International delights at Newcastle Noir (plus my top three picks)

Crime fiction with plenty of laughter and cake: my first visit to Newcastle Noir at the beautiful Lit & Phil was a hugely enjoyable experience. This Geordie crime festival has been running just three years, but featured an impressive programme of 14 panels over two days (and that’s not counting the fringe events). All credit to organisers Dr. Jacky Collins (Northumbria University) and Kay Easson (The Lit & Phil) for creating such a vibrant and wonderfully friendly event.

Given the relatively modest size of the festival, I was struck by the high proportion of international writers who were there – thanks in no small part to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books, who had ten authors with her, one of whom had flown in all the way from Australia. In order of appearance:

  • Lilja Sigurðardóttir (Iceland)
  • David Swatling (US/Netherlands)
  • Kjell Ola Dahl (Norway)
  • Thomas Enger (Norway)
  • Nina von Staffeldt (Denmark)
  • Antti Tuomainen (Finland)
  • Cay Rademacher (Germany/France)
  • Wulf Dorn (Germany)
  • Erik Axl Sund (aka Jerker Eriksson/Hakan Axlander Sundquist, Sweden)
  • Johana Gustawsson (France)
  • Camilla Grebe (Sweden)
  • Paul Hardisty (Canada/Australia)

And then there were a number of British crime authors who set their works in foreign climes: Steph Broadribb (‘Lori Anderson’ series, Florida), David Young (‘Karin Müller’ series, East Germany), William Ryan (‘Korolev’ series, 1930s Russia; The Constant Soldier, 1944 Germany), Luke McCallin (‘Reinhardt’ series, WWII Sarajevo and post-war Berlin), and Quentin Bates (‘Gunna’ series, Iceland).

The Newcastle Noir bookshop had a distinctly international flavour

A major highlight for me was chairing two ‘German’ panels: ‘German Historical Crime’ with Luke McCallin, William Ryan and David Young, and ‘German Noir’ with Wulf Dorn and Cay Rademacher. All the authors gave fascinating, thoughtful and eloquent answers to questions about writing historical crime fiction/psychological thrillers, their settings (1930s Russia; World War II Sarajevo and Germany; post-war Hamburg and Berlin; 1970s East Germany; present-day Germany), and the research they undertook while writing their works. Lizzy Siddal has posted a marvellous write up of the two panels over at Lizzy’s Literary Life – do take a look! And for further details of the authors and their works, see my post from last week.

From top left by row: the ‘German Historical Fiction’ panel; Cay Rademacher answers a question; GHF panel group photo; Cay, Mrs P and Wulf Dorn thank the Goethe-Institut London for its support; William Ryan reads from The Constant Soldier while Luke McCallin listens; the ‘German Noir’ panel; David Young and Wulf fostering Anglo-German relations; David reads from Stasi Wolf.

Here are my top three international crime fiction picks from Newcastle Noir – all by authors who are new to me:

Elisabeth Herrmann’s The Cleaner (translated by Bradley Schmidt; Manilla 2017). Elisabeth was the one who got away: she was due to appear on the ‘German Noir’ panel (replacing Sascha Arango), but was unable to make it due to problems with her flight. My consolation was reading The Cleaner, an extremely accomplished novel that features an outstanding protagonist, Judith Kepler. Judith works for a company that specialises in cleaning crime scenes, and comes across a clue to a mystery in her own East German childhood when she cleans a flat following a particularly nasty murder. A hybrid detective novel, historical crime novel and thriller, The Cleaner is a gripping and highly engaging read.

Luke McCallin’s The Man from Berlin (No Exit Press, 2014). I hadn’t read any of Luke’s work before being asked to chair the ‘German Historical Fiction’ panel, and was extremely impressed by The Man in Berlin, the first in the ‘Gregor Reinhardt’ series. Aside from the vast amount of historical research that’s gone into the novel, I particularly liked the unusual setting for a WWII series – Sarajevo of 1943. The city is beautifully evoked, and the complex politics of the time are deftly incorporated into the narrative (which is no mean feat). The novel sees conflicted military intelligence officer Reinhardt investigating the politically charged murder of a Yugoslav film star and a German military colleague.

