CrimeFest 2014 / International Dagger / Petrona Award

I’m just back from CrimeFest in Bristol and am floating on a fluffy cloud of contentment after three days of great panels, excellent company and awards bling. Here are some highlights (more will follow).


Euro Noir panel (left to right): Barry Forshaw, Lars Kepler (Alexander Ahndoril and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril), Jørn Lier Horst, Paul Johnston, Dominique Manotti and Ros Schwarz

The Euro Noir panel on Saturday was probably my favourite of the weekend. In a wide-ranging discussion, the authors explored the nineteenth-century origins of European crime fiction during the rise of capitalism (Dominique Manotti), the role of the translator as the voice of the foreign author (Ros Schwarz), the use of Euro Noir to probe the uses and misuses of power (Paul Johnston, Manotti, Jørn Lier Horst), crime writing and journalism (Manotti), the influence of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö (the Lars Keplers), the low status of crime writing in France (Manotti), the influence of crime dramas such as The Wire on crime fiction (Johnston), and, prompted by an audience question, the relative lack of black European crime writers and protagonists.

What I liked in particular was Manotti’s unapologetic view that crime writing should be used to ‘tell the truth’ about political and social issues – ‘otherwise what’s the point?’. This contrasted with lots of British authors during the weekend, who, when asked about the place of ‘issues’ in their work, took the more or less default position that entertainment came first and the serious stuff second (because the latter ‘puts readers off’). Johnston wondered whether the UK is more conservative when it comes to writing socio-political crime than other European nations, and that’s got me wondering too (although obvious exceptions spring to mind like David Peace’s excellent Red Riding/ Yorkshire Noir quartet. I’m sure there are also others).

Manotti is a crime-writing star in her native France, and if you haven’t yet read her work I would thoroughly recommend it. You can read my review of Affairs of State here.

The panel coincided with the launch of Barry Forshaw’s new book Euro Noir, which provides an excellent road-map to European crime fiction and lots of great reading suggestions, even for those who have already read quite a bit. With my Germanic hat on, I can say that the section on ‘murder in the German-speaking territories’ is impressive – the man really has done his homework.

German crime fiction was predicted to be one of the next big things by the Euro Noir panel. And lo, the shortlist for the CWA International Dagger, announced at CrimeFest on Friday, features a German novel, Simon Urban’s Plan D. Here’s the full list, with further details on the CWA website.

Arnaldur IndridasonStrange Shores, tr. Victoria Cribb (Iceland)
Pierre LemaitreIrene, tr. Frank Wynne (France)
Arturo Perez-ReverteThe Siege, tr. Frank Wynne (Spain)
Olivier TrucForty Days without Shadow, tr. Louise Rogers LaLaurie (French author, but set in Lapland)
Simon UrbanPlan D, tr. Katy Derbyshire (Germany)
Fred VargasDog Will Have His Day, tr. Siân Reynolds (France)

Last, but most definitely not least, the 2014 Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel  of the Year was awarded on Saturday to Leif G.W. Persson’s Linda, as in the Linda Murder, translated by Neil Smith. 

In his acceptance speech, read out by Barry Forshaw on his behalf, Leif said:

My character Superintendent Evert Bäckström is actually not a nice person. He embodies pretty much every human prejudice – and then some – and he does so proudly and wholeheartedly. He feels that he is not only God’s gift to humanity but also the object of every woman’s secret fantasies. I myself, am a fully normal person – but there is a joy that he brings me when I tell the story of his life and times.

Now he and I have received an award. A very fine English award, which makes me especially happy as a large part of my family lives in England. There is one person with whom I most profoundly want to share this honour and that is my excellent translator Neil Smith who has succeeded in making this Swede, with his spiritual and physical roots in the Stone Age, at least intelligible for an educated Anglo-Saxon public. Thank you!

Shortlisted authors Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Jørn Lier Horst attended the CrimeFest Gala dinner and were highly commended for their crime novels. It was a brilliant field and we judges had a very tough choice to make!

One of my favourite photos from the weekend: Sarah Ward (Petrona judge) with shortlisted author Jørn Lier Horst – in traditional Norwegian dress.


39 thoughts on “CrimeFest 2014 / International Dagger / Petrona Award

  1. Sounds like an absolutely lovely time, Mrs. P. Thanks for sharing. And those ‘photos are terrific. 🙂

    • Yes, some really high quality writers, and a distinctive approach to crime writing that is very appealing. Hope you find some novels on the list that you’ll enjoy!

  2. I am quite surprised that ‘Linda – as in the Linda murder’ won the Petronas Award. I read a huge amount of crime fiction, a large proportion of which is “Scandi crime” and I read ‘Linda – as in the Linda murder’ quite recently. It started well, the characterization was great (Backstrom is a brilliant creation), the plotting good…and then at the end it all just fell apart, so disappointing. I remember thinking, ‘what was the editor doing to let it fizzle out in this way?’

