Nordic crime in translation

Karen of Euro Crime has written a report of the Nordic crime reading group, the only free event at the Harrogate festival but the one most eagerly attended by Euro Crimers Karen, Laura (Root) and me. Karen’s report provides some current highlights among the Nordic authors, so please see her post (and associated reviews at Euro Crime website, organised by author and by country) for further details.


I would like to highlight here a few of the comments to Karen’s post. Laura adds that one of the book group participants at Harrogate referred to an Italian film version of a Karin Fossum novel. This lady amusingly described how she watched this film and found her sense of deja vu increasing as the film went on, recognizing the plots as coming from two Fossum books. Sure enough, she found she was right when the credits rolled. Laura has managed to track the film down: Ragazza del Lago, based on Don’t Look Back, but set in Italy. Amazon UK is showing one copy available at £20.99 from an independent seller, but also that it is available for rental (shucks, just after I cancelled my rental account with them!) Laura adds that “there was also some discussion of the Swedish Wallender TV series – and a warning that not all the episodes are based on Mankell’s books. The Draining Lake by Indridason was also briefly discussed in the context of vivid opening scenes.”


Norman Price, who has written his own stimulating post on Nordic crime fiction, notes that “the high standard of Swedish crime fiction can be judged by the fact that Helene Tursten has never been nominated for the Basta Svenska Kriminalroman.” At his blog, Norman notes that “There is a much greater variation in the Nordic novels ranging from Jo Nesbo’s almost  solitary Harry Hole, Karin Fossum’s twosome Sejer and Skarre, K.O.Dahl’s Gunnarstranda and Frolich, Arnaldur Indridason’s threesome Erlendur, Elinborg and Sigurdur Oli, up to the larger teams of Helene Tursten, Sjowall and Wahloo and Henning Mankell.” Norman, of course, is particularly well-disposed to Helene Tursten as she is a retired dentist, just like all the best crime fiction readers and reviewers! 


And here is a fascinating comment to Karen’s post from Simon Clarke (no relation): “I have today returned from Sweden, where Camilla Lackberg is top of the best sellers list with Mari Jungstedt no 2. My half-brother who is Swedish has read 5 of Lackberg-and says she gets better with each novel –and is almost a super-star in Sweden. He also tells me having read all three Stieg Larsson novels that the second 2 are better than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo!!! As regards translation from the Swedish, Mari Jungstedt and Helene Tursten are both American translations, the former by Tiina Nunnally,who is one of the best translators from Swedish, she has also translated 3 Karin Fossum novels from Norwegian under the name of Felicity David. Her husband is Steven T.Murray who translated Tursten’s Detective Inspector Huss–not very well–and it is he who translated the Stieg Larsson — under the name of Reg Keeland. The translations by the British translators Laurie Thompson and Marlaine Delargy are generally good.” I agree with this last point, and would also add Don Bartlett and the late, sadly lamented Bernard Scudder to the pantheon. If one is prepared to journey considerably southwards, Stephen Sartarelli is exquisitely in tune with author Andrea Camilleri. Sartarelli’s translations are one of the many reasons why these books are such a delight.

Why we like reading novels

It was quite appropriate, I suppose, that in the train on the way to the Harrogate crime writing festival, I read an article in the Times It’s no mystery why we love detective stories.The hook for the piece was the recent award of the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction to Kate Summerscale for The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (and not, as was widely expected among the so-called literati, the warts-and-all biography of V. S. Naipaul), a book which “re-examines a famous Victorian murder: the killing in 1860 of three-year-old Saville Kent in Road Hill House, Wiltshire, the home of a well-to-do and apparently upright factory inspector.”  The author of the Times article, Ben Macintrye, goes on to examine the enduring popularity of the British detective novel, with the usual answer that in an increasingly amoral and uncertain world, such books fulfil our internal need for a faith in reason, as well as this view: “we are even more obsessed than the Victorians with the notion that surface respectability conceals evil. The McCanns were hounded because they might have stepped straight out of the Boden catalogue; Amanda Knox, one of the accused in the Kercher murder, might be the girl next door…….As we consume detective fiction in ever greater quantities, we distrust our neighbours and trust in the power of human ingenuity more than ever.” I don’t disagree with him, but one cannot generalise from a couple of superficial examples. The recent case of the two French students from Imperial College London does not seem to fall into this category, nor what is being called the “current spate of knife crime” in inner cities in the UK — yet both are getting plenty of media coverage and public interest, as did the likes of Fred/Rosemary West and Peter Sutcliffe at the time.


