1A) Noir & the Past
- Melissa Jacques (University of British Columbia), ‘Mid-Century Modern and the Aesthetics of Fascism’
In the last two decades, there has been a resurgence of interest in the minimal design aesthetics of the mid-twentieth century. American designers like Charles and Ray Eames, Finnish designers like Alvar Aalto, and Danish designers like Hans Wegner and Arne Jacobsen have become the posthumous heroes of contemporary interior design. One of the most important features of this design movement was the equivalence drawn between innovation, post-war prosperity, and democratic values. This was design meant to be accessible to the everyman. In the context of Nordic Noir, there has been a paradoxical shift in the function of this particular design aesthetic. In texts like Stieg Larsson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005), Danish mid-century modern in its postmodern context signifies both fascism and misogyny. This inverted signification is manifest in other texts, such as the television adaptation of Hannibal (2013-15), in which the titular character – played by the Danish Mads Mikkelsen – inhabits an interior domestic/professional space that incorporates a minimal mid-century decor. The pared-down aesthetic of these interior spaces has come to mean something very different than it did in its immediately post-war context. We have moved from accessible design for the masses to interiors concealing a psychopathology that finds its expression in the graphic violation and dismemberment of the human body. My paper explores the curious inversion of the democratic values associated with mid-century design in contemporary Nordic Noir, interrogating the relationship between fascism, Nazism, class, and the aesthetics of power.
- Christopher James (Bridgewater College), ‘Bleakness and Tenacity: Fin-de-siècle French Literature and Nordic Noir’
Joris-Karl Huysmans famously wrote À rebours (1884) out of discomfort, to put it mildly, with naturalist writers and their works. He composed the Durtal cycle of novels with an eye to repudiating positivism as a philosophy of science and materialism as a metaphysical touchstone. Henri Bergson’s lectures were in the air in Paris at that time, and he argued that, as Judith Ryan noted, “that our sense of duration is in fact a multiplicity of different states that interpenetrate and overlap; that to act freely is to recover possession of oneself and return to pure duration” (1991). Nordic Noir has been bursting onto the cultural scene since the turn of the twenty-first century. If setting is important and unites these works, it is as more than just because of the aptness of Nordic society for plumbing depths and secrets. It is a place whose geography is poignant in allowing the memory of characters to be established, reconsidered, and changed. This brings us back to Huysmans, with his insistence on the temporality of space and the interaction of his character with it. It also brings us back to Bergson, and his sense of duration’s interrelationship with matter and memory. Finally, it brings us back to some of the same questions faced in literary fin-de-siècle France, which was trying to cope with modern life. Huysmans and Bergson have much to say in order to inform intelligent readings of Nordic Noir today.
- Daisy Neijmann (University of Iceland), ‘Fair Shores: Pastness and Authenticity in Arnaldur Indriðason and Ann Cleeves’
According to Peter Davidson, ‘North’ is closely associated with authenticity and purity, a “location of complex nostalgia”, rising from a desire to escape civilisation and to journey into a remote, alternative world on the outer periphery where a more genuine and innocent past have been preserved, frozen in time. The idea of North conjures up a landscape dominated by the elements and characterised by emptiness. If there is any human habitation, it is in the form of small and tight-knit communities fighting not just for physical but for cultural survival. Erlendur, Arnaldur Indriðason´s main sleuth, and Jimmy Perez, the hero in Anne Cleeves’ Shetland murder mysteries, have, among many other things, in common that they both hail from such remote Northern locations, even by the standards of their already remote Northern island ‘centres’, Iceland’s capital Reykjavik and mainland Shetland respectively. Both men carry the legacy and the pull of their location of origins, which shape the way in which they approach their detective work. What is different, however, is that Indriðason is himself Icelandic and Iceland is its own centre, while Cleeves is an outsider to Shetland and, as the remote outer periphery of the United Kingdom, the Shetland Isles only arguably fit the parametres of ‘North’. In my paper I discuss the symbolic role of Eastern Iceland and of Fair Isle as ultimate ‘North’, as well as the insider/outsider, centre/periphery dynamic in the representation of ‘North’ by these authors.
1B) Noir & National Identity
- Kerstin Bergman (University of Lund), ‘From Solidarity to Neo-liberalism: The Swedish Police Novel’
Since the late 1960s, the police procedural has dominated crime fiction in Sweden. Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s ten Martin Beck novels turned the contemporary, realistic, urban police procedural characterised by social and political criticism into a model for Swedish crime fiction for decades to come. In the early 1990s, Henning Mankell introduced a rural setting into the mix with his Wallander novels, and, in the early 2000s, the rural police novel developed into a popular police novel sub-category. In the wake of Stieg Larsson, genre variation and hybridization has increased in Swedish crime fiction, and the police procedural has mixed with other crime fiction sub-genres. In the last few years, this has resulted in a new type of police thriller. In this paper, I describe the development of the Swedish police novel and the heritage of Sjöwall and Wahlöö, and, in particular, I examine the characteristics of the new Swedish police thriller.
