In my days as a bookshop manager – before I earned my crust as a journalist and writer – I was well aware that there was one cherished job in the trade: that of crime fiction buyer. And with that job goes an almost forensic knowledge of the crime genre and its shifting trends. When did domestic noir become the flavour of the month? Ask a crime fiction buyer. Which is why, in trying to keep my credentials as a crime expert burnished, I make sure I stay in touch not just with editors, publishers and authors but with the buyers.
The range of contemporary-set crime fiction in the UK is surprisingly broad, given that the geographical parameters of the British Isles and its Celtic neighbours are proscribed compared with the massive canvas of the United States. And the parochial nature of much British crime fiction is precisely what imbues it with its customary sharpness – when murderous secrets confined in British suburban spaces are set free, the result is explosive.
Even a slight familiarity with pop culture provides the awareness that Scandinavian crime stories are ascendant — due in part to Swedish writer Stieg Larsson’s internationally bestselling trilogy. There are, of course, numerous other practitioners of the crime genre from ice-bound precincts — Åke Edwardson, Karin Fossum, Anne Holt, Camilla Läckberg, Henning Mankell, husband and wife team Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö and Arnaldur Indriðason, and so on.
Norwegian Jo Nesbø, whose CV includes stints as a stock trader, cab driver, musician, and soccer player, has seen six novels featuring his driven and single minded Oslo homicide detective, Harry Hole, published in English translation. Harry likes jazz, ’80s rock, booze, and solving crimes. And, naturally, Hole resents and resists authority — a burdensome characteristic for a big city policeman. All of which produces entertaining and, dare I offer, suspenseful reading.
In our face-to-face chat we talked about American crime writers, Nesbø’s ineptitude as a taxi driver, who is making a movie from his book, Lord of the Flies, his reading habits and more . . .