The 2022 CWA Daggers longlists: international crime galore!

The 2022 CWA Daggers Longlists were announced last weekend. For fans of international crime, the Crime Fiction in Translation Dagger is rightly the immediate draw, but a saunter through the other categories also reveals a wealth of international crime – both fiction and non-fiction.

The Crime Fiction in Translation Dagger Longlist

Eva Björg Ægisdóttir, Girls Who Lie, tr. Victoria Cribb, Orenda, ICELAND

Simone Buchholz, Hotel Cartagena, tr. Rachel Ward, Orenda, GERMANY 

Andrea Camilleri, Riccardino, tr. Stephen Sartarelli, Mantle, ITALY 

Sebastian Fitzek, Seat 7a, tr. Steve Anderson, Head of Zeus, GERMANY 

Kōtarō Isaka, Bullet Train, tr. Sam Malissa, Harvill Secker, JAPAN 

Victor Jestin, Heatwave, tr. Sam Taylor, Scribner, FRANCE 

Sacha Naspini, Oxygen, tr. Clarissa Botsford, Europa Editions, ITALY

Samira Sedira, People Like Them, tr. Lara Vergnaud, Raven Books, FRANCE 

Antti Tuomainen, The Rabbit Factor, tr. David Hackston, Orenda, FINLAND 

Hilde Vandermeeren, The Scorpion’s Head, tr. Laura Watkinson, Pushkin Vertigo, BELGIUM/GERMANY 

A tasty bunch, I’m sure you’ll agree… But because this blog’s definition of international crime fiction is very elastic (e.g. an international author or setting is more than enough to fire my interest) I took a good, hard look at the other categories as well.

Here’s a list of those that particularly caught my eye:

D.V. Bishop, City of Vengeance, MacMillan, 1536 Florence, ITALY (Gold Dagger & Historical Dagger)

Jacqueline Bublitz, Before You Knew My Name, Sphere, NEW ZEALAND/NEW YORK, USA (Gold Dagger)

S.A. Cosby, Razorblade Tears, Headline, USA (Gold Dagger & Steel Dagger)

Eloísa Díaz, Repentance, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1981/2001 BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA (New Blood Dagger)

Sonia Faleiro, The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing, Bloomsbury, RURAL INDIA (ALCS Gold Dagger for Non-fiction)

Eliot Higgins, We Are Bellingcat: An Intelligence Agency for the People, Bloomsbury, THE WORLD (ALCS Gold Dagger for Non-fiction)

Femi Kayode, Lightseekers, Raven Books, NIGERIA (Gold Dagger)

Julia Laite, The Disappearance of Lydia Harvey, Profile Books, NEW ZEALAND, ARGENTINA, UK (ALCS Gold Dagger for Non-fiction)

Laura Lippman, Dream Girl, Faber, USA (Steel Dagger)

Abir Mukherjee, The Shadows of Men, Harvill Secker, UK/INDIA (Gold Dagger)

Håkan Nesser, The Lonely Ones, tr. Sarah Death, Mantle, NORWAY (Steel Dagger)

Karin Nordin, Where Ravens Roost, HQ, RURAL SWEDEN (New Blood Dagger)

Peter Papathanasiou, The Stoning, MacLehose, AUSTRALIAN OUTBACK (Gold Dagger & New Blood Dagger)

Rahul Raina, How to Kidnap the Rich, Little, Brown, DELHI, INDIA (New Blood Dagger)

Patrick Radden Keefe, Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty, Picador, USA (ALCS Gold Dagger for Non-fiction)

Meeti Shroff-Shah, A Mumbai Murder Mystery, Joffe Books, MUMBAI, INDIA (New Blood Dagger)

Joe Thomas, Brazilian Psycho, Arcadia, UK/SAO PAULO, BRAZIL (Gold Dagger)

Mark Wrightman, Waking the Tiger, Hobeck Books, 1940s SINGAPORE (New Blood Dagger)

Well, that should keep us going for while! Many congratulations to all the longlisted authors, translators and publishers. And a big thank you to the judges for their hard work in bringing us the best of the best.

Further info is available here:

CWA: https://thecwa.co.uk/awards-and-competitions/the-daggers (where you can also download a handy pdf of all the longlists)

Waterstones: you’ll find a page dedicated to the CWA longlists with gorgeous carousels for each category here – https://www.waterstones.com/category/cultural-highlights/book-awards/the-cwa-daggers

2021 Petrona Award – the shortlist is here!

Six outstanding crime novels from Iceland, Norway & Sweden have been shortlisted for the 2021 Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year.

The shortlisted titles are:

A NECESSARY DEATH by Anne Holt, tr. Anne Bruce (Corvus; Norway)

DEATH DESERVED by Jørn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger, tr. Anne Bruce (Orenda Books; Norway)

THE SECRET LIFE OF MR. ROOS by Håkan Nesser, tr. Sarah Death (Mantle; Sweden)

TO COOK A BEAR by Mikael Niemi, tr. Deborah Bragan-Turner (MacLehose Press; Sweden)

THE SEVEN DOORS by Agnes Ravatn, tr. Rosie Hedger (Orenda Books; Norway)

GALLOWS ROCK by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, tr. Victoria Cribb (Hodder & Stoughton; Iceland)

The winner will be announced on Thursday 4 November 2021!

Today, very aptly, is International Translation Day. We are extremely grateful to the five translators whose expertise and skill have allowed readers to access these outstanding examples of Scandinavian crime fiction, and to the publishers who continue to champion and support translated fiction.

The judges’ comments on the shortlisted titles:

A NECESSARY DEATH by Anne Holt, tr. Anne Bruce  

Anne Holt, according to Jo Nesbø, is the ‘godmother of modern Norwegian crime fiction’. Best known for her ‘Hanne Wilhelmsen’ and ‘Vik/Stubø’ series (the inspiration for TV drama Modus), she also served as Norway’s Minister for Justice in the 1990s. A Necessary Death is the second in Holt’s ‘Selma Falck’ series, whose eponymous protagonist is a high-flying lawyer brought low by her gambling addiction. The novel shows Falck resisting an attempt to kill her: on waking in a burning cabin in a remote, sub-zero wilderness, she has to figure out how to survive, while desperately trying to remember how she got there. A pacy, absorbing thriller with a gutsy, complex main character.

