding the animal world. He was that rare beast, a brilliant scientist who could write (and indeed draw) beautifully. He did more than any other person to establish and popularize the study of how animals behave, receiving a Nobel Prize for his work. King Solomon’s Ring, the book which brought him worldwide recognition, is a delightful treasury of observations and insights into the lives of all sorts of creatures, from jackdaws and water-shrews to dogs, cats and even wolves. Charmingly illustrated by Lorenz himself, this book is a wonderfully written introduction to the world of our furred and feathered friends, a world which often provides an uncanny resemblance to our own. A must for any animal-lover!

8. The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen, translated by K.E. Semmel, which I purchased at Novel Places.

In The Keeper of Lost Causes, Jussi Adler-Olsen introduced Detective Carl Mørck, a deeply flawed, brilliant detective newly assigned to run Department Q, the home of Copenhagen’s coldest cases. The result wasn’t what Mørck—or readers—expected, but by the opening of Adler-Olsen’s shocking, fast-paced follow-up, Mørck is satisfied with the notion of picking up long-cold leads. So he’s naturally intrigued when a closed case lands on his desk: A brother and sister were brutally murdered two decades earlier, and one of the suspects—part of a group of privileged boarding-school students—confessed and was convicted.

But once Mørck reopens the files, it becomes clear that all is not what it seems. Looking into the supposedly solved case leads him to Kimmie, a woman living on the streets, stealing to survive. Kimmie has mastered evading the police, but now they aren’t the only ones looking for her. Because Kimmie has secrets that certain influential individuals would kill to keep buried . . . as well as one of her own that could turn everything on its head.

Every bit as pulse-pounding as the book that launched the series, The Absent One delivers further proof that Jussi Adler-Olsen is one of the world’s premier thriller writers.

9. The Caller by Karin Fossum, translated by K.E. Semmel, which I also bought at Novel Places.

One mild summer evening, a young couple are enjoying dinner while their daughter sleeps peacefully in her stroller under a tree. When her mother steps outside she is stunned: The child is covered in blood.
Inspector Sejer is called to the hospital to meet the family. Mercifully, the child is unharmed, but the parents are deeply shaken, and Sejer spends the evening trying to understand why anyone would carry out such a sinister prank. Then, just before midnight, somebody rings his doorbell.
No one is at the door, but the caller has left a small gray envelope on Sejer’s mat. From his living room window, the inspector watches a figure disappear into the darkness. Inside the envelope Sejer finds a postcard bearing a short message: Hell begins now.

What did you receive?

Some Local and Not So Local Events…

Washington, D.C., is a thriving literary community of poets, journalists, and authors, and there is never a dearth of writing events or readings for those looking for the next big book.  With that in mind, two great translated thrillers are coming out this month and both are translated by none other than K.E. Semmel, formerly the communications guru at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Md.

One More Page Bookstore in Arlington, Va., will be hosting him for a night of Scandinavian Noir in Translation on Aug. 23 at 7 p.m.

He’ll talk about his two translations and be interviewed by Art Taylor, who said The Caller was “chilling” and that it provided “a provocative portrait of a troubled mind.”  Between The Caller and The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen, readers will be on the edges of their seats with excitement.

About The Caller:

One mild summer evening, a young couple are enjoying dinner while their daughter sleeps peacefully in her stroller under a tree. When her mother steps outside she is stunned: The child is covered in blood.  Inspector Sejer is called to the hospital to meet the family. Mercifully, the child is unharmed, but the parents are deeply shaken, and Sejer spends the evening trying to understand why anyone would carry out such a sinister prank. Then, just before midnight, somebody rings his doorbell.  No one is at the door, but the caller has left a small gray envelope on Sejer’s mat. From his living room window, the inspector watches a figure disappear into the darkness. Inside the envelope Sejer finds a postcard bearing a short message: Hell begins now.

About The Absent One:

Carl Mørck used to be one of Copenhagen’s best homicide detectives. Then a hail of bullets destroyed the lives of two fellow cops, and Carl—who didn’t draw his weapon—blames himself. So a promotion is the last thing he expects. But Department Q is a department of one, and Carl’s got only a stack of Copenhagen’s coldest cases for company. His colleagues snicker, but Carl may have the last laugh, because one file keeps nagging at him: a liberal politician vanished five years earlier and is presumed dead. But she isn’t dead … yet.

For those of you outside the D.C. area, Sarah McCoy, author of The Baker’s Daughter, and Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl, will be engaged in an Aug. 23 jamboree at the Crown Publishing Facebook page at 7 p.m.

Many of you have likely read Sarah’s book (check out my review) and loved it, so here’s your chance to chat with her for an hour. For those of you reading or hearing the buzz about Gillian’s book, this is a great opportunity to pick her brain.

For those of you that cannot get enough of short stories and reading, check out the third issue of The Coffin Factory, which is chock full of stories from greats like Joyce Carol Oates and James Franco. Oates has said the magazine is “a brilliantly imagined, highly readable, and important new literary magazine with the most incongruous title.”

The magazine has not only short stories, but also illustrations, and considers itself a “magazine for people who love books.” What more could book bloggers and readers ask for?

The first and second issues are available for PDF download, but why not check out a subscription or pick up a copy in your local indie bookstore?

Also, there’s going to be a great short story discussion on Savvy Verse & Wit in September of “The Mapmaker” by Thaisa Frank, which is from her collection Enchantment.  If you haven’t entered to win one of 4 copies, you better get a move on.  Time is running out.