Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Hummingbirds, punk rock and under-privileged puffins... all in a day's work in Finland.

Having just returned from CrimeFest15 in sunny Bristol I have to admit to having been slightly overwhelmed during my three days there by the number of authors to meet and the sheer volume of books to read or at least to put on my ‘to read as soon as I physically can’ list. I didn’t wind up with too much in the way of reading time anyway what with panels to listen to, sights to see and late night shenanigans to participate in but I did finish the one book I took with me as my CrimeFest travelling companion.

‘The Hummingbird’ by Finnish author and punk rock superstar Kati Hiekkapelto is about an immigrant police officer recently assigned to a small coastal town in the north of Finland. Anna Fekete soon finds herself investigating a string of seemingly random murders while also trying to help the daughter of a local immigrant family. An ongoing conflict with one of her workmates and a brother who is only slightly better than completely hopeless combine to give Anna plenty of doubts about her ability to stick things out in her new home.

‘The Hummingbird’ is the most interesting book in the genre I've read since Antti Tuomainen's 'The Healer' (also Finnish – I’m starting to see a pattern emerging here) and is well worth checking out. It is different (in a really good way) from the usual Nordic Noir fare and very intelligently written. Anna is an engaging and human protagonist who is easy to identify with as well as being easy to like. Kati's second book, 'The Defenceless' is coming out in the UK in September and on the evidence of this book will be well worth investigating.

In the meantime Kati and her band ‘The Bearded Women’, which consists of Kati on vocals, one of her friends playing guitar and a drum machine that is so stubborn it will only play one beat for them (Huh… Drummers!) will continue to attempt world domination from their outpost base on the island of Hailuoto at the top end of the Gulf of Bothnia. I also have it on good authority that becoming a bestselling author and chart-topping punk diva won’t even get close to satisfying this ambitious woman. She has much grander dreams in the pipeline.

In 2016 she intends to circumambulate Iceland using its famous Ring Road. This televised event - it will be covered in its entirety by Iceland’s national broadcaster RUV who will dedicate a new 24 hour channel to her exploits in an attempt to bring gripping Icelandic reality television to the rest of the world - will be done to raise money for immigrant puffins and in particular to finance the education of their children. Education of under-privileged seabirds has been a passion of Kati’s for many years now. As you see she is clearly a multi-talented woman who is continually pushing the boundaries of crime fiction, punk rock and imaginative fundraising campaigns.

At some point in the not too distant future I am going to be held accountable for the tiny portion of this article which I may have made up. In the meantime I am simply going to enjoy it as I think it will take people a ridiculous amount of time to figure it which bit it actually is. I was going to include Kati’s stage name in the article but have been warned by my publisher that the use of such language will have me fired from the company once again and I’m not ready to go back on a diet of dried fish and watered-down vodka. That shit really sucks!

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Moving on is about fixing your life while never forgetting theirs.

“I spent a lot of time doing nothing. No radio, no TV. Nothing. I just couldn’t stand the sound of music. I was scared of music. I remember being in Ireland driving around the country away from everything. Just rocks and moss and sheep and being totally disconnected from the rest of the world. And I drive past this kid who was hitchhiking. He had a fucking Kurt Cobain shirt on. I saw that and I thought ‘fuck I gotta do something quick’ and then I realised that music was the one thing that was gonna help me out of that place so I started writing again.”

Grohl then travelled to Seattle where he recorded the entire debut Foo Fighters album himself.


Tuesday, 5 May 2015

'Summerchill', the new novella from Quentin Bates.

When Logi finds a gun hidden on his work site in the countryside he immediately sees it as an opportunity to make some quick money. Unsure of exactly what to do with it though he hangs onto it until an opportunity to cash in on it presents itself. Danni, his former brother-in-law then asks him to do some under-the-table work for some particularly shady characters and he sees yet another opportunity to make some quick money that he won’t have to tell the taxman about. He makes use of his Polish workmates from his other job to get the job done as quickly as possible but after an unexpected visit from a disreputable and overly serious debt collector he suddenly needs their assistance on an entirely different matter altogether.

As the local Icelandic cops Gunna and Helgi struggle to make sense of the strange and alarming shenanigans that quickly ensue all over Reykjavík they are led from one disaster to the next in pursuit of a motley band of criminally minded individuals. It is almost impossible for them to tell who’s hiding what. All they know is that nearly everyone they deal with has something to hide be it minor indiscretions or major crimes. Their job for the rest of the story is trying to tell the difference between the two.

The shortened length of the crime novella is not in my opinion a reason to avoid such works but rather one to embrace them. They have all the plot points and punch of the longer form but without the constraints of the procedural paradigm. This one in particular moves along with the grace that one would expect of an experienced novelist but contains a momentum that is unrelenting simply because it has to get where it’s going a little sooner than might usually be expected.

Quentin’s characters are fun and completely believable as his feel for Icelanders has been firmly honed by his many years spent living here. This is a great read and while it is technically just a stopgap in between novels I hope it’s not the last we’ve seen of the novella length works from him as this one is really entertaining and you will struggle to put it down once you’ve started it. ‘Summerchill’ will be released on Thursday and is only available for kindle. It is already flying up the charts from pre-sales alone. 

Friday, 1 May 2015

Review of 'On A Small Island' by Morana Blue

On a Small Island by Grant Nicol

Written entirely in the first person from the point of view of one of three sisters, you're drawn immediately into the sudden onset of Ylfa Einarsdóttir's living nightmare as, with frustratingly little help from the Reykjavík detective assigned to her mysterious case, she starts tracking down an obsessed, horribly violent murderer whose sole intent seems to be the destruction of her entire family.

Because you're inside Ylfa's head, you can hear her thinking. Her honesty is startling: 'Most of my friends were sluts. That was a lie; they all were…' Her observation is wry: 'He looked as if his years of seeing the worst possible sides of people had left him enjoying the times now when his misgivings about how rotten they all were inevitably proved to be correct…' - and, as her despair compounds, you feel her self-knowledge sharpen as she knowingly ploughs on toward an inescapable, grimly portentous end: 'In this torment there would be an abyss that I either would see in time and avoid, or be consumed by…'

You feel her heart beginning to ache - and you flinch when it breaks.

It's observantly written as intimate party to the reasoning behind the dangerous investigative steps Ylfa takes - so as her determination and her desperation mount, although you fully understand what she's doing and why she's doing it, you still want to yell 'No! Don't! Don't go there…'

But Ylfa can't help herself. And she takes you with her.

The creepy biblical messages left at every murder scene foreshadow a killer with their own twisted tormented depths - but, though Ylfa can't yet open her eyes to it, it's a torment that Ylfa and the killer actually share - and they're on the same enslaving path to self-destruction.

It's a good - disquieting - read; for the most part because you're entirely locked within Ylfa's world, the minutiae of which - the sandwiches in the car, the cold within her boots, her double cappuccinos - begin to bear auras of frightful magnitude because you can't help but feel that each of the simple things she does, she may never do again.

I don't want to spoil the ending - but it's very poignant. Indeed, 'Whatever you do in this life, be it good or not so good, it will chase you down through the long lonely years of your life,' Ylfa forewarns. 'And it will catch you up.'