    • Thanks for your comment – very interesting. Which one would you have chosen from the shortlist? Or is there another one that you thought should have made the cut?

      • I think I would have gone for ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ by Yrsa Sigurdardottir though ‘The Weeping Girl’ by Hakan Nesser made it a hard choice. Both those novels seemed more complete than the final winner.
        I live in Beijing, and there are quite a few Chinese authors of crime fiction which is now translated in to English. If you are interested I would be happy to give you a little list.
        Your blog is a ‘must-read’ for me, I have discovered some cracking fiction thanks to you!

      • Thanks, herschelian – both good choices 🙂

        It would be lovely to have a little list of Chinese crime novels that you’d recommend – it’s definitely a country that’s under-represented at the moment on the blog. I’ve visited Beijing twice, once in 1990 and once in 2008, and had a fascinating trip both times. It must be quite an experience living there.

        Thanks for your kind comments about the blog – much appreciated 🙂

  3. Thanks for the recap, Mrs. P! I’ve only read one of the Petrona shortlisted books, but I’ve read others by two or three of the shortlisted authors, which is a start. Sounds like a fabulous festival.

  4. Mrs P, thanks for the report. I was not surprised Linda won the Petrona. Leif G.W.Persson may not be everyone’s cup of tea but when you create a unique character such as Backstrom you deserve to win awards. Hakan Nesser’s The Weeping Girl was the other book I thought might win as the Indridason was not up to the very high standard of previous books in the Erlendur series. I am surprised Strange Shores has made the International Dagger shortlist, different judges, different opinions.

    • You’re welcome, Norman, and yes, the innovative nature of the narrative and that particular character was definitely a factor! I like Strange Shores, but think my opinion of it is partially shaped by the fact that it’s closing out a fine series.

      A good International Dagger list, I thought. Quite a bit of variety, and I’m keen to get my hands on The Siege.

    • You’re welcome, Cavershamragu. I know how hard it can be to view it all from a distance. I was the same with Iceland Noir last year… 🙂

  5. Thanks for sharing some of your highlights Mrs P. The comments from Manotti are interesting though I don’t really agree with her. To me fiction does need to entertain before – or at the same time as – it explores social issues. If you’re not going to do it that way then write non-fiction, yes? I’ve read too many books where I have felt bludgeoned by THE MESSAGE I guess. But I can definitely sense this is a non-European viewpoint.

    As for the Petrona Award I am glad it was such a good field – the winner wouldn’t have been my personal choice (I plumped for the Nesser) but I can see its attractions.

    • You’re welcome and thanks for raising these interesting points. In many ways I guess the ‘entertainment vs issues’ debate sets up a false dichotomy (as Angela suggests in her comment below). I agree with you that crime fiction does need to entertain, but in my view it’s hugely enriched when it also engages with serious issues. The main reason I was glad Manotti spoke up was due to the strange reluctance of many British authors at the event to concede that crime fiction could play a serious social role. I almost wonder if there is a kind of self-censorship going on – that it says in a manual somewhere ‘even if you do write crime fiction that engages with political/social issues, on no account admit this to your audience as you will alienate them (and then they won’t buy your books)’. It felt like a peculiarly British kind of anti-intellectualism and the contrast to Manotti (who has had a distinguished academic career and comes from a country that celebrates the intellectual) was striking. It was simply refreshing to hear her say that crime fiction has a social/political role to play. I almost cheered.

      As for sticking to non-fiction: yes, authors could do that, but then they would potentially miss a chance to reach and influence a mass audience. The popularity of crime fiction is one of the reasons why so many journalists, historians and academics who feel strongly about issues decide to write a crime novel (as well as the financial incentive!). It offers the perfect vehicle to get their views out to a huge audience in a far more accessible form than that of a historical study or academic paper. For example, M.J. McGrath, journalist and author of White Heat, first wrote a book on the forced migration of Inuit families, The Long Exile, before using that research in her crime fiction ( Of course, you have to be a good writer to pull this off. I totally agree that bludgeoning the reader with THE MESSAGE is counterproductive. Making the narrative entertaining is a prerequisite for getting the message across well.

      It was a real pleasure to help judge The Petrona, and an eye-opener too. It’s been fascinating to read the comments from bloggers about the shortlist and to find out which novels they thought should (or should not) get the prize and why. Thanks for your own posts – as ever, it’s very good, thought-provoking stuff 🙂

  6. Thanks for a terrific write up, Mrs P. The Euro Noir book looks like a must-have for all noir fans.

    On the question of crime writing and social responsibility, my sympathies lie with Manotti as a writer and with Bernadette as a reader. My favourite crime fiction reads are those that entertain and teach me something about the world.

