Tag Archives: Johan Theorin

The Nordic Noir boys

It was a toss-up between my pasts; Nordic Noir or Brighton Rocks? I went with the Nordic boys, but didn’t admit to having been to Öland when Johan Theorin asked. It was a long time ago and I prefer to remember it as a summer paradise, and not one of Johan’s bleak crime settings.

Johan Theorin

Chair Miriam Owen did a good job, only slightly dishing out criticism at men who eat yoghurt with cinnamon, which apparently no Scottish male in his right mind would do. Well, maybe not.

They are all bleak, in their own way. Apart from Johan’s Öland, we have Gunnar Staalesen’s Bergen and Ragnar Jonasson’s northernmost town in Iceland, where the sun never appears in winter, and the tunnel in might become blocked by an avalanche. Although, he professed to being an Agatha Christie fan – as well as being her translator – so he’s probably all sweetness, really.

It seems that 50 years ago there were no murders in Iceland. They only arrived with the crime novels, so we know who to blame. Johan is hoping there will be a trend that brings new Nordic crime from recent immigrants, and he mentioned how humorous they’ve become in Sweden… (That’s not why people like you, you know!)

Apart from Gunnar’s Spanish translator who felt he had so little food in his novels that he added some for him, there is food in them books. Ragnar does pizza a lot, both for himself and his characters, but his UK editor required more Icelandic fare, so he had to edit his food. Johan tried to explain kroppkakor, but I think we do well to stop at slaughtering the right pig.

Do they work closely with their translators? Well, Ragnar was sure he knew how to translate a book, so helpfully corrected a friend’s work, all in red. Johan’s translator corrects his mistakes, not vice versa. Gunnar has the excellent Don Bartlett, so finds he has to go back to his Norwegian original and alter things he’s got wrong.

And there’s an explanation to the cinnamony yoghurt. It’s not yoghurt at all, but filmjölk, in which case the cinnamon makes sense, and any man should be proud to eat it.

Gunnar Staalesen

Gunnar had been incensed by ‘his’ films. They put an actor speaking in an Oslo accent to play Warg, who has a very strong Bergen accent, and believe me, even a foreigner like me can tell the difference. Johan feels it’s like sending your child out into the world. You just want to go along and hold their hand.

The Norwegian Easter crime trend was explained. Everyone goes to their second home for ten days at Easter. Everyone wants to read crime when they do. So, lots of published crime, easy to carry up that mountain to your cabin. In Iceland you get your books for Christmas instead. Everyone has to read a book on Christmas Eve. Gunnar said it’s those dark night which make Nordic readers such prolific readers.

Asked if they have anything like Bloody Scotland, they said of course they do. And of course they do. There is Crime Time Gotland, and Iceland Noir and there might even be a Bloody Bergen one day.

Gunnar likes red herrings, and in case his readers see them coming, he then adds a green herring for good measure. Johan had been in danger of making his books into tourist brochures, but his translator pointed out they were not. And Ragnar feels it’s best to write for the Icelanders, and offer no explanations. The reason Nordic crime on television has been so successful is that they are very well written.

Ragnar Jonasson

Who would they themselves go and listen to this weekend? Gunnar likes Ian Rankin, Val McDermid and Philip Kerr. Ragnar goes for Peter May, while Johan extolled the writing of James Oswald.

And I simply cannot explain the bloodstain which appeared on the last page of my notebook during the last few minutes…

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Saturday’s people

I had a pot of builder’s tea with Roman crime writer Lindsey Davis first thing on Saturday morning. Well, Lindsey had coffee, but her publicist Kerry and I had Very Strong Tea. It was Kerry who suggested I’d love to meet Lindsey, and how right she was! (Kerry usually is.) I’ll tell you more about our chat in a later post, but I have to mention what a beautiful purple coat Lindsey wore. (Apparently she owns matching colour boots. My kind of woman.)

There was some talk about the Nordic authors who had been offered pickled herring for breakfast (obviously to make them really feel at home), when all they wanted was a good old British cooked breakfast. Rollmops, anyone?

We also talked about Kerry’s lovely dog, which I met last year, and this led nicely to the serious matter of shopping. After our tea, and coffee, we hobbled separately down the hill to the Albert Halls for Lindsey’s event.

Alexandra Sokoloff

Allan Guthrie

Since there is no sense in not photographing signing authors when they’re available, I grabbed pictures of Alexandra Sokoloff, Allan Guthrie, Lin Anderson and Val McDermid, all of whom worked the early morning shift.

Lin Anderson

Val McDermid

Then it was on to Lindsey’s event with all the civil servants. I’ll tell you more later. To my great surprise I found Blackwell’s allrounder Ann Landmann safely outside the onsite Waterstones, wearing a Bloody Scotland t-shirt. Seems she can’t get enough of book events and festivals.

Lindsey Davis

As I was going about my business taking photos of Lindsey, while discreetly ignoring the fact that Ian Rankin was sitting in the café, I encountered a surprisingly soberly dressed Kirkland Ciccone, who’d brought a friend there as a birthday present. For her, not for him.

Kirkland Ciccone

It was still raining so I ate my sandwiches in the bookshop, as discreetly as I could. I checked out Lindsey’s books and decided they look very nice indeed.

Still in the rain, I walked back up to the Stirling Highland Hotel, passing the man with the interesting shoulderbag strap. I recognised the strap first, and the rest of him second. Caught a glimpse of James Oswald on his way down, as I puffed uphill.

