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In Cold Blood: Guest Guide to Wintry Crime Fiction

Mrs Peabody | 18.December.2012 | 10:30

As temperatures plunge and the nights draw in, why not curl up on the sofa with a hot chocolate and some atmospheric winter crime fiction? From the Arctic Circle and the American Appalachians to Finland, Russia and Sweden, this guide showcases the best of crime in a cold climate, courtesy of crime fiction blogger Mrs Peabody.

Mrs Peabody, aka Swansea University academic Kat Hall, runs the crime fiction blog Mrs Peabody Investigates, which features reviews of international crime, as well as musings on TV series such as The Killing and The Bridge. Set up in 2011, the blog is part of a vibrant crime-blogging community that loves to discuss all aspects of the genre, from cat-detective cosy to urban noir. Mrs P also recently contributed to Mark Lawson's excellent Radio 4 Foreign Bodies series, which explored depictions of 20th century European history in crime through the eyes of 15 fictional detectives.   

Words: Mrs Peabody

Winter Crime Fiction

Approaching crime novels that employ unfamiliar angles – gothic elements, for example, or island settings – can help us to see the genre in new ways, and spot connections we might otherwise have missed. The five crime novels featured here are all set in a cold climate or at a chilly time of the year (inspired by those bracing Siberian winds we've been feeling lately). Rather than being accidental, the novels' seasonal settings are chosen by their authors for specific ends, such as to construct a compelling crime scene, create a melancholy Nordic atmosphere, test a protagonist's endurance, or provide the narrative with symbolic depth. In some cases, the setting even takes on the role of an extra character, playing a decisive role in the resolution of the plot.

Jan Costin Wagner, The Winter of the Lions
(Harvill Secker 2011) 

                           Jan Costin Wagner, The Winter of the Lions 

The Winter of the Lions is the third of the Kimmo Joentaa novels, which take place in and around the Finnish city of Turku, but are - intriguingly - authored by a German. Set largely during long, cold winters, their falling snow and frozen lakes suffuse the narratives with Nordic melancholia, and mirror the grief felt by Detective Joentaa following the death of his young wife from cancer. In this particular novel, which begins on 24 December and ends on New Year's Eve, the snowy weather also gives rise to an interesting crime scene: the murder victim, forensic pathologist Patrik Laukkanen, is found stabbed on a cross-country ski trail in the forest, but puzzlingly his snow-tracks show that he did little to avoid the attack...

Strong police procedurals with emotional depth, the Joentaa novels draw on earlier Scandinavian crime by authors such as Sjöwall & Wahlöö and Henning Mankell. Like Mankell's Wallander series, they often show the murderer's point of view, allowing the reader to build a picture of the complex circumstances that led to the crime. A wintry treat of the highest order.

For Mrs Peabody's in-depth review, click here.

Leif G. W. Persson, 
Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End (Black Swan, 2010)

                           Leif G. W. Persson, Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End

Leif GW Persson is a renowned criminologist who has been called a 'grand master' of crime fiction for his razor-sharp dissections of Swedish society.

The first in a trilogy, Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End begins with the dramatic fall of an American from an apartment block in the freezing depths of a Swedish winter. Initially dismissed as suicide, this death is just the start of an epic 600-page novel that critiques Swedish policing and the power of the state, as well as examining one of the country's most notorious unsolved crimes: the murder of Prime Minister Olaf Palme on a 'bitterly cold' day in February 1986.

With its multiple narrative perspectives and complex plotlines, this is not a crime novel for the faint-hearted, but readers who relish a challenge will be rewarded by its range and intelligence. In many ways a political and social history of Sweden since the Second World War, the narrative tackles big themes such as the relation of the individual to the state and the precariousness of democracy, but is also rich in satirical humour.

For Mrs Peabody's in-depth review, click here.

AD Miller, Snowdrops (Atlantic Books, 2011)

                           AD Miller, Snowdrops

A crime fiction/ literary cross-over that was up for both the CWA (Crime Writers' Association) Gold Dagger and the Man Booker Prize in 2011, AD Miller's novel takes its title from Moscow slang: the 'snowdrops' in question are corpses buried by the thick Russian snows that only resurface during the springtime thaw.

Lawyer and narrator Nick Platt is a classic 'Englishman abroad', high on the thrills of an ex-pat life in post-communist Russia and in awe of the beautiful young women his status attracts. Seduced by the lovely and mysterious Masha, he finds himself sucked deeper and deeper into her unscrupulous plans during a cold Moscow winter. Taking the form of a confessional letter to his fiancée in the UK, the narrative provides a vivid portrait of a Russia in political and economic upheaval, where criminality flourishes at all levels of society, and morality is in very short supply.

A chilling portrait of corruption, self-deception and culpability, this novel will stay with you long after you close the final page.             

For more on this novel, click here.

Julia Keller, A Killing in the Hills
(Headline, 2012)

                           Julia Keller, A Killing in the Hills

This debut novel by Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Julia Keller uses the 'sly cold' of an approaching West Virginian winter to signal the growing threat of prescription-drug addiction in the economically-deprived communities of the Appalachian mountains. 

At the forefront of the fight against the organised drug syndicates is Bell Elkins, prosecuting attorney for Raythune County. She knows all about the hardships of an Appalachian upbringing, but has chosen to return and use her skills for the good of the community. However, when her daughter Carla accidentally witnesses the murder of three old men in a diner, the stakes on both sides rise significantly.

A compelling crime novel that offers a rich portrait of life in a beautiful but poverty-stricken part of the States, A Killing in the Hills introduces readers to the complex figure of Bell, and to Acker's Gap, a 'shabby afterthought of a town' trying valiantly to prevent its young people from succumbing to narcotics, and hopelessness. A top pick if you're looking for new crime fiction in 2013.

MJ McGrath, White Heat (Mantle, 2011)
                           MJ McGrath, White Heat

Last but not least, British writer MJ McGrath does a tremendous job of depicting life amidst the ice and snow of the Arctic Circle in this highly satisfying debut crime novel.

At the heart of the narrative is Edie Kiglatuk, an Inuit guide who decides to investigate the fatal shooting of an American on one of her commercial hunting trips. As well as delivering a cracking crime narrative and a wonderfully realised female detective, the novel provides the reader with a fascinating insight into Inuit culture - especially the relationship of the Inuit with the Arctic landscapes, where temperatures plunge to minus 40 degrees in winter - and the problems faced by small communities like Autisaq, such as alcoholism and suicide. The dominant role of nature in the life of the Inuit is particularly well-evoked, with detailed descriptions of the survival skills needed for long hunting trips as well as the spiritual freedom of being out on the ice. The novel is an excellent example of how the stories of marginalised peoples like the Inuit can be communicated to a wide audience via the crime genre.

For more on this novel, click here.

Visit 'Mrs. Peabody Investigates' for more on all things crime fiction here

Top image: Mrs Peabody 

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