Paul E. Hardisty, Reconciliation for the Dead (Orenda Books, 2017). Paul was on the ‘Action Thriller’ panel and is the author of the ‘Claymore Straker’ novels. While this is the third in the series, it can be read first, because it tells Straker’s origin story, focusing on his formative years as a soldier in the South African Army in the early 1980s. That narrative is framed by Straker’s return to Africa in 1996 to testify at the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I hadn’t intended to buy this book, but after hearing Paul speak it became a must-read. I was particularly struck by the author’s willingness to present the novel as a serious attempt to get to the terrible truths of South African apartheid, and to depict them in as realistic and hard-hitting a way as possible. I’m two thirds of the way through the novel now, and can tell that it’s going to stay with me for a long time.

To finish off, here are some photos of beautiful Newcastle, the Lit & Phil, and some criminally minded friends. Looking forward to Newcastle Noir 2018 already…

With thanks to Susan at The Book Trail, Vic Watson at ElementaryVWatson, Ewa Sherman and other attendees for the use of some of these photos. 

New Year crime fiction treats from Denmark, England, Finland, France, Iceland, Norway and Sweden

Happy New Year to you all!

I hope that 2017 has started well and that you have lots of lovely crime fiction lined up as we move into a new reading year.

One of the truly splendid things about a crime blogger’s life is being sent lots of fantastic books. The picture below shows my postbag for the last month, which contains some mouth-watering delights.

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As these crime novels come from a variety of publishers, it’s interesting to see how the contents of individual parcels combine. Quite a number in this consignment are entries for the 2017 Petrona Award, which I help to judge along with Barry Forshaw, Sarah Ward and Karen Meek. This explains the high ratio of Scandi crime, including novels by Norwegian crime writing stars Anne Holt (special guest at last year’s CrimeFest) and Karin Fossum. The latter’s ‘Inspector Sejer’ novel The Drowned Boy (Harvill Secker, tr. Kari Dickson) was shortlisted for the 2016 Petrona Award.

Another Petrona entry that’s particularly caught my eye is Finnish author Kjell Westö’s The Wednesday Club (MacLehose, tr. Neil Smith). This novel originally appeared in Swedish (one of Finland’s official languages), is set in Helsinki in 1938, and explores the legacy of the Finnish Civil War. Two of the other novels are set around that time as well (both from Harvill Secker): Danish author Simon Pasternak’s Death Zones (tr. Martin Aitkin / Belorussia in 1943) and Arnaldur Indriðason’s The Shadow District (tr. Victoria Cribb / wartime Reykjavík). The latter is a proof copy and a very exciting bit of post, as it marks the beginning of a new series from this outstanding author (pub. April 2017).

Ragnar Jónasson’s Rupture (Orenda, tr. Quentin Bates), the latest in the ‘Dark Iceland’ series, is also one I’m very much looking forward to reading: it features a cold case from 1955, which sounds right up my street. Other delights include the latest Eva Dolan and Fred Vargas novels (Harvill Secker), Watch Her Disappear and A Climate of Fear (tr. Siân Reynolds). Both Dolan and Vargas are excellent writers, albeit with extremely different styles and authorial concerns.

Lastly, there’s been quite a lot of talk about Erik Axl Sund’s The Crow Girl (Harvill Secker, tr. Neil Smith). It features a highly unusual female protagonist and is definitely not going to be a boring read…

So, that lot’s going to keep me busy for a while.

Which crime novels are you particularly looking forward to reading in January? 

Bron III Broen – The Bridge is back!

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It’s back…! Bron III Broen (The Bridge series 3) returns to UK screens tonight after what seems like a very long wait. Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia) may no longer be around, but the wonderful Saga Noren (Sofia Helin) will be strutting her stuff as usual – in her highly individual way.

