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October 29, 2012

Crime’s grand tour: European detective fiction

Crime’s grand tour: European detective fiction

Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano (played by Luca Zingaretti in the TV series) questions what it means to be a good policeman

Crime fiction is a magnifying glass that reveals the fingerprints of history. From Holmes and Poirot to Montalbano and the rise of Scandi-noir, Mark Lawson investigates the long tradition of European super-sleuths and their role in turbulent times.

One of the functions of fiction is to serve as a kind of tourism, either showing us places, situations and people that we might not otherwise reach or scrolling through snapshots of events or sensations that we remember. Crime stories rarely serve the latter purpose – most admirers of homicide novels will, thankfully, never become or even know a murder victim – but are a perfect illustration of the former.

Throughout its history, crime literature has operated as a sort of imaginative travel agency, taking customers across borders and introducing them to unknown cultures. The story commonly considered the birth of the whodunit – Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841) – was written by an American and set in Paris. Since then, the genre has regularly been a ticket for a Grand Tour.

Agatha Christie, an enthusiastic globe-trotter through her wealth and marriage to an archaeologist, sent Hercule Poirot on the Orient Express, Nile cruises and aeroplane journeys, depicting trips that the majority of her audience was unlikely ever to experience for real. Later in the 20th century, readers, listeners and viewers of detective tales learned about France from Simenon’s Maigret and the Netherlands through Nicolas Freeling’s Commissaris Van der Valk, who achieved the rare double of topping both the TV ratings lists (in the ITV series starring Barry Foster) and the pop charts, with the Simon Park Orchestra’s recording of the theme tune, “Eye Level”.

And, these days, Britons have a greater understanding of Scandinavian culture than ever before: not from exports such as Abba, Bjorn Borg, Volvo or Ikea, but through what was – at least until the recent apothesois of sado-masochistic soft porn – the biggest publishing phenomenon of the 21st century: the super-selling mystery stories of writers from Sweden (Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell) and Norway (Jo Nesbø).

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December 12, 2011

The Art of Listening

Filed under: Authors — Tags: , , , — Bookblurb @ 6:02 pm

I CAME to Africa with one purpose: I wanted to see the world outside the perspective of European egocentricity. I could have chosen Asia or South America. I ended up in Africa because the plane ticket there was cheapest.

I came and I stayed. For nearly 25 years I’ve lived off and on in Mozambique. Time has passed, and I’m no longer young; in fact, I’m approaching old age. But my motive for living this straddled existence, with one foot in African sand and the other in European snow, in the melancholy region of Norrland in Sweden where I grew up, has to do with wanting to see clearly, to understand.

The simplest way to explain what I’ve learned from my life in Africa is through a parable about why human beings have two ears but only one tongue. Why is this? Probably so that we have to listen twice as much as we speak.

In Africa listening is a guiding principle. It’s a principle that’s been lost in the constant chatter of the Western world, where no one seems to have the time or even the desire to listen to anyone else. From my own experience, I’ve noticed how much faster I have to answer a question during a TV interview than I did 10, maybe even 5, years ago. It’s as if we have completely lost the ability to listen. We talk and talk, and we end up frightened by silence, the refuge of those who are at a loss for an answer.

I’m old enough to remember when South American literature emerged in popular consciousness and changed forever our view of the human condition and what it means to be human. Now, I think it’s Africa’s turn.

Everywhere, people on the African continent write and tell stories. Soon, African literature seems likely to burst onto the world scene — much as South American literature did some years ago when Gabriel García Márquez and others led a tumultuous and highly emotional revolt against ingrained truth. Soon an African literary outpouring will offer a new perspective on the human condition.

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August 29, 2011

Anders Breivik massacre will change crime writing, says author

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Jo Nesbø says his country’s reaction to the killings made him proud to be Norwegian.

By Charlotte Higgins

Jo Nesbø, the Norwegian author whose books about the driven, enigmatic detective Harry Hole have made him a bestseller in Britain, said yesterday it was inevitable that crime writing would change in the wake of the Anders Behring Breivik shootings last month.

The author, speaking at the Edinburgh international book festival, said that the massacre “will definitely affect crime writing. I don’t think it will be something that crime writers will think about consciously, but we are all changed. It’s there in the back our heads, and everything that is in our minds will find its way to paper.

“It will influence the way we think, and write, and communicate.” Nesbø said his country’s reaction to the Breivik shootings has made him “proud of being a Norwegian”.

