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Crime Beat

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Crime Beat: A Nordic visit

jakob melanderthe house that jack builtJakob Melander is one of the rising stars in the Nordic Noir firmament. He did a number of gigs in Cape Town during the Open Book festival in September and that’s excuse enough to give him an outing here. His first novel was The House that Jack Built and his second, The Scream of the Butterfly, is about to be published in English. An extract will be posted on Crime Beat on Thursday. Check out Jakob’s website here.  Here’s his top ten list of crime novelists, and two movies:

Sjöwall og Wahlöö: The Story of a Crime.
Ten Swedish crime novels with the chief of Homicide Martin Beck, that came to define Scandinavian crime fiction and Nordic Noir. All ten novels contain social commentary and critique of the Scandinavian social democratic welfare state, but are equally important for their great stories, their discussion of the role of men in Scandinavia and an all-encompassing melancholic Nordic tone. Undeniably written in it’s time, but mandatory reading nonetheless.

James Ellroy: Underworld USA
A trilogy on the USA in the late 1950s and s1960s, the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King – with the the interwoven complicity of the mob, FBI, politics and Hollywood celebrity. Deeply disturbing (and probably very close to the truth), it is written in Ellroy’s marked short-cropped style. Every sentence seems to jump at the reader, filled with suppressed violence and yet  with a sinister poetry all of it’s own.

Dostoyevsky: Crime and Punishment
One of the true classics. Dostoyevsky’s novel is by no means a whodunnit – we know the killer and his motives even well before the murder. But as a study of the human mind and the compulsion to confess, this is indispensable.

Jo Nesbø: The Redeemer
Norwegian crime great. This, to me, is Harry Hole at his finest. A complex story that twists and turns through a snowclad, ice-glistening Oslo. The motive is completely believable and tactile and the resolution of the plot so deftly done that this writer will dare you to guess it before the very end.

Edgar Allan Poe: The Murders in the Rue Morgue
The first modern detective, and the first writer to use the modern metropolis as a backdrop to his crime story. This short-story (one of only three with detective mastermind Auguste Dupin) has all the landmarks that Conan Doyle later used in his stories about Sherlock Holmes, from the not-so-bright-as-the-detective narrator/sidekick, via the formidable mind of the detective himself down to the resolution of the case from an armchair – here we have it all (plus the use of the classifieds in the evening newspaper. And including the opening sequence through the streets of Paris with the perceived mind-reading that is later perfectly explained. This is the birth of modern crime fiction with it’s roots in and fascination with horror and the macabre. All in one short story. Nicely done!

Sophocles: Oedipus Rex – the first detective story, in which the detective’s investigation uncovers that he himself is the killer. ‘Nuff said!

Phillip Kerr: Berlin Noir Trilogy
The English thriller writer Phillip Kerr’s series about German police officer Bernie Günther in the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany. Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler in Berlin from 1928 to just before WWII. A great picture of Berlin, the evolution of the Nazi regime and top-notch crime stories. After the first three novels Kerr has written several more, but it’s the first three that really stand out. As they say in German: Gefundenes Fressen!

Robert Harris: Red Dragon 
The novel that spawned Hannibal Lecter. There are many similarities with the sequel, The Silence of the Lambs, here. But this is even more chilling, and Francis Dollarhyde is a character you will not likely forget. Plus this is the novel that came to define the serial-killer novel while at the same time transgressing the genre. No mean feat.

And then two movies:
Sean Penn: The Pledge  (after Dürrenmatt’s novel Das Versprechen)

A police officer, on the eve of retirement, promises the parents of a murdered girl that he will find their daughter’s killer. A haunting portrait of a man (impersonated by a frighteningly good Jack Nicholson) who looses himself and his humanity to one all-engulfing quest. Do NOT miss the scene at the Turkey farm where Nicholson tells the elderly couple that their ten-year old daughter has been brutally killed.

Roman Polanski: China Town (with an original script by Robert Towne)
Arguably the best detective movie ever made. Set in LA in the thirties the movie features haunting performances by Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston. The plot in this tragic story about how doing something can actually be worse than doing nothing, seems much more complicated than it really is, and it is quite the perfect mix of European sensibility and American efficiency.


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