The 2019 Petrona Award Shortlist

Today we’re announcing the outstanding crime novels from  Norway, Iceland and Denmark which have been shortlisted for the 2019 Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year.

I was delighted to be the judge on the award in what will be my final year. The winning title will be announced at the Gala Dinner on 11 May during the annual international crime fiction convention CrimeFest, held in Bristol on 9-12 May 2019. The winning author and the translator of the winning title will both receive a cash prize, and the winning author will receive a full pass to and a guaranteed panel at CrimeFest 2020.

The shortlisted books are:

THE ICE SWIMMER by Kjell Ola Dahl, tr. Don Bartlett (Orenda Books; Norway)

THE WHISPERER by Karin Fossum, tr. Kari Dickson (Harvill Secker; Norway)

THE KATHARINA CODE by Jørn Lier Horst, tr. Anne Bruce (Michael Joseph; Norway)

THE DARKNESS by Ragnar Jónasson, tr. Victoria Cribb (Penguin Random House; Iceland)

RESIN by Ane Riel, tr. Charlotte Barslund (Doubleday; Denmark)

BIG SISTER by Gunnar Staalesen, tr. Don Bartlett (Orenda Books; Norway)

Thanks to Crimefest for their generosity and to our sponsor David Hicks. The judges comments on all the books can be found on the Petrona Award website.

Have you read any of these books and do you have a view on who should be the winner? I’d love to hear from you!


Scandi Crime Fiction Round-Up

Reading continues apace for The Petrona Award which we’ll be awarding at Crimefest in May next year. The event in Bristol is one of my favourite crime fiction conferences and I always look forward to it. I see that they have a great Nordic line-up of authors and I’m particularly looking forward to meeting K O Dahl.

I’ve also booked for next years Bouchercon in the Toronto which is very exciting. I’ve been to Canada once before. It’s a beautiful country and I’ve long wanted to visit Toronto. So I’ll be combining crime fiction and sightseeing.

dying-detectiveLeif G W Persson won the Petrona Award in 2014 for Linda, As In The Linda Murder. His books are of consistently high quality and are complemented by Neil Smith’s excellent translations. The Dying Detective is possible my favourite to date. Retired Chief of the National Crime Police, Lars Martin Johansson suffers a stroke. While he is in hospital, his consultant confides that she believes her clergyman father may have been given a clue to the identity of a young girl’s murderer. Lars, from his bedside, rounds up former colleagues and family members to follow the trail of the cold case as his health deteriorates. Superbly plotted it has Persson’s characteristic grasp of the frailties of human nature. I don’t think there’s a writer like him.

9781785761973I’ve read a couple of books by Camilla Grebe which she wrote with her sister Asa Traff. The Ice Beneath Her is the first book as a solo author and is an interesting psychological thriller. Sales assistant Emma Bohman has been abruptly dropped by her wealthy lover, the boos of a famous clothing store. When a woman is found beheaded in his house, police search for the missing tycoon while the narrative rewinds two months and shows Emma’s increasing conviction that she is under threat. The split narrative, in terms of both voice and timeline works well and the readers is pulled in various directions before the final reveal. The translation was by Elizabeth Clark Wessel.

61zk7awsfdlLiza Marklund’s series featuring journalist Annika Bengtzon appears to come to an end with The Final Word. For me, it’s the end of an era; Marklund was one of the early Scandinavian writer’s I read and I’ve particularly loved the the drama of Annika’s private life. The Final Word is, like her other books, a good balance of investigation and personal story although there is a more wistful tone to the narrative. I hope it’s not the end for Annika as she’s one of my favourite Scandi characters. I’ll keep my fingers crossed. The translation was by Neil Smith.

CrimeFest 2014: Saturday’s panels

Petrona AwardSaturday started bright and early with a panel on historical crime fiction. Chaired by William Ryan, it featured Jane Finnis who writes books set in Roman Britain, Edward Wilson whose spy novels have a Cold War background, Ray Celestin who writes mysteries set in the jazz age and Tom Harper who written about a variety of historical periods. The panel discussed the necessity of good historical research but also the need to make the story appealing to a modern reader.

The Writing Sympathetic Characters panel was chaired by John Gordon Sinclair and looked at the tension between writing sympathetic villains and asshole heroes. The overwhelming male nature of truly evil characters was discussed along with how more attractive villains can be in literature that their heroic counterparts.

A panel I’d been looking forward to was the Euronoir discussion chaired by Barry Forshaw. It featured the Swedish writing duo, Lars Kepler, Euro Noir panelNorwegian Jorn Lier Horst, Paul Johnston, whose books are set in Greece and French author Dominique Manotti. I was fascinated by the authors’ influences which included Chandler, Hammett, Christie and PD James. Lars Kepler also referenced the film, The Exorcist, as a big influence.

Euro noirTwo other important events worth noting. On Saturday evening, Barry Forshaw launched his excellent book Euro Noir. A review will follow on this blog shortly but it features book recommendations from all the Petrona Award judges. It’ll be, I’m sure, a valuable resource for lovers of European crime fiction.

