Monday, 21 April 2014

Påskekrim – Norway’s crime weekend


From regular guest blogger Colm Redmond








A high proportion of Clothes In Books’ followers may be wishing they lived in Norway, this weekend. Since 1923 there’s been a tradition there of publishing and reading crime stories over Easter, and latterly of dramatising them on radio and tv. This may sound like a joke, but it’s not. 
Påskekrim, or Easter Crime, is a real thing.

Some sources claim the origin lies in an April Fool. It was certainly a publicity stunt: a crime novel was advertised with a bogus front-page newspaper story, on Easter Sunday, reporting an overnight mail-train robbery as though it were a real crime. It caused a sensation, and big sales for a novel in the supposed off-season for publishing, and started an annual trend that continues. In 1923, Easter Day was April 1, but I don’t see any other evidence for its being expressly an April Fool.

This Easter on NRK (the Norwegian equivalent of BBC) they’re showing a couple of Poirots for 
Påskekrim and already during Holy Week they’ve shown all four episodes of Hinterland, the highly-regarded Welsh contribution to the Subtitled Crime genre that was on BBC Wales and S4C last year. Infuriatingly, it has still not been on UK TV apart from that, but it finally starts on BBC4 on April 28.

I watch a lot of crime fiction on TV, particularly the modern Scandinavian strand, but rarely read it. To celebrate
Påskekrim 2014, I decided to read a Norwegian crime book. This one features a middle-aged male detective, but unusually, he is neither particularly grumpy nor an unreconstructed male chauvinist and overactive womaniser: he seems to be just nice, as opposed to “nice despite these so-called charming little human weaknesses” as is the norm.

the book: In The Darkness by Karin Fossum


published 1995 as Evas Øye English translation 2012 by James Anderson



[Inspector Konrad Sejer is honouring a promise to give a young boy – whose father disappeared some months ago – a ride in a police car.]


‘It’s so quiet in the garage,’ the boy said suddenly.

‘Yes. A pity Mum can’t do car repairs.’

‘Mmm. Dad was always in there doing things. In his spare time.’

‘And all those nice smells,’ Sejer grinned, ‘oil and petrol and suchlike.’

‘He promised me a boiler suit,’ he went on, ‘just like his one. But he didn’t have time before he disappeared. The boiler suit had fourteen pockets in it. I was going to wear it when I was working on my bike. It’s called a mechanic’s suit.’

‘Yup, a mechanic’s suit, that’s right. I’ve got one myself, but mine’s blue, and it’s got FINA on the back. I’m not sure it’s got fourteen pockets. Eight or ten perhaps.’

‘The blue ones are nice, too. Do they have them in children’s sizes?’ he asked precociously.

‘I’m not sure about that, but I’ll definitely look into it.’...






[Eva is talking over lunch to a childhood friend she’s just bumped into after 25 years.]

‘Naomi Campbell – you’ve seen her, haven’t you – she appeared in something thigh-length and minced out on to the catwalk on the skinniest legs I’ve ever seen. The woman looks as if she’s made entirely of PVC. When I look at those kind of girls, I wonder if they ever go to the toilet and shit like normal people.’

Eva exploded with laughter and sprayed vanilla sauce over the tablecloth.





observations: Nine of the ten subsequent Sejer books were published in English before they bothered getting around to In The Darkness (the Norwegian title literally translates as Eva’s Eye). It’s fair to say that fans do not rate it at the top of Karin Fossum’s oeuvre, but I thought it would make sense to start with the first in the series. It’s better on story than writing, as you will gather from the extracts - unless it’s a bad translation. Fossum was a successful poet before publishing this first novel, but I can’t say you’d guess.

The narrative is quite blunt. Conventional and chronological, except for a lengthy flashback in the middle that’s neatly justified by its being the account someone produces when interrogated. Many incidents that can’t possibly be Relevant To The Plot are described in a level of detail I find bizarre and unjustified, but then… I am not really the target audience.

Nonetheless I enjoyed it a lot. I’d guess it would appeal to lovers of female US procedural writers, rather than Agatha Christie fans. No red herrings or scatterings of clues, the point is not particularly the reader’s attempts to work out the solution. But it’s distinctly un-violent and inexplicit by the standards of those fat blood-soaked American books, and missing the endless pages about crimefighters’ home lives. So I’m not sure who I’d recommend it to.

Unfortunately I seem to be unable to find a single picture of a man in overalls on the entire internet, so we’ll have to make do with Sophia Loren in the outfit she wore when working as a weldor between acting jobs in 1954. Probably. (Weldor is a real word; in fact welder, very strictly speaking, is the wrong word for a person who welds. Eutectic is a word too: it describes a kind of welding process. Those particular kind of welders/ors had a National Association who chose Miss Loren to be their pinup.)

The other picture is of course Naomi Campbell, also in fishnets, wearing her cosiest winter coat, not particularly looking like she’s made out of PVC. Although, to be fair, I’ve seen pics where she does.


For more from the Guest Blogger, click on his name below.