- Nina Muždeka (University of Novi Sad), ‘Nordic Noir and Subversive Sociopolitical Commentary: A Norwegian Example’
Ever since Maj Sjöwall and Peter Wahlöö’s Martin Beck series, the Swedish branch of Nordic Noir has readily followed the tradition of political engagement and strong social commentary – in some cases, even clear ideological positioning – given alongside the basic crime investigation plot in the form of police procedurals. The threatened break-down of a well-organised and dependable social welfare state and its egalitarian democracy, spawned at the cross-section of the most favourable features of socialism and capitalism, has been identified as an important, if not genre defining, aspect of Swedish Noir and its urban setting. Norwegian detective fiction, on the other hand, provides an opportunity for investigating social and political issues both in the city and in the countryside. For example, Jo Nesbo’s Inspector Harry Hole series, despite the protagonist’s frequent excursions to other countries and continents, provides an astute insight into Oslo’s criminal environment, drug trade milieu and deprived city dwellers’ life-style. Nesbo’s topics include investigations of current neo-Nazi activities, but also of Norway’s problematic World War II past – with the issues of power struggle and corruption in the police force and high governmental ranks strongly echoing in the background of the entire series. On the other hand, focusing less on the police procedural and more on human nature, Karin Fossum’s Inspector Sejer series investigates the circumstances of the socially and otherwise challenged outsiders – ill, deprived, disabled, vulnerable, ethnically other. Placed in both an urban setting and in rural, scarcely populated, areas, Fossum explores the issue of otherness and offers another angle from which to approach the analysis of the sociopolitical positions featured in Nordic Noir’s undertext. This paper contributes to the analysis of the sociopolitical engagement of Nordic Noir through the analysis of Norwegian crime fiction authors’ investigation of criminal, political and social justice.
- Catherine Nickerson (Emory University), ‘Lilyhammer’s “Land of Second Chances”’
Lilyhammer, a joint Norwegian-American television production, proposes an unexpected thought experiment: what would happen if a mid-level New York Mafioso decided to turn state’s evidence and, under the witness protection program, relocate to Norway? Conclusion: such a person, for all the bad influence he might seem to import, will actually reveal dark secrets about Norwegianness to Norwegians. Enamored of the images of pristine ski slopes and picturesque towns televised during the 1994 Olympics, new immigrant Frank Tagliano also sees in Lillehammer the perfect second chance to develop a diverse criminal enterprise. Deploying bribery and blackmail to circumvent government regulations, he opens a nightclub and employs bored young locals only too eager to assist with bootlegging, money-laundering, and illegal gambling. Frank, who knows from experience that everyone has a secret and that identities can be swapped at will, is able to compromise everyone from a nursery-school teacher to the chief of police. The first two seasons use humor in their treatment of the Nordic Noir themes of seething resentments under pleasant surfaces, of people irreparably broken by their own misdeeds, and of ambivalence about immigrants and urban development. In the third season, the darkest moods of both Nordic Noir and American Mafia stories take over in plots of madness, domestic violence, betrayal, and transnational vendetta. This paper, part of a larger project on informants in crime narratives, argues that Lilyhammer makes a significant contribution to the discussion of criminality, violence, corruption, gender roles, ethnicity, and national identity ongoing in Nordic Noir.
1C) Noir & Space
- Lughan Deane (University College Dublin), ‘Ghost Estates, Building Sites and Dead Developers in Irish Crime Fiction’
According to Denis Porter, “the lapsed, anything-goes world of a jazz age America as it was already mutating into the era of the Great Depression” represented “a fallen urban world” (2003) wherein the once-great metropolises of the American west coast were infected by an “urban blight” that was fertile ground to the emergent genre of Noir. These conditions are fulfilled once again in post-boom Ireland. Unfinished ghost estates or skeletal building sites in an orbit on the urban frontier provide a stark metric of the precise point at which the Irish Jazz Age, the Celtic Tiger, mutated into an economic crash. The half-finished projects physically and figuratively encapsulate the moment at which the process of rapid urbanisation began to fray at its edges. They are a visual confirmation that the apparent economic miracle was hastily constructed on a fragile infrastructure: a membrane stretched too far. This paper examines images of Nordic Noir by documenting the depictions of ghost estates, abandoned development projects, and representations of developers as perpetrators and victims of crimes in contemporary Irish Noir. In particular, it explores images of ghost estates in Tana French’s Broken Harbour (2012), Alan Glynn’s Winterland (2009) and Michael Clifford’s Ghost Town (2012). These sites represent the places in which the glamour and sheen of the property brochures lost its grip and the menacing id or underbelly emerged. Unfinished homes speak to the idea that Irish life is no longer informed by a pastoral simplicity. This urban and suburban blight functions as a character in contemporary crime texts. The unfinished city injects into texts a darkness, a pessimism, an oppressiveness or a paranoia. Ghost estates are Porter’s dynamic manifest: the place in which the jazz age mutates into the great depression. In this way, the ghost estates of Ireland are an ideal location for Noir to emerge.
- Graeme Gilloch (Lancaster University), ‘Views from The Bridge: Panoramas, Non-Places and Spatial Hieroglyphs’
Drawing on critical concepts from the writings of two key urban commentators – Siegfried Kracauer and Marc Augé – this paper explores the particular representations and configurations of metropolitan space in the television detective series The Bridge (2011-17). Taking its title from the transnational Øresund Bridge connecting Copenhagen and Malmo, this internationally popular Swedish-Danish-German co-production is characterised by the continual use of certain camera shots and locations to foster moods and sensibilities defining the noir imaginary: melancholy, haunting and the uncanny. From the opening credit sequences, the viewer is repeatedly treated to the cityscape as nocturnal panorama illuminated only by the lights of buildings, streetlamps and car headlights; to bird’s-eye tracking shots of rain-soaked urban rooftops and traffic circulating on darkened ring-roads and junctions; to panning and point-of-view shots emphasising the restlessness and loneliness of driving itself. These apparently simple ‘establishing shots’ establish much more than time and place: they are mood shots, untimely images creating tone, atmosphere and emotion. Indeed, the perennial scenes and settings of these dramas are imbued with, and highly evocative of, melancholy and mournfulness – multi-storey and underground car parks, derelict warehouses, unkempt parkland, sprawling low-rise industrial estates and storage depots. This constitutes a filmic itinerary of Augé’s “non-places” (1995) and of Kracauer’s “in-between spaces” (1927), the marginal elsewhere of today’s featureless metropolis. The eponymous Øresund Bridge, traversed again and again by the protagonists, is itself the very epitome of a functional, liminal structure, as passage or threshold neither here nor there. I argue that, like the actual crime scenes themselves, such banal, quotidian urban sites constitute “spatial hieroglyphs” requiring and rewarding careful investigation and interpretation.