DEATH DESERVED by Jørn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger, tr. Anne Bruce 

Death Deserved marks the beginning of an exciting collaboration between two of Norway’s most successful crime authors. Thomas Enger and Jørn Lier Horst are both already well known for their long-running ‘Henning Juul’ ­and ‘William Wisting’ series. Death Deserved, in which a serial killer targets well-known personalities, mines each writer’s area of expertise: the portrayal of detective Alexander Blix draws on Horst’s former career as a policeman, while Enger brings his professional knowledge of the media to the depiction of journalist Emma Ramm. The novel expertly fuses the writers’ individual styles, while showcasing their joint talent for writing credible and engaging characters, and creating a fast-paced, exciting plot.

THE SECRET LIFE OF MR. ROOS by Håkan Nesser, tr. Sarah Death  

Håkan Nesser, one of Sweden’s most popular crime writers, is internationally known for his ‘Van Veeteren’ and ‘Inspector Barbarotti’ series. The Secret Life of Mr. Roos is the third in a quintet featuring Gunnar Barbarotti, a Swedish policeman of Italian descent, who is a complex yet ethically grounded figure. His relatively late appearance in the novel creates space for the portrayal of an unlikely friendship between Mr. Roos, a jaded, middle-aged man who has unexpectedly won the lottery, and Anna, a young, recovering drug addict of Polish origin, who is on the run. Slow-burning literary suspense is leavened with a dry sense of humour, philosophical musings, and compassion for individuals in difficult circumstances.

TO COOK A BEAR by Mikael Niemi, tr. Deborah Bragan-Turner 

Mikael Niemi grew up in the northernmost part of Sweden, and this forms the setting for his historical crime novel To Cook a Bear. It’s 1852: Revivalist preacher Lars Levi Læstadius and Jussi, a young Sami boy he has rescued from destitution, go on long botanical treks that hone their observational skills. When a milkmaid goes missing deep in the forest, the locals suspect a predatory bear, but Læstadius and Jussi find clues using early forensic techniques that point to a far worse killer. Niemi’s eloquent depiction of this unforgiving but beautiful landscape, and the metaphysical musings of Læstadius on art, literature and education truly set this novel apart.

THE SEVEN DOORS by Agnes Ravatn, tr. Rosie Hedger 

Agnes Ravatn’s The Seven Doors has shades of Patricia Highsmith about it: a deliciously dark psychological thriller that lifts the lid on middle-class hypocrisy. When Ingeborg, the daughter of university professor Nina and hospital consultant Mads, insists on viewing a house that her parents rent out, she unwittingly sets off a grim chain of events. Within a few days, tenant Mari Nilson has gone missing, and when Nina starts to investigate her disappearance and past life as a musician, worrying truths begin to emerge. A novel about gender, power and self-deception, expertly spiced with Freud and Bluebeard, The Seven Doors delivers an ending that lingers in the mind.

GALLOWS ROCK by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, tr. Victoria Cribb 

Gallows Rock is the fourth in Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s ‘Children’s House’ series, featuring child psychologist Freyja and police detective Huldar as a reluctant investigative duo. Their relationship provides readers with some lighter moments and occasional black humour, along with a frisson of mutual attraction. The novel’s intricate plot focuses on skewed morals and revenge: what begins as a ritualistic murder at an ancient execution site in the lava fields – the Gallows Rock of the title – leads to the unearthing of a case of long-term abuse, whose devastating impact is sensitively explored. The author won the 2015 Petrona Award for The Silence of the Sea.

This year’s Petrona Award shortlist once again sees Norway strongly represented with three novels; Sweden with two and Iceland with one. The crime genres represented include the police procedural, historical crime, psychological crime, literary crime and thriller.

The six novels stand out for their writing, characterisation, plotting, and overall quality. They are original and inventive, often pushing the boundaries of genre conventions, and tackle complex subjects such as class and power, the bonds of friendship, and the failure of society to support the vulnerable.

The Petrona Award judges are:

Jackie Farrant – Crime fiction expert and creator of RAVEN CRIME READS; bookseller for twenty years and a Regional Commercial Manager for a major book chain in the UK.

Dr. Kat Hall – Translator and editor; Honorary Research Associate at Swansea University; international crime fiction reviewer at MRS. PEABODY INVESTIGATES.

Ewa Sherman – Translator and writer; blogger at NORDIC LIGHTHOUSE; regular contributor to CRIME REVIEW; volunteer at crime fiction festivals in Reykjavik, Bristol and Newcastle.

Our award administrator is Karen Meek – owner of the EURO CRIME website; reviewer, former CWA judge for the International Dagger, and Library Assistant.

The Petrona team would like to thank our sponsor, David Hicks, for his continued generous support of the Petrona Award.

The Petrona Award is open to crime fiction in translation, either written by a Scandinavian author or set in Scandinavia, and published in the UK in the previous calendar year. Further information can be found on the Petrona Award website: http://www.petronaaward.co.uk.

Jingle Bells! Mrs. Peabody’s 2020 Christmas crime recommendations

Well, it’s been quite a year. My ‘crime time’ has been severely dented by all the upheaval, but here are some of my reading and viewing gems.

Treat others! Treat yourself!

And if you’re in the UK, please consider using https://uk.bookshop.org/, which is a brilliant way to support local booksellers while keeping yourself and others safe.

Mrs. Peabody’s 2020 Christmas crime recommendations!

Knives Out, directed by Rian Johnson, 2019 (USA)

Wealthy mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey celebrates his 85th birthday at his mansion surrounded by his loving family. The next morning he is found dead; his throat has been cut. Enter the police and investigator Benoit Blanc, who begin to discover clues…and some unsavoury secrets within the family.

My son recommended this film to me with the words ‘you’ll love this’ and he was absolutely right. Knives Out is huge fun from start to finish, as well as a razor sharp commentary on race and class in the USA. Cuban-Spanish actress Ana de Armas is fantastic as Marta Cabrera, Harlan’s beleaguered carer, who finds herself placed in a very tricky situation. And the all-star cast — including Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Don Johnson and Christopher Plummer — have a high old time hamming their way through this clever take on the Golden Age country house mystery. Perfect Christmas viewing for those who like their crime martinis both shaken and stirred.

