Iceland Noir 2014: volcanoes, glaciers and crime

Having been extremely jealous of everyone at Iceland Noir last year, it was brilliant to make it this November, not least because Reykjavik has been on my wishlist of places to visit for a long, long time. The event was held at Nordic House, and was expertly organised by author Quentin Bates and the rest of the Icelandic Noir team, who put together a great programme over two days. Quite a few bloggers have already posted reports (see list below), so I’m going to focus on the panels/discussions that particularly interested me and say a little about my first impressions of Iceland … with plenty of photos!

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Nordic Perspectives panel – and yes, it was early in the morning…

Nordic Perspectives. This panel featured David Hewson (UK), Hans Olav Lahlum (Norway), Lilja Sigurðardóttir (Iceland) and Michael Ridpath (UK), with Jake Kerridge moderating. It was interesting to see how these authors positioned themselves or their countries’ crime output in relation to ‘nordic crime’. Sigurðardóttir felt that Icelandic crime had affinities to Scandinavian crime through its focus on the complexity of the criminal (citing the work of Norwegian author Karin Fossum as an example). However Lahlum saw himself as a historical crime writer rather than a Nordic crime writer, while Ridpath’s Icelandic-American investigator is an insider-outsider figure who negotiates different cultural traditions.

This panel also included discussion of historical crime fiction and adaptation. Lahlum told us that Norwegian crime fiction often engages with historical events, especially the Second World War (as evidenced in his novel The Human Flies). Hewson discussed his adaptation of the Danish TV crime drama The Killing, which involved adding contextualising historical detail. For example, the beginning and end of The Killing II are set in Ryvangen Memorial Park, which was the site of partisan executions by the Nazis and points to the core theme of the series – the long-term impact of war on society. Hewson provided extra information about the memorial, as British readers would not be aware of its significance (interesting; now on my TBR pile).

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‘Translating crime across cultures’ panel

The ‘translating crime fiction across cultures’ panel featured Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson (Iceland), Mari Hannah (UK), Bogdan Hrib (Romania) and Vidar Sundstøl (Norway), with academic Jacky Collins moderating. I left this panel wanting to read Sundstøl’s Minnesota Trilogy: the first installment, The Land of Dreams, won the prestigious Riverton Prize in 2008, and its exploration of Norwegian-American history and culture sounds right up my street. It was also interesting to hear Hrib discussing Romanian crime novels and his ongoing mission to see them more widely translated into English: there are currently just three, published by Profusion Press, which I’m now curious to read. Mari Hannah tantalised us by revealing that she’s written a novel partly set in Norway (a break from the Kate Daniels series, which we were reassured is also continuing). Icelandic author Ingólfsson currently has one novel translated into English – The Flatley Enigmawith others translated into German, which appears to be quite a common route for Icelandic writers (those Germans do love their nordic Krimis!).

A companion panel on the Saturday celebrated the inaugural Icepick Award for best crime novel translated into Icelandic, with Antii Tuomainen (Finnish author of The Healer) and Icelandic translators Ævar Örn Jósepsson, Bjarni Gunnarsson, Bjarni Jónsson and Sigadur Karlsson (Magnea Matthiasdóttir moderating).

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Icepick Award panel – a sea of translators!

The panel gave a fascinating insight into the dialogue between writers and translators about linguistic and cultural issues during the process of translation, although Gunnarsson also illustrated the important role of technology today: when translating Nesbo, he used Google Earth to take a closer look at Oslo, a city he’s never visited but now feels he knows well. Tuomainnen made lifelong friends in the translation community with his heartfelt appreciation for the work of the translator; he also specifically thanked Sigurdur Karlsson for translating his work and for bringing it to the attention of Icelandic publishers in the first place, thereby highlighting the influential role translators play in identifying promising new work. The Icepick was awarded on the Saturday evening at the Iceland Noir dinner (for further details, see my previous post).

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The ‘settings’ panel

Tuomainnen popped up again on the settings panel with Ragnar Jónasson (Iceland), Johan Theorin (Sweden) and Vidar Sundstøl (Norway), moderated by Jacky Collins. The settings discussed included urban Finland, a village in northern Iceland, an isolated Swedish island and the American Midwest. In each case, the novel’s location plays a crucial role – sometimes even becoming a character in its own right – and is used to create unease or suspense (Theorin’s Öland novels), a sense of remoteness and isolation (Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series), or to explore themes such as migration (Sundstol’s Minnesota Trilogy) and climate change (Tuomainen’s The Healer).

