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!

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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.

Tak for minderne, Sarah Lund*

I’ve been in denial about the end of Forbrydelsen/The Killing, the ground-breaking Danish crime drama that’s enthralled millions of Brits over the course of three series (and got impressively large numbers of us over our foreign-language/subtitling phobias).

But now it’s over: the last ever episodes have aired and Sarah Lund has made her final foray into those those dark, subterranean places with just her trusty torch and woolly jumper for back-up. I will greatly miss her brave, tenacious presence on our screens, not to mention the human flaws that have made her so very interesting and real.

As ever, there will be no spoilers about the denouement here – but I will say the following:

  • I thought the final two episodes absolutely made this series.
  • In particular, they brought its central themes beautifully to fruition:                                   – the limitations of Old Testament-style justice on the one hand, and of the police      and judicial system on the other                                                                                                    – the corrosive influence of money and power                                                                             – the ways in which parents and society repeatedly fail their children
  • The ending is incredibly rich and powerful, and felt surprising in some ways and very fitting in others.

Series 1 of The Killing remains the gold-standard in crime drama for me. This 20-episode investigation, which movingly explored the impact of a single murder on an ordinary family, set a benchmark for excellence that’s very hard to beat. But series 3 has come close, because it allows us to see all three series as one entity, and to recognise that above all, it is Lund’s story that they tell. I will think of them as the ‘Lund trilogy’ from now on.

Vicky Frost’s excellent Guardian blog remains the place to go for an in-depth discussion of the plot (with LOTS of spoilers). There are also new interviews with Sofie Gråbøl in The Telegraph about her feelings on leaving the show and with Søren Sveistrup in Scotland’s Sunday Mail about why it had to end when it did. For all Mrs. Peabody posts on The Killingclick here or on link in the menu above.

*Thanks for the memories, Sarah Lund.

PLEASE REMEMBER IF YOU COMMENT BELOW NOT TO REVEAL ANY SPOILERS!

Depictions of violence and women in crime fiction (with list of STRONG WOMEN IN CRIME)

A few days ago an extremely interesting discussion kicked off in the ‘about’ section of this blog on depictions of violence and women in crime fiction. I’m taking the slightly unusual step of reproducing the thread here (in a lightly edited form), as it would other-wise remain largely invisible. It closes with a fabulously affirmative list of ‘strong women in crime’, sourced via Twitter and the blog.

With thanks to the participants in the discussion – Susan, Cassandra, Maxine and Bernadette – and to everyone who put forward their favourites for the list!

The discussion began with a comment about Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Roseanna (1965).

Susan Wright: I recently discovered your blog thanks to Mark Lawson’s ‘Foreign Bodies’ series on Radio 4. I’m enjoying your reviews and I agree with many of your opinions, especially about the cliched representations of women in some crime fiction. Like you I thought Varesi’s River of Shadows was wonderfully atmospheric but marred by the sex scenes. I’m now reading the first Martin Beck novel; having been told it was a Marxist critique and had a left-wing perspective, I was surprised by the prurient description of the victim, particularly the interview of her boyfriend by the US cop which goes into graphic detail about her sex life. I know this was written before 70s feminism, but I was disappointed all the same. It seems cliches about women and female sexuality are not limited to Italian male crime authors.

Mrs P: What you’ve said about Roseanna, the first Martin Beck novel, has really got me thinking. It’s a little while since I read it, but I understood the role of those sexual details in a slightly different way. I saw them as providing the reader with a portrait of Roseanna as a very independent, sexually-liberated person, and instead of indulging in the stereotypes one might find in literature of the time (that her sexuality was what ‘got her into trouble’), the authors give her full victim status. Beck, for example, never wavers in his quest to bring her murderer to justice. So in that respect the novel is arguably groundbreaking.

But I take your point, and think I may need to read the novel again, so that I can see that interview with the American cop in the context of the whole narrative!

