Happy Valley Series 2, Arctic thrills (Nesbo & McGrath)…and going green

My day is made: I’ve just heard the news that the second series of Happy Valley begins on BBC 1 next Tuesday, 9 February at 9pm.

Happy Valley 1

The first series of Happy Valley was one of the best TV crime dramas I’ve ever seen, with a wonderful lead, Police Sergeant Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire), and a storyline that was gripping and moving in equal measure. The script by acclaimed screenwriter Sally Wainwright was top-notch, celebrating female strength and endurance while exploring tough themes such as grief, gender and power, and the consequences of greed.

Series 2 picks up the story eighteen months after the end of series 1. Tommy Lee Royce is still safely locked up in prison, but continues to cast a shadow over Cawood’s life as she attempts to get on with raising her grandson and doing her job. Episode 1 starts off with a mild case of West Yorkshire sheep rustling, but things soon take a more serious turn… There are six episodes in total.

Here’s the trailer to whet your appetite and a great Guardian piece on the show (‘What makes Happy Valley TV’s most realistic police drama?’):

Other TV dramas I’m enjoying at the moment include Channel 4’s Deutschland 83 (which I’ll blog on more fully at the end of the series) and Vera, which has just started over on ITV. I’ve had to consciously pull myself back to some reading, not least as the Petrona Award judges will be meeting soon to shortlist for this year’s prize.

Midnight Sun

One of the submissions is Jo Nesbø’s Midnight Sun, expertly translated from the Norwegian by Neil Smith (Harvill Secker, 2015). I confess that I’ve sometimes struggled with Nesbø’s novels. While I like some of the ‘Harry Hole’ series, such The Redbreast (2006), and always initially enjoy the writing, I’ve put more than one of the novels aside when the violence becomes too eye-watering. Midnight Sun stayed within acceptable boundaries for me on that score, and as a result, I really enjoyed this tale of a young man on the run from Oslo’s nastiest underworld boss. Jon’s escape route leads him to Kåsund, a small (possibly fictitious) settlement near Alta in the Finnmark region of northern Norway, which lies in the Arctic Circle (close to Tromsø on the map below). Here, this city dweller has to deal with northerly solitude, the disorientating midnight sun, his Sami and Laestadian neighbours, and the threat of being found. The novel’s characterisation is rich, the geographical and cultural settings are intriguing, and the plot unfolds in a leisurely fashion, allowing Jon’s relationship with a young woman and her son from the nearby Laestadian religious community to grow at a natural pace. The novel also features the most original fugitive hiding place I’ve seen in a long time.

Another novel with a similar setting, which features the Norwegian Reindeer Police, is Olivier Truc’s Forty Days without Shadow see my earlier review here.

Arctic Circle

I’ve also just started M.J. McGrath’s third ‘Edie Kiglatuk’ novel, The Bone Seeker (Pan, 2015). I’m delighted to be back in Edie’s world as I love her company, and one of the series’ big strengths is the detail it gives about Inuit life on Umingmak Nuna (Ellesmere Island, in green on the left of the map) up in the High Arctic. The history, geography and culture of the region all fascinate me, bearing out Karen’s comments in the previous post about enriching the reading experiences of far-away audiences.

The novel opens with the disappearance of young Inuit Martha Salliaq, one of the students Edie has been teaching at a school in Kuujuaq. When a body is discovered in a polluted lake near a decommissioned radar station, a complex investigation begins… Like Nesbo’s novel, The Bone Seeker is set during the arctic summer in seemingly eternal daylight, and I’m very much looking forward to reading more. It’s beautifully written and a genuine crime fiction treat.

Bone Seeker

Finally, some of you may have noticed that this blog has turned a little green. The new design and colour scheme celebrate the fact that Crime Fiction in German has gone to press! The blog banner is taken from the marvellous cover by the University of Wales Press. Watch this space for further news about the publication date and launch.

🙂

CFIG

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January 2015: some crime drama treats

Here we all are in a shiny new year. Wishing you and yours a very happy 2015!

