Saturday, 29 January 2011


A number of people have enquired about the recent hiatus in posting on this blog -- thanks very much for your concern. I have told everyone that I have simply been busy with work, etc., but this is not entirely true. In fact, I have been on a journey, with a tall, tough, alcoholic Norwegian called Harry.

Some people, like my new friend Harry, are binge drinkers -- they manage to stay off the alcohol for sustained periods, then something triggers an intense reacquaintance with the bottle. In my case, I'm a binge reader. Harry Hole (pron. "Hooler") is the protagonist of Jo Nesbø's Oslo-based detective series, and I've just read all six available in English translation.

This has taken up all my evenings and most lunchtimes (thanks to Kindle), which has meant few photos and little writing... Hey, it happens. From Redbreast through to The Leopard, I have been getting to know Harry, Øystein, Rakel and Oleg, and most of all Oslo and Bergen, where it doesn't rain as much as people think, though curiously it always does when Harry goes there.

The Scandinavian crime novel (in translation) has been enjoying a well-deserved boom in recent years. If you haven't read Stieg Larsson's "The Girl Who..." trilogy yet, don't be put off by the hype, they really are a compelling read. Yes, the story is kinda preposterous, its sexual politics and violence may be teetering on the brink of cartoonish, and it's sad the money won't go to Larsson's partner, but they will keep you reading into the small hours. Such a shame there won't be any more.

I'm a big fan of the genre I can only describe as "characterful investigator in atmospheric and cleverly-described foreign location thrillers". I like to find a new one, then read the lot in the order they were published-- I have recently binged on Aurelio Zen (Michael Dibdin, Italy), Jack Reacher (Lee Child, United States), and Kurt Wallander (Henning Mankell, Sweden). I've also been reading through Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe books and his Saxon series.

Why I've taken to genre fiction in such a big way is easy to explain: these writers can really write -- they don't take your attention for granted -- and they write at least one book a year! This sort of addictive serial reading is, of course, where a Kindle scores heavily over even the best bookshop -- your next read is only ever a couple of minutes away.

Hmm, this was originally going to be a cunning set up for an introduction to the Finnish photographer Pentti Sammallahti -- via thrillers, ECM Scandi-jazz (Jan Garbarek et al.), and that lovely Swedish film about photography-as-redemption Everlasting Moments (director Jan Troell) -- but sometimes I just lose the momentum half way through... And I need to find myself another binge-read fix for this evening quickly...

So, let's just say that Scandinavia has a lot going for it, and I think you'd appreciate the photographs of Pentti Sammallahti, if only you can get the spelling right and just Google his name. It's truly amazing work, in a quiet but intense, visionary vein. His use of the panoramic format is particularly breathtaking.

Curiously, in common with Josef Koudelka and Raymond Moore, uncannily co-operative black dogs feature a lot in his work. You know, somehow this puts me in mind of the scene in Goethe's Faust, where a black dog running circles in the corn prefigures the appearance of Mephistopheles. No, it couldn't be... No-one would sell their soul to the Devil for the sake of getting great photographs, would they?


Bronislaus Janulis said...


Nice choice of phrase, "binge reader", as I'm going through another childhood, and re-reading Robert Heinlein. Rex Stout's Nero Wolf, and Richard Stark's Parker,( the nom de plume of Donald Westlake) recommended.

I'm quite fond of the Kindle app on my iPhone.

Mike C. said...

Shh, trying to read over here -- starting "Red Wolf" by Liza Marklund this evening.

I think I've made this point before, but the nice thing about the Kindle is its "multi-platform" aspect -- I can be reading the same books at home on a laptop, at work on a PC, or anywhere else in between or further afield on the Kindle, without having to remember to pick up and transport several bricks of paper.


Gavin McL said...


