Tag Archives: crime

Tuesdays are the new Sundays

The Bridge, Episodes 3 and 4

***May contain spoilers***

Well, for this week anyway. My apologies for the lateness of this post; the internet has not been co-operating and as a TV-less intellectual, I am reliant on the wonderful i-player for my scandi-crime fix. My subtitles were a bit glitchy and out of synch, making the whole experience a bit more dadesque than I believe was intended.

Nevertheless, this week’s double bill was worth waiting for I’m glad, actually, that BBC4 is showing this programme in two-episode chunks like this, not least because I found episode three a little slow going, in contrast to the pace and drama of the opening two. I think this was down to a couple of things. For one, it is clear now that this show is pretty complex, with a huge number of characters and plot strands. As with many of the Scandinavian crime shows we’re seen across here, this not just a linear whodunnit but something a fair bit more interesting and rich. It takes some getting used to and I don’t know if the writers can successfully bring it all together in the end, but for now I’m happy to watch the tapestry unwrap. Episode three was putting in place the groundwork for future storylines, bringing in Anja, the troubled teen with dreadful parents, and introducing the theme of police corruption (ruptured eyes – yuck!). This meant we didn’t get to spend much time with Martin and Saga which was a little disappointing but made up for, in part, by a few flashes of Saga-tastic dialogue.

The Anja storyline engrossed me from the start but I was a little indifferent to Bjorn. That all seemed a little too familiar. The Morse Code was a genius touch, though, reinvigorating the victim-slowly-dying-as-we-watch-online trope. Learning Morse Code for when I’m kidnapped is now firmly on my to-do list. It wasn’t clear at all how Anja was going to fit in,though, and tension was definitely ratcheted up as we watched her go into a strange man(in all senses)’s apartment and be locked in. As seems to be typical for this show, our expectations keep being confounded. Although, Anja’s new friend is definitely not the full shilling, as we’d say in Scotland, she seems better off with him than with her terrifying mum.

As episode 4 progressed, we got to see a bit more of Martin and Saga. One of the things I like about European crime drama is how unchoreographed and inexpert-looking the action sequences are. The confrontation with the balaclavaed baddy in Episode 4 was typically bumbly and shambling, with both our protagonists taking a beating. Martin definitely took the brunt of it, though, with that kick (ruptured testicles – yuck!). Saga’s confusion about the guilt she felt over Martin’s injury was oddly touching.

Increasingly, it seems to me that Stefan is being set up as a red herring, with all the links between him and the case. He always seems to be around, his sister was one of the poisoning victims and he works at the shelter where Bjorn met his abductor. Surely all this is too obvious, though? I’m going to be really annoyed if he turns out to be the killer. Plus, does anyone else think he’s kind of attractive? It must be that moustache.

The biggest revelation of this episode was the presence of No One and his relationship with Anja’s deranged flatmate. Is this the Truth Terrorist? How many disciples does he have? I’m not so keen on serial killers who network so this was a bit disappointing if I’m honest. It smacks of producer-logic to me: if one serial killer is scary, then a whole heap of them must be terrifying. Plus, it seems so unlikely. How would a serial killer even go about getting disciples, advertise on Craig’s List? Our disciple’s plans for the morrow don’t bode well, especially if he keeps swishing that sword around. On a serious note, I hope the BBC4 programmers are treading carefully with what’s ahead as a maniac on a violent killing spree is not an appropriate thing to show in the midst of the Breivik trial.

Forecasts then, at this midpoint? I think Saga will continue to develop her nascent human qualities under Martin’s tutelage. I also think that Martin will find he has some connection to the killer as why else wouldn’t he shoot him? Thinking about the set-up of the police corruption idea, this may well be the killer’s next target, the next ‘problem’ he wants to expose. I have no idea who the killer is at all, which is either a really good or a really bad thing. What do you think is going to happen in the next instalment?

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Interesting Times Lie Ahead

The Bridge, Episodes 1 and 2

***Warning: may contain spoilers***

The Bridge, BBC 4’s latest Scandinavian crime offering, doesn’t hang about.  Seconds in and the plug has been pulled on the Oresund Bridge, plunging it into darkness. When the lights come back on, there is a woman’s body slap bang in the middle of the Swedish – Danish border.  As both countries’ police forces arrive, the expected jurisdictional conflict begins with some bickering over an ambulance.

This incident smoothly introduces our protagonists: Saga Noren and Martin Rohde.  Martin is affable, laid back, more immediately likable. Saga is, well, as someone from her own squad described her, a bit ‘odd.’ She makes Sarah Lund seem like a person with a sensible work-life balance. Abrasive, offensive, insensitive, it’s hard to imagine her working well with anyone, let alone the chilled-out Rohde.  And work together they must. As the body is removed from the scene, it is gorily revealed to be parts of two different women:  a Swedish politician and a Danish prostitute.

