Book Review: The Defenceless by Kati Hiekkapelto (Trans. by David Hackston)

17 Sep


A gritty sequel to Kati Hiekkapelto’s Petrona nominated debut.

Provocative, intelligent, and intense, Kati Hiekkapelto’s first novel, The Hummingbird, signalled the arrival of a new socially conscious voice in Nordic Noir literature. A searing commentary on Finnish attitudes to immigration, the book asked charged questions about integration in the modern Nordic context. An assured début that combined a social conscience with precision plotting.

In her follow-up novel, Kati Hiekkapelto weaves a complex multi-layered narrative that compels the reader to re-evaluate long standing opinions. More strident than its predecessor, the book uses the crime fiction genre to shine a torch onto under-reported social problems.

Pakistani migrant Sammy has fled his homeland to escape religious persecution. After his application for asylum is denied he is forced to live rough on the streets of Finland. Fearful that repatriation to Pakistan might mean execution for his Christian beliefs, Sammy seeks solace in heroin. Believing a life of addiction and scavenging in bins for food to be preferable than deportation Sammy is determined to remain in Finland. After an unexpected death, he comes into contact with the police and has to face the prospect of his liberty being jeopardised.

Suspicious that the reported death of an old man in an apparent traffic accident is not a clear-cut case, police investigator Anna Fekete decides to take a more active role in the case and soon uncovers a shadowy world of illegal immigration, street gangs, and drug smuggling.

Thought provoking and thrilling, The Defenceless is a supremely well-written novel. A much needed contribution to the migrant debate, Hiekkapelto has previously taught immigrant students and used the experience to shatter myths that migrants wish to live in Europe for purely economic reasons.

Socially conscious without polemic, The Defenceless offers further proof that Hiekkapelto is one of the most exciting new authors working in Nordic Noir.

The Defenceless can be ordered from Amazon:

DVD News: The Physician

2 Sep

The Physician_DVD Packshot_2D

Arrow Films has announced the DVD release of The Physician. Tom Payne, Stellan Skarsgård , and Ben Kingsley star in the adaptation of Noah Gordon’s bestselling novel.

A period drama set in the 11th century. Tom Payne (HBO’s Luck, Waterloo Road) stars as physician Rob Cole. Award-winner Ben Kingsley (Gandhi,Schindler’s List, Hugo) stars as Ibn Sina, the “doctor of all doctors”, while Stellan Skarsgård (The Avengers: Assemble, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) stars as the Barber, Rob’s first mentor.

When nine-year-old Rob Cole felt the life force slipping from his mother’s hand, he could not foresee that this terrifying awareness of impending death was a gift. It would lead him from the familiar life of 11th-century England to the medical school at Ispahan in Persia.

The Physician

Apprenticed to an itinerant barber-surgeon (Stellan Skarsgaard), it is the dazzling surgery of a Jewish physician trained by the legendary Persian physician Avicenna (Ben Kingsley) that truly inspires him to accept his gift and to commit his life to healing by studying at Avicenna’s school.

The Physician

A stunning and captivating drama, The Physician is a thrilling, adventurous epic between Orient and Occident, a passionate love story, an exciting homage to humanity’s striving for knowledge, and a timeless appeal for tolerance and freedom.

Released on Monday 5th October The Physician can be pre-ordered from Amazon:

Book Review and Interview: Sewing the Shadows Together by Alison Taylor-Baillie

2 Sep


An intriguing début novel explores the effects of bereavement and the corrosive power of secrets.

Thirty years after the rape and murder of 13-year-old Shona McIver DNA evidence proves that a miscarriage of justice has occurred. A wrongly imprisoned man has his conviction overturned and is released back into the community.

Now living in South Africa, Shona’s brother Tom returns to Scotland to scatter his mother’s ashes. Returning to the city that was once his home he is attends a school reunion and meets former classmates for the first time in decades. Also at the reunion is Shona’s best friend, Sarah.

Married to a TV presenter, Sarah is mother to grown up twins. Juggling her roles as wife, mother, and daughter she frequently ignores her own emotional needs. Haunted by the memory of her friend, old wounds are reopened when the police reopen the investigation into Shona’s murder.

