Iceland Noir: First winner of Icepick Award announced!

Hot off the presses from Iceland Noir! The winner of the inaugural Icepick Award, given to the best crime novel translated into Icelandic in 2014, is….

 IcepickSmall

Joël Dicker’s La Vérité sur l’affaire Harry Quebert [The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair], translated from the French by Friðrik Rafnsson.

harry_quebert

This novel is a publishing phenomenon – here’s the blurb from Penguin, which has certainly made me want to read the book:

>> The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair is a fast-paced, tightly plotted, cinematic literary thriller, and an ingenious book within a book, by a dazzling young writer.

August 30, 1975: the day fifteen-year-old Nola Kellergan is glimpsed fleeing through the woods, never to be heard from again; the day Somerset, New Hampshire, lost its innocence. Thirty-three years later, Marcus Goldman, a successful young novelist, visits Somerset to see his mentor, Harry Quebert, one of the country’s most respected writers, and to find a cure for his writer’s block as his publisher’s deadline looms. But Marcus’s plans are violently upended when Harry is suddenly and sensationally implicated in the cold-case murder of Nola Kellergan—with whom he admits he had an affair. As the national media convicts Harry, Marcus launches his own investigation, following a trail of clues through his mentor’s books, the backwoods and isolated beaches of New Hampshire, and the hidden history of Somerset’s citizens and the man they hold most dear. To save Harry, his own writing career, and eventually even himself, Marcus must answer three questions, all of which are mysteriously connected: Who killed Nola Kellergan? What happened one misty morning in Somerset in the summer of 1975? And how do you write a book to save someone’s life?<<

The Icepick Award is judged both on the quality of the original work and its translation, acknowledging the vital role of the translator in allowing crime fiction to travel beyond national and linguistic boundaries to the ever grateful reader. The process of translating (which of course involves not just linguistic but detailed cultural knowledge) is often invisible, so it’s very welcome to see it being celebrated by the award.

The shortlist for the 2014 Icepick Award, with novels from America, Finland, Norway, Switzerland and Sweden, was as follows:

Joël Dicker, La Vérité sur l’affaire Harry Quebert [The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair] – Icelandic translation from French: Friðrik Rafnsson

Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl – Icelandic translation from English: Bjarni Jónsson

Jo Nesbø, Panserhjerte [The Leopard] – Icelandic translation from Norwegian: Bjarni Gunnarsson

Håkan NesserMänniska utan hund [Man Without Dog] – Icelandic translation from Swedish: Ævar Örn Jósepsson

Antti Tuomainen, Veljeni vartija [My Brother’s Keeper] – Icelandic translation from Finnish: Sigurður Karlsson

The award is founded by the Reykjavik Crime Festival Iceland Noir, The Icelandic Association of Translators and Interpreters and The Icelandic Crime Writing Association. 

Posted in America, By country, Finland, France, Norway | 26 Comments

Iceland Noir 2014 and BBC1′s The Fall

I’ll be heading to Reykjavik next week for Iceland Noir 2014. To say I’m a little excited is something of an understatement.

As this poster shows, Iceland Noir 2014 features the crème de la crème of Icelandic and international crime writers. There’s an exciting programme running over two days, with lovely extras such as Reykjavik crime walks, jazz-infused crime readings and the announcement of the Icepick Award (shortlist available here). With luck we’ll also have some northern lights swirling above. I’m very much looking forward to meeting old friends and new, and to uncovering lots of fabulous new crime fiction. There may be some tweeting too…

My reading on the plane out will be Ragnar Jónasson’s novel Snjóblinda (Snowblind, 2010), the first in his ‘Dark Iceland’ series.

Here’s a brief description: >> Winter in a small, isolated fishing town in the northernmost part of Iceland, only accessible via a small mountain tunnel. A young woman is found lying in the snow, bleeding and unconscious. An old writer falls to his death in the local theatre. A young police officer, new in town, must distinguish between truth and lies, while uncovering hidden crimes of the past, in a community where he can trust no-one, before the constant snowstorms and the twenty four hour darkness push him over the edge. << I’ll be tucking into the German translation, but am pleased to hear that the novel will be published in English translation by Orenda Press in 2015.

