It was a chance remark I heard on the radio. A well-known book critic was jokily taking about Nordic crime fiction and made the comment that all Scandi crime fiction seems to take place in the depths of an Arctic winter, said Quentin Bates of his new novella Summerchill, now available for pre-order before its 7th May release date.
That’s stretching the stereotype… Going all the way back to the forerunners, some of Sjöwall & Wahlöö’s magnificent stories were set with the backdrop of a sweltering Stockholm summer; and even cool Scandinavia can be truly hot and sticky at the height of summer.
But it set me thinking about writing something set in summer and the result is Summerchill. The only snow in it is on the cover. My publisher wouldn’t be moved – saying that as it’s Nordic it has to look wintry, and describing an Icelandic setting as somewhere it’s always winter but never Christmas.
It’s set at the tail end of summer, the dusty tail end of a hot summer with half of Reykjavík on holiday and the other half wishing it still was. It’s the time of year when people barbecue furiously – maybe even more furiously than usual in a nation of furious barbecue fanatics – knowing that the first of the winter depressions will wash up on Iceland’s shores around the end of August or maybe not until we’re into September, but grey skies will be with us again soon and it’ll be back to standing over the barbecue under an umbrella.
Summerchill is a novella, around half the length of a standard book, and available only as an e-book. It’s designed as a filler, something to bridge the gap between full-length books, and there has been a gap between Cold Steal in 2014 and the next one, Thin Ice, which is due next year, but there are reasons for the gap that I’ll not go into.
I like the novella format, and it’s not far from being the length of what a normal book was a generation ago. Look at Simenon’s Maigret stories, perfectly-formed 50,000 word snapshots with everything you need in there in terms of structure and character. That was before the inexorable rise of the blockbuster and now there’s a fashion for books that are an inch and half thick, presumably so one will last you the whole flight and a bit more.
Oddly, there’s a certain freedom with the novella format, a relaxing of the reins of what can and can’t be done in print, so with Summerchill I was free to stretch the rules a little more than usual. It’s remarkably liberating and I don’t feel the book is any the worse for it, although that’s up to the reader to decide.
It’s out on Amazon (and all good e-book sellers) on the 7th of May.