Monday, August 22, 2005

The Scandinavians have been turning out prime examples of noir fiction since before the Maj Sjöwall/Per Wahlöö books created a sensation 30 years ago with their detective, Martin Beck, and his team (many of those novels have been made into movies and also a first-class Swedish TV series). Among the recent noir authors are Karin Alvtegen, Henning Mankell, Liza Marklund (though her novels are really mystery-thrillers, not noir), and Helene Tursten in Sweden, Arnoldur Indridason in Iceland, Matti Joensuu in Finland (not to mention the wildly entertaining Finnish-noir TV series and movie featuring the laconic hitman called Raid), and in Norway, Kjersti Scheen, Gunnar Staalesen, and Karin Fossum. I don't know of any Danish noir--perhaps somebody can fill me in. One of the most recent translations is Fossum's Calling Out For You, featuring Inspector Sejer, a detective in a small Norwegian city and the surrounding towns. Fossum has revived a genuine small-town noir, combining the police procedural and the dark small-town ambiance that recalls James M. Cain and Jim Thompson. Of the four of Fossum's novels to be translated thus far the first, Don't Look Back, and this most recent one are the best, and also the ones that stay closest to a police-procedural format. The other two diverge from the format though remaining in the noir tradition (Sejer is there, just not central to what is happening)--closer perhaps to the English psychological-noir tradition. In Don't Look Back and Calling Out For You, though, she adheres to the police format only in order to turn its conventions upside down. The biggest reversals come at the beginning of the earlier novel and at the end of the latest one (not to tell you too much about the plots). These two novels are so well done that they leave a reader thirsting for more, a prime consideration in genre fiction but a real problem given the lethargic schedule of the publication of translations.

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