Many of the discussions at Harrogate were along similar lines: why do people read, and like, “cosy” crime (the adjective should instead be “classic” or “detective”)? Can women “get away with” writing more explicitly about sexual violence than men? How do crime writers “cope with the stress” of their jobs? All these questions are unanswerable in terms of defining a novel as “crime fiction”. Out of the several nasty excerpts provided in the “violence” section, for example, the worst was from American Psycho, an unpleasant work (unread by me) reviewed as mainstream, not crime, literature by the international press. Stef Penney won the Crime Novel of the Year award at the festival, for Tenderness of Wolves, a novel that many people would not regard as “crime fiction”. The events at Harrogate were all very well attended, but the one sell-out was not to see a “crime fiction” author but rather ex-soldier Andy McNab. The more I read and hear people trying to shoehorn “crime fiction” into various psychological and sociological analyses, the more irrelevant the genre-definition game seems to be. Good books are good books, and don’t need to be discussed in a certain context, which could end up turning into a straightjacket. 

Where are all the women?

Do you need a Y chromosome to be taken seriously as a crime writer” So asks Natasha Cooper in the Times last Friday (11 July)as she prepares for this year’s Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, where she is chair of the panel of shortlisted authors for the Crime Novel of the Year award. She goes on to write: “The shortlisted authors are terrific, several of them are friends of mine, and they all deserve their places on the list. But why is Stef Penney the only woman? Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. The problem is not confined to any one shortlist. When this newspaper published The 50 Greatest Crime Writers in April, only 13 were women.” I’m glad to see that Natasha makes the exact point that occurred to me when I saw the winner. Yes it was a woman (Patricia Highsmith), but she was pictured naked to the waist. Natasha makes some excellent points in her article, and speculates about why this imbalance has come about.
The issue of woman writers is familiar to readers of this blog, as we had a debate on this very topic in response to a top ten list of great crime-fiction writers that featured no women. We came up with a list of ten favourite women writers, but many more than that were suggested, and are listed in that post. In defence of Theakston’s Old Peculier, I would say that there were more women on the long list, and the short list was created from readers’ votes on that long list. (I voted for a book by a woman that did not make it to the short list.) The recently announced 2008 Dagger awards featured two women winners out of a possible six categories: the Duncan Lawrie Dagger went to Frances Fyfield for Blood From Stone, and the International Duncan Lawrie Dagger to Dominique Manotti for Lorraine Connection, (translated from the French by Amanda Hopkinson and Ros Schwartz). Two out of four of the “highly commendeds” were women. By the way, you can see who I and other Euro Crime reviewers and fans nominated for our shortlists for the International Dagger here.


Well, it is something to ponder on as I go to Harrogate.

Publishing News is no more

Via press release: PUBLISHING NEWS, The book trade weekly, is to cease publication. The issue of Friday July 25th will be the last. The publication, founded in 1979, has been hit by the same problems that have affected all magazines and newspapers, as advertisers have shifted increasing proportions of their spend to online and direct sales.
The closure has entailed a number of redundancies, particularly on the editorial side, where over the years PN’s innovative approach has set the highest standards in the reporting, analysis and interpretation of events in the publishing industry. All other activities of PN Ltd “are unaffected by the closure of Publishing News”. The company will continue to organise the British Book Awards and has recently signed a new two-year contract with its headline sponsor, Galaxy.


Martyn Daniels’s take is here.


Here is what the Bookseller has to say, but it is basically the same as the PN press release.


Publishing News home page.

Top ten failed intellectuals

Prospect magazine has an utterly risible list of “top 100” intellectuals (via Bryan Appleyard and Frank Wilson, both of whom offer their opinions at the links provided). Like Susan Baleé (see comments at Bryan’s blog), I have heard of only one out of the first ten named people, and I’ve only heard of him because he got a Nobel prize for literature recently (I hadn’t heard of him before that). I have, however, heard of numbers 11 and 12, Noam Chomsky and Al Gore. I would call Noam Chomsky an intellectual (whether or not one agrees with him) but I would not call Al Gore one. I would also call Richard Dawkins (who features in the list) an intellectual. Although it is fashionable to despise him, one does not have to agree with someone’s views for that person to be considered an intellectual, and Richard Dawkins surely qualifies on the basis of a superb body of work.


However, returning to the main point, Frank Wilson and Bryan Appleyard are, of course, founder members of the Failed Intellectuals Society. I don’t make it into that exalted group, but here are my top ten Failed Intellectuals (in no particular order), all of whom I can recommend highly:


Frank (link above)


Bryan (link above)


Susan Baleé


Nigel Beale


Clare Dudman


Henry Gee


Dave Lull


Ian McEwan (not a popular choice among some fellow FIs, I realise)


Mary Beard


Patrick Kurp.


There, you can’t do better than that — you read it here first.

