Sunday 20 January 2013

Nordic Noir

I've been reading Norway's 'Queen of Crime' Karin Fossum while the snow falls outside.  She writes psychological crime fiction and her novels feature Inspector Konrad Sejer a grey-haired senior detective with a kind heart and steely determination.  In Don't Look Back Sejer investigates the death of a young woman whose body is found by a Norwegian lake. She is lying so peacefully with her face close to the edge of the water she could almost be asleep and someone has thrown a coat over her body as if to keep her warm.  I liked the close-knit small village atmosphere and the descriptions of the Nordic pines surrounding the lake.  Occasionally a sentence or word jars a little and I suspect that something has been lost in the translation but this is an exciting read with an unsettling twist on the final page.

I then read Bad Intentions about the apparent suicide of a teenager.  Sejer is unconvinced by the statements of his friends and when an artist painting at Glitter Lake inadvertently discovers the body of another teenager events begin to fall into place.  Call Me is also about a teenager with a fondness for macabre practical jokes and a pet guinea pig named Bleeding Heart!

I have to say that I raced through these books but after spending so much time in the company of thieves, liars, perverts and murderers I began to think about an interview I read with Anne Tyler in The Guardian where she was quoted as saying 'there aren't enough quiet, gentle, basically good people in a novel.'  I'm enjoying my foray into Scandi-crime, but I'm not sure it is a genre I could read exclusively.

Sunday 6 January 2013

Gaudy Night

I spent Christmas racing through the Martin Beck novels by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo and I'm now compiling a tbr list of Scandi-crime from your suggestions.  Thank you so much.  I've temporarily moved from the seedy underbelly of Stockholm to the dreaming spires of Oxford to re-read Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers.  Published in 1935 Gaudy Night is part of the golden age of detective fiction.  It is highly enjoyable but it has dated and some of the snobbish references to 'common shop girls' can grate.  However, I think if you read a lot of early 20th C fiction you do have to keep a sense of time and place.

The main premise of the story is that detective writer  Harriet Vane visits her alma mater, Oxford University for the Gaudy Night celebrations.  While she is staying there someone sends poison pen letters to staff and students and acts like a deranged poltergeist at night.  The female dons ask Harriet to help them discover the 'poltergeist's' identity without too much adverse publicity for the college.  Harriet agrees but soon finds the situation beyond her and calls in her old friend Lord Peter Wimsey.

I loved the descriptions of Oxford, 'students dashing to lectures their gowns hitched hurriedly over light summer frocks', the porter's lodge stacked with bicycles and punting on the Isis.  Sayers is wickedly funny on academia and there is a long running joke about Miss Lydgate's epic work History of Prosody which always needs just one more footnote.

The actual crime element is pretty slight.  The novel is really about the relationship between Lord Peter and Harriet and the dilemma of intellect versus domesticity for women.  I did enjoy it though.  Did anyone who has read it find the business about the dog collar absolutely bizarre?