With the killer still at large suspicions fall upon friends and family. Tom and Sarah expose secrets and lies woven across the decades in their quest to bring the murderer to justice.

Sewing the Shadows Together is an emotionally driven whodunnit. Alison Taylor-Baillie’s densely plotted novel sympathetically highlights the trauma suffered by crime victims’ families. Impeccably researched, the book delves deep into the emotional make-up of people who have been bereaved by homicide and tries to understand how they attempt to reconstruct continue living a normal everyday life.

A promising début, Taylor-Baillie has delivered a gripping crime novel filled with vivid characters and a powerful sense of location. An author to watch out for.

Impressed by Sewing the Shadows Together I spoke to Alison Taylor-Baillie about writing the book and Tartan Noir,

What interests you about the crime fiction genre?

I love the fact that it combines a puzzle to be solved, strong character development, where we learn about inner motivation and hidden secrets, and an atmospheric sense of place.

Sewing the Shadows Together is your first novel. How long did it take you to write  it?

It has been in my head for more than thirty years, but it was only when I stopped teaching full-time that I finally found enough time to write it down. Because it had been fermenting in my subconscious for so long it was fairly well-developed by then, so it only took me about eighteen months to actually write. I thought this was quite quick, because I’m a slow writer, constantly going back and rewriting what went before if the characters and plot veered off in their own directions.

You live in Switzerland, Sewing the Shadows is set in Scotland. Do you see the book as part of the Tartan Noir movement or is it Euro Noir?

I think it is definitely Tartan Noir, because of the setting, but Tartan Noir and Nordic Noir are incredibly popular in Germany and the German-speaking part of Switzerland I live in. I’ve already been approached by a German translator who is interested in the book and my Swiss readers have been asking when it will be translated into German so their friends and family, whose standard of English is not as high as theirs, can read it.

What are you working on at the moment?  Will we see a second novel?

 I have started a second novel, also a stand-alone, set in Scotland and Switzerland. Although I wasn’t aware of it at first, I realise now that some of the themes are similar, with hidden secrets, displacement to another country and culture, and family tensions – and, of course, a crime to be solved!

What’s been the most rewarding experience associated with seeing your work in print?

I’ve only been in print for a very short time, but the best thing has been the response – people saying they loved the novel, people who read the story in 24 hours – I find it quite moving. I also like being able to say ‘I am a writer’ – before publication I felt embarrassed about say thing this, but now I feel I can.

Which contemporary crime fiction authors do you enjoy?

I read Scottish and Scandi fiction mainly, occasionally venturing as far south as the north of England. Actually if you google Tartan Noir and Scandinavian Noir you almost see a list of my favourite authors. If I had to pick two who I have been introduced to in the last few years I would say Yrsa Sigurdardottir (I went to all the way to Münich to hear her read) and Lin Anderson.

Do you have any advice for writers working on their first novel?  

The best advice is to read as much as possible; I’ve learnt nearly everything I know about plotting and character development from reading. It is also good to get in contact with other writers, in a writing group or on an Arvon course, as I did. I also benefited enormously from attending crime-writing festivals, not only because I saw my idols on the panels and was introduced to a lot of new writers, but because I met the most wonderful group of supportive people who have stimulated me and widened my horizons in the most amazing way.

Thanks to Alison Taylor-Baillie and Mike Linane for making this interview possible.

Sewing the Shadows Together can be ordered from Amazon:


Blu-ray Review: The Maggie

17 Aug


Inspired by Neil Munro’s Para Handy stories, The Maggie is a lesser known Ealing comedy that has the distinction of being the one of only two comedic films produced by Ealing Studios to be set in Scotland.

American born Director Alexander Mackendrick remains a towering figure in the history of Scottish cinema. Making his début with Whisky Galore, he would go on to direct a succession of Ealing comedies including The Man in the White Suit and The Ladykillers. After the sale of Ealing Studios he moved to America and directed the classic film noir Sweet Smell of Success.