There are definitely more questions than answer in the mid-section, with snippets of other storylines being explored. There’s Veronika and her magnificently moustachioed, mysterious benefactor. She is given the chance to escape from her violent, ne’er-do-well husband but only if she moves into a house in the middle of nowhere and gives up all contact with her previous life. We also follow the woman from the ambulance as she attempts to bargain, bully and beg a new heart for her perilously-ill husband. What is their significance in the overall story?

The steady pacing and the gradual build of tension means the climax is proper edge of seat stuff, with a thoroughly unlikable reporter getting trapped in his car with a ticking bomb. Sounds familiar enough, you might think. But there enough twists here to keep things fresh, from the bomb squad walking away when things get too risky to Saga’s emotionless conversation with the victim, trying to find out what he knows before he dies.

In the final seconds, we hear the distorted voice of the killer himself on a CD found in the booby-trapped car. He promises that the corpses are just the start of his mission to point out the ills of society.

The second instalment develops this theme of social inequality, something that is never far away from the surface of this genre. The killer broadens his campaign, contacting the media and providing the unblown-up journalist from episode one with reams of statistics on crime.

Our investigators follow separate lines of enquiry in their own counties with Saga focusing on the forensics and Martin finding out more about the background of Monique, the Danish victim. The snippets of their domestic lives nicely subvert gender expectations, with Martin distraught over Monique’s journal whilst Saga takes the covers from her one night stand.

The sub-plots, too, continue to thicken with Ambulance Man demonstrating that his new heart is pretty hard before it conks out. Mr Moustache also features, searching for his poor, feral sister whose scarred wrists correspond with his own.  Just as he finds her, she collapses, seemingly drunk.

As the other half of one of the bridge bodies turns up, we discover the next part of the killer’s plan. Homeless people are arriving at the hospitals, poisoned. The victims are already starting to pile up and the murderer’s message plants the blame solely on us and our indifference.

It’s beautifully shot and hugely entertaining, with an engaging cast and plot.  It’s funnier than previous Scandinavian crime offerings but no less dark. I can’t wait for the next instalment.


Introducing … The Bridge on Sundays

The Bridge, starts Saturday 21st April on BBC4

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I’m starting to get excited about the upcoming BBC 4 series The Bridge. The initial premise looks pretty intriguing: a woman’s body is found on Oresund Bridge, on the border of Denmark and Sweden. What seems at first to be a single, albeit gruesome, murder turns out to be more complex as the corpse is revealed to be the remains of two women, a Swedish politician and a Danish prostitute.  

The location of the murder means that the Danish and Swedish police are obliged to share jurisdiction. Undoubtedly, much conflict and friction will ensue as the international investigators are forced to work together to solve the case. I look forward particularly to getting a glimpse of how these two very different nations view one another. My outsider’s perspective is that the Danish view the Swedes as staid, conservative, and even dull whereas the Swedes perceive the Danes as being too easily influenced by the countries around it, for good or ill.

 Unless the initial episode turns out to be a disappointment, my plan is to blog along with the series, posting reviews of each double episode usually on the Sunday after they are first shown.  Feel free to pull up a chair, have a glass of wine and join me. Don’t forget your knitting – but make it something simple so you can keep up with the subtitles. 

 


The Sea Withdrew

Review: Started Early, Took my Dog by Kate Atkinson

In common with every reviewer who writes about Kate Atkinson’s novels, I have a legal obligation to start this post by noting that she wrote literary fiction before she started writing crime fiction, and that her crime fiction isn’t really crime fiction because it uses the crime fiction genre  conventions in such clever, literary ways. What isn’t noted quite as often is the fact that her ostensibly literary fiction was riddled with mystery and acts of obfuscation and detection. What is Behind the Scenes of a Museum if it is not a whodunit?

Like all novels in Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series, Started Early, Took my Dog hangs on a central, surprising event. Like cracks spreading out across a pane of glass, the implications and effects of this incident fracture and distort the lives of the characters we meet. At first, the effect is almost impressionistic, the pace sedate. We have fragments of different points of view: an actress trying to hold on as dementia frays her mind; a security chief despairing behind her impassive façade; a middle-aged man lost in the turns of his life; flashbacks to other lives, other, seemingly random, events.  It is 60 pages in before we are even introduced our nominal sleuth, Brodie.

Jackson Brodie is an interesting protagonist who differs from so many other series protagonists in his ability to shift and change. We have the pleasure here of watching a man progress though the storms and calms of his life. I think middle age is one of the most difficult passages in a character’s life to evoke but with these novels, Atkinson manages it with sensitivity and startling verisimilitude.  Yet Brodie is more a man to whom things happen, and as such, he is often at the periphery of events in these novels, with other characters taking centre stage.  These stories are told through the eyes of many characters and always with compassion and a devastating understanding of what makes humans do the things they do, no matter how terrible.

