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Iceland Noir 2015 Day One

It’s that time of year again when all lovers of Scandinavian crime fiction get together in Iceland. There’s an excellent line-up at this year’s conference and the panels start properly today.

imageHowever, yesterday a couple of events took place which I’m sure will be of interest to Crimepieces readers. Firstly, William Ryan, as well as being a writer of excellent historical fiction, also runs workshops for those who wish to try their hand at crime writing. I’ve always been curious about these events and was determined to use the opportunity whilst in Iceland to attend one.

I took a taxi to Kópavogur public library in a Reykjavik suburb. It’s a huge building with excellent facilities. There I joined sixteen other people at an event that was a mixture of information on how to construct a crime novel combined with a series of exercises to let us have a go. Chatting to the people afterwards, it was clear that most people were already writing something and that the challenge is to complete their works of fiction. I’m sure this workshop will have inspired people to do just that.

Thursday evening is traditionally the time we get to hear authors read aloud from their works. We had a rich variety of writers last night inimage a room at the Solon bar in central Reykjavik. Readings were in both English and Icelandic and it was particularly nice to hear Antti Tuomainen give an extract from The Healer, a book I enjoyed last year. The photo to the right, show Peter James reading from his latest novel. James is an excellent reader and is a good example of how an author can bring their works to life by their performance.

So, the event starts in earnest today but I thought you’d like an update of what’s happened so far. Yesterday was largely about catching up with friends as well. Can you spot the crime writers in the photo below?

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Crime Fiction Round-Up

November is proving to be an interesting month for crime fiction and it would be a shame not share some of the events with readers of this blog. Sometimes, living in Derbyshire, it feels like all the interesting things take place in other parts of the country, particularly London. However, if you keep your eyes open and take advantage of the internet, you discover plenty of interest.

James Ellroy

The the self-styled demon dog of American crime fiction came to The Dancehouse,Perfidia-by-James-Ellroy Manchester in early November. The event was organised by Waterstones on Deansgate and was very well attended. For my money I would have preferred a more structured interview. It was left to Ellroy to read from his latest book, Perfidia, and then field questions from a very knowledgable audience. Manchester has plenty of fine journalists more than capable of facilitating a more structured event and I think we might have got some greater insights from Ellroy from more in-depth probing. He was, however, great to see and we were treated at the end to his recital of Dylan Thomas’s ‘In my Craft or Gentle Art’.

The Murder Squad.

The Murder SquadLast week, six of the best northern crime writers gathered at Linghams bookshop in Heswall for an evening of crime fiction talk. Cath Staincliffe, Ann Cleeves, Margaret Murphy, Martin Edwards, Kate Ellis and Chris Simms talked about their books and characters in an event of interest to both readers and writers of the genre. Again the evening had a fantastic turnout and is evidence of what a vibrant local bookshop can do to promote writers. The passion that these authors still have for their books is an inspiration and I particularly liked the discussion on which character from another author they’d most like to write about. A white haired old lady from St Mary Mead was a popular choice. Thanks to Dave Mack (via Margaret Murphy) for the photo.

Serial

Those on Twitter will notice the amount of chat taking place about a podcast coming out from the States. Serial is a week by week investigation into the culpability of Adnan Syed who was convicted of murdering, in 1999, his girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, in Baltimore, US. I’m not a huge fan of real life crime and certainly tend to avoid reading about it. But these podcasts are excellent and compulsive listening. The host, Sarah Koenig, has an impressive grasp of the minutiae of the case but it is the human element of the broadcasts that make them so fascinating. She oscillates between trusting and disbelieving Adnan’s innocence and we, as listeners, are right there with her. I don’t normally review books until I have finished them but for Serial, it is the real time unfolding of the drama that is one of its attractions. Highly recommended.

Iceland Noir

Next Thursday, Iceland Noir begins. I’ll give a full update in my return as there is a intensive programme ofIcelandnoirlogoSm events and panels. Those who want to follow the event can see live tweeting from @NordicNoirBuzz with the #IcelandNoir hashtag. Last year’s conference was a huge success and it’s fast becoming a ‘must attend’ event for readers, writers and fans of Scandinavian crime fiction. Watch this space.

While I’m in Iceland I’m hoping to catch up on my backlog of reading. If you’ve sent me a book for review, I will get there, I promise. I hope you’re all having a good reading month.