Finally, we announced the winner of the 2014 Petrona Award at the gala dinner on Saturday evening. I can’t recommend highly enough Leif Persson’s Linda, As in the Linda Murder and it is a worthy winner. However, all the books on the short list are excellent and it was a very difficult choice. Do come back to this blog for reviews of 2015 entries.

The 2014 Petrona Award for the Best of Scandinavian Crime Fiction – Shortlist

The shortlist for the 2014 award is as follows:petronaaward2

CLOSED FOR WINTER by Jørn Lier Horst tr. Anne Bruce (Sandstone Press)

STRANGE SHORES by Arnaldur Indriðason tr. Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker)

THE WEEPING GIRL by Håkan Nesser tr. Laurie Thompson (Mantle)

LINDA, AS IN THE LINDA MURDER by Leif G W Persson tr. Neil Smith (Doubleday)

SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir tr. Philip Roughton (Hodder & Stoughton)

LIGHT IN A DARK HOUSE by Jan Costin Wagner tr. Anthea Bell (Harvill Secker)

There were a number of strong contenders for the 2014 award and deciding on with the shortlist provoked plenty of lively debate amongst us judges. The winner will be announced in Crimefest in May. More details of the award can be found at the Petrona Award website.

The judges’ comments on the shortlist are as follows:

CLOSED FOR WINTER: This highly atmospheric novel sees Chief Inspector Wisting investigate an off-season burglary and a disturbing case of murder on the Norwegian coast of Vestfold. As ever, author Jørn Lier Horst’s police background lends the novel a striking authenticity, with readers treated to the outstanding plotting and characterisation that typify this quality series.


STRANGE SHORES: Drawn back to his childhood home by the unresolved disappearance of his brother, Inspector Erlendur takes on the most personal and difficult case of his career. Exploring the series’ enduring themes of loss and the impact of Iceland’s twentieth-century social transformation, this remarkable valedictory novel is one of the finest by a truly incisive writer, the undisputed king of Icelandic crime fiction.


THE WEEPING GIRL: While supposedly on holiday, Detective Inspector Ewa Moreno is pulled into the case of a missing teenage girl and the much earlier murder of a woman. This quietly compelling novel from Swedish author Håkan Nesser, with its distinctive European feel, is full of the assurance readers have come to expect from the Van Veeteren series. There is not a single misstep as the grim implications of the narrative are teased out.


LINDA, AS IN THE LINDA MURDER:  Leif G W Persson’s sprawling, state-of-the-nation novels make deft use of crime fiction conventions to expose the faultlines of Swedish society. This more closely focused novel is a brilliant exploration of a young woman’s murder, press sensationalism, and the inner workings of a police investigation, with readers introduced to the blackly humorous and truly unforgettable police detective Evert Bäckström for the first time.


SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME: When a young man with Down’s Syndrome is convicted of arson and murder, lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir is hired by one of his fellow inmates to investigate a possible miscarriage of justice. This ambitious Icelandic crime novel, which skilfully weaves multiple narrative strands together with elements of the supernatural, is another gripping and highly entertaining read from author Yrsa Sigurðardóttir.


LIGHT IN A DARK HOUSE: Still mourning the loss of his wife, Finnish detective Kimmo Joentaa is called to investigate the strange murder of a comatose woman in hospital. German author Jan Costin Wagner delivers another wonderfully written and tightly constructed instalment in the Joentaa series, notable for its moving portrayal of a grief-stricken policeman and its in-depth exploration of victim and perpetrator psychology.

Review: Liza Marklund – The Long Shadow

Poor Annika Bengtzon. She’s one of my favourite characters in crime fiction. There’s something compelling about The Long Shadowher inability to keep her emotions in check and her disastrous love life has the capacity to keep readers entertained for many more books to come. In The Long Shadow, many of the elements that we’ve come to love from Marklund’s series are here but the change in location, from Sweden to the Costa del Sol in Spain, gives the book a welcome freshness.

A Swedish entrepreneur with a history of dodgy business deals is murdered with the rest of his family in Spain. Information coming through from the Spanish police is scant and Annika is sent by her newspaper to report on the case. Accompanied by an glamorous local interpreter, she soon discovers that one of the family’s teenage children is missing. Annika sets out to track down the teenager but the affluent expat lifestyle hides sinister feuds that stretch from Colombia to Sweden. Annika also finds old cases are connected to the present and, predictably, her love life is once more a complicated tangle.

The Long Shadow has many of the motifs of previous Marklund books. We have a complicated and interweaving narrative involving a murder with political overtones. This is set to the backdrop of Annika’s professional life working on a busy newspaper which is struggling to maintain its circulation figures and her usual domestic turmoil. Marklund has created a character with plenty of depth: someone who despairs at her turbulent domestic situation but recognises her own weaknesses and is immersed in her job which, in effect, comes before anything else.

The Spanish setting works well and we enter the world of Swedish expatriate life. One amusing note is the anti-English element expressed by one expat in particular who bemoans the golf playing, wine swilling life enjoyed by many elderly British residents.

This book is up with Marklund’s best and it could easily be read as a standalone by those unfamiliar with the series. I’m not sure I like the direction that Annika’s life is taking at the end of the novel but hopefully Marklund has something up her sleeve.

Thanks to Transworld for sending me the novel. The translation was by Neil Smith.