Online chatter has alerted me to the start of the second series of BBC1′s The Fall, which features Gillian Anderson as police superintendent Stella Gibson on the trail of Belfast serial killer Paul Spector. I’ve not seen any of this crime drama as yet. The Northern Ireland setting and the female lead have definitely piqued my interest, but the focus on the serial killer, and his depiction as mild-mannered family man by day and murderer of women by night, has rather put me off, as has the view of critics such as Rachel Cooke. My neighbour Ernie (who’s not at all keen on the serial-killer angle either) considers it a well-made drama with depth, so now I’m in two minds again. Have any of you watched it? Would you recommend viewing it or not?

Posted in By country, Iceland, Northern Ireland, TV | Tagged , | 38 Comments

25 years on: the fall of the Berlin Wall and the ‘deutsch-deutscher Krimi’

On a wall in my study hangs a Falk map of Berlin, on which the Berlin Wall is marked with a subtle rosy line. It’s the map I used on my year abroad in Germany, in the tumultuous year of 1989. In the space of six months I visited West and East Berlin (via Checkpoint Charlie), stayed with an East German family in Karl Marx Stadt (relatives of my German boyfriend), and then, rather disbelievingly, watched the Wall fall on TV with my great-aunt (who had seen it go up in 1961) before heading back to Berlin, this time to climb through a freshly created hole in the Wall and ponder the craziness of history while standing in the former no-man’s land.

This image of the Berlin Wall was taken in 1986 by Thierry Noir and corresponds with my memories of it in 1989

9th November 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of the remarkable day that East Germany collapsed without a single shot being fired. It’s being commemorated with a programme of events in Berlin, culminating in a Lichtgrenze (Border of Light), which sees 12 kilometers of the Wall’s former route lit with 8000 helium lights as an act of remembrance and as ‘a symbol of hope for a world without walls’. This is what it’ll look like at night:

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Lichtgrenze installation, 7-9 November (http://www.bauderfilm.de/lichtgrenze/)

Of course, one of the myriad ways in which the legacy of the East German past is still being explored is via crime fiction. Here are some examples of recent Krimis that engage with the so-called ‘deutsch-deutscher’ (German-German) question. (Unfortunately only the first one is in English translation at the moment, but hopefully the summaries below will give non-German speakers a flavour of what’s out there. And who knows, perhaps some publishers might be tempted?)

Simon Urban, Plan D (Schoeffling, 2011; Harvill Secker translation, 2013). This gutsy alternative history imagines a 2011 world in which the Berlin Wall did not fall. A blackly humorous satire, it follows the misadventures of Volkspolizei (People’s Police) investigator Martin Wegener, while giving readers an insight into life in East Germany and its historical contexts. I reviewed it favourably in 2013, and posted an East German glossary that explains some of the key events and terms in the novel.

Christa Bernuth’s Innere Sicherheit (Inner Security; Piper, 2006) is set in the East Germany of the early 1980s, before reunification seemed likely. GDR police investigator Martin Beck (a nod to Sjöwall/Wahlöö?) looks into a fatal case of Republikflucht (‘flight from the republic’) that’s not all it seems. Why has the victim been shot with a bullet used by the West? And what are her links to the West German terrorism of the 1970s? There’s an extract available (in German) on the author’s website.

Uwe Klausner, Stasi-Konzern (Stasi Business; Gmeiner, 2014). Retired police chief Tom Sydow is strolling through a West Berlin park on 9. October 1964 when shots ring out. A man has been murdered, but perpetrator and corpse quickly disappear. Sydow discovers the victim was meeting a Stasi officer and is pulled into a case that leads to the top of the East German secret police. This is the sixth installment in the historical ‘Sydow’ series. The fifth, Kennedy-Syndrom, is set in August 1961, just as the Berlin Wall goes up.

