Book Review: Euro Noir by Barry Forshaw

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One of the UK’s foremost experts on crime fiction, Barry Forshaw’s knowledge of the genre is without equal. In addition to editing Crime Time and Nordic Noir magazines, he is the author of several notable books including Death in a Cold Climate: A Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction and British Crime Film. Regularly called upon to appear in documentaries, it was whilst working on Italian Noir for BBC Four he was struck with inspiration and came up with the idea for what eventually became Euro Noir.

A companion to last year’s Nordic Noir (also published by Pocket Essentials), this latest volume has a far broader remit. Endeavouring to survey as many contemporary authors working in the field across the continent as possible, Barry Forshaw proves that the distinction between fan and media professional is an arbitrary one. Written with an infectious enthusiasm and drawing from many years devouring the cream of what our cousins from the mainland have to offer, the author presents a near definitive guide to Europe’s take on the genre.

Long term readers of Barry Forshaw’s work will know that his hallmark is the ability to appeal to newcomers seeking a thorough overview before making their own tentative steps into the nearest book shop, public library, or DVD store and yet still offering something that will force long term enthusiasts to rethink any assumptions they may have about an author, book, film, or movement. Offering a refreshing new take on the genre and its attendant criticism, the author’s trademark thorough research is taken into an entirely different realm by the addition of interview extracts with authors, translators and editors. Personal anecdotes of meeting writers and publishing staff at festivals or institutes lift this text so that it never becomes a dry analysis. An exuberant critical celebration, subtitled The Pocket Essential Guide to European Crime Fiction, Film &TV the book covers an immense number of titles and is written so that even those who have seen a specific film or read a particular book several times will want to go back and experience the story all over again to see how whatever nugget of information the author has offered changes the viewing or reading dynamic. A key plot or character moment may be totally transformed after reading what the writer wanted to convey or perhaps a cultural cue explained by Barry Forshaw might add layers of rich texture to a scene.

A justly deserved reputation for cogent arguments and an inclusive approach to the material being scrutinized was validated when the book was selected as a university set text whilst still in the proof stages. An essential guide not only to crime fiction but also a celebration of European popular culture. The overview has a slight bias towards the west not out of any personal preference but because of the availability of translated editions. Euro Noir is encyclopedic is scope and is written to be accessible, titles cited can be ordered from any major retailer.

Traversing the continent’s rich contribution to the genre of crime fiction Barry Forshaw doesn’t discriminate, authors less known to UK readers and more famous names are given an equal amount of coverage and analysis. From Georges Simenon through to Jakob Arjouni and Marek Krajewski, the figures vital to the foundation and expansion of European noir are profiled and their most representative works given the accord they deserve.

Alongside the consideration of the literary scene is a fully comprehensive overview of essential films and TV series that includes modern cult classics Braquo, Mesrine, Salamander, and Spiral but also covers older works including Les diaboliques, and Lucky Luciano.

Crime fiction is an ever expanding genre. In the year since Nordic Noir was published fans have been treated to a number of new authors along with a succession of high quality series brought to us courtesy of BBC 4, More 4, and Arrow Video. The author revisits Scandinavia’s contribution in a chapter that brings readers bang-up-to-date with what is happening in the Nordic territories.

Entertaining, illuminating, and indispensable. This is the ultimate road map for anybody interested in European crime books, film, and TV.

Euro Noir is available from Amazon and all other booksellers

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Euro-Noir-Essential-European-Essentials/dp/1843442450/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1401557269&sr=8-1&keywords=barry+forshaw+euro+noir

Nordic Noir – The Pocket Essential Guide To Scandinavian Crime Fiction, Film & TV – Reviewed

No longer a niche strand of crime fiction tucked away on a hard to find shelf deep within the backroom of your friendly neighbourhood book store or buried at the rear of a foreign films DVD section, Nordic Noir now has a much greater cultural presence. It’s profile is currently strong enough for commissioning editors to be confident that the publishing an image of a Scandinavian actor on the front cover of the Radio Times or a weekend newspaper supplement will promote whatever series is being trailed, not impact upon sales figures, and may encourage fans who otherwise may not have purchased the title to buy additional copies for archiving amongst their private collection of memorabilia. Supermarket chains, famed for their reticence to stock unprofitable brands, routinely sell Scandinavian fiction at heavily discounted prices and frequently give the books a prominent place within its fiction departments

Further evidence of the sub genre’s absorption into the mainstream was provided by a screening of the final episode of Borgen‘s second season at the Edinburgh Playhouse accompanied by a question and answer session with the lead actor. The event proved to be more popular than was initially anticipated, leading to further sessions being arranged to cater for those who wanted to attend the event but thought they might not be able to due initial plans for a single event underestimating the high number of fans that were willing to travel great distances for the experience of seeing an episode on the big screen, quizzing a member of the cast, and finally meeting those with whom they’ve celebrated and debated the series on Twitter or Facebook. This fan gathering generated a surprisingly level of coverage from media organizations. In a break from an already overloaded schedule fielding questions from enthusiasts, accepting an absolutely amazing fan made calendar, and holding a brief private audience with a prominent Scottish politician Sidse Babett Knudsen was invited by the BBC and Sky to appear on news programmes.

