By Annamaria Alfieri and Michael Stanley
Two years ago, we—a couple of crime writers who set our tales in Africa—went to the Iceland Noir conference in Reykjavik. We arrived as fans of the subgenre known as Nordic Noir. And so we remain. But something happened at that gathering that crawled under our skin.
It wasn’t the Scandinavian authors who irked us, but rather the editors, the translators, the critics, and other pundits who kept differentiating Scandinavian Noir from ‘ordinary’ crime fiction. The message was clear to those of us who write crime in sunny climes: Nordic Noir writing was special. What we wrote was ordinary.
The first time we heard that distinction so stated, we rolled our eyes. But when the same words were repeated as panels came and went, that ‘what?’ turned to ‘WHAT?’
So we put our heads together and vowed to throw down the gauntlet, to challenge the notion that only one setting made for superior crime novels.
Shortly after that, support came from the frigid north itself, in the person of Yrsa Sigurdardottir, author of brilliant (despite the gloomy settings) Scandinavian mysteries and thrillers. In blurbing Michael Stanley’s A Death in the Family, she wrote, ‘Under the African sun, Michael Stanley’s Detective Kubu investigates crimes as dark as the darkest of Nordic Noir. Call it Sunshine Noir, if you will—a must read.’ And there it was—the brand name for our challenge to the worldwide, years-long tsunami of Nordic Noir fiction.
Assuming, as we do, that there are good crime writers all over the world, not just in the cold, dank, dark, damp, and grey northern climes, we wondered why Nordic Noir has become so popular.
Was it because Lisbeth Salandar was such an appealing character in the Millenium series by Stieg Larsson that readers were looking for someone else who could solve Fermat’s last theorem in her head while being buried alive? We don’t think so.
Or was it because readers were attracted to characters who had become so disturbed by the long winters with very little sun that they would resort to murder?
It’s a plausible hypothesis, but one that doesn’t hold water since Scandinavian murder rates are generally low. In fact, Yrsa Sigurdardottir and her Icelandic colleagues kill off many more people in their books than are murdered in reality. Most Scandinavian countries have a homicide rate of less than 1 per 100,000 inhabitants, as does the United Kingdom. In fact, the fictional murder rate in Scandinavian novels is probably closer to the actual rate of Brazil or South Africa—twenty to thirty times higher.
So, if the Nordic Noir genre does not reflect reality, perhaps the pundits have it wrong—that they’ve made a mistake in calling it Nordic Noir. Perhaps they should have called it Nordic Fantasy.
If you think about it, Nordic Fantasy makes much more sense than Nordic Noir. Is it likely that someone in a burning rage would put on a coat, hat, and scarf, then trudge through the cold and wind to commit murder? We don’t think so. If the fury lasted long enough to get outside, the anger would soon cool and the potential villain would scurry back inside for yet another cup of coffee. Or perhaps a few shots of schnapps.
Think too of the difficulty in committing murder when bundled up against the elements. Those thick gloves make it difficult to hold a knife or pull a trigger, and heavy, winter boots make it impossible to make a quick getaway. The only good aspect of Nordic winter attire is the anonymity of that hood or stocking cap.
Another possibility for the popularity of northern mysteries is that most readers of Nordic Noir themselves live in dark and dreary places, where very little noir actually happens. And through the books they read, they get to fantasize about the noir they would like to do and the bad people they would like to kill—crimes they can’t commit in reality because of the weather and the clothing.
So from here on out, we’ll be thinking of Nordic Fantasy not Nordic Noir.
Now when it comes to hot climates, none of the same restrictions apply. People are outdoors, often with scant clothing; certainly nothing to impede movement. As the sun rises, tempers often rise too. And heat is difficult to escape. It can drive you mad.
This is a much more likely scenario for violent crime than snow and cold.
So we decided to start a new trend—stories in the dark shadows of sunlight. A trend we call Sunshine Noir.
The best way to launch this new trend, we thought, was to show that dark deeds happen all over the world, not just in the fantasy stories of the frigid north.
To this end, we collected original short stories from seventeen wonderful writers from around the world, who set their stories in hot, sunny places. The voices, the settings, and the plots of the collection take readers to beachfronts and ports along the equator, tropical islands and deserts, and far-flung jungles. Historic Istanbul and Mombasa figure in the mix, as does steamy Singapore. There is even a Scandinavian villain, suffering from the rare cryoglobulinemia, to make a tongue-in-cheek point. And you’ll also have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet the world’s greatest unpublished author, the one and only, Assistant Professor Delbert Finkter.
For all the fun and friendly competition that we hope to generate because of our Sunshine Noir challenge, we think it addresses a real and serious issue, namely that many readers seem unwilling to read outside their comfort zone. They read the authors they know.
We saw evidence of this at Harrogate, when panelists at the Murder Out Of Africa panel asked the audience which of them had read books set in Africa. Only a few put their hands up—disheartening to those who set their mysteries there.
We suspect this is also true of books set in South America or Thailand or the Caribbean.
We are concerned that there are many mid-list writers whose work is excellent, admired by their fellow authors, and praised by critics, but whose existence is not well known, even to avid readers of the genre. Why? Because their books are set elsewhere. Probably in the sun.
So, in the hopes of starting a trend of our own, we offer an intriguing alternative to the unrelenting gloom of those northern settings. We want to tempt readers to take a walk on the wild side, to warm to reading chilling tales in hot places, to step into the blazing sun where, as Tim Hallinan says “the world is a greenhouse for evil.”
And so, on behalf of our authors,
and Ovia Yu,
we say: ‘Move Over Nordic Noir! Some HOT writers are gunning for you.”
Sunshine Noir: ‘ . . . a gem of an anthology—hand in hand with some of the best crime writing in the world today’ – Peter James