Oliver G. Wachlin, Wunderland (Wonderland; Emons, 2008). This humorous ‘Berlin-Krimi’ takes place as the Wall is falling in 1989. West German police investigator Hans Dieter Knoop views a corpse by a lake who’s wearing ice-skates … even though the water’s not yet frozen. He sets about solving this puzzle in the midst of the historical jubilation around him, and receives some unexpected visitors from the East. The second in the series, Tortenschlacht (Death by Cake), plays in 1990, shortly before German reunification.

Jay Monika Walther, Goldbroiler oder die Beschreibung einer Schlacht (Roast Chicken or the Chronicle of a Slaughter; Orange Cursor, 2009). Set shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall in Warnemünde, this novel shows former East German citizens floundering economically in the new order. The villains are former Nazis from the west, who co-opt eastern neo-Nazis, former Stasi members and disgruntled former GDR citizens into activities such as extortion, smuggling and importing women as sex workers from eastern Europe. A bleak view of the reunited Germany.

As this small selection shows, there’s a huge amount of diversity in crime novels that engage with the East German past – in terms of the historical moment they examine (from 1961 to 1990), the perspectives they adopt (investigators from East and West), the themes they pick up (political repression, corruption, the impact on ordinary people of major social and political changes), and the style in which they are written (satirical, thriller, comic). They link to other legacies of the German past (National Socialism, left-wing terrorism) and sometimes form part of larger historical series attempting to process twentieth-century German history (Klausner’s ‘Sydow’ novels). All of them form part of a wider boom in German-language historical crime fiction, which was triggered by 1989 and the renewed interest in Germany’s ‘double past’ of fascism and communism – Eric Hobsbawm’s ‘age of extremes’ writ large. I’ve just finished a chapter on this subject for the University of Wales Crime Fiction in German volume, which has been very illuminating to write. A final point: only one of the authors above actually had lived experience of East Germany – Oliver Wachlin, who was born in the GDR in 1966. The latter is obviously not a prerequisite for writing crime about the GDR, but I find it interesting nonetheless.

The famous image of the East German Trabi busting through the Berlin Wall

Here are a few extra links to articles and websites about the former East Germany and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Coverage has been excellent:

A brilliant collection of video clips from rbb (Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg) that chronicle the history of the Berlin Wall and its fall. They can be viewed in German or in English.

Before and after shots of the Berlin Wall and the city from The Guardian. Click on the old image and the modern one appears – quite uncanny!

Great piece on the fall of the Berlin Wall by Timothy Garton Ash, a historian who was also an eye witness – some great images too.

An interesting piece by Philip Oltermann, on how some positive aspects of GDR society (from football to gender equality to education) are only now being properly acknowledged.

Over at Kafka’s Mouse, PD Smith has a great post on the changes to urban Berlin in the wake of reunification, with before and after images.

The British Museum currently has a major exhibition on exploring German history through a variety of objects. It’s called Germany – Memories of a Nation, and runs until January 2015. There’s a companion Radio 4 series: you can listen to an episode on the two Germanies here – the object in question is a wet-suit that was used in an escape attempt from the East in 1987.

Posted in By country, East Germany, Germany, Historical | Tagged | 39 Comments

Dylan Thomas at 100 / Getting hooked on crime fiction

Today, 27. October 2014, is the 100th birthday of poet Dylan Marlais Thomas. As I live in Swansea, just around the corner from where he was born, I thought I’d mark his centenary on the blog.

Today I was lucky enough to have a tour of 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, the lovingly restored Thomas family home, which I would heartily recommend. Here are some photos to give you an idea:

The bedroom where Dylan Thomas was born…100 years ago today

Dylan’s TINY bedroom and a reconstruction of his writing desk

They made him an awesome birthday cake! With smarties!

