Thursday, May 23, 2013

What Finnish crime writers should be translated?

I ran across a blog post over at Rap Sheet talking about Finnish crime writers who should be translated in English. Linda L. Richards, who wrote the post, mentioned Reijo Mäki who has just received the Vuoden Johtolanka (The Clue of the Year) prize from the Finnish Whodunit Society. Richards writes: "This recent win has likely (hopefully?) already put into motion the forces that will change that [Mäki being unknown in the US - JN]. Still, it seems at least a little inexplicable that we haven’t heard much about Mäki before, because he’s kind of a big deal in his home country. Eight of his nearly 30 novels have been adapted for the screen. Four of the resulting films have opened in Finnish theaters and another four are still to be released."

Mäki is indeed very popular in Finland and his popularity doesn't seem to be fading in the near future. His books are slightly parodic hardboiled private eye books that usually don't do well in the US or UK markets nowadays, and the large sociological and political questions, not to mention questions regarding to gender and minorities, that characterize most of Scandinavian crime fiction are largely missing from his work. The films based on his work have also been popular, but also very much criticized for being sloppy and clichéd. This is not to say someone shouldn't try translating them in English; maybe that would help some other writers break the barrier.

There are some Finnish crime writers, though, who really should be translated in English. Antti Tuomainen is breaking good in seemingly anywhere in Europe and the US, and I can heartily recommend his work: it's good, solid noir. I'm sure many who are into hardboiled crime might like Harri Nykänen's Ariel Kafka novel Nights of Awe out from Bitter Lemon Press (I haven't read it myself). Many seem to like Marko Kilpi's serious police novels, but I didn't like his first one, Jäätyneitä ruusuja ("Frozen Roses"), which I found deeply over-written and pretentious.

Here are some names for you, though. Mind you, I'm not interested in cozies or huge international thrillers. Both have their writers and their fans in Finland, though.

Tapani Bagge writes hardboiled action like no other writer in Finland. His long series of career criminals and sore losers of cold small towns of Finland is very good. Bagge (who's a personal friend of mine) is well-read in hardboiled crime and noir, and he sure knows how to spin the plot. He can also create memorable characters: they are touching, fragile and capable of violence at the same time. Bagge really cares for the people he writes about. Tapani also has a four-part series of historical crime, set in the 1930s and 1940s and the political mischief at that time, but I've only read the first in the series, so can't really comment on that. Tapani's been popular in Germany.

(As some of you might remember, I tried to translate Tapani's first crime novel Puhaltaja into English (with the tentative title The Jack), but it didn't work out so well in the end. Tapani's well-represented by his agent, though, so I don't mind.)

Marja-Liisa Heino is one of the most original Finnish crime writers, whose four books differ greatly from each other. I just finished her latest novel, called Astuit väärään autoon ("You Stepped into a Wrong Car"). It's an absurd Dostoyevskian play of guilt, written in prose that's both diffuse and clear at the same time. Lots of things go by unexplained. The story of a rapist who gets out from the prison and moves in with one of his victims (and makes renovations in the woman's house!) is pretty weird, but also very engaging. There's also some police procedural stuff, but I thought the parts with the rapist were better.

Of the other Finnish private eye writers than Reijo Mäki, Markku Ropponen might be an interesting one, but I'm not sure if his work translates well.

Many readers of this blog are into very dark and tough hardboiled fiction. They might want to try Juha Seppälä's Super Market. It was already published in 1991, but many of its pieces still feel relevant. Some of the more absurd stories set in the Finnish army might not work in English, but some of his violent ultra-short stories about criminals and other lowlife could very well resonate with someone who likes to read ThugLit or Flash Fiction Offensive. Seppälä's first novel, Hyppynaru ("The Skipping Rope", 1986) could also be seen as a non-genre crime novel. He's becoming more experimental these days, though, but his work still retains the darkness of his early work.

Harri V. Hietikko's first novel in years (he wrote a trilogy of supernatural private eye novels for a very small publisher in the 1990s), called Lausukaa Paranoid (the title is a joke that doesn't work in English), is, according to his own words, an update of Sergio Leone with Harley-Davidsons. I haven't read it as yet, but it seems interesting.

