Barry Forshaw is the UK’s expert on Scandinavian crime fiction. His excellent Death in a Cold Climate is a book that I often dip into if I need information about a Scandinavian author that I’m unfamiliar with. Now he has produced Nordic Noir: The Pocket Essential Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction, Film & TV, a brief but very entertaining overview of not only Nordic crime novels but also of many of the Scandinavian TV and films that are now appearing on our screens.
The book opens with a look at the beginnings of Scandinavian crime fiction, and the influence of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö and other early writers on the genre. The following chapters then assess the two great writers Henning Mankell and Steig Larsson and how they led the way for many of their contemporaries and began the craze for Nordic Noir. There is plenty of food for thought here. Camilla Lackberg, for example, has a significant following but has never quite reached the popularity of say, Jo Nesbo. Forshaw comes up with some convincing explanations for this, not least the intimate setting of Fjallbacka which, although harks back to Christie’s St Mary’s Mead, doesn’t have the international feel of Nesbo’s books. Nesbo himself dominates the Norway chapter, although there are also plenty of other writers discussed, including the excellent Anne Holt and Thomas Enger.
The chapters on the other Nordic countries Iceland, Finland and Denmark were particularly interesting as I’m less familiar with some of the writers and you get a strong sense of both the personality of the authors and the essence of their works. The latter part of the book assesses the impact of Nordic Noir in TV and Film and identifies some emerging writers to look out for which will provide a useful point of reference in the future.
For a short book (around 160 pages) this packs a lot in and shows Forshaw’s knowledge of the subject. His interviews with many of the authors form the basis of the book and there are some amusing anecdotes and asides, including an interview with Henning Mankell who spots mice in an upmarket hotel in central London. But you also get a sense of the author’s preferences and his views on the merits of different writers. So there is plenty to delight fans of Nordic Noir and also those who want an informative but succinct introduction to the genre.