European crime fiction in the crosshair

From the agency to the newsroom

Sophie Colpaert
Trans. Christopher Warlow

What if the PI had left his flea-bitten agency for a newsroom? Goodbye to the solitude, having to keep up appearances, needing a secretary who, even if you like, you can't afford to pay but who stays anyway... Welcome to newspaper editing, with its financial constraints, its domineering editor, articles that must sell papers and this desire to know, to understand, which makes you take on all risks. The detective journalist type has been around since 1907 with Gaston Leroux's highly famous Rouletabille. One hundred years on, there is no denying that detective journalists have multiplied, across all the continents. I have recently chanced upon them, in my reading, from Colombia, Iceland and Sweden.

The Colombian example is born from the pen of Santiago Gamboa, one of those storytellers that only South American literature really knows how to produce. Peder es cuestión de método. Everything serves the agenda. The novel gave rise to a film adaptation, faithful enough if I am to believe the critics, but which sadly the French have not yet deigned to bring to their screens. And yet, Victor Silanpa is a journalist at El Observador, a daily Bogotá newspaper. One Sunday morning, captain Moya informs him in person of the appearance of a corpse on the shores of Lake Sisga, drowned and impaled - what could be more gruesomely gripping! Due to Bogotá's rampant expansion, land around the Sisga lakefront represents a small fortune to whoever manages to claim ownership, with supporting evidence. And therein lies the problem: the assumed owner has disappeared, along with his papers. Victor Silanpa cannot help but delve into the case, even losing his girlfriend and seeing his apartment trashed by tactless thugs. There are certainly a lot of people interested in this land: a town councillor, a lawyer, a property developer... and himself, an obscure news-in-brief journalist.

In Iceland, Arni Thorarinsson writes about three employees of the Journal du soir who have been relocated to the north of the country to set up a new regional office: an editor, Asbjörn, a journalist with a propensity for drinking, Einar, and a photographer, Joa. In Reykjavik, Einar and Asbjörn were office rivals. And here they are condemned to work together in the north, to succeed together, in a regional branch set up directly beneath Asbjörn's apartments. Chain-smoking Einar goes through cigarette after cigarette and Asbjörn's wife cannot stand smoking and the smell of tobacco! The new Reykjavik editor, young, ambitious and trained in television and marketing, intends to teach the old veterans how to do their own job - how to be journalists - not hesitating to remind them that he is the boss. When a suspicious accident and a murder occur, Einar is busy having trouble hitting the streets of Akureyri, asking people what they think of the weather!

In Sweden, the detective journalist is the heroine of a five-book series that has enjoyed resounding worldwide success. Annika Bengtzon was created by journalist Liza Marklund, a recurrent figure in Sweden's national media. Through the course of the novels, we follow the heroine in her fight to gain her place in the Presse du soir newsroom. Abused by her fiancé, Annika is dismissed from her last position after killing him in self-defence. She then has to prove herself so as not to lose what she has fought so hard for. Later on, having become a features editor, wife and mother, she endeavours to combine the demands of a family life and this career that enthrals her so. Each investigation entails a huge risk-taking, both physically and psychologically, for the heroine, and if she pulls through each time, she never does so completely unharmed. Liza Marklund's novels are widely translated in Europe.

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