Is ‘Nordic Noir’ really so strange?

I’ve just finished reading Jar City by Arnaldur Indriðason – desperate to finish it so I can watch the film back. It’s another bit of ‘Nordic Noir’, so fashionable at the moment: Scandinavian crime fiction in the mould of Wallander or Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole novels.

I thought Jar City would be a bit different though; the excellent BBC Four documentary on Scandinavian detective fiction painted this as being a bit stranger. It’s set in Iceland, for one thing, and the story was underpinned by what sounded like a sinister plot for a private company to collect the DNA of every Icelandic citizen. This sounded like an otherworldly mixture of police procedural and thriller.

But it’s not. It’s a detective novel, like any other. The DNA plot only comes to light at the end and is skated over – which is a pity as Arnaldur Indriðason really could have done something that mixed Wallander with Stieg Larsson and Dan Brown and been better than all of them. The format is staggeringly typical of a large amount of detective fiction: the main character is a middle-aged man with health issues and an unhealthy lifestyle. He is divorced. He has a troubled relationship with his grown-up daughter. He is just the same as Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander. He is Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks. He is Ian Rankin’s DI Rebus. He is not an escapee from The Sugarcubes or Lazy Town.

So much for my preconceptions of Iceland.

I’m going to watch the film though – mainly because one of few odd things about Jar City is that we don’t know if one of the characters is male or female. I want to know how they tackled that on screen.

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