Susan Wright: I agree it is a groundbreaking novel and the authors wanted to show Roseanna (and themselves) as modern and sexually liberated, but I found some of their approach quite disturbing, almost voyeuristic, although I suppose all fiction is voyeurism to some extent! As well as the American cop scene, at one point Beck asks a colleague to write a detailed description of the corpse which I also found a little prurient. I cannot ever recall reading a crime novel which described a male victim in that way. I’m only half way through the book but it is striking how few women there are and how marginal they seem, though I suppose this reflects how different women’s roles were in the 60s – so far there are no female police. I like Beck’s compassion, not just for Roseanna but for the woman Karin who worked on the cruise boat and has fled a violent man.

Cassandra Clark (author): I am disturbed by what Susan Wright says as it resonates so closely with my own feelings about the kind of obsessively detailed descriptions of violence against women in some crime novels. I don’t think it’s good enough to say it takes place in the 1960s so it’s OK. The same prurience is rarely directed towards male murderees. Maybe we should ask ourselves why not? I suppose until it is (though heaven protect us against what that will mean for our humanity) there will be no equality between men and women. This is just a thought. I have to deal with this problem every time I write because my series is set in the fourteenth century when things were a bit rough – and women had even less say than now.

Mrs. P: Depictions of violence against women in crime fiction (especially sadistic sexual violence) have bothered me as long as I’ve been reading in the genre, and I would agree with you that this is a topic that should be acknowledged and properly discussed. Every now and then I consider writing a blog post on the subject and then get cold feet, because in many ways it’s such a minefield. In any case – a few thoughts in response to your comment:

Time of publication: I agree that misogyny should not be excused if it appears in a book written in the 1960s, but it does provide at least a partial explanation that helps us understand its presence.

Authorial intent: some authors like Val McDermid have been criticised for writing eye-watering depictions of violence against women (usually by serial killers). I’ve heard McDermid argue that her intent is to highlight the shocking realities of misogyny and violence against women in our society, which are often ignored. However, the risk that a reader might get some kind of perverse kick out of those depictions remains, as the author can never completely steer the interpretation of his or her writing. Her later books have apparently toned down this element.

The same problem could be said to exist in relation to David Peace’s ‘Red Riding’ quartet (1974, 1977, 1980 and 1983), which explore the Ripper killings in some detail, and which I greatly admire. (This is where things get complicated for me – why do I view some depictions of violence against women as justifiable and some not? I need to think about this in more detail, but think it has to do with the purpose of those depictions / what the inclusion of those depictions achieves in the larger context of the narrative.)

Misogyny sells? One really depressing thought for me is that publishers / film studios are actively on the lookout for explicit depictions of violence against women (whether in crime fiction or other genres such as horror), because they know that these will sell. What that says about us as a society is pretty bleak.

Equality: funnily enough, I happen to be reading An Uncertain Place by the French crime novelist Fred Vargas at the moment, which features an unbelievably brutal murder of a man, with some pretty prurient features! Still undoubtedly an exception to the rule, and I agree with you that this isn’t the kind of equality for which we should aim!

There was a bit of a media storm in 2009, when Jessica Mann, an author and critic, declared that she was no longer willing to review some books due to their misogynist content. (Her original statement can be accessed here). Val McDermid then wrote a response (she felt that female authors were being unfairly targeted for criticism).

I’d be very interested to hear in a little more detail how you deal with all of these complexities as a writer yourself…

Maxine (Petrona blog): I am allergic to crime novels depicting violence (torture, serial killer, mentally unstable kidnappers, etc.) against women, children and other victims and I am afraid that the genre seems to be increasingly popular. I have failed to finish several “raved about” books on these grounds, and failed even to start others, e.g. Stuart MacBride’s latest whose plot blurb is horribly off-putting.

That having been said, I do not think the criticism of Roseanna by Sjowall/Wahloo is fair. I think this is a serious book, not prurient, and I feel that Beck’s sympathy for the victim drives him on to solve a crime that others would long since have forgotten. I think the S/W novels are as far from some of the poorly written, sensationalist rubbish that is written these days as it is possible to be!

