Book Review: Nordic Noir by Barry Forshaw

 

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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

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Death of a Pilgrim (En pilgrims död)

On a February night in 1986 the Swedish Prime Minister and his wife were walking home, without bodyguard protection, after seeing a film at a cinema when a lone gunman appeared. Olof Palme was fatally wounded and at the time of writing no one has been successfully convicted for his assassination.

To coincide with the twenty-seventh anniversary of Palme’s murder Swedish police launched a helpline that members of the public could phone if they had any information which would help in the ongoing criminal investigation. Early estimates suggest that at least a hundred calls were made and some new facts were presented to the police but it remains too soon to state with any certainty if this will result in any arrests being made.

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With death Palme becomes an ever present presence in the modern Swedish consciousness, a proverbial ghost always seated at the table. In tandem with an appreciation of his political legacy, his supporters and detractors have speculated on what he might have achieved had be not been slain. In his lifetime he was a prominent figure within the European Social Democrat movement and recognition of his achievements continues to the present day, not just in Sweden as exemplified by Ed Milliband’s recent reappraisal of Palme; “He was an extraordinary leader, an incredibly successful leader of Sweden. Someone who gave a huge inspiration to so many Social Democrats not just around Europe, but around the world, with an incredible vision of a more equitable society, a more equitable form of capitalism. He is an inspiration for us in Britain.”

Without an arrest or a known motive, a plethora of conspiracy theories about who was responsible for the killing have been discussed, analysed, and contested in ordinary day-to-day conversation and within books, films, radio, and TV programming. Adding to the debate of possible institutional complicity is SVT’s 2013 adaptation of Leif G. W. Persson’s trilogy; Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s Cold, Another Time, Another Life, and Falling Freely, as in a Dream.

Starring Rolf Lassgård, En pilgrims död is a four part mini-series directed by Kristian Petri and Kristoffer Nyholm from a screenplay by Sara Heldt and Johan Widerberg. The series is set within two time periods; 1985 and the present day.

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Following an informal discussion with a superior officer, Lars Martin Johansson ( Rolf Lassgård) sets up an informal investigation into Palme’s murder that runs parallel to, but is independent from, the official investigation. Johansson’s largely self-imposed parameters are to explore the historical documents within the police archive to assess if all data was recorded and interpreted correctly and to see if his own personal inaction may have inadvertently led to Palme’s death or the killer being able to evade justice.

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The police service of 1985 is riddled with corruption and fascist sympathisers. From top to bottom the force is tainted by the stench of improper activities. With no checks or balances the police can act as they please and frequently do just so long as the thin veneer of public respectability is maintained. Rumours about senior colleagues once heard are denied and false alibis are constructed for officers suspected of illegal activity. Johansson might be good at his job but he commands very little respect from his colleagues, his sociopathic approach to interrogating suspects is used to make the viewers aware of how very different modern police methods are from those employed in the 1980s; an early scene features Johansson tormenting a suspect by supplying him with details of his father’s death.

As the months fly away and we head towards that tragic night upon which Olof Palme died we, as viewers, are passive observers to a police force so paranoid that the Prime Minister may be a covert Soviet Agent that it will commit murder in order to obtain a manuscript which may confirm its fears.

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Despite some minor anachronisms, specifically with regards 1980s male fashions this series succeeds in selling the era to the viewer and resists the all too obvious temptation to dress the cast in pastel suits and espadrilles whilst a soundtrack of Nik Kershaw and Frankie Goes to Hollywood ramps up the action. The period clothing is very sombre and the kitsch cultural references are reserved for the present day sequences. Demis Roussos’ Forever and Ever is used specifically as an ironic counterpoint to a particular moment of the story which adds a new layer of meaning to the track in a manner reminiscent to how Lynch employed Roy Orbison’s In Dreams within the movie Blue Velvet.

This is an exceedingly well-made series. Prior knowledge of Swedish political history is not a prerequisite for viewing, all the relevant information is relayed wherever it is necessary for an understanding of the plot and the use of appropriate archive material enhances the sense of verisimilitude. After several episodes containing discussion about Palme both as a man and a politician the moment when the assassination happens is far more emotionally potent than I had anticipated and in addition to forcing me to continue watching on the edge of my seat to see what conclusions the series would make it also led to me being actively interested in reading about this period in Swedish history.

Death of a Pilgrim is available to order from Amazon.

