Scandinaviërs staan bekend om hun talent op het gebied van detectives en thrillers, in boek-, film-, en televisievorm. Bron/Broen (The Bridge) past daar helemaal bij.

Het tweede seizoen was deze zomer op NPO2, elke avond een aflevering van 58 minuten. De twee detectives; de ene uit Noorwegen, de ander uit Denemarken, zijn weer aanwezig en er is weer een grote, vreemde zaak.

bron-broenMeestal ben ik niet van detectives. Elke week wordt even snel een zaak opgerold en als er al een overkoepelend plot is, wordt dat in de finale binnen vijf minuten gefixt. Het personeel weet alles te vinden en begrijpt elke hint en soms is er meer tijd voor privé levens dan de zaak.

Zo niet met Bron/Broen. Ja, vrouwelijke detective Saga weet veel en ziet veel, maar niet zonder het investeren van veel tijd in het aanwezige materiaal. Het mooiste van haar is echter nog wel haar karakter. Is in een man/vrouw combinatie vaak de man de stugge cowboy, hier is het Martin met het gezin en de (overdosis aan) empathie, terwijl zij het maar raar vindt, sociale interactie.

Dat betekent niet dat zij een karikatuur is voor comedic relief, ze is nog steeds menselijk. Iedereen, ook de bad guys en de slachtoffers, hebben meerdere dimensies. De serie neemt ruim de tijd om iedereen te introduceren en stopt daar ook later in de serie niet mee. De kijker moet meedenken en dingen onthouden, in plaats van alles te verwachten op een dienblaadje.

Beide seizoenen hebben tien afleveringen en het is moeilijk er maar één per keer te kijken. Bron/Broen ziet er mooi uit, zit goed in elkaar en laat je waarschijnlijk elke zin verliezen om ooit nog naar Kopenhagen of Malmo te gaan.

A Monster Calls

The monster showed up just after midnight.

A fairy tale, not Disney-fied, about a boy and his mother and a monster in the shape of a yew tree. Patrick Ness took the idea from the passed away Siobhan Dowd and ran with it wonderfully. Another YA book (it’s advised for 13 and up) that delivers and shows there’s more than Twilight or Divergent.

Conor’s mother is ill, seriously ill. She knows, he knows, his whole world knows but they all ignore it and that’s the thing he can’t handle. And than there’s a nightmare attacking him at night and a monster in front of his window, every night at 12:07, making not even his own bed a safe place.

Patrick Ness keeps his honest brutality away from this story that winds and weaves like a wisp of (fairy tale) mist. Something is building, and it will be tough to not keep turning pages until it’s clear what precisely.

A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness, Walker Books 2011

The Age of Miracles

We didn’t notice right away.

This is a terrifying story. This is humanity against the world and – even though most of us rather not think about it – the world “winning” without an effort.

Main character Julia’s transformation from child to teenager can be evenly lined up with the things Earth is going through. Some things are hard to notice, while others are clear, touch changes. And it can’t be stopped or turned back, no matter how hard you try.

As her world speeds up, the entire world starts slowing down. Days grow longer and longer and it’s adjust or die. Birds fall from the air, cults pop up left and right and trees and plants slowly die. Normal life is clung to until it’s clear that it doesn’t work any more, no matter how hard you try to lie to yourself.

The Age of Miracles is a heavy, depressing story about things lost. It gets underneath your skin and festers there with all to believable doom scenarios about the environment. Yet at the same time it’s a small, bittersweet story about growing up and losing your innocence.

The Age of Miracles, Karen Thompson Walker, Simon & Schuster 2012

The Cabin in the Woods

105 min.

The Cabin in the Woods was being hauled for being a fresh take on the very-well-chewed horror and (teenage) gore genre. It’s clear that that’s how the movie starts off as well, down to the tagline: You think you know the story. Well, even if you didn’t know the story to start with (dumb(, drunk) teenagers make dumb mistakes in horror setting), the movie hits you around the head with it quite often. Too often.

