Monday, February 4, 2013

Nordic Crime Fiction Wave Could Grab Finland

When I started writing fiction, it wasn't a sure fact that I'd start writing crime novels. I surely had an interest in that genre, but there were more. So far my published works have included two crime novels, literary short stories circulating around the themes of love, death, sorrow and life altogether, and imaginative and somehow gentle stories dealing with serious issues for children.
But I have to admit: I do have a strong interest in researching and writing about crime, diving into existential or slightly philosophical questions of life and death. As one of my true literary influences, Matti Yrjänä Joensuu once said in an interview, after his harsh experiences apparently in his childhood and then as a police investigator in Helsinki Police Arson Unit: "It doesn't really make you a humorist."
I don't know if I'm lucky, but writing about serious and melancholic issues don't wipe away my need to use and create humorous situations. Maybe more in the future.
It still doesn't come as a surprise that after being a passionate researcher of these dark themes, some of the feedback I used to get from my synopsis or writings from writing professionals were: "Why do all these have to include a murder?"
I've heard that same story from other people writing crime novels. The twists of plot always often ending up using a homicide. It's just a matter if the story has more to it. Other subplots including different themes. Subplots about personal matters of the protagonists. Depicting the era. Social commentary. Or pure criticism towards the society and the system of the country. Often shown especially in Nordic crime novels.
For me, in addition to certain Finnish writers, Swedes are the greatest. Wife-husband writer duo Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö wrote together ten Beck novels in 1965-75. They are all of excellent quality. The fourth one in the series, The Laughing Policeman, being my definite favourite. Especially through the crime investigation plot, which is very intelligent, still realistic. All Beck novels starting from the first, Roseanna, ending up to the last one Terrorists, depict the changes in Swedish welfare society through crime.
As has done later on Henning Mankell. I've read Wallander novels written by Mankell and value them very high in the ranks. I still see Rolf Lassgård as Kurt Wallander, the first one of three actors playing Wallander in TV series, the first two Swedish, the last one English. The two other actors have been Krister Henriksson and Kenneth Branagh.
One of my favourite crime-themed novels, which comes close to The Laughing Policeman in plot intelligence is Hour of the Wolf (originally Carambole) by Håkan Nesser. The intelligence in the police work, the point of view through murderer's eyes are just about bull's eye when trying to find rewarding reading.
Most of these have quite laconic narrative even when sometimes fast-paced. They don't play much with language as Matti Yrjänä Joensuu does. His Harjunpää series is not only about how to solve a crime, but why the crime was committed. As Swedes do, his novels go deeper in the society, flaws of the justice and political system and how certain, not always bad people, ended up committing the crime. They are often victims of injustice in life themselves. Even fragile to the end.
Joensuu has that certain sing in the language which often is lacking from regular crime novels. Something that with its depth breaks the borders to other genres and general literary fiction. In his lifetime, Joensuu (1948-2011) managed to create his own believable world of melancholy, realistic life and people often surrounded by sadness, bitterness, despair, unfairness, lack of love. Wrapping it all up in a unique touching way. While there is a lot of misery and pessimism in his books, Harjunpää novels are the ones I often go back to when wanting to read the packages that have it all. The humane touch.
I haven't found many writings of this kind that wouldn't be categorized in or out of the crime literature genre. Even though crime is committed in certain novels, it doesn't have to mean it should be categorized in crime novels.
I recently saw Purge (Puhdistus) by awarded Finnish writer Sofi Oksanen categorized in crime fiction in certain Irish book shops. I'm not sure is this intentional to bring the sales up. Or was it more difficult to categorize the book here, since the knowledge of the novel winning the prestigious Finlandia Prize and the book's strong connections to the past of nearby Estonia don't mean that much here.
Or was it intentional to label it as Nordic Noir? Nordic crime novels are doing commercially very well also outside the Nordic countries. The works of Sjöwall-Wahlöö couple sold somewhat ten million copies even in their earlier times, mostly in Eastern Europe. Henning Mankell, Håkan Nesser, Norwegian Jo Nesbø and the late Swedish Stieg Larsson have widened the success to the other parts of the world by selling tens of millions of copies.
Especially Sweden has produced more and more internationally successful crime writers such as Liza Marklund, Jan Guillou, Camilla Läckberg, Arne Dahl, Johan Theorin, Åke Edwardson, Anna Jansson, Åsa Larsson, Leif G.W. Persson, Karin Alvtegen, Inger Frimansson, Jens Lapidus, Mari Jungstedt, Norway bringing Anne Holt, Karin Fossum, Kjell Ola Dahl, Denmark Leif Davidsen  and Iceland Arnaldur Indriðason. There would be many great ones coming from Finland as well. Some, such as Leena Lehtolainen, Reijo Mäki and thrillerist Ilkka Remes are doing well in German-speaking world.
Opening the markets also in English-speaking region hasn't yet been done properly by Finns, but interesting writers such as Antti Tuomainen, whose acclaimed and awarded novel The Healer has recently been published in English, have the chance.
And I'm sure there would still be more writers, whose works haven't yet been translated to English, but would be worth reading.

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