My second riposte is against a much harder target than my first one of this pair, which concerned Ian Rankin. This time, I am being forced to take issue with the wonderful Mike Ripley, he of the excellent Angel detective series, witty raconteur, man about town, distinguished reviewer, author of Shots Mag's hilarious Getting Away With Murder column, etc. Hence I shall probably be ripped (ha ha) to shreds or suffer some equally ghastly fate for launching into a foolhardy defence of Scandinavian crime fiction and of the "fanatical" and "chattering classes" as he seems to be calling me and others who dare to like reading this stuff. In his August column containing a very funny hatchet-job on Johan Theorin's latest, and superb, novel The Darkest Room*, Mr Ripley writes:
quite recently, I was censored by the Eurocrime website when I wrote that I could think of many “terminally-serious, glacially-paced Scandinavian crime writers who should lighten up and try a crash course in (the sheer bloody humanity of) Reginald Hill.” Okay, so maybe I do have issues with the chattering classes who think that if it’s Scandinavian crime-writing it must, by association, be upmarket, fashionably flat-packed and therefore good. Its fans tend to be just that, fanatical; going into raptures about the latest Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish or Icelandic writer they have ‘discovered’.
In his July column, Mr Ripley comments on the 2009 International Dagger shortlist, including this sentiment:
Predictably, the list reflects the love affair between Nordic crime and the chattering classes, with five out of the six books being from authors of Scandinavian origin (four of them alive).
As Mr Ripley's Getting Away with Murder column does not allow comments, I thought I'd respond briefly here:
Dear Mr Ripley
I confess that I am one of those who in recent years have discovered novels by authors such as Maj Sjowall/Per Wahloo, Johan Theorin, Helene Tursten, Liza Marklund, Asa Larsson, Stieg Larsson, Anne Holt, Kjell Ericksson, Yrsa Sigurdadottir, Ake Edwardson, Inger Frimansson, Camilla Lackberg, Karin Fossum, Hakan Nesser, Arnaldur Indridason, Jo Nesbo and others from the Scandinavian region. Before then, I had thought these countries' entire crime-fiction output was written by Henning Mankell. While many (but not all) of these books are admittedly not primarily exciting, action-packed thrillers, most are either variants on the traditional police-procedural, or rely on a combination of character dynamics, atmosphere and a sense of place to hold reader interest. Some are even funny.
I find that most of them succeed admirably. Over the same period I have read an equal if not greater number of US and UK thrillers and other crime fiction, including some authors whom you promote in your column (some of whom I have read purely on the basis of recommendations in your column), and find that quite a few of them blur into an unmemorable, same-y whole. Others are good, but on average, I'm finding that for me, translated fiction is achieving a higher star-rate than yet another cynical, sexist male detective with a drink problem, or yet another high-octane, predictable thriller.
I agree with you that there is much excellent non-Nordic translated crime fiction in print just now (eg Saskia Noort, Petra Hammesfahr, Andrea Camilleri, Fred Vargas, Dominique Manotti, Gianrico Carofiglio). But I'd argue that a book is as good as its reader finds it. I "chatter" (a.k.a. read and review, I presume) these Scandinavian books because I enjoy them, and plead guilty to liking to share that joy in my reviews. I'm a reasonably well-read, old and broadly educated person, so while my enthusiasm for Nordic noir may certainly be considered strange, it isn't copy-cat, vacuous or jejune.
By the way, I think you mean "edited" when you write that your review was "censored".
Confessed reading addict – with a confessed current bias towards Scandinavia.
Confessed admirer of Mike Ripley.
*Different perspectives of Johan Theorin's The Darkest Room can be found at:
Some of these people even like reading Reginald Hill ;-). (An excellent author, in case the ironic intention does not come across.)
My own (positive, I'm afraid Mr Ripley) review of The Darkest Room is submitted to Euro Crime.