- Kjartan Már Ómarsson (University of Iceland), ‘White Nights: The Nordic Periphery in Baltasar Kormakur’
It is close to four decades since kvikmyndavorið, the Icelandic cinema spring that established filmmaking as a part of Icelandic culture. More often than not models where sought from Hollywood. The crime film, for example, was an early attempt, as in the case of Morðsaga (1977). After this initial filmic attempt at depicting crime almost two decades had to pass before a second attempt was made with Sódoma Reykjavík (1992), and then only as a parody of the crime/gangster film. Today, the Icelandic crime film is an established genre: what has changed? I examine how the film noir tradition is a central strand in the career of Iceland’s most successful director Baltsar Kormakur. I focus on his Mýrin (2006), A Little Trip to Heaven (2005) and his television series Ófærð (Trapped/2015), while comparing his work with the Coen brothers’ Fargo (1996) and Stefan Ruzowitsky’s Deadfall (2012). Establishing contexts and connections between these texts and Baltasar’s work, I show how the snowstorms and white plains of the north correspond to the dark allies of metropolis America.
2A) Noir & the Epic
- Jillene Bydder (University of Waikato), ‘The Detective and the Sagas: Erlendur in the Novels of Arnaldur Indriðason’
Arnaldur Indriðason’s Erlendur novels are popular crime fiction stories set in Iceland. Detective Erlendur Sveinsson’s team deals with serious crimes, murders, and missing persons. Their cases are contemporary but Indriðason has always said that he is influenced as a writer by the medieval Icelandic sagas. How is this illustrated in his crime fiction? The sagas, like crime fiction, contain stories of murder, revenge, love, loss and family conflicts. I discuss examples from the novels and the sagas to examine the links between them. These include the importance of traditional and local stories and the significance of fate, and considering Erlendur as an archetypal saga hero.
- Giti Chandra (University of Delhi), ‘Dragon Tattoos, Crime, and the City: The Contemporary Epic’
Within the long-held popularity of crime fiction, Nordic crime fiction’s best-seller status is a more recent development. I argue that Scandinavian writers Stieg Larsson and Arnaldur Indriðason exemplify a more specific sub-category of this genre: the crime fiction novel as modern epic. Indeed, these writers specifically set out to write a different kind of crime fiction which sees itself as firmly grounded in the larger literary narrative of social realism, taking upon themselves the mantle of the ninteenth-century European and Russian novel. In placing Larsson and Indridasson within this framework, I focus on the thematic concerns of their work, which go far beyond the mere solving of a puzzle, or bringing a criminal to justice. It is possible to see their work as ‘novels’ in the scope and range of social interrogations they take upon themselves, extending this concern to the national or collective level of identity formation. I take this argument further, and establish that, in fact, these crime fiction novels seek to define and present a specific moment in history that is definitive of the national identities of Sweden and Iceland. I offer textual readings to show that these novels take over many of the narrative strategies of the epic form – specific to their nations as well as European – in order to create an epic for our times.
- Michael Treschow (University of British Columbia): ‘Outsiders: Grettir the Strong and Carl Mørck’
The Nordic saga tradition often portrays outlaws, outsiders, or loners in the role of the central character. Egil’s Saga and Grettir’s Saga are two notable examples. Nordic crime literature shares this feature of the sagas with characters such as Lisbeth Salander and Kurt Wallander. Like Egil and Grettir, they are irascible, brooding, and obsessive. A less well-known character, Carl Mørck (from Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Department Q series), shares some particularly close parallels with Grettir. Both are outcasts. Both are haunted by experiences of trauma. They are lazy and contrary, and yet with noble qualities in spite of themselves. This paper explores these parallels in order to explore a psychological type in northern literary tradition. It offers an analysis of the melancholy hero’s disaffected state, and seeks to understand it as the ground of liberation for both characters. Grettir takes refuge on Drangey Isle with his devoted brother Illugi. Carl works cold cases in the basement of Police Headquarters with his assistants Assad and Rose, two marginal characters. The social system has rejected Carl and Grettir, and yet still wants to call them to account. But their alienation enables them to belong to themselves.
2B) Noir & the Child
- Katarina Gregersdotter (Umeå University), ‘The Child as Outsider and Avenger in John Ajvide Lindqvist’
John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novels – which are part of the Nordic Noir and Nordic Gothic genres– are firmly situated in the Swedish Welfare state, or what remains of it, following the tradition of social criticism which took off with the work of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. What Ajvide Lindqvist and many other Nordic crime writers, such as Karin Fossum, Johan Theorin, Ingrid Frimansson, Jo Nesbo and Mons Kallentoft, share is that they emphasize the emotional consequences of a society that fails its citizens. This is also, in a way, what make texts like these hybrids; they encompass the gothic within the crime, or vice versa. Child protagonists have become quite common outside the fairy tale, and outside children’s literature as well. Children have often been victims in crime fiction, and children who commit murder have also become a more common phenomenon in the genre. What does it entail to include children as murderers in crime fiction? I provide a reading of two novels by Ajvide Lindqvist – Let the Right One In (2004) and Little Star (2010) – and consider the function of horror, crime, children and visions of a new world.
