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Green Jay



Joined: 13 Jan 2009
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Location: West Sussex

PostPosted: Tue Dec 04, 2012 1:59 pm    Post subject: Scandi-crime  Reply with quote

I just started this thread because although there are ones for other individual Scandinavian crime writers, I seem to have dipped into a number of different authors and books recently that make up this growing and popular sub-genre. All fuelled by the recent success of various TV series, the 3 different versions of Wallander, two of them from Sweden itself and one British (with Kenneth Branagh) and  then the Danish series The Killing, now on season 3 and supposedly the last. That one has been ridiculously popular and I know is watched devotedly by friends of mine who don't actually read crime novels.  Also Norwegian Jo Nesbo seems to have a huge following, masses of  posters on railway stations, and has been filmed recently. Oh, and the Steig Larssen books and subsequent films. It seems we can't get enough of the snowy stuff.

My latest read is by Anne Lock, who has - I read from the blurb - written two series, one about a detective and another about a criminal profiler, which overlap. She is a Norwegian lawyer and ex-Minister of Justice, so it does feel a bit like you're inside  The Killing with books written by one of its political characters! ( I know that one is Danish.) It also overlaps with the Jo Nesbo series about police detective Harry Hole, as he's based in Oslo too.  I am getting a good idea of the layout of Oslo and where Bergen etc are and how to get there!

Fear Not concerns a number deaths which at first seem unrelated and possibly not all murder, but which her academic criminologist, Johanne Vik, - researching generally into hate crime, - comes to link as being to do with a homophobic organisation in the USA which carries out contract killings. It is not a typical crime thriller in that it would be impossible to work out who the perpetrator is from what you are given, and that's not really the point. We are fairly soon given his/their motive, anyway. It is more about following the individuals' stories and seeing where they link and what their secrets are. There is also a thread where Vik feels anxious about her young autistic daughter being watched and followed, but we do not know if this is just her own hyper-anxiety, is it real, and is it anything to do with the other stories?

Although not as tense as some page-turners, I found it refreshing. The disabled daughter is depicted well, as is her family and their attitudes to her and her care, and although it is uncomfortable to have her as a possible target I didn't feel it was too exploitative because Kristiane's and the parents' reactions are given so much space to be explored, and Kristiane herself does not become the 'savant' who unwittingly unlocks the case, as might happen in less sensitive hands. I felt Lock must know about this subject from the inside.

Also from the inside, Lock examines same-sex marriage and the various guises gay men and lesbians use to make their way safely in the world. Lock is a lesbian, and this issue is dealt with in the book in a many-faceted way, from the wealthy businessman who was the first high-profile gay father in his country, to others who are more closeted or more risky in their lifestyles. The novel looks at issues such as free speech, prejudice, hardline religious attitudes, and how modern equality laws fit with  human society - or don't. This was a fascinating aspect of the novel, looking at how a country with some of the most open and equal rights fits with the wider world and its different attitudes and what the implications are of this very openess. There was also a well-known and beloved woman bishop, which was very topical given I was reading this just after the General Synod's negative decision on women bishops in the C of E. There are also references to Norway's wealth and relative ease after the financial crash, with masses of public money being spent to help the economy - so Johanne suddenly has grants coming out of her ears. Oh, so like our own dear homelife...sigh.  Sad

On the downside, there were just too many characters and it meant that some of them were very sketchy. I couldn't remember who was who at times, especially with such unfamiliar Norwegian names. There were some details just to keep scenes from being solely dialogue, that were not very helpful and a bit silly (Johanne drinking lots of mineral water in a couple of interviews and then burping - did we need that? There are quite a lot of smells, and too many men having a pee.) I think this is to flesh out the action with realism but it does not add anything useful. A fat detective who always means to be healthier but either fails to eat or grabs the wrong thing under pressure does give us an idea of his character, but other details are just weak padding. But I guess not unusual in crime writing.

