Forshaw, Barry – ‘Death in a Cold Climate’
Trade paperback: 224 pages (Jan. 2012) Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan ISBN: 0230361447
DEATH IN A COLD CLIMATE is the perfect book for those who have sampled and enjoyed a little Scandinavian crime in fictional form – Stieg Larsson, perhaps, or Jo Nesbo – and who want to find out what more the region has to offer. Barry Forshaw is the best-known “talking head” in the UK on crime fiction, and here he provides a short monograph which takes the reader on a whistle-stop tour round Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Finland, showcasing mostly authors who are writing today, but mentioning a few older names in the process.
In his introduction, Forshaw ascribes the current popularity of Nordic crime fiction in the UK (and maybe in the US, though his book is firmly for a UK readership) to some of the similarities between the cultures: their histories as explorers; their shared delight in myths and legends; and their rather calm approach to the ups and downs of life (and, not mentioned but it could have been, a relative lack of interest in gourmet food). Forshaw describes the differences in culture and society between the five Nordic countries he covers in the book, arguing that their fictional output needs to be considered as distinct, even though much of it comes from a left-wing perspective. This distinctiveness is, he says, due to circumstances such as the shocking assassinations of Olaf Palme and Anna Lindh in Sweden; the large unpopulated areas of Norway as well as the wealth brought by oil; the anti-American sentiments felt by many Icelandic people as a result of longstanding US air bases; the smallness of sociable Denmark; and the effect of Russia on Finland over many years.
Whether or not one agrees with Forshaw’s quick and breezy analysis, it isn’t long before he launches into describing various authors and their books. Sweden comes first, with Henning Mankell, Hakan Nesser and Stieg Larsson being awarded most space, but other authors, both the well-established and the newly published, getting fair coverage for those who wish to dig a bit deeper than the country’s most famous writers in the genre. Similar treatment is given to the other Nordic regions, resulting in a great overview for the novice reader. By far the best sections of the book concern those where the translator or the author discusses a body of work – these passages provide a much more direct and clear account than some of Forshaw’s own analyses, which can be rather too wide-ranging and assumption-laden. It is, though, a pleasure to read Forshaw’s fulsome praise of authors such as Liza Marklund and Camilla Lackberg, who write good crime novels which sell like hot cakes, but who suffer from “snobbery syndrome” by some in their own countries.
Where this book might seem less useful is for hard-core readers of Nordic crime fiction such as myself, as I learned little new from it. I am only too well aware that most of the novels described have been translated out of sequence, yet in almost every case Forshaw introduces books in a series in translation order, not the order in which they were written. Hence he misses an opportunity to show how series develop. Another example is that books translated in US editions are not discussed, a strange decision given that it is easy enough to buy these books online. So Inger Frimansson and Jarko Sipila are ignored, and Kjell Ericksson receives just a brief nod. There are a few other omissions, for example Frode Grytten’s Norwegian novel The Shadow in the River, an important contribution about the effects of immigration on a small industrial town.
Yet these are quibbles – the translated output from each country is covered well, and with any luck this book will encourage readers to try some of these excellent authors: Gunnar Staalesen’s series about Bergen social-worker-turned-PI Varg Veum, for example, or Asa Larsson’s Kiruna-set novels about financial lawyer Rebecka Martinsson, or Johan Theorin’s marvellous Oland stories. Unfortunately the bibliography lists an author’s books only if they’ve been mentioned, so those who want a comprehensive list of an author’s books in translation, rather than one or two samples, are advised to use the Euro Crime database – which provides the correct series order, an added bonus.