No doubt feeling validated that the event in Edinburgh was successful in terms of promoting the show, Nordic Noir as a brand, and its accompanying fandom Arrow Films capitalized on both the attendant media coverage and its core customer base feeling bereft after relatively recent season finales of The Killing and Borgen by releasing Above the Street, Below the Water. Using this particular title, alongside Unit One, to kick start what promises to be a thoroughly rewarding year in terms of new productions and the distribution of those shows which might otherwise have slipped under the radar is both an award to long term fans that have followed this range since its emergence a few years ago and a play upon the theme of spectatorship that is very cleverly woven into the script’s spine. Fans who have remained loyal to Nordic Noir, both as a subgenre and brand, finally have the opportunity to buy a movie which invites the viewers to draw from their stored knowledge of Scandinavian film and TV series and engage in the activity of “actor spotting”.

The discovery of archival content which had previously not been made available in the UK and its subsequent distribution has been central to the formation and maintenance of several fandoms. Autobiographical and ethnographic accounts from members of a number of musical subcultures including Northern Soul and Rockabilly have suggested that in the group’s embryonic stages the recovery, exhibition, and rehabilitation of previously unavailable items ranked equal in importance to the consumption of new material as it enabled fans to engage in critical dialogue with each other thereby assisting in the formation of group identity and facilitating participants being able to establish a provisional consensus regarding generic parameters.

Whilst Nordic Noir already existed as discrete cinematic, televisual and literary forms long before UK audiences were first exposed to Jo Nesbo, The Killing and Yellow Bird’s adaptation of Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, obtaining information of the key developments within the movement has until now been compromised by insufficient data being made available to English speaking readers about titles that whilst hugely influential within a Scandinavian context have not been distributed in other territories. The publication of Barry Forshaw’s Nordic Noir represents the first attempt by a mainstream imprint to provide a historical and critical overview of the sub genre’s antecedents, cultural influences, political subtexts, gender representations, and possible explanations for the phenomenal sales figures which have repeatedly defied industry expectations. Subtitled The Pocket Essential Guide To Scandinavian Crime Fiction, Film & TV, this is a comprehensive work of reference that aficionados will return to repeatedly in order to enhance their knowledge of a particular book, author, film or TV show.

In the introductory section, Forshaw addresses with refreshing honesty the problematic notion of being designated as an expert in any given field, how he has acquired his knowledge and what he wants readers to do with the information in the book. As a long time editor of Crime Time and author of several non fiction titles, including a sterling biography of Steig Larsson, Forshaw has been acquainted with Scandivian fiction for several decades. The roles of media professional and fan are not mutually exclusive and throughout the text Forshaw writes as an enthusiast keen to share his discoveries in the hope that readers might feel sufficiently enticed to order some of the tiles he has recommended.

As this remarkable example of scholarship reminds us, Nordic Noir didn’t arrive on our shores as a fully formed sub generic movement. The earliest titles available to UK readers were appreciated as competently written crime novels and possibly early critical commentary may have primarily focused on the left leaning political subtext that was prevalent in those books. Scandinavian fiction, as a marketing brand, didn’t exist back then and titles were lumped in with other foreign authors but received less critical praise or sales figures that were awarded to, for instance, Georges Simenon.

Intriguingly, Forshaw’s historical overview references authors and stylistic approaches which were prevalent before Sjöwall and Wahlöö embarked on their influential ten book series.

Wherever possible the author enhances his analysis with appropriate use of interview extracts culled from his many years of researching and writing about crime fiction. This enables the reader to become better acquainted with the cited writer’s working methods, life history, and individual approaches to the movement.

With regards individual authors, Larsson, Nesbo, Sjöwall and Wahlöö are the big hitters in terms of sales and influence and whilst they are accorded the greatest scrutiny Forshaw’s encompassing and celebratory investigation references many lesser known writers.

That a free to air broadcaster would regularly devote two hours each Saturday evening for the screening of a foreign language series would once upon a time have been classed as ratings suicide and yet BBC4 has shown that imported subtitled content can be viable in terms of audience viewing figures and the appreciation index. Similarly, Arrow Films DVD range has been successful enough to warrant the licensing of several titles not currently scheduled for UK TV transmission and has also been awarded with a vibrant and critically aware online fan community. This is essentially a second wave of Nordic Noir that feeds from and back into the literary strand. Several notable films and TV series are analysed by Forshaw, including, but not exclusively, Borgen, The Killing, Wallander. An appreciation of these series is balanced with behind the scenes information some of which may surprise even the most knowledgeable of aficionados.

One thing the book does incredibly well is to draw attention to generic inflexions or cultural cues that the reader might have missed out on when they last read a specific book or watched a particular film and TV series. Armed with this new information the reader might want to go back and devour these titles all over again but with an enhanced perspective.

Closing with a section on names to watch out for over the coming months and years one can’t help but wish for this excellent text to be updated at regular intervals so as to accommodate new perspectives on the sub genre that occur following the release of each book or DVD from Arrow Films.

