A break from the Man Booker Longlist. I was talking yesterday with a friend who reads my posts from time to time and I said it did not represent everything that I read, and explained that some of the time I resort to thrillers and crime fiction which I hugely enjoy and added that I didn’t write about it because I didn’t really think it was what my followers were interested in reading.
Anyway, he thought I was wrong. So you are now being treated to my explanation, disquisition and expounding of my views. Good luck!
It started with saying that the reason I like Scandi noir was because the police procedure novels involved a whole team with one lead detective, but that these men (and a few women) developed along the trajectory of the series. So, they age, they get ill, they are sometimes (often) depressed and have interesting if difficult home lives, along with rotten work-life balances.
The most well known Scandinavian writers, in this country anyway, are probably Steig Larrson (The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo et al), Henning Mankell (Wallander and daughter) and Jo Nesbo (Harry Hole) – they are better known because it is these three whose characters have made it to the big screen and television.
Why do I like these so much? Because although I love all the old fashioned English detectives, those who spring from the first page fully suited, booted and shaved – they never change. Alone, with maybe a side-kick (often female) they solve the crimes.
It began with Sherlock Holmes and has, more or less, continued ever since; but it is possible that these continental crime novelists have never read a book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, so they don’t know the rules. Or, alternatively, they have and threw the rule book out of the window?
In the Henning Mankell series about his famous police detective Wallander, probably his best known creation, our hero forgets to do his washing, sometimes gets drunk, drinks too much coffee and eats badly; he is estranged from his wife; he is worried about his daughter Linda, who wants to join the police force and he has a really difficult relationship with his father, who eventually succumbs to dementia. Jo Nesbo’s famous creation, Harry Hole is similarly disadvantaged, often drunk, also estranged from his family, apaart from his sister and always falling in love with the wrong woman – but compellingly, wonderfully real.
And while all that is going on, their teams develop around them, some of them marry and leave, some of them even die on the job, but it is entirely engaging, we care because these people feel like real people, not mannequins in suits.
There are so many more: Kjell Eriksson (Sweden), Karin Fossum (Norway), Jussi Adler-Olsen (Denmark), Arnaldur Indridason (Iceland) and that is only to name one for each country – happy hunting!
Another newer sub-genre are the historical crime novel writers. Going right back to Josephine Tey, who in The Daughter of Time broke her detective’s leg and set Alan Grant the task of thinking about whether Richard III killed the princes in the Tower, while he was convalescing.
There are too many to name, but CJ Sansom and his man, Matthew Shardlake [Henry VIII]; Rory Clements and his man, John Shakespeare [Elizabeth I]; SJ Parris and his man Giordano Bruno [Elizabeth I];
Bruce Holsinger and his man, John Gower [Richard II]; SJ Deas and his man William Falkland [Cromwell] are all excellent examples, covering everything from Henry VIII to the Civil War, and each in his own way bolstered by excellent historical accuracy. Gems each and everyone.
And I haven’t even started listing the Roman ones!
Another great favourite is Qui Xiaolong whose detective Inspector Chen works from Shanghai in a post strictly Communist China, so along with a whole series of fascinating crimes that he has to solve, one also gets a tiny window on to the complexities and minefields that the era has thrown up. The housing crisis being just one. Chen is an internationally recognised poet which has its own complications and reflects on his life, private and public. The machine is unforgiving and it grinds exceedingly small.