The Torso, by Helene Tursten: a superb book

Based on the evidence of her first two books, there is no doubt in my mind that Helene Tursten has inherited the mantle of Maj Stowall and Per Wahloo, who wrote the type-example police procedurals back in the 1960s, in a series of ten novels featuring police detective Martin Beck. (Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels had a similar influence but I prefer Stowall/Wahloo.) There have been many very good Scandinavian police procedurals since, not least the excellent Henning Mankell, and plenty by authors from elsewhere of course, but I don’t think that anyone can better Helene Tursten. My review of her second novel, The Torso, has just been published at Euro Crime. From the review:


THE TORSO is a truly excellent read: the first two books that have been translated in this series are right at the top of my list of the best police-procedurals I have ever read. The true-to-life stories of the domestic lives of the detectives (which are best appreciated here if one has read the scene-setting DETECTIVE INSPECTOR HUSS); the personal compromises they have to make to get their jobs done; together with the dissection of every detail of the investigation, are a powerful combination. The shocks and thrills don’t come from special effects, but from what is uncovered about human nature. (The whole review is here.)


I reviewed Tursten’s first novel. Detective Inspector Huss, a few weeks ago. I challenge anyone to name a series of police procedurals that is as fine as this one (on the basis of the first two books of a series of, so far, three).

Sunday Salon: The Dirty Secrets Club

TSSbadge3 Imagine being a rich, successful person, top of your game in sports, medicine, television or the law. But you have a secret from your past. Something cruel you might have done when you were too young to know better. Or something extremely kinky that you did for kicks. What would you do to keep your secret safe?


Let’s not stop there, or anywhere near it. Life at the top can be oh-so-dull, so imagine spicing it up with a dangerous, exclusive club – so exclusive that each person knows the identities of only one or two of the other members. To join, you have to prove that you have a very dirty secret. To advance through the ranks, you have to perform a risky task, progressively getting more reckless and life-threatening as you achieve the highest status and a black diamond.


Such is the background of Meg Gardiner’s thrilling new novel, The Dirty Secrets Club.”  (continued here.)


My review of this exciting book is published today in the Philadelphia Inquirer. (Archived version of the complete review is here). As well as being an author of bestselling books, Meg also writes the very funny blog Lying for a Living, where she also posts her events schedule and news about her books. Her posts about The Dirty Secrets Club are here.

So you thought pipetting wasn’t trendy?

From Nature News:


454149a-i1_0 ‘In a dreary, lonely lab a young female postdoc puts down her pipette to massage her aching latexed hands. Sounds like the perfect set-up for a hot new music video. Well at least it does to Tyler Kay, creative director at Compare Networks Production Group (CNPG) in San Francisco, California.


A recent release from CNPG features a group of five winsome young men singing the praises of a new automated pipetting system called epMotion, made by international biotech company Eppendorf. As the lab heroine is whisked to a beach under the Golden Gate Bridge, the band members gyrate around her and her glasses are shed along with her inhibitions, just before the chorus. “Girl you need epMotion” (whispered: “yeah girl it’s time to automate.”)’


For Eppendorf’s stab at the boy band, pipette-appeal genre, see the video here.


What do the scientists themselves think? Well, one view is: “Please, in the name of all that’s holy, make it stop. I’ll even buy something from Eppendorf if you take it down.” (The Scientist at Nature Network). Another scientist’s opinion (in the comments): “I’m fairly sure that guy in the sunglasses was in grad school with me you know… If I’m right, his name is Lauren and he’s an ecologist…”


The dawn of this new advertising era is heralded at Mind The Gap, whose verdict is that “it’s always good to have entertaining portrayals of scientists out there, reminding everyone else that we’re not an alien species”. The first “classic of the genre” thence discussed, The PCR Song (courtesy BioRad),  is here.

Worth of creative online work

“Where does this idea come from that any creative work available online should be free?” This question is asked by librarian Meredith Farkas (who has been called Queen of the Wikis) in a post with the title Value in the online world. When people say or write that they do not want to pay a writer for PDF downloads of their work on the grounds that it isn’t a printed book, what do they consider to be the value of the work — the paper, the ink, the weight? She writes: “A book’s value comes from the creative work of the writer, and that should have value no matter what format it’s in.”


She goes on to consider other online activities that have value. Academics and others argue that blog posts they write and their other online activities should be considered in tenure decisions, along with the formal journal article. Online conferences are another example: they require effort, organisation and money to put together just as is the case for physical conferences. Yet people do not value them in the same way: they don’t carve out their time for it as they would a physical conference (spending time on simultaneous other tasks) and they are more likely not to “turn up”. The article as a whole is thoughtful and sensible, as usual with this author; even if you are not a librarian, the piece has relevance for the thinking about the value of the online world, both our own activities on (in?) it and the way in which we think about other people’s creative efforts online.


(Meredith links to an article by Walt Crawford on the worth of creative work, which I also enjoyed reading, discovering a few familiar names in the process.)

Physics of games

Via Debra, here is a game called Totem destroyer. “Your mission is to destroy the totems without letting the golden Idol (aka Tot) fall into the ground. Use balance to keep Tot up. A cool physics based puzzle game!” It is, as Debra notes, quite addictive (I’ve dared to try it only once).