I wonder if some of the attraction of these novels is the fact that we (in Britain anyway) have for decades regarded the Scandinavian countries at the forefront in things like welfare, good standards of living, gender equality, and just being attractive modern societies which have got things sorted. Scandi-crime writers all seem keen to examine how this picture is not (maybe never) true, or is crumbling, and how a previously homogenous society is changing, and dealing with tensions and clashing attitudes. So we get this mix in well-run, well-off countries, - with an interesting climate(!) and quite a differentiated urban/rural culture from the UK - yet with new problems that impact on crime, amongst other things. There is also, noticeably, a good mix of female roles in public life just as a norm, in both the books and the TV programmes; not just one token and unconvingingly tough/clever/martial-arts trained female protagonist. (Lizbeth Salander is forgiven!) Or one dithery but ultimately successful woman.

Maybe I am not up-to-date enough with British crime writers, but I don't get the impression they are examining the UK in the same politically and socially acute way as Mankell or Lock. Or maybe the UK is just too complicated and old, and mixed up and divided, and far more populated,  to do this easily. I suppose our crime writing tradition is longer and more diverse too, from sinister brain-teasers to comfy crime to nasty brutish realism and psychological twisters.


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Joe McWilliams



Joined: 10 Feb 2012
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Location: Canada

PostPosted: Tue Dec 04, 2012 4:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for this, Green Jay. I've read a couple of Mankells and found one of them (Faceless Killers) to be reasonably good, but the other (The Man From Beijing) to be pretty lousy.

I wonder where German crime writing fits into this discussion. Or, for that matter, German crime writing by a British author. I've just finished 'The One From The Other,' by Philip Kerr, another in his Bernie Gunther series. It is really quite good. He puts his wise-cracking, cynical Berliner private investigator into all sorts of deliciously sticky situations, pre and post-war. I think I will read more.


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Green Jay



Joined: 13 Jan 2009
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Location: West Sussex

PostPosted: Sat Dec 08, 2012 12:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't think the one you mention fits in here, Joe. The Scandi crime I've read all seems to be very contemporary, often drawing in bits of actual political goings-on of the times, or at least the impact of politics and economics. One Jo Nesbo I read had sections harking back to the war, but that was to show how the experience still rippled through modern-day Norwegian life for some people, and how a younger generation is drawn to right-wing nationalistic views.  Not much wise-cracking or humour. It is all written by indigenous authors, too - Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Icelandic. I know that Larssen and Henning Mankell were/are politically active in their lives, not just fictionalising it. It may be too much to claim that it's all a bit state-of-the-nation given that they are commercially-driven mega-selling crime writers but there is definitely a trend for social commentary.

As for actual German crime writing, I don't think I have read any!! Any suggestions?

BTW, I enjoyed the first 4 or 5 Mankells I read but lately have ben very disappointed. Perhaps they get too samey when you read a lot, or perhaps he has just gone 'off'.

I want to read the Martin Beck novels (1960s), a couple of which were dramatised on BBC Radio Saturday afternoon drama slot, but as I was dashing about as usual I only heard bits on the car radio.


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Evie
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Joined: 24 Oct 2008
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Location: Kenilworth, Warwickshire, UK

PostPosted: Sat Dec 08, 2012 8:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have just read a German crime novel - The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Pötsch.  It's set in Bavaria in the 17th century, and there is not a detective as such - there are murders that are investigated by the town doctor and the hangman, the only people in the town who don't think the murders are the result of witchcraft practised by the local midwife.  I liked it because of the way it focused on outcasts in society - orphaned children, the hangman and his family, the midwife, even the doctor, who is seen as a bit of a quack, but who is in fact more interested in new scientific thinking than in the age-old medical superstitions.  Lots about witchcraft, and a wonderful villain with a hand made of bones - he lost his hand in a battle, and his own bones were used to reconstruct his hand with copper wire.  It became a bit tiresome, and the ending was in a way an anticlimax as the author failed to keep the suspense going and managed to make what could have been exciting quite dull, but I liked the atmosphere and some of the characters.