There are a number of wonderful crime dramas heading our way in January. Here’s a quick round up of four goodies…

Y Gwyll / Hinterland, S4C, 9pm on Thursday 1 January 

Today sees a special, one-off episode for fans of this bilingual, Welsh-English crime drama. Here’s the S4C description >> Troubled hero DCI Mathias returns to the front-line in this brand new episode. Faced with a suspected arson attack, Mathias is drawn into a community riven by old feuds and bitter jealousies. A story of heartbreak and loss, but for Tom Mathias, will it offer a new beginning? <<

Head over to the S4C website for further information (in English), a trailer and details of how to activate subtitles. If you don’t have access to S4C, don’t worry – you’ll be able to access it later via S4C Clic online (the Welsh equivalent of iPlayer). The episode will no doubt also appear on BBC1 in due course. An earlier Mrs. Peabody post on Y Gwyll is available here, and a new series follows later in 2015.

Fortitude, Sky Atlantic, 9pm on Thursday 29 January

There’s an increasing amount of buzz about this series in the press. Drawing on Scandi Noir traditions, it features a stellar international cast (Stanley Tucci, Michael Gambon, Sofie Gråbøl, Christopher Eccleston), is set in a mining community in the Arctic Circle and was filmed in Iceland. From where I’m standing, that’s an impossible combination to resist.

Sky’s description is as follows: >> Fortitude is a place like nowhere else. Although surrounded by the savage beauty of the Arctic landscape, it is one of the safest towns on earth. There has never been a violent crime here. Until now. In such a close-knit community a murder touches everyone and the unsettling, mysterious horror of this crime threatens the future of the town itself.

The local Chief of Police, Sheriff Dan Anderssen (Dormer), has to investigate alongside DCI Morton (Tucci), the detective who has flown into Fortitude so fast that questions are being asked about how much he knew, and when. As these two cops try to make sense of the killing, each finds compelling reasons to mistrust and suspect the other. <<

Further details are available here and there’s a preview clip too…

Broadchurch, ITV, Monday 5 January

Alec Hardy (David Tennant) and Ellie Miller (Olivia Coleman) return for the second series of this crime drama set on the Dorset coast. I absolutely loved the first series and am intrigued to see where the storyline goes after the explosive revelations of the final episode.

Spiral, BBC4, 9pm on Saturday 10 January (12 episodes)

The fifth season of this gritty French crime drama will be a welcome addition to BBC4’s international crime slot on Saturday evenings. I’ll resist providing a description of the first episode in case there are some who’ve not yet seen the end of season 4 (that includes me), but if you’re interested in knowing more, you can head over to the BBC4 website.

Crime Time Preview has a useful round up of further crime dramas (British and international) that are scheduled for 2015. It looks to be a promising year.

Wishing you all a fabulous start to 2015. My January’s going to be a bonkers one, trying to juggle a number of different publishing and academic commitments, so I may be posting a little less than usual this month. It’s all good though – and I look forward to reporting on a completed project soon 🙂

#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.

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.

Creative Commons License

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CrimeFest 2014 / International Dagger / Petrona Award

I’m just back from CrimeFest in Bristol and am floating on a fluffy cloud of contentment after three days of great panels, excellent company and awards bling. Here are some highlights (more will follow).

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Euro Noir panel (left to right): Barry Forshaw, Lars Kepler (Alexander Ahndoril and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril), Jørn Lier Horst, Paul Johnston, Dominique Manotti and Ros Schwarz

The Euro Noir panel on Saturday was probably my favourite of the weekend. In a wide-ranging discussion, the authors explored the nineteenth-century origins of European crime fiction during the rise of capitalism (Dominique Manotti), the role of the translator as the voice of the foreign author (Ros Schwarz), the use of Euro Noir to probe the uses and misuses of power (Paul Johnston, Manotti, Jørn Lier Horst), crime writing and journalism (Manotti), the influence of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö (the Lars Keplers), the low status of crime writing in France (Manotti), the influence of crime dramas such as The Wire on crime fiction (Johnston), and, prompted by an audience question, the relative lack of black European crime writers and protagonists.