And for the last few days, the city has been buzzing with all manner of Dylan events, from the Do Not Go Gentle festival (featuring Danish band Eggs Laid by Tigers, who set Dylan’s poetry to music) to the Dylathon at the Swansea Grand Theatre, a non-stop, 36-hour reading of Dylan’s writings and works. I’m very excited to be heading to the final session tonight, which features Ian McKellen, Sian Phillips, Katherine Jenkins and The Morriston Orpheus Choir, amongst others.

AND … last night Port Talbot boy Michael Sheen’s production of Under Milk Wood was broadcast live from the 92nd Street Y in New York, the same venue where the only recording of the piece with Dylan Thomas was made in 1953. It’s a vivid, humorous and moving evocation of a day in the life of a Welsh town called Llareggub (spell it backwards…!) and is well worth a listen. My favourite character is Mr. Pugh, who yearns to murder his cold, nagging wife: ‘Alone in the hissing laboratory of his wishes, Mr. Pugh … mixes especially for Mrs. Pugh a venomous porridge unknown to toxicologists which will scald and viper through her until her ears fall off like figs, her toes grow big and black as balloons, and steam comes screaming out of her navel’. And there we have our link to crime! It’s always there if you look closely enough…

Marina Sofia interview photo (1)

In other news, the lovely Marina Sofia invited me to take part in her ‘what got you hooked on crime’ interview series. It was great to be asked and I had a lot of fun answering her questions. If you’d like to see my responses, they are over at her findingtimetowrite blog, and take in most of the books featured on the pile above. Perhaps you have some views on my choices?

Posted in By country, Interviews, Wales | Tagged | 15 Comments

Catching up with Australian political thriller The Code

The last couple of weeks have been busy, so it was only last night I realised that a bit of a gem is currently being shown in the BBC4 Saturday night crime slot.

The Code is a six-part Australian political thriller, which begins with the mysterious death of Aboriginal teenager Sheyna Smith in Lindara, a remote New South Wales township. For reasons that are unclear, the circumstances of her death have to be hushed up, so when Ned Banks (a journalist for an internet newspaper) and his brother Jesse (an internet hacker on the autistic spectrum) start to investigate, trouble comes a-calling. Back in Lindara, Sheyna’s schoolteacher Alex Wisham gets pulled into the case in unexpected ways.

Jesse does stuff that he most probably shouldn’t do

I caught up with the first episode this evening, and very much liked what I saw. The plot is gripping, the characterisation is excellent, and the production is sleek and stylish, with wonderful shots of the Australian outback calling to mind New Zealand’s Top of the Lake. By coincidence, the character of Ian Bradley is played by David Wenham, who also appeared in Top of the Lake, and there’s another well-known face in Lucy Lawless (Xena; Spartacus; Battlestar Galactica) as Alex Wisham. Dan Spielman and Ashley Zukerman create a very nice dynamic as brothers Ned and Jesse.

Shades of Top of the Lake (wide open spaces hiding secrets and lies), The Bridge (young Jesse) and Sherlock (the neat use of graphics) – what’s not to like?

Feast your eyes on that landscape

There’s an article exploring the drama with its creator Shelley Birse over in The Guardian (some spoilers). Note also the irony of an Australian political thriller being partially funded by the Australian government!

Episodes 3 and 4 aired last night, but all episodes are available to view on BBC iPlayer (1 and 2 online; 3 and 4 can still be accessed via TV and online; 5 and 6 to come).

There’s a BBC guide to the characters and cast here.

Posted in Australia, By country, TV | 19 Comments

The 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature goes to Patrick Modiano (who’s a bit of a crime writer)

The winner of the 2014 Novel Prize for Literature was announced yesterday. He is French writer Patrick Modiano, who appears to be extremely well known at home, but less so internationally, although some of his works have been translated into English down the years, and have won acclaim in Germany for their engagement with the wartime past.

Patrick Modiano

I’ve not read any of Modiano’s works, but am keen to do so for two reasons. Firstly, he’s of Jewish-Italian, Belgian and French extraction, and much of his writing focuses on the German Occupation of France (1940-44) and the themes of history, memory, identity and guilt.