19 comments:

  1. Moira - Thanks for hosting Colm.

    Colm - I didn't know that about Easter, crime and Norway. Fascinating! I am, though, a big fan of Karin Fossum's Inspector Sejer series, so it was good to see one of those novels featured here. I actually like that blunt, spare style of writing. On her, as the saying goes, it works.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, nice to hear from a Fossum fan. Was I right to imply that the books improved after this first one?

      Delete
    2. Yes, I think they really do improve as the series goes on. But then, I'm a fan, so my view is biased.

      Delete
    3. I did guess it would not be by chance that no one rushed to translate this one, when ten others had already been done. She's still writing them - there's one from last year, not issued in English as yet.

      I can't help imagining this book as a tv show, maybe a single 90 minute episode. I think it would work well: the characters are very recognisable without being stereotypes. The key works in the new Scandinavian wave of tv crime shows are all new, though: The Killing and The Bridge, for example, were devised and made for tv. In fact for the Danish team that created The Killing (and Borgen) that was their first rule: no adaptations. But arguably that whole strand was started by Wallander, a brilliant Swedish series adapted from Henning Mankell's books. (Kenneth Branagh's English language version is also pretty good.)

      Delete
    4. I can actually see several of Fussum's books as TV adaptations. It would have to be done with care and most definitely with Ms. Fossum's active involvement; I'd hate to see the stories substantially changed. But with that proviso, I'd love to see it. And I think you have a solid point about the Wallander series (must say I like the Swedish version better).

      Delete
    5. I like the second Swedish version of Wallander, with Krister Henrikssen, not the first one with Rolf Lassgård - although I quite liked Lassgård as Sebastian Bergman. In the first Henrikssen season there's one called Mastermind (original Swedish title: Mastermind) that's one of the best single-ep crime thrillers I've ever seen. Most of the Henrikssen ones are not based on Mankell novels, but new ideas he suggested - so not exactly adaptations.

      Delete
  2. I thought I read one of hers last year, but I'm getting my Karin's mixed up - it was Alvtegen that I read. Don't Look Back sits on the pile; it's doubtful I will read any more from her.

    Interesting about Norway and Easter, never knew that, cheers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes Col, a very interesting story. I heard about Påskekrim by chance when Cerys Matthews had asked listeners to her radio show - on Palm Sunday - to tell her about Easter traditions. I thought someone was winding her up, at first.

      Delete
    2. Digressing and no doubt boring the socks off you at the same time. Cerys Matthews is married to Steve "Abbo" Abbott, lead singer of Luton premier punk band UK Decay. I managed to see them a few times growing up in Luton.

      I'm unsure if he still fronts them, but there was a recent collaboration between them and the all-conquering Luton Town FC squad - releasing a charity record, promoting Luton and including a recording of the Barron Knights Classic from the 70's - "Hatters, Hatters What a Great Team."

      Delete
    3. Abbo missed out to "Twiggy" Branch on the best-nickname prize, I reckon. I remember UK Decay being around, but I've never knowingly heard them. Wiki tells me Rodney Trotter used to wear one of their tshirts. [Foreign followers are now as mystified as the average CiB reader was when baseball got a going over the other week.]

      Delete
    4. I read that also, but can't recall noticing when watching OFAH.
      You tube has plenty of their - I nearly said hits, err stuff on there. Whenever I'm feeling nostalgic and want to annoy the kids I'll play a couple of their tracks. John Peel used to play them quite often but on reflection there maybe wasn't much he wouldn't give a bit of air-time to.
      (Apologies to your foreign CiB followers, digression over)

      Delete
  3. Not read any of the books in this series - but thanks for the intro (and the photo of la Loren)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're welcome. They come highly recommended by people who know a lot more about crime novels than I do.

      Delete
  4. Where to start? Nice images of fishnet stockings. I am partial to the one of Sophia Loren. The Easter Crime tradition sounds great, I am envious ...

    I have intentions of reading Karin Fossum, and have one of her books. Don't know when I will get to it, though. Sad that this first one is not so great. I always like to start at the beginning if I can.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To be fair, it is absolutely gripping and kind of justifies its slowness.

      Delete
  5. My take-away from this column, and from posts over the years at different blogs is that we need a Paskekrim in the States. I would love it, an excuse to squirrel away books and treats, not answer the phone and read to my heart's content. And no one could mind this because it would be an official time off and set aside for this purpose.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm right with you, Kathy. There should be detective stories in the newspapers, lots of crime stuff on tv... Well yes, and books too. Maybe some free chocolate, distributed by the state? Meanwhile tonight, finally, the poor downtrodden rest-of-the-UK gets to start Hinterland, that Wales and even Norway have already seen. I have one special bottle of Belgian - in Poirot's honour - beer left to drink with it, on my birthday. (The beer's charmingly called Delirium Tremens, by the way...)

      Delete
  6. Free chocolate? I'm in!

    So wish we could see Hinterland over here in the States, would love to see that program.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wish I could give you good news, then, but: Hinterland was brilliant, after a slowish start.

      Delete