Hannelore Cayre, The Godmother, tr. Samantha Smee, Pushkin Press 2019 (France)

Opening line: My parents were crooks, with a visceral love of money.

This prize-winning novel was recommended to me by crime writer Angela Savage a while ago, and it’s a cracker. As a translator myself, I was hugely tickled by the idea of a police interpreter inadvertently falling into a life of crime. And Madame Patience Portefeux, a 53-year-old widow with some tough times behind her, relates her story with wit, verve and plenty of caustic insight into French society. There’s an excellent review of the novel by RoughJustice over at Crime Fiction Lover (minor spoilers) – a very entertaining festive read! Winner of the 2020 CWA Crime Fiction in Translation Dagger.

Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Penguin 2009 [1962] (USA)

Opening line: My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood.

This cult Gothic (crime) novel was one of those ‘how-have-I-never-read-this-before’ books. Mary Katherine — or Merricat — lives a largely isolated life in the Blackwood home with her sister Constance and Uncle Julian. Early on, she nonchalantly tells us that ‘everyone else in my family is dead’. The rest of the novel teases out the unfortunate story of the deceased Blackwoods, and relates a series of events in the present that will have a decisive impact on the family’s future.

I was instantly hooked by Merricat’s highly original voice and the novel’s creepy Gothic atmosphere. It also has some interesting things to say about suffocating patriarchy, sisterly sacrifice and social exclusion. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a genuinely unsettling delight and I’m sure I’ll be rereading it a number of times.

Antti Tuomainen, Little Siberia, tr. David Hackston, Orenda Books (Finland)

Opening line: ‘And how do you know what happens then?’

Our 2020 Petrona Award winner, by one of crime fiction’s most inventive and versatile writers – what’s not to like?!

Little Siberia, set in an icy northern Finland, opens with a bang when a meteorite unexpectedly lands on a speeding car. Transferred to the local museum for safe keeping, the valuable object is guarded from thieves by local priest Joel, who is grappling with both a marital crisis and a crisis of faith. Absurdist black humour is expertly combined with a warm, perceptive exploration of what it means to be human. A celebration of resilience, fortitude and simply muddling through, this is a novel for our times.

Giri/Haji, BBC 2020 (Japan/UK; now on Netflix)

Giri/Haji [Duty/Shame] is billed as a ‘soulful thriller set in Tokyo and London, exploring the butterfly effect of a single murder across two cities — a dark, witty, and daring examination of morality and redemption’. And that’s pretty much spot on.

I was addicted from the first episode, which sees frazzled Japanese police detective Kenzo Mori (Takehiro Hira) sent to London to find his wayward brother and stop a Yakuza war. The characterization of the main players is fantastic – including Kelly MacDonald as Detective Sarah Weitzmann and Will Sharpe as Rodney, a rent boy whose dad is from Kyoto and whose mum is from Peckham… There’s also some beautifully inventive use of film techniques and genres, including a number of sequences that draw on manga. I can’t find this on DVD, and it’s gone from iPlayer, but it *is* on UK Netflix. Sneak off from Christmas duties, pour yourself a glass of sherry, and get stuck in.

And finally… Ragnar Jonasson’s ‘Hulda’ or ‘Hidden Iceland’ trilogy (Penguin), which is told in reverse, with each novel set prior to the last (when Hulda is aged 64, 50 and 40).

The first novel, The Darkness (tr. Victoria Cribb) introduces us to taciturn Reykjavik Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir. She’s about to be shoved into retirement, but is grudgingly offered the chance to look into one last cold case before she goes – that of Elena, a young Russian woman whose body was found on the Icelandic coast. This is an intriguing, multilayered novel, whose true power only becomes evident right at the end. Jónasson dares to follow through in a way that few crime writers do, and the final result is very thought-provoking indeed. The second in the series is just as powerful, and I’m looking forward to reading the third. I have a theory about how things will go. Let’s see if I’m right!

Happy reading, stay safe, and wishing you all a wonderful and very merry Christmas!

The 2020 Petrona Award shortlist is out!

Just in time for the season of snowflakes and reading under cosy blankets, here’s the 2020 Petrona Award shortlist!

Petrona

Six outstanding crime novels from Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden have been shortlisted for the 2020 Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year.

THE COURIER by Kjell Ola Dahl, tr. Don Bartlett (Orenda Books; Norway) 

Kjell Ola Dahl made his debut in 1993, and has since published seventeen novels, most notably those in the ‘Gunnarstranda and Frølich’ police procedural series. In 2000, he won the Riverton Prize for The Last Fix, and the prestigious Brage and Riverton Prizes for The Courier in 2015. In much the same way as Icelandic author Arnaldur Indriðason, Dahl explores the experience of the Second World War by moving away from the linear murder mystery to something far more searching and emotionally driven. The Courier is an intelligent and absorbing standalone that offers a perceptive and highly moving exploration of Scandinavian history. It traverses changing times and cultural norms, and traces the growing self-awareness of a truly memorable female protagonist.

INBORN by Thomas Enger, tr. Kari Dickson (Orenda Books; Norway) 

Thomas Enger worked for many years for Norway’s first online newspaper, Nettavisen, and as an author is best-known for his five novels featuring the journalist-sleuth Henning Juul, one of which – Pierced – was shortlisted for the Petrona Award in 2013. He has also won prizes for his thrillers for young adults. Inborn, his first standalone novel to be translated into English, tells the story of a murder trial from the perspective of the seventeen-year-old defendant, and combines a gripping courtroom drama with a tender and intriguing portrait of Norwegian small-town life, and the secrets bubbling away beneath its surface.

THE CABIN by Jørn Lier Horst, tr. Anne Bruce (Michael Joseph; Norway)

Having previously worked as a police officer, Jørn Lier Horst has established himself as one of the most successful Scandinavian authors of the last twenty years. Horst’s previous ‘William Wisting’ novel, The Katharina Code, won the 2019 Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel, as well as the Nordic Noir Thriller of the Year in 2018. The Cabin sees Chief Inspector Wisting juggling the demands of two testing cases, leading him into the path of an old adversary and plunging him into the criminal underworld. Horst has once again produced an impeccably crafted police procedural with a deft control of pace and tension.