 

 

I’d been meaning to read The Beauty of Murder for a while. The cover is sumptuous and it sounded a bit different from other crime TBoMnovels. What made me finally push the book up my reading list is that AK Benedict is appearing at Iceland Noir. I find it’s always a more satisfying experience to read an author’s book before you hear them speak, even more so when you’re appearing on the same panel. The book lived up to my expectations and reminded me that I really should read outside my comfort zone more often.

Stephen Killigan arrives in Cambridge to take up the post as lecturer in one of the colleges and finds the city a cold, unfriendly place. One evening he stumbles across the body of a young woman. After calling the police, he finds the victim has vanished although she matches the description of a recently missing beauty queen. He is plunged into the world of serial killer Jackamore Grass and travels through time from the present day to the seventeenth century in a bewildering world of deceit and horror.

The Beauty of Murder is an enticing meld of thriller, supernatural, fantasy and philosophical reflection. There’s also a strong police procedural element in the book and, without giving too much of the plot away, I thought the medical problems faced by the detective Jane Horne was a touching and interesting subplot. The main thrust of the book though is the time leap murders that take place. I found them confusing, great fun and absolutely fascinating. You have to surrender yourself to the narrative and let yourself be swept along. The language of the writing is as gorgeous as the cover and is rich with murderous imagery.

A complete departure for me, in terms of reading, but I loved it.

 

After a reading a slew of Scandinavian crime novels recently, I thought it was about time opened a book by a British writer. I read Andrew Williams’s SuicideClub0205-2excellent, The Poison Tide, when it was published in 2012 although I seem to have neglected to review it on this blog. He writes historical thrillers with a strong sense of tension and an interesting slant on the politics of the time. His latest book, The Suicide Club, is in a similar vein with a fascinating premise. The story revolves around a group of soldiers in the First World War who are being trained to mount assaults inside occupied Belgium. Named ‘The Suicide Club’ for obvious reasons it’s a story about treachery on both sides and the dangers that both soldiers and civilians face during the mechanics of war.

In this centenary year marking the start of WWI and as we approach Armistice Day the timing of this book couldn’t be better. It reminds us readers of the tensions that took place as the War reached its latter stages and, in particular, the lack of confidence in the military leaders. Ostensibly, the protagonist, Sandy Innes, is an intelligence officer sent to spy on this own ranks for signs of treachery inside military headquarters. However, the narrative opens out into occupied Belgium and Innes’s own desperate attempt to survive.

The depiction of the network of spies in Belgium is compelling with a strong emphasis on the risks that people are facing under the constant threat of betrayal and reprisals. The characterisation is also excellent. By 1917 many officers, scarred by the course that the war has taken, have something to hide. It is Innes job to see how deep this weariness goes.

As soon as I got the book, I wanted to read it which is a mark of the quality of Williams’s writing. Thanks to Hodder for sending me an early copy. The Suicide Club is published on the 6th November.

 

Review: Jo Nesbo – The Son

Nesbo is an interesting writer. He’s hugely popular around the world it’s not difficult to see why. His books are always immenseson-jo-nesboly readable and he is able to create larger than life characters that jump off the page. His novels are substantial reads. The Son runs to 496 pages but, once you are into the narrative, it’s virtually impossible to put down. Although not part of the series featuring detective Harry Hole, after the disappointment of Nesbo’s previous standalone, HeadhuntersThe Son is a return to form. Assuming, as always, you can stomach the violence.

Sonny Lofthus is the son of a policeman who killed himself when he was revealed as the mole in the Oslo police department who was passing secrets to a criminal known as The Twin. Sonny is a drug addict incarcerated in prison who has become famous for his confessor-like status amongst inmates. During one confession, he discovers something that brings into question his father’s guilt. Escaping from jail, he wreaks justice on those he holds responsible for the destruction of his family. Simon Kefas, a colleague and friend of Sonny’s father, pursues the fugitive convinced that he can also unpick the truth about the identity of the real mole.

Nesbo is one the main proponents of Norweigian crime fiction and, in his earlier books, brought to life the city of Oslo for those of us who have never been. The Son is unusual in that, at times, I forgot it was set in Scandinavia. The narrative world is insular, focusing mainly on life inside a hostel for drug addicts and then the wider criminal community. As in previous Nesbo books, there’s a shocking reveal as part of the plot which I only guessed in the preceding few pages.