He said Norway would never and should never forget the events of 22 July, but added: “We have to get back to normal; we have to start laughing again.” He also said that the country, which is moving towards local elections, needs to focus on “real political problems”.

“Things have to get back to normal. The feeling in the country is: let this be something we don’t forget, but let’s not change the way we do things.”

Nesbø came to prominence in Britain with the publication in 2006 of his Harry Hole novel Redbreast. The Snowman, published in Britain in 2010, and The Leopard, which followed this year, have cemented his reputation as one of the greatest of the wave of Scandinavian writers, alongside Swedish authors such as Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson, and his fellow Norwegian, Karin Fossum.

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August 8, 2011

Stieg Larsson’s ‘Girl’ series is but a tip of the iceberg of Scandinavian crime fiction

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ByLaura DeMarco

Nordic noir fiction can be divided into two periods.

Before the girl and after the girl.

The girl being “The Girl.” You know, the one with the dragon tattoo.

Late author Stieg Larsson’s 2008 novel “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” took the publishing world — make that the world — by storm.

The first book in his Millennium series introduced the world not only to punkette heroine hacker Lisbeth Salander and crusading journalist Mikel Blomkvist as they attempt to track down a young girl lost for decades. Larsson also introduced the rising genre of Nordic noir. The titles in his series have sold a phenomenal 53 million copies in more than 50 countries, including more than 1 million e-books.

Suddenly, in Larsson’s wake, dark and bloody books set in the Swedish (or Norwegian, or Icelandic) countryside began hitting best-seller lists worldwide and flying off library shelves. These were not necessarily new author names, but Lisbeth made them popular.

For nearly a decade before this genre-changing character arrived on the scene, writers such as Henning Mankell, Karin Fossum, Hakan Nesser, Jo Nesbo and Peter Hoeg had been delving into the dark side of sunny Scandinavia.

Their gritty, philosophical thrillers merged tenets of hard-boiled American noir, such as the troubled detective, with specific regional concerns, such as anti-immigration and anti-welfare-state sentiment. And lots of snow and ice, of course.

“There was a Scandinavian invasion years before Stieg Larsson. It really all started with Henning Mankell, whose books began appearing here in the late ’90s,” says Bill Ott, editor and publisher of Booklist Publications of the American Library Association, who has written extensively about the trend.

“What Stieg Larsson did was become popular, not just with crime-fiction readers but with everyone.”

Wendy Bartlett, collection development manager for the Cuyahoga County Public Library system, has seen the trend explode locally.

“Interest in Scandinavian writers was building, but Larsson blew it wide open with ‘Tattoo,’ ” she says. “We have as many Larsson books circulating as you normally would for a John Grisham.

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January 9, 2011

Wallander’s last stand: Katy Guest’s essential literary look-ahead

Henning Mankell wraps up the detective’s final case, plus new work from Ali Smith, Graham Swift, Joyce Carol Oates and a host of others looks set to make this a thrilling year for readers.

Tour de force: Kenneth Branagh as Wallander in the BBC's adaptation of the Swedish novels

Could 2011 be the year in which digital books finally take off? Waterstone’s MD Dominic Myers thinks it might be: in December, after blaming the weather for a worrying drop in pre-Christmas sales of what we must now call “paper books”, he unveiled, apparently without irony, the retailer’s new “cloud-based” solution, which will enable e-books to be accessed across different devices. He expected a spike in digital-book sales from Christmas morning, when eager young futurists opened the e-readers in their stockings. Rumours that Father Christmas is backing digital-book technology (thousands of pages in a device the weight of a reindeer sneeze) are unconfirmed….read more

December 28, 2010

Italian crime looks into dark heart of society

European crime fiction, particularly Scandinavian noir, is enjoying a huge boom with novels such as Stieg Larsson’s The Millennium Trilogy and Henning Mankell’s Wallander. But Italian noir is emerging as a force inspired by the dark side of Italian society.

Andrea Camilleri says that crime fiction writers fill a void in society

Faced with the grim reality that many murders go unsolved, Italian writers are drawn to stories that offer no simple resolutions or happy endings.

“We write more noir in Italy than traditional thriller. This is because we are more pessimistic about human nature,” says Giancarlo De Cataldo, who became a crime fiction writer after serving as a judge.

His experience of meeting members of the infamous Rome gang, the Banda Della Magliana, has inspired his novel Romanzo Criminale….read more

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