Nordic Noir – The Pocket Essential Guide To Scandinavian Crime Fiction, Film & TV is available to buy from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Nordic-Pocket-Essentials-Barry-Forshaw/dp/1842439871/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1363107338&sr=8-1

The Killing Handbook: Forbrydelsen Forever – Reviewed

In the period prior to BBC Four’s transmission of the third and final season of Forbrydelsen both new and old media have published articles which discuss previous instalments and provide publicity for those that have yet to air. For several months the fanbase has been able to access information concerning the new batch of episodes through social media posts by Danish media professionals and early reviews from those who attended either the press screening held in Copenhagen or the BFI’s event. That the Danish broadcaster has yet to air the final episode means that any fans eager to obtain information concerning the resolution ahead of other UK and Irish viewers is unable to do so thus ensuring that in contrast to the second season fans can, for the moment, view the Wikipedia entry without having the identity of the guilty party revealed.

To cater for the active audience which appreciates Forbrydelsen several fan groups have been established on twitter and Facebook that provide electronic spaces for the celebration and analysis of content alongside the displaying of fan authored creations. Within the Cultural Studies arena discussion of fan activity has evolved from early perspectives which viewed this form of viewer activity as a form of social deviance to more recent, and enlightened, approaches that consider fan practices to be an active mode of consumption in which members of this subculture are enraged in a creative and meaningful relationship with a cultural text. For Henry Jenkins ‘Fans are central to how culture operates… New technologies are enabling average consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content.’ (2006: p.1) That fan as a theoretical concept and personal signifier is now a far more inclusive term is the result of a complex process involving new academic paradigms and technological developments which have increased the visibility of fans, reduced the potency of negative stereotypes and made it easier for them to directly interact with each other and for them to engage in dialogue with content producers/providers. With the publication of The Killing Handbook: Forbrydelsen Forever the audience has a literary text that although authored by a media professional is fundamentally a fan text which celebrates and encourages active interpretation, interactivity, and productivity . Throughout the book Emma Kennedy asserts her fan credentials and this is reinforced at various points via quotes from cast members, most notably in Sofie Gråbøl’s preface.

The Killing Handbook is a mass market text that explores potential sources of viewing pleasure, provides background information on the production, places the protagonist Sarah Lund within the canon of female detectives, highlights areas of Danish culture that may be alien to English speaking viewers, and encourages the reader to be creative. Due to publication deadlines the book refers primarily to the first two seasons although the forthcoming third is briefly discussed in the twelfth chapter but not to the extent that it might ruin the next five weeks for those eagerly awaiting the return of the series to our screens.

The front cover is incredibly rich in information concerning the text, it’s agenda, and the relationship with fandom. Upon initial viewing it seems to be nothing more than a section of a Farose sweater. However, Faroese sweaters have become indelibly associated with Forbrydelsen and Arrow Films’ forthcoming DVD and Blu-ray box set also employs an image which represents a section of a sweater as the cover due to instant recognition amongst the fanbase. Whilst the image on the cover may already be loaded with associations it is when read in relation to information contained within the covers it becomes apparent that it is the product of an author engaging in a dialogue with fandom and harnessing fan activity and fan in an attempt to find an image which best represents the series within a clear and concise form that is suitable for display within an overcrowded bookshop. Several other examples of fan produced craft are featured within the text most notably a sweater and gun and cosy set made by fan Kathy Calmejane and  this progressive  approach to engagement with aficionados was key to my appreciation of the book. The textual information also invites active participation, directly in terms of a quiz section and indirectly in the opening chapter which provides a twenty point analysis of Sarah Lund’s key characteristics for those inclined to emulate the protagonist.

In each chapter the reader is made to feel that she or he is a partner to Kennedy as investigating officer, that I made it to the end alive and without wearing a Faroese sweater should not be interpreted as foreshadowing developments from the third season. Kennedy picks apart past seasons, highlights potential plot holes and sometimes humorously glosses over them by referring to a character’s intellectual shortcomings or professional ineptitude. The wealth of information reveals much that has not, to the best of my knowledge, been previously revealed by online sources. We get to learn of potential alternative titles that were actively considered during the early days of production, how a fax inadvertently revealed to an actor that his character might be the killer and many more stories which will enhance repeated viewings of earlier seasons.

This book will not just act solely as an aid to viewing The Killing. The inclusion of cultural information will alert us, as viewers, to information in other Danish programmes that we might otherwise miss or fail to comprehend. For those considering visiting the Copenhagen locations cited in chapter 11,  Mz. Kennedy has generously included a section that promises to enable readers to become proficient in Danish within 15 minutes. Beat that Michel Thomas!

Like the televisual series that inspired it, this is a text that I will return to again and again particularly as I view the third season and assess how Lund’s body language conforms or deviates from the patterns identified by Kennedy.

I would not hesitate to recommend this book to fellow fans and have ordered several additional copies for  Christmas presents that I will give to fellow fans.

The Killing Handbook: Forbrydelsen Forever is available from all good booksellers.

For thise interested in Fan Studies the Henry Jenkins text I have cited is Fans, Bloggers and Gamers:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_12?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=fans+bloggers+and+gamers&sprefix=fans+blogger%2Caps%2C0