For further information of Palme’s assassination and the effect it has had on Swedish crime fiction the best place to start are two superbly researched blog posts by Vicky Albritton;

http://nordicnoir.wordpress.com/2010/04/17/olof-palme/

http://nordicnoir.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/new-lead-olof-palme-assassination/

Leif G. W. Persson’s trilogy is available to buy from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Between-Summers-Longing-Winters-End/dp/0552774685/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1362419199&sr=8-1

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Another-Time-Life-ebook/dp/B007BLO4D0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1362419257&sr=8-1

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Free-Falling-If-Dream-Story/dp/0307377474/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1362419315&sr=8-1

Details on Ed Milliband’s speech about Olaf Palme can be found here;

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-02-21/miliband-sees-vision-for-labour-u-k-in-scandinavian-snow.html

Les Revenants (The Returned)

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‘We zombies should help each other.’

In the years following the theatrical release of 28 Days Later the zombie sub-genre has undergone something of a commercial resurgence. In addition to several highly successful gaming franchises, multiple graphic novels, and a thriving literary scene, the number of films and television series competing for marketplace supremacy and viewer loyalty has increased substantially and at present the dominant televisual brand is the HBO produced series The Walking Dead. Into this very crowded and ever more inventive movement French pay-to-view broadcaster Canal+ has launched a new series based on a 2004 film that was released internationally as They Came Back.

Adaptations of films can be a tricky business. For every Buffy the Vampire Slayer or M*A*S*H viewers are hit with several shows that lack the very ingredients which made the original film so enjoyable. Although promoted as a remake Les Revenants is a re-imagining of the 2004 film. In the original version a global phenomena occurred one morning as every single person who had died over the previous ten years was suddenly resurrected. The opening sequences saw hoards of stiff moving zombies march out of the graveyards which had a few moments earlier been home to their corpses. With a massive influx of reanimated corpses needing housing, and employment, the government establishes temporary refuge centres whilst it tries to reach a consensus on the socio-cultural implications posed by having to provide resources for seventy million people. At various points in the film we are presented with information that informs us of ways the zombies differ from humans; they exhibit symptoms similar to acute aphasia, have a lower body temperature, do not require sleep and need minimal amounts of food . The debate on if it is possible to integrate what is effectively a large migrant community is a central theme to the film but one that becomes somewhat muddied by the need to resolve the plot in under two hours and by localising the action; despite being a global event we only experience it from a French perspective.

The 2012 eight part series, scripted by Fabrice Gobert, relocates the action to a small French Alpine town. In this version a very small number of deceased individuals have returned, none of whom are, at first, aware that they are dead. With the exception of an inability to sleep not one of the returnees initially displays any obvious physiological and psychological abnormalities but in later episodes they experience enlarged appetites, a resistance to alcohol’s intoxicating effects and a very high sex drive. The cause of death is the only information missing from the returnees memories and in the introductory moments  returning to a community many years after being buried in the grounds of the local cemetery causes no disorientation or depression.  In the film version it was only those who had died within the previous ten years that returned to walk once again amongst the living whilst in the series returnees are indiscriminately plucked from a thirty five year time frame. The resurrected have no direct connection and what links them is a mystery. Amongst the re-animated corpses are the wife of a school teacher, a child who was murdered by a pair of house burglars, a cannibalistic serial killer, a girl who was killed in a coach accident, and a young man who died on the morning of what should have been his wedding day. Each wants nothing more than to return to their loved ones and resume the life they once lived but encountering family members who have already undergone the grieving process opens emotional scars strong enough to drive one person to murder and suicide.

Once the wider community becomes aware that those to whom they had bid farewell many years ago are now living again in the town the sense of disbelief is rapidly replaced by anger at person X being revived but not person Y. Competing theological perspectives of the phenomena are presented by the local Catholic parish priest and a worker at a local community organization, both individuals are fighting to maintain their ideological supremacy and justify the belief system to which they subscribe. As the town becomes embroiled in psychological and spiritual mutilation the local police force has a wave of procedural problems for which there is no precedent such as how to go about booking a suspect that has been officially recorded as dead for the last decade.

A visual motif of water as a source of life and death plays in the title sequence and the main body of each episode. The town is situated near to a vast dam and at one point in the last forty years its banks have burst, killing many of the local inhabitants. That the local abundant water supply may somehow factor into whatever has caused the spate of resurrections is thankfully not resolved for the series ends with a visually stunning and emotionally engaging cliffhanger.