    • You’re welcome, Angela. Yes, Euro Noir is definitely a must for all fans of noir (and good crime fiction)!

      You’re quite right to point up the different perspectives of the writer and the reader when considering the entertainment/social issues debate – a very important consideration. And I agree with you totally – for me, a crime novel that manages to both entertain and teach us/make us think is the best kind of crime fiction. There’s no reason why a crime novel can’t do both, difficult though that task may be.

      I’ve responded at length (!) to Bernadette’s comment above. I’d be interested in your views as an author on how easy/difficult it is to discuss the more serious issues raised in your work at crime events. Is there a pressure to dial down the serious stuff in case the audience feels alienated?

      • I’m with you and Bernadette, Mrs P, on wanting to have it all. I’ve also heard other European authors argue for the importance of social issues in crime fiction: Italian crime writer Carlo Lucarelli calls the genre ‘the engaging, involving literature of the times’. Australian author Garry Disher describes the genre as ‘a barometer of prevailing social tensions, telling us about the world we live in.’

        As for talking hard stuff at Writers Festivals, let me illustrate by way of example. I was in Brisbane last year on (yet another) panel talking about the importance of place in crime fiction when the chair posed the question, ‘Why do you think we talk so much about the importance of place in crime fiction?’ I replied, ‘Because it means we don’t talk about the crimes’ and I listed the social issues that my novels and those of my fellow panellists dealt with. Everyone nodded, then went back to talking about place!

      • Thanks for those author quotes and the link to your blog, Angela: that was clearly a fabulous panel, and as it happens, Lucarelli is one of my favourite authors. His de Luca trilogy is an excellent example of how crime fiction can engage with really serious historical, political and moral questions, but be enthralling at the same time.

        Good on you for managing to pull everyone away from the obligatory topic of location for a while! Very interesting anecdote…!

  7. Oh I’m definitely in the camp that likes best the books which both entertain AND show me something new or interesting…it just sounded a bit like Manotti was saying the entertainment portion doesn’t matter and that’s what I didn’t agree with but perhaps I misinterpreted.

    I’m not sure the Brits have a monopoly on anti-intellectualism – you see it here too – the harshest insult you could throw at Kevin Rudd (one of our many recent prime ministers) was that he was too clever (because heaven knows we want idiots running the place) – but the opposing view you sometimes see – that anything popular is automatically not good quality – irritates me too. I guess I’m hard to please – I want it all 🙂

    • I think Manotti was saying that for her the political/social dimension came first, but I don’t think she was arguing that crime shouldn’t be entertaining too. And I totally agree that the kind of intellectual snobbery you see being directed at crime fiction (any fiction) because it is popular is highly misplaced.

      Manotti was bemoaning the fact that crime fiction is looked down on in France by the literary establishment, and not given credit for its contribution to political/social debates (not quite the same point, but related…).

      I think wanting to have it all is an excellent position to take. I’m with you there 🙂

  8. Great acceptance speech from LG, & nice to see him thanking Neil Smith, strange that not many people picked up on that. To me translators are the unsung heroes of Euro Crime Fiction.
    Completely agree With Manotti, probably why I don’t read much UK crime fiction!
    I’m wondering if ‘Strange Shores’ was regarded as a novel rather than ‘a crime novel’ ? Some reviewers believed it transcended the genre? We will see how it does in the other awards. About time Jan Costin Wagner started making the award list.
    Last thing, what did you think of the butchery of ‘ A Troubled Man’ last Saturday? I never really been a fan, but I did think this was his best book. It really was an awful adaption, I hope the BBC do a better job!

    • I totally agree with you, Brian. It was lovely to see Persson acknowledge Neil’s vital role and his skill in presenting the (ahem) rather unusual central character; that was something that really came across at the award ceremony, which was great.

      I’m not sure about Strange Shores. Views on it seem to be rather mixed, but those who are disappointed seem to feel that it was not up to the others in the series more than anything else. I really liked it myself, because it was very true to key themes of the series.

      Wholeheartedly agree about Mr. Costin Wagner!

      I haven’t yet seen The Troubled Man, because it aired the night of The Petrona Award. Oh dear, not so good a job then? Planning to catch up soon and will let you know what I thought!

    • Hello Brian – I saw The Troubled Man last night and thought it was OK, though not spectacularly good. Is my memory faulty or were there a couple of plot points that were changed? But I do think that the depiction of Wallander’s increasing health problems was tackled bravely and well. It must be the first time that a TV detective has been shown with this condition (?) and I’m interested to see how far they go.

  9. This is such a complicated yet continual discussion in the world of crime fiction: to educate and/or to entertain. I agree more with Manotti, but the books have to be well-written and enjoyable. I think the bar was set by Sjowall and Wahloo, who wrote good plots and exposed social issues in Sweden in the 1960s and 1970s. They are universally liked.