THE SILVER ROAD by Stina Jackson, tr. Susan Beard (Corvus; Sweden)

The Silver Road is Stina Jackson’s highly accomplished debut. It has achieved remarkable success, winning the 2018 Award for Best Swedish Crime Novel, the 2019 Glass Key Award, and the 2019 Swedish Book of the Year Award. Set in northern Sweden, where Jackson herself grew up, the novel explores the aftermath of teenager Lina’s disappearance, and her father Lelle’s quest to find her by driving the length of the Silver Road under the midnight sun. Three years on, young Meja arrives in town: her navigation of adolescence and first-time love will lead her and Lelle’s paths to cross. The Silver Road is a haunting depiction of grief, longing and obsession, with lots of heart and a tremendous sense of place.

THE ABSOLUTION by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, tr. Victoria Cribb (Hodder & Stoughton; Iceland) 

A full-time civil engineer as well as a prolific writer for both adults and children, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir is one of Iceland’s best-selling and most garlanded crime novelists, and the winner of the 2015 Petrona Award for The Silence of the Sea. The Absolution is the third entry in her ‘Children’s House’ series, and features a very modern killer who targets teenagers with an MO involving Snapchat. This artfully plotted and thought-provoking book continues the series’ focus on the long-lasting impact of childhood trauma, with welcome light relief provided by the mismatched investigators, detective Huldar and child psychologist Freyja.

LITTLE SIBERIA by Antti Tuomainen, tr. David Hackston (Orenda Books; Finland)

Antti Tuomainen is a versatile crime writer, whose works draw on genres as varied as the dystopian thriller and comedy crime caper. His third novel, The Healer, won the Clue Award for Best Finnish Crime Novel in 2011 and he has been shortlisted for the Glass Key, Petrona and Last Laugh Awards, as well as the CWA Crime Fiction in Translation Dagger. Little Siberia, set in an icy northern Finland, opens with a bang when a meteorite unexpectedly lands on a speeding car. Transferred to the local museum for safe keeping, the valuable object is guarded from thieves by local priest Joel, who is grappling with both a marital crisis and a crisis of faith. Absurdist black humour is expertly combined with a warm, perceptive exploration of what it means to be human.

THE WINNER will be announced on Thursday 3 December 2020!

The judges’ comments on the shortlist:

There were 37 entries for the 2020 Petrona Award from six countries (Denmark, Finland, France, Iceland, Norway, Sweden). The novels were translated by 24 translators and submitted by 21 publishers/imprints. There were 13 female and 24 male authors.

This year’s Petrona Award shortlist sees Norway strongly represented with three novels; Finland, Iceland and Sweden each have one. The crime genres represented include the police procedural, historical crime, literary crime, comedy crime and thriller.

The Petrona Award judges selected the shortlist from a rich field. The six novels stand out for their writing, characterisation, plotting, and overall quality. They are original and inventive, often pushing the boundaries of genre conventions, and tackle highly complex subjects such as legacies of the past, mental health issues and the effects of grief. Three of the shortlisted titles explore the subject of criminality from an adolescent perspective.

We are extremely grateful to the six translators whose expertise and skill have allowed readers to access these gems of Scandinavian crime fiction, and to the publishers who continue to champion and support translated fiction.

The Petrona team would like to thank our sponsor, David Hicks, for his continued generous support of the Petrona Award. We would also like to thank Sarah Ward, who has now stood down from the judging panel, for her valuable contributions over many years. We wish her every success with her new Gothic thriller, The Quickening, published under the name Rhiannon Ward. We are delighted to have Jake Kerridge, The Daily Telegraph’s crime fiction critic, join the Petrona team as a guest judge for this year’s Award.

The Petrona Award is open to crime fiction in translation, either written by a Scandinavian author or set in Scandinavia, and published in the UK in the previous calendar year.

The judges

Jackie Farrant – Crime fiction expert and creator of RAVEN CRIME READS; bookseller for eighteen years and a Regional Commercial Manager for a major book chain in the UK.

Kat Hall – Translator and editor; Honorary Research Associate at Swansea University; international crime fiction reviewer at MRS. PEABODY INVESTIGATES.

Jake Kerridge – Journalist and literary critic. He has been the crime fiction reviewer of the Daily Telegraph since 2005 and has judged many crime and thriller prizes.

Award administrator

Karen Meek – owner of the EURO CRIME website, reviewer, former CWA judge for the International Dagger, and Library Assistant.

Quentin Bates’ Cold Malice — Gunna rides again!

I’m delighted to welcome crime author Quentin Bates to the blog. His latest novel, Cold Malice, has just been published — and features one of my all-time favourite investigators, Icelandic police officer Gunnhildur ‘Gunna’ Gísladóttir.

Below, there’s a little about the novel, together with an exclusive extract… I’ve also included part of an interview I did with Quentin a while back, in which he answers questions about writing the character of Gunna and the kind of Iceland he tries to depict.

Cold Malice: Reykjavík detective Gunnhildur Gísladóttir tries not to believe in ghosts. But when Helgi, one of her team, is certain he’s seen a man who was declared dead fifteen years ago, she reluctantly gives him some unofficial leeway to look into it.

Has the not-so-dead man returned from the grave to settle old scores, or has he just decided to take a last look around his old haunts? Even the rumour of his being alive and kicking is enough to spark a storm of fury and revenge, with Gunnhildur and Helgi caught up in the middle of it.

Extract 

>> The sea and the dawn sky melded into an enfolding grey blanket as the boat shoved its way through the chop of the waves. The skipper sat in the wheelhouse chair and gnawed his fingernails, eyes on the screens in front of him. It wasn’t likely, but considering the nature of the bundle nestling under the gunwale where it couldn’t be easily seen, a chance visit right now from the Coast Guard or those busybodies from the fisheries patrol would at best be hard to explain and at worst disastrous. He had no business being here, far outside his usual fishing grounds, and that in itself was suspicious. In fact, he was away from anyone’s fishing grounds, in a patch of the Baltic where the mustard gas and explosives dumped after a couple of wars had ensured that any kind of fishing was out of the question.

He brooded that if he hadn’t had debts, he’d have told them to go and fuck themselves sideways.

