They talk funny, don’t they: foreign crime

When asked, I used to insist I didn't read (let alone – ye gods – enjoy) crime. I've recently had to adjust my perceptions on this, much like the time I had to admit that while 'I didn't like purple' I had a lot of it in my wardrobe.

I don't like most modern English-language crime is a fairer statement. I love Lord Peter Wimsey (the Sherlock of 30s London); I have previously confessed to my engagement with DCI Serrailler; I have a waning interest in Tudor lawyer Matthew Shardlake, but beyond this I tend to get sniffy.

I read the Scarpetta novels as commute fillers until they got so absurd with helicopters, lesbians, and gun fights that I gave up in disgust at the ubersensationalism and obsession with ticking sales-boosting boxes. Other procedurals and courtroom dramas haven't even had a look-in; I'm sure there's some great ones, but they haven't appealed.

But I've slowly been adopting European crime, and I think (thanks to ) that grumpy, isolated, Icelandic cop Erlendur has joined Arkady Renko and Lisbeth Salander on the list.

I've never been to Iceland, and Jar City didn't paint it vividly for me, but I liked the irascible loner and his sparse life. From his emotional relationship with his drug-addled daughter to his irritation with distractions, he felt very real. Low-key, for sure, and low-tech in a way that I loved; no CSI units or crack shot sidekicks here. I'm left intrigued by his patient assistants, frustrated for undervalued Elinborg, keen to know more about enigmatic Marion Briem.

Low-key is probably the key here. The crime I enjoy is interested in characters; in relationships beyond the force; in social and political context. It has no interest in the police force itself, little interest in the law, and less in guns and explosions (although Renko gets badly beaten on a regular basis) and when it becomes so (Shardlake), I lose interest.

I'm not say Eurocrime good, UScrime bad by the way. Henning Mankell and I didn't get on at all – The Man from Beijing was, frankly, rubbish – and I don't think that was just the translation. It failed at characters, and invested in an unbelievable foreign über villain.

But I have yet to be pointed at US crime fiction that goes for people and context over thrills. If you know of some, please do point me at it; I'd be curious. In the meantime, on to bookclub read #3, which happens to be Nobel-winning Turkish literary crime/thriller The Black Book.

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