The Society of Sociopaths

By Forshaw, Barry | The World Today, June/July 2013 | Go to article overview
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The Society of Sociopaths

Forshaw, Barry, The World Today

The society of sociopaths

Dark creations of European crime writers tell us much about our own world, writes Barry Forshaw

So you think crime novels are simply whodunits? If that's the case, then you are not paying close enough attention to the text» Among the rising body count, you maybe missing incisive socio- economic and political guides to the writer's home country»

The growing success of crime fiction in translation is built on the awareness among readers that the best writers are social commentators with as acute a grasp of the way their country works as journalists»

After the Breivik killings in Norway, the pundit most often called upon to talk about the influence of the Far Right in that country was not a political scientist, but Norway's leading crime writer, Jo Nesbo»

It is hardly surprising that Germany, a country whose troubled past is now counterbalanced by its weighty influence on European affairs, is producing a crop of socially cogent works in the crime genre»

One of its key writers, Sebastian Fitzek, repeatedly references his country's engagement with the past, refracted through an analysis of the way time and memory inform the present» It's a more Proustian approach than might be expected from a young best selling German crime writer»

'Crime fiction can be pertinent,' Fitzek told me, 'dealing with themes which are relevant to the way society functions; more pertinent, in fact, than any other entertainment media»

'In Germany, viewers are served up dozens of crime movies every day on TV, most of them in German, and these can pull in more than 10 million viewers» But the narratives rarely deal with edgy subjects such as paedophilia or modern slavery» The latter is a significant issue in Germany because prostitution is not illegal there - a fact that is exploited by organized crime rings» On TV such difficult issues are often a no-go area because producers think that female viewers don't want to hear about those "hard topics". Crime writers, however, are more ready to tackle these themes.'

Another German writer, Jan Costin Wagner, who sets his books in Finland, sidesteps the conventional imperatives of the crime novel to confront the reader with a more complex experience. 'Literature,' he has said, 'can anatomize society. And crime fiction is able to channel the basic fears and hopes of our fraught contemporary life.

? don't trust newspapers,' he continues, 'and I believe that an intuitive analysis of the modern world is possible through fiction.' His global connections have allowed him to present a truly pan-European vision of society.

French crime fiction still lags slightly behind in the social relevance stakes, but Italy's crime writers are coming to terms with their country's fractured political situation. The doyen of Italian crime writers, Andrea Camilleri, rarely engages directly with politics or social issues, except during the Berlusconi era, where he quotes Dante: 'The country has the wrong helmsman.

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