The Petrona Award for the best Scandinavian crime novel published in English during the eligible period which in this instance is the 2015 calendar year. The Award is in memory of one of the first crime fiction bloggers, Maxine Clarke, who particularly enjoyed crime novels from this part of the world and telling her many blog readers about them. Maxine, who blogged as Petrona, passed away in 2012 but is still fondly remembered and much missed by her crime reading friends.
This year’s shortlist comprises six novels from three of the five countries counted as being Scandinavian for the purposes of this award, Norway, Sweden and Finland (Iceland and Denmark missed out on this occasion). As always I am impressed by the diversity and quality of the books that have made the cut, at least of the 5 eligible titles I’ve read.
- Karin Fossum’s THE DROWNED BOY is another of Fossum’s quiet, almost introspective stories in which she explores what happens when ‘normal’ people are tempted to do awful things. What tempts them? How do they justify it to themselves? Others? Can their aberration be hidden forever? In this case Inspector Sejer and his colleagues must determine whether the death of a toddler who had Down syndrome was the accident his parents claim. Or not.
- Kati Hiekkapelto’s THE DEFENCELESS was the first book I read this year and I can still remember it clearly, which is not something I can say about all the books I’ve read subsequently. Set in northern Finland the novel uses the genre to tackle the issue of immigration from many angles. We watch a young man who fled Pakistan when the Taliban took it over battle daily with the tribulations that flow on from having entered the country illegally, a gnarled old cop take on a vicious immigrant gang and a policewoman, herself an immigrant, investigate a death that turns out to be more complicated than it first appears.
- Jorn Lier Horst’s THE CAVEMAN is the story of two bodies, both male, found a few days apart. There is nothing to link the deaths, one of which attracts the attention of a journalist who wants to write a story about loneliness in the modern world while the other death garners the attention of police from several countries as it appears to have links to an American multiple murderer. The juxtaposition of the two kinds of investigation – by the police and the journalist – is a highlight of the book.
- Hans Olav Lahlum’s SATELLITE PEOPLE is a whodunnit set in 1960’s Norway. Police, with a little help from a talented civilian, must work out which of a wealthy businessman’s friends or relations was responsible for his death at a dinner party. The novel is a clever homage to Dame Christie and others but has more character depth and social commentary than many of the classics.
- Antti Tuomainen’s DARK AS MY HEART is a quest novel about a young man’s obsession with discovering what happened to his mother, who disappeared when he was 13. Aleksi Kivi is one of those characters who stays with you for long after the book is over.
I’ve no idea which of these novels will win the Award. If it were me handing out the gong I I’d give it to Kati Hiekkapelto’s THE DEFENCELESS because it is both a truly brilliant book – offering equally strong narrative and political elements – and the one I think closest to the kind of novel Maxine enjoyed so much. But I am rarely right about these things so don’t go placing any bets based on my musings.
I made a deliberate choice not to read David Lagercrantz’s THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB which is the final shortlisted novel and is the continuation of Steig Larsson’s Millennium series. I’ve never, ever been a fan of writers who take over the artistic creations of dead authors. I think it’s presumptive and unnecessary and theft. And, at least sometimes, motivated by nothing but greed. I contemplated breaking a lifelong tradition and reading this book anyway, but what’s the point of having principles if you’re going to let them slide at the first opportunity of a really good read? I have no doubt the book is of a similar quality to the others in the shortlist and if it wins I won’t be letter bombing anyone or otherwise displaying my displeasure. But neither will I be reading the book or its inevitable successors.
The real winner of this year’s Petrona Award will be announced this weekend at CrimeFest in the UK. I can’t wait to find out how wrong I am (based on past experience).