Eventually he eased back the throttle and the engine’s rumble died away to a throaty mutter beneath his feet, the boat rocking in the unpredictable Baltic swell. He unzipped the bag, tried not to look at the emaciated face that gazed back at him, its eyes half closed, and hurriedly dropped a couple of yards of chain inside, adding some worn shackles for good measure. He zipped the bag shut and punched holes in it, surprised at how its tough fabric resisted his knife. It was also a surprise how little the bag and its contents weighed as he rolled it over the gunwale and watched it disappear from sight to join the rusting shells and canisters of poison far below.

He shuddered to himself, put the boat back into gear, and felt a surge of relief as he pushed the throttle lever forward as far as it would go. That was a debt paid, one of many, but he wondered how long it would be before another favour he could hardly refuse would be requested. <<

Author Quentin Bates

Mrs P: Quentin, you’re in the unusual position as a British author of having lived in Iceland for many years. How has that experience – together with your ongoing links to the country – shaped your crime writing?

Quentin: I shied away from the idea of using Iceland as a backdrop when I started toying with the idea of fiction. There were a few false starts, until it dawned on me that it would be plain daft not to use all that knowledge, insight and experience, so that’s when Frozen Out [the first in the ‘Gunna’ series] started to take shape. Being familiar with the language gives you a huge advantage in being able to understand the intricacies of Iceland’s internecine politics and much of the subtext to what goes on that an outsider simply wouldn’t be aware of, as well as being able to laugh at all the otherwise incomprehensible jokes.

Mrs P: Which particular aspects of Icelandic society have you been keen to share via your crime writing?

Quentin: Let’s say I prefer to avoid the clichés, the stuff the tourists see. Very little of my work seems to be set in Reykjavík 101, the central district where all the hotels, bars and whatnot are, which is hipster central these days, lots of manbuns and frothy coffee. I’m happier with the outlying parts of the city and the surrounding towns that are so different to what many visitors see. What I really like to try and work in there is the quiet, subtle humour of the older generation of Icelanders that has its roots in a time when Iceland was a very different place. It’s a humour so bone-dry that it’s easy to miss it, and it can fly right over your head if you’re not watching out for it.

Mrs P: Icelandic police series by authors such as Arnaldur Indriðason and Ragnar Jónasson feature male detectives. What made you decide to create a female police officer?

Quentin: I didn’t set out to create a female investigator. She just appeared. Originally Gunnhildur was the sidekick to a fairly dull male main character who just didn’t click. He was so forgettable that I can’t even remember what name I gave that ill-thought out character back in that very first draft of Frozen Out. He was quite quickly jettisoned once it had occurred to me that the sidekick was the more interesting character, and she did demand attention. To my surprise, I didn’t find it especially difficult to write a female character. People seem to like her and say she’s realistic, but I think I’m too close to her to be able to judge.

Mrs P: Tell us a little about the way you depict Officer Gunnhildur in the series.

Quentin: Gunnhildur is a character who is definitely not from Reykjavík, and she was deliberately given roots in a coastal region in the west so she can have something of an outsider’s point of view. That’s why she and Helgi connect so well, as he’s also from a rural background in the north and they share a similar background as immigrants to Reykjavík, while Eiríkur is a city boy with little in common with his two middle-aged (or ancient, as he would see them) colleagues.

With thanks to Quentin Bates! There’s also a great review of Cold Malice over at Raven Crime Reads

This wonderful drawing by @redscharlach is of Hinrika in Trapped, but she really reminds Mrs P of Gunna as well.

Summertime crime (Australia, UK, Iceland)

I hope you’re all in a summery mood and finding time for some relaxing crime fiction – novels that whisk you away from humdrum everyday life and morale-sapping political shenanigans.

Here are three that have done the trick for me lately.

Chris Hammer, Scrublands (Wildfire, 2019)

This debut novel, set an isolated Australian town suffering from drought, has attracted some rave reviews. It opens with a puzzle: why would charismatic priest Byron Swift open fire on his own congregation from the church steps one Sunday morning, killing five men? A year on, burned-out journalist Martin Scarsden arrives in Riversend to write a feature on the impact of the tragedy on the community, and is struck by how what locals say doesn’t always fit into the accepted version of events.

I really enjoyed Scrublands, although things went a teensy bit bananas in the end. Big pluses for me included the intriguing puzzle of Swift’s actions, the depictions of troubled journalist Scarsden and the embattled Riversend community, and an utterly gripping section on the battle to contain a bushfire. The rather irritating characterization of the (stunningly beautiful) love interest and an increasingly overloaded plot were less beguiling. In the end, there were enough twists and turns to fill three crime novels, and the chunks of exposition needed to explain these felt a bit intrusive. But overall this was a worthwhile and entertaining read, and very well written in parts.

Lesley Thomson, The Dog Walker (Head of Zeus, 2017)

Lesley Thomson’s ‘The Detective’s Daughter’ series has become one of my favourites in recent years. I always enjoy the company of her quirky sleuthing duo, Stella Darnell (detective’s daughter and cleaner extraordinaire) and her sidekick Jack Harmon. In The Dog Walker, Stella and Jack investigate the 1987 disappearance of Helen Honeysett, a young wife who went for a run along the Thames towpath one evening and never came home. Suspicion immediately fell on one of her neighbours, but perhaps he was innocent after all? Thomson provides readers with an intriguing array of suspects living in a row of five riverside cottages (there’s a great little map at the front of the novel showing who lives where). The chapters set in the 1980s stand out for their narration of events from a child’s perspective – that of young Megan – and are extremely well observed.

If you’re new to this series, I’d recommend reading the series opener, The Detective’s Daughter, before you start this one.

Quentin Bates, Cold Breath, Constable 2018 

Another of my favourite investigators is Officer Gunnhildur ‘Gunna’ Gísladdóttir, a no-nonsense middle-aged Icelandic policewoman. In this, the seventh novel in Quentin Bates’ absorbing series, Gunna is placed in the unusual position of acting as a police bodyguard to Osman, a high-profile foreign guest. What should be a straightforward assignment turns into something much more serious when there’s an attempt on Osman’s life. The novel tracks events from the perspectives of the would-be assassins, those unfortunate enough to inadvertently get in their way, and Gunna and Osman respectively. The larger mystery of Osman’s identity hangs over proceedings as well. A thrilling plot, strong characterization and plenty of wry humour all make for a great read – and the novel’s Icelandic settings are evocatively drawn.