What I liked in particular was Manotti’s unapologetic view that crime writing should be used to ‘tell the truth’ about political and social issues – ‘otherwise what’s the point?’. This contrasted with lots of British authors during the weekend, who, when asked about the place of ‘issues’ in their work, took the more or less default position that entertainment came first and the serious stuff second (because the latter ‘puts readers off’). Johnston wondered whether the UK is more conservative when it comes to writing socio-political crime than other European nations, and that’s got me wondering too (although obvious exceptions spring to mind like David Peace’s excellent Red Riding/ Yorkshire Noir quartet. I’m sure there are also others).

Manotti is a crime-writing star in her native France, and if you haven’t yet read her work I would thoroughly recommend it. You can read my review of Affairs of State here.

The panel coincided with the launch of Barry Forshaw’s new book Euro Noir, which provides an excellent road-map to European crime fiction and lots of great reading suggestions, even for those who have already read quite a bit. With my Germanic hat on, I can say that the section on ‘murder in the German-speaking territories’ is impressive – the man really has done his homework.

German crime fiction was predicted to be one of the next big things by the Euro Noir panel. And lo, the shortlist for the CWA International Dagger, announced at CrimeFest on Friday, features a German novel, Simon Urban’s Plan D. Here’s the full list, with further details on the CWA website.

Arnaldur IndridasonStrange Shores, tr. Victoria Cribb (Iceland)
Pierre LemaitreIrene, tr. Frank Wynne (France)
Arturo Perez-ReverteThe Siege, tr. Frank Wynne (Spain)
Olivier TrucForty Days without Shadow, tr. Louise Rogers LaLaurie (French author, but set in Lapland)
Simon UrbanPlan D, tr. Katy Derbyshire (Germany)
Fred VargasDog Will Have His Day, tr. Siân Reynolds (France)

Last, but most definitely not least, the 2014 Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel  of the Year was awarded on Saturday to Leif G.W. Persson’s Linda, as in the Linda Murder, translated by Neil Smith. 

In his acceptance speech, read out by Barry Forshaw on his behalf, Leif said:

My character Superintendent Evert Bäckström is actually not a nice person. He embodies pretty much every human prejudice – and then some – and he does so proudly and wholeheartedly. He feels that he is not only God’s gift to humanity but also the object of every woman’s secret fantasies. I myself, am a fully normal person – but there is a joy that he brings me when I tell the story of his life and times.

Now he and I have received an award. A very fine English award, which makes me especially happy as a large part of my family lives in England. There is one person with whom I most profoundly want to share this honour and that is my excellent translator Neil Smith who has succeeded in making this Swede, with his spiritual and physical roots in the Stone Age, at least intelligible for an educated Anglo-Saxon public. Thank you!

Shortlisted authors Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Jørn Lier Horst attended the CrimeFest Gala dinner and were highly commended for their crime novels. It was a brilliant field and we judges had a very tough choice to make!

One of my favourite photos from the weekend: Sarah Ward (Petrona judge) with shortlisted author Jørn Lier Horst – in traditional Norwegian dress.

 

The ultimate Christmas gift: an international crime novel!

For what could be finer than giving or receiving a crime novel set in foreign climes? Especially handy for those whose families are driving them bonkers by Boxing Day: just channel those murderous desires into crime fiction!

Here are some present ideas, which happen to be ten of my favourites from this year, ranging from police procedurals and detective fiction to historical and hybrid crime. Some I’ve reviewed (just click on the link), others I haven’t (so many books, so little time). All are undoubtedly available from your local, friendly, independent bookseller!

Ioanna Bourazopoulou, What Lot’s Wife Saw, translated from Greek by Yannis Panas (Black and White Publishing, 2013 [2007]). Winner of the 2008 Athens Prize for Literature, this is a dazzling, hybrid crime novel that takes readers on an extraordinary journey of the imagination. Set in the future after a devastating tsunami, its reluctant investigator is Phileas Book, who works for The Times compiling Epistlewords, a three-dimensional crosswordA brilliant, freewheeling narrative for those who like puzzles and substantial reads. Full review here.

