Its such a relief to be finally coming out of winter. I enjoy Britain’s changing seasons, winter included, but there’s something about February which generates a longing for warmer days and a bit of sunshine. Now at last we seem to have turned the corner – and it happened around the Vernal Equinox as well which seems very fitting. I took this photo in a village near here, and it shows one of the few round-towered churches built in England.
I don’t read a lot of crime novels, but when I do, I focus on books by Ruth Rendell, Frances Fyfield, Elizabeth George and P D James (why are so many top-rate crime writers female?). Over the last month however, I’ve been reading Scandinavian crime and discovering a whole new world of high-quality thrillers which kept me turning the pages of my Kindle.
First I read Hypothermia by Icelandic writer Arnaldur Indridason, a slow burning story which develops like a jigsaw – lots of small episodes which build up a complex picture, only to be completed when the last piece slots into place. Indriadson sets a slow almost meditative pace with time shifts and scene changes, with the austere scenery of Iceland making a very frosty backdrop to Detective Erlendur’s investigations. His seemingly disconnected episodes confuse the reader at first, but you soon learn to stop worrying about how they all fit together and just let the story seep into your brain until it begins to make sense.
I wondered how Icelandic fiction would differ from that of other nations, and I have to say, Idridason certainly captures the village-like “huddling together” of small communities, nestling against the terrible weather and the bleak mountains and dark lakes. Indridason has a very distinctive voice and the sense of extreme cold pervades the novel as the title suggests.
Next I read The Snowman by Jo Nesbo, a Norwegian writer who’s sales of over 3.5 million books worldwide suggest that this post will be saying nothing new. But what a fine writer he is (and thanks to Don Bartlett whose translation tackles some difficult problems such as seamlessly translating Norwegian puns and verbal jokes into English equivalents).
We are on serial killer territory here – apparently a new concept to Norway, but Detective Harry Hole has trained with the FBI and has some knowledge of the subject which he uses to good effect in tracking down the sick mind behind the building of a snowman to mark each scene of crime. This is a long book and my only problem with is was that it made me distinctly anti-social for a few days as I was drawn into one fascinatingly nasty scene after another.
If you’re trying to get through a seriously long “to be read pile” as I am, you have a problem when something this good comes along and disrupts your reading schedule. Should I abandon all thoughts of reading anything more serious and devote myself to Scandinavian crime? It would be an easy thing to do with writers as good as Indriadson and Nesbo. One thing for sure, I think the grand dames of English crime writing will find themselves up against serious competition as publishers fall over themselves to fill our shelves and e-readers with icy crime novels from northern Europe.
Finally, on the Kindle topic again, I’ve had it three months now and its now something I carry around everywhere. I took it with me to Gatwick Airport yesterday evening and used it while I was waiting in the arrivals area to meet a friend. I could have done the same with a book of course, but there’s a sort of attachment going on there which makes me wonder if I’ve bonded with the thing on a deeper level – a slightly scary thought. I think its the way you carry your library around with you that appeals. Many readers have found its great for travelling (Random Jottings for example) and I’m looking forward to taking it to France and Germany this year fully loaded with some choice books and articles.