Secondly, he’s the author of an intriguing, off-beat crime novel, entitled Rue des Boutiques Obscures (the street of shadowy shops), which was published in 1978 and received the Prix Goncourt, France’s premier literary prize, the same year.

The novel was translated into English by Daniel Weissbort, published by Jonathan Cape in 1980, and republished by Verba Mundi in 2004. Here’s the blurb from the back cover of the latter:

>> In this strange, elegant novel, Patrick Modiano portrays a man in pursuit of the identity he lost in the murky days of the Paris Occupation, the black hole of French memory.

For ten years, Guy Roland has lived without a past. His current life and name were given to him by his recently retired boss, Hutte, who welcomed him, a one-time client, into his detective agency. Guy makes full use of Hutte’s files – directories, yearbooks, and papers of all kinds going back half a century – but his leads are few. Could he really be the person in that photograph, a young man remembered by some as a South American attaché? Or was he someone else, perhaps the disappeared scion of a prominent local family? He interviews strangers and is tantalized by half-clues until, at last, he grasps a thread that leads him through the maze of his own repressed experience.

On one level Missing Person is a detective thriller, a 1950s film-noir mix of smoky cafés, illegal passports and insubstantial figures crossing bridges in the fog. On another level, it is also a haunting meditation on the nature of the self. Modiano’s sparce, hypnotic prose, superbly translated by Daniel Weissbort, draws his readers into the intoxication of a rare literary experience. <<

An amnesiac detective investigating his own identity and past in a post-war Parisian setting. Mmmmm, yes please!

See also: ‘Nobel Prize winner Patrick Modiano hailed as modern Marcel Proust’The Guardian, Thursday 9 October.

Posted in By country, Europe, France, Historical | Tagged , , | 29 Comments

#46 / Olivier Truc, Forty Days without Shadow

Olivier Truc, Forty Days without Shadow, trans. by Louise Rogers LaLaurie (London, Trapdoor, 2014)  4.5 stars

Opening line: It was the most extraordinary day of the year, pregnant with the hopes of humanity. Tomorrow, the sun would be reborn.

The prize-winning novel Forty Days without Shadow came my way as a submission for the Petrona Award. Although by a French author, it’s eligible due to its Scandinavian setting and its publication in English translation (our slightly quirky rules allow some unusual works to be considered for the prize, which is highly welcome in my view).

The author – journalist and TV producer Olivier Truc – made a documentary in 2008 on the fascinating subject of the Norwegian Reindeer Police (Reinpolitiet), which deals largely with herder disputes, and covers 56,000 square miles of Lapland with just fifteen personnel. Truc paints a wonderful portrait of this highly specialised police force in his absorbing debut novel, and in the process places the Arctic and its indigenous cultures centre stage. In these respects he has a lot in common with British author M.J. McGrath, who successfully deployed the research she carried out for her non-fiction book The Long Exile when creating her ‘Edie Kiglatuk’ series, set in the Canadian High Arctic.

The Reindeer Police at work on the vidda

At the start of Forty Days, we see Sámi-Norwegian reindeer policeman Klemet Nango and his young partner Nina Nansen being pulled into the investigation of a theft. A priceless Sámi drum has disappeared from the local museum, and needs to be recovered before a UN conference on indigenous peoples takes place in the region. Shortly afterwards, Sámi herder Mattis is found dead, and ‘Patrol P9′ finds itself grappling with two crimes that could well be interlinked, and whose roots lie in both the recent and more distant past.

The novel uses its criminal investigations as a means of exploring different aspects of Lapland and its history. One fascinating point is that present-day Lapland lies across Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia (see map below), which on the one hand leads to tensions, but on the other encourages international cooperation. However, those borders are relatively recent – only a few hundred years old – and are insignificant as far as the reindeer are concerned, which follow their usual migratory patterns, blissfully unaware of national jurisdictions. The borders are thus exposed as artificial constructs, imposed by colonising governments out of tune with the natural world, and prone to exploiting the land and its indigenous populations rather than safeguarding them.