Gillian Flynn, Dark Places (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2009). For my money, Flynn is one of the most original and daring crime writers out there, but her novels have polarized readers, so handle with care! Dark Places tells the story of a family massacre and its aftermath from the perspective of survivor Libby Day and other family members. It’s by turns harrowing, moving, blackly humorous and redemptive. My favourite of Flynn’s novels so far. Full review here.

Eugenio Fuentes, At Close Quarters, translated from Spanish by Martin Schifino (Euro Crime/Arcadia, 2009 [2007]). Captain Olmedo, a high-ranking army colonel, is found dead at his home. The authorities say it’s suicide, but daughter Marina has her doubts and hires P.I. Ricardo Cupido to investigate. This is the first novel I’ve read by Fuentes (the 5th in the series), and I was impressed both by its depth of characterisation and by its illumination of different political attitudes/mindsets in Spain.

The original Spanish cover for At Close Quarters

Arnaldur Indriðason’s Strange Shores, translated from Icelandic by Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker, 2013). The ninth in the Reykjavik series and by all accounts the last (*sob*). Detective Erlendur returns to his childhood home to face the trauma that shaped his life – the disappearance of his little brother in a snowstorm. While there, he investigates another disappearance, of a young woman in 1942. A thoroughly engrossing novel with a powerful ending. But make sure the other eight have been read first! Full review here.

M.J. McGrath, White Heat and The Boy in the Snow (Mantle 2011/2012). These are the first two novels in the Edie Kiglatuk series, set in the chilly realm of the Arctic. Edie is a wonderful protagonist, and through her investigations we gain a tremendous insight into life in the frozen north – not least its cuisine. There are maps at the front of each novel, which provide a new perspective on a world in which Alaska is ‘down south’. Absorbing and entertaining reads.

Derek B. Miller, Norwegian by Night (Faber and Faber, 2013). I adored this book and haven’t met anybody who didn’t love it. It stars (and that really is the correct term) Sheldon Horowitz, a recently-widowed Jewish-American octogenarian living in Oslo with granddaughter Rhea, who makes a crucial decision after witnessing an appalling crime. An absolute joy from start to finish. Full review here.

Angela Savage, Behind the Night Bazaar (Text Publishing, 2006). The first in the Jayne Keeney series by Australian author Savage, this novel was shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Best First Book Award in 2007. Jayne is a highly engaging private investigator based in Bangkok, whose investigations offer readers an escape to sunnier climes, and provide a vivid and insightful portrait of Thailand. Full review here.

Simon Urban, Plan D, translated from German by Katy Derbyshire (Harvill Secker, 2013). It’s 2011 and the Berlin Wall is still standing. Welcome to the alternative world of Plan D, in which the reunification of Germany never happened, and fifty-six year-old East German Volkspolizei captain Martin Wegener is about to embark on the strangest investigation of his career. An admirably bonkers alternative history that will appeal to those with an interest in 20th-century Europe and the Cold War. Full review here. A handy GDR glossary is available too.

Ben H. Winters, The Last Policeman and Countdown City (Quirk Books 2012/13). The first and second of a trilogy set in an America of the near future. Asteroid Maia is on a collision course with earth, and with just six months to impact, society is beginning to disintegrate. Why, given that they’ll all be dead soon anyway, does Detective Henry Palace of the Concord Police Department bother to investigate a suspicious suicide? Because that’s the kind of dogged guy he is… Sharp, funny and brilliantly observed.

Daniel Woodrell, Winter’s Bone (Sceptre, 2007). When sixteen-year-old Ree Dolly’s father disappears, she needs to find him again quickly to prevent the loss of her family home. Set in the Orzark Mountains of Missouri during an unforgiving winter, in a closed community that has its own laws, this is a tough but beautifully-written novel. Ree is a memorable protagonist, who reminded me a little of Mattie Ross in Charles Portis’ True Grit.

Winter’s Bone was turned into an acclaimed film starring Jennifer Lawrence

Jakob Arjouni event / A trip to Swansea Library / Maigret

News of an event tomorrow night that will be of particular interest to those in London:

No Exit Press, together with Pancreatic Cancer UK, is hosting an event at Daunts Books (112-114 Holland Park Avenue, London, W11 4UA) on Tuesday 26th November, 18:30-21:00, to celebrate the life of German author Jakob Arjouni (1964-2013) and to raise funds for research into pancreatic cancer (http://www.pancreaticcancer.org.uk/). Barry Forshaw will be hosting and there’ll be German food and drink available. Entry is free.