I have travelled with work in Denamrk and Norway and I always enjoy visiting both though the food is better in Denmark and drinking less financially crippling. For reasons I won't go into we often have to travel to Stord an isalnd between Bergen and Stavanger and whilst you can fly to Stord I prefer to fly to Bergen and catch the ferry which zips through the islands. The weather is generally dreadful - when it rains every day for forty days they call it a Noah - a couple of years ago Bergen had a double Noah.
But that adds drama to the scenery.
I've read the Zen books awhile ago and working for an Italian company can testify to the accuracy of his portrayl of the office politics
I'll have to try the Jack Reacher books -
I do like Pentti Sammallahti The photographs the stretching black dog reminds me of Fay Godwins leaping lurcher. Do you think he keeps a pack of dogs?
I worked with a Finn once - he told me that an old unit of distance in Finland was a dogs bark, how far a dogs bark will carry - He may have been messing with me.
Have a good Sunday

Mike C. said...


I like the idea of a photographer tramping the countryside with a pack of trained dogs... As for the stretching dog, if you mean the picture I think you mean, the way the dog echoes the shape of the tree leaning on its two crutches is beyond uncanny.

Lee Child is way better as an author than I, for one, was expecting of a serial writer of no.1 bestsellers. Apart from the plotting and storytelling skills, he has one of the best gifts for conveying a sense of place I've come across. Highly recommended.


Huw said...


I particularly like that first photo - the green struggling through is lovely.

Did you watch the adaptions of Zen on BBC1 recently? I enjoyed it (not having read the books) but some people thought them a travesty.


Mike C. said...


No, I didn't see it -- I meant to, but the TV is block-booked by certain other parties in our house, so I rarely get to watch it.

In the end, though, a TV or film adaptation has to become something new in its own right, if it's going to work, and the things that make the books worth reading (evocation of place and character, for example) become redundant. Perhaps that's why bad books make good movies, but good books rarely do.

Actually, I really wish TV and movies would STOP adapting books, and come up with more original work.


Frank Harkin said...


Finally got around to checking out Pentti Sammallahti. Keep those recommendations coming. After Raymond Moore this is another great one. And having got an iPad from Santa I have begun reading novels again after being away from them for many years. So I have tried your recommendation of Lee Child too. I used to love that genre 30 years ago so am looking forward to enjoying it again.

Mike C. said...


If you can find one, Sammallahti's little book published by Actes Sud in the Photo Poche series is a nice introduction. The 2002 Nazraeli Press book is a real beauty, but the 1st edition is very expensive now, although the 2nd ed. sometimes turns up reasonably priced on abebooks or Ebay (i.e. under £100 ...)


Frank Harkin said...

Thanks, Mike. Got a copy of the Actes Sud book on Abe Books for £20 incl. postage.

ghw3 said...

Johan Theorin has produced just enough for a short binge of three, and might well earn a place on your genre list. "Echos From the Dead" is my favorite. We here also just finished Jo Nesbo and are also given to binge reading. My wife is currently chugging like a little tugboat through Mankell's deep waters, and I've just finished Karin Alvtegen's "Missing" and "Shame". They are all soooo excellent, as is your wonderful blog. Looking forward to your photo book, btw.

Mike C. said...

Thanks, ghw3, and thanks for the recommendations of Theorin and Alvtegen-- hope they're available on Kindle, though, or they'll have to wait!


RobG said...

long time reader, never commented before, but your mention of 'genre fiction from far off places' made me think of Robert G Barrett's Les Norton series - you may like them, even if they are a little out there and improbable at times.

should further explain the whole shebang.

Just be warned - like Pratchett, these books will get inside you, and will make you emit sudden guffaws at inappropriate times. Not sure if they're available electronically, which to my mind is a good thing - books should be like photographic prints, able to be held, handled, smelled and appreciated for their existence. But that's me.

Mike C. said...

Thanks for the recommendation, RobG, I'll check it out. I am extremely prone to "sudden guffaws at inappropriate times", so will proceed with caution.