- Franziska Kretschmer (University of Freiburg): ‘The Child is a Vamp: The Supernatural Femme Fatale in John Ajvide Lindqvist and Tomas Alfredson’
The original noir films not only provided aesthetics and plots, but also characters that have become genre stereotypes. Besides the cynical private eye, there is the beautiful and dangerous femme fatale, a seductive woman, a vamp, that turns the male protagonist’s life into heaven and hell at the same time. Rather than one of the many neo noir crime fictions, it is a supernatural coming-of-age novel and its film adaptation that brings back the archetype of the femme fatale in a Scandivanivan context: Eli, the vampire in John Ajvide Lingqvist’s Låt den rätte komma in (2004) and Thomas Alfredson’s adaptation (2008). This character is neither woman nor human and reinvents the classical femme fatale. To her foster father Håkan, Eli personifies his unfulfilled sexual desires. To the naïve boy Oskar, she is both a partner in crime and a dark guardian angel. To the inhabitants of the suburb Blackeberg, she is a ruthless killer. I expand the term noir from crime fiction to horror fiction and film and discuss how the novel and film turn the classical femme fatale into a supernatural horror character that corresponds to and simultaneously remodels this noir archetype in a distinctively Swedish environment.
- Andrew Nestingen (University of Washington), “Kid Stuff: Nordic Noir and Quality”
A distinct but largely unremarked feature of Nordic crime fiction since 1965 is the recurrent inclusion of the child as victim or perpetrator. Examples include such texts as Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Mannen på balkongen (1967), Henning Mankell’s Villospår (1995), Karin Fossum’s Varsleren (2011) Leena Lehtolainen’s Kuolemanspiraali (1997), Arnaldur Indriðason´s Vetraborgin (2005), and Forbrydelsen (2007-12). Because the political and socially critical dimension of these texts has been stressed, it is tempting to see the child as a figuration of state crisis, a political figure. The decline of the welfare state in late modernity leads writers to emphasise victimization and violence among children as a means of foregrounding the political. While this may be one reason for the Nordic noir’s obsession with the child, I argue that the child recurs for primarily aesthetic reasons. Linking analysis of textual narratives and the marketing of cultural texts, I posit that the child is often is used to lend emotional gravity and social seriousness to crime texts, which contributes to a sense of “quality”. This qualifies the historicist understanding of Nordic noir as a socially critical cultural form, shifting the emphasis to its economic and commercial dimensions, and thus contributes to a genealogy of noir by recalibrating notions of the form and its relationship to other noir traditions.
2C) Noir & Work
- Iratxe Fresneda (University of the Basque Country), ‘Female Detectives in Nordic Noir: Bron/Broen and Forbrydelsen’
The Scandinavian audiovisual model exports a worldview that is simultaneously particular and globalised. This model demonstrates the existence of real business opportunities and cultural transmission for the margins of big companies, and can serve as an example for small cinemas and local audiovisual industries. Nordic Noir is one of the pillars of this cultural transmission. I focus on the creation of social identities trough audiovisual narratives. I analyse the evolution of female characters in Bron/Broen (2013-17) and Forbrydelsen (2007-12) as part of the transformation of the new noir narrative. Do these characters continue reproducing old stereotypes and roles? Does the public sphere and professional life become, for female characters, a way of renouncing their identities and to start an endless search for the uncanny? I analyse the audiovisual evolution of the stereotype of the woman detective. I argue that, through repeating patterns of popular culture, the woman detective becomes a character for whom life is only something to track and sight. These new stereotypes of women become a metaphor for a new female identity, a professional woman who has nothing except her work and is condemned to an obsessive search of the well done mission.
- Kate Hinnant (University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire), ‘Life and Work, Work and Life: Traversing Boundaries in Nordic Noir’
Nordic countries are amongst the highest rated in the world for work-life balance, with public policies structured to encourage family leave and worktime flexibility. Given this egalitarian backdrop, why do the tensions between home and work life figure so prominently in Scandinavian crime fiction? It would be easy to read this attention to work-life balance as symptomatic of the role of detective: a virtue of the long, unpredictable hours, and the horrors of the job. I argue that these fraught ‘home’ relationships serve both as a foil for the murders and as an acknowledgment of the pressures that social change can place upon the individual. Considering the works of Jussi Adler Olsen, Arne Dahl, Kristina Ohlsson and Helene Tursten, among others, I discuss how Scandinavian crime fiction offers a forum to work through our ambivalence and anxieties about fidelities to work and home.
- Fiona Peters (Bath Spa University), ‘Saga, Sarah and Kurt: On the Borderline’
Saga Noren, Sarah Lund, Kurt Wallander: all three represent different aspects of the flawed yet heroic lead in Nordic Noir. Even amongst the plethora of noir detective figures, these three stand out as paradigms of the cold, yet troubled and even mentally unstable detective, fighting personal demons in stylised northern environments. I consider the characteristics of these three through an investigation into the psychological and cultural geographies that they inhabit, and argue that all three exist outside of psychic as well as geographical borderlines. Lund in Copenhagen, Wallander in Ystad, are situated within Copenhagen and Sweden respectively, but relatively near to Øresund Bridge, which acts metaphorically both as a barrier and a link between the two nations. Saga’s Malmo must be repeatedly negotiated with the Copenhagen of the temporary colleagues she must work with. The emphasis on place within these series – and the spaces between them – throws the impact of the psychological traits each character brings with them into greater relief. I highlight differences in gender and cultural expectations. Saga, Sarah and Kurt all struggle and the paper focuses on how these struggles play out as popular cultural representations of both the psychic and geographical expectations of Nordic Noir, and ask why the idiosyncrasies of these key characters are foregrounded.
