Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The Danish Scene of Crime

That splendid blogger, and great crime fan (and nowadays, crime writer) Dorte H is someone whose fair and thoughtful observations about the genre are always well worth studying. She was one of a number of bloggers I met in person, along with her husband (at a pub quiz!) for the first time last year, and now she's kindly agreed to contribute to this blog a study of the Danish crime scene. I found it fascinating and I am sure other readers will agree.

"When I was young, so little happened on the Danish scene of crime that we had to turn to either America for hardboiled thrillers or Britain for police procedurals (to generalize a tad....)

In the late 1990s, a few things began to happen, though. Inspired by our Swedish and Norwegian neighbours, the ´femikrimi trend´ hit Denmark. Actually there were two trends by the same name; first the serious trend where former journalists wrote crime fiction with a strong, feminist message. The Danish writer Elsebeth Egholm carved a name for herself in Denmark in the same way as Liza Marklund did in Sweden with their independent, female journalists who wouldn´t take no for an answer when they were on a mission. Another Danish writer of this category is Gretelise Holm whose sixtyish protagonist is a free and active spirit, also sexually. A mature woman who puts up a fight when male bosses and colleagues try to keep her down.

The other femikrimi trend is not as common in Denmark but represented by well-known Swedish writers such as Camilla Läckberg and Mari Jungstedt. Some Scandinavian reviewers have dubbed their books chicklit with crime or lipstick literature, and instead of the anger and injustice which colour some of the feminist books, they deal with the female characters´down-to-earth struggles with love and family life. The only Danish writer who springs to my mind is Sanne Udsen.

Finally, a pre-millenium writer who is difficult to pin down but deserves a paragraph. And how to introduce Susanne Staun? Readers of my blog will know she has been one of my favourites ever since I read the first Fanny Fiske mystery. Staun did not only chose an old, female protagonist. She let her go through so much plastic surgery that her surgeon had to remind her of Michal Jackson! Nevertheless this tough and sturdy profiler is never short of young flesh (do you smell a crime fiction cliché turned upside-down here?) The books are well-written, terribly exciting and full of pitchblack humour.

Unfortunately the global recession also hit the publishing business in Denmark a few years ago. Traditional publishers are very unwilling to take chances with new writers, and just like the rest of the world, they have been busy looking for the next Stieg Larsson.

So for a couple of years we have seen a boom of fastpaced thrillers (but without any Lisbeth Salanders to make them stand out). For a Swedish example of these Larsson lights, I could mention Lars Kepler´s The Hypnotist, but I believe the Danish debut Svinehunde (which means pigs or bastards) by Lotte and Søren Hammer is also on its way in English. What they have in common is lots of action. The Hypnotist begins with the truly horrible slaughtering of a family, Svinehunde with five bodies swinging from the ceiling of a gymnasium. At least Svinehunde offers some kind of moral message though not quite successfully. Well, it seems that Scandinavian readers want these less than credible orgies in violence, but the reviews are mixed...

Finally the really good news (if you ask me). After some meagre decades when we secretly envied the Swedish writers who achieved worldwide fame, three of our very best series are on their way to a wider audience. One of them is Elsebeth Egholm´s Next of Kin, her fourth Dicte Svendsen mystery (see above) which was published in Australia last year.

Jussi Adler-Olsen´s first police procedural about Carl Mørck was published in Britain last spring, and I have enjoyed reading a handfuld of enthusiastic, English reviews of this excellent series. I have read four volumes now and believe me, they grow better and better. Mørck is a somewhat reluctant police officer, but he is spurred on by his unorthodox sidekick, the immigrant Assad. Dark, exciting and with some comic relief.

Furthermore, a great series written by two female writers, Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis, has been snatched by the American publisher Soho, also in the past year. They have both written children´s fiction before, but the series about Red Cross nurse Nina Borg is their first thriller. You could say that this series has a bit of it all. At first I feared Nina Borg would be too bland and idealistic, but as the plot develops, we realize that she is nicely flawed. When I reviewed the first one, I stated that it was the best Danish thriller I had ever read. So perhaps this book is closer to Stieg Larsson´s series than any of the others: a drama that keeps you on the edge of your chair, but also a female protagonist you cannot get enough of.