Mrs. P: I feel the same way about Roseanna, but to be fair this was an impression gained from a partial reading of the book (am keen to see what Susan thinks on completion!).

Thanks also for the link (via Friendfeed) to the blog-post you wrote on the Mann discussion. Some extra links there that might be of interest to others…

bernadetteinoz (Reactions to Reading blog): This is a perennial topic and one I suspect will be with us for several generations yet. I do my best to avoid books in which the violence against women feels particularly prurient but, like you Mrs P, I might not always appear consistent as I do tend to take intent into account and, of course, it is usual that I have to infer intent from things outside the book in question (e.g. the author’s previous work). Somewhat perversely I absolutely do not think that we should be censoring our publications based on the fact that some perverted sicko somewhere might get some enjoyment or, heaven forbid, some ideas, from what he (and it will almost definitely be a he) reads. That way madness (and totalitarian dictatorships lie).

I think I do disagree with one point made earlier in this discussion, well half-disagree anyway. I think the reason we don’t see nearly as many graphic descriptions of torture and sexually motivated violence occurring to men in crime fiction is that the genre is after all in some ways a reflection of real life and that kind of violence does not happen as much to men in real life as it does to women. However, the kind of violence that men are often subject to – being shot or dying in violent person-to-person fighting – is depicted quite a lot. George Pelecanos’ books are full of it as are the books of many other authors I’m sure – but I can’t name heaps of them because I tend to avoid them just as I do the books in which violence against women for the sake of it appears to be a central point to the book’s existence.

Mrs P: I absolutely agree with you about the censorship issue, although one thing I’m interested in is the ‘self-censorship’ angle, by which I mean authors who may change their approach to depicting violence in a series, due to audience reactions or because they feel that they went a step too far in their early work. I’ve heard David Peace say (at a reading in Belfast a couple of years ago) that he would have written parts of his ‘Red Riding’ quartet differently today, particularly the detailed depictions of what was done to the female child victims in the novel. He saw this shift as being partly due to his own development as a writer; he now felt elements of those depictions were gratuitous. I’d be very interested to hear if other authors have modified their depictions of violence as their writing careers progressed (in either direction, in relation to either gender, and if so why).

‘Gendered’ types of violence as a reflection of real life: this is a really good point, and I think what Val McDermid was arguing when defending depictions of violence against women in her own books (as I heard her do at a Harrogate panel in 2006). I was barely able to read portions of The Last Temptation , but I could at least see what she was trying to achieve. It did put me off reading her works for a while though. George Pelecanos: another author I greatly admire, whose novel The Big Blowdown is on my list of all-time crime greats. His depictions of violence seem to me to be carefully contextualised in larger narratives of ethnic and class tensions, and work for that reason in my view.

Maxine: Agree with you both on the censorship aspects, and Bernadette makes a good point about the “macho” violence which is more commonly the way it is done to males in crime fiction, than the type of nastiness done to the weak (women, children). Reminds me of the way some comedians on TV are said to target the disabled.

Val McDermid seems to have toned down her torture-style books over the past few years, so she herself may be an example. Probably to do with appealing to a wider, non-crime-reading audience.

It is nice to me that some of the very best-selling and top (my view!) crime authors don’t depict unnecessary violence while still being hard-hitting, e.g. M. Connelly, D. Meyer, I. Rankin, R. Rendell, L. Marklund. I also like authors like Peter Temple who address tough issues such as abuse of children (in care homes), young women, etc. – making the topics harrowing and not airbrushing, but still not dwelling on them in unnecessarily “revelling in it” ways. Connelly, Marklund etc. do quite a bit of this, too.

Mrs P: I very much agree with your last paragraph, Maxine: a huge amount depends on the quality of the writer, and the skill with which he or she situates depictions of violence in the context of larger issues. That’s when the crime novel reaches its full potential as a vehicle for critiquing society, and highlighting crimes and injustices perpetrated within it.

