The Nordic Pretenders

12 August 2011

At first I thought it was just me, but I suppose I should have known better? There's a whole bunch of Nordic pretenders and probably a good few more I haven't heard of yet.

There’s a long and honourable tradition of writers using exotic locations as settings. There’s Michael Dibdin with his Zen stories and HRF Keating with Inspector Ghote, not to mention Nicolas Freeling’s van der Valk stories. Plenty of people have done this, but normally writers have the sense to set their work either somewhere warm, like India or Rome, or else fairly accessible, like Amsterdam. Then there are some, reputedly like Len Deighton, who was said to have written Funeral in Berlin with a Baedeker guide in one hand because he couldn’t afford to go there and do some research himself, while HRF Keating didn’t visit India until ten years after he had started setting his books there.

I’d fondly imagined that no foreign writer would be tempted to set crime fiction in Iceland. Although it’s a fascinating place, especially with all the myriad complications that the financial crash has poured into the mix, it’s expensive to get to, expensive to stay there, and for a lot of the year it’s bloody cold or wet. Summer can start around Easter and extend into September – or it can be a weekend in July. You take your pick. Plus there is actually precious little crime, so a good deal of imagination is called for.

Then Michael Ridpath popped up with the series he’s writing based on an Icelandic setting, Where the Shadows Lie and 66°N. That was a surprise, but then I found out there are more of us who have used a Nordic setting. Scottish author Torquil Macleod has a thriller, Meet Me in Malmö, with a Swedish setting.

American writer James Thompson sets his work in Finland, with Snow Angels and Lucifer’s Tears featuring his Helsinki detective Kari Vaara, while German writer Jan Costin Wagner’s books the Winter of the Lions, Ice Moon and Silence feature detective Kimmo Joentaa. At least, those are the ones available in English. There may well be a treasure trove of his books still waiting to be translated from German.

I have to say that I haven’t read a single one of these books... It’s not through choice, but as things stand I daren’t let the sprawling to-be-read pile of books sprawl any further before making some decent inroads into it first. But I’ll get to them sooner or later. I’m just amazed that there are so many of us ‘Nordic pretenders’ out there.










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