The event will also launch Arjouni’s fifth and final Kayankaya novel, Brother Kemal. Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m particularly fond of the first in the series, Happy Birthday Turk!, which was an absolutely ground-breaking German crime novel back in the 1980s – see my earlier post here. I can also thoroughly recommend Brother Kemal, which provides a wonderful conclusion to the Kayankaya series.

In other news, I’ve been down to my local library to stock up on some crime fiction! I’m particularly blessed that Swansea Central Library is on my doorstep, which has an impressive range of crime fiction, including lashings of international crime. I came away with a satisfying selection including the first Arabic detective novel in English translation (Abdelilah Hamdouchi’s The Final Bet), some Spanish crime (Eugenio Fuentes’ At Close Quarters) and M.J.McGrath’s second Arctic novel, The Boy in the Snow. I’ve now read the first two, which were both excellent in their own ways, and am looking forward to meeting Edie Kiglatuk again soon.

Aside from the quality of these novels, it’s been a relief to read some crime that doesn’t open with the gruesome murder of a young woman. All too many of the novels sent to me by publishers begin with blurbs such as the following: ‘the body of a young woman is found carved up and buried in a forest glade’ / ‘a young woman is discovered in her apartment bound and gagged, the victim of an extraordinarily brutal attack’ / ‘a young woman has been brutally killed, her body abandoned in a car boot as a warning to others’ / ‘a young girl has been brutally murdered, her body arranged in bed with her hands over her eyes’. And so on… There does seem to be a depressing pattern here of an opening set piece featuring a young, sadistically brutalised female, and I’m getting pretty fed up with the gratuitousness of it all. I think a few more trips to the library are in order soon.

And finally… I’ve set up a new Maigret tab on the main menu of the site, where I’ll post mini-reviews of Simenon’s 75 Maigret novels as they are reissued by Penguin once a month. The idea is to build up a nice record / resource over time, and to track interesting developments in the series. It’s a (very) long-term reading challenge, which you are most welcome to join – either for the whole or for part of the way.

Dispatches from Bristol: CrimeFest 2013

I’ve just returned from four days in sunny Bristol at CrimeFest 2013, which was a grand adventure from start to finish. It’s impossible to do justice to the richness of the event in one post, but here’s a glimpse of some of the panels and highlights. I’ll also build a list of links to other CrimeFest reports at the end of this post.

I attended a number of mainly international panels (see below), but could have done with cloning myself to get to a few more. Those on Twitter can search for the hashtag #crimefest13 for my live tweets and those of other delegates.

Death Overseas: Valerio Varesi (Italy), Yrsa Sigurdardottir (Iceland), K.O. Dahl (Norway), Thomas Enger (Norway), Stav Sherez moderating. Showcase of international crime writing from three countries.

Native and Outsider: Different Perspectives I: Pierre Lemaitre (France), M.J. McGrath (UK/Arctic), Adrian Magson (UK/France), Dana Stabenow (Arctic), Jake Kerridge moderating. Exploring the advantages/disadvantages of writing crime set in Norway and the Arctic from an ‘insider’ or ‘outsider’ perspective.

Native and Outsider: Different Perspectives II: Roberto Costantini (Italy), David Hewson (UK/Italy/Sweden), Thomas Enger (Norway), Derek B. Miller (U.S./Norway), Barry Forshaw moderating. As above, but with a focus on Italy and Norway.

The Tourist Board

The Tourist Board Never Said Anything About This! Quentin Bates (Iceland), Stanley Trollip (Botswana), Xavier-Marie Bonnot (France), Jeffrey Siger (Greece), Martin Edwards moderating. The sensitivities of depicting positive and negative elements of a particular national setting or identity.

Cold War: An Infiltrating Chill: Tom Harper, John Lawton, Aly Monroe, William Ryan, Martin Walker moderating. A wide-ranging discussion of the Cold War and crime fiction set before, during and aft…actually, it seems that it’s not over yet.

