Nordic Noir, in the Horn of Africa

By Robert Karjel
404 pp. Harper/HarperCollins Publishers. $26.99.

Peter Hoeg’s 1992 publishing sensation, “Smilla’s Sense of Snow,” was America’s gateway drug to a long-term dependency on Nordic noir, suspense novels in which the placid progressive surface — health care, tolerance, bicycles — is routinely shattered by neo-Nazis, rapists, neo-Nazi rapists. Just maybe, despite our more than 30,000 annual gun deaths and mass incarceration and unconscionable poverty, those Scandinavians aren’t any more civilized than we are.

Every subgenre has its conventions, and Scandi-crime’s have become commonplace to readers (and moviegoers): bleak landscapes and brooding protagonists, sexual violence and abounding umlauts. So it’s refreshing to find the action in Robert Karjel’s “After the Monsoon” set in a place that is the opposite of Sweden: Djibouti, a “little thumbnail of land” where the Horn of Africa meets the Gulf of Aden, and

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