The most successful part was the depiction of the life of Sonny Lofhus. In many ways he’s not a particularly innovative creation and yet Nesbo always manages to make me sympathise with his criminals. In particular the tension in his relationship with hostel worker, Martha, was well depicted however improbable the scenario.

Nesbo will continue to divide readers, I’m sure. I’ve read a few reviews of this book and some of them have been brutal. But I started reading crime fiction as a teenager because I loved the fact that, once started, I couldn’t put the books down. Nesbo, for me, carries on this tradition.

Thanks to Karen at Eurocrime for my copy. The translation was by Charlotte Baslund.

TIndridasonhe story of Reykjavik detective Erlendur seemingly came to a conclusion in Strange Shores, published in the UK in 2013. As I mentioned in my review at the time, there was a prequel to the series that was in the process of being translated. Finally we have Reykjavik Nights which gives us a slice of 1970s Iceland and a glimpse into the formative years of Erlendur as a policeman.

A vagrant’s body has been fished out of a pond near a housing development in Reykjavik. Police dismiss the case as either suicide or a drunken accident. However the fate of the dead man, Hannibal, touches the conscience of young traffic cop, Erlendur. He gets in touch with the family of Hannibal and discovers a tragedy that occurred years earlier that led to his spiral into destitution. Reykjavik police are focusing their energies on the hunt for a missing woman who disappeared after a night out with colleagues. The discovery of an earring, by Erlendur, in Hannibal’s squat links the two cases and the policeman embarks on a secret investigation of his own.

The success of Indridason’s Reykjavik series has been propelled largely by the character of Erlendur. Traumatised by the disappearance of his brother in a snow storm years earlier, he matches what we expect from a detective and yet has a distinctive back story that could really only be Icelandic. Indridason has published novels without Erlendur but it’s those containing his enigmatic detective that we really want to read. Writing a prequel has given the author the chance to show how factors other than Erlendur’s brother’s disappearance influenced the detective he became. Later in the novel we meet Marion Briem, Erlendur’s mentor, whose gender is never revealed. Indridason is very good at restraining himself when portraying the detective’s childhood trauma. Although impelling him to investigate a dormant case, the connections are subtly made. It is the mark of a very good writer.

In terms of plot, the story is slighter than some of Indridason’s other books although he is never a writer to focus on a multitude  of narratives. Instead, the depth of characterisation and sense of place are the reasons we return to Indridason time and time again. Fans of this author, who critic Barry Forshaw calls the king of Icelandic crime fiction, will love this book, I’m sure. I did.

Thanks to Karen from Eurocrime for giving me her copy of the book. The translation was by Victoria Cribb.

I attended a Danish crime fiction event on Monday evening as part of the Manchester Literature Festival along with Karen EEgholmMeek from Eurocrime. Karen has given the evening an excellent write-up on her website and it was good to see that, judging by the turnout, the Scandinavian crime fiction wave is still going strong. In advance of the event, I read one of the featured authors’ books. Three Dog Night by Elsebeth Egholm is a solid read with an interesting premise. It was also the book that author spoke about at length and once more I was struck by how interesting it is to hear of how a novel came into being.

Ex-convict Peter Bautrup moves to a remote rural community following his release from prison. His nearest neighbour is Felix, a woman bearing the scars of a past accident. When they both stumble on the body of Ramses, a man Peter knew in prison, their fragile peace is shattered. The discovery of a young girl’s body in the town’s harbour doesn’t appear, at first, to be connected to the convict’s death but the remote community is harbouring old secrets that are finally resurfacing.

Three Dog Night has a great sense of place that communicates itself to the reader from the first page. A frosty New Year’s Eve provides the backdrop to the introduction of the main protagonists and conveys to the reader the isolation of the community. Egholm has created an excellent cast of characters who have interesting back stories. Peter, in particular, struggles to disentangle himself from his former life. There is a strong emphasis on sickness, in terms of both physical and mental exhaustion. While this adds to the sense of a community fraying at the edges it can occasionally make it difficult to distinguish the individual characters. However, I was impressed by the well constructed plot with a convincing ending which I find is sometimes a weakness with Scandinavian crime fiction.

Egholm’s sequel to Three Dog Night, Dead Soulsis out in November. Featuring once more Peter Bautrup, the blurb suggests that it promises to be an equally intriguing read.

Thanks to Headline for my review copy. The translation was by Charlotte Barslund and Don Bartlett.

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