Lionsgate 2013
Lionsgate 2013

The – quite old looking – “teenagers” fill the known cliches, there is a grumpy, creepy guy on the road to their cabin and there’s a selection of triggers to make the horrors come out. Only this time there are people disappointed that they went with the red neck zombies again because darn how do you ever win a bet on ways to die like this? The cabin is there for a reason, as are the death traps and the monsters. An underground company has control over a lot of nightmare creations that they can use to kill for the satisfaction of the gods living deep underneath the earth’s crust. If they don’t get their rituals, the end of the world will happen.

That’s a semi-original route to take, a nice meta comment about horror and its tropes. So why does the film try so very hard to be an unoriginal horror film? Why is there too much time spent on another gory death instead of the story about the organization, the god (how did they restrain it? How did they set up a deal with it?) or how they even find their victims for the rituals?

A for effort, D for the finished product.

The Cabin in the Woods, Lionsgate 2013

The Taliban Cricket Club

He hadn’t forgotten me.

Karo from Persephone Magazine tries on a regular basis to get us interested in cricket. It’s one of the reasons I took this book from the library. Another is that I’m always on the lookout for writers and stories from outside my known Western culture. A novel is an easy way to peek behind the curtain, especially when it comes to countries that – in the not-novel world – are still inaccessible.

Rukshana used to be a bright, curious journalist. Than the Taliban took over and locked her up inside her burqa, but she is determined to let the real story come out and continues to write under a pseudonym. The story that tells about how innocents are being shot in the streets and discarded as trash. How the religious police will take offense in everything just so they can be violent and steal. Rukshana’s daily life and that of her small family is a war zone.
A very small light at the horizon comes from news about Afghanistan starting a cricket team. The winners of the national competition may go to Pakistan for international games. Basically, way out of this world. Of course Rukshana can’t play, she’s a woman, but she knows how to and she thinks this is the chance for her brother and cousins to escape. Training them in a burqa is impossible, so she dresses up as a young man.

Other worries and threats loom, laced with details of the country’s history. It’s lost potential in the most cruel way. Every character knows that their life is in danger in Afghanistan, yet find it so very hard to leave.

And the cricket? Much more interested, but still don’t understand much about it.

The Taliban Cricket Club, Timeri N. Murari, Ecco 2012

Running the Rift

Jean Patrick was already awake, listening to the storm, when Papa opened the door and stood by the side of his bed.

Why would you even try to come up with an idea when reality has many horrible ones? Running the Rift tells about Hutu versus Tutsi at the end of the twentieth century. How from one day to another neighbours and colleagues turned on each other because of what? A different body type, a different ancestry. Because some people rather ripped up a country in the hope of ending up top then “suffer” a normal life next to a people you didn’t recognize as your own.

Running the Rift is the coming of age story of Jean Patrick, a Tutsi. He discovers that he likes to run and that he’s really good. But when his passion becomes entangled with politics, with “being on the right side” while his loved ones are on the other side, he can’t use it as an escape from reality any more.

Naomi Benaron manages to make Jean Patrick’s struggle, between desperately not wanting to be part of the (political) situation while at the same time having his world spin a 360, so believable that there were multiple moments of frustrated huffing. It again shows that not every person is a straight up hero. That humans prefer what they’re used to and will cling to it in such a way that in some situations it will earn you the title of showing ostrich behaviour or being a loser.

Running the Rift was impressive.

Running the Rift, Naomi Benaron, Oneworld 2012

Before I Go To Sleep

The bedroom is strange.

This was “I’ll take one – no, two trains later just so I can finish this” good. The twist was a slap in the face. The festering paranoia got under my skin. I am impressed.