3A) Noir & Genealogies
- Björn Norðfjörð (St. Olaf College), ‘To Be or Not To Be (Noir)’
Nordic Noir has become the accepted referent for the popular crime narratives exported from the Nordic countries in recent decades. The reasons are no doubt varied: it is catchy and useful for marketing purposes, it is practical as it does not distinguish between media (unlike the term ‘crime fiction’), and it suggests a regional specificity (Nordic) while holding onto international norms (noir). While acknowledging these attributes of the coinage, I argue that Nordic Noir is in many ways a misleading referent. I begin by addressing the emergence of noir in France, where hard-boiled fiction is still called roman noir, and then its application to the primarily American film genre, which hard-boiled fiction helped spawn. Film noir offered something of a counter-narrative to upbeat Hollywood entertainment with its focus on crime, tough-talking and hard-hitting (and sometimes unlawful) private detectives, dangerous femme fatales, untamed passions, and dark city settings. With some exceptions, Scandinavian crime literature, films and television series share few of these attributes. Their most typical generic form is the police procedural, which in its emphasis on group work, official/state police work and social responsibility runs counter to many of the quintessential ingredients of noir. In other words: Nordic, certainly, but not very noir at all.
- Alda Björk Valdimarsdóttir (University of Iceland), ‘When Murder Comes to Town: The Dark Vision of Gerður Kristný’
For the past twenty years violence against women and children has been an ongoing subject matter in the works of former journalist, now poet and novelist Gerður Kristný. In her breakthrough book Myndin af pabba. Saga Thelmu (2005) Gerður related the true story of a group of young sisters that were traded around in a group of Icelandic pedophiles. Her next work, Blóðhófnir (2010), which won the Icelandic Literary Award, was a rewriting of the old-Icelandic poem Skírnismál, in which the maiden Gerður is forced into wedlock with the god Freyr. In her most recent volume of poetry, Drápa (2014), which refers to a form of skaldic poetry, but is also a play upon the Icelandic word dráp (a killing), Gerður tells the story of a woman murdered in the middle of winter during a snow-storm in Reykjavík. I investigate how the noir tradition can be used to read Drápa. I also consider how this modern tale of murder mixes ancient Icelandic literary traditions and memories with more modern genres, such as crime fiction and the fantastic tale.
- Pao-Hsiang Wang (National Taiwan University): ‘“Seneca Cannot Be Too Heavy, Nor Plautus Too Light”: Heavy Business and Light Desire in Kaurismaki’s Hamlet Goes Business’
Generally acknowledged as one of the four major Shakespearean tragedies, Hamlet is a revenge tragedy set in Denmark, which dovetails with the definition of Nordic noir. Aki Kaurismaki’s film Hamlet Goes Business (Hamlet liikemaailmassa, 1987), however, sets the Anglicized Hamlet in its proper Nordic environs, yet skewers it with its Finnish setting, and by deliberately lowering its lofty tragedy into common ground, without losing the bleakness of revenge noir, tempers it with absurdist comedy that transforms pathos to bathos and conscience to instinct. I explore how the modern update of the Renaissance tragedy in contemporary industrial Finland on the cusp of globalization re-conceptualizes the convention of the noir genre of revenge and murder by turning the well-known plot of the melancholic philosopher prince of Denmark topsy-turvy, rendering Hamlet into not only a postmodern man of action devoid of psychology and depth, but simply as a patricidal murderer. I discuss how ancient tragedy has yielded to the modern mercantilist priority of a business driven by instinct and greed, and how heavy business and light desire play out. Lastly, I demonstrate how the meta-drama resists the incursion of metaphysics in order to critique the mundane bourgeois hegemony and how its emptiness, even in triumph, ushers in a void of self-destruction.
3B) Noir & Women
- Lorna Hill (University of Stirling), ‘Bloody Women: Female Protagonists Transforming Contemporary Scottish and Scandinavian Crime Fiction’
The rise of the female protagonist in Scottish and Scandinavian crime fiction in recent years has dismantled what has historically been a male-dominated world, in terms of authors and also protagonists, where men play the lead role in solving the crimes and women are the victims. I examine the links between Nordic Noir and Tartan Noir, and whether gender should be an issue in the analysis of crime fiction and how female identity has developed in crime fiction against the backdrop of changing political landscapes. My Ph.D. is practice-based and I am writing a novel, which focuses on a female journalist investigating the story of an unidentifiable girl pulled from the River Clyde in Glasgow. As she begins to delve deeper, she finds a web of deceit and lies covering up an international trafficking ring. This process documents the significant influences that Nordic Noir and Tartan Noir have on the creative writer of contemporary crime fiction.
- María Socorro Suárez Lafuente (University of Oviedo), ‘Female Crime Writers and Their Detectives: The Nordic Countries and Spain’
My paper analyses the characteristics of female crime writers and their detectives in both the Nordic countries and Spain and considers whether these enforce or subvert stereotypical ideas about the two European regions. The detectives of Camilla Läckberg, Helene Tursten and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir are supposed to enjoy a high standard of life in countries that are progressive and hard-working in order to offer extended health care, with the best education and freedom to their inhabitant. The detectives created by Alicia Giménez Barlett, Reyes Calderón, Dolores Redondo and the writers of the TV series Los misterios de Laura (2009-14) belong to a Southern country, stereotypically associated with slovenliness, easy living and not much political education. Crime writing, often considered a mirror for the worst aspects of the society in which it is set, can be a good evaluator of the differences or concomitances of these Western countries. The professional and private life of female detectives, the topics related to the crimes and their victims, the urban or rural milieu in which the agents of the crimes move, the cultural and geographical images they evoke – these constitute a picture of contemporary life and a good ground for the comparison of stereotypical accounts of national difference.