What these series have in common are that even though they are exciting, the writers put character development & detection above sheer action, and they all offer interesting settings.

Available in English:

Elsebeth Egholm, Next of Kin (Australia)

Jussi Adler-Olsen, Mercy (Britain)

Kaaberbøl & Friis, The Boy in the Suitcase (the USA)"

Dorte Hummelshoj Jakobsen is a Danish blogger and writer of crime fiction. Her debut novel, the humorous mystery "The Cosy Knave" was published in August this year, and her latest publication is an anthology of funny Christmas crime stories, "Christmas in Knavesborough". They take place in the same fictional Yorkshire village but can be read separately.


Anonymous said...

Martin - Thanks for hosting Dorte; it's so nice to have two of my favourite bloggers right here :-).

Dorte - Thanks for this survey of the Danish crime fiction scene. What a very informed and helpful resource this is!! I am very happy that Danish crime fiction is getting more attention in other markets, and I certainly look forward to reading it. If what I have read is any indication, we're in for some very good work.

seana graham said...

Very nice piece, Dorte, and I hope this guest blog introduces your blog and work to a wider audience. (As well as these Danish crime writers!)

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Thanks, Dorte, for this interesting overview of Danish crime fiction! You've given me some new authors to check out. I'm especially glad to hear that the character development and detection aspect came first in these series (since I prefer them over action).

Felicity Grace Terry said...

Hi Martin, A follower of Dorte's, thanks for this feature.

Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Dorte for this review of Danish crime fiction.
But you do love to tease us mono linguists with the thought that Jussi Adler-Olsen's series gets better.

Maxine Clarke said...

Very nice overview, thank you.
Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow (1992) was the first "femicrimini" novel I read from Denmark, and I think has been enormously influential, perhaps on some of the writers discussed here and certainly others.
For many of us in England at the time, it was our first introduction to translated Scandinavian crime fiction, soon to be followed by Henning Mankell.

Miss Smilla was an enormously successful and influential novel, so "the Danes were there first" so far as English readers are concerned! (Christopher MacLehose introduced the book to an English audience, the same man introduced Mankell, Stieg Larsson and many other excellent crime authors in translation).

Maxine Clarke said...

PS Another Danish writer whose books I've enjoyed is Lief Davidsen. The Serbian Dane was a thriller about issues around immigration and racism; The Woman from Bratislava was about Denmark's airbrushing of its WW2 past and how that reached into modern Europe, esp the Balkans. I suppose these books are in the "former journalist political" category though I don't know if he was a journalist.

I have also enjoyed the Danish "The Exception" by Christian Jungerson, office politics among a group of women taken to lethal extremes - bleak and good. (Karen of Euro Crime made it one of her books of the year a few years ago).

Dorte H said...

Thank you so much, Martin, for inviting me to write a post. Once I had the idea, it was a pleasure to write it for you and your readers.

And thank you for all your kind and encouraging comments.

Trust Maxine to mention a favourite I had forgotten, Peter Høeg´s Miss Smilla. Well, I could say it was because I tried to limit myself, but it is probably because I don´t think of Høeg as a crime writer though he wrote that splendid standalone - which I read 17 years ago ;)

Jungersen and Davidsen are fine writers, but Davidsen´s production is somewhat uneven (and I suspect that is why you don´t get them all in translation).

Bill Selnes said...

An impressive overview of contemporary Danish crime fiction that offers real analysis.

Martin Edwards said...

Many thanks for these comments. I felt sure Dorte's analysis would create widespread interest.
And Petty, welcome to this blog!

Unknown said...

What a great post. I'm glad that we are seeing more crime fiction from various parts of the world. It adds real flavour to the mix. This year, I've taken part in challenges that involve reading mysteries from other countries and some of the entries are amazing.

Belle Wong said...

Great survey, Dorte. I hope more of the books you've mentioned will be available in English soon.

Martin Edwards said...

Clarissa, I agree.
Belle, welcome to this blog!