Monday, October 10, 2016

Move Over Nordic Noir. Here Comes the Sun: Guest post by Michael Stanley

Michael Stanley:
Move Over Nordic Noir. Here Comes the Sun

Two years ago, we—a couple of crime writers who set our tales in Africa—went to the Icelandic Noir conference in Reykjavik. We arrived as fans of the subgenre known as Nordic Noir. And so we remain. But something happened at that gathering that got our goats.

It wasn’t the Scandinavian authors so much who miffed us, but rather the editors, the translators, the critics, and the garden-variety book pundits who kept differentiating Scandinavian Noir from “ordinary crime fiction.” The message was clear to those of us who write crime in sunny climes: Nordic Noir writing was special. What we wrote was ordinary.


The first time we heard that distinction so stated, we rolled our eyes. But when the same words were repeated as panels came and went, that “what?” turned to “WHAT?” We vowed to throw down the gauntlet. To challenge the notion that only one variety of setting made for superior crime novels.

Within a few months, support came from Iceland in the person of our dear friend Yrsa Sigurdardottir, author of brilliant (despite the gloomy settings) Scandinavian mysteries and thrillers. In blurbing Michael Stanley’s forthcoming book, she wrote, ‘Under the African sun, Michael Stanley’s Detective Kubu investigates crimes as dark as the darkest of Nordic Noir. Call it Sunshine Noir, if you will – a must read.’ And there it was—the brand name for our challenge to the worldwide, years-long tsunami of Nordic Noir fiction.

The best way to launch the new trend, we thought, was to show off a panoply of locations. Fortunately, unlike Nordic gloom, sunshine is not localized on our globe. To this end, we have collected new, original short stories from seventeen wonderful writers from around the world, who set their stories in hot, sunny places. Sunshine Noir very well might be the most diverse array of stories in the history of crime anthologies. The voices, the settings, and the plots of the collection take readers to deserts in both hemispheres, beachfronts and ports along the equator, tropical islands, and interior jungles. Historic Istanbul and Mombasa figure into the mix, as does steamy Singapore. There are even a couple of Scandinavian villains to make a tongue-in-cheek point.

For all the fun and friendly competition that we hope to unleash with the Sunshine Noir challenge, we think it addresses a real issue. The field of crime fiction is crowded with many, many worthy authors. A few superstars, whose books go directly to the bestseller lists, are extremely well known and widely read. At the same time, there are also scores of mid-list writers whose work is excellent, admired by their fellow authors, and praised by critics, but whose existence is not well known, even to avid readers of the genre.

In times past, independent bookstore owners and clerks took a keen interest in discovering new fiction voices. Knowing their customers, they would recommend the little known writers. With thousands of such possible champions around the country, a less-than-famous author had a chance of building a readership. Not so anymore, now that so many Indie bookstores have gone out of business. At the same time, publishers—squeezed for profits—have abandoned efforts to publicize their mid-list books, leaving it to authors to make the effort. Nowadays, short of a film deal that actually results in a hit movie (the odds are about that same as being hit by lightening), all but already famous authors must rely on personal appearances and whatever mix of social media noise they can manage, to make themselves known.

Recently, the craze for Nordic Noir made this self-promotion easier for authors entering that sub-genre. With a built-in interest in all crimes Scandinavian, with critics and bloggers covering the field, and fans following the fad, many new authors easily found buyers for their work. We applaud this.

However, we find the rationale for the craze doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. When asked why Scandinavian crime writing stands out, pundits give a couple of reasons: They say “The settings of the stories enhance their effect because they intensify the psychological depth of the protagonists.” That is certainly true of some Nordic crime novels, but not all. And these qualities are certainly not exclusive to stories from the gloomy northern climes. Or they say “The landscape becomes a character in the story.” This is true of almost all vivid mysteries and thrillers, regardless of where they are set.

So, in the hopes of starting a trend of our own, we offer an intriguing alternative to the unrelenting gloom of those northern settings where real crime rates are low because it’s too cold to go outside, and it’s difficult to pull a trigger with gloved hands. Rather we want to remind readers that the shadows are darkest where the sun is brightest—places where tempers are short and crime flourishes.

Noir film and crime fiction were born in sunny California. Those early examples find their legitimate descendants in the stories in Sunshine Noir. Characters caught in dark doings in hot, sun-filled places. Thrillers in Yemen, the Sahara, Ethiopia, Puerto Rico. Murder mysteries in Botswana, Guadeloupe, Arizona, Singapore, Nigeria, Ghana, New Orleans, Istanbul.

Sunshine Noir proves the point made by Tim Hallinan in his Preface to the anthology: “The bright, warm, lush world is a greenhouse for evil.” 

Move Over Nordic Noir! The following HOT writers are gunning for you:

Leye Adenle, Annamaria Alfieri, Colin Cotterill, Susan Froetschel, Jason Goodwin, Paul Hardisty, Greg Herren, Tamar Myers, Barbara Nadel, Richie Narvaez, Kwei Quartey, Jeffrey Siger, Michael Stanley, Nick Sweet, Timothy Williams, Robert Wilson, and Ovidia Yu.  Edited by Annamaria Alfieri and Michael Stanley


Nan said...

I might add Shamini Flint, Vaseem Khan, Tarquin Hall.

Katy McCoy said...

Jassy Mackensie, John Burdett, Parker Bilal, Leighton Gage...

Icewineanne said...

Basket of riches for crime lovers, sad that there isn't enough time to read them all.