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The ‘supernatural in crime fiction’ panel – a suitably shaky shot from the back…

One of my favourite panels was on supernatural crime, featuring James Oswald (Scotland), Johan Theorin (Sweden), Alexandra Sokoloff (US) and Michael Sears (South Africa) in discussion with Jake Kerridge. It was fascinating to hear the varying reasons why crime authors use supernatural elements in their work: as a means of exploring the clash between the rational and irrational (Oswald), illustrating evil (Sokoloff), exploring cultural beliefs (Sears) or taking genre in new direction (Theorin). Hearing the panelists talk about the extra dimensions the supernatural can add to a crime narrative reminded me why I like hybrid crime fiction so much: there’s a creativity at work here that pushes the boundaries of the genre and – when it works – can produce fantastic results. Sokoloff rather intriguingly described a magpie approach when writing – she has blended Jewish lore and witch-y elements into her novels to create particular effects. And it struck me that at least two other writers at the conference – Tuomainen and Icelandic author Yrsa Sigurðardóttir – also write hybrid crime fiction (drawing on traditions of apocalyptic literature and horror). The days when crime publishers were reluctant to publish this type of fusion fiction thankfully appear to be over.

Other blog posts, articles and tweetery on Iceland Noir 2014:

  • Crime Fiction Lover – lots of coverage including the debut authors’ panel, featuring blogger and Petrona judge Sarah Ward, whose novel In Bitter Chill (Faber and Faber 2015) I’m greatly looking forward to reading
  • Crimepieces – Sarah Ward with three posts
  • The Reykjavik Grapevine on the author reading held at Solon on Thursday evening
  • Miriam Owen live-tweeted Iceland Noir via @NordicNoirBuzz

Do also check out the site for next year’s rather wonderful-looking Shetland Noir (Iceland Noir will be back in 2016).

I’m going to finish up with a few Reykjavik/Iceland photos to show those of you who haven’t yet visited what a great place this is!

1. An Eymundsson bookshop in Reyjkavik. This capital, which is around the size of my hometown Swansea, with a population of around 200,000, has at least five massive bookshops. Iceland is a nation of book lovers with a deep appreciation of culture (probably instilled by long winter nights and the reading aloud of Icelandic sagas). Fittingly, Reykjavik is a UNESCO City of Literature.

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Booktastic Reykjavik

2. The bubbling, steaming landscape of Haukadalur. Wandering around on a crust of earth just above plentiful geothermal activity, with geysers going off at regular intervals, instils an added appreciation of our volatile, ever-changing planet. In a land not heavy on natural resources, Icelanders have made the most of their free geothermal energy to heat their homes, create outdoor thermal pools, grow tomatoes, process aluminium, keep their streets de-iced, and so on… Ingenious and admirable.

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The land of fire and ice – a geothermal landscape here, but glaciers are not far away

3. Reykjavik is charming. Here are a few random photos.

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Hallgrímskirkja, which looks a lot like a space rocket, guarded by the statue of Leifur Eiriksson

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View over Reykjavik from the top of the Hallgrímskirkja – on the day the sun came out

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Reykjavik Harbour, looking out to Faxafloi Bay and the mountains beyond

4. There’s a lot of Icelandic wool. Which gets turned into gorgeous mittens to feed my newly discovered mitten addiction.

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Takk fyrir Icelandic sheep!

5. Friendly Vikings. I think this is my favourite Iceland Noir photo.

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Miriam and Ewa – awesomely stylish Vikings

Huge thanks to the Iceland Noir organisers for making the event such a wonderful success!

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21 thoughts on “Iceland Noir 2014: volcanoes, glaciers and crime

  1. Sounds wonderful – wish I could have been there! I’ve actually read Bogdan Hrib’s book (in translation) and would love to see more Romanian crime fiction in translation too. Offering my services for translating, in case any publisher is looking…

    • MarinaSofia, do you already know Bogdan? If not, and if you are keen to translate, then I’m sure I could put you in touch. He’s very much involved on the publishing side of things as well as being an author. We had a great chat about Romanian crime fiction after the panel, and I loved his enthusiasm and determination to get more texts out to the English-speaking world. He’s also organising a Romanian crime event – he’s hopefully going to email me with more info soon.

