Archive for December, 2011

I have finally finished The Dinosaur Feather by Sissel-Jo Gazan translated by Charlotte Barslund. This book, which was kindly sent to me by Maxine of Petrona, who reviewed it so intelligently at Euro Crime, weighed in at a stunning 536 pages.  Firstly I did enjoy reading it and had a lot of fun with it as you can see from my previous posts, but perhaps I wasn’t meant to enjoy it in the way I did. Perhaps it was meant to be taken more seriously and not with its plethora of back stories and frequent information dumps be considered a pastiche of Scandinavian crime fiction. 

My previous posts at Back story blues… and The World’s Most Irritating Detective with freckles discuss some of the amusing and bemusing features of this novel. My copy came with a sticker conveying the message that “If you enjoyed The Killing You’ll love this!” I asked myself why?

Presumably on the simple geographic coincidence that most of the novel is set in Copenhagen.

The three main characters in the novel are, Soren Marhauge, a police detective, Anna Bella Nor, a PhD student at University of Copenhagen, and Clive Freeman, an obsessive biologist whose theory on the evolution of birds has brought him into conflict with the rest of research establishment. All three are fairly unsympathetic, possibly because they have had more than their fair share of life’s tragedies, and reacted by becoming incredibly self centered. For instance when Anna’s supervisor Professor Lars Helland is discovered dead in his study with his severed tongue lying on Anna’s dissertation in his lap, her first thought is for her bloodied PhD work and her approaching viva voce. 

The Dinosaur Feather comes with the accolade “Danish Crime Novel of the Decade”,  an award from the Danish Broadcasting Corporation’s crime book club that has 30,000 members. Surely 30,000 readers can’t be wrong, although I asked myself was that a decade in which Leif Davidsen and Jussi-Adler Olsen did not write any novels. I have to admit laughing out loud at the pages of back story provided for character after character, some of which turned out to be totally irrelevant, except to show why this or that character was so bad tempered and morose. These back stories, and the chunks of detailed information dumped on the reader about research, university grants, and the goth and fetish scene made the book seem rather formulaic, as if the author was trying to copy the style of other Scandinavian crime writers.

The reader is provided with a melange of human emotions and traumas . Do we really need the details of Freeman’s homo-erotic lust for Jack as a child to emphasise his distress when as an adult Jack becomes an editor of a scientific journal and rejects his theory? Do we need a bleak tale of post natal depression, and a  suspicious name change subplot inserted hundreds of pages into the main story? 

The use of back stories and sub-plots that hold up the development of the narrative is a technique that can produce a series of exciting cliffhangers or it can become an annoyance when it is overdone. In The Dinosaur Feather characters are reintroduced into the narrative hundreds of pages after we first come across them in a back story with the result that I frequently forgot who was who, and what was going on, and even who had been murdered. Younger brighter readers might not have this problem. 

I began to chuckle, when on page 490 I read this:

‘When did you last speak with him?’

‘Perhaps you could just let me tell you the whole story,’ she said.

Then I had to laugh out loud when as expected we were then given  20 pages of back story about a character who was only been briefly mentioned once in the previous 400 plus pages.

Sissel-Jo Gazan is undoubtedly a talented writer, and somewhere hidden among the chaff  of her 536 page novel is an excellent 300 page book featuring scientific controversy and gripping human interest stories. If a sequel is planned to follow her characters and tie up the loose ends I sincerely hope is is edited with more vigour, although perhaps that would mean it would have less laughs. 

During my current reading saga something very strange has happened, but nothing about reading The Dinosaur Feather by Sissel-Jo Gazan would really surprise me. 

This surprise concerns my satirical post Back story blues…. in which I tried to parody the style of The Dinosaur Feather. This was a difficult task because The Dinosaur Feather is itself a pastiche of Nordic crime fiction, and I wonder if it was meant to be taken seriously. I am ploughing on with reading it out of sheer stubbornness, and because the way that some of the common features of Scandinavian crime have been blended together is extremely funny and quite clever.

But I digress, something that happens quite a lot in The Dinosaur Feather. I had read only a couple of hundred pages [it seemed more] when I wrote Back story blues and used the phrase “pert pretty freckled nose” a mere six times. Imagine my surprise when I came upon this passage on page 306:

But now, while still on duty, he was playing at being a social Robin Hood, watching her, poor struggling Anna, with his dark brown eyes and his healthy freckles; he might have had the decency to leave his freckles in his locker when he arrived for work in the morning: his farm-boy freckles were an insult to criminals everywhere and Anna in particular. How she hated him!

How did I know that freckles would feature later on in this book, because I assure you I did not reach page 306 until late last night?  Well either I am a clairvoyant, or I had read something similar in another book. Or more likely in trying to parody the author’s distinctive narrative style I predicted the use of freckles, but on the wrong character!