Les Revenants is a series you will watch again and again in order to pick up any clues about what or who has the power to revive the dead, why have they chosen to only revive these specific individuals, do the dead have a part to play of which they are, as yet unaware? It’s a very confident and consistent series that doesn’t fall into the obvious trap of filling screen time with mass hysteria each time a character meets someone who is supposed to be dead. The direction is reminiscent of David Lynch’s work on Twin Peaks and if that wasn’t enough of a reason to lobby for a UK release it also has a soundtrack from Scottish band Mogwai that is, at differing moments, elegiac, restrained, and reassuring.

A second season will air in 2014.

A trailer can be viewed here:

The  Returned can be pre-ordered from Amazon;

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Returned-Series-1-DVD/dp/B00D90UW42/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1373415752&sr=8-2&keywords=the+returned

Mogwai’s soundtrack is available to buy from iTunes and all other online music retailers;

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/les-revenants/id598687974

Arrow Films will be releasing the 2004 film Les Revenants (They Came Back) on DVD in July:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Returned-DVD-G%C3%A9raldine-Pailhas/dp/B00CYGZVGQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1373415867&sr=8-1&keywords=the+returned

Update:

Channel 4 will be screening this series throughout the summer months.

http://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/london-life/after-the-killing-comes-the-returned–a-french-series-that-imagines-what-happens-when-loved-ones-come-back-from-the-dead-8576046.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2013/may/22/channel-4-french-drama-subtitled?CMP=twt_fd&commentpage=1

http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/2013/may/25/hottest-french-tv-2013-the-returned?CMP=twt_gu

Pressa (The Press) – Season 3

Having delivered solid ratings over two seasons it was inevitable that Icelandic broadcaster Stöð 2 would commission production company Sagafilm to make a third, and possibly final, season of Pressa. In a broadcast landscape dominated by imported programming, and reality TV, Pressa has demonstrated that Icelandic audiences will respond favourably to original home produced dramatic content. That this show is relatively unknown outside of Iceland is something which may be rectified over the coming months as Nordic Noir aficionados become acquainted with Sagafilm’s output following the screening of the American remake of Réttur (a series which I will review at a later date).

Airing in the autumn of 2012 Pressa III is a six part series set amongst the intense world of a tabloid newspaper. As with the previous two installments in this franchise, the primary character in terms of view identification and propelling the narrative’s investigative strand is single mother Lara ( Sara Dögg Ásgeirsdóttir). Whilst ostensibly fusing the crime genre with that of the newsroom subgenre this is essentially a series that explores issues related to femininity, as a sociological construct, within a society that is struggling to define itself in the wake of the existential turmoil it endured following the 2008 financial crises. A secondary subtext woven into the narrative’s fabric is an exploration of how emerging trends in information technology are transforming society; in terms of news gathering practices and within the domestic sphere, specifically with regards to how the parent/child relationship may be redefined due to either party concealing information from the other whilst simultaneously using unrestricted social media to share this content.

From a tentative first season Pressa has developed into a show that deserves to placed amongst the other big hitters within the televisual Nordic Noir movement. If the, admittedly very strong, second season, saw the show find its feet it is with the third that it takes full flight thanks to some incredibly brave choices by the screenwriters ( Óskar Jónasson, Sigurjón Kjartansson, Margréti Örnólfsdóttur, and Jóhann Ævar Grímsson). Throughout all six episodes the writers play a game with the audience that involves drip feeding of information, subverting expectations, and reversal of plot points. The viewer soon becomes accustomed to a mode of spectatorship that requires the momentary suspension of any sense of discontinuity as all relevant information pertaining to this series’ narrative and the backstory of what has happened to the protagonist since the closing frames of the second season are slowly revealed over the course of the series rather than opening with an expository laden first episode.

The second season closed with a deeply chilling cliffhanger and it would have been an appropriately bleak moment to bid farewell to Lara, her family, and colleagues. Resolving such a tense moment without undermining its impact is achieved by advancing the time frame, placing the protagonist into a series of situations that undermine her sense of self worth, destroy the family unit, and reverse her role – journalist becomes the topic of sensationalist and intrusive media coverage.

With her life, seemingly, in tatters Lara and her children have returned to a very different Iceland. Her sense of displacement is constantly reinforced in every sector of her life. At work, home, and play she experiences emotional and intellectual obstacles which shatter what little sense of self worth she has after events of the first two seasons. That her dysfunctionality may have been directly responsible for the professional and private tribulations which she is faced with and that she might not be able to overcome compounds the private hell she has to endure.

