What’s Next In International Crime Fiction? by Quentin Bates

Nordic is mainstream these days. It’s not that long since Nordic crime fiction was strictly a minority genre, at least in English. It’s not the same in Europe, where German publishers in particular have been rather more ready to translate obscure fiction from the chilly north.

Until a few years ago a smallish band of connoisseurs appreciated translations of Sjöwall & Wahlöö and a few other obscure writers who never made it anywhere near a bestseller list in Britain or the US.

Then came Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, followed the Wallender books and finally by Stieg Larsson’s trilogy that took the world by surprise and by storm. Who would have expected it? I won’t say too much about Stieg Larsson’s work, partly because The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is still only halfway to the top of my to-be-read pile, along with so much else.

Since then we have had The Killing, Borgen, The Bridge, and a bunch of other stuff that has come out of Sweden, Norway and Denmark, on top of the flood of books by Nordic authors snapped up with indecent haste by publishers hearing the rattle of a bandwagon disappearing into the distance.

Then there’s the tiny band of Nordic pretenders, not even half a dozen of us who write Nordic crime stuff but without being born-and-bred Scandies ourselves; James Thompson, Michael Ridpath, Jan Costin Wagner, Torquil Macleod – and me.

I’m wondering if Scandi crime fatigue started to kick in? Have you seen someone rolling their eyes at the sight of yet another middle-aged Swedish detective or a hard-drinking Norwegian private eye or a Faroese sweater? Has Nordic peaked?

I don’t think it has yet, and I hope not… I have one of these of my own coming out in a day or two, and a good few more ideas simmering on the back burner for future reference. Some us live in terror that crime readers will tire of Nordic mysteries in the face of what looks dangerously like overkill. Not that the flow of Nordic crime yet shows any sign of abating – quite the contrary. While every Swede who has ever set finger to keyboard appears to have been translated, there are Norwegian, Icelandic, Danish and Finnish crime writers, plus a solitary Faroese, who haven’t yet been graced with a translation yet.

So what comes next? The truth of the matter is that there is stacks of good stuff out there that hasn’t caught on yet. We’ve heard of Emerald Noir, the emerging wave of Irish crime fiction writers, who have the big advantage that they don’t need translating. The same applies to Aussie crime, and proper gritty old stuff it is as well.
Germany is a huge and hungry market for crime fiction, as shown by the vast swathes of English, American and Nordic crime fiction translated in to German. But who knew that there’s a whole raft of homegrown German crime fiction that isn’t translated into English? Maybe it doesn’t translate well? I don’t know.

Then there’s the French. France loves les polars, and they’re starting to cross the Channel, some brought to us by the same canny publisher who brought us Miss Smilla, Wallender and Lisbeth Salander. Napoleon’s Grande Armée stopped at Boulogne, turned around and marched off to Austerlitz instead, but the French crime writers aren’t letting La Manche stop them.

It’s time to think ahead for untrodden ground. Chilean crime? Difficult, but worth thinking about. Mongolian murders? Maybe not. Ulan Bator’s bloody cold and it’s a long way to go for research. Nigerian Noir? Sounds good, but it’s unlikely a fiction writer could even come close to topping reality there. North Korea? Let’s not even think about that one.

In fact it’s hardly possible to put a finger on a relatively accessible part of the world that hasn’t had a detective of its own at some point. Not to worry. I have a few aces up my sleeve. Chad, Turkmenistan and South Georgia all look like fertile ground, so I’d better start doing some research.

On second thoughts, scratch South Georgia.

Paul D. Brazill interviews Quentin Bates here.

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