    As far as British crime fiction, I find that writers who live in Scotland and Wales do cover social issues well, while writing entertaining books. I can mention Denise Mina, who is a favorite author of mine. Having read one book by Gordon Ferris, I can say he does that, too. And as far as Wales, within my limited range, I can say that Mari Strachan gets in social issues in her two novels, including war, poverty, women’s inequality, etc., albeit subtlely.

    As far as France goes, there are several writers, including Manotti, who accomplish this. A favorite writer is Fred Vargas, who usually sticks to the mystery and issues surrounding it, but she, too, weaves in a few issues, including in The Ghost Riders of Ordebec. And then there’s Scandinavia, in addition to Sjowall and Wahloo. Jo Nesbo can add in
    issues, as in Nemesis, on the mistreatment of Roma immigrants. Arnaldur Indridason writes social issues, including on crimes against women, in his series.

    And here in the States, one author who does this stands out as one of my top writers: Sara Paretsky. Even writing about WWII horrors, as in her last book, Critical Mass, there are still enjoyable and downright witty moments.

    • Thanks, Kathy – that’s a brilliant list and an excellent illustration of how much crime fiction addresses historical, political and social issues, and right across national boundaries as well. It’s just a shame that British crime writers don’t seem too keen to celebrate this aspect of crime writing (or at least most of the ones I heard at CrimeFest; hopefully a few will pop out of the woodwork!).

      I’m a big Paretsky fan – good to hear about her latest one, which sounds right up my (researching) street. She wrote another novel in that area a while back called Total Recall – I’m guessing you will have read it. Thanks very much for the tip!

  10. Lovely to meet you in person at Crimefest, Mrs P. I’d like to endorse your recommendation of Barry Forshaw’s Euro Noir which I read on the train on the way home.
    As for social content, crime-writing is a broad church and I think there is room for the novel of pure, escapist entertainment as well as for more intellectually demanding fare. However I do think there is something of an anti-intellectual bias here and writers are afraid of sounding pretentious in a way that they are not in France.

    • Thanks, Chrissie – it was lovely to meet you too. I thought it was a particularly good CrimeFest this year for making face-to-face connections 🙂

      I agree with both your points; crime is a broad church (thankfully) and I for one am grateful for the lighter side of crime fiction when I’ve overdosed on noir; but yes, there does seem to be a fear on the part of crime writers that they will sound too intellectual, which is a shame. I really don’t think the audience would mind at all. I wonder where all of that started – perhaps a reaction against self-proclaimed intellectual literary writers who crime writers think look down on them? Of course, the flaw in that logic is that popular fiction can be intellectually challenging too…

  11. I often wonder why more writers don’t touch on social issues, too. And I have found that reluctance in books from English writers, but not Scottish, Welsh or writers from the north of Ireland. I wonder what English writers are concerned about in this scenario.

    Yes. I love Sara Paretsky’s books, and have read all of the V.I. Warshawski novels and also the stand-alones. I grew up in Chicago, so that setting makes the books another draw for me.

    A friend who loves Arjouni’s books also mentions that he also cites social issues. And now that I think of it, Kaaberbol and Friis have certainly dealt with the plight of immigrants in Denmark. And I also meant to include the writer from Oz, Angela Savage, who includes many social and environmental issues in her Jayne Keeney books set in Thailand. Human
    trafficking, poverty, oppression of children, police corruption and environmental destruction are tackled in her books, which also contain human interest, great characters and wit. (They’ve also sent me to learn more about the flora and fauna of Thailand on the Internet.) And other Australian writers weave in issues, too.

    • Another great set of writers, Kathy – spot on. There is undoubtedly a huge engagement on the part of crime authors internationally with social/political issues, but sometimes also an odd reluctance to discuss these in public (on the part of an author or a chair or a panel collectively). Angela Savage, who as you rightly point out writes novels that tackle difficult social issues extremely well, talks about this in an anecdote in a comment above. In any case, those of us commenting here are living proof that readers are not put off by discussion of the crime genre’s capacity to explore social issues 🙂

  12. Hi Mrs P, just found out on Amazon the 3rd backstrom novel is published Feb 2015, wonder if ‘The
    Dying Detective’ will be out in October? They seem to be the two months favoured for release of his books. One for your World Crime Noir, ‘ Game of 5’ by Marco Malvaldi, bought it while I was browsing Watsrstones this morning, sounds like an Italian Vargas! Whose latest I finished last week, as always very enjoyable. There’s certainly something very distinctive about her writing style, I know it’s not to every one taste, but I really enjoy it.
    Did you catch the first episode of Quirk last sunday? Not sure what to make of it, will watch again tonight. Was certainly a long while getting screened, must have finished filming at least 12 to 18 months ago, makes you wonder when it takes that long to get showen.

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