Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Scandinavian Crime Fiction: Whither The Mavericks?

I’m reading Barry Forshaw’s DEATH IN A COLD CLIMATE at the moment, and a fine piece of work it is too, being a forensically detailed account of the rise and rise of Scandinavian crime fiction. One interesting aspect is the short interviews dotted throughout the text with British-based editors who have signed Scandinavian authors, who respond to Forshaw’s question of whether the current trend for Scandinavian crime fiction is running out of steam with variations on a standard response of, ‘Well, all good things must end, but my guy / gal is different to the rest because …’ Yes. But you would say that, wouldn’t you?
  The book has got me thinking about the future of Irish crime fiction, though - or rather, about the fact that ‘Irish crime fiction’ doesn’t really have a future. A couple of weeks ago I posted a comment on a website which was asking about which country was likely to break through as the ‘next Scandi crime’ phenomenon, suggesting that it had to be Ireland. Now I’m not so sure; in fact, I’m pretty certain it won’t happen.
  That’s not to say that Irish writers aren’t on a par with their peers all over the world; they are, and then some. I honestly believe that some of the Irish crime writers currently plying their trade are some of the finest writers working in the genre.
  The problem, in terms of the break-out to mass commercial success, is also one of Irish crime writing’s greatest strengths: its diversity.
  Over the last year or so I’ve read novels by Karin Fossum, Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbo, Camilla Lackberg, Roslund & Hellström, Liza Marklund, Jan Costin Wagner, Yrsa Sigurdardottir and Anne Holt. Some were better than others; some were very good indeed.
  What struck me most forcibly, however, is how narrow are the parameters of Scandinavian crime fiction. That’s not to say that all the writers are working off the one palette - Karin Fossum’s novels are very different to Liza Marklund’s, for example, and there’s a marked difference in the urban- and rural-based police procedurals written by Jo Nesbo and Camilla Lackberg, respectively.
  Essentially, though, the Scandinavian novels I’ve read have been for the greater part characterised by the classic crime fiction model: a state-sanctioned investigator (cop, private eye, lawyer, etc.) charting the symptoms of turbulence in society and persuading us that the (admittedly tarnished) status quo is better than the alternative.
  There’s nothing wrong with that story-telling model, of course. I’m a fan of many writers who employ it. But it does seem to me, from my limited reading of Scandinavian crime writing, that there’s a homogeneity to the ‘brand’.
  I find that odd. It’s not as if the current crop of Scandinavian crime writers only began writing last year, or the year before. Hakan Nesser published his first novel in 1988; Henning Mankell’s first Wallander novel appeared in 1991; Karin Fossum’s first Inspector Sejer novel arrived in 1995; Anne Holt’s first novel came in 1993. Which is to say that the earliest pioneers have been working in the field for the best part of two decades. Shouldn’t a few mavericks have appeared at this stage, writers keen to subvert the established form by playing with narrative structure, or humour? Are there any Scandinavians working in the historical crime fiction realms that predate WWII, say? Is it the case that there are Scandinavian writers who take a decidedly post-modern take on the crime narrative, in the way Ken Bruen or Colin Bateman does, or in the way that John Connolly blends genres, but simply aren’t translated into English?
  Where are the Scandinavian comedy crime capers? The classical noirs that take the part of the wretched and doomed criminal as he seeks in vain for an escape from the labyrinth?
  If they’re out there, and I’m simply not aware of them, please do let me know.
  In the meantime, the whole reason I started writing this post was to celebrate the fact that Eoin Colfer’s postmodern comedy crime caper about a wretchedly balding bouncer, PLUGGED, has been shortlisted for the LA Times Book Prizes in the ‘Mystery / Thriller’ category. The full shortlist runs as follows:
STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG by Kate Atkinson
PLUGGED by Eoin Colfer
11 / 22 / 63 by Stephen King
SNOWDROPS: A NOVEL by AD Miller
THE END OF THE WASP SEASON by Denise Mina
  Nice one, Mr Colfer sir. The prizes will be awarded on April 20th, by the way, and here’s hoping that Eoin will emulate Stuart Neville, whose THE TWELVE (aka THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST) won said category back in 2009.