The novel brilliantly evokes the winter setting of Lapland – the end of the long darkness of forty days of winter night, and the slow, welcome return of the sun, which shows itself for a scant twenty-seven minutes on its first day back. Through the interactions of various characters – some nuanced and some symbolic – we’re also shown the tensions between Norwegians and Sámi, and the impact of religion, politics and modernisation on the traditional Sámi way of life. Simultaneously entertaining and insightful, with an engrossing plot, this is a cracking debut that illuminates a world most of us know little about. The final section of the novel has shades of Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow about it too, which is never a bad thing.

As the novel celebrates Sámi culture and present-day efforts to reclaim a Sámi cultural identity, I thought I’d finish by linking to the Sámi allaskuvla or Sámi Educational College, which works with ‘the Sámi community, particularly with young people, to preserve and promote the Sámi language, traditions, occupations, skills and knowledge’, and ‘supports Sámi society’s progress towards equality with the majority society’. It celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

There’s also a nice interview with Truc, who’s based in Stockholm, on how he came to write the novel over at The Crime Vault.

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Posted in 4 stars, Arctic, Book reviews, By country, Norway | Tagged , , | 29 Comments

The Pistorius trial, Peter Murphy’s A Matter for the Jury (2014) and Fritz Lang’s M (1931)

The international media is full of the news that South African athlete Oscar Pistorius has been found guilty of the culpable homicide of Reeva Steenkamp.

Without for an instant forgetting that real people rather than fictional characters are involved in this case, it’s been fascinating watching the trial unfold, and seeing how judge Thokozile Masipa has evaluated the arguments presented by the prosecution and defence, and key points of South African law – such as the distinctions between murder (planned/intending to kill), common-law murder (intending to kill, or knowing that your actions might kill, but without malice aforethought) and culpable homicide (not intending to kill, but guilty of negligent action; akin to the British concept of manslaughter). There’s now of course lots of debate about whether those distinctions have been applied correctly.

Interesting too, is that South African crime writers have been asked for their views on the case in press coverage from South Africa to the UK, Germany and the US, thereby taking up the role of social commentators. Two interesting pieces are Margie Orford’s on ‘the imaginary black stranger at the heart of the defence’ and Deon Meyer’s on how our fascination with the case is linked to our fear of death and a need to see justice done. Both are well worth a read. (I’ve just seen another excellent piece by Orford here: a reaction to the verdict in the larger contexts of male violence and South Africa’s macho culture.)

As is often the way, the extensive discussion of the Pistorius trial has intersected with two other crime narratives currently on my radar, both of which draw on real cases and feature trials. I’ve just finished reading Peter Murphy’s A Matter for the Jury (No Exit Press, 2014), an excellent courtroom drama that explores a murder trial in the era of capital punishment (which was abolished in Britain in 1965, a year after the narrative takes place).

Based loosely on the James Hanratty case, the novel is illuminating in three key respects: it shows the tremendous pressure defence barristers were under when their client faced the death penalty; it shows how evidence has to be marshalled into a convincing narrative for the jury, who deliver the final verdict in court (a contrast here to the Pistorius case, which in accordance with South African practice had no jury); and it shows the sometimes contradictory and inadequate nature of the law (for example, murder ‘in furtherance of theft’ is deemed a capital offence, whereas murder and rape is not). Like all the best crime novels, A Matter for the Jury raises difficult legal and moral questions that are not easily resolved: it’s a rich and absorbing read.

A classic crime film, freshly re-released, has also been in the papers: Fritz Lang’s 1931 Expressionist masterpiece Meine Stadt sucht einen Mörder (M – A City Searches for a Murderer), whose child killer, played by Peter Lorre, is modelled on the real figure of Peter Kürten.

