07 April 2010
One of the pleasures of liking both Vikings and crime fiction is being able to combine the two. I particularly like thrillers and detective novels set in 'Viking' parts of Britain. They don't necessarily have to have a Viking theme, just being set in Shetland, like Ann Cleeves' excellent Shetland Quartet, is enough (though it wasn't enough for S. J. Bolton's Sacrifice, see my blog of 26 January 2009). But when there is a Viking theme, too, then it is time to wallow, as in Reginald Hill's The Stranger House (pictured), set in Cumbria and featuring a large Viking cross. My heartfelt advice, though, is to read it after you've been to Gosforth, not before. I also like spotting mini-Viking references in other novels where they don't really play a part. Stephen Booth's detective novels, fulfilling the criterion of being set in a picturesque part of the country (the Peak District), often smuggle in some very brief Viking references, probably almost unconsciously.
Funnily enough, the Scandinavians, who do such good detective novels, aren't so good at the Viking genre. I confess I never managed to finish Flateyjargáta by Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson, despite a promising island setting and the saga-links - I just got bored. Arnaldur Indriðason's Konungsbók was much more readable and quite successfully conjured up the Copenhagen of long ago, but the plot was so implausible as to be risible and in general it was not quite the page-turner of his modern novels. I may of course have missed something - if anyone has a good Scandinavian Viking-themed crime novel to recommend, do let me know!