Cassandra Clark: I do agree that context is important, but when people say it’s ok if well written this is to put aesthetics above ethics. Something to discuss there, I feel. I also question one of the contributors’ remarks about violence being mostly done to women and therefore it’s a true picture of society. (Novelists are not journalists.) I haven’t checked the statistics but I would imagine most murders are a result of street violence between young men. It’s the criticism of unbalance, also levelled at crime novels set in Iceland or Sweden – more corpses than inhabitants! – leading one to imagine the crime rate in these places is ten times higher than that in Chicago, tipping the balance towards blatant untruth and undermining the argument that they provide a true picture of society. What gets me down is the constant dwelling on women as victims. Yes, we know about misogyny but what do we know about how to fight back? If detailed descriptions of the nasty things people can do to other people is considered necessary to tell a good story then I want to see a few winning women in this literary-engendered battle. In fact, come to think of it, that’s how I deal with it in my own writing. Hildegard fights back. I hope she always will.

bernadetteinoz: I’ll respond to this as I was the one who made the original claim and I do think it stands up. If women are going to be subject to violence it is most likely to be domestic violence or sexual assault by someone she knows (and by knows I mean everything from is ‘married to’ to ‘has met briefly’) – that’s what the health stats say anyway (which I know about from my day job) – I think crime fiction reflects this, though of course it takes things to extremes (often for no good reason, sometimes to make a perfectly valid point) – of course there is also a whole load of serial killer fiction in which mostly women are tortured and whatnot, but most of these are cashing in on a trope that I think had its origins in something far less flashy and probably a lot more realistic (e.g. the guy meets girl and when she says no he decides she meant yes and rapes her scenario). That certainly appears to be what the early books depicting quite graphic violence from authors like Patricia Cornwell were doing (I think Cornwell lost track of this early theme, but that’s another story).

That said I think there is a whole load of crime fiction that does not treat women as victims – there are loads of strong female characters who fight the good fight either due to some trauma in their own past or their viewing of the realities of what has happened to other people they know. Certainly most of the crime fiction I read these days does not cast women as the perennial victim. But I rarely read any of the mainstream crime/thriller/ slasher stuff in which people are making things out of human skin or collecting women’s body parts or any of that kind of nonsense.

Cassandra Clark: Yes, I think I was generalising about mainstream i.e. best-seller paperbacks. What about a list of strong women novels then?

Mrs. P: Great idea – and a lovely way to wrap up this discussion.

Update, 5 December: Margot Kinberg has written a very thoughtful blog post over at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist about some of the more difficult questions raised in this discussion (such as why graphic depictions of violence sell). It’s well worth a read.

Update, 9 February: Thanks to author J.J. Marsh for alerting me to her excellent discussion with author Frances di Plino entitled ‘Feminists and crime fiction – an odd couple?’.

