Crimefest Day 2: Fire and Iceland
"Now it's the other away round," Norwegian crime writer Thomas Enger replied. Norway's oil wealth has apparently muted at least one outward expression of Sweden's superiority to its neighbors.
But the panel was not all doleful observations and good-natured gloating. Gunnar Staalesen gave a plausible answer to a question I'd long had about Scandinavian crime writers: Why did Satanism and the fear thereof figure in a number of their crime novels in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, Jo Nesbø's The Devil's Star, Helene Tursten's The Glass Devil, and Åsa Larsson's Sun Storm (a.k.a. The Savage Altar) among them? Tursten appeared to take umbrage when I put the question to her a few years ago, apparently thinking I implied she had copied Nesbø. I implied no such thing, and I'll chalk Tursten's impatience up to fatigue from a gruelling tour schedule.
Larsson said a church figured in her book simply because, while secular now, she had had a religious upbringing; churches were simply a part of her background. But Staalesen suggested that a real-life wave of church burnings in the 1990s by a black-metal musician who wrote about Germanic neo-Paganism might have brought Satanism to the fore as an issue of public concern.
The intriguing thing about the resulting novels, at least the three I named, is that Satanism and satanists tend to be suspects and sources of fear rather than the actual villains of the piece. The books do not decry or praise Satanism, they merely take it up as one aspect of Swedish and Norwegian social and spiritual life.
I asked Staalesen after the panel whether an amusing, geographically specific metaphor for oral sex in the English translation of his 1995 novel The Writing on the Wall was an accurate rendering of the Norwegian original. He did not remember the line, which he'd have written seventeen years ago. But he did say the metaphor would work just as well in Norwegian as in English.
Arnaldur Indriðason. That Arnaldur did not publish his first novel until 1997 indicates how new Icelandic crime writing is. "Prior to that," Ragnar said, echoing a battle that crime writing has had to wage in a number of countries, "crime fiction was looked down upon by the public."
© Peter Rozovsky 2012
Labels: Arnaldur Indriðason, Asa Larsson, Barry Forshaw, conventions, Crimefest, Crimefest 2012, Gunnar Staalesen, Helene Tursten, Iceland, Norway, Ragnar Jonasson, Scandinavian crime fiction, Sweden, Thomas Enger