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Book Report: Mystery or poetry? Take your pick

Book reviewer Dave Wood

Tired of crime novels set in Frisco, The Big Apple, LA?

Tired of crime novels whose heroes are named Sam, Nick, and Nero, written by authors named Earle, Dashiell and Ellery?

Then try one of the hot new scribes from Scandinavia. No, not the late Stieg Larssen, who has dominated our bestseller lists for a year. I'm thinking of Arne Dahl, whose name sounds more like my brother's hired man than any whodunit writer. Nevertheless, he's one of the premiere purveyors of Europe's detective novel genre.

His new novel is "Misterioso," just released in the United States by Pantheon ($25.95), in a translation by Tiina Nunnally, after being published in Sweden back in 1999.

It's a thriller set in Swedish places like Fittja, Norsborg, Huddinge, Varsta and Grodinge and concerns the derring-do of Stockholm detective Paul Hjelm and his assistant Jorge Chavez (no Swede!) on the trail of a serial murderer who likes to kill high profile Swedish business leaders, while a phonograph plays Thelonious Monk's jazz classic, "Misterioso."

It's a sophisticated romp with undertones of the Russian Mafia and the xenophobic northern country that is rapidly becoming internationalized.

Let's move on now to our own neighborhood.

Fifteen years ago, Scott King established Red Dragonfly Press in Northfield, Minn. Today, its old-fashioned presses are located as the "Press-in-Residence" the Anderson Center in Red Wing, Minn.

King is still at the helm and what began as a modest little effort has become a real presence in the field of quality printing of literary efforts.

In 1994, King published two chapbooks, one with a run of 24 copies, the other with one known copy extant. This year he produced 11 books, for a total of 135 books in the press's bibliography. That's not counting "Perfect Dragonfly," selected by King (Red Dragonfly Press, $30), which just appeared.

It's a beautifully produced compendium of poems previously printed by Red Dragonfly and features poets from all over the world, including many who have appeared over the years in this column, like Jim Lenfestey's magnificent anthology of poetry about pigs.

Here's "Ars Poetica," an example from Mark Vinz, an emeritus professor at Moorhead State from his new "Dragonfly" volume, entitled "The Work is All:"

At $12.95 we just can't afford it,

my students say of the book of poems

I've recommended.

It's not even 100 pages, you know.

For that kind of money they could buy --

no, I don't want to hear

what they could buy.

It must be hard to make a living

writing poems -- that much they understand.

But do you get paid by the line or page?

Fat poets with slim volumes, I joke --

a line from Dylan Thomas I've carried for years.

Is he related to Bob Dylan? they ask,

wide-eyed with connections.

Today we speak of what we can and can't

afford, this business of making a living

wringing words from who knows where,

by paying by the line or page or more.

Today we speak of craft, connections

lost and gained, and how, like everything else,

The price is always going up.

Dave Wood is a past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Phone him at 715-426-9554.