The first and second episodes will air today, Saturday 21 November, on BBC4 between 9.00 and 11.00pm. The series contains 10 episodes in total, which are in Swedish and Danish with English subtitles.

Here, for your delectation, is the BBC4 trailer ‘A new Saga begins’ (terrible pun)…

And here’s an overview of the series from the BBC:

>> The Bridge 3: When Helle Anker, the founder of the first gender-neutral kindergarten in Copenhagen and a high-profile debater on gender issues, is found murdered in Sweden, the Danish and Swedish police are compelled to join forces once more for a third series of The Bridge. The brutal killing turns out to be only the first in a series of gruesome crimes, strung together in a case which involves Saga Norén of the Malmo Police personally and which will change her forever. A powerful, intriguing and unpredictable tale of crime, played out by fascinating and complex characters, the new season will revolve around the concept and structures of family – new, old, deviant, classical, constructive and destructive. At its heart, The Bridge carries a central theme of personal responsibility and its consequences. <<

The Radio Times also features a piece on Sofia Helin winningly entitled ‘I’d rather be a feminist icon than a sex symbol’. There’s an extract here and the full interview is carried in the RT magazine.

And over at Nordic Noir, there’s an insightful interview with Sofia about the new series and dealing with Kim’s departure (may contain the odd spoiler).

Happy viewing!

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Stop Press! BBC Four announces autumn Scandi dramas: Beck, The Bridge and Arne Dahl

UPDATES: The first episode of Beck aired on Saturday 12 September at 9pm on BBC4. My review of ‘Buried Alive’ (no major spoilers) is available here.

Beck has now finished. Arne Dahl begins on Saturday, 17. October at 9.00.

The start date for The Bridge 3 is Saturday 21. November (9pm; double episode). Mrs P blog post and trailer available here.

Series 2 of The Young Montalbano starts on Saturday 2. January 2016. More info available here.

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BBC Four’s Channel Editor Cassian Harrison made some exciting crime drama announcements at the Edinburgh TV festival today. Below is an extract from the BBC4 press release:

>> BBC Four brings viewers an autumn of gripping Scandinavian drama with the return of the hugely popular The Bridge (the final episode of the last series was enjoyed by over 1.5m viewers) and Arne Dahl, as well as the launch of new crime thriller Beck.

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Beck: Based on the characters of the hugely popular Martin Beck detective series of novels by Swedish husband-and-wife writers Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, Beck sees the much-loved detective brought to life on the small screen. Following the fortunes of enigmatic and extremely methodical detective Martin Beck and his partner, the irascible, impulsive Gunvald Larsson, Beck is arguably the originator of what has become known as Scandinavian crime: the good-cop, bad-cop partnership which went on to form the modern crime-fighting blueprint.

The brand-new feature-length films see detective Martin Beck investigating the shocking death of a young woman found strangled in a hotel room, a gangster kingpin executed by a sniper in front of his family, a terrorist attack and a suspicious hospital death which sourly turns out to be premeditated murder. It’s an intricate web of characters and lies. Think again. The killer is never who you expect it to be.

Starring Peter Haber (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) as Beck and Mikael Persbrandt (The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug) as Larsson, the drama’s combination of complex woven details of police detection and beautifully realised characters combined with twisting, masterful storylines has ensured that the award-winning series won fans and acclaim from around the world.

broen

The Bridge 3: When Helle Anker, the founder of the first gender-neutral kindergarten in Copenhagen and a high-profile debater on gender issues, is found murdered in Sweden, the Danish and Swedish police are compelled to join forces once more for a third series of The Bridge. The brutal killing turns out to be only the first in a series of gruesome crimes, strung together in a case which involves Saga Norén of the Malmo Police personally and which will change her forever. A powerful, intriguing and unpredictable tale of crime, played out by fascinating and complex characters, the new season will revolve around the concept and structures of family – new, old, deviant, classical, constructive and destructive. At its heart, The Bridge carries a central theme of personal responsibility and its consequences.

dahl

Arne DahlThe Swedish crime drama returns with five new stories. The A Unit has been disbanded for the past two years. When a wave of brutal murders hits Polish nurses in Sweden, the National Police see their chance to reinstate the The A Unit, and Kerstin Holm, previously a member of the team, is assigned to lead them.

