Iceland Noir #1

IMG_0828Reykjavik is currently hosting its first festival of crime fiction, Iceland Noir, an idea conceived by the Icelandic brach of the Crime Writers Association at their inaugural meeting in June during Crimefest. To have pulled together an event of this scale in such a short period of time has been a huge achievement and the event had a great start yesterday with the opening session featuring Norweigian writer Jorn Lier Jorst.

Regular readers of this blog will know I’m a fan of Horst’s writing and my only regret is that his books have been translated from mid-series onwards so we’re missing a huge amount of backstory in relation to his main protagonist, William Wisting. Yeserday, the writer was interviewed by his Icelandic translator, Sigurdur Helgason, who questioned him about both his crime IMG_0833fiction and children’s books. Like other crime writers I’ve seen interviewed, he cites the influence of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö on his work and had originally intended to write ten books in his own series. However, having just written his ninth book, he now intends to continue with William Wisting. Until a few months ago, Horst was a serving police investigator and the in-depth knowledge he has accumulated over the course of his career was touched upon. According to the writer, he has seen an increase in both violent and organised crime with less people employed to investigate cases.

What I thought fascinating was that despite his police background, Horst cited his love of crime fiction as one of the reasons he started writing in the genre. It’d always a relief to hear a writer say he loves to read crime novels and interestingly, like me, he came to the genre via the books of Enid Blyton and those featuring Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.

In the evening, I attended a reading featuring writers Quentin Bates, Ann Cleeves and Jorn Lier Horst, along with other IMG_0838Icelandic authors such as Ragnar Jonasson who are yet to be translated into English. It was an enjoyable event and it was wonderful to hear the rhythm of readings in a language I can’t understand. Special mention goes to Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson who I met earlier in the day. I read and reviewed his excellent Flatey Enigma last year on the recommendation of  the late Maxine Clarke at Petrona. Meeting him has reminded me that I need to catch up with the rest of the series. Good to catch up too with fellow blogger Sue G from Novel Heights and her husband Jim.

Thanks to everyone for all their hard work in making Day 1 such as success.

Iceland Noir

Poster Iceland NoirThere are a raft of crime fiction events that take place around the UK and we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to deciding what to attend. However, I often cast envious eyes towards other crime writing events around the world, especially Bouchercon in the US and The Body in the Garden in Australia as they often include writers who don’t make it over here. For once, I’ve found it impossible to resist an event: Iceland Noir which is taking place in Reykjavik between the 21st and 24th November.

The king of Icelandic crime fiction is, of course, Arnaldur Indridason and he is the special guest of honour at the festival. Also appearing are some of the best of Iceland’s writers including Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Ragnar Jonasson and Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson. All of these authors have had their novels reviewed on this blog with the exception of Ragnar Jonasson whose books are yet to be translated into English. I was lucky enough to read the first six chapters of his novel ‘Snowblind’ which is currently only available in Icelandic or German. Fingers crossed that he gets a British publisher soon.

Other writers attending the event include Ann Cleeves, Jorn Lier Horst and Willian Ryan. The full itinerary can be found here. There are limited places available so if you’re tempted now’s the time to book. I have already booked mine. It promises to be a special event.

Review: Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson – The Flatey Enigma

Normally I would steer clear of a book with the word ‘enigma’ in it’s title. It suggests sub-Dan Brown conspiracies and implausible codes embedded in ancient manuscripts. However it came by way of recommendation (and a hard copy) from Maxine at Petrona , was by a Scandinavian author I hadn’t read before and promised to be more murder investigation than conspiracy thriller.

The Flatey Enigma is set on the Icelandic island of Flatey, located around 90 miles north of Rekjavik and inhabited by a small rural community who rely on fishing and seal hunting to survive. In 1960, three seal hunters find a dessicated human body on a nearby deserted island and Kjartan, a government official, is sent from the mainland to investigate the death. He finds the backward island life difficult to adapt to, where the arrival of the weekly mail boat is a major event, but is soon able to uncover the identity of the dead man.

The death appears to be connected to a mystery contained within the early mediaeval Book of Flatey. There is a puzzle consisting of 40 questions, the first 39 of which must be correctly answered to reveal the 40th answer and the key to the mystery. Although only accessible to a handful of academics and cryptographers, the puzzle draws people to the island from all over Scandinavia.

The ‘enigma’ is given its own little section at the end of each chapter. I found this part of the book the least interesting and tended to skim over the medieval stories that made up the puzzle. This is a shame as the Book of Flatey actually exists although the code is imagined. However, the murder investigation was much more satisfying. Kjartan proves to be a diligent investigator and although not all of the book is written from his point of view he is a key player in the drama.

The best passages in the narrative are the descriptions of island life. Ingolfsson spent summers on Flatey in the early sixties and he has obviously put his recollections of the time to good use in the book. Small details including the food eaten and the small customs observed give the flavour of a small community.

I found the writing slightly leaden but am still not able to to tell whether this is the result of the original text or the translation. I suspect it was a mix of both. But I liked it well enough to happily read another of the author’s books in the future.