Before I Go To Sleep tells Christine’s story. She’s suffering from amnesia, in a particular horrible way: as soon as she goes to sleep, she forgets everything she experienced that day. Every morning she wakes in a strange bed room with an unknown man next to her.
If that wouldn’t cause enough oddness in someone’s life, Christine’s called by a doctor every morning and told by a journal she keeps. A journal to contain and hopefully trigger memories of the twenty years she’s missing. With every day her journal entries grow. Sometimes she has flashes of memories, but mostly it’s what her husband tells her.

When she starts noticing that not all his stories check out, that there is a gap between her collected reality and the one she’s living in, the cat and mouse game with reality really starts. And it’s a thrill.

A book worthy of the term page turner.

Before I Go To Sleep, S.J. Watson, Doubleday 2011


The hunter’s moon, a shade of orange so dark it appeared to be filled with blood, hung fat and low over the mirror surface of Big Lake McDonald.

This is certainly a book that lives up to its title. I stopped reading it after seven at night because I was afraid of the high amount of nightmare fuel I was offering my subconscious.

Afraid tells the story of an invasion on a small town in Wisconsin, inaptly named Safe Haven. At first it seems like a cruel military accident gone wrong, men made into monsters and dropped on American soil instead of the Axis of Evil where they “should” be. But the randomness doesn’t fit and it turns out there is a reason why Safe Haven is slowly annihilated.

The thing that scares me most about Afraid are the humans. Humans who think they can tinker with other people to make them flawless. Humans who don’t care about how much death and disaster they leave behind. Humans that take great joy from hurting and maiming. I like to believe that we have enough moral stability to say that we won’t have robocops any time soon, but this book definitely showed the scariest side of such a future.

Afraid, Jack Kilborn, Headline 2008


A collision between two vehicles is basic physics.

The first thing I noticed was that the protagonist of this story isn’t really the good guy. And the police only gets involved near the end of the book. This makes Headhunters more of a cat and mouse game, in which it’s unclear who’s cat and who’s mouse. It also made me swap sympathies several times (although sympathies is maybe put down too strongly. Sometimes I simply disliked one of the characters less than the other).

Roger Brown is a headhunter and part time art thief. He thinks he hit the jack pot in both categories when he meets Clas Grave. But the man turns out to be a booby trapped gift and suddenly Roger needs to fight for his life. Some methods he uses for that are quite creative and out there, but he showed he’s a smart shark before, so all right, I won’t wonder how much a human body and mind can take.

There are several twists in a not so large story (265 pages) that keeps the tempo up. They are smartly done but near the end they follow each other very fast and it just turns into a blur. Everyone outsmarted each other, hurray.

My mother told me I started with the wrong Jo Nesbo. Sir, we will meet again.

Headhunters, Jo Nesbo, Harvill Secker 2011


She got to the parking lot earlier than usual.

Out is a lot. It shows daily life in contemporary Japan (the majority of the time through the eyes of women, but men also feature), it’s a study on how far a human can be pushed and adjust to a situation, it’s a thriller and a game of cat and mouse between two people who start out as very different, but have more in common than expected.

With so much going on, it isn’t so easy to say where this book is about, but the first thing that starts everything off is a woman strangling her husband, her admitting it to a colleague and her colleague helping her with covering this up. This and the disposal of the body seem to be successful, until more and more players get in on the secret and they all want something else from it, from the always broke colleague to the falsely-accused night club owner.
All this shows there is no such thing as a clean cut, no-loose-threads ending when it comes to anything that involves humans (yes, also outside of murder). Every characters copes (or doesn’t) in her/his own way, making the knot that ties them together bigger and tougher to escape from.

I took Out out from the library because it plays in Japan with (native) inhabitants, far away from the usual ‘white-view’ books I read. And though some information made me sad (women over 30 won’t ever be promoted in office life, men are more important in every situation), it was also very interesting and made me wonder how different the story would have been if it would have been set in The States or anywhere in Europe.

The thriller part of this book is the least exciting of everything Out has. Pick it up for the people, the plot lines and the society.

Out, Natsuo Kirino, Kodansha International 2003