Fresh Blood: Debut Authors: Alex Blackmore, J.C. Martin, Fergus McNeill, Tom Vowler, Rhian Davies moderating. Exciting new crime authors discussing their work.

How Does (English) Crime Translate? Ann Cleeves (author), Charlotte Werner (Swedish publisher), Erik de Vries (translator), Daniel Hahn of the British Centre for Literary Translation moderating. The mechanics of selecting crime for or from other national markets, and the processes involved in translation.

The Translation panel

Interesting observations from the panels and beyond

A number of writers view crime novels as a ‘social novel’ engaged in an exploration or critique of society, or of pressing social issues (Dahl, Varesi, Trollip, Stabenow). In contrast, Enger says he has no political or social agenda: telling a good story is the thing.

Settings are often viewed by writers as characters in their own right (Bonnot, Stabenow, McGrath, Trollip). Cities are sometimes better for depicting isolation than the countryside (Dahl). Marseilles is more Italian than French (Bonnot).

Some authors need to write in the place where their novels are set (McNeill/Bristol). Others feel that they write better elsewhere, because they can ‘see better from a distance’ (Miller/Oslo).

Lemaitre thinks it’s perfectly possible for a British ‘outsider’ to depict a France that is more ‘real’ than his own.

Icelandic crime writers face a challenge in terms of reflecting reality, as there’s an average of one murder a year in Iceland (Sigurdardottir). By contrast, the Arctic has the same per capita murder rate as South Africa or Mexico (McGrath).

A number of authors are engaged in explorations of historical legacies, such as World War II or the Algerian War (Magson, Varenne, Hewson, Ridpath). 60 years is nothing in terms of dealing with the legacy of the past (Costantini, citing Italy as an example).

Britain was not occupied during World War II (with the notable exception of the Channel Islands) and therefore didn’t experience the war in the same way as other countries such as France or Norway (Hewson).

Crime authors who write on twentieth century history have a variety of motivations: a desire to understand the previous generation and its role in making our world (Monroe on the Cold War); the challenge of writing about a society in which truth and justice are flexible concepts (Ryan on Stalin’s Russia).

British Cold War spies were often not uncovered due to the class system and upper-class loyalties: a public school boy who is a member of a posh club has perfect cover (Monroe). All on Cold War panel agreed that the Cold War is not over (citing the current situation in Syria).

Swedish cover of Blue Lightning

Crime fiction provides the biggest market for literary translation in the UK (Hahn). Speed is the key element when translating, especially in Europe where readers may otherwise buy the English original (de Vries). It’s a struggle to introduce translated authors in Sweden due to the dominance of Scandi crime, but it helps if their novels are set in the Shetlands… (Werner).

Describing violence is less interesting than exploring a character’s reaction to violence (James Oswald).

Buzz

There was lots of buzz about Pierre Lemaitre’s Alex, and this blogger did her very best to spread the word about Derek B. Miller’s exceptional debut novel Norwegian by Night. James Oswald’s Natural Causes was also frequently mentioned both as a must-read and a significant self-publishing success story. The series has been picked up by Penguin, whose advance the author rather unusually spent on buying a tractor for his farm.

Highlights

Seeing Barry Forshaw present the inaugural Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year, set up in memory of Maxine Clarke. The very deserving winner was Liza Marklund with Last Will, translated by Neil Smith (Corgi/Transworld 2012). Barry also won the prestigious HRF Keating Award for his editorship of British Crime Writing: An Encyclopaedia. Congratulations!

The Petrona Award, now on its way to Liza Marklund in Sweden

Hearing the International Dagger shortlist being announced, which includes German crime writer Ferdinand von Schirach’s The Collini Case. Full details are available over at Euro Crime.

Attending the Sherlock panel, which featured Mark Gatiss, Stephen Moffat and Sue Virtue in fine form. We learned and laughed a lot.

Eating lunch in a graveyard. Bristol Cathedral is a stone’s throw from the CrimeFest hotel, and features a lovely little cafe and landscaped garden/graveyard, where you can enjoy a peaceful cuppa.

