An Interview with Kati Hiekkapelto


The Petrona nominated Finnish writer talks about crime fiction and being the lead singer of a punk rock band.

One of Scandinavian crime fiction’s rising stars, Kati Hiekkapelto’s debut novel, The Hummingbird, was issued last year. Critically acclaimed, it was nominated for the Petrona Award. A sequel, The Defenceless, will be published in September by Orenda Books.

A modern-day Renaissance woman, Kati juggles several careers. In addition to being one of Finland’s most successful novelists, she is a special-needs teacher, performance artist, and lead singer in a feminist punk band.

We caught up with Kati at CrimeFest and talked about her writing, the road to publication, and Nordic crime fiction’s ability to highlight cracks in Scandinavian society.

“When I got the idea to write a crime novel I didn’t realize it was such a good genre for talking about social issues,” Kati exclaimed. “I just wanted to write the story. Story is the most important thing.”

“This genre is perfect to deal with social issues. One Finnish author, not a crime writer, has said that crime fiction is the first literary genre that uncovers the festering boils of society.”

Kati’s first novel The Hummingbird is a flinty police procedural featuring an immigrant detective investigating a serial killer who is murdering joggers. The sleuth is also keeping a close eye on a young Kurdish girl because of fears that the child is being forced into an arranged marriage,

“There’s so much under the surface,” she explained. The reality we live in is so different you couldn’t imagine what is happening there to the migrants. It’s happening there in the same country. Somebody has to talk about it.”

Living on the island Hailuoto Kati makes a daily commute by boat to the mainland for work. One evening inspiration struck and it set her on a route that would lead to the publication of her first book.

“I was sitting in my car on a ferry going from work to my home island,” Kati explained. “I was in the middle of the sea, sitting and there and boom thought I wanted to write a crime novel. Next was the idea, I wanted the character to be an immigrant woman. This is how it began.”

“When I actually started to write I took a year off work which was quite a huge decision. Not a disaster but it was almost a disaster because my income was zero. When I wrote The Hummingbird it was to show myself I can finish a crime novel. I wanted to write a book that I would like to read.”

“We don’t have agents in Finland. We submit directly to publishers. I sent it to two publishing houses. A publisher called me after two weeks and said we are really interested can you come to Helsinki and meet. After that it was easy, very surprisingly easy. What happened after that was amazing.”

“The first foreign publisher who bought it was Icelandic but then the Icelandic publisher went bankrupt. The second one was German. They bought three books. Other publishers got interested because they thought why are they buying three books from this nobody? After that came Dutch, Hungarian, Italian, and Danish. It’s important to us Finnish. We are a small country and have a small language, we need the translations.”

Kati is also the singer and co-writer in an all female punk band.

“I was a punk from childhood. I had aunts and uncles that were punks so somehow I got influenced by then. The band started three years ago. I was already a writer. We are not interested in the music business. It’s more about having fun, and having a hobby. We practice almost every week but we don’t want to do gigs all the time because we have so many other things to do. I write the lyrics. We sing about middle aged women. It’s really political, feminist.”

Kati is currently writing a third novel. It will be published in Finland next spring. Her literary début has been optioned by a film company. With a second book due to hit British shelves in the autumn this promising flag-bearer for Finnish crime fiction might be on the verge of becoming a major player in Nordic Noir literature. She is seemingly unfazed by prospect of further success.

“I’m happy if I can pay my bills and write. That’s enough for me.”

The Defenceless can be ordered from Amazon:


Book Review: Snow Blind by Ragnar Jonasson (Translated by Quentin Bates)


The first volume in Ragnar Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series makes its long awaited English language print début.

In this intricately plotted crime novel a small community is placed under suspicion when the town’s most famous resident is murdered.

Overshadowed for far too long by its higher profile Scandinavian neighbours, Icelandic crime fiction is finally getting the recognition it deserves. With its long dark winter nights, volcanic landscape, and palpable existential ennui brought about by the financial crisis Iceland is proving to be fertile ground for a new generation of writers that are using their finely tuned creative antenna to tap into the nation’s Zeitgeist and use the genre to critique the chain of events leading up to and following the tumultuous economic meltdown.

With its third title new publisher Orenda Books is alerting English speaking readers to a new and distinct voice who has already earned a reputation as one of Iceland’s foremost crime writers and will shortly be known as one of Nordic Noir’s big hitters.

Co-founder of the crime fiction festival Iceland Noir, Ragnor Jonasson has translated fourteen Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic. His short story Death of a Sunflower was published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. A second story was published in the Crime Writers’ Association 2014 anthology Guilty Parties. With his full length début Ragnar has delivered delivered an intelligent whodunnit that updates, and expands the locked room mystery format.

The Dark Iceland series is set in Siglufjörður. A small fishing town in the north of Iceland situated just below the Arctic circle, its economy was once dependent on the herring industry. After years of overfishing the town went into long term decline when the stock failed to appear in 1969. Decades after the boom and bust it’s become a tight-knight community. A place where everybody knows each other and it’s safe to leave doors unlocked. The tranquility of this deceptively perfect town is forevermore shattered when a local celebrity is found dead at the local theatre.

A second crime is recounted through the use of flashback, ensuring the reader is constantly suspicious of the town’s inhabitants.

Ari Thór  is the town’s new police officer. Directionless and adrift, he is unsure of what to do with his life. Having dropped out of theology and philosophy degree courses he joined the police force. Offered the opportunity of a two year posting in a remote northern town he accepts without consulting his girlfriend despite knowing she will be unable to leave Reykjavik because of her work and study commitments.

In winter months Siglufjörður is only accessible via a narrow tunnel. Surrounded by snow topped mountains, the area is covered in darkness from November until January. The hero’s sense of intense emotional claustrophobia is compounded by hostile weather leaving him unable to escape the town and facing the prospect that he’s trapped in the region having to cope with treacherous atmospheric conditions and the knowledge that a killer is at large.

A tense and thrilling book that paints a picture of a remote town in long-term decline. Ragnar Jonasson’s personal links to the area has ensured that Snow Blind conveys verisimilitude on every page. His grandfather lived in Siglufjörður and wrote about its history.

The author’s cool, clean prose constructs atmospheric word pictures that recreate the harshness of an Icelandic winter in the reader’s mind. Highly sophisticated storytelling techniques reveal a writer who has soaked up every lesson he could learn from Golden Age crime fiction and made it his own. Achieving the seemingly impossible, Ragnar Jonasson has reinvented the locked room mystery for a more sophisticated readership.

Translated by Quentin Bates, Snow Blind is destined to be an instant classic.

Snow Blind can be ordered from Amazon:

Nordic not Noir

Stirling’s Nordic Noir group recently visited the London Book Fair and have written about the new Scandinavian titles seen and the role played by translators in bringing these dark tales to our high street bookstores.

Nordic Noir

On a recent trip to London Book Fair (an industry event where many book rights deals are negotiated)  to assist at the Publishing Scotland stand  I was delighted to discover a Nordic countries stand.  The stand was sizeable and each country had their own section. Groups such as the Swedish Literature Exchange and the  Finnish Literature exchange were represented.

I picked up copies of The Swedish Book Review which is the journal of the Swedish-English Literary translators’ Association.  It contains information on upcoming Swedish titles translated into English and other related articles.

I also picked up some of the catalogues from Icelandic publishers Crymogea (mainly art and photography books) , Odinsauga and Bokabeitan who describe themselves as a ‘progressive new publisher with a mission to promote reading for children, teens and young adults.’ Their keywords are quality and choice.  I loved Odinsauga’s raven logo and their choice of font, it reminded me…

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