Tell you what… it’s a real honour to have Norway’s Gunnar Staalesen here on the site during Classics in September. He’s regarded as one of the father’s of Scandinavian crime fiction and his debut was way back in 1977 with Seasons of Innocence. It was published when he was just 22. Little did he expect that one day there would be a statue of his detective character, Varg Veum, in the centre of Bergen. A dozen films have been made based on Staalesen’s works and he’s been published in 24 countries. Today he joins us to share his four favourite classic crime novels – what do you think of his picks?
The Hound of Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
When I was 13 or 14, my father gave me this book to read and I have always considered this my first ‘grown-up’ book. At the very least this was the book that inspired my fascination with detective novels, and it’s possible that this book is also the reason why I am a crime novelist today. All over the world Sherlock Holmes is recognised as the iconic detective – almost a caricature, with his magnifying glass, his deerstalker cap, and his ubiquitous pipe. The Hound of the Baskervilles amalgamates mystery and the gothic novel, and even if the great detective is hidden in the background for a large part of the story, told by the amicable Dr Watson, it is when Holmes presents himself again that the crime is solved. Arthur Conan Doyle was a first-class writer, and his vivid language and tightly plotted stories are a pleasure to read even today, more than 100 years after they were written. In his footprints followed Hercules Poirot, Jules Maigret, Philip Marlowe, Martin Beck and all the other great detectives of the 20th and 21st centuries.
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The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
Raymond Chandler wanted to be the Shakespeare of modern crime fiction, and he succeeded. He was clearly inspired by his forerunner, Dashiell Hammett, but it was Philip Marlowe who turned out to be the model for all private detectives to follow him, including Lew Archer, Nestor Burma, Dave Robicheaux and my own Varg Veum, to mention just a few. The first Marlowe novel I read was The Little Sister but, like most people, I consider The Long Goodbye to be his best novel – perhaps the closest any writer has come to writing the ‘great American novel’ within crime fiction. You can read Chandler again and again, not only because of the poetry of the language, his wit and humour – but because they are very good detective novels, among the best ever written! I’ve been referred to as the ‘Norwegian Chandler’ by Jo Nesbø, so there is a very strong chance that his work contributed to the development of my own style.
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The Burning Court by John Dickson Carr
The master of the locked-room mystery wrote several very fascinating detective novels in the classic style, and this is perhaps the very best of them all – with a never-to-be-forgotten double ending! The story starts with one of the most famous opening sentences in crime fiction, and as I am also a writer with a view of a graveyard, I feel almost related to the main character in the book, Edward Stevens. In The Burning Court the history of witch hunts influences the modern literary world and creates a mystery that features on the top-10 lists of most crime literature experts around the world. This book, and Dickson Carr’s other Golden Age offerings, undoubtedly influenced my own writing.
The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö
This Swedish couple created the Nordic noir genre when they wrote their very first crime novel about Detective Inspector Martin Beck in 1965, Roseanna. Number four in the series, The Laughing Policeman, is considered by many to be the best, and it shows their mastery of their craft. It was even filmed in Hollywood, with Walther Matthau as Martin Beck. Eight of nine passengers in a bus in Stockholm are found murdered, and the police have to search all layers of society to find the answer to the mystery. After the ten Martin Beck novels, crime fiction never was the same again, and like most Nordic noir writers, I could not help but be influenced by their superb storytelling, and issue-driven plots. This was the first book to address the shortcomings of the Swedish welfare state, and my own novels all have an issue of some description at their core.
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We reviewed Gunnar Staalesen’s latest Varg Veum thriller, We Shall Inherit the Wind, here. Where Roses Never Die is out in Spring 2016.