What stand-out crime novels have you been reading this summer?

Post your recommendations below! 

The 2019 Petrona Award shortlist has landed!

Here we go!!!

Six outstanding crime novels from Denmark, Iceland and Norway have been shortlisted for the 2019 Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year, which is announced today. They are… *drumroll*

  • THE ICE SWIMMER by Kjell Ola Dahl, tr. Don Bartlett (Orenda Books; Norway)
  • THE WHISPERER by Karin Fossum, tr. Kari Dickson (Harvill Secker; Norway)
  • THE KATHARINA CODE by Jørn Lier Horst, tr. Anne Bruce (Michael Joseph; Norway)
  • THE DARKNESS by Ragnar Jónasson, tr. Victoria Cribb (Penguin; Iceland)
  • RESIN by Ane Riel, tr. Charlotte Barslund (Doubleday; Denmark)
  • BIG SISTER by Gunnar Staalesen, tr. Don Bartlett (Orenda Books; Norway)

THE ICE SWIMMER by Kjell Ola Dahl, tr. Don Bartlett (Orenda Books; Norway)

Kjell Ola Dahl has achieved international acclaim for his ‘Oslo Detectives’ police procedural series, of which The Ice Swimmer is the latest instalment. When a dead man is found in the freezing waters of Oslo Harbour, Detective Lena Stigersand takes on the investigation while having to deal with some difficult personal issues. With the help of her trusted colleagues Gunnarstranda and Frølich, she digs deep into the case and uncovers possible links to the Norwegian establishment. Once again, Dahl has produced a tense and complex thriller, with his trademark close attention to social issues.

THE WHISPERER by Karin Fossum, tr. Kari Dickson (Harvill Secker; Norway)

Winner of the prestigious Riverton Award and Glass Key Award for Nordic crime, Karin Fossum is a prolific talent. The Whisperer focuses on the case of Ragna Riegel, an unassuming woman with a complicated emotional history, who has recently been arrested. As Inspector Konrad Sejer delves into her psyche in the course of a claustrophobic interrogation, Fossum slowly reveals the events leading up to Ragna’s crime. This is a highly assured mix of police procedural and psychological thriller, which really gets to the heart of one woman’s mental turmoil, and how easy it is for an individual to become unmoored from society.

THE KATHARINA CODE by Jørn Lier Horst, tr. Anne Bruce (Michael Joseph; Norway)

Jørn Lier Horst’s ‘William Wisting’ novels are distinguished by their excellent characterisation and strong plots. In The Katharina Code, a dormant investigation is reopened when police focus on a missing woman’s husband and his possible involvement in an earlier, apparently unconnected case. Wisting, who has long harboured doubts about the man’s innocence, becomes a somewhat unwilling participant in the surveillance operation. This finely plotted thriller with a strong sense of unresolved justice shows how Lier Horst is as comfortable writing about rural landscapes as urban settings.

THE DARKNESS by Ragnar Jónasson, tr. Victoria Cribb (Penguin; Iceland)

In Ragnar Jónasson’s The Darkness, the first in the ‘Hidden Iceland’ trilogy, a Reykjavík policewoman on the brink of retirement looks into a final case – the death of Elena, a young Russian woman, which may mistakenly have been labelled a suicide. As much a portrait of its flawed investigator, Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir, as of the investigation itself, the novel explores themes ranging from parental estrangement and the costs of emotional withdrawal to the precarious status of immigrants trying to make their way in a new land. The novel’s ending is bold and thought-provoking.

RESIN by Ane Riel, tr. Charlotte Barslund (Doubleday; Denmark)

Ane Riel’s Resin is an ambitious literary crime novel with a remote Danish setting. Narrated mainly from the perspective of Liv, a young girl, it tells the story of three generations of one family, while exploring the complicated factors that can lead individuals to justify and commit murder. Other narrative voices – such as those of Liv’s mother and a neighbour – provide further nuance and depth. A moving meditation on the consequences of social isolation and misguided love, Resin is an innovative novel that offers its readers a keenly observed psychological portrait of a close-knit but dysfunctional family.

BIG SISTER by Gunnar Staalesen, tr. Don Bartlett (Orenda Books; Norway)

In this highly acclaimed, long-running series, former social worker turned private investigator Varg Veum solves complex crimes which often have a strong historic dimension. In Big Sister, Veum is surprised by the revelation that he has a half-sister, who asks him to look into the whereabouts of her missing goddaughter, a nineteen-year-old trainee nurse. Expertly plotted, with an unsettling, dark undertone, this novel digs deep into Veum’s family past to reveal old secrets and hurts, and is by turns an absorbing and exciting read.

Congratulations to all the authors, translators and publishers!

The Petrona judges – Jackie Farrant, Sarah Ward and myself – had the following to say about the shortlist: 

The Petrona Award judges faced a challenging but enjoyable decision-making process when drawing up the shortlist. The six novels selected by the judges stand out for their writing, characterisation, plotting, and overall quality. They are original and inventive, often pushing the boundaries of genre conventions, and tackle highly complex subjects such as mental health issues, the effects of social and emotional alienation, and failures of policing and justice.

We are extremely grateful to the translators whose expertise and skill allows readers to access these gems of Scandinavian crime fiction, and to the publishers who continue to champion and support translated fiction.

There were 38 entries for the 2019 Petrona Award from six countries (Denmark, Finland, France, Iceland, Norway, Sweden). The novels were translated by 25 translators and submitted by 24 publishers/imprints. There were 14 female and 20 male authors, and two male-female writing duos.

This year’s Petrona Award shortlist sees Norway strongly represented with four novels; Denmark and Iceland each have one.

The crime genres represented include the police procedural, the private investigator novel, psychological crime, literary crime and the thriller.

The Petrona Award is open to crime fiction in translation, either written by a Scandinavian author or set in Scandinavia and published in the UK in the previous calendar year. The winning title will be announced at the Gala Dinner on 11 May during CrimeFest, held in Bristol 9-12 May 2019.

The Petrona team would like to thank our sponsor, David Hicks, for his generous support of the 2019 Petrona Award. Huge thanks too to Karen Meek (aka Euro Crime), for all of her excellent organisational work throughout the year!

