Arriving at Krimimessen in Horsens, Denmark, the largest crime fiction festival in Northern Europe, one is greeted by long lines of expecting readers making their way through the gates of the old state prison – the gate, the taxi driver told me, where visitors used to enter the prison to visit jailed family members. I am here to, luckily, to see another kind of inmate, namely the many writers who have been invited to talk about their crime novels, to pitch them to an audience of readers who may quite possibly have seen and read it all before. As you make your way through the gates to the festival venues in the old prison gym, the prison workshops and magazines you come upon a black hearse inscribed with the name of one of the more recent Danish crime exports, Sara Blædel, advertising the first novel in a new series of hers: The Undertaker’s Daughter.
In her talk, Blædel told an audience numbering in the hundreds that she got the idea for her no heroine, an undertaker’s daughter, from her experience of losing both of her parents a few years ago with only a few days between – the comfort provided by the female undertaker was nothing less of heroic in the midst of her grief.
My own talk on this the first day of the festival was about Female Avengers in Nordic Crime Fiction, building partly on a short article I have written about Nordic female crime writers for the online The History of Nordic Women’s Literature and the last chapter of my book Scandinavian Crime Fiction, both of which will appear, if all goes well, later in the year. The theme of this year’s 15th edition of Krimimessen is Revenge, and throughout the day there where excellent debates and talks about revenge – why, for instance is revenge an ongoing preoccupation in societies where we should have dispelled with such “primitive” emotions. Robert Zola and Anna Grue gave interesting talks, and there to show the broad interest of the festival, there even was a talk by a Danish journalist about the Truth Commission in South Africa.
Other memorable talks on this the first day of the festival was an interview with Lone Theils. She is the author of Pigerne fra Englandsbåden (or Fatal Crossing, as I believe it will be called in English). She has recently returned to Denmark after spending 16 years as a newspaper correspondent in London. Her first crime novel is set in London (Nordic Noir in London!!) and her second novel soon to appear in Denmark (in June she revealed) takes place between Denmark and the UK involving a refugee family from Iran – yes, timely indeed.
An old friend of the Nordic Noir Book Club, Gunnar Staalesen, opened the festival with its anniversary speech, mentioning the historic relationships between Norway and Denmark and celebrating the growing interest in crime fiction over the past 15 years the festival has existed. This turned out to be a great day for the Norwegians (even if Karin Slaughter probably had the largest audience) as the big prize offered by the Danish Crime Academy, Rosenkrantz prisen, went to Gard Sveen, author of The Last Pilgrim.
Exhausted from running around from one venue to the other, I think I should just do the Prison tour tomorrow after giving my second talk on Scandimania and Nordic Cool – on the reception of Nordic Noir in the UK, if I can stay away from talks by Jesper Stein, Mari Jungstedt, Lars Kepler – and, perhaps even harder for me to stay away from, a discussion between Staalesen and academic colleagues Kerstin Bergman and another old friend of the NN Book Club Bo Tao Michaelis celebrating the late Henning Mankell. Oh what to do?