The criminal aspect of the plot takes on a personal, and ultimately more emotionally powerful, dimension this time as Lara’s daughter dates, and falls pregnant by, a member of a gang that has been extorting money from a Philippine owned business and is complicit in several deaths including a restaurant worker. These star crossed lovers launch the series toward a nerve jangling final pair of episodes which are operatic in terms of the frequency and extremity of tragic occurrences.

In addition to the primary investigative and emotional plot strands, the series surveys how the need to create an electronic portal has impacted on the construction of news. The scriptwriters suggest that the need for instant gratification via a website creates a more sensationalist approach and it is here that the show has some of its finest comic moments. Seeing Þorsteinn Bachmann’s character Gestur finally get his comeuppance after a misguided decision to live stream an interview with a sociopath is one of the finest moments throughout all three seasons and one that viewers have waited a very long time to witness.

This season of Pressa has been nominated in the category of Best TV Program at the 2013 Icelandic Film and TV Awards and this is very well deserved, in my opinion. Should the series be exported to Ireland and the UK I promise any potential viewers of an emotional journey over three seasons that grows ever more frenzied with each subsequent installment  Furthermore, the series is very rich in terms of social information, repeated viewings reveal layer upon layer of commentary ripe for dissection/discussion.

A trailer for Pressa III can be viewed here;

A forthcoming DVD with English language subtitles will be announced shortly. The best place to order Icelandic films and TV shows is;

http://shopicelandic.com/

Book Review: The Killing Handbook by Emma Kennedy

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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

 

Nordic Noir as a category

In the context of an article discussing the forthcoming latest televisual adaptation of Simenon’s literary Maigret texts, Tara Conlan classified the relatively recent televisual trend of broadcasting subtitled television programming to niche audiences as being part of a ‘Euro-crime invasion.’ Certainly, if one specifically focuses on the publication of literary texts a case may be made based on an analysis of sales figures, accompanied by other investigative methodology, to demonstrate that the distribution of Scandinavian crime fiction over the last decade within the UK and Ireland has resulted in an increased audience awareness of cultural, subcultural and geographic factors that are specific to the Nordic condition. However, with regards televisual texts, to talk of Scandinavian programming in the context of an ‘invasion’ is deeply problematic and raises several significant issues, most notably due to the connotations attached to this term as it implies a displacement and/or eradication of the indigenous form. That a number of televisual and filmic texts have not only been imported and broadcast on free to air networks but have also found an audience in quantitative terms and audiences with regards to qualitative approaches of classification is a potential area of enquiry for the rapidly emerging discipline of Fan Studies. The promotion of said texts by various international embassies is also an interesting development particularly in terms of the legitimization of popular culture artefacts and their corresponding fandoms.

BBC Four’s limited financial resources and available slots has resulted in a very narrow sample of televisual texts being available via broadcast platforms although Arrow Films and other DVD distributors have announced several titles for 2013 release which are not presently scheduled to be carried by any UK based free to air broadcaster. In terms of generic classification/codification Nordic Noir may be fluid and consequently, with each new text the parameters are redefined. The inclusion of Lilyhammer, for instance, suggests that the generic form may now be sufficiently defined for it’s audience to appreciate parody. Also, BBC Four’s transmission of Icelandic series Næturvaktin (The Night Shift) whilst marketed by the broadcaster as comedy has been classified by several fans on assorted forums as being a Nordic Noir text. Have we now reached a point where the term Nordic Noir is simultaneously meaningful and meaningless? Is the term now an intersection which facilitates a struggle between audience and institution over ownership of generic boundaries?

As we, the viewing audience, ready ourselves to engage with the final season of Forbrydelsen the object of our fandom is analysed in press commentary, promotional materials, and user generated content such as forum postings and blog entries. The Irish Independent has published an article which debates potential sources of viewing pleasure for Nordic Noir programming, forms of cultural identification, and associated motivational factors with regards audience loyalty. Another example of institutional discourse being made available to the fan community is the well researched booklet that Arrow Films has distributed alongside several of its titles, this text contains a narrative account of the development by Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen of Nordic Noir as a literary genre that emerged in response to generic developments in other territories and as a consequence of social and political developments within the post war Scandinavian cultural context. Stougaard-Nielsen also addresses cinematic and televisual developments. Furthermore, Arrow Films booklet announces several titles which will be released in the UK and Ireland in 2013; Anno 1790, The Eagle, The Protectors, Unit One and Van Veeteren. With the release of each title the boundaries of what constitutes Nordic Noir could conceivably shift/expand. Through the utilisation of social networking and via the film club that enables distributor to directly interact with the consumer within a physical setting Arrow Films has engaged with its fanbase and it will be interesting to see how audience conceptions of the generic category impact upon the release strategy and optioning of further texts for UK and Ireland release.

