Reykjavík in late November sounds like the perfect setting for a crime story, and has no doubt often been used as such. As a setting for a Crime Fiction Festival though, it has its ups and downs. Disaster struck the Icelandic Noir festival early on when two of its main guests, Val McDermid and Hugh Fraser, phoned in sick. The opening party was cancelled when the hosts’ dog got ill. And the surprisingly mild autumn weather turned to storm the very day the festival started.
Drunk writers’ panel
Nevertheless, fun was had by those who did make it to the Iðnó theatre beside Reykjavík’s central pond. And fun was also no doubt had by whoever it was that organised the panels. Often artfully non-descriptive in their titles (panels are named after berserkers, fermented shark and, inevitably, puffins), others do just what it says on the tin. The drunk writers’ panel does indeed include drunk writers, not least our very own Ævar Örn Jósepsson, who got very much into the spirit of things. True, the inebriated are not always as amusing as they sometimes think, but thankfully the audience on this Saturday night were probably not completely sober either and have only themselves to blame if they were.
The Eurovision panel, however, only required a jar of glimmer for merriment. This was sprinkled on the contestants by Queen of Iceland Noir Yrsa Sigurðardóttir as each discusses the merits of their countries’ entries. Finnish Noirist Antti Tuomainen apologised for Finland’s submissions through the years (even for 2016 contest winners Lordi) but also tells us they subsequently made a Lordi film that no one saw. French-Spanish Johana Gustawsson sings a song in Swedish, with a little Finnish help from Antti. Lilja Sigurðardóttir, festival co-organiser and Noir writer in her own right, tells the strange but true story of Iceland’s first entry, 1986’s “Happy Bank.” Yes, the streets were in fact empty when Iceland performed. And yes, there was much media deliberation over where we would host the festival the year after winning. As it turned out, we placed at 16. Then again, this scenario has been played out many times since, even if we are by now more likely to win the World Cup than Eurovision.
It may seem to be an example of Icelandic nepotism, but is probably more a reflection of local tastes and close knit society , that quite a few of the participants have political connections. Writer Jónína Leósdóttir is married to former PM Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir. Host Eliza Reid is married to current President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson. And current Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir always wanted to be a Crime Fiction writer.
On the Saturday of the festival, Katrín hosted a panel on her favourite novelist, Agatha Christie. The panelists were of all-star caliber, including Christie translator and crime novelist Ragnar Jónasson, Agatha scholar and writer Martin Edwards and Katrín’s brother, novelist and academic Ármann Jakobsson. Sadly missing is sometime Poirot actor Fraser, but giving us a bit of historical background made this a standout panel.
Award for translation
That often overlooked and sometimes long-suffering tribe, the translators, got their overdue due with the Icepick Award, which this year went to Bjarni Gunnarsson for his translation of Norwegian heavy hitter Jo Nesbø. The latest translation, that of Irish author Liz Nugent, arrived in true Icelandic style just three hours before the release party on the first day of the festival. Called Afhjúpun Ólivers, it was, full disclosure, translated by the author of this very article. Liz is on the illustrious Puffin Panel and when asked, inevitably, about whether her writing has been influenced by economic collapse, she concedes it has, but more that of the ‘80s than 2008, as that is when her stories are largely set.
I fought the law
The brave Mark Billingham spearheaded a group of colleagues who went bathing in the Blue Lagoon in a storm on a Friday night. For an encore, he fronts the Fun Loving Crime Writers, a covers band which of course only does murder ballads and songs on related subjects, including The Clash classic “I Fought the Law” and Elvis Costello’s “Watching the Detectives.” Fun times indeed, and an appropriate festival conclusion, even if some of the participants were by now a little the worse for wear, and only partly due to the weather.