It’s a Wonderful Double Life
Hot-Buttered in Finland, Dreyfus Redux in Israel, and Watusi on the Brain in Spain
Nouveau-riche restaurateur Brede Ziegler is murdered not once, but twice in No Echo, the sixth in a series of shrewdly executed detective novels from megastar Norwegian author Anne Holt. After Ziegler turns up hot-buttered and trussed, a slapdash police investigation finds that the victim was fatally poisoned — that is, on the day before he was knifed to death. While bumbling Chief Billy gropes for clues in the pantry, enter recurring Holt heroine Hanne Wilhelmsen, fresh from a six-month exile in an Italian convent. Rejected and friendless, she holes up in a secluded office to study the case’s documents, slowly working her way through the crime and back to the life she ditched when her spouse died and she withdrew to the cloister. Author Holt, whose high-wire thrillers are said to “demolish some cherished illusions about the transparency and moral cleanliness of Norwegian politics and the law-enforcement bureaucracy,” is herself a former chief of police for the Oslo region who also served as the Norwegian Minister of Justice, not to mention a stint as a television journalist for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation. This month she makes a splash on PT’s newly reinstated Finnish list, and she’s been selling anywhere from 24,000 to 115,000 copies of each of her books in Norway (and double that amount in Sweden), receiving the Riverton Prize in 1994 and the Booksellers’ Prize in 1995 for Death of the Demon. Meanwhile, her Swedish chartbuster What is Mine, which has fallen off the list this month after a respectable run, features new characters in Holt’s crime lineup. Rights to No Echo have been sold to Denmark (Gyldendal), Finland (Gummerus), Germany (Piper), the Netherlands (Arbeiderspers), and Sweden (Piratförlaget). Rights for all of Holt’s titles are controlled by Cappelen.
On a lighter note in Sweden, a pile of Christmas trees are heaped up on a sun-soaked beach for the ritual springtime bonfire as Viveca Lärn’s riotous novel Sun and Spring opens on the island of Saltön, situated off the Swedish west coast. Lärn’s latest effort — the fourth in a series wherein each title is set in a different season — invokes burlesques apparently attaining Joanna Trollope proportions. The current installment’s quirky cast of characters features an old favorite, Kabben Nilsson (who planned an intricate suicide in the earlier novel A Joyful Christmas); Emily Schenker, whose physician father scandalously runs off with an octogenarian; and redoubtable bee-keeper/chicken-farm proprietor MacFie, who chases a hot young thing off to Paris, leaving his barnyard menagerie behind. Cut to Gothenburg, where Emily returns home from vacation to find the local coffee shop ablaze, and conveniently jumps into the burly arms of both Christer (a Saltön police officer) and a redheaded fireman named Odd. Events take a further twist as Emily is soon hit up for cash in a grand scheme to open an adventure land at Saltön. Best known as a children’s book writer, Lärn has been published in more than ten languages and has written seven novels since she made her debut as an adult novel writer in 1995. Rights for the first three books in this series (A Joyful Christmas, The Hummer Feast, and Midsummer Waltz) have been sold to Germany (Rowohlt) and Norway (Dann & Son). Contact the Bengt Nordin Agency for rights.
“A juicy bone at long last,” pants one reviewer of Amnon Dankner’s historical novel The Boneless, which hits the list in Israel as it chronicles the life of Theodore Herzl, the “founder of modern Zionism” who, as Viennese correspondent to the Dreyfus trial, was violently affected by the period’s anti-semitism. In a novel deemed a “living, breathing, and beautifully written mélange,” the author hypothesizes that Herzl, in his anger, murdered Valentine le Désossé (aka Valentine the Boneless), a dancer at the Moulin Rouge. The plot thickens when, with a confession supposedly signed by Herzl as his only evidence, Israeli post-Zionist historian Modi writes a staggering account of the crime (sharing the pen with his anarchist wife Gaia), only to be murdered himself. The body count gets higher when another noted Jerusalem historian dies surrounded by his priceless collection of manuscripts, with a jealous wife and a vanished assistant as the only suspects. Dankner, whose style is so inimitable that his characters are said to speak “Danknerish,” has been a popular columnist for the daily Ha’aretz. None of his 13 books have been sold outside of Israel yet, but this year they’ve aroused flurries of interest post-Frankfurt. All rights are available from the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature.
In Spain, Barcelona-based writer Francisco Casavella’s new novel Wild Games has been whipping up plenty of post-Frankfurt buzz, though the book has not hit the nation’s bestseller list. Said to be animated by the “blurred borders between truth and lies, and farce and tragedy,” the book is set in a town of remote shanties on the mountain of Montjuic outside Barcelona, and follows quixotic immigrant Fernando Atienza as he and fellow pariah Pepito set out in search of a certain Watusi, who is reputed to be a famous yet reclusive denizen of the district. We track Atienza in cinematic detail as he lives with his widowed mother, spending his hours fishing the dirty waters of Barcelona’s port and dreaming about the larger-than-life Watusi. Wading into “the garbage dumps of reality without falling into the squalor,” Wild Games is the first installment of the 36-year-old author’s ambitious Watusi’s Day trilogy, which is described as a novel in three parts rather than three separate books. Radiating what critics have called “self-assurance and concentrated tenderness,” Wild Games has been sold thus far to the UK (Faber), Germany (Kiepenheuer & Witsch), France (Actes Sud), and Italy (Mondadori). Contact Carmen Pinilla at the Balcells Agency for rights.
Lastly, in Poland, Joanna Olczak-Ronikier plants a family tree to rival the most baroque García Marquez saga. The Garden of Memory tells the story of four generations of the author’s family, including her grandparents, who survived World War II and Soviet prison camps. They founded the Mortkowicz publishing house, which was famous across Europe during the interwar period, and ran one of the best literary bookshops and publishing houses in pre-War Poland. Perhaps bibliophilia is genetic after all. Rights have been sold to Germany (Aufbau) and world English rights have been sold to Weidenfeld & Nicolson (UK). For rights information, contact Anna Rucinska at Znak.