For further information about the Petrona Award, see http://www.petronaaward.co.uk/

Season 2 of Trapped (Iceland), Staalesen’s Big Sister (Norway) and Braithwaite’s My Sister, the Serial Killer (Nigeria)

Trapped! The first two episodes of this Icelandic crime drama’s highly anticipated second season aired last night on BBC 4. It’s now three years after the events of season 1, and police chief Andri Olafsson is living in Reykjavík. But when a politician is brutally attacked outside parliament by her own brother, Andri is forced to head back north to Seyðisfjörður to unravel a tangle of familial and social conflicts. Locals are up in arms about a new aluminium plant and its effect on the community, and on top of all that, Andri has to deal with his estranged teenage daughter. Brooding landscapes, Icelandic jumpers, and a hefty dollop of the ancient sagas create a compelling mix. And it’s great to see Andri, Hinrika and Ásgeir back together as a team. If you have access to BBC iPlayer, you can catch up there.

Here’s a trailer to whet your appetite:

Which leads me on to…

Gunnar Staalesen’s Big Sister, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett (Orenda Books, 2018)

First line: I have never believed in ghosts.

This is the fifth of Gunnar Staalesen’s ‘Varg Veum’ detective novels to be published in the UK by Orenda Books, but it’s actually a pretty good place to start if you’re new to the series, as we’re given some interesting background to Veum’s own family.

The novel opens with the private eye receiving a surprise visit from a woman. Norma Bakkevik comes to him about a missing person’s case – so far, so conventional – but then reveals that she is Veum’s older half-sister, the daughter of his mother. The novel skilfully interweaves these two narrative strands, following Veum’s investigations into Norma’s goddaughter’s disappearance and his mother’s secret past. As ever, Staalesen treats us to a top-notch read, mainly set in Bergen on Norway’s southwest coast.

Staalesen won the 2017 Petrona Award for Where Roses Never Die. He’s up for the award again this year with Big Sister – can he make it a double?

Incidentally, I’m willing to bet 10p that the novel’s title was inspired by Chandler’s 1949 The Little Sister.

Which leads me to another big and little sister…

Oyinkan Braithwaite, My Sister, the Serial Killer (Doubleday 2018)

First line: Ayoola summons me with these words – Korede, I killed him.

I gobbled up this wholly original Nigerian crime novel in one sitting. Korede is a nurse: she is plain, respectable, and leads a neat and ordered life. Or rather, she would do if it weren’t for her volatile, beautiful younger sister, whose boyfriends seem to have a habit of winding up dead, and who then expects big sis to sort everything out. I won’t give too much more away, but suffice to say this is an arresting read, which fearlessly deploys the darkest of humour to tell its story. The question at the heart of the novel is: how far would you go to protect a family member whose actions you know are criminal? It’s all very nicely done, and manages to avoid an overly pat denouement.

Both the subject matter and tone of My Sister reminded me of Austrian author Bernhard Aichner’s Woman of the Dead, another wonderfully original novel featuring an unrepentant murderess…

You can read a very informative interview with Braithwaite here.

Crime smörgåsbord: Jónasson’s The Darkness (Iceland), Kidd’s Himself (Ireland), Miller’s American By Day (US/Norway), Herron’s Slow Horses (UK)

A very belated Happy New Year to you all! Work’s been a bit manic for the last few weeks, and looks set to continue that way for a while, so please excuse the slightly *ahem* stretchy gaps between my posts. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible!

Happily, I’ve still been reading behind the scenes, even if I’ve not managed to post as much as I’d like. Here are some highlights…

Ragnar Jónasson, The Darkness, trans. Victoria Cribb (Penguin 2018, Iceland).

First line: ‘How did you find me?’ the woman asked.

Jónasson is best known in the UK for his ‘Ari Thór’ series, published by Orenda Books. The Darkness is the first in a trilogy called ‘Hidden Iceland’, featuring the rather taciturn Reykjavik Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir. Hulda is about to be shoved into retirement, but is grudgingly offered the chance to look into one last cold case before she goes – that of Elena, a young Russian woman whose body was found on the Icelandic coast. This is an intriguing, multilayered novel, whose true power only becomes evident right at its end. Jónasson dares to follow through in a way that few crime writers do, and the final result is very thought-provoking indeed. I’m looking forward to seeing where this trilogy will go next. The Darkness is one of this year’s Petrona Award contenders.

Jess Kidd, Himself (Canongate, 2017)

First line: ‘Mahony shoulders his rucksack, steps off the bus and stands in the dead centre of the village of Mulderrig’

Kidd’s The Hoarder was one of my top Christmas picks this year, and made me seek out her debut, Himself, as quickly as I could. It’s Ireland in 1976, and Mahony, a young man brought up by nuns in a Dublin orphanage, returns to Mulderrig, a tiny village he recently found out was his birthplace. He is the son of Orla Sweeney, who scandalised the village with her behaviour and supposedly disappeared in 1950. With the help of the eccentric Mrs. Cauley and a host of benign spirits who waft through walls, he starts uncovering the hypocrisies, secrets and malign power dynamics of the village. Utterly original, beautifully written and often wickedly funny, this is a crime novel to savour.

Derek B. Miller, American By Day (Penguin 2018, US/Norway).

First line: Sigrid Ødegård’s hands rest on the unopened blue folder as she stares out the window of her office.

Miller’s first novel, Norwegian By Night, is one of my favourite crime novels ever (see my rave review here), and this follow up novel features Sigrid Ødegård, the policewoman Sheldon met at the end of that first story. American By Day is a clever counterpart to its predecessor: while Norwegian By Night showed us an American recently transplanted to Norway, American By Day transplants a Norwegian to America, thereby opening the door to a wide-ranging comparison of the two countries’ values and policing cultures, especially in relation to race. Sigrid is a richly drawn, thoughtful character, unsettled by something she did in the course of her policing duties in Norway, and whose brother may have been involved in the death of his girlfriend, an American academic. With the help of US sheriff Irving Wylie and some Sheldon-esque chutzpah, she sets about getting to the bottom of the matter. Intelligent, accomplished and entertaining.

Mick Herron, Slow Horses (Hodder & Stoughton 2010, UK)

First line: This is how River Cartwright slipped off the fast track and joined the slow horses.

