Source: Review copy
Publication: May 25th from Orenda Books
My thanks to Orenda Books for an advance copy for review
A snobbish Danish literary author is challenged to write a crime novel in thirty days, travelling to a small village in Iceland for inspiration, and then the first body appears…
Copenhagen author Hannah is the darling of the literary community and her novels have achieved massive critical acclaim. But nobody actually reads them, and frustrated by writer’s block, Hannah has the feeling that she’s doing something wrong.
When she expresses her contempt for genre fiction, Hanna is publicly challenged to write a crime novel in thirty days. Scared that she will lose face, she accepts, and her editor sends her to Húsafjöður – a quiet, tight-knit village in Iceland, filled with colourful local characters – for inspiration.
But two days after her arrival, the body of a fisherman’s young son is pulled from the water … and what begins as a search for plot material quickly turns into a messy and dangerous investigation that threatens to uncover secrets that put everything at risk … including Hannah…
I absolutely loved this book and I commend it to all lovers of crime fiction. It is refreshingly different, wonderfully witty and has a great plot as well as terrific characters.
Hannah Krause-Bendix is an author and has penned several notable volumes of literary fiction which have garnered critical acclaim, if not huge sales. She has a disdain for purveyors of popular commercial fiction, keeping her serious scorn for that most popular of genres, the crime novel.
She’s fed up doing the rounds of bookshop readings where the publicist clearly hasn’t even read her works. Finally, spotting a well-known best-selling crime author, Jørn Jensen, in her audience at one of these events, she finally cracks and says directly to him that writing crime fiction is so easy she could write a crime novel in a month. It’s a public pronouncement that gains some attention and so her agent, seeing the potential for more publicity for his clients, sends her to the small and isolated Icelandic town of Húsafjöður to write her first crime novel.
Hannah needs her props around her to work – most notably red wine and cigarettes – but even then she finds that starting her crime novel is nowhere near as easy as she thought it would be.
Her landlady, Ella, is taciturn; the two communicate in Pidgin English, and there’s really very little to distract Hannah as she stares at her blank pages, lost for words.
Then a local young man is found drowned – a teenager who hated the water – and Hannah believes he has been murdered. Suddenly she has a plot and she can at least begin to write what she knows. She becomes the detective in her own crime novel. Except that she can’t speak Icelandic and no-one really wants to talk to her. She’s not the most sympathetic of characters and so she takes to mithering Viktor, the local policeman, and then knocking on the doors of local people in a less than subtle attempt to find out more about the young man.
Hannah, you quickly realise, is not a happy woman, neither is she a particularly pleasant one. She has to get this drowning to be a murder and then she has to solve it or she has no book. And that’s really all that matters to her; she has to win her bet in order to prove her superiority.
The Icelandic setting works really well for atmosphere and a small character cast and Hannah lurches from house to house, stirring up trouble and poking her nose where it really is not welcomed.
For all that she is a pestering busybody in the eyes of the Húsafjöður householders she’s bothering, she does come to need to know why this crime has been committed and by whom. And that redeems her in so many ways as her disdain for anything that is not cosmopolitan and artistic gives way to a more burning need to understand the humanity that lies behind this cruel deed.
As Hannah becomes more interested in the human relationships involved in this case, so the case becomes darker and tenser and Hannah’s own safety is put in jeopardy.
Verdict: A terrific read, full of wit and yet beautifully dark and atmospheric. Hannah is a great character and I really thoroughly enjoyed this sparkling debut.
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Jenny Lund Madsen is one of Denmark’s most acclaimed scriptwriters (including the international hits Rita and Follow the Money) and is known as an advocate for better representation for sexual and ethnic minorities in Danish TV and film. She recently made her debut as a playwright with the critically acclaimed Audition (Aarhus Teater) and her debut literary thriller, Thirty Days of Darkness, first in an addictive new series, won the Harald Mogensen Prize for Best Danish Crime Novel of the year and was shortlisted for the coveted Glass Key Award. She lives in Denmark with her young family.