- Gerardine Meaney (University College Dublin), ‘The Woman Between: A Social Network Analysis of The Fall and The Bridge’
This paper examines the role of the central woman detective in two collaborative cross-country productions: Stella in The Fall (BBC 2 UK and RTE Ireland co-production, 2013-16) and Saga in The Bridge (Sveriges Television and Danmarks Radio co-production, 2013-17). Previous discussions of these series have focused on misogyny in The Fall’s representation of sexual violence and the challenge to gender stereotypes in Saga’s combination of analytic intellect and lack of emotion and empathy in The Bridge. Undertaking a social network analysis of the opening episodes of both series, I investigate precisely how the figure of the woman investigator is positioned in relation to national, social and gender boundaries. While both Stella and Saga are usually understood as outsiders, their central narrative role puts them at the centre of complex social networks. There is a tension between the representation of them as socially isolated and the extent to which investigators are characteristically central to the social networks of detective fiction as well as focal points for audience identification. I analyse the extent to which these detectives embody an in-between space where anxieties about national and gender identities are investigated.
- Jon Wilkins (Independent), “Irene Huss: Mother, Wife, Detective”
The Irene Huss series by Helen Tursten is unique in Scandinavian crime fiction: as well as being a contemporary story about a Goteberg detective who has made it to the top, but she is also happily married with two daughters and lives a normal family life. These act as a contrast to the cases in which she is involved. Huss has two families, at home and at work, and how the dynamics of this work is the focus of the paper. The hard work Huss puts into each family is a reflection of Swedish society. It is the every day ordinariness of Swedish life that is pivotal here and so the murders that do occur stand out in their savagery compared to the mundane actions at home. How this mother relates to criminals and to daughters is key and will be highlighted.
3C) Noir & Reception
- Ingibjörg Ágústsdóttir (University of Iceland), ‘A Brooding Nordic Noir? Noirish Elements in Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites’
Both inside and on the back of the cover of Australian Hannah Kent’s critically acclaimed novel Burial Rites (2013) there are quotations from reviews of the novel. Three of these refer to it in the context of the Nordic Noir: a quotation from Metro states that it is “Perfect for the current Scandi vogue”, an Independent review claims that it is one of “the best ‘Scandinavian’ crime novels” the reviewer has read, while a Marie Claire reviewer asserts that is has “all the hallmarks of a brooding Nordic noir.” Kent’s novel is a fictional representation of the life of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, who was condemned, along with Friðrik Sigurðsson, for the murder of Natan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson Illugastaðir on 14 March 1828; both Agnes and Friðrik were beheaded in the north of Iceland on 12 January 1830. Burial Rites is a historical novel, although classified by Kent as speculative biography as per Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace (1996). How far, then, are these critical reviews accurate in their descriptions of Kent’s novel as fitting with the genre of Nordic Noir? I address in what ways it is possible to see Kent’s novel, or elements of it, as representative of noir in the north.
- Sara Kärrholm (Lund University) and Carina Sjöholm (Lund University), ‘The Power of the Good Example: The Packaging of Characters and Places in Contemporary Nordic Noir’
The recent global success story of Nordic noir (encompassing film, television and literature) is often attributed to the great popularity of places and characters. Many of the protagonists of some of the most popular TV-shows, for instance, are described as more in depth-characters than many of their European and American counterparts: Kurt Wallander, Sara Lund, Saga Noren and Lisbeth Salander. These characters, as well as specific places such as Ystad and Gotland, are used as orientation points for new crime writers. In order to gain success in the field, newcomers are inspired by these examples, whether to imitate or to create something different. We investigate the impact of some of the most popular protagonists and places of Nordic noir today and how they are used in the marketing of new crime fiction through crime festivals and guided tours.
- Delphine Letort (Université du Maine), ‘The Transnational Values of Noir in Danish and American Television Series’
Based on a comparative study of American and Danish television series, I define the characteristics of Danish noir. The international appeal of a series like Forbrydelsen (2007-12), which is the epitome of the Danish appropriation of noir aesthetics, promotes the touristic images of the country’s “rural landscapes and settings, the typical seasonal, climate and light conditions as visual and picturesque stylistic elements”, as argued by Anne Marit Waade and Pia Majbritt Jensen (2013), also conveys its own social and cultural values by weaving Danish political issues into its narrative. Nordic noir may therefore also be defined through the national issues these crime fiction series address. Although noir may be described as a transnational aesthetic branching out in different countries across ages and genres, comparing Forbrydelsen with its American adaptation The Killing (2011-14) spotlights differences and similarities. Not only do landscapes offer distinct settings that add a local touch to the noir iconography, but social values and political beliefs impact on plot and character development. While no director deliberately set out to make film noir in the 1940s, the conventions of noir are self-consciously displayed in contemporary film productions. Neo-noir films are self-reflexive endeavours with which Nordic Noir may be usefully compared, emphasizing how the noir worldview continues to pervade crime fiction. The specificities of Nordic Noir not only lie in the visuals of the genre, they also pervade narrative constructions, plot devices and character creation.