There are also some more marginal writers, some of which are more into horror and fantasy. Petri Salin's excellent Jim Thompson-esque short novel Toinen nainen ("The Other Woman", 2009) would work very well as an e-book. (Sadly Petri has made himself non-available for the time being.) Tuomas Saloranta is more a horror writer, but he can spin a mean crime tale any time he wants to. His horror stories, published mainly online and in anthologies, have a very, very dark edgy side to them, though they are also humorous at the same time.

Of the horror writers, I'm sure Juha-Pekka Koskinen and Marko Hautala would find audience translated in English. Koskinen has tried his hands also in crime writing, producing one good novel, called Eilispäivän sankarit ("The Heroes of Yesterday"), and also one book related to the Spanish Civil War and the political anxieties in Finland in the thirties and fourties. (I haven't read that one, though.) Koskinen's horror stories in my anthologies have been uniformly good.

Oh, by the way, here's something I've probably forgotten to post. It's a canon of Finnish noir fiction, posted in one of my Finnish-language blogs. I compiled it with the help of some of my friends, including Tapani and Antti. (I might be a bit biased saying good things about their work, but then again, this is my blog.)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Femme Fatale (2002)

Femme Fatale is one of the latest efforts by Brian De Palma, whose films I've generally liked, with some exceptions. This wasn't one of those exceptions.

Femme Fatale was made in France, possibly because De Palma couldn't raise the money in the USA. There's certain Europeanness in the film, so I'm not sure if it suits the American taste. There's something that reminds me of a Luc Besson or a Jan Kounen in this.

The film is full of technical trickstery and magistery that's characteristic of De Palma: camera drives, odd angles, long shots, shots through different filters, all that. The plot - what I could make of it - was suited to the feverish camera work. Femme fatale of the title is a career criminal, sexy as hell (played by Rebecca Rominj, who looks a bit too much the early 2000's, but I don't mind), who's on the loose from her fellow gangsters. The plot is full of twists one just can't see coming - and the last one is actually pretty absurd, but I think it fits the general mood of the film. There's some thematics on voyeurism that's also characteristic of De Palma, but I'm not sure what De Palma wants to say with the film. People - especially women - are being watched and this watching becomes more mechanistic via surveillance cameras and such, but then what? Women can also take advantage of them being watched, but it's unclear what kind of nature De Palma is saying this vantage point could be. This kind of uncertainty of thematics is also characteristic of De Palma.

More Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog here. (For once I managed to do this in time!)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Knife in the Darkness

The 72-minute episode of the TV series Cimarron Strip, released on VHS (in Finland as Kaupunki kauhun kourissa / The City in the Hands of Horror or some such nonsense; see photo) has some assets, some downsides.

The assets:
- the cleverish script by Harlan Ellison
- Bernard Herrmann's music, made especially for this episode, not Herrmann's best by a long shot, but still Herrmann
- Stuart Whitman in the lead, very young Tom Skerritt in a small but significant role

The downsides:
- the dire direction by Charles Rondeau
- too little violence or suspense

The biggest problem is that you pretty much guess what's going on after you've seen 10 or 15 minutes of it. In 1968 this must've been something.

Here's Marty McKee in a more detailed blog post about the same flick. More Overlooked Films here.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Don Easton's Jack Taggart books

Based on recommendations on Bookgasm (and some personally from one of Bookgasm's contributors, Bruce Grossman) I ordered a couple books by Don Easton. He's a Canadian writer, a former Mountie working undercover in drug-related cases. The books sounded interesting in all their violence.

But I was sorely disappointed. I've managed to get on page 67 on Loose Ends and I find the language and the narration stilted. The dialogue, not to mention the inner monologue, is stilted. The characters, including Taggart himself, are not far from being clichéd.

Sorry, I'll have to drop these and move on to something else. Anyone want two Don Easton books? The other one is Loose Ends, the other one is - well, something else. (It's in a stack on the floor, I can't see it at the moment.)

Friday, May 03, 2013

The Noir Dorian Gray

Remember when I was pondering about whether Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray might merit as a noir novel? I repeat: it's about an individual transcending the boundaries and suffering from the consequences. Okay, seems like I'm not the only one. I stumbled on some sketches by a Finnish artist called Jarmo Mäkilä and his exhibition based on The Picture of Dorian Gray. He has envisioned Wilde's characters as heavies from a gangster movie.