Posts

Black Fuel: Guest Post from Quentin Bates

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Every now and then I intend to slip in a guest post from someone who knows Iceland or Icelandic crime writing. My first victim is Quentin Bates.  Like me, Quentin is an Englishman who writes crime novels set in Iceland.  He has also translated a number of the top Icelandic crime writers into English, including Lilja Sigurdardóttir, Ragnar Jónasson, Solveig Pálsdóttir and Óskar Gudmundsson.  He knows Iceland much better than I do .  He has worked on an Icelandic trawler, lived in the country and married an Icelander.  I recommend his series featuring Sergeant Gunhildur, the first book of which is Frozen Out .  Here he discusses the vital importance of coffee to the Icelanders.   There’s a black fluid that keeps the Nordic countries functioning. I don’t mean the stuff that’s pumped out of the depths of the North Sea by bearded roustabouts, but that other black liquid that’s the staple cliché of every Nordic crime drama. Wallander more or less set the pace, functioning on a diet of coffee

Elf Deniers vs Elf Believers

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  There are certain problems with writing about elves.  I’m not the kind of guy who believes in them. I write about a tough Boston homicide cop: could Magnus really believe in elves? There are no elves in Raymond Chandler’s books, nor in Agatha Christie or even Ian Rankin.  And what about the elf-deniers? These are modern, sophisticated Icelanders who resent the stereotype that their countrymen are gullible hicks who believe in fairies. They claim that those who say they believe in elves are just lying. There is a lot of elf-related tourist tat in Reykjavík gift shops, and while I have never attended the famous elf school, it does sound a little like a tourist trap to me. So I was nervous: was the whole country winding me up about elves? I wouldn’t put it past them. But I couldn’t write about Iceland honestly and avoid the subject entirely. It was a problem. Many Icelanders do take elf dwellings seriously. The Icelandic author, Yrsa Sigurdardóttir , is also a civil engineer. She writes

Elves

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  What about the elves? I had written two full-length novels set in Iceland, and it was becoming clear that there was a question I could no longer dodge. What was I going to do about the elves? I have related how I first heard about them, from Helga at that dinner during my book tour to Reykjavík . Naturally, I was intrigued, and when I met Icelanders in London during my initial research, I would casually ask them about the elves, or the ‘hidden people’ as they are often known. They always took my question seriously. One woman told me that her name had been chosen by a hidden woman, who had whispered it to her grandmother when she was born. You can see from the preceding posts that elves, ghosts and trolls are important in Iceland, even today. My editor was keen that I should include superstition and myth in my books. So I needed to write about elves. The Icelandic Embassy I made an appointment to see Gudjón, a senior diplomat at the Icelandic embassy , and his colleague Ágústa. They

New Magnus crime novel out: Death in Dalvik

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  My new Magnus novel is published! It's called Death in Dalvik and is number 6 in the series after The Wanderer . When sixteen-year-old Dísa is given five bitcoin by her divorced father she is unimpressed: she hasn’t heard of the cryptocurrency, and five of anything can’t be worth very much. But a year later, when her grandparents are about to lose the farm near the Icelandic village of Dalvik where their family has lived for centuries, quiet, unassuming Dísa is able to rescue it with the profits from her astute trading of her father's gift. Unknown to Dísa, her mother Helga catches the cryptocurrency bug. Not only does Helga invest in Thomocoin, a new cryptocurrency sweeping Iceland, but she persuades many of her neighbours in Dalvík to invest too, taking a cut for herself. Helga is found murdered on the hillside above the farm and Inspector Magnus Jonson investigates. Magnus realizes that Dísa, now a nineteen-year-old student, can help him unveil the shadowy forces behin

Favourite Places – The Berserkjagata

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  The Berserkjagata is signposted, but it’s hard to locate. As you descend from the pass, you turn left on the main road from Stykkishólmur to Grundarfjördur, the D54, and after a short distance turn right, following a sign to Bjarnarhöfn. After about a kilometre driving through the Berserkjahraun, the road forks. You take the right fork and park on the road just at the edge of the lava field, where the road comes closest to the shore.  Look out for a tiny wooden signpost to the Berserkjagata, but even now it is hard to find. Walk across the grass to the lava and you will find a narrow path cut into the rock. This is the Berserkjagata, the ‘Berserkers’ Street’, a path from Hraun to Bjarnarhöfn cut through the rocks by the two berserkers a thousand years ago. Follow it. In a few moments, you will find yourself out of sight of the road, alone in a sea of stone. By now you will be familiar with Iceland’s lava fields, but this is a great one to walk through. The lava rears up in agonized

The north coast of Snaefellsnes: rugged beauty

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  I explored the north coast of Snaefellsnes, researching the location for my second novel. Stykkishólmur Stykkishólmur is the largest community on the peninsula. A natural harbour is formed by a seabird-strewn island at the mouth of a cove. The harbour is full of fishing boats and a ferry to the West Fjords, on the other side of Breidafjördur.  I dropped in at the local police station to talk to the region’s chief constable and the deputy magistrate, and then went to meet Ásta, an Icelander living in Surrey, who spends her summers in Stykkishólmur working in a hotel there. She told me a little about her childhood in the town. She was terrified of the Kerlingin troll. Until recently much of the town was owned by a Franciscan convent, including the regional hospital of St Francis, which is the biggest building in town. Ásta remembered the French and Belgian nuns, who spoke poor Icelandic, conducting their services in Latin with incense; they seemed to Ásta incredibly exotic. I wondered

The holy mountain and Bjorn's harbour

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  On my search for mythic Snefellsnes, I drove through the Berserkjahraun lava field to Bjarnarhöfn, Björn's Harbour. Bjarnarhöfn I had tentatively decided that this would be Magnus's grandfather Hallgrímur’s farm. I could have invented a farm; perhaps I should have done. Bad things happen in my books at Bjarnarhöfn, and real farmers live there and have lived there in the past. But I much prefer to write about a real place. It’s not just for the sake of the book; it is for my sake when I am writing it. Bjarnarhöfn is seared into my brain; when I am writing a scene set there, I feel that I am actually at that beautiful spot by the fjord. And it is a beautiful spot. It is a large working farm cut off from the rest of Snaefellsnes by mountain, sea and lava. To the east is the Berserkjahraun lava field, to the south, a massive, steep mountain rears up, and to the north and west lies the fjord.  A tiny wooden chapel stands in a meadow between the farm buildings and the sea.  See the