In this extraordinary, terrible empathy, the novelist Atkinson is most like is Charles Dickens. And she is like him in other ways, too. She shares Dickens’ understanding that it is connections and intersections, coincidences really, that make up the narrative of our lives. It takes a brave writer, especially in this genre, to reflect this in her work. Humour, too, is another similarity. Atkinson’s work is unexpectedly very funny, from the broadest of slapstick to the bleakest of ironies.

One of her cleverest ironies in Started Early is the way plot is used in the novel – it manages to be both so tightly wrought that at the moment it all come together the reader suffers a delightful kind of literary whiplash and yet, this  seems almost incidental to what the novel is about. The comeuppance faced by the villains of this piece is almost an afterthought, a dénouement that oddly manages to both baffle and satisfy the narrative desires of the reader. But there is so much more here. This is a meditation on aging, of how time changes one, and like all Atkinson’s work, the inescapability of one’s past.

Reading Kate Atkinson’s work is always a bittersweet pleasure, quite apart from the ache at the heart of her novels.  Reading her work always leaves me midway between inspiration and despair. This is the kind of writer I want to be when I grow up.

 


Dead Cold

Review: Death in a Cold Climate by Barry Forshaw

I picked up Barry Forshaw’s guide to the seemingly endless slew of crime writing emerging from Sweden, Norway, Finland Denmark and Iceland in anticipation of a long and tedious train journey and I’m glad I did. Forshaw writes about his topic engagingly and with clear enthusiasm.

Forshaw takes a broadly geographical approach, exploring each country in turn. This pays dividend as this is a massively complex region with a dramatic mix of cultures; the crime writing echoes this. This more nuanced approach forces the reader to appreciate the diversity of the genre rather than regarding it as homogenous.

As a long-time fan of Scandinavian crime fiction there was nothing startlingly new here for me; this guide is written for those relatively fresh to the genre. I’m told that when I read or listen to something I’m familiar with or agree with, I unconsciously and vigorously nod my head so presumably I spent the journey shaking like a cat with ear mites. Never mind; at least no one sat beside me. Or anywhere near me.

A slight niggle was that the editing could have been a bit sharper – some redundancies and repetitions appear that really shouldn’t. You get the sense that there was a rush to get this book out before interest in this genre wanes.

I’m a complete list pervert so for me the best part of the book was the extensive bibliography detailing the output of the best and brightest crime writers to emerge from this region – I’m having to be physically restrained from buying all the books even as I type. I was familiar with the majority of them but it’s nice to be reminded of authors that I might have overlooked or forgotten. A few new to me authors piqued my interest, too, which is always exciting.

So overall, this is definitely worth investing in: a good overview of the subject with some interesting perspectives from publishers, academics and the authors themselves. The author writes with passion and knowledge.   Best of all, you are bound to find at least a few (dozen) suggestions for what to read next – the problem is deciding which book to choose.

 

 


Bloody Valentine

It’s not everyone’s idea of the perfect Valentine’s Day activity, starting a blog about crime and mystery fiction, is it? But I suppose it kind of works. After all, not many holidays can claim their very own massacre.  And what do most people do today? They present loved ones with stylised representations of internal organs, inscribed with sinister messages: you are mine; I carry your heart with me; we will always be together. That, or they give bouquets the colour of gore. Now, that’s weird, if you ask me.

My life of crime began with Holmes, of course, and more of that later, but stories about crime always been a thread of my life, an intrinsic part of how I shape the narrative of my life. When my primary school peers were obsessed with the machinations of the Saddle Club or the Babysitters’ Club or any of the other fictional clubs that seemed to spawn a host of novels during that era, I was pouring over the exploits of Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot.   It’s to my parents’ credit that they didn’t freak out when, aged about 9, I started working my way through the true crime section of my local library.

I read other things, too, devouring the recommendations of my teachers like the voracious, precocious  little monster I was.  That was, I suppose, when I learned that not all books were equal. Why was my teacher impressed by me reading Crime and Punishment and Great Expectations , both novels that take as their centre point crime and guilt, when mention of Murder on the Orient Express or The Long Goodbye made him wrinkle his nose in disapprobation?

There is an anxiety about crime fiction, that it is cheap and too easy to read and write or that it is somehow distasteful and vicious. When I first started an MLitt in Creative Writing, I was nervous and, I’m afraid to say, ashamed of working on a crime novel. I felt I should be doing something more worthy, more literary. But like a poorly weighted body decomposing in a lake, crime and mystery keep popping up in my own work. You can’t help but tell the story that wants to be told.

The more I read, too, the more I feel that categorising novels into genres is less to do with writing and writers and more to do with marketing and sales. It’s not what’s most important. Writers like Elmore Leonard, Fred Vargas, Susan Hill, Henning Mankell take the conventions of the crime genre and twist them to their own splendid ends: creating strange and wonderful stories.

 This blog is a way for me, as both a reader and a writer, to think deeply about startlingly good and unusual fiction and film which happen to contain an element of crime or mystery.  I hope too, dear reader, you might find some suggestions for reading  or viewing  in these pages and I would love to hear your recommendations in the comments below.