STRONG WOMEN IN CRIME

  • Lena Adams (Karin Slaughter’s Grant County series, USA)
  • Adelia Aguilar (Ariana Franklin, ‘Mistress of the Art of Death’ series, UK)
  • Jo Beckett (Meg Gardiner’s Jo Beckett series, USA)
  • Annika Bengtzon (Liza Marklund’s Bengtzon series, Sweden)
  • Tempe Brennan (Kathy Reichs’ Tempe Brennan series, USA)
  • Siobhan Clarke (Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels, UK)
  • Jenny Cooper (M. R. Hall’s Jenny Cooper series, UK)
  • Dr. Anya Crichton (Kathryn Fox’s Anya Crichton series, Australia)
  • DCI Kate Daniels (Mari Hannah’s Kate Daniels series, UK)
  • Evan Delaney (Meg Gardiner’s Delaney series, USA)
  • Marie Donovan (Alex Walter’s Marie Donovan series, UK)
  • Detective Elinborg (Arnadur Indridason, Outrage, Iceland)
  • Bell Elkins (Julia Keller, A Killing in the Hills, USA)
  • Erica Falck (Camilla Läckberg’s Fjällbacka series, Sweden)
  • Amanda Fitton / Campion (Margery Allingham, Campion series, UK)
  • Charlie Fox (Zoë Sharp’s Charlie Fox series, UK)
  • Ruth Galloway (Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series, UK)
  • Bina Gelbfish (Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, USA)
  • Noria Ghozali (Dominique Manotti, Affairs of State, France)
  • Gunnhildur ‘Gunna’ Gísladóttir (Quentin Bates’ Gísladóttir series, UK; set in Iceland)
  • Thóra Gudmundsdóttir (Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s Thóra series, Iceland)
  • Mumtaz Hakim (Barbara Nadel’s Hakim and Arnold series, UK
  • Dr. Clare Hart (Margie Orford’s Clare Hart series, South Africa)
  • Barbara Havers (Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley series, USA; set in UK)
  • Hildegard of Meaux (Cassandra Clark’s Hildegard of Meaux series, UK)
  • Irene Huss (Helene Tursten’s Huss series, Sweden)
  • Smilla Jaspersen (Peter Hoeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, Denmark)
  • Lena Jones (Betty Webb’s Lena Jones series, USA)
  • Carol Jordan (Val McDermid’s Tony Hill series, UK).
  • Jayne Keeney (Angela Savage’s Keeney series, Australia)
  • Nhu ‘Ned’ Kelly (P.M. Newton, The Old School, Australia)
  • Detective Constable Maeve Kerrigan (Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan series, UK)
  • Edie Kiglatuk (M.J. McGrath, White Heat, UK; set in the Arctic)
  • Sal Kilkenny (Cath Staincliffe’s Sal Kilkenny series, UK)
  • Simone Kirsch (Leigh Redhead’s Kirsch series, Australia)
  • Anni Koskinen (Barbara Fister’s Anni Koskinen series, USA)
  • Aimée Leduc (Cara Black’s Aimée Leduc series, USA; set in Paris)
  • DCI Janine Lewis (Blue Murder, UK; TV series created by Cath Staincliffe)
  • Karin Lietze (Pieke Biermann, Violetta, Germany)
  • Dr. Sara Linton (Karin Slaughter’s Grant County series, USA)
  • Sarah Lund (The Killing, Denmark; TV)
  • Rory Mackenzie (Meg Gardiner, Ransom River, USA)
  • Kathleen Mallory (Carol O’Connell’s Mallory series, USA)
  • Ella Marconi (Katherine Howell’s Marconi series, Australia)
  • Miss Marple (Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series, UK)
  • Rebecka Martinsson (Åsa Larsson’s Martinsson series, Sweden)
  • Sharon McCone (Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone series, USA)
  • Anna-Maria Mella (Åsa Larsson’s Martinsson series, Sweden)
  • Kinsey Millhone (Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone series, USA)
  • Alex Morrow (Denise Mina’s Morrow series, UK)
  • DS Rachel Narey (Craig Robertson, Cold Grave, UK)
  • Saga Norén (The Bridge; Denmark and Sweden; TV)
  • Maureen O’Donnell (Denise Mina’s Garnethill trilogy, UK)
  • Anna Pigeon (Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon series, USA)
  • Stephanie Plum (Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, USA)
  • Annie Raft (Kerstin Ekman, Blackwater, Sweden)
  • Agatha Raisin (M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series, UK)
  • Annie Raymond (Penny Grubb’s Annie Raymond series, UK)
  • Detective Inspector Louise Rick (Sara Blaedel’s Louise Rick series, Denmark)
  • Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles (Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli and Isles series, USA)
  • Mattie Ross (Charles Portis, True Grit, USA)
  • DS Geraldine Steel (Leigh Russell’s Geraldine Steel series, UK)
  • Kay Scarpetta (Patricia Cornwell’s Scarpetta series, USA)
  • DC Janet Scott and DC Rachel Bailey (Scott and Bailey, UK; TV)
  • Lisbeth Salander (Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, Sweden)
  • Jill Shadow (T. J. Cooke, Kiss and Tell, UK)
  • Vera Stanhope (Ann Cleeves’ Vera Stanhope series, UK)
  • Clarice Starling (Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs, USA)
  • D.I. Roberta Steel (Stuart McBride’s Logan McRae series, UK)
  • Emily Tempest (Adrian Hyland’s Emily Tempest series, Australia)
  • Jane Tennison (Prime Suspect, UK; TV)
  • Elsie Thirkettle (L.C. Tyler’s Elsie and Ethelred series, UK)
  • Baroness Ida ‘Jack’ Troutbeck (Ruth Dudley Edwards’ Troutbeck series, UK)
  • Harriet Vane (Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane series, UK)
  • V.I. Warshawski (Sara Paretsky’s Warshawski series, USA)
  • Merrily Watkins (Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins series, UK)
  • Hanne Wilhelmsen (Anne Holt’s Hanne Wilhelmsen series, Norway)