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MikeAlx



Joined: 17 Nov 2008
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Location: Seaford, East Sussex

PostPosted: Sat Dec 08, 2012 8:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Green Jay, I heard an interesting interview with Jo Nesbo, in which he revealed that his father had fought for the Nazis in WWII after Norway's occupation, whereas his mother was in the resistance. His father had spent some time in prison after the war for being a collaborator. Nesbo didn't find out until he was a teenager. Such things are commonplace in occupied countries, of course, though I think many British people are quite deluded about this, believing that it wouldn't have happened here had we been invaded.



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Caro



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
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Location: Owaka, New Zealand

PostPosted: Sun Dec 09, 2012 12:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I found the last Wallander book I read disappointing - it was called something like The Man with the Smiling Face.  I wrote about it here a little while ago, but I think my objections were mostly to the fact that there was really no mystery to it.  It was just a matter of catching him, and ensuring he would be convicted.  I read in a rather nice and very beautiful book I have out the library on the settings of various crime series that Mankell's books have become more and more politicised.  (This wasn't meant as a criticism, but I might find it distracting.)


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Evie
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 09, 2012 12:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I still haven't read a single scandi-crime novel, despite absolutely loving them on telly (currently thrilling to a double dose of The Killing on a Saturday night).  I don't know why I haven't...just happy to watch, I suppose, and feel reading might not live up to the TV experience - how sad is that.  But sometimes these things *are* better filmed than read!  Often the way with plot-driven stuff.  I have never read an Inspector Morse novel either, come to think of it - when you love something that much, you sometimes don't want different images in your mind.

But it's probably just that I've never got round to it!


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Green Jay



Joined: 13 Jan 2009
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Location: West Sussex

PostPosted: Sun Dec 09, 2012 5:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

MikeAlx wrote:
Green Jay, I heard an interesting interview with Jo Nesbo, in which he revealed that his father had fought for the Nazis in WWII after Norway's occupation, whereas his mother was in the resistance. His father had spent some time in prison after the war for being a collaborator.


Fascinating. This was very much reflected in the one I referred to - I think it was The Robin Redbreast - different paths taken by Norwegians. It was also a decision about which would be the worst dictactor to have over you - Hitler or Stalin - and supporting the other side,  so some were fighting  for the Russians, and the different opinions coud still rankle after years, or could be pragmatically smoothed over, or hidden away as too uncomfortable to examine. Not terribly subtly done in the book, but interesting nevertheless. And it commented on history being written by the winners.


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MikeAlx



Joined: 17 Nov 2008
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Location: Seaford, East Sussex

PostPosted: Sun Apr 07, 2013 11:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

In March I read Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason, the second (available in English) in the Reykjavik Mysteries series. This is the third one I've read now, and they are all really good so far. I love the character of Inspector Erlendur, and the way the cases unfold the recent social history of Iceland. I think anyone who enjoys the Wallander novels will like these - they have considerable similarities, without seeming too similar or derivative.

This one begins with the discovery of a body on a new housing development on the outskirts of Reykjavik, which unearths a backstory going back to the British and American occupation during WWII, involving crime and domestic abuse. As the investigation goes on, Erlendur's drug-addict daughter Eva Lind is in a critical coma, having lost a baby. All this provides ample space for Erlendur to reflect on his own failings as a father and husband. (Yes, leave your rose-tinted spectacles at the frontispiece Wink )



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Caro



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
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Location: Owaka, New Zealand

PostPosted: Sun Apr 07, 2013 10:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I read Tainted Blood by Idridason, but I didn't like it half as much as the Wallander ones.  The ending bothered me for a start, and I found it just too flatly written.  (And at times I did find myself getting Wallander and Erlendur muddled.)

It's interesting, though, that these Scandinavian countries put out books that are quite dark and negative about aspects of countries generally thought of as progressive and socially aware.  Similar to NZ and both of us top those sort of country surveys for things like lack of corruption and social care, etc, yet NZ's literature and film is also always considered to be dark.  I'm not sure why this should be.  Is there an undercurrent of anxiety in these countries?



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