Samba and Tango

Posted: December 5, 2011 in Argentina, Brazil

Back story blues….

Posted: December 2, 2011 in Scandinavia

Anna and Michael slunk into the phantom head laboratory on the top floor of the dental school. They were both very behind with the anatomy syllabus as first year dental students at the University of South West East Gotland, and it would take hours of hard work to catch up. They sat at their places and began to drill the teeth in the phantom heads, molars, premolars, bicuspids, canines, incisors, eye teeth and wisdom teeth. After an hour Michael said “Anna there is something wrong with my phantom head.” Anna screwed up her eyes, she was far too vain to wear the spectacles prescribed for her, and could see very little more than twelve inches from her pert pretty freckled nose.  

“That isn’t your phantom head, Michael,” she smirked, screwing up her pert pretty freckled nose, realising he had fallen even further behind her with his work. “That is the head of Professor Ivan Hatefulsson, the Dean of the Faculty of Biological Forensic Anthropologic Psychopathology.” “So it is,” said Michael, “I wondered why it was dripping blood on my trousers. Where is the rest of him?” 

As they searched  for a headless corpse in the adjoining dissection room, Anna was reminded of the morning she was playing in the garden of their parent’s cottage near Ystadoven with her twin brother Karl. They had made a large snowman with a carrot for the nose and oranges for the eyes. Their neighbour Torsten, the postman, who had been chased by their pet poodle Francois the previous day, had delivered a registered parcel that their mother was too frightened to open because it was post marked, Midsomer Norton; Torsten  decided to get revenge for being savaged by the poodle’s huge canine teeth so he cut off the snowman’s head and place it on the bird table. Later that day Torsten’s young daughter Elisabeth came round to apologise and she and the twins took the snowman’s head into the forest. They made a fire and cooked some sausages their aunt Gunhilde, a professor of Norse literature [six pages of back story about her trips to Iceland], had bought from the old farmer Blixen, who had fought with the Norwegian SS on the Eastern Front [twenty three pages of back story about this] and enjoyed lunch although the sausages were as a passing Masterchef judge said “slightly underdone”,, or as Karl exclaimed “These are B******* Raw” .

Elisabeth explained that her father, Torsten, had a difficult childhood, because when he was ten his mother and father had been killed in a car accident, and he had been raised by a Sami family in the very far north on the border of Sweden and Finland. ………[sixty more pages of Torsten’s life story]. Then the three children noticed the snowman’s head had melted, and returned home crying only to meet Torsten at the twin’s front gate. Torsten announced “That parcel I delivered this morning, wasn’t meant for you at all, it was for the Quislingsson family in the next village.” Anna and her pert pretty freckled nose would never forget going into the cottage and finding her mother screaming and screaming at the unwrapped parcel which contained a framed photo of Professor Hatefulsson. [another one hundred pages of back story about Lola, Anna’s mother’s affair with Professor Ivan Hatefulsson, when they were both students at Leipzig University, and Ivan was recruited by the STASI and Lola by the CIA over one romantic weekend break in Minsk.] 

“Anna, don’t you think we should call the police.” said Michael as he shook her awake. “Why?” said Anna dreamily, twitching her pert pretty freckled nose and wondering why Michael was smiling. “Well, we are already on page 375 of the book we are in.” “Don’t be ridiculous translators and authors are paid by the word, so there is plenty of time to get on with some action, and there must still be a few readers who haven’t forgotten what happened on page one, so we can ramble on with a bit of comparative dental histopathology for another twenty pages before we call the police, and then we have to make sure that the detective with the girlfriend with the tragic past, and the unfaithful budgerigar, gets the case.” “Are you sure that shouldn’t be the detective with the budgerigar with the tragic past, and the unfaithful girlfriend, or the detective with a tragic past whose girlfriend ran off with the budgerigar.”………………[two hundred and fifty pages later]

South Scandinavia’s special murder squad detective Joshua Bloom, wondered why his first ex-wife, second ex-wife, and buderigar had all left him, perhaps it was because of his difficult childhood brought up by a family of wolves in the far north of Sweden, after his parents had been killed in a car accident, or the fact that he was a whining alcoholic totally incapable of being faithful to any woman unless she had a pert pretty freckled nose. That morning he had argued with Lena, his bisexual computer hacker girlfriend because she was obviously in the wrong book, and did not have a pert pretty freckled nose. Now he was faced by the most testing case of his career, and a witness with a pert pretty freckled nose……..[only another three hundred and fifty pages to go….]

[This post was not intended to resemble any published or unpublished work of fiction produced by any writer or writers from any country or countries north of Hamburg, west of St Petersburg, Russia, or east of Great Yarmouth.]