Norwegian novelist and former justice minister Anne Holt on Nordic Noir and her new TV drama.
The Norwegian novelist on Nordic Noir, TV adaptations and Agatha Christie
I’m a great believer in the universality of the crime genre. I’m convinced that crime fiction’s tremendous popularity in many parts of the world, despite the great diversity and variation in the field, is because it deals in universal themes. Crime fiction is currently the genre that most acutely explores the great and eternal – one could even say biblical – issues: guilt, atonement, punishment, responsibility. Thus, it does not matter what country or region a writer such as myself comes from.
“I’m aware that I’m part of the Nordic Noir tradition. Few crime writers in Scandinavia today can evade affinity with Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, who wrote their Martin Beck series between 1965 and 1975. That duo in many ways founded what is now called the socially critical Scandinavian crime novel. But I write about people, not about Scandinavia.
“I’m really pleased by the TV crime show based on my work, Modus. I found it easy to relinquish control (which you really have to do) – mainly because it was quickly clear to me how lovingly it was being handled. Casting? A dream. And – icing on the cake – the second season is shaping up to be even better than the first.
“I am less concerned about ‘who did it?’ and far more concerned with ‘why the hell did this happen?’ In most of my books, the psychological aspects of crime are central. Human psychology might roughly be divided into two categories: the universally human that is basic for each individual, regardless of where you come from; and the attitudes and behaviour patterns that reflect the community you are a part of. In this regard, it is most important for me to tell a strong, consistent story with credible characters.
“I am a political person, not a political writer. I would never attempt to present facile political solutions in my books. Since a crime cannot fully be explained without also truthfully depicting the society in which it occurs, I hope that I nonetheless raise important political issues. I’m sure the readers will prefer to discover the answers for themselves.
“If I had to choose three of my own titles that have been significant for me, I might start with Death Of The Demon, because in that novel I addressed for the first time the problem of neglected children on a serious basis; my snowbound mystery, 1222, because it is in many ways a literary experiment; and Fear Not [the basis of Modus], as I feel it is probably the most important book I have written.
“Agatha Christie remains a key influence on me. I read all the books when I was a girl, and I was really happy when I was able to do a direct Christie homage with 1222; I enjoyed featuring a Christie-style secluded setting, and even a Poirot-type ‘gather all the suspects together’ scene! I read several of the Christies again recently, and was pleased that I’d forgotten what happened – she gripped me all over again.”
Marek Oravec as Richard Forrester in Modus, the next big BBC4 Nordic Noir.
Modus Series 1 will air on BBC4 later this year, Fear Not (Corvus) is out now.