I’m delighted to see this film back in the spotlight. Brilliantly made, it contains a fascinating depiction of a trial set up by Berlin’s network of criminals, who capture ‘M’ ahead of the police. This kangaroo court features criminal boss Schränker in the role of ‘judge’, who promptly prejudices proceedings by declaring that child murderers should forfeit any legal rights due to the nature of their crimes. The argument of the lone ‘defence lawyer’ – that M cannot control his actions due to a psychiatric disorder and needs treatment by doctors – is rejected by the criminals, who are only prevented from lynching the accused by the arrival of the police.

Critic Horst Lange* convincingly argues that this scene functions as a warning allegory about the rise of National Socialism: Schränker is shown wearing a Gestapo-like leather coat, using Nazi terminology, and sweeping aside legal conventions in order to secure the result that he wants. At the same time, the film leaves the question of appropriate justice open at the end of the film, closing with a shot of the grieving mothers whose loss can never be made good. If you’ve not yet had the chance, I highly recommend a viewing: it’s an extraordinary film that’s visually stunning and remains extremely thought-provoking. It’s rightly been given a 5 star rating by Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian.

* Horst Lange, ‘Nazis vs. the Rule of Law: Allegory and Narrative Structure in Fritz Lang’s M’, Monatshefte 101/2 (2009), 170–85.

Posted in 4 stars, Book reviews, By country, Film, Germany, Historical, South Africa | Tagged , , | 15 Comments

It’s Scandi time! Mankell’s An Event in Autumn, Indridason’s Reykjavic Nights and BBC4′s Crimes of Passion

This week, I’ve shared my evenings with two of my favourite Scandi authors, Henning Mankell (Sweden) and Arnaldur Indridason (Iceland).

A *beautiful* cover, don’t you think?

Henning Mankell’s An Event in Autumn (trans. by Laurie Thompson/Harvill Secker, 2014) was originally written for a Dutch crime event and adapted for an episode of Kenneth Branagh’s Wallander in 2012. This beautifully packaged work is now published for the first time in English, and in terms of its chronology, is set just before the last novel in the series, The Troubled Man.

The book is described as a novella by the publisher and in accordance with that genre, is a little shorter than a novel. I can’t help wondering if Mankell’s title pays homage to Goethe’s view of the novella as focusing on ‘eine sich ereignete unerhörte Begebenheit’ (literally ‘an unheard of event that has taken place’ or more idiomatically ‘an unprecedented event’). Murder does fit that definition very nicely indeed.

The narrative opens in October 2002. Wallander is about to make an offer on a house when he discovers something dodgy in the garden: a long-ago crime has literally been unearthed and the policeman, with the help of daughter Linda, feels compelled to investigate, in a typically nuanced and engrossing tale. My favourite line: ‘It struck Wallander that nothing could make him as depressed as the sight of old spectacles no one wanted any more’ (p. 51).

Any hopes that more Wallander novels might be forthcoming are dashed in a little afterward by Mankell, so fans of the series had better savour this last work. However, there is an added bonus in the form of an essay by the author entitled ‘How it started, how it finished, and what happened in between’. Lots of lovely insights for the melancholy Ystad detective’s fans.

An Event in Autumn is published by Harvill Secker on 4. September 2014. With thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy.

As if that wasn’t enough, I then received a copy of Arnaldur Indridason’s Reykjavik Nights in the post (trans. by Victoria Cribb/Harvill Secker, 2014). I’d been hugely looking forward to this prequel to the ‘Murder in Reykjavik’ series and was barely able to put it down: it’s a wonderfully absorbing read that traces Erlendur’s journey from young policeman to detective as he investigates the death of a homeless man and the disappearance of a young woman. Set in 1974, the year Iceland celebrated 1100 years of settlement, we are given new insights into Erlendur’s character and how a traumatic childhood event will shape both his personal life and investigative career.