- Jacqui Miller (Liverpool Hope University), ‘A Labyrinth of Noir: Martin Beck, Translation and Adaptation’
Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö are often referred to as the godparents of Scandinavian crime fiction and their series of ten Martin Beck police procedurals has been hugely influential on subsequent writers. Henning Mankell said, in an introduction to a UK edition of Roseanna (1965), that “I think that anyone who writes about crime as a reflection of society has been inspired to some extent by what they wrote”. This is proven internationally by subsequent introductions in the series being penned by Colin Dexter and Val McDermid. I explore two related elements of the Beck novels in terms of their relationship to noir. The series was devised to make commentary on the gap between the 1960s and 1970s social planning in Sweden, and the chaos beneath its surface. The novels were subsequently translated into 35 languages, and have been adapted into several forms, nationally and internationally, including radio, film and TV. Non-Swedish speakers are at the mercy of translators, and in the UK series, different translators use different words leaving the reader in a state of ambiguity akin to the characters caught in a noir labyrinth. Similarly, translations and adaptations may choose to exclude political content. A recent example of this can be found in the long-running Swedish TV series (1997-present). Four episodes were recently shown on UK’s BBC4, with a random selection of non-sequential episodes, which heightened a sense of opacity: the stories were based on the idea of the novels, and were not direct adaptations. Comparative analysis of the UK novel translations, BBC Radio 4 adaptations of the novels, and the Swedish TV episodes broadcast in the UK examine the noiresque Beck phenomenon created by this process of textual reflexivity.
4A) Noir & Gender
- Guðni Elísson (University of Iceland): “The Monster in the Closet: Bisexuality and Discursive Unease in Arnaldur Indriðason”
Queer has always been an integral part of noir from the days of the Maltese Falcon (1941) to neo-noir films such as Bound (1996). In his Bettý (2003), former film critic and current crime novelist Arnaldur Indriðason drew on James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) and Double Indemnity (1943). Indriðason takes the discursive unease of the femme fatale one step further by masking the gender of the main protagonist, the beguiled male narrator of Cain’s haunted tales. It is only towards the middle of the novel that the reader discovers that the ‘betrayed male,’ whose confessions we bear witness to, is actually a she and that she in a sexual relationship with the dangerous Bettý. In a genre focusing on what Mary Ann Doane calls the “imbrication of knowledge and sexuality” (1991), Bettý works to deepen the epistemological complexity of the narrative, while at the same time acknowledging how the noir genre has always been queered.
- Anna Sigríður A. Guðfinnsdóttir (University of Iceland) and Jóhannes Gísli Jónsson (University of Iceland), ‘Femininity, Masculinity and Style in Arnaldur Indriðason’s Bettý’
The crime novel Bettý (2003) by Arnaldur Indriðason has many features of the classical noir in terms of plot, setting and characters. The story involves a love triangle between the greedy and sexually demanding femme fatale Bettý, the murder victim who is her wealthy partner Tómas, and her melancholy and naive lover, the narrator Sara, who is wrongfully convicted of the crime. There is an interesting twist to the noir formula with the reader thinking that the narrator is a man until the truth is suddenly revealed mid-way through the novel. There is no description of the narrator’s appearance or attire and no gender-marked adjectives are used to describe her in the first half of the book. The result is that Sara comes across as something less than a full person, a gender-neutral character, in stark contrast to Bettý. A further contrast is provided by Tómas, whose description is characterized by the many ways in which he is referred to. He is the only person in the story who gets a full name, Tómas Ottósson Zöega, which is clearly intended to emphasize his masculinity, power and wealth but the nickname Tozzi serves to cut him down in size and portray him in a more sympathetic light, after he has been killed in a brutal manner.
- Björn Þór Vilhjálmsson (University of Iceland), “Male Violence and Female Victimhood: Social Justice in Steinar Bragi’s Kata”
A notable feature of the noir genre as it developed between about 1930 and 1960 was the prominence and active role of female characters. Nevertheless, these roles were frequently limited to stock figures such as the sultry temptress, the femme fatale, the housewife and, occasionally, the wise older woman. When noir returned in the 1980s, one of the many significant shifts involved gender, which was incorporated through the rendering of female experience and by affording female characters more agency within the narratives (although creators were still mostly men). Another significant shift involved the influence of the revenge genre, which became a stable of 1970s cinema and can be viewed as a response to a loss of faith in the judicial system. Andrew Vachss’ Burke series is probably the most forceful example of the conjunction but the characterization of Lisbeth Salander in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy (2005-7) is also indebted to the thematics of the revenge genre. These two thematic strands are on pulled together in Steinar Bragi’s Kata (2014) wherein a mother avenges the rape and murder of her daughter. This paper considers how Kata engages in a intertextual relationship with the noir tradition while also reimagining and reconceptualizing many of its most important tropes and themes.
4B) Noir & Peripheries
- Felicity Hand (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona), ‘Eco-noir: The Harshness of Norwegian Nature in The Consorts of Death’
This paper analyzes Gunnar Staalesen’s The Consorts of Death (2006) from a ecocritical perspective, as the protagonist, Johnny boy/ Jan Egil’s social marginalisation and crisis of identity are explained not only by his personal traumas, but also by his lack of a sense of belonging to his dwelling-place(s). Ecocriticism deals with emotional relationships to various environments and foregrounds the instability and processive nature of all environments and objects. The environment must be taken seriously as an agent in generating and shaping affect. Jan Egil’s early home environment was characterised by neglect and violence, both of which have shaped the young boy’s personality to the extent that he suffers from reactive attachment disorder. Varg Veum, Staalesen’s private investigator, and former social worker, acts as a surrogate father to the troubled boy but cannot overcome Jan Egil’s rejection of any form of parental love. The boy’s sense of alienation is mirrored by Staalesen’s detailed representation of the environmental spaces, in particular the home. Using an ecocritical perspective, I show how the child’s physical and emotional environment has clearly played a vital role in his tragic childhood and unfortunate youth, which are the focus of this crime novel. I conclude by suggesting that ecocriticism can throw light on unravelling both the noirish and the Northern elements in one of Staalesen’s most successful novels.