Attending the second meeting of the Icelandic Chapter of the Crime Writers’ Association. I’m not quite sure how I ended up there, but it was very convivial and the Icelandic chocolates (Noi Sirius Konfekt) were delicious. Many thanks to Ragnar Jonasson and Quentin Bates for their hospitality!

l to r: Ann Cleeves, Ragnar Jonasson, Susan Moody, Barry Forshaw, Michael Ridpath, Quentin Bates (Icelandic chocolates on the table and empty seat reserved for Yrsa Sigurdardottir).

Last but not least, meeting old friends, making new ones, and seeing the faces behind the Twitter avatars of a number of writers and bloggers for the first time… It was all hugely enjoyable, and I’m already looking forward to next year.

CrimeFest blog-links

Crimepieces – CrimeFest Day 1CrimeFest Part 2

Detectives Beyond Borders – CrimeFest 1, CrimeFest 2, CrimeFest 3, CrimeFest 4

Do You Write Under Your Own Name – CrimeFest 2013 – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Graskeggur (aka author Quentin Bates) – CrimeFest Report: All Over Bar the Tweeting

Mystery Fanfare – CrimeFest 2013 Award Winners (all except The Petrona)

Sherlockology – Highlights from CrimeFest – Creating Sherlock

Vicky Newham – My Experience of CrimeFest 2013

For tweets on the event, see the hashtag #crimefest13

CrimeFest 2013 and the inaugural Petrona Award

This time next week CrimeFest 2013 will be in full swing. There’s a mouth-watering programme with lots of international writers as well as British writers whose works are set on international shores.

They include: Quentin Bates (Iceland), Xavier-Marie Bonnot (France), Roberto Costantini (Italy), K.O. Dahl (Norway), Jeffrey Deaver (USA), Thomas Enger (Norway), Ragnar Jonasson (Iceland), Pierre Lemaître (France), Adrian Magson (UK/France), M J McGrath (UK/Arctic), Derek B. Miller (Norway), Barbara Nadel (UK/Turkey), William Ryan (UK/ Russia), Jeffrey Siger (US/ Greece), Yrsa Sigurðardóttir (Iceland), Dana Stabenow (USA/ Alaska), Valerio Varesi (Italy), Robert Wilson (Spain/Portugal/Africa), Anne Zouroudi (UK/Greece). A full list of writers with further details is available here.

The winner of the first Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year will also be announced at the CrimeFest Gala dinner on Saturday night. I have my posh frock at the ready and am looking forward to the occasion very much.

The award was set up in memory of Maxine Clarke, who blogged as Petrona and was an expert in Scandinavian crime fiction. The 2013 shortlist, compiled on the basis of Maxine’s reviews, is as follows:

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PIERCED by Thomas Enger, tr. Charlotte Barslund (Faber and Faber)

BLACK SKIES by Arnaldur Indridason, tr. Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker)

LAST WILL by Liza Marklund, tr. Neil Smith (Corgi)

ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER LIFE by Leif GW Persson tr. Paul Norlen (Doubleday)

Synopses of the novels with extracts from Maxine’s reviews can be found at the wonderful ‘Petrona Remembered’ blog. Karen Meek has also set up two polls over at ‘Eurocrime’: ‘which novel do you want to win the Petrona Award 2013′ and ‘which novel do you think will win the Petrona Award 2013′. The polls are open until 29 May.

I’ll be tweeting from CrimeFest using the following hashtags: #CrimeFest and #CrimeFest2013. The only difficulty now is deciding which of the panels to attend – they all look so good…

Mrs. Peabody’s 2012 review

It’s been a busy year for Mrs. Peabody Investigates, with reviews of international crime fiction from Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland and the USA. There were also a number of lively discussions on subjects including autopsy scenes; violence and women; Jewish detective figures; national image; strong female protagonists, and the crime writer as social commentator. Many thanks to everyone who joined in with their expertise and views! Last but not least, interviewing crime writers at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival and contributing to Mark Lawson’s ‘Foreign Bodies’ series on Radio 4 were definite highlights.