We meet a chastened team of individuals who have allowed the all-consuming nature of their police work to eat away at their private lives. Demands and expectations have never been higher and a cold wind blows through the corridors at the National Police head-quarters. Can Kerstin get the unit to deliver, or is this new effort a misguided attempt by a paranoid police force in a time of increasingly unusual and refined criminal activity?

It is produced by Filmlance International AB in co-production with Sveriges Television and ZDF Germany, written by Erik Ahrnbom, Linn Gottfridsson, Peter Emanuel Falck and Fredrik Agetoft, adapted from the novels by Arne Dahl.<<

This is all very fitting on the day that sees the UK publication of the fourth in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, authored by David Lagerkranz (it’s out in the US on 1st September). Reviews appear to be pretty favourable thus far, as this example by The Telegraph‘s Jake Kerridge shows. So glad to see Salander living to fight another day.

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Berlinale 2015 showcases international crime dramas and thrillers from Germany, Israel, Denmark, Sweden and Italy

The 2015 Berlinale – one of the world’s top international film festivals – closes today in Berlin. As ever, a host of wonderful films have been shown during the packed ten-day programme, with the Iranian film Taxi, directed by dissident filmmaker Jafar Panahi, awarded the coveted Golden Bear.

While reading coverage of the festival, I was interested to see that some international TV dramas were premiered as part of the programme, and that a number of these had a pronounced crime/thriller/spying dimension. Alessandra Stanley’s excellent article in the New York Times provides a good overview, and also discusses how such series are beginning to be picked up in the States (and not always to be remade in English either), which is a very good sign.

Here are a few of the series in question:

Deutschland 83. There’s quite a lot of buzz about this spying drama in Germany and beyond, and it has now also been picked up by an American network (in the original German!). The central protagonist is East German border guard Martin Rauch, who is sent across the border as an undercover agent by the Stasi (the East German secret police); his task is to pose as an aid to a West German general working with NATO. Stanley describes the series as ‘an ingenious, counter-intuitive look at the Cold War’ and a recent Guardian article sees it as indicative of rising interest in the divided Germany of 1949 to 1990.

Deutschland 83

Shkufim (False Flag). According to Stanley, this Israeli political drama was inspired by the assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai in 2010. That scenario has been reworked for the series, which shows five Israeli citizens waking up one day to find they are prime suspects in the kidnapping of a Iranian official in Moscow. The drama is produced by Tender Productions, which also has links with Homeland (which was itself based on the Israeli series Hatufim).

The five suspects in False Flag

Follow the Money is a Danish crime thriller series by DR Drama (the makers of The Killing and Borgen) due to air later this year. It focuses on corruption in big business, with a lovely twist: the business in question is a wind-power company called Energreen, with supposedly impeccable ecological and moral credentials. Insider dealings and dodgy deaths indicate that all is not as it should be.

Follow the Money. Photo credit Christian Geisnæs

1992 is an Italian drama that was picked up in Berlin by the UK, according to Stanley (though no specific channel is named). This time, the corruption of political life by big business is the focus: the drama explores the Italian bribery scandals of the 1990s, and the attempts of Milan magistrate Antonio Di Pietro to clean up politics through Operation Clean Hands (Mani Pulite).

Italian crime series 1992

Last but not least, Blå ögon (Blue Eyes) is a Swedish-German crime series that explores racism, discrimination and immigration issues. Stanley describes it as having an anti-racist message, but also wanting to ‘upend expectations’ by giving characters on all sides of the debate a voice. One of the murder victims is a female, right-wing politician, who is assassinated while out in public.

