Finnish Crime Writer Passes, But Is Not Forgotten

Matti Yrjänä JoensuuYesterday I discovered, with regret, that Matti Yrjänä Joensuu, probably the best known of Finnish crime novelists, recently died (4th Dec). So I though it appropriate to mark his passing with a post on him, and while I am at it, other Finnish crime writers and authors whose novels have a Finnish setting and whose works I have read to date. Finnish crime writers, unlike other Nordic writers, can be difficult to get in translation, why, I do not not know, and more's the pity. 

Matti Yrjänä Joensuu (1948-2011) retired from the Helsinki police force in 2006, and as a police officer he was ideally placed to write crime fiction. He wrote twelve (Detective Sergeant) Harjunpää novels, most of which were published in Finland between 1976 and 1993; of these three have so far been translated into English, two of which I have read. 

Crime and the City: Crime and Drugs

Crime and the City PosterIn September of 2011 we held our first series of ‘Crime and the City’ where over the course of five weeks we had talks from five different authors of fiction, non-fiction and social research - all on the broad topics of crime and drugs.

The idea was to bring a cross section of people together to deliver a series of talks that would be relevant as well as entertaining. From the feedback and comments people passed on we seem to have achieved what we set out to and we hope to be able to do it all again in 2012. In the meantime if you want to be reminded of what went on, or if you missed out we have some of the talks and presentations below for your enjoyment.

Swedish Crime is on the Climb (Part Four)


This is the last of four in my series on Swedish crime writers (until I discover and read more!), I hope you get lots of enjoyment from some if not all, should you dare to be so ambitious as to read all! But why not, can you think of a better pastime? And should you have a different  view from me on any, do share by commenting on any of the posts, I will take no offence (or try not to!). Happy reading.

Kerstin Ekman (b.1933) is the author of Blackwater (1996) 2 stars, a novel set in remote northern Sweden. Teacher Annie Raft stumbles upon the bodies of two campers, apparently stabbed to death in their sleep. The crime remains unsolved until eighteen years later when she sees the man she suspected of being responsible for the murders in the arms of her daughter. I didn't really enjoy this book I'm afraid, I found it slow and uninvolving. I have just finished another of her books, Under the Snow (1997), which I am going to desist from giving a star rating for the simple reason that I am not sure if it were the book or me on this occasion, but, well, when the shortest book (164 pages) I have read in a long time takes me an inordinate amount of time to read, something is amiss.

The Danish Invasion

The KillingWhen the Vikings raiders first arrived in Ireland towards the end of the 8th century, they came from Norway rather than Denmark, the Danish Vikings preferring to plunder the English coastline. But in more recent times the Danes have made their mark here and elsewhere with a conquest of a different sort.

French crime writer extraordinaire

Fred VargasThink crime fiction, think France, and the name that ought to come to mind is that of Fred Vargas. In my estimation one of the best fiction crime writers around today. Vargas, born Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau in Paris in 1957, is an archaeologist, historian political agitator and crime writer, but best known for the latter. She, along with her twin sister, adopted the name Vargas having seen the film 'The Barefoot Contessa' starring Ava Gardner. She is BIG in France, but elsewhere too, and rightly so. Vargas's works can be bizarre, quirky, humourous, refreshing, are definitely imaginative, and certainly well written.  Her series starring Commissaire Adamsberg you will find a joy to read; I waited so impatiently for the latest instalment, An Uncertain Place (2011), which I read in June.

Swedish Crime is on the Climb! (Part Three)

Continuing my look at Swedish crime writers, this is the third instalment (of four) and introduces five more from the conveyor belt of Swedish crime writers.

Featured Swedish authors

Swedish Crime is on the Climb! (Part Two)

In my first post on Swedish crime fiction I focused on Henning Mankell and Steig Larsson, the two best known and most widely read Swedish authors. But of course they are but two from a lengthy list of talented crime authors emanating from that country; given its relatively small population (9m), Sweden must surely rank as the bastion of fiction crime writing. In this second post I want to draw your attention to four more authors I think worthy of your attention, so I hope you won't be disappointed!

Håkan Nesser

Inspector and Silance

After Larssen and Mankell, the next Swedish crime writer to come to mind is Håkan Nesser, a multiple award winner whose books have also been turned to film (you might get the DVDs on Amazon). Nesser's books are well written with good plots, and have for me proved absorbing reads. The principal character, Chief Inspector Van Veeteren, might differ from most crime detectives you encounter; he likes good food, fine wines, owns an antique bookshop, and seems generally cheerful and untroubled. Top of my list is Borkmann's Point 5 star, where Van Veeteren assists in an investigation while on holiday. I can also highly recommend The Return 3.5 star (where he investigates a murder from his hospital bed); The Inspector and Silence 3.5 star (a girl goes missing from a religious sect and the inevitable body or two shows up); Woman with Birthmark 3 star (a woman seeks revenge following the death of her mother); and The Mind's Eye 2.5 star (dead woman with husband accused - guilty or not?). This last is the one I liked the least, but you may well disagree, I have read some reviews that rate it very highly.

Swedish Crime is on the Climb! (Part One)

Map of SwedenSwedish crime writing has always had a good reputation, and its popularity is greater now than ever, largely because of the movie and TV spin-offs which have served to highlight two writers in particular, namely Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson. There are several others, but I will write a second post soon where I will focus on those other fabulous writers. There is just too much material for one post! So in this post I am going to concentrate on the two biggies, introducing you (as if I need to) to the books that give us those now famous characters, Liz Salander and Kurt Wallander.

Feel the Chill with Icelandic Crime Novels!

Tainted Blood, aka Jar CityIn light of the showing of the Icelandic film 'Jar City' on BBC Four this coming Sunday night (8th May), I thought the occasion definitely warranted mention here of the wonderful crime novels emanating from Iceland. The two principal writers responsible for ensuring Iceland a prominent place on the literary crime scene are of course Arnaldur Indriðason and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir.

Indriðason is the author of 'Jar City' 4 star (probably better known under the title 'Tainted Blood'), one in the excellent series starring Inspector Erlendur and set in and around Reykjavik. Though I would say Reykjavik is portrayed in the book as a somewhat dark and austere place, a friend assures me it is in reality far from that, and well worth a visit. I wouldn't doubt him for a moment! Erlendur has his own personal and family difficulties of course (which crime detective has not?), which only adds to the well-crafted storylines. And they are so well-written (and translated) too of course.

Italian Crime Novels Aplenty

August HeatItalian, or Italian-based, crime novels I have always enjoyed, and there are plenty of authors to choose from. My favourite has to be Andrea Camilleri, the Sicilian writer and creator of Inspector Salvo Montalbano. The Montalbano series are full of humour, the Sicilian landscape, Sicilian society and food! Montalbano loves his food! There is not a concentration on the mafia, just in case you might think there might be, which for me is good, but it is never far away. The crimes can be of ones of passion or greed or revenge, and the author does not go into morbid details, which may be a relief to some also. I always wait impatiently for the next instalment of Camilleri's genius. The first in the series is The Shape of Water (English translation 2002, original Italian 1994), while I await the arrival this June of the twelfth in the series, The Track of Sand. Each book has been such a huge pleasure to read, I always hate getting to the end.