      It was a wonderful few days – perhaps see you there in 2016? Hope so!

  2. Your comments and assessments (also your anticipations!) do wonderful things to elevate such reflective noir novels to the status they deserve: they are far closer to literary fiction than genre fiction. The allusion to historical traces in this post is particularly valuable, since so much of crime fiction involves an interpretation of both human conscience and consciousness, on the way to atonement, expiation or acceptance. While it is so vivid in the Scandinavian and Irish, I observe this in the work of many American writers as well, most recently in a Harry Bosch procedural by Michael Connelly, where Harry’s mantra “everybody matters or nobody matters” is threatened by compromise.

    And, of course, thanks to you, I now need to add several new items to my endless want list. Shetland looks very appealing indeed.

    • Hello David – like you, I really value the depth and complexity of quality crime fiction, and would totally reject the idea that crime fiction is somehow inferior because it’s genre fiction. I wouldn’t necessarily feel the need to jettison the genre label, though – for me the point is that crime fiction is just as capable of exploring really big social, political and moral questions as so-called ‘high literature’. And when it engages with historical events, crime fiction can really shine in terms of revealing the criminality of particular eras, societies, conflicts or regimes.

      I have to confess that I’ve never read any Connelly (shocking I know). That’s one you’ve now added to my TBR list!

      See you in Shetland, perhaps?

      • It would be delightful to be in Shetland, for a dozen reasons. The later Connelly books about Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch seem the best to me, perhaps because he and I are near the same age, with the same ambivalence about our retirement and disappearance, and the same preoccupation with ethics. Harry is, like Wallander, a responsible man, with a dark history (he was an abandoned child, and later a “tunnel rat” in Viet Nam). His conscience always leads. I listened to this book (first audiobook in many years) and found the detailed explanations of police procedures to be essential to the reader’s work of thinking in parallel with the voice.

      • The first Harry Bosch novel is The Black Echo, if you like starting at the beginning. If not, I recommend The Last Coyote (#4), The Drop (#17), and, most recently, The Burning Room (#19).

    • I’m with David: over the years I’ve read all the Michael Connelly books and he is definitely the best American crime fiction author writing at the moment – I also love James Lee Burke and James Ellroy, but Connelly is by far the most consistent. I’ve noticed a lot of British bloggers don’t seem to read him, but I don’t know why. The Cold Cases he works on now have fantastic storylines. I must re-read some earlier Bosch, to see how his writing has developed. Do give him a whirl Mrs P!

  3. Reblogged this on Nordic Noir and commented:
    There have been so many good blogs on Iceland Noir and I have so many deadlines in December I dont have time to do my own so please enjoy everyone else’s. Starting here! Thanks fellow bloggers!

  4. Only scanned your notes so far, looks very interesting, but did you get to meet Indridason? Read the Harry Bosch novels years ago, did enjoy them, might have to revisit! Finished ‘Leaving Berlin’
    superb. Interesting ending. He’s up there with authors whose books I’ll buy without bothering about the reviews! Started ‘The truth About….. ummm not sure about it so far, easy read, can’t see what all the fuss is about, yet, translated by the same person who did HHhH, which probably says a lot about the book, what I would call ‘ a clever book’, or more style than substances! Still we will see.

    • Alas, no. He was there last year, and as he is very selective about events and interviews, I think I missed my best chance there. But I live in hope…perhaps in 2016!

      I’ve just started reading Leaving Berlin and was immediately struck by the fascinating period in which Kanon has chosen to set his narrative: the moment just before the formation of the two Germanies. And the perspective of the returning German exile is very unusual as well. Not sure I’ve read any other novels that have taken up this pov. Look forward to seeing how it all unfolds…

      Will have to reserve judgement on The Truth for now as well. It had better be worth the read!

  5. I’m going to be studying this entry over the next week. Lots to digest here, which is a treasure trove for all those who would love to go to Iceland Noir! Thank you!
    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

    • You’re welcome, Judith. There’s quite a lot to digest as you say: it was a packed couple of days with so much interesting content! Perhaps see you at Iceland Noir 2016?

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