STV’s Blue Eyes

Stanley ends her piece by noting that none of these series feature the disappearance or death of a child, as seen in earlier crime series such as The Killing and Broadchurch. Or to put this another way: these dramas are moving from highly personal cases whose investigations focus on the family and small communities, to cases that address larger historical, political and social issues. Interesting times. As ever, I’m hoping that a good number will make it on to our UK and US screens.

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!

Reminder: The Bridge 2 and Hinterland air this Saturday 4 January

A quick reminder that this Saturday is a bumper one for crime fans, with the start of not just one but two cracking crime series on the BBC.

On BBC Four from 21.00 to 23.00, we have the first two episodes of The Bridge 2, the Danish-Swedish co-production that attracted considerable praise in the UK when the first series aired in 2012. You’ll find further details about Bron/Broen 2 over at The Radio Times website – and here’s a bit of what they have to say about it:

>> In a thrilling opening sequence, a cargo vessel wanders from a shipping lane to head directly for the gigantic Øresund Bridge linking Denmark and Sweden. Despite frantic radio pleas from the coastguard, there is no word from the ship as it crashes into the structure that spans a mass of chilly, lonely water. Yes, The Bridge is back. After nearly two years in “real time” and precisely 13 months in fictional time, the cult Scandi thriller’s brilliant cop partnership of Saga Noren and Martin Rohde returns. <<

An amusing clip of Saga and Martin’s reunion is available on the BBC4 website here – isn’t it great to see them together again?

And lest you’ve forgotten, here’s the wonderful title sequence, featuring the song ‘Hollow Talk’, by The Choir of Young Believers. Marvellous stuff.

Meanwhile, over on BBC One Wales from 21.30 to 23.05, we see the start of the gripping Welsh crime drama Hinterland, which aired a little while back in a Welsh-language version and will now be shown again in a bilingual version. I am SO pleased that both English and Welsh feature (the latter with subtitles), as this accurately reflects life in Wales, where you hear speakers hopping from one language to the other all the time.

This is what the BBC has to say on the decision to film in both languages (full press release available here):

>> The special adaptation of the drama for BBC One Wales will feature dialogue in both English and Welsh – the first time both languages have played a prominent role in a drama series broadcast by the BBC. The Welsh-language elements of the programme will have on-screen subtitles.

Starring Richard Harrington, Hinterland has already attracted critical acclaim for its brooding portrayal of police life in west Wales. The Guardian said “fans of washed-out noir are going to love this for its slow, confident pacing, attention to detail and Harrington’s engrossing performance.”

The new series follows a commitment made by BBC Cymru Wales Director, Rhodri Talfan Davies, at the Celtic Media Festival in April to better reflect Welsh language life and culture on BBC One Wales. At the time, he said: “I think we have to spend more time finding bridges that can connect different audiences to cultures, view-points and experiences they might not normally encounter. On BBC One Wales I want us to think creatively about how we allow Welsh language voices and experiences to be heard and experienced a little more.” <<

For my take on the Scandi-influenced, Welsh-language original Y Gwyll, including a spoiler-free review of the first episode, see here. Further details are available in The Radio Times.

The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted that these two programmes clash… Set those recorders now – neither should be missed!

The Petrona award for best Scandinavian crime novel

The crime blogosphere has been abuzz with news of the freshly established Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year.

Set up in memory of Maxine Clarke, who blogged as Petrona and was an expert in Scandinavian crime fiction, the award will be presented for the first time at the UK CrimeFest convention this coming May.

The 2013 shortlist has been compiled on the basis of Maxine’s own reviews:

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)

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Submissions are also now being invited for the 2014 award, which will be judged by crime critic Barry Forshaw, Sarah Ward of Crimepieces, and your very own Mrs. P. It’s an honour to have been asked, and I look forward to some lively discussions with my fellow judges! Karen Meek from Eurocrime will be keeping us all in line.

The rules governing eligibility are available on the Petrona Remembered blog. You can also read Petrona’s excellent review of Indridason’s Voices there – fittingly, it’s the inaugural post on the site, and will be followed by more from a variety of contributors.

For a Bookseller piece on the award, see here.

