Iceland Noir 2014 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?

image

Review: Louise Welsh – A Lovely Way to Burn

A Lovely Way to BurnLouise Welsh, a talented writer of standalone psychological thrillers, has written the first book in the Plague Times trilogy. The series is set in a dystopian near future in the grip of a virus similar to the bubonic plague. The narrative opens with the unexplained death of a dedicated but hedonistic young doctor but soon chronicles the collapse of London society as the epidemic sweeps across the city.

Stevie Flint is a former journalist turned shopping channel TV presenter. When she is stood up by her boyfriend, Simon, she assumes he’s no longer interested in her. However, she later finds his body in his flat, his death apparently the result of natural causes. London is in the grip of an epidemic that is initially assumed to be flu but spreads with a ferocity and virulence that causes widespread panic in the city. When Stevie receives a note from Simon asking her to deliver a briefcase to a colleague, she is plunged into a world of medical secrets that people are prepared to kill in order to protect. Stevie is one of the first to contract the disease and her survival, while others are succumbing to the epidemic, makes her an object of fascination to those looking for a cure.

This is the third apocalyptic crime novel I’ve read in a year. In Ben H Winters’ Countdown City, the US is in the grip of asteroid paranoia as they feverishly await the destruction of the world by an object from space while in Antti Tuomainen’s The Healer extreme climate change has brought about an equally lawless society. What differentiates Louise Welsh’s book is that it opens when everything appears to be normal. Admittedly, people are sneezing on the London underground and sickness absence is rising in the workplace but it takes a while for the epidemic to take hold. This allows the death of Dr Simon Sharkey to take centre place in the narrative and for us to see Stevie’s character develop from a happy-go-lucky TV presenter to a determined avenger of his death.

The scenes involving the reaction to the spread of the virus are horribly realistic. People’s actions range from the altruistic to determinedly self protectionist and as Stevie is seen as the key to surviving the illness she in turn becomes the hunted. As I’d expect with this setting, there are some heart-wrenching moments and one character in particular I was gutted to see die. But given that this book is the first in a trilogy, I’m sure there will be plenty of new characters to take its place.

The book isn’t out until the 20th March but a mixture of Welsh’s writing style and the subject matter made it impossible to resist. Thanks to Hodder for my review copy.

Review: Antti Tuomainen – The Healer

Finland has been something of the poor relation when it comes to the popularity of Scandinavian crime fiction. I enjoyed Matti Joensuu’s the-healercreepy Priest of Evil  and the novels of German writer Jan Costin Wagner, whose series is set in Finland. However, now we have The Healer by Antti Tuomainen, first published in 2010 which won the award for the Best Finnish Crime Novel of the Year. Its recent translation into English hopefully marks a trend for more books from Finland to appear in the UK.

In the run-up to Christmas, Tapani Lehtinen, a minor poet is searching for his journalist wife Johanna who has suddenly disappeared. The only clue to her whereabouts was a final telephone call as she attempted to track down information about a serial killer known as ‘The Healer’. Convinced that his wife has come to harm, Tapani visits her employer and friends to try to unearth the story that Johanna was working on. But Helsinki is slowly disintegrating in the midst of a climate catastrophe, residents are fleeing for the north of the country and the police are disinterested in helping Tapani find his wife.

This is the second book I’ve read featuring murder in a pre-apocalyptic setting. Ben H Winter’s The Last Policeman was one of my favourite crime reads of 2012 and it’s interesting how much tension you can get into a murder plot as society implodes on itself. Finalnd, and Helsinki in particular, seems ideally placed to feature a disintegrating community. The north of the country is portrayed as the utopia that city dwellers are trying to reach, allowing crime and disorder to fill the void in Helsinki.

The plot is interesting but nothing happens very fast. Tapani embarks on a lonely search for his wife, where no-one seems much interested in helping him out, not even close friends. He is sustained by the love that he feels for her, even when it comes under threat from the knowledge he discovers in relation to her past. But given that the action happens over a couple of days, the narrative seems both filled with events and yet nothing much happens.

The writing though is beautiful, the sparseness of the prose reflecting both the landscape and Tapani’s life as a poet. Ultimately the setting and writing were more successful that the plotting but it did feel like I was reading something different from the norm, which is always welcome.

The book has also been reviewed by Karen at Eurocrime who passed on her copy of the book to me. The translation was by Lola Rogers.