As was the case with Mankell’s The PyramidReykjavic Nights is a great introduction for new readers to the series. Alternatively, for those of us who have already had the pleasure, it provides a valuable context in which to place the ‘later’ works. Mr. Indridason, if you’re reading this, please do feel free to add some more… Takk fyrir!

Reykjavic Nights is published by Harvill Secker on 18. September 2014. With thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy. If you’re interested in Icelandic crime, then Iceland Noir, which takes place in Reykjavik from 20-23 November 2014, is also worth checking out.

And finally, some important BBC4 Saturday evening crime news. Today, 30th August 2014, sees the start of a new six-part Swedish series based on the 1950s novels of Maria Lang (the pseudonym of Dagmar Lange, a well known and prodigious crime author). The first episode of Crimes of Passion, entitled ‘Death of a Loved One’ airs at 9.00pm. The BBC4 summary is as follows:

>> Puck Ekstedt is invited by her university tutor to celebrate midsummer at his summer house on a secluded island, together with a group of friends including Einar Bure. Puck and Einar (Eje for short) are secretly courting and he is the reason she accepts the invitation. The summer nights are seductively beautiful until Puck finds one of the female guests murdered. Einar contacts his best friend Christer Wijk, a police inspector, to investigate. In the meantime, they are trapped on the island – and someone among them is a killer. <<

The series has been described as Mad Men meets The Killing. This sounds a bit too good to be true, but I will reserve judgement until this evening. You can see a short clip from the first episode on the BBC4 website.

Posted in 5 stars, Book reviews, By country, Iceland, Sweden, TV | Tagged , , , | 30 Comments

Dutch Delights

We recently spent ten days in The Netherlands and thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, two very different cities united by their easy-going feel and superb transport systems. Pedestrians, bikes and trams are given just as high a status as cars, and the result is a thoroughly civilized and less polluted urban experience. That and regular portions of apple pie with whipped cream made for a very pleasant trip.

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Classic ‘sit up and beg’ bikes in Amsterdam, which work best on the flat!

While there, I read Herman Koch‘s bestseller The Dinner (Het Diner), which was published in 2009 and has been translated into over twenty languages. It was an interesting reading experience, as the image it presented of Dutch society felt totally at odds with the tolerant and relaxed society I was seeing around me.

The Dinner (trans. by Sam Garrett, Atlantic Books, 2012) depicts the events of one evening, interspersed with flashbacks, during which brothers Paul and Serge Lohman and their wives Claire and Babette meet for a posh dinner in Amsterdam. While seemingly two affluent and civilized couples enjoying gourmet food, the truth is somewhat different: the purpose of their meeting is to discuss how to deal with their teenage sons, who recently committed a shocking crime. No one yet knows the identity of the culprits, and so the question is how to proceed. Needless to say, there is some disagreement among the four, which ends up casting the Dutch middle classes in a rather unfavourable light.

Like the novellas of French author Pascal GarnierThe Dinner reveals the savagery lurking beneath the civilized exterior of polite society, its capacity for violence when threatened, and its willingness to sacrifice others in order to protect its own.  While a targeted critique of Dutch society, the novel also raises plenty of questions about class, parenting, family relations, moral choices, the individual’s capacity for violence, the nature vs nurture debate, and the fragility of liberal values. It’s a compelling and unsettling read.

A Dutch film adaptation of The Dinner appeared in 2013, and Cate Blanchett is set to make her directorial debut with an English-language adaptation soon.

Reading Koch’s work has whetted my appetite for more Dutch crime fiction. In particular, I’ve got my eyes on Harry Mulisch’s The Assault (1985), a hybrid crime novel that explores the repercussions of a resistance assassination in occupied Holland in 1945. (Mulisch is one of The Netherland’s best-known writers and died aged 83 in 2010 – see his obituary here). An excellent CrimeTime overview of Dutch crime fiction has also given me some useful pointers – ‘Crime Scene: The Netherlands’.

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The aforementioned Dutch apple pie, with plenty of cinnamon.

Posted in Book reviews, By country, Europe, Netherlands, Sweden | 14 Comments