2013 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist has distinctly criminal dimensions

The 2013 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist has just been announced and features a pleasing number of works that draw on crime genre conventions.

The prize was set up in 1990 and ‘honours the best work of fiction by a living author, which has been translated into English from any other language and published in the United Kingdom’. It also makes a point of splitting the £10,000 prize money between the winning author and the translator, which highlights the crucial and often overlooked role of translators in allowing us to access fine international writing.

Four longlisted novels by Dutch, French, Danish and Colombian authors have a ‘criminal dimension’ and are described as follows on the prize and publisher websites:

Gerbrand Bakker’s The Detour (translated from the Dutch by David Colmer / Harvill Secker)

A Dutch woman rents a remote farm in rural Wales. She has fled from an unbearable situation having recently confessed to an affair with one of her students. In Amsterdam, her stunned husband forms a strange partnership with a detective who agrees to help him trace her. They board the ferry to Hull on Christmas Eve. Back on the farm, a young man out walking with his dog injures himself and stays the night, then ends up staying longer. Yet something is deeply wrong. Does he know what he is getting himself into? And what will happen when her husband and the policeman arrive? Gerbrand Bakker has made the territories of isolation, inner turmoil and the solace offered by the natural world his own. The Detour is a deeply moving new novel, shot through with longing and the quiet tragedy of everyday lives.

*****

Laurent Binet, HHhH (translated from the French by Sam Taylor / Harvill Secker)

Two men have been enlisted to kill the head of the Gestapo. This is Operation Anthropoid, Prague, 1942: two Czechoslovakian parachutists sent on a daring mission by London to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich – chief of the Nazi secret services, ‘the hangman of Prague’, ‘the blond beast’, ‘the most dangerous man in the Third Reich’. His boss is Heinrich Himmler but everyone in the SS says ‘Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich’ [Himmlers Hirn heißt Heydrich], which in German spells “HHhH”.

All the characters in HHhH are real. All the events depicted are true. But alongside the nerve-shredding preparations for the attack runs another story: when you are a novelist writing about real people, how do you resist the temptation to make things up? HHhH is a panorama of the Third Reich told through the life of one outstandingly brutal man, a story of unbearable heroism and loyalty, revenge and betrayal.

*****

Pia Juul, The Murder of Halland (translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken / Peirine Press)

Denmark’s foremost literary author turns crime fiction on its head. Bess and Halland live in a small town, where everyone knows everyone else. When Halland is found murdered in the main square the police encounter only riddles. For Bess bereavement marks the start of a journey that leads her to a reassessment of first friends, then family.

Why Peirene chose to publish this book: ‘If you like crime you won’t be disappointed. The book has all the right ingredients. A murder, a gun, an inspector, suspense. But the story strays far beyond the whodunit norm. In beautifully stark language Pia Juul manages to chart the phases of bereavement. P.S. Don’t skip the quotes.’ Meike Ziervogel

Maxine Clarke’s review of this novel is available on the Euro Crime blog.

*****

Juan Gabriel Vásquez, The Sound of Things Falling (translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean / Bloomsbury)

No sooner does he get to know Ricardo Laverde than disaffected young Colombian lawyer Antonio Yammara realises that his new friend has a secret, or rather several secrets. When Ricardo is shot dead on a street corner in Bogotá by a guy on the back of a motorbike, Antonio is caught in the hail of bullets. Lucky to survive, and more out of love with life than ever, he starts asking questions until the questions become an obsession that leads him to Laverde’s daughter. His troubled investigation leads all the way back to the early 1960s, marijuana smuggling and a time before the cocaine trade trapped a whole generation of Colombians in a living nightmare of fear and random death. Juan Gabriel Vásquez is one of the leading novelists of his generation, and The Sound of Things Falling, which tackles what became of Colombia in the time of Pablo Escobar, is his best book to date.

*****

The shortlist for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2013 will be announced on 11 April. The full longlist can be found here.

Looking forward to sampling some of these soon!

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.