#28 / Jussi Adler-Olsen, Disgrace

Jussi Adler-Olsen, Disgrace, translated from the Danish by Kyle Semmel (London: Penguin, 2012). A second, rather lacklustre outing for Carl Mørck of Department Q        2.5 stars

Opening line: Another shot echoed over the treetops.

Mercy, the first novel in the Danish ‘Department Q’ series, was one of my top reads of 2011 and I was very much looking forward to reading this follow-up. However, as is sometimes the way with that tricky second novel, Disgrace didn’t quite live up to the brilliance of its predecessor, and is ultimately an uneven read.

While the cold-case format and the conflicted figure of police detective Carl Mørck remain engaging, the depictions of the suspects in the twenty-year-old murder of two teenagers are disappointingly one-dimensional and let the novel down. Spoiled, fabulously wealthy individuals, they’re shown using money and social status to indulge their sadistic desires in a number of over-the-top, yet yawningly predictable ways. Having failed to accept them as realistic depictions, I tried viewing them as representative of a larger malaise within Danish society or the product of capitalism gone mad – but didn’t feel that either of these readings worked particularly well either.       

A rare exception to the novel’s monochrome characterisations is the figure of Kimmie, the only girl to have been part of the group, whose more complex psychological profile allows us to understand the origins of her behaviour, and her reasons for choosing to live rough in the present. Her status is that of both abuser and abused, and her representation raises some interesting questions about gender and power relations. In this respect, the novel links back positively to Mercy, whose core strength was the strong depiction of its central female protagonist Merete.

I’m still keen to read the next instalment in the series, as the concept of a cold-case Department Q led by maverick detective Mørck has plenty of potential. However, if the third novel is closer to Disgrace than Mercy as a reading experience, I may call it a day. Either way we’ll be hearing more of the series shortly, as according to the publisher, both the first and second novels are to be adapted by the makers of the Stieg Larsson films.

You can read an extract from Disgrace here.        

Mrs. P’s review of Mercy is available here.

Thanks to Penguin for providing Mrs. Peabody Investigates with a review copy. 

Mrs. Peabody awards Disgrace an underwhelmed 2.5 stars.

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It’s time for ‘The Killing 3’ Bingo!

So it’s T-minus two hours. Tonight sees the start of Forbrydelsen / The Killing 3 at 9pm on BBC4 – the long, long wait of dedicated British fans is nearly over.

If you have loyally accompanied Sarah Lund from the start of her journey in the amazing opening episodes of series one, then you might like to join me this evening in a game of ‘The Killing 3’ Bingo, which pays affectionate tribute to some of the hallmarks of this exceptional crime drama. Enjoy!

(I might add that I’ve had to employ some Lund-like doggedness to import this table into WordPress via Word, Paint and Flickr. My reward is an *extra-large* glass of wine with tonight’s episodes.)

Update: By the end of episode 2, I had 7 boxes crossed and by the end of episode 4, 11 boxes 🙂 Just one to go…

The Killing 3 is on its way!

Here in the UK there’s been a notable surge in media activity on Forbrydelsen / The Killing 3 over the last couple of weeks.

