Quentin Bates: Nautical Journalist Turned Crime Novelist

Although the rate of violent crime in Iceland remains mercifully low, the last few years have witnessed a rapid increase of crime fiction not only being written by Icelandic authors, but also Icelandic crime fiction being translated into other languages. An interesting statistic from an article published in The Iceland Review in 2008 notes that “Since 1997 over 70 crime novels have been published by Icelandic authors (relative to population, that’s the equivalent of 15,000 crime novels being published every year in the UK).” Given Iceland’s evocative landscape and relative isolation, it is perhaps surprising that there haven’t been more crime novels written by non-Icelanders. Perhaps, then, Frozen Assets by English author Quentin Bates (who has lived in Iceland for ten years and speaks the language fluently) is a sign of things to come. The novel is the first in a series of crime novels starring Officer Gunnhildur and centers around the discovery of a body in the harbor of a rural Icelandic fishing village.

The novel’s setting seems appropriate, given Bates’ experience working as “netmaker, factory hand and trawlerman” and his job as a “a full-time journalist [and] a feature writer for an obscure nautical trade magazine,” which is, he goes on to explain, “a dream job for anyone who gets a kick out of visiting industrial estates and tiny harbours miles from anywhere.”

Bodes for some entertaining reading very soon…

For more on Bates or his other writing projects, check out his website, Graskeggur (which means “Graybeard” in Icelandic).

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The Babysitters Club: Where Are They Now?

I don’t think this really needs any preamble. Just too much fun: The Babysitter’s Club: Where Are They Now? Ten points to anyone who can remind me who this Shannon is, though…

This is also an excellent excuse to draw your attention to What Claudia Wore, which is (was? it hasn’t been updated in awhile) one of the best ideas for a blog ev-er.

Spontaneous Reads: Fables (Deluxe Edition)

There have been a number of spontaneous reads on my book list thus far in 2011. I generally like starting fresh in a new year, before my ‘obligatory’ (which does not mean not enjoyable) book list starts filling up. One of the surprise reads of 2011 is a graphic novel series called Fables, which I had the good luck of having suggested to me (thanks, Chelsea!) after the long-running series had started being collected in lovely ‘Deluxe’ editions. The series started in 2002 and is suffused with the creator Bill Willingham’s enthusiastic love of storytelling and yarn-spinning. I’ve quite enjoyed it, and while graphic and visual-based storytelling is not generally my bag, I think I’ll be making an exception for this series. Here’s a short ‘review’ of the first Fables Deluxe edition, including the “Legends in Exile” and “Animal Farm” plot arcs:

A friend of mine who is very immersed the graphic/comic world suggested that I would really enjoy this series, and brought me the Deluxe edition to get me started. I finished the first book in two nights, which is somewhat unusual for me, since even though reading a graphic novel may not actually take as much time as reading a text-based story, I generally go slower with visual storytelling. The first two arcs in the series are fantastic, though, and the artwork is not only beautiful and dynamic (including the fantastic cover art), it really leads you through the panels and the story in a natural, snappy fashion.

The general premise is this: some centuries before, a powerful force only known as “The Adversary” systematically went about invading and eradicating the mystical worlds inhabited by fable characters. First, the Emerald City was attacked, then Narnia. When those domains fell, the Adversary went about rounding up and attacking the rest of the fables, forcing the survivors–including the Big Bad Wolf (now known as Bigby Wolf), Snow White and Rose Red, the Three Little Pigs, Little Boy Blue, Prince Charming, Bluebeard, Brere Bear, Shere Khan and many others–to relocate to two new dwellings in upstate New York and Manhattan’s Upper East Side. A transition government has been established in Manhattan–ostensibly run by King Cole (the ‘merry old soul’ guy), but really overseen by Snow White and her deputy lawman, Bigby Wolf. Those magical creatures that can’t pass for human, however, are relegated to The Farm upstate, which eventually creates no small amount of chaos for all the undercover fables.

The plot lines are rich while not be terribly complicated, and since their unfolding is quite a lot of fun, I won’t spoil it for anyone. Suffice to say that in the first two arcs, there is a murder investigation, an assassination attempt, a planned fable coup, kidnapping, romances gone awry, and much other adventurous drama. I’ll definitely be continuing with this series.

Lucky Us: Lykke Per Now Available in English

Original artwork inspired by Lykke Per, courtesy “Tourist Near Paradise.”

Way back in October, it was brought to my attention that Danish Nobel Laureate Henrik Pontoppidan had been somewhat (facetiously) maligned in a New Yorker piece about the relative (un)importance of the Nobel Prize. As I mentioned then, Pontoppidan’s short stories “The Royal Guest” and “The Polar Bear” were largely responsible for my further investigations of Danish literature. Or rather, it was a combination of the limited availability of those short stories, as well as the almost complete unavailability of Pontoppidan’s novel, Lykke Per.

It’s seemed to me a very sad state of things that the most famous novel by a Nobel Laureate had fallen out of English translation, which is why I was delighted to find out that a new translation of Lykke Per was published in English in June 2010. The new translation was undertaken by Naomi Lebowitz,  a much lauded professor in Washington University, St. Louis’ Comparative Literature Department.

The book will set you back about $70 on Amazon, which you may not be entirely inclined to invest this soon after the holidays. Luckily, however, you can get a taste of the novel via an abridged lay translation that was done by fellow Danish language and literature enthusiast “Ventristwo” on his blog “Tourist Near Paradise.” Ventristwo generally blogs about life on the island of St. Croix, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands. (It may surprise you to know that the U.S. Virgin Islands were colonized by the Danes in the late 1600s and were previously known as the Danish West Indies.) “An even-handedness comes through the work and a spirit of irrepressible youth, luck and determination fashion an honorable peace for all despite rigid adult certainties bent on suppression,” Ventristwo says of the book.

Ventristwo includes a number of long passages from throughout the novel on his site, so definitely check it out. It seems that great minds are thinking alike to finally bring us Lykke Per in English again. Lucky us!