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Crime writing should address social issues: Norwegian John Horst

Posted on Jan 21 2014 | IANS

By Shilpa Raina, Jaipur, Jan 21 : Scandinavian crime novels are no alien to the world. If the simple language and local settings are their powerful tools, addressing social issues through their narratives is an art crime writers of the region have mastered to mirror their society, says a noted Norwegian crime writer.

"Our crime writings are not just to entertain audience or make money, but are concerned about social issues and bring them to the readers through their novels," Norwegian John Lier Horst told IANS in an interview on the sidelines of the Jaipur Literary Festival.

"This turns these novels into stories about changes that are unfair and recognise the evils of the society," he added, saying this ideology has filled the deep chasm between more elite genres and crime writing.

"Crime writing was supposed to be at the lowest," said Lier with a smile, "but simple language, imagination and concern for social issues are quickly bridging the gap."

Lier, a former investigating officer, candidly admitted his "crime solving abilities" and "real interaction with criminals and victims" have shaped many of his writings.

"My background has given me a good viewpoint of the society," pointed out Lier who made his debut as an author in 2004 with "Key Witness" that was based on a true murder story. To be present at the murder site, or meet criminals and victims was a part of his job and this has innately become subject of many of his novels.

The author mentioned how "crime and punishment" is the subject of his upcoming novel.

"Does punishment help? Is evil forced on to people by the government? In Norway, we have a programme that is supposed to help prisoners become better people. But what happens is when they get out they become more criminal. So, does punishment help? My novel will try to seek an answer," he said.

Surprisingly, while the crime rate in Norway is among the lowest in the world, yet writers are able to juxtapose peaceful settings into brutal tales of murder. The credit for such seemingly simple, yet complex, writings should go to Swedish writers Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell, whose crime fiction works are now a global phenomenon.

Larsson is best known for his "Millennium" trilogy and Mankell for "Faceless Killers".

Lier admitted it was a beautiful contradiction to imagine people from the most peaceful countries writing about brutal murders and conspiracies.

"It is somehow a paradox that writers from these countries can write so well about brutality and crime and marry the peace environment and brutal accounts extremely well in their stories," he said, adding there are around five million people in Norway and they only have 45-50 murders in the country every year.

Apart from settings that usually are of a dark, cold winter night, or the setting of the sun, simple language is an essential ingredient of Scandinavian crime writing.

"This genre needs simple language because you are going fast forward and then suspense comes in. Our writers also let their readers somehow sink into their verse, and it is literature," Lier said.

There might be an explosion of crime writing in India, but authors are still struggling to get their settings and characters right.

Though Lier had no suggestions for the Indian writers, he emphasised on "finding a voice of your own".

"To be successful, you have to find your own voice. There is actually no our way of doing it...everything varies from novel to novel," he added.

This was Lier's first visit to India and he wished to return and travel, but there is no Indian plot brewing in his mind for a future novel.

(Shilpa Raina can be contacted at )

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