So to finish off the year, here’s a random round-up of the best – and worst – of Mrs Peabody’s 2012 (with thanks to apuffofjack for the idea).

Most Satisfying Read: Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (2010), a gripping examination of the repercussions of a murder, set in the American Deep South of the 1970s, 1980s, and the present day.

Most Disappointing Read: Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Disgrace.Wooden characterisation was the real villain of this crime novel, but I’m still hoping for better from the next in the Department Q series.

Best Historical Crime Novel: Tie between Malla Nunn’s A Beautiful Place to Die (2010), which provides a fascinating insight into apartheid South Africa in the 1950s, and Stuart Neville’s The Twelve (2010) – hard-hitting Belfast noir exploring the legacy of The Troubles.

Crime Novel that Lingered Longest in the Mind: Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me (1952), which presents a chilling, but surprisingly nuanced portrait of murderer Lou Ford.

Best Female Detective: Tie between Edie Kiglatuk from M.J. McGrath’s White Heat (2011) and Emily Tempest from Adrian Hyland’s Diamond Dove (2006) (reviews pending). In many ways, these characters are twins: feisty, tough women who have complex insider / outsider roles in marginalised indiginous communities (the Inuit of the Arctic Circle and the Aboriginal people of the Australian outback).

Best Male Detective: Finnish-Jewish police inspector Ariel Kafka in Harri Nykänen’s Nights of Awe (2010): a highly original and witty investigator, whom I look forward to meeting again (albeit with a slightly less convoluted plot).  

Best Discovery: Leif G.W. Persson is well-known in his native country as a top criminologist and crime writer, but his razor-sharp dissections of Swedish society have only started to be translated relatively recently. I’ve just finished Another Time, Another Life (2012), which was a gem, and am keen to read more.

Last Policeman

Most Original Premise: Ben Winters’ The Last Policeman (2012) is a ‘pre-apocalypse police procedural’, in which Detective Hank Palace investigates a suspicious suicide six months before asteroid 2011GV1 is due to hit the earth. The first in a trilogy (review pending).

Best Re-read: Jakob Arjouni’s Turkish-German Kemal Kayankaya series (1985-2012). A ground-breaking detective who uses intelligence and wit to make his way in a largely racist society. The first in the series, Happy Birthday, Turk (1985), remains a cracker.

Best Use of Humour: Leif G.W. Persson uses satirical humour to great effect as he lifts the lid on the workings of Swedish society. Look out for the pathologist nicknamed ‘Esprit de Corpse’ in Another Time, Another Life.

Best crime TV series: The Killing III, in which Sarah Lund strode forth for the last time (still in denial that it’s over *sob*).

Best crime film: Tie between Romanzo Criminale (dir. Michele Placido, 2006), which traces the rise and fall of an Italian street gang, and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011), which plays out over a dream-like night of a police investigation (reviews to follow).

Most Anticipated Reads for 2013: Stuart Neville’s Ratlines (2013), set in a 1960s Ireland whose government is keen to play down its links with former Nazis, and Y.A. Erskine’s The Brotherhood (2011), a much-praised depiction of police corruption and betrayal set in Tasmania.

All best wishes for a healthy and happy New Year, filled with lots of  wonderful crime fiction.

In Cold Blood: CultureCritic Guest Guide to Wintry Crime Fiction

The good people over at CultureCritic recently invited me to contribute a piece to their fabulous blog. The result is a guest guide to ‘wintry’ crime and the role of chilly settings in five of my favourite novels.

  • Jan Costin Wagner, The Winter of the Lions (German author; Finnish setting; 2011)
  • Leif G. W. Persson, Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End (Swedish author; Swedish setting; 2010)
  • A.D. Miller, Snowdrops (British author / Russian setting / 2011)
  • Julia Keller, A Killing in the Hills (US author / Appalachian mountain setting / 2012)
  • MJ McGrath, White Heat (UK author; Arctic Circle setting; 2011)

Many thanks to CultureCritic for the invitation; it was fun to do!

If you’re not yet familiar with the CultureCritic blog, do pop over: you’ll find all the latest on film, music, books, exhibitions, theatre, opera, dance and more…. It’s a regular smörgåsbord of cultural delights.