Nominated for three BAFTA awards, The Maggie focuses on the misadventures of a crew aboard a decrepit puffer boat as they transport a wealthy American’s possessions to his holiday home. Released five years after Whisky Galore, the film offers a more satirical strain of Scottish humour that provides a commentary on post-war relations between Scotland, America, and England.

Overshadowed by the legacy of his other work for Ealing Studios, The Maggie is an exquisite comedy that has drifted into relative obscurity. A probable influence on William Forsyth’s Local Hero, it reprises themes from Mackendrick’s previous film, Whisky Galore, and may be his most personal cinematic moment.

Born to Scottish migrant workers in Boston, Massachusetts Mackendrick was sent to live in Glasgow after his father died of influenza. Raised by his grandparents, he never saw his mother again. Aspects of this traumatic upbringing are repeatedly woven into his films. Childhood, separation, and loss of innocence are recurrent themes.


Affording Mackendrick the opportunity to explore his dual cultural heritage while critiquing the English, The Maggie is an emotionally complex film which satirises materialism, highlights the inflexibility of bureaucracy, and celebrates the plight of those who take a stand against a rigid authority.

A valentine to a way of life that was rapidly disappearing as the economy restructured in the years immediately after World War II, traditionalism is contrasted with then new forms of capitalism and an increased internationalisation. The crew of an obsolete ship are unwitting ambassadors for a sector of society that resisted transformation and cherished rituals.

Former school teacher Alex Mackenzie was 61 when he became an actor. In his first screen role he plays Captain MacTaggart, a wily veteran of the waves who desperately needs £300 to renew his shipping licence. An opportunity to raise the necessary funds arises when an official mistakenly agrees to allow a puffer boat to transport a wealthy American’s possessions to his holiday home.

After learning how his goods are being transported Calvin B. Marshall (Paul Douglas) sets out to reclaim the property. Failure to deliver the cargo will mean that the boat is decommissioned.


More fulfilling than Whisky Galore, The Maggie has been unfairly overlooked for far too long. A deeply personal film from one of the Scottish film industry’s most significant figures. Expanding themes explored in his previous film, the director probes Scotland’s relationship with its transatlantic ally through the prism of his dual nationality. The naming of Paul Douglas’ character refers to Mackendrick’s Calvinist upbringing and the Marshall Plan.

Sentimental with a subversive undercurrent, The Maggie is one of Ealing Studio’s most rewarding comedies. Deserving of greater exposure, the superb restoration from the BFI and StudioCanal should see its reputation renewed.

The Maggie can be ordered from Amazon:

Murder in Malmö: An Interview with Torquil MacLeod

16 Aug


Author of the Malmö mysteries speaks about plotting and future installments.

Scottish born Torquil MacLeod’s first novel Meet Me in Malmö introduced readers to Inspector Anita Sundström. Despite being a solidly plotted novel it’s ending has polarised readers.

Originally written as a film screenplay, Meet Me in Malmö is strong on description and characterisation. Packed with information about Malmö’s history and geography, the book also functions as a handy travel guide.

More complex than its predecessor, Torquil MacLeod’s second novel, Murder in Malmö, is a page-turning thriller. After events in the previous book Inspector Anita Sundström’s career has been sidelined. When the head of an advertising agency is found dead Anita’s colleagues are assigned to the investigating team. Partnered with a young rookie she investigates a series of stolen paintings while searching for the opportunity to restore her reputation.

Have you been surprised by the reaction to Meet Me in Malmö ‘s ending?

I was in a way. The scenario for the ending is explained earlier in the book, so it shouldn’t have come as a total surprise. It’s been a case of some readers love it, other readers don’t, particularly in America. I think they prefer their endings to be neater and happier. But I still wouldn’t change the ending given my time again. I’d rather get some reaction than no reaction.

How soon after finishing writing Meet Me in Malmö did you start planning a second outing for Anita Sundström?

As it was based on a film idea, it was going to be a one-off. However, as I got further into the book, I rather took to Anita and the team and began to think that I would like to explore them further. So, I started to think about a follow-up before I’d finished Meet me.

Meet Me in Malmö was originally a screenplay before being novelised. As Murder in Malmö was always intended to be a novel did the process of plotting differ?

