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Norway's cold climes are the hot new spot for Nordic noir, says Gerard Gilbert
If you wanted any further evidence of how deeply the boom in Scandinavian crime books/ movies/ TV dramas has penetrated its homelands, just visit the tourist websites for Stockholm and Copenhagen.
While www.visitdenmark.dk offers walks around the key Copenhagen sites that featured in The Killing, Stockholm recently instituted a Millennium Walk for Stieg Larsson readers keen to "walk in the footsteps of Lisbeth Salander" – a racy kind of proposition, it has to be said. However, the signs are that the hot Nordic crime action is moving on – north-by-north-west to Oslo, Bergen, and the other Norwegian settings.
BBC4 has snapped up the rights to Lilyhammer, a Norwegian drama series starring Steve Van Zandt (Silvio Dante in The Sopranos) as a gangster relocated to Norway after shopping a crime boss to the FBI. More purist fans of Nordic noir will however feel greater excitement at the prospect of several up-and-coming adaptations of global best-selling thriller writer Jo Nesbo.
After countless directors applied to adapt Nesbo's The Snowman, the author recently gave permission for Martin Scorsese to film his novel about alcoholic police detective Harry Hole and a serial killer with a penchant for building snowmen as a calling card. Meanwhile, later this year, British audiences can catch the Nesbo-scripted Jackpot, which has been described as "a tribute to the absurd action universe of Quentin Tarantino".
First out of traps, however, is a home-grown adaptation of Nesbo's Headhunters, which has become internationally the most successful Norwegian film ever, and has now reached the UK. A smart, funny and pacey tale of an amoral corporate head-hunter living above his means by robbing his clients of their valuable artworks, Headhunters might surprise Nordic crime fans used to darker, more sombre fare. The diminutive and wonderfully expressive Aksel Hennie is hugely watchable in the lead, and among many witty if stomach-churning set pieces is one where his character hides from an assassin by submerging himself in a latrine, using a loo roll as an air-pipe.
I asked the film's director, Morten Tyldum, how Norwegian crime fiction differed from its Swedish and Danish counterparts. "Norway is definitely the strange one among the Scandinavian countries," he says. "We're the only one that's not part of the EU, we're the smallest country by population but almost the biggest by land mass, and we're living very spread out. We can be very warm and very mistrusting at the same time, and there's a morbid sense of humour. "
While Jo Nesbo is by far the most successful Norwegian crime writer, he is far from being alone, and a rich array of authors, from Anne Holt and K O Dahl to Gunnar Staalesen and Karin Fossum, are primed to be exploited by film and television. However, the dichotomy between the tranquil reality of Norway and its authors' obsession with serial killers was cancelled last July when neo-Nazi Anders Behring Breivik detonated a car bomb in Oslo, killing eight people, and rampaged on the island of Utoya, shooting dead 69 mostly teenage holidaymakers. "There is no way back to the way it was before," wrote Nesbo. "I don't know how my writing will change".
Morten Tyldum, who was dubbing the sound on Headhunters at the time of the massacre, took a week off to reflect. "We have someone pretending to be dead in our film – like some of the victims (on Utoya) had to pretend to be dead – and I was 'we can't show this'. And then again life goes on, and we want an open society – we want the prime minister to be able to ride a bike to his office. We should not let this man change anything".
'Headhunters' is on nationwide release; 'Lilyhammer' comes to BBC4 later this year
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