Fictional crime-fighters cast powerful spelll

BOOKS / By Peter McDermott

The two-part column on about Irish noir fiction a few months ago generated plenty of feedback, confirming that people do love their mystery and crime novels. So I asked three avid readers of books in general to recommend some titles in the genre.

"Did you ever finish the final book of a series and feel like you'd lost an intimate friend, one whose personal foibles had become endearing?" asks Claire Grimes, the former publisher of the Irish Echo. "It felt like that after riding the 19th century high seas with Aubrey and Maturin, Patrick O'Brian's invented mates. And now, I find myself having digested whole the Insp. Kurt Wallander series by revered Swedish novelist Henning Mankell.

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"In this series we follow Wallander as he advances from a rookie cop in his 20s to an increasingly disillusioned middle-aged veteran detective near retirement who yearns for a night's sleep uninterrupted by crime," she writes. "Whatever the quest, Wallander's acute intuition and independence serve him well, even as the Swedish Police Department admonishes him to go by the book, which he doesn't. And while he's brilliant at methodically fitting the crime pieces together, he is forever forgetful, scrounging pencil and paper for significant notations."

Grimes adds: "Like a good poker player, he holds his feelings close to the vest, making for difficult personal relationships, which are as rumpled as his appearance. And while you hope his life ultimately improves, you just know the chances are slender."

But the opera-loving, fast food-eating Wallander inevitably makes his "collar" and justice is served.

It's not necessary, but is recommended that the series be read in sequence, which is: "Faceless Killers"; "The Dogs of Riga"; "The White Lioness"; "The Man Who Smiled"; "Sidetracked"; The Fifth Woman"; "One Step Behind"; "Firewall" and "The Pyramid." (A 10th title is due to be published in English translation next year.)

Irish noir aficionado Joe Long, who submitted a list of his eight favorite novels in the category, agrees that where there are recurring characters it's best to start at the beginning. Nos. 2 and 4 in his list, he warns, are not the first in their respective series. Anyway, here goes: 1. "Every Dead Thing," by John Connolly; 2. "City of Lost Girls," by Declan Hughes; 3. "Borderlands," by Brian McGilloway; 4. "The Big O," by Declan Burke; 5. "Undertow" by Arlene Hunt; 6. "Dark Times in the City," by Gene Kerrigan; 7. "The Ghosts of Belfast," by Stuart Neville; 8. "Winterland," by Alan Glynn.

The Irish have gotten into the act with regard to English-language screen adaptations of both Mankell and Stieg Larsson's works. Every Wallander adventure has been on Swedish TV. But Belfast's Kenneth Branagh plays the hero in the versions that appear on PBS (the first of the 3-part second series debuted last Sunday and will be repeated this coming Friday).

Larsson's books spawned three Swedish movies and the Hollywood treatment of the first of the trilogy, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," is being made now, with rising Irish-American star Rooney Mara playing the key role of Lisbeth Salander.

The Echo's boxing and soccer correspondent Jay Mwamba has become a huge fan of Salander and collaborator Mikael Blomkvist. "I've never been a massive reader of fiction as an adult beyond the required readings in college and the odd thriller (yes, a bit ironic for someone who penned a boxing novel)," he writes. "And before discovering Stieg Larsson's Millennium series a few weeks ago, I'd never read a fiction book more than a couple of hundred pages in long.

"I'm now 500 pages into 'The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest,' the last of the trilogy. Why? Three words: absorbing, engrossing, intriguing," he continues. "Larsson masterfully weaves a brilliant tale that draws you in and leaves you in suspense. He's most unconventional in the way he pieces everything together, presenting many points of view that eventually merge into one.

Mwamba adds: "The first book left me craving for more. No. 2, 'The Girl Who Played With Fire,' had me totally hooked. But sadly, in the wake of Larsson's untimely demise [at age 50 in 2004], 'The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest' will leave me more forlorn than satisfied, as there will be nothing else more to sate my appetite for Lisbeth Salander & Co."

Kenneth Branagh stars as Insp. Kurt Wallander in the second and third installments of "Wallander: Series II," on next Sunday and the following Sunday on PBS. Episode 1 is repeated this coming Friday night. PHOTO BY LEFT BANK PICTURES/YELLOW BIRD FOR MASTERPIECE MYSTERY!