Had plenty of time after that so went and sat in the bar, reading and looking at people. Ann Cleeves came in, and I spied publisher Clare Cain – she who drives Plague Doctors around Edinburgh. Went to my afternoon event on Nordic Noir, before starting on my last downhill trip for the day, conveniently finding James Oswald in the car park, so I stopped and chatted. Good thing, as I’ll be running again after his Sunday event.

Not exactly running, but you know.

Ian Rankin & Co

Gotland murders

You can’t read this book. Sorry. But my earlier suggestion that people learn Swedish in order to read untranslated Swedish crime is still valid. Annika Bryn, whose blog I have mentioned here before, as well as her friendship with Stieg Larsson, is also a crime writer.

I performed a minor service for Annika a while ago, and she sent me a reward in the shape of her third novel, which I’ve now read. And I honestly don’t know why she isn’t one of the Nordic crime writers filling up British and American bookshops.

Annika’s detective is policewoman Margareta Davidsson, who normally does her detecting in Stockholm. In Morden i Buttle (The Murders in Buttle) she has come to recuperate on Gotland, the large island east of Öland. That may be part of the reason I just couldn’t stop thinking of Johan Theorin while reading. There are other similarities. Annika also has a historical puzzle that somehow is connected to the modern day murders. And there are unspeakable things happening to children.

Annika Bryn, Morden i Buttle

Margareta’s recuperating doesn’t go too well when she finds a dead girl outside her borrowed cottage in the middle of Gotland, in the village of Buttle. She had noticed a man she felt uneasy about on the ferry the previous day, and she’s sure he has something to do with the dead body. The local police don’t believe her theories. And when her Stockholm colleague Kent turns up out of the blue, things get complicated.

There is, as I said, an older mystery too, from the 19th century. A young unmarried mother who died far too early, catches Margareta’s attention. I really would have loved to read about this girl with a less unhappy ending, but then her story wouldn’t have fitted in with Margareta’s new murder victim.

This is a suitably bleak and violent tale to fit in with other recent Scandinavian crime writing. I just wish it would stand a chance of being translated.

No more

I am so glad that I don’t need to read the next one. I can, but I don’t have to. I know I’ve come to this late, but I have at long last read Johan Theorin’s debut crime novel Echoes From the Dead, except the one I read was of course called Skumtimmen.

It was good. I agree with all others who have said so, and I sort of enjoyed most of it. Didn’t really ‘enjoy’ the ending, and felt hard done by and upset at the way it went. (Which I will not go into, naturally.) But having investigated what the next one is about, I have no wish whatsoever to read it. It sounds even drearier, and I believe it’s meant to be.

Johan is planning a quartet of books, one for each season. Skumtimmen was autumn and Nattfåk (The Darkest Room) is winter, which will be gloomier. I don’t need that, thank you. Perhaps by the time summer comes round it will be a bundle of laughs, but why disappoint all those who thrive on Swedish gloom?

Set on the beautiful island of Öland it felt very true to the landscape, both now and in the past. I only ever went once, about ten years before the bridge, and I remember a lovely summer holiday and perpetual sunshine. I wouldn’t mind going back, as long as I can avoid the drive through Småland and all the trees. In fact, having developed a recent dislike for high bridges, I’m not sure about the crossing either. (Drove over the Tay Bridge last week, and the two words on my mind were ‘disaster’ and ‘McGonagall’.)

Skumtimmen is about a missing child, and the plot is very cleverly woven from what happens now and what happened before, at various points leading up to the disappearance. The child’s mother is a wreck and drinks too much, and her elderly father feels guilty about his grandson going missing, and tries to work out what happened, over twenty years earlier.

There are a couple of ‘clues’ that turn out not to be clues, but other than that the story is full of references to what will turn out to be relevant, except often not in the way you think.

And one small niggle, which may have been lost in translation for all I know, but does the word ‘dying’ mean that someone dies? I thought it did. Unless we are all considered to be dying, because we all will one day, then I feel the word suggests a fatal end caused by something which hurries the sad event on its way. I’d have been saved some concern if the word had not been used here.

It was dismal enough anyway, so why make it worse?

Super Thursday

How super is it? I’ve been considering having a good long moan about this for a while. About today, and all the books that are published on this one day. I suppose it’s rather like moaning about your family; you love them, but something is driving you demented.

Even while being ruthless about what I want to read – and let’s face it, that’s hard to be – Super Thursday has got me on my knees, and they weren’t very good knees to begin with. For weeks I’ve been muttering a prayer that ‘surely after early October there will be only a very small number of books being published for at least three months’. Please?

They started arriving in early summer with Jacqueline Wilson in the lead, and at that point I felt there was plenty of time. Just a few August and September books to read. Not too bad. Months turned to weeks and then there were days and then there was nothing.

Anyway, if I don’t end up reading a particular book, that doesn’t mean it’s bad or that I wasn’t interested. A large number of books lie waiting; either for a little love and attention a month or two late, or maybe hoping to become the surprise read next summer, or at the very least that I will love it in my retirement in the far off future.

As I didn’t start this blog just to review books, or to write exclusively about new books, I feel the time has come to have rules about how I read. On the basis that many books will have to wait for me to read while baby-sitting the great grandchildren one day, I will allow myself to read old books, and books for purely personal pleasure on a more regular basis. I just can’t decide whether to have a monthly plan, or whether to go for four of one category followed by two from another?

This way I could soon be reading I Capture the Castle and Harriet the Spy and Nesser and Theorin and all the Adrian McKintys. I have three interesting looking story collections by Chris Priestley sitting looking hopeful. Plus all the rest. Oh yes, I understand I must read The Secret Garden. Black Beauty. And one or two more.

Shorter and less frequently published books will always be appreciated.