The series has just started broadcasting in Denmark, where 1.6 million viewers tuned in for the first episode – pretty impressive given the country’s modest 5.5 million population. While there’s been no formal confirmation from BBC4, several sources have given Saturday 17 November as the start date here, with 10 episodes airing in pairs over five weeks.

The makers have stated that this series, in which Lund and the team investigate the murder of a sailor and dodgy dealings in the financial world, will be the final one (sob).

New jumper for The Killing 3! Courtesty of DR TV

Recent links and news

A general, spoiler-free review of the first two episodes of series 3 by Vicky Frost of The Guardian.

A Guardian fashion review of Sarah Lund’s new jumper.

DR TV 35-second trailer for Forbrydelsen III on YouTube.

5 November sees the release of The Killing Original Soundtrack by Frans Bak, featuring music from all three series. There’s a nice piece about the album here. You can sample some of the music via Bak’s SoundCloud page.

15 November sees the publication of The Killing Handbook (‘if you’ve ever wondered who cut the CCTV wire outside Lund’s flat in series 1, why Morten went so far to protect Troels, where you can start your walking tour of Copenhagen from woods to warehouses and the County Hall, or even how you can knit your own Lund jumper – this is the book for you’).

17 November: The Killing 3 begins. Sofa booked. Can’t wait.

Tantalising glimpse of The Killing 3

The Danish broadcaster DR has released a mini-trailer for the third and apparently final series of Forbrydelsen, in which Sarah and the team investigate the death of a young sailor and dodgy dealings in the financial world.

Click here to view. No Danish required! [Update Sept 2012: link now leads through to DK Forbrydelsen website but the trailer is no longer available.]

There’s no word as yet about when the series will make it to BBC4. Still a little while, I would guess … Can’t wait!

Reflections on BBC4’s The Bridge / Bron / Broen

Following the utterly gripping and nail-biting finale of The Bridge, it’s time for a few reflections on this ground-breaking Danish-Swedish production.

In line with Mrs P. policy, there are NO FINALE SPOILERS (if that’s what you’re after, do head over to The Guardian‘s ‘Bridge blog‘).

The Bridge vs The Killing

Before The Bridge aired in the UK, a number of people who’d seen the series said they’d liked it even more than The Killing. Although I’ve enjoyed The Bridge hugely, I’m not yet prepared to go that far: the first series of The Killing remains my top crime-drama viewing experience and Sarah Lund still edges it over Saga and Martin’s (admittedly great) investigative duo.

This preference is mainly due to the depth of characterisation in The Killing. In the first series especially, the focus was on a small number of characters whom you got to know very well, whereas The Bridge had a larger cast and, with the exception of Saga and Martin, had less time to dig deep. Compare, for example, the picture we were able to build up of Nanna Birk Larsen as the murder victim in The Killing 1 and those of the politician / prostitute at the beginning of The Bridge (merely the first of many). And there were a number of interesting characters who featured heavily in early plot-lines of The Bridge, but then simply faded away. Their disappearing acts may be a reflection of the reality of investigations – people make their contribution or are ruled out as suspects and then the team moves on – but some of their stories felt incomplete and I’d liked to have known more.

Fabulous biting humour

Those minor quibbles aside, The Bridge was a top-notch Scandi treat that had me gripped throughout, and became increasingly assured as time went on. The last four episodes were absolutely cracking.

One particularly fine quality was apparent right from the start of the series: a biting and at times splendidly irreverent humour. Much of this was generated by the interplay between the odd-ball Danish-Swedish investigative couple, and also provided a way of managing the audience’s reaction to Saga as a character on the autistic spectrum (we’re invited to see her behaviour as ‘endearingly odd’ rather than ‘threateningly weird’). There’s been some debate about the suitability of this strategy, but I felt it worked extremely well, and that the writers kept the balance between the humour and the more serious elements of the drama just right. Episodes 7 and 8 were superb in this respect.

Hey Martin…was it something I said?!

