The Final Days of Abbot Montrose:
An Asbjørn Krag Mystery,
by Sven Elvestad
was first published in 1917.
Translated from the Norwegian by
If you are a recurrent visitor here, you know how much I enjoy both literature in translation and classic mysteries.
So I was thrilled when I was contacted by Chiara at Kazabo Publishing. They specialize indeed in publishing books that at one point were best sellers in their respective countries, but never got translated into English until now.
Here is the book I received from the publisher: The Final Days of Abbot Montrose. It was first published in Norwegian in 1917, by Sven Elvestad, aka Stein Riverton (1884-1934), who ended up being the father of Norwegian detective fiction and the inventor of the Norwegian police procedural (as is specified in the Foreword by Chiara Giacobbe ). So much so that a Norwegian crime literature award is now named after him.
Obviously, I had never heard of this author before and was eager to discover his writing. Or a glimpse of it, as he wrote over 90 books, as well as many articles (he was a journalist), essays, and short stories.
Elvestad’s most famous detective is Knut Gribb. The Final Days of Abbot Montrose features another of his detectives, Asbjørn Krag with his partner, Detective Sirius Keller.
One night, somebody breaks into the abbey library and ransacks it. More alarming, the abbot is missing. Has he been kidnapped? Murdered? Why? The more Detectives Asbjørn Krag and Sirius Keller investigate, the more the whole thing gets muddled, with possible connections to other violent events. What is behind it all?
The intricate plot is enriched with the presence of quirky characters (the Crazy Professor, Prison Face, and the obese hotel manager, to name just a few) and wonderful descriptions, for instance of all the type of people you can see in a crowd (chapter 23).
Here are few passages I particularly enjoyed:
Strange. It was as if the room suddenly darkened, the white curtains seemed grayish, like the sheets on a deathbed, and in the silence that followed the words of the detective, a cold breeze blew across the room. In this way, the mind always feels the proximity of murder, it is as if the daylight turns gray with horror, when the most horrible of all words is merely uttered. Those present were also seized by a sudden and irresistible restlessness.
The look in his eyes was dull and murky, reminiscent of the greasy glow of a badly-washed shot glass.
There are also funny scenes and details:
But as he himself realized that this word lacked a certain je ne sais quoi, he repeated slowly, with emphasis on each syllable, like a man who is cautiously descending a staircase for the first time after breaking his leg.
The Confession (chapters 32-33) is also a sublime page of writing, full of psychological finesse.
I liked the many issues around the theme of identity.
At a deeper level, the clever plot (you need to read the book to see what I mean) seems to be a commentary on the Norwegian society of the time: it offers a respectable façade with for instance (among others) the tranquil and harmonious setting of the abbey and its flower gardens, yet as the same time, it contains a totally different parallel life, shown here in its close by Krydder district, renown for its criminals and misfits, especially featured through the Gilded Peacock, the weirdest hotel, with disreputable fame, BUT awesome international cuisine!
The Peacock was also known for its exquisite cuisine, which catered to the tastes of an international and artistic clientele. Here, the Italian could get his garlic and macaroni, the French his “escargot,” the German his sauerkraut, and the Russian his vodka. Chinese magicians ate roasted pork with chopsticks in a room of their own. A cheap but tasty goulash was also served for conductors of Negro orchestras, but only for conductors, the colored musicians had no access to the restaurant.
One major regret, the edition doesn’t mention at all the name of the translator(s), even though whoever did the job should be commended for the nice flow of the descriptions and dialogues. I thought the trend was finally to mention the translator, and even on the book cover. I think Kazabo Publishing definitely needs to remedy this problem if they really want to be taken seriously in the milieu of world literature.
VERDICT: A clever plot symbolizing different layers of the Norwegian society of early 20th century. A nice glimpse into the impressive work of Sven Elvestad, aka Stein Riverton.
HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK?
Any other classic Norwegian novel you would recommend?
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In full compliance with FTC Guidelines, I received this ebook free of charge for review from the publisher. I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.