My approach was only different in that I decided that any future full-length novels would have two plotlines. It makes my life more complicated, but it’s more satisfying if you get it to work.

Does your Britishness enable you to be more detached when writing about Sweden? Can you say things about the country that a Nordic writer couldn’t?

Being more detached certainly makes it easier to make observations about Sweden and its history. Part of the fun is putting in details of Swedish life that Nordic writers take for granted. Whether my observations are accurate, you’d have to ask some Swedes.

The third and fourth Anita Sundström mysteries – Missing in and Midnight in Malmö will shortly be published by McNidder & Grace. How many more books will there be in this series?

I’m not sure. I’ve nearly finished an Anita Sundström novella set during a traditional Swedish Christmas. That should be out as an ebook in October. I’m certainly going to write a fifth novel, and then we’ll see what happens.

Will you be attending any crime fiction festivals in the near future? 

Nothing is planned at the moment.

What’s been the most encouraging comment you’ve received since your writing career began?

‘Thank God! At last you’ve come up with something that people might want to read.’ Mrs MacLeod

Thanks to Toquil MacLeod and McNidder & Grace for making this interview possible.

Murder in Malmö can be ordered from Amazon:

Bloody Scotland Blog Tour 2015: An Interview with Gunnar Staalesen

12 Aug
Gunnar Staalesen

Gunnar Staalesen

One of Nordic Noir’s founding fathers speaks ahead of his appearance at Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival

Best known for a series of crime novels featuring the detective Varg Veum, Gunnar Staalesen made his literary début in 1969 with the novel Seasons of Innocence. One of the most successful crime authors currently working in Norway, he has sold over four million books in 24 countries. Orenda Books recently published We Shall Inherit the Wind and has scheduled two further Varg Veum novels for 2016 and 2017.

You’ve famously been described as the Norweigian Raymond Chandler. Do you mind the comparison? Would you rather be compared to a Nordic author?

No writer would mind the comparison with Shakespeare, I imagine, and Chandler is the Shakespeare of crime literature. To be compared to him is a great honour, but how fair it is, is not for me to judge… My private eye, Varg Veum, is certainly a Nordic relative of Philip Marlowe – and, I will add, Lew Archer of Ross Macdonald – so in a way I can understand the comparison. But the most important Norwegian writer through all times is the drama writer Henrik Ibsen, who wrote plays with the same feeling of plot as a detective writer, and I would not mind a comparison with him, either.

We Shall Inherit the Wind has been warmly reviewed. Orenda will be issuing the next instalments in the Varg Veum series (Where Roses Never Die, No One Is So Safe in Danger). How closely do you work with the translator?

I do not work closely with any of my translators, but Don Bartlett I know from several translations, and I know that he is very, very good. I get a mail from him from time to time if he has a question to ask – and it happens – but mostly he is on his own, and very safe there.

Which is your favourite book available in English and why?

I have to say The Consorts of Death, because it tells he life story of a young boy, later man, that ends up with a very tragic fate, and I think that is one of the most important stories I have told. But I am very happy for the many goods reviews of We Shall Inherit The Wind, and the reviews have given me a new look on that book, too. But the next one to be translated into English, Where Roses Never Die, is a favourite by many of my Norwegian readers, and I think that is one of my very best, too.

Which is your favourite book not available in English?

That must be Fallen Angels (Norwegian title: Falne Engler, French translation: Anges déchus), because it tells the story of a generation, the one that grew up after the Second World War, and the birth of rock and roll, and Varg Veum is confronted with his own childhood and youth in the search of the guilty person behind the crimes in the story.

Has it become easier for Norwegian authors to attract the interest of UK publishers?

Of course, the Nordic Noir wave and the success of Jo Nesbø and other Scandinavian writers have helped, but my first book was published in UK in 1986, so I was in some way one of the fore-runners.

Location is important in your writing. Would the Varg Veum novels have the same dramatic impact if they were set in another city?

