Something about sleuths gets lost in translation

All that darkness of never-ending night only occasionally relieved by a ghostly shaft of grey; incessant rain; horizons that make the fens look mountainous by comparison; poisonous looking lakes punctuating square mile upon square mile of black conifers; weedy wheat waving in the wind; and crumbling single storey asbestos buildings.

And that's just the countryside.

The urban landscapes feature misty bridges, sparsely occupied offices, abandoned factories and bleak apartment blocks that make Broadwater Farm look like Brookfield. Scenes are shot, when the book is adapted for the screen, in melancholic monochrome.

Small wonder that the Scandinavian landscapes of faddy modern detective stories drive sky high suicide rates.

Except they don't. I looked it up. Finland is, in 19th place, the highest placed country that you could call Scandinavian in a list topped, in case it's of any interest, by albeit quite nearby Lithuania.


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As far as chilly detective tales are concerned I cut my teeth on Martin Cruz Smith's hapless Russian (12th in the suicide stakes by the way) investigator Arkady Renko and his murky murder investigations in books like Gorky Park and Polar Star. But that was a long time before the Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians took murk to new depths. Anyway, Smith was an American and therefore given, ultimately, to optimism; not a trait much enjoyed by our northern European cousins.

In the aftermath of a halcyon period for British paperback and television tecs, it is hardly surprising that those of us who head for the crime fiction shelves and scan the weekend TV schedules for whodunnits went in search of worthy successors to John Thaw's Morse and David Jason's Frost after they melted away.

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We found our favourite genre wanting. Without the foil of his boss, Lewis reflected but a pale shadow of his erstwhile Inspector's complexity, and despite flogging a dead horse for several series subsequent to Mark McManus's premature demise, Jim Taggart's oppos never did live up to his gritty grumpiness. Let's not even mention Tom Barnaby's murder a minute in Midsomer, nor why someone thought it worthwhile to continue it into a 15th post 'retirement' series with his cousin, John taking over. And Wessex was always a wash-out.

For a while I dallied with the Italian Inspector Aurelio Zen, but all too soon writer Michael Dibden died. I'm thinking, by the way, of launching an investigation into why so many characters and creators in the world of crime die young. And into why all the famous fictional policemen hold the rank of Inspector.

My next flirtation was also blighted by a suspiciously early death; a fatal heart attack at the tender age of 50 ensuring that Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy would be the first and last adventures for the girl with the dragon tattoo. The outlook was, however, promising, with the lands of Miss Smilla queuing up to boast of their Jo Nesbo with his Snowman and Henning Mankell with Wallender as 'surely the next Larsson'.

It's not that I haven't tried – even boasted to kind of liking – the current crop of Scandi-sleuths, but something, I suspect, gets lost in translation. My current beef is, indeed, with Kurt Wallender. It's not good form for we linguistically lazy Brits to criticise the translation of the complexities of Swedish into English to the extent of being able to interpret the inner meanings of a novel written in the former and interpret its nuances in the latter. But why, oh why, can't the publisher commission a good English language editor to give the finished work the once over?

For example, and there are many, why would anyone describe someone's gardening prowess in terms of having 'green thumbs', even if that's what they say in America. In English, it's 'green fingers', plain and simple. Or at least it is if you're going to later arrive at the translation of 'any old Tom, Dick and Harry' for, presumably, 'any old Oskar, Jonas and Anton' or, as they say in Sweden 'Nisse i H�kar�ngen' (which roughly translated, I understand, means 'the man on the Clapham omnibus').

Such sloppy editing undermines the integrity of the best constructed plots, let alone of these slow moving meanderings reliant upon imagery and atmosphere.

As far as the contrivance of a gloomly outlook goes, I started making notes in the margin to get me through.

This, on the depressive detective losing a filling after nibbling on a biscuit was a classic. 'He was irritated by the thought that his body was starting to fall to pieces. Once the most important parts stopped working, it would all be over.' Per-lease.

If I am to dodge Copenhagen's Christmas-cardigan clad Detective Inspector Sarah Lund's return in the third series of The Killing which will doubtless take another 10 episodes of soused red herrings to discover the killer, I need your suggestions.

I already do Peter Robinson's Inspector Banks who is, we're promised, about to embark on his 20th case. Rebus has retired, although there's a vague notion that Ian Rankin has some unfinished business with his crusty creation on the streets of Edinburgh.

Meanwhile, I'm finding it hard to get excited about the antics of his replacement, Inspector Fox, who works, topically but a bit tardily, for 'the Complaints'.

Apart from that, you tell me.

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