To celebrate the continued rise of Nordic crime fiction, here’s a sneak preview of the latest Scandinavian sensation you haven’t heard about yet, the first chapter of the trilogy in four (or maybe five) parts of reclusive author Jan-Holger Sildquist’s Surströmming series. Until recently a little-known writer, Sildquist spent his early years in north Bråland where he came from a family of radical artisanal herring smokers.
Rebelling against his authoritarian upbringing, Sildquist moved in his teens to Copenhagen to become a hammock-knitter’s apprentice, then to Bergen where he studied literary criticism and found himself rebelling again, this time against the literary community’s notions of contemporary Nordic philosophy in crime fiction. He finally settled in the seaside town of Surströmming that forms the backdrop to much of his fiction.
As described in his partner Ofsala Alvarleg’s 2009 memoir, Sildquist’s hammock knitting skills allowed them to make a living before he turned to writing as a full time occupation, but found little recognition during his lifetime. Although not mentioned directly in Ofsala Alvarleg’s otherwise meticulous account of Sildquist’s later years, it is appears likely that he was acquainted with the mysterious O Huldumann, author of cult classic Citizen Detective, recently rediscovered and available in a new English translation.
Sadly, none of Jan-Holger Sildquist’s works have yet appeared in English – with the exception of the tantalising excerpt reproduced below.
The Surströmming municipal museum has a permanent exhibition of his hammocks on display. Viewing by appointment.
Now read on…
Inspector Henrik Herringbøne turned up the collar of his overcoat in an attempt to keep out the snow. It was a cold day in the little town of Surströmming and he wished he could have stayed in bed with a cup of coffee and his beloved volume of Eiler Hamstrøng’s poems to keep him company instead of trudging the streets to interview a witness.
He knocked on the door off the well-to-do house in Remoulade, Surströmming’s exclusive beachside district, turning his back on the door to gaze out over the fjord as he waited for the usual attractive strong blonde character to answer it. The fjord was packed with ice at this time of year. Herringbøne found himself brooding at the sight, wishing that summer would return.
‘You again, Inspector?’
‘I’m afraid so,’ he said, turning around to face her and gazing into the blue contact lenses that Skvísa Flottrass was contractually obliged to wear until 2043. ‘May I come in?’
‘Too cold for you?’ Skvísa said, coldly. ‘I don’t have long. I have to teach a nude outdoor yoga class in half an hour.’
‘Then I won’t keep you long, Miss Flottrass.’
‘Coffee? I have some fine buns to go with it,’ Skvísa said with an arch raising of one minimalist eyebrow.
‘Indeed you do,’ Herringbøne said to himself as she left the room, chiding himself for allowing himself to think of her in a non-equal, unprofessional manner.
The coffee was excellent, brewed at least four hours ago and allowed to stand on a hot plate for too long, giving it that rank, overcooked quality that Herringbøne had come to know and love during his long career as a detective. It was almost as bad as the coffee that his second or third wife used to make, not that he could remember which one.
‘You like my buns?’
‘Very nice, Miss Flottrass,’ Herringbøne murmured.
‘I mean the cinnamon buns. We have to feature them in every episode,’ she snapped at him. ‘It’s in the script.’
Herringbøne shook his head. He had a cold and his feet were sore. It was only the ingrowing toenails that had made him apply for a transfer to CID all those years ago, imagining that he would be able to spend his career drinking bad coffee and wearing unfashionable clothes instead of pounding the beat of Surströmming’s downtown plastic gnome manufacturing district. So where had all the years gone? He thought, and realised that the beautiful Miss Flottrass was glaring at him angrily.
‘Miss Flottrass, where were you between nine and eleven last night?’ He asked, elegantly manoeuvring a cinnamon bun into his mouth and flinching as he knew it could trigger indigestion within seconds.
‘Why do you want to know, Inspector?’ She tossed her head. ‘You suspect me of something?’
‘That’s a possibility,’ Herringbøne conceded.
‘I was in the sauna at Hotel Gullfoss, if you really want to know. Plenty of people saw me there,’ she said, lighting a Prins Polo cigarette.
Damn, Herringbøne thought, convinced that Skvísa Flottrass was lying to him. He was sure he was missing something obvious. Were the buns a clue?
Back at the station, Herringbøne emptied his mailbox straight into the bin, took off his coat and sat down at his desk.
He heard the roar from his office and braced himself as Chief Superintendent Ingrid Töffbråd knocked and entered without waiting to be invited.
‘Herringbøne, I’ve been getting complaints about you again,’ she said. The Chief looked at him fondly as she sat down in the chair he normally used as a footrest.
‘What now?’ He groaned. ‘Who’s been complaining about me this time?’
Töffbråd smiled indulgently. After all, Herringbøne had been her third husband, or had he been the fourth? She had stopped counting a long time ago. ‘Don’t worry, Henrik,’ she assured him in a tone that was far from reassuring.
‘That doesn’t sound reassuring,’ he told her.
‘I’ve been discussing you with Per-Petter Ekberg-Ekstrøm.’
‘The Commissioner? Damn him. You know he’s just a ministerial puppet and knows nothing about crime fighting,’ Herringbøne said, immediately feeling his indigestion returning. ‘Don’t fall in love with him, Ingrid. I’m warning you.’
‘You don’t need to worry about me, Henrik. I can look after myself. It’s you I’m worried about.’ She slapped a sheet of paper on the standard-issue blondwood Ikea Björk desk. ‘And what’s this?’
‘It’s a vehicle requisition. It’s routine.’
‘But for a 1981 Citroën? Come on, Henrik. You know better than that. It has to be Saab or Volvo. Who the hell do you think pays for the ads in the breaks when we’re dubbed into Japanese?’
‘Dammit, Ingrid. British cops all drive exotic cars. We have to move with the times. Look at them, Land Rovers, antique Jaguars. We’re being left behind. We have to adopt new policing methods.’
Ingrid Töffbråd’s eyes narrowed.
‘I’m sorry, Henrik. I’m going to have to suspend you.’
‘What?’ He shouted, standing up and leaning on his desk as the Ikea Borgen office chair clattered to the floor behind him. ‘On what grounds? You know I’m making progress on the Flottrass case.’
‘I know, Henrik. But if you can’t come up with either a crazed billionaire or a Finnish smørrebrød smuggling ring within the next twelve hours, then I’m going to have to refer the whole case back to the SSC.’
‘You know, Henrik. The Scandinavian Stereotype Commission. If you don’t crack this one, then I’ll have to team you up with someone with a tattoo and a nosering who rides a motorbike to maintain credibility.’
‘Try me, Henrik,’ Ingrid Töffbråd told him, one finger still pointing right at him as the door closed.
Herringbøne fell back in the Borgen office chair and groaned. Maybe it was time to call on the dangerously intriguing Miss Flottrass again? There was something about those cinnamon buns that needed to be checked.
©Jan-Holger Sildquist Associates. All rights available