Tara Conlan’s article on Maigret can be read here; http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/oct/16/maigret-return-tv

The Irish Independent’s article on Nordic Noir can be read here;

http://www.independent.ie/lifestyle/ten-clues-to-the-amazing-success-of-nordic-noir-3275996.html

For those interested in reading further about the formation and maintenance of Nordic Noir as a genre Vicky Albritton’s well researched blog contains many articles which debate individual texts, key generic, social and historical developments;

http://nordicnoir.wordpress.com/

Jagarna (The Hunters)

The establishment of a consensus regarding Nordic Noir as a generic (or subgeneric) form and/or movement is something that is continuously debated both at the levels of content owners and within audience networks. Whilst the conceptual categories employed by individual audience members may, at times, differ somewhat from those utilised by commercial interests, the relatively scant knowledge concerning filmic and televisual texts has facilitated a situation in which both parties routinely trade information concerning fresh discoveries. For instance, Arrow Films’ dedicated Nordic Noir Facebook and Twitter accounts provide an online presence in which, in addition to promoting forthcoming releases, users may recommend titles for possible DVD release in the UK and Ireland whilst simultaneously providing critical commentary and maintaining community networks.

To classify Nordic Noir fandom as existing primarily in electronic form is at best a vast generalization and at worst deeply problematic. UCL’s Nordic Noir Book Club provides a physical environment for the discussion of literary texts and Arrow Films has recently announced the establishment of a film club which will screen content in advance of theatrical distribution and/or DVD release. Arrow Films venture will, when possible, incorporate question and answer sessions with creative personnel, this progressive approach emulates the convention experience enjoyed by other forms of media fandom and demonstrates that the distributor is actively seeking to engage with its core customer base. The establishment of a semi regular film club has the potential to enable fans to physically meet with other like minded individuals consequently strengthening relationships that may have previously only exited in terms of electronic communication.

Somewhat bravely, Arrow Films has elected to launch its film club by screening a sequel to a 1996 film. Jagarna 2 (False Trail) is a film directed by Kjell Sundvall and starring Rolf Lassgård (Wallander), the central premise is of the main protagonist returning to a rural community some years after the conclusion of the first film to investigate a particularly grisly murderer. I have been assured that Jagarna 2 is a relatively self contained text and a familiarity with the originating material is not a prerequisite for enjoying this latest instalment. Arrow Films marketing strategy for Jagarna 2 is directed at two distinct audiences; the causal purchaser and those whom are more inclined to seek out back catalogue items. The English language title, False Trail, evokes the investigative strand of the narrative and makes no reference whatsoever to the previous film but in e-mail correspondence to members of the film club Arrow Films cited the first film in this series possibly due to an already established familiarity with this filmic text by aficionados.

Released in the UK under the title The Hunters, Jagarna is a Swedish film about a police officer who returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral and soon becomes involved in investigating reindeer poaching. Jagarna is fundamentally a film in which dramatic tension is generated by the collision of oppositional forces/perspectives. After several years living and working in an urban environment (Stockholm) the protagonist has adopted a world view and working practices which run counter to those of the rural community. In his professional and domestic identities the protagonist is continuously reminded that urban sophistication has no place within Norrbotten.

Initially welcomed as a returning hero the protagonist is rapidly shunned by members of the community and faces increasing jeopardy as long term friends become enemies. The primary investigation seemingly relatively small scale becomes one that threatens to tear the entire community apart and expose the local police force as being institutionally corrupt.

Jagarna is a filmic text that is influenced by the Western genre. Through his dual roles as police officer and family member the protagonist is constantly seeking to tame the wilderness. In his absence the community has remained relatively unchanged and it is only through the death of his father that long standing tensions are openly expressed. Burdened by guilt due to years of exile and inaction the protagonist seeks to make amends by reinforcing law within the community and forging a stronger relationship with his brother. The all pervading stench of criminality and corruption is something the hero struggles not to be contaminated by. No matter how diligent he tries to be in his work ethic the professionalism is eroded in encounters with his brother thus setting up a moral dilemma which is present throughout the film.

For those who are going to see Jagarna 2 (False Trail) the original film is worth tracking down. A DVD with English subtitles is available from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B009ZXOJAK/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_vjOOqb1QZ345D

Jagarna 2 (False Trail) will be released theatrically on 16 November:  http://www.falsetrailfilm.co.uk/index.html