In a few hours the winner of the 2014 Petrona Award for best Scandinavian crime novel translated into English will be announced as part of CrimeFest festivities and, like last year, I’m quite glad not to be the one deciding. But having finally managed to squeeze all the shortlisted novels into my crowded reading schedule I feel the honourable thing to do is express my opinion before the winner is announced rather than waiting until I have the benefit of hindsight so I can sound knowledgeable.
First, the shortlist:
- CLOSED FOR WINTER by Jørn Lier Horst tr. Anne Bruce (Sandstone Press)
- STRANGE SHORES by Arnaldur Indriðason tr. Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker) (I read but did not review this one)
- THE WEEPING GIRL by Håkan Nesser tr. Laurie Thompson (Mantle)
- LINDA, AS IN THE LINDA MURDER by Leif G W Persson tr. Neil Smith (Doubleday)
- SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir tr. Philip Roughton (Hodder & Stoughton)
- LIGHT IN A DARK HOUSE by Jan Costin Wagner tr. Anthea Bell (Harvill Secker)
Next, some random observations:
- It’s geographic spread is pretty good including one book set in each of Finland, Norway and Sweden, two set in Iceland and one (the Nesser) set in generic “Scandinavia”. Denmark is the only country to miss out on representation this year. It’s nice to see that Sweden doesn’t always have to dominate.
- Two of the authors were represented last year (on the shortlist for the inaugural award which was won by Liza Marklund’s LAST WILL)
- The gender mix is less diverse with only one female writer being included (though three of the six translators are women)
- Perhaps the least diversity though is demonstrated by the types of crime novels represented. On this list there are no crime capers, no domestic suspense novels, no historical crime (though the Indriðason does contain a historical thread it’s not really what I’m thinking of), no spy-laden thrillers or hardboiled novels and nothing that comes close to what I think of as noir (despite the phrase Nordic Noir being bandied about with abandon on the blurbs). In case there is doubt I do not mean this point as a criticism of the judges – they can only select from the eligible publications and, as pointed out by Irish crime novelist Declan Burke a couple of years ago, the Scandinavian stuff does tend towards the procedural novel in which some kind of official or quasi-official investigator tackles at least one case that is, at least broadly, a whodunit. Or at least that’s what gets translated for us English-readers.
And finally, my personal choice (though with my track record an unlikely winner)
- For me CLOSED FOR WINTER and STRANGE SHORES aren’t really in the hunting. They’re both good but not great books
- I can see why LINDA, AS IN THE LINDA MURDER might be the choice for some – parts of it are brilliant – but ultimately I thought the book could have done with a darned good edit to make it really shine
- Any of the remaining three novels could easily walk away with the honours in my opinion. THE WEEPING GIRL has a fantastic plot that kept me guessing all the way and its morally ambiguous ending appeals to me. SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME surprised me by being better than I’ve come to expect from this author and it tackled a difficult subject (disability) very well. LIGHT IN A DARK HOUSE is almost not a crime novel at all, it’s at least equally a love story, and is the one least likely to appeal to die-hard traditionalists but I loved its moodiness and the way its protagonist turned to something other than alcohol when depression threatened to overwhelm him.
By the width of a bee’s whisker I think I’d give the nod the Håkan Nesser’s THE WEEPING GIRL but it’s a close run thing.
I wonder what the judges will go for?