In sum, The Bridge is high-quality crime drama firmly located in the tradition of socially-engaged Scandinavian crime fiction, with a wonderful pair of detectives and more twists than fusilli pasta. If you haven’t yet seen it, you’re in for a treat.

For earlier posts on The Bridge, see here and here.

And, for one last time, a link to the wonderful title sequence, featuring the sublime ‘Hollow Talk’ by the Choir of Young Believers.

The Bridge – Review of Episodes 1 and 2

At the centre of the 7,845 metre Oresund Bridge that links Denmark and Sweden, lying across the yellow line that marks the border between the two, the lifeless body of a woman is found. Although the victim at first appears to be Swedish, the national juristiction of the case turns out to be far from clear, leading a police officer from each country being assigned to the case. Swedish investigator Saga Noren (Sofia Helm) and her Danish counterpart Martin Rodhe (Kim Bodnia) both soon realise that they’ve been pulled into a difficult, bizarre and highly complex case.

Thus begins the acclaimed crime drama The Bridge/Bron/Broen, whose first episodes aired last night on BBC4 between 9.00 and 11.00pm.

Even from the title sequence, with its beautiful, nocturnal time-lapse photography and haunting theme (‘Hollow Talk’ by the Choir of Young Believers), it was clear that we were in for a treat. By the end of the first two episodes I was fully gripped, as the investigative narrative unfolded and two intriguing sub-plots took shape: a rich wife rushing her husband to hospital for a transplant operation, and a man helping a young woman escape an abusive husband, but with a murky past of his own.

In Saga Noren and Martin Rodhe we are given a classic investigative ‘odd couple’. Saga is a particularly interesting character, whose sometimes unconventional behaviour leads her colleagues to regard her as ‘a bit special’. She is a brilliant and knowledgeable investigator, who is ruthlessly logical and focused, and finds social niceties a baffling waste of time. As already discussed in the comments of an earlier post, it’s possible that she has a form of high-functioning autism. (In terms of other TV characters, she reminded me a bit of Star Trek‘s Seven of Nine!) Martin, by contrast, is more of an old school cop, who has a complicated private life and doesn’t always do things by the book, but who seems to take Saga’s behaviour (such as calling him in the early hours with a fresh lead) in his stride. The dynamic between the two looks promising.

- Hmm, not sure what I make of you.
- Feeling's mutual

Some other random observations at this point:

In contrast to The Killing, there are moments of genuine, albeit dark humour in The Bridge, which worked well for me. Watch out for Saga’s ‘romantic’ date (and make a note of how not to put off hunky Swedes the morning after).

The obligatory autopsy scene allows us to appreciate Saga’s intelligence and investigative focus (and was therefore justifiably included in my view). There are some quite graphic photos from the autopsy featured later on, but I’m hoping that’ll be it for now.

The series has an interesting 70s styling. Its palette of browns, oranges and beiges reminded me a little of the recent film adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, directed by the Swede Tomas Alfredson. One of the characters (flares, leather jacket, moustache) could have stepped straight out of Life On Mars.

I’m very much enjoying the transnational flavour of the series, which is evident in the Danish/Swedish credits, the characters’ dialogue, and of course the plot itself. And yes, they do all understand one another, but Martin has to repeat himself more s-l-o-w-l-y at one point so that the Swedes can follow him properly!

The murderer’s motives look complex and interesting: ‘if you had cared there would have been no victims’. It looks like the series will follow in the tradition of Swedish crime writing (Sjowall & Wahloo, Mankell) by foregrounding social issues. Mindful of spoilers, I shall say no more.

The Oresund Bridge looks remarkably like the Severn Bridge at times (Welsh-English remake please!).

Tonight’s episodes are both repeated and available on BBC iPlayer.

Below is a handy map with the Oresund Bridge to help with orientation: it joins Denmark and its capital city Copenhagen on the left and Sweden’s Malmo, the third largest city after Stockholm and Gothenburg, on the right.

Looking forward to next week’s episodes already!