Review: David Swatling – Calvin’s Head

imageOne of the nicest things about appearing on a panel is getting to read other authors’ books. At the recent Iceland Noir, Amsterdam based writer, David Swatling, was a fellow panelist. He was kind enough to send me a copy of his crime novel, Calvin’s Head, in advance of the event. And, once again, I found myself reading a book outside my usual comfort zone that was both entertaining and very dark.

One summer’s morning, Jason Dekker’s dog, Calvin, finds the body of a murder victim in the park. Dekker had come to Amsterdam to do a thesis on Van Gogh and fallen in love with artist, Willy Hart. But he now finds himself homeless and decides to take advantage of the circumstances created by the man’s murder. However, in doing so, he enters the sights of psychopath Gadget who is looking for his next victim.

From the first chapter, Swatling plunges the reader into a world of vicious affliction, setting the scene for Gadget’s violent tendencies. Sections that feature Gadget are tempered by those written from Dekker’s point of view. These have their own edginess to them as they detail, in part, Dekker’s past sexual exploits as part of the Amsterdam gay scene. It’s a clever move on the author’s part as there is a sense in the book that anything could happen. This is needed, particularly towards the latter part of the narrative, when the plot takes an unexpected turn.

There’s also a fair amount of dark humour in the book. The chapters are interspersed with sections written from Calvin the dog’s point of view. Although these took a while to get used to, I found myself looking forward to them as the book progressed.

There’s a fantastic sense of place in the novel and it’s an Amsterdam beyond the usual tourist haunts. It’s hard to compare Calvin’s Head to any other book I’ve read recently as it’s outside my usual fare. This is entirely a good thing and I’ll definitely be reading more from this writer.


Iceland Noir 2014 Round-Up

My last post gave an overview of the panels from the first full day of Iceland Noir. As I didn’t manage to make all of the discussions on Saturday I thought I’d use this post to round up the highlights of the rest of the event.

1959521_10152439616361625_7891572099963381108_nOne panel that I did manage to make was my own at 9am. Moderated by Quentin Bates it also featured debut authors David Swatling, originally from the US and now living in Amsterdam and Icelander, Sverrir Berg Steinarsson. We started off by reading extracts from our prose and then talking about how our books came into being. An interesting motif was that all three of us used personal experiences in our past to shape the course of our narratives. ‘What if this had happened to us?’, I suspect, is a common approach used by new writers but I wonder the extent to which it is jettisoned in later books. It was wonderful to appear on a panel in a capacity as an author and thanks to everyone who got up at the crack of dawn to make the event. I really appreciate everyone’s support.

The rest of the day’s panels that I attended were excellent and I particularly enjoyed Making it spooky – supernatural in crime fiction. I’m a big fan of ghost stores and the panelists James Oswald, Johan Theorin, Michael Sears and Alexandra Sokoloff did a good job of making their books sound suitably creepy. I hope to catch up reading all of these novelists soon.

For lunch, some of us fans of the Icelandic TV series The Night Shift were given a treat when its director, 10372141_10152440305741625_7631086047442752839_nRagnar Bragason, joined us for lunch along with actress and writer Sólveig Pálsdóttir who appears in series two. It was wonderful to meet the creator of such an excellent TV series and he was later interviewed by Andy Lawrence whose write-up of the discussion will shortly appear on his website, Euro But Not Trash. The series is set in a petrol station on the outskirts of Reykjavik and some of us fans later managed a trip to the location in an homage to the series.

icepicksmallSaturday evening involved dinner at the excellent Iðnó restaurant. The IcePick Award was given to The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker for the best crime novel translated into Icelandic. The book has divided critics. I enjoyed it and think it must have been a difficult choice to make in a very strong shortlist. More details of the award can be found at Mrs Peabody Investigates.

On Sunday, a group of us took a coach with Yrsa Sigurðardóttir to locations featuDSC_4280red in her novels, in particular, My Soul to Take. It was a fascinating day, good to get out of Reykjavik and we paid an unexpected visit to a lava tube cave. The picture to the right contains lots of well-known writers. See if you can spot anyone.

So, the end of an excellent event. Thanks to Quentin Bates, Ragnar Jónasson, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Lilja Sigurðardóttir for all their had work to make it such a successful event. Next year will be Shetland Noir, followed by a return to Iceland in 2016. I can hardly wait.