- Christinna Hobbs (Liverpool John Moores University), ‘“Depressing, hideous…Beautiful”: Nordic Noir and the Postcolonial North’
I situate the colonial history of the Nordic region amongst contemporary discussions about the parameters and definitions of Nordic Noir. The rising success of Nordic Noir in the last twenty years has impacted the way the Nordic region is imagined, and the international circulation of works such as Peter Høeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow (1992) and the 2010 television drama Borgen (from which the title quotation is taken), which engage critically with imperialism in the Nordic region, have begun to challenge the image of Denmark as a benign colonial power. The recent burgeoning scholarly interest in the political, social and cultural legacies of Danish imperialism have received little critical attention. It is timely, therefore, to explore the ways in which Nordic Noir engages with colonialism in the region. Exploring the representation of colonial history and independence in literary works by authors such Halldór Laxness and William Heinesen, alongside contemporary examples of Nordic Noir, I engage with ideas of Noir from a postcolonial perspective. As well as contributing to current attempts to map out colonial power relations in the Nordic region I challenge the cultural, geographical and linguistic parameters of both postcolonial studies and traditional notions of noir.
- Anne Marit Waade (Aarhus University) and Kim Toft Hansen (Aalborg University), ‘Locating Nordic Noir’
Nordic noir has been a global success for some time now. Certain television series, such as Bron/Broen (2013-17) and Wallander (2005-13), are very local in their aesthetic appropriation of places. However, this does not mean that the nexus between the local and the global disappears. Quite the opposite seems to be the case, because the highly localised plots of the television series seem to attract international attention as well. Few have considered the obvious relationship between locations and Nordic noir in detail. The nexus between locations and Nordic noir, on the one hand, and the connection between media production and media policy, on the other, opens up a range of questions that have been absent in media studies and in work on Nordic noir. These are questions that consider the reworked connection between the local and the global in relation to how television drama is being funded and produced, the relationship between locations and intertextuality, and the implementation of local colour and Nordic melancholy in an internationally successful genre.
4C) Noir & Definitions
- Parnal Chirmuley (Jawaharlal Nehru University), ‘Timely Translation: The Creation of Nordic Noir as an Identifiable Genre’
The debate around translated literatures is complicated through the analysis of the politics of translation and of publishing, which determine the arrival of authors, genres, and even national literary cultures among a given readership. This presents interesting conundrums for the analysis of Nordic Noir and its formation as an identifiable genre. This paper examines the history of the term ‘noir’ in the Anglo-American publishing world and its reception in the English-speaking world outside of the Anglo-American axis. I then compare this to the marked popularity of Scandinavian crime writing, with its politically attuned social critique, among global readerships in a short period of time. I query the politics of global publishing in the creation of this particular identifiable genre through timely translations. Finally, in drawing upon the spread of serial television, cinema, and novels, including Stieg Larsson’s novels and their Swedish and Hollywood cinematic renderings, the reissues of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Inspector Beck series, and Bron/Broen (2013-17) and Forbrydelsen (2007-12), I locate the political frameworks in which such translations/adaptations are embedded, and consider how the Scandinavian avatar of ‘noir’ has acquired a recognizable and seemingly homogenous identity of its own.
- Andrew Pepper (Queen’s University Belfast), ‘Nordic Noir, Transnationalism, and Problems of Definition’
This paper questions the categorical distinction of Nordic or indeed Scandinavian noir as a bounded and distinctive category vis-à-vis other examples of national and regional crime fiction. The foundations of Nordic and Scandinavian noir are typically traced back to the ‘Report of a Crime’ series by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö; this paper reads these novels not as interventions into the state of Scandinavian or even Swedish society but rather as attempts to draw attention, from a leftist perspective, to the exigencies and contradictions of state power and its affinities with contemporary capitalism. In other words, these novels are part of larger transnational effort, using the crime novel to develop a particular kind of socio-political critique and influenced, in various degrees, by the ever-quickening circulation of radical ideas, and radical politics, of Marxism, Situationalism and a residual Surrealism, across national borders and even continents. As such, the association of Nordic noir with this same notion of socio-political critique needs to be re-thought and Nordic noir as a category needs to be re-situated as one strand of a more general response, of and by an increasingly global genre, to the vexed question of who has authority in an era of waning sovereign power and the de-territorialisation of capital. This paper argues that the inherent transnationalism of Nordic noir means that particular examples are well-placed to investigate the problems of sovereignty in an increasingly borderless (a.k.a. neoliberal) world but it also argues that this transnationalism needs to extend far beyond the Nordic world, a move that in turn threatens the categorical distinctiveness of this mode or form of writing.
- Patrick Kent Russell (University of Connecticut), ‘Understanding American and Nordic Noir Critiques through Hard-Boiled Interrogations of Wealth and Crime’
Scholars treat noir as an American phenomenon resulting from the confluence of French and German film and American hard-boiled interrogations of crime. Although noir is recognized as global and many treat it as an ongoing mode of critique, most treat international noir as either a response to or evolution of American noir. This is not true of Nordic noir, which may share filmic and literary antecedents with American noir, but does not descend from it. Treating Nordic noir as an extension of American noir elides discussions of similar modes of critique within different socio-political circumstances, and forecloses avenues for critique in contemporary Noir. This paper explores critiques enabled within these different socio-political contexts: of particular interest is the approach to crime fostered by each region’s system’s antecedent hardboiled interrogations on crime. American Democracy treats crime as individuals failing the state while Social Democracy treats crime as society failing individuals. This stems from different modes of wealth distribution: Nordic Social Democratic states enjoyed the world’s lowest wealth gap while America had the highest. Looking specifically at Nordic and American hard-boiled fiction – particularly the works of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö and by Ross Macdonald – this paper argues that American and Nordic noirs’ different critiques stem from regional conceptions of crime based on property. American Democracy sees property as an individual right the state must protect, while Social Democracy redistributes wealth to support overall good. This difference is useful for critiquing global capital and state roles in resolving crime.