In Competition No. 2756 you were invited to submit your contribution to the booming genre of Scandinavian crime fiction.
Guidance is at hand courtesy of Barry Forshaw, author of Death in a Cold Climate: A Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction, who has compiled a list of ten tips on how to write a masterpiece of Nordic noir. First and foremost, he says, know your landscape: ‘make sure you evoke your locale with maximum atmosphere, be it the endless forests and big skies of Sweden, Finland’s lakes...’
Other Scandi staples, such as torture, mutilation, alienation and conspicuously Nordic knitwear, featured strongly in an entry that by and large nailed the genre nicely. Winners get £25 each, with Alanna Blake taking the bonus fiver.
Detective Inspector Erika Eriksen drove the 50 kilometres through flat, empty countryside as she did every evening to ensure her ailing mother was eating adequately. Heavy snow had fallen steadily since she left Police HQ. A rising wind buffeted the car as, in growing darkness, she crossed the causeway where the decapitated corpses had lain the previous week. Despite being late, she stopped for her regular session of reviewing and brooding. Blindly she gazed through the windscreen, visualising the mutilated hanging bodies of two teenagers whose parents she must see next. After Nieholm, she would visit her oldest friend who had terminal cancer and then, as always, call on Kurt, her revered colleague, forcibly retired after a horrendous shooting had left him wheelchair-bound. At home, Nils again would wait in vain for his bedtime story. With luck, there wouldn’t be another emergency tonight. She turned the key and drove on.
Bakström took the reindeer blood from the freezer, and placed it in a bowl to defrost. His laptop hummed surreptitiously. He liked working in the kitchen: the cosily functional lighting kept him alert, and making blodpalt would keep his brain ticking. He placed the mixing spoon beside the keyboard.
The cadaver’s image duly appeared. Quietly, he ran it through the online photo laboratory, until he had a crisp shot of the knuckles. Someone had etched letters on them with a scalpel, letters he could not at first decode, although he recognised the knuckles easily. He had seen them tensing on the desk at the office: they had a particular, sallow quality, and an angular shape, that the defacement of the alphabetic symbols could not erase. Elisabet Carlquist. She had worked with him on exposing the agriculture ministry scam.
He measured out the rye flour, and remembered her delicate, sinuous tongue.
An ashen-faced Björden was waiting outside in the snow when Wäxfjörd arrived. ‘It’s not a pretty sight, sir,’ he said. They went into the house. There in the living-room was the naked body of a young man on a wooden chair. His wrists and ankles were bound to the chair with heavy-duty duct tape. His torso was covered with cigarette burns. He had been shot in the head three times, once to the back of the head and once in each eye, any of which would have been instantly fatal. For good measure, there was also an enormous hole in his back from a shotgun blast. ‘What do you make of the cause of death?’ asked Björden. Wäxfjörd’s reply was unhesitating. ‘Suicide.’ Björden looked dubious. ‘Suicide, sir? Are you sure?’ ‘Of course it’s suicide,’ snapped Wäxfjörd. ‘What else could it be? Good heavens, man, have you forgotten we’re in Sweden?’
Detective Inspector Jens-Otto Vestergaard kept his face impassive, but grimaced inwardly as he studied the actor’s mutilated corpse. Vestergaard had always hated William Shakespeare. Having read Hamlet many times, in the original English and in several Danish translations, he felt boundless resentment for the foreigner who had written ‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.’ His lover, psychology professor Sonja Thorsen, had suggested that Vestergaard probably found the tragedy painfully reminiscent of his father’s death and his mother’s chaotic romantic history. Tonight, he knew, he would get drunk and read it again, hating every scene. The murder victim on the floor was Lucas Juul, the film star who had astonished the Copenhagen theatre world with his much-praised performance as the melancholy Prince. ‘Perhaps you have it wrong, Old Will,’ Vestergaard muttered, peering closely at the savage wounds. ‘Perhaps it is in the human heart that something is rotten.’
Olga Strom, crossing the frozen farmland, approached the derelict outbuildings with Rurik, her assistant, following at the rear. ‘Any sign of anyone?’ he called, staring down at the taut jeans that clung like clingfilm to Olga’s rear. Summoned by a tip-off, they knew that Hektor Koch, the serial sadist, would be peering unseen from the shadows. Fearless as ever, Olga, refusing Rurik’s request for back-up, stepped out into the open and posed provocatively, acting as bait. She watched and waited but nothing stirred. Was she losing her allure? It was then that she remembered Hektor’s ‘previous’ and his predilection for more androgynous prey. She stepped back.
‘Your turn, Rurik,’ she ordered. ‘Take my place!’ Reluctantly Rurik obeyed and Hektor immediately sprang from a doorway and made for Rurik. Olga was ready. Quick as a flash, out came the handcuffs. The rat was trapped and another case nicely wrapped up.
The second head in the icebox belonged to the houseminder. At least she said she was keeping it for an artist friend. She claimed to know nothing about the other one. Maybe someone had broken in and put it there — it was not a good neighbourhood. ‘Why would anyone do that?’ Lars asked. She shrugged. ‘People are people.’ Then she blinked. It was a moment that darkened Lars’s soul. Her eyelids had been tattooed. Some clown with the manual skills of a surgeon had printed across them the two crude words of dismissal that English has given the world. Was this what evolution was leading to? But the next second his detective’s instincts took over. He knew — knew as if he’d been told — that when the severed heads had their frozen stares thawed there would be other such messages. It was the lead he’d been waiting for.
NO. 2759: second hand
You are invited to submit a well-known poem rewritten by another well-known poet, e.g., T.S. Eliot rewrites ‘Ozymandias’ (16 lines maximum). Please email entries, wherever possible, to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 8 August.