Bergen is a perfect city for a noir writer, with its wet, rainy streets, the local fjord, the mountains surrounding the city … The Varg Veum novels would be quite different if they took place in Oslo or another Norwegian city, in short: they would never have been written.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am a playwright, too, and at the moment I am polishing a new drama, that I hope will be produced in a year or two. But I will start writing the 18th Varg Veum novel in a month or two, when I have developped the idea I have for the plot.

As a reader, what crime novel has had the most profound effect on you?

Well, the very first crime novel I read was The Hound of Baskervilles, and that was a great event in my reading life, but reading my first Raymond Chandler, which was The Little Sister, and the first of Sjøwall & Wahlöö, Roseanna, made an even stronger impact, I think. Chandler’s The Long Goodbye is still my favourite, though, and when it comes to plot-making: Ross Macdonald, several of his novels.

What’s been the most rewarding experience attending a crime fiction festival?

Meeting readers, meeting good collegues – it is always a pleasure to be part of a good crime fiction festival, and I am really looking forward to Bloody Scotland.

Thanks to Gunnar Staalesen and Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for making this interview possible.

For more information on Bloody Scotland please visit:

We Shall Inherit the Wind by Gunnar Staalesen can be ordered from Amazon:


DVD Review: The Saboteurs

9 Aug


An epic recreation of one of World War Two’s most significant acts of sabotage.

Previously filmed as Operation Swallow: The Battle for Heavy Water and The Heroes of Telemark, The Saboteurs is a balanced re-telling of the Nazi regime’s attempts to be first in the race to create nuclear weaponry and the daring efforts of Norwegian troops to destroy a plant being used to create fission material. A supremely well-crafted series brings to the screen a turning point in the war and places events in historical context.

The Norsk Hydro plant in Telemark, Norway, had been producing heavy water in large quantities since 1934. At the outbreak of hostilities an arrangement was in place to supply the French government with heavy water for the duration of the conflict. After Nazi occupation supplies were commandeered and sent to Germany where they were used by scientists in experiments to create the first atomic bomb.

Allied governments suspected that Germany was trying to create a nuclear weapon and that heavy water may be a core ingredient in the process. Destroying the plant could change the course of the war.

Perched atop an icy ravine, the plant was protected by several layers of concrete and armed guards. To reach the facility the saboteurs had to cross a frozen river and climb a gorge. Senior officers doubted that the raid would be successful. KAMPEN_OM_TUNGTVANNETBreaking viewing records, The Saboteurs achieved the highest ratings this century when it was screened in Norway. 1.7 million viewers tuned into the series (the country’s population is 5.1 million).

Eschewing the triumphalist “boys own” tone employed by previous adaptations the series presents people on both sides of the conflict as complex emotionally driven individuals wrestling with moral dilemmas. Screenwriter Petter S. Rosenlund and Director Per-Olav Sørensen have produced a tense series that trounces all previous attempts to dramatise the mission.

Deep in the heat of Germany’s war machine, Nobel Prize winning physicist Werner Heisenberg (Christoph Bach) conducts experiments to build the first atomic bomb. His superiors are convinced that this weapon will ensure Germany is victorious. Heisenberg requires heavy water to control nuclear fission.

Following Germany’s occupation of Norway chemistry professor Leif Tronstad (Espen Klouman-Høiner) flees to London and makes contact with Military Intelligence. Working alongside Colonel John Wilson (Pip Torrens) and Captain Julie Smith (Anna Friel), Leif plans a sabotage mission.


Several changes have been made to the story for dramatic purposes. The on screen director of Norsk Hydro is a fictional creation that amalgamates several figures. When Leif arrived in London he was not met by Captain Julie Smith (Anna Friel). Records show that no female officer was involved in planning the mission.

Undoubtedly the definitive screen version of the mission. Per-Olav Sørensen’s cinematic direction offers up a succession of breathtaking set pieces which highlights the human drama and .communicates the dangers faced by troops as they attempted to cross a treacherous snow covered mountainous landscape.

A fitting tribute to the real-life heroes of Telemark. The Saboteurs is a complex slow burning drama that bravely tries to understand what motivated each side in this conflict. Alongside Arrow Films’ Generation War it represents a new benchmark in War drama.

The Saboteurs can be ordered from Amazon:


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