I’m extremely late to the party as far as the ‘Jackson Lamb’ series goes, but who cares – I’m here now and I’m having fun. Far from the glamour of the Intelligence Services in Regent’s Park sits Slough House, home of the Slow Horses: agents who in some way or other have screwed up, but can’t quite be pushed out of the service completely as yet. Assigned to mundane tasks and managed by the uncouth Jackson Lamb, each hides painful secrets, while yearning to get back into the action somehow. That moment may have arrived when some kidnappers threaten to broadcast the execution of their hostage Hassan live on the internet. A fabulously entertaining introduction to the Slow Horses, which also has plenty to say about the callousness of ambition and power. Hints of le Carré, but presented in a breezy and darkly humorous way.

Arnaldur Indriðason’s The Shadow Killer: exclusive extract and giveaway!

I’m delighted to feature an exclusive extract from Arnaldur Indriðason’s The Shadow Killer on the blog today. Plus: to celebrate the publication of the novel, the good people at Harvill Secker have donated two copies to give away to UK readers! All you need to do is answer one simple question (see the bottom of the post for details).

Indriðason is one of my very favourite crime writers. He’s best known for the excellent long-running ‘Detective Erlendur’ series featuring Erlendur and his colleagues Elinborg and Sigurdur Oli (see Crime Fiction Lover’s wonderful guide here).

Happily, the author has now embarked on an absorbing new ‘Reykjavík wartime’ series, set in Iceland during the Second World War, a time that brought a huge number of changes to its little capital city, not least due to the presence of the British and American armies. As well as treating readers to an intriguing investigation, The Shadow Killer also provides some fascinating insights into the dramatic social changes in Iceland at the time.

Place: Reykjavíc

Time: August 1941

Detectives: Flóvent (Reykjavic’s only detective) and Thorson (an Icelandic-Canadian military policeman)

Case: A travelling salesman is found murdered in a basement flat, killed by a bullet from a Colt 45. Could a member of the Allied Occupation forces be involved?

View of Reykjavik (taken a few years ago during Iceland Noir)

EXTRACT from The Shadow Killer, translated by Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker, 2018), pp. 50-52 (reproduced with kind permission of the publisher).

US counter-intelligence had been given temporary quarters in one wing of the old Leper Hospital on Laugarnes Point. They shared it with their British colleagues who had requisitioned the hospital building shortly after the occupation. The few remaining patients had been sent to a sanatorium in Kópavogur, the settlement to the south of Reykjavík.

Although the United States was officially still neutral, within a few months American troops were scheduled to relieve the British garrison and take over responsibility for the defence of Iceland. First to arrive had been the Marine Corps and 5th Defense Battalion on 7 July with their anti-aircraft units, followed by the first land army contingent on 6 August, and more reinforcements were expected any day now to swell their ranks – thousands of armed men who had never even heard of Iceland before, let alone known where to find it on a map. In no time at all Reykjavík had become a seething mass of British troops preparing to withdraw, reinforcements from America, incomers from the Icelandic countryside – seeking a better life in the suddenly prosperous city – and the citizens of Reykjavík themselves, young and old, who had yet to come to terms with the transformation their town had undergone in the last year.

As Thorson drove up to the imposing edifice of the old Leper Hospital on the northern side of Laugarnes, he found himself thinking about prejudice and ostracism, thoughts which were no strangers to him. Naturally the location was no coincidence: the patients had been segregated, kept at a safe distance from the town, or rather, more importantly, the townspeople had been kept at a safe distance from them. A second hospital, the Kleppur Asylum, stood down by the sea a little to the east, even further removed from the town. The Leper Hospital was the most impressive wooden building in the country. It consisted of two floors and an attic, with rows of windows the length of the building and two gables projecting from the front, one at each end. As he admired it, Thorson thought about all the disruption the military occupation had brought to this sparsely populated island and its simple society. On a calm spring day in 1940, the war had come knocking on Reykjavík’s door, and transformed the lives of its inhabitants. Thorson, together with a handful of other Canadian volunteers, had been among the first to come ashore with the British invasion force, as a private in the Second Royal Marine Battalion. They had marched under arms to the country’s main government offices and witnessed first- hand the look of bewilderment on the faces of the townspeople, who must have feared that life in Iceland would never be the same again.

Thorson’s thoughts returned to the task in hand. Analysis of the cyanide capsule found in Felix Lunden’s flat had confirmed his suspicions: it was a so-called suicide pill, manufactured in Germany. If the user bit down on the capsule, or ampoule, the potassium cyanide it contained would theoretically kill him in a matter of seconds, though in practice it could take as long as fifteen minutes, causing indescribable suffering. It was the first time a capsule of this kind had turned up in Reykjavík, and the intelligence officer was demanding to know how it had come into the hands of the Icelandic police. He was a major, fiftyish, aggressive and gruff, with a pockmarked face and a black glove on one hand. It looked to Thorson as though he was missing two fingers. His name was Major Graham and he had served in the US Military Intelligence Division for many years. With him was his opposite number from British intelligence, who had been consulting the records for any mention of Rudolf Lunden in the period immediately after the invasion. He was somewhat younger than Major Graham and disfigured by a burn that extended from his neck up one side of his face, leaving only a stump of an ear. He had transferred to intelligence after sustaining serious injuries when his plane came down. His name was Ballantine – like the whisky, he said as he introduced himself, adding that he was no relation. The smile that accompanied this remark was more like a grimace. Thorson got the impression that the joke had grown
rather stale.

‘Why would an Icelander be carrying a suicide pill?’ asked
Major Graham. ‘Hidden in a suitcase, you said?’

Sailing out of Reykjavik harbour

THE SHADOW KILLER GIVEAWAY!

We have two copies of The Shadow Killer to give away (UK readers only on this occasion…)

Just pick the correct answer to the question below and pop it in a comment below. The draw will close at midnight on Monday 19th March; I’ll contact you directly if you’re one of the lucky winners!

Question: What’s the name of the dour Icelandic murder detective in Arnaldur Indriðason’s first series?

A) Gylfi Þór Sigurðsson

B) Katrín Jakobsdóttir

C) Erlendur Sveinsson

D) Halldór Kiljan Laxness

E) Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

🙂