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Death in a Cold Climate Barry Forshaw, Death in a Cold Climate

Palgrave Macmillan,  2012.

Reviewed by Charlotte Garbutt in SBR 2012:2

Review Section: Non-Fiction about Crime Fiction

This book simply had to be reviewed here: not only is this what could quite fairly be described as the definitive book to date on Scandinavian crime fiction in the English language, but it is a work which strongly features the theme of translation itself, gives voice to translators alongside editors and authors, praises the work of established translators, including our own editor, Sarah Death and former editor Laurie Thompson (the ‘doyen of the profession’) and, moreover, refers en passant to the Swedish Book Review itself.

Forshaw’s slim but densely written hardback (now also available in paperback) sports a catchy but fitting title, a nod to Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate. Forshaw is a respected journalist and writer whose work on the late Stieg Larsson and as editor of Crime Time have quite rightly given him the status of expert in the field of Nordic noir in this country. Forshaw writes with enthusiasm, knowledge and attention to detail. This is a book containing brief but effective sketches and reviews of an impressive number of individual works of crime fiction, but its author also grapples with wider questions such as what arise, through Forshaw’s credible analysis, as likely reasons for the rise of Nordic noir in the U.K. There is also a tension throughout the book between the commonality amongst the Scandinavian nations and their sense of individuality. Similarly, interviews with a number of writers provide balance between an image of politically (or sociopolitically) motivated Scandinavian crime writing (in the tradition of Marxist Swedish crime-writing duo Sjöwall and Wahlöö) and writing whose prime focus is to entertain and to consider a range of moral and psychological factors through effective stylistic features, well-rounded characters and engaging plot lines. Forshaw himself writes well, and his own penchant for loan words suggests a love of language. This is not an academic work, but its readers are likely to be the intelligent reader of Scandinavian crime fiction in translation Forshaw himself identifies. As indicated earlier, the art of translation itself is a key theme of the book, with pages-long direct quotations from translators. This original and rewarding angle affords the general readership a nuanced insight into the joys and difficulties of translating. With regard to organisation, the drawback is that some of the interview content doesn’t always slot neatly under country and chapter headings.

More space is given to Sweden and its crime writers than to the other countries. Two chapters are devoted to Norway, one of them entitled ‘Norway and Nesbø’ (probably the successor to Mankell and Larsson according to Forshaw), two each to Iceland and Denmark and one to Finland. A final chapter considers ‘Film and TV Adaptations’, comparing the portrayals of Wallander and the depictions of Mankell’s work, reviewing the Yellow Bird productions of Larsson’s Millennium trilogy and discussing the cult following of Danish The Killing. It is in this final chapter that Forshaw briefly questions whether the popularity of Nordic noir in English translation is a temporary trend or representative of something more enduring. In an earlier chapter, he warned of the double-edged sword of the commercial success by quality writers opening the floodgates to less meritorious fiction, but in the final sentence of the book, he concludes that, ‘The great majority of strong, authentic writing from the Nordic countries will continue to be read, long after any cachet of novelty is forgotten.’

Forshaw’s Death in a Cold Climate can be read cover to cover or dipped into using the comprehensive index. This is a work you will want to finish, though: Forshaw’s descriptions whet the reader’s appetite to read more Scandinavian crime fiction, so that once the book is complete, Nordic noir addicts will immediately order their next novel or get an instantaneous fix via their e-readers.


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