Book Review: The Killing III by David Hewson

In an era before VHS, DVD, and timeshift technology became available novelizations enabled fans to enjoy once again a version of their favourite films or TV series at a time that suited them. Freed from the tyranny of a broadcast landscape only offering three channels, literary adaptation offered portability and control, readers could recreate instances of celluloid and video magic within their imagination at a time or in a place of their choosing. Invariably issued as mass market paperbacks, novelizations were stocked in large numbers by long gone high street chains. Frequently written within tight deadlines, sometimes whilst the film was still in production, and invariably based on early drafts of the screenplay, they occasionally offered up an alternative version due to the inclusion of scenes cut during the rehearsal process or discarded in the editing room.

Once a solid bedrock of the publishing industry, this literary subgenre was abandoned due to perceived redundancy. Considered to be an irrelevance when technology now enabled customers to purchase a copy of a film within months of its theatrical release it was replaced by the tie-in novel and few would have predicted a reversal of fortunes but then something unexpected happened, high profile authors were commissioned to write new novelizations. Issued in hardback and given a healthy promotional push, these fresh titles have received praise from the critical community and shifted sufficient units to convince the publishers that novelizations might have a healthy future within the crowded modern marketplace. A once derided literary form has been rehabilitated by Neil Gaiman’s adaptation of his screenplay for the TV series Neverwhere, Gareth Roberts completion of the abandoned Douglas Adams Doctor Who story Shada, and David Hewson’s translation of The Killing‘s first two seasons into a pair of novels indistinguishable, in terms of quality, from his original fiction.

Formerly a journalist, Hewson became a full-time fiction writer in 2005. Best known for a series of nine novels set in and around Rome featuring the detective Nic Costa, Hewson was approached by his publisher (Pan Macmillan) to adapt The Killing into a book because of his proven ability to write strong female characters and convincing immersive word pictures of foreign locations. Written with the benefit of hindsight, Hewson visited the set of the concluding series whilst researching the first novel and has interwoven elements throughout his adaptations to make them function as a self-contained literary trilogy. For the third, but not final, novel in the series the author has once again rejected the traditional novelization approach of offering a straightforward transcript and gifts readers an alternative version tailored to the strengths of a different medium.

At Nordicana 2014, Hewson gave a fascinating lecture in which he detailed at great length alterations made, stylistic conventions, industrial pressures, Lund’s psychological profile, antagonist’s role, the purpose of specific visual motifs within the TV version and how to communicate their meaning in prose. Citing the Hare Psychopathy Checklist to bolster his argument, he was unshakeable in his belief that in clinical terms Sarah Lund is a psychopath.

A newcomer to the world of Sarah Lund, et al., due to his never having seen the series prior to being tasked with adapting the screenplays, as translated copies of the shooting scripts were not available the initial research strategy involved multiple viewings of the DVD boxsets to identify individual narrative strands, character arcs and isolating plot inconsistencies which would be fixed during the writing process. An enthusiastic advocate of Scrivener, Hewson has written an e-book detailing how it can aid a writer, the package was used to map out primary, secondary, and tertiary storylines, trace the evolution of thematic material and facilitate successful foreshadowing and pay-offs.

Whilst preparing to write the first novel time was spent in Copenhagen becoming acquainted with the city’s nooks and crannies, soaking in the gloomy atmosphere of less salubrious districts, and inspecting the series’ production facilities. Conversations with the creator, Søren Sveistrup revealed insight into Lund’s emotional make-up, the series’ raison d’etre, and confirmed that Hewson was to have a free hand in translating the material into a different medium.

Adhering to the overall story structure familiar to viewers whilst employing literary sleight of hand to shuffle around scenes, create new subplots, and streamline the narrative, The Killing III delivers a composite interpretation that should please devotees of Hewson’s other novels and fans of the originating source material. Those coming to the book expecting the only added texture to be glimpses into character’s thoughts will be pleasantly surprised with the great care given to creating believable motivations and backstories for all core characters. Cementing the air of closure present throughout the text are references to the first volume. Subsidiary figures we encountered in the première installment are mentioned in passing, Hewson’s master-stroke of replacing the political figure with Troels Hartmann creates instant tension and adds multiple layers of meaning to the investigation due to the press and Lund’s recurring doubts about his innocence based on his slippery behaviour during the probe into Nanna Birk Larsen’s murder.

A well-written crime thriller filled with rewards for hardcore enthusiasts and an entirely new ending that places a definite full stop on Lund’s story. Sarah’s career may be over but we will discover how her career in law enforcement began with a prequel novel currently being written by David Hewson.

The Killing III is published by Pan. 

 

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Nordicana 2013

For those who were at Nordicana it was the ultimate celebration of Scandinavian film, TV, literature, food, and music. The organizers are already hard at work planning an even more spectacular event for 2014.
For further details visit:
http://nordicnoir.tv/nordicana/

Book Review: Nordic Noir by Barry Forshaw

9781842439876

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 subgenre 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 published by Pocket Essentials.

Irish Bacon

Irish Bacon

This fascinating article from the Irish Times discusses the production model employed in Danish television, assess the differences with the Irish system and evaluates the extent to which it might be possible for Ireland to achieve similar levels of international success with its televisual output. 

Irish Bacon

This fascinating article from the Irish Times discusses the production model employed in Danish television, assess the differences with the Irish system and evaluates the extent to which it might be possible for Ireland to achieve similar levels of international success with its televisual output.