From Iceland — The Viking Crimelords: Snorri Kristjánsson Takes Nordic Noir To Strange Places

The Viking Crimelords: Snorri Kristjánsson Takes Nordic Noir To Strange Places

Published October 4, 2017

Björn Halldórsson
Photo by
Gunnar Freyr Steinsson

Next March, Snorri Kristjánsson’s fourth novel, ‘Kin,’ will be released by Jo Fletcher, a UK publisher focusing on works of science fiction and fantasy, and home to several award-winning authors. It’s the start of a new series entitled ‘The Helga Finnsdóttir Mysteries.’ Fans of Snorri might already be familiar with the eponymous main protagonist, who first appeared as a minor character in Snorri’s second book, ‘Blood Will Follow.’

“[Helga] was a rather minor, two-dimensional character when she first popped up,” says Snorri. “But once she was there, she was so much fun to write. She started pushing against the other characters, stepping on their toes, and inserting herself more and more into the story.”

The transition to a female protagonist is an abrupt change for Snorri. “I’m actually a bit terrified,” he admits. “My first three books were—let’s face it—very male-centric. Now, however, the main protagonist is a young woman, and we must face facts and admit that I am not a young woman. I’m venturing far outside my comfort zone. It’ll be interesting to see how that will be received.”

Crime in a lawless time

The book is a genre-bending work that incorporates elements of Nordic crime literature into a Viking fiction setting. This came with its own unique set of challenges. “Providing an acceptable solution to a murder mystery can get you in a pretty tight spot when there is no forensic science around,” ruminates Snorri. “Also, pondering what constitutes illegality in a world without a central legislative power; what is a crime, in that case? That’s when you realise how thoroughly entwined with human nature the detective story is.”

“For the Vikings, conferring with Óðinn was a part of everyday life.”

Having a woman play the role of the detective in an era when women had little to no societal power might seem like an odd choice, but Snorri is adamant that women’s position at the time contained more possibilities than it might seem at first. “I tried to weave in their everyday realities,” he explains. “For example, the significance of a woman losing her husband, what it implies for her and her daughter, and what means they have of negotiating their own situation afterwards. It’s very interesting to look at how female characters navigate a world where maintaining a threatening persona is the major currency. They either must find themselves a man that can protect them with the prospect of violence, or negotiate with other women who are under the protection of such violence. Another possibility is sorcery. Someone thought to be capable of sorcery gains a powerful status in the community.”

The real-world presence of the Viking gods

The gritty realism of the detective novel did clash with the world of Viking fiction. But Snorri found ways of mitigating these differences. “It was important that there was nothing that broke away from reality,” he explains. “However, for the Vikings, conferring with Óðinn was part of everyday life. Maybe that just meant knowing where to pick the right mushrooms. But their reality had more elasticity to it. There was a thinner veil between our own world and that of gods, and magic, back then.”

Read more about Icelandic literature here.

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