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Crime Beat

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Crime Beat: Have we had enough psycho Nordish serial killers?

There’s a very good blog on crime fiction called Pulp Curry which suggested recently that South African crime fiction might be muscling in on the Scandinavians and the Irish. The actual quote reads: ‘International crime fiction sometimes feels like a contest between the Scandinavians and the Irish. If so, the South Africans are closing ground on both of them.’

Now the Irish don’t get anywhere near the attention the Nords do in Britland – either in the book shops or on television – and they should because they’re more interesting. It seems Brit crime writers have reason to feel they’re being done in by the Scandinavians if Ian Rankin’s grumbles in The Telegraph are anything to go by.

Talking, a couple of days ago, at the Hay festival about television adaptations of Brit crime novels, Rankin said, ‘It’s good that so much crime fiction is being written, though I sense people are getting a bit tired of the Scandinavian model.

‘Maybe we could turn to the Indian subcontinent, or just somewhere that isn’t bleak and windswept and snowy and full of psychopathic serial killers running amok.

‘Like every crime writer in Britain, I’m very jealous of Scandinavian crime writers whose work gets 20 hours on TV.

‘Rebus gets 45 minutes per book – one hour on the television with 15 minutes of adverts. Everything got dropped apart from the title.’

In 2009 on the blog,, there was a really good review by Nathaniel Rich of why Scandinavian crime fiction was such a hit, given that really it’s a version of Brit crime fiction anyhow. Rich’s conclusion: it’s the contrast between the harmony and the disorder.

‘What distinguishes these books is not some element of Nordic grimness but their evocation of an almost sublime tranquillity. When a crime occurs, it is shocking exactly because it disrupts a world that, at least to an American reader, seems utopian in its peacefulness, happiness, and orderliness. There is a good reason why [Henning] Mankell’s corpses tend to turn up in serene, bucolic settings—on a country farm, on a bobbing raft, in a secluded meadow, or in the middle of a snow-covered field: A dark bloodstain in a field of pure, white snow is far creepier than a body ditched in a trash-littered alley.’

Nothing has changed in Scandinavian crime over the last four years, except that there are more writers from these countries being translated into English. Yet as one former SA publisher lamented to me last week, ‘Scandinavian crime fiction is all the same: the same cop chasing the same bad guy serial killer.’ Which picks up on Ian Rankin’s point.

And I remember at a crime panel at the Cape Town Book Fair in 2008, Deon Meyer dismissing serial killer krimis as ‘passé’. Perhaps that’s why no South African has dared write one.

Long and short of it as the ex-publisher said, ‘SA crime is just much more interesting.’ And why?

Maybe because our crime is about rape and child abuse and human trafficking and drug trafficking and weapons trafficking, and plundering of natural resources, and the illegal trade in diamonds, not to mention government and private sector corruption, and government paranoia, let alone our gangster state, or fat-cat greedy politicians, or the porous judicial system, or even religious fundamentalism, everything but serial killers.


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