Thursday 7 September 2023

The Petrona Award 2023 - Shortlist


From the press release which was embargoed until 8.00am today:

Outstanding crime fiction from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland shortlisted for the 2023 Petrona Award 

Seven impressive crime novels from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland have been shortlisted for the 2023 Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year. The shortlist is announced today, Thursday 7 September and is as follows:

Pascal Engman - FEMICIDE tr. Michael Gallagher (Sweden, Legend Press)

Anne Mette Hancock - THE CORPSE FLOWER tr. Tara F Chace (Denmark, Swift Press)

Håkan Nesser - THE AXE WOMAN tr. Sarah Death (Sweden, Mantle)

Petra Rautiainen - LAND OF SNOW AND ASHES tr. David Hackston (Finland, Pushkin Press)

Joachim B Schmidt - KALMANN tr. Jamie Lee Searle (Switzerland, Bitter Lemon Press)

Lilja Sigurðardóttir - RED AS BLOOD tr. Quentin Bates (Iceland, Orenda Books)

Gunnar Staalesen - BITTER FLOWERS tr. Don Bartlett (Norway, Orenda Books)

The winning title will be announced on 5 October 2023. 

The Petrona Award is open to crime fiction in translation, either written by a Scandinavian author or set in Scandinavia, and published in the UK in the previous calendar year.

The Petrona team would like to thank our sponsor, David Hicks, for his continued generous support of the Petrona Award. 

The judges’ comments on the shortlist:

There were 43 entries for the 2023 Petrona Award from six countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland). There were twenty-one female, nineteen male, two female/male pairs and one male/male pair of authors. The novels were translated by 22 translators and submitted by 22 publishers/imprints. 

This year’s Petrona Award shortlist sees Sweden represented with two novels and Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland with one novel each. The judges selected the shortlist from a particularly strong pool of candidates with the shortlisted titles ranging from police procedural and private investigator to historical. 

As ever, we are extremely grateful to the seven translators whose expertise and skill have allowed readers to access these outstanding examples of Scandinavian crime fiction, and to the publishers who continue to champion and support translated fiction. 

The judges’ comments on each of the shortlisted titles:

Pascal Engman - FEMICIDE tr. Michael Gallagher (Sweden, Legend Press)

FEMICIDE is a page turning, absorbing, thriller featuring Detective Vanessa Frank. A young woman is found murdered in her apartment in the same week her violent ex-boyfriend is released from prison. Meanwhile, we hear the story of Jasmina, a survivor of a recent severe sexual assault. Engman dives into the world of incels through Tom, a very believable character who is part of a weaponised gender war. 

As expected this is not a comfortable read, addressing the whole incel phenomenon which is of growing concern. The well written characters and increasingly tense plot strands keep the reader absorbed as the story comes to a pinnacle as the attacks against women escalate.

Anne Mette Hancock - THE CORPSE FLOWER tr. Tara F Chace (Denmark, Swift Press)

Journalist Heloise Kaldan is trapped in a nightmare. One of her sources has been caught lying. Then she receives a cryptic letter from Anna Kiel, wanted for murder, but not seen by anyone in three years. When the reporter who first wrote about the case is found murdered, detective Erik Schafer comes up with the first lead. Has Kiel struck again? As Kaldan starts digging deeper she realises that to tell Kiel’s story she will have to revisit her own dark past.

A dark and compelling story with echoes of Stieg Larsson's THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, this is an exceptionally strong start to the series, with a balanced blend of journalistic detection, psychological thriller and police procedural.

Håkan Nesser - THE AXE WOMAN tr. Sarah Death (Sweden, Mantle)

The fifth and final Inspector Gunnar Barbarotti novel from Håkan Nesser, sees Barbarotti returning to work after a personal tragedy and tasked with the investigation of a cold case, based on the unexplained disappearance of Arnold Morinder five years previously. Morinder's former partner Ellen Bjarnebo, who had been previously convicted of the brutal murder of her first husband, is sought by Barbarotti for more information, but she too has disappeared.

Håkan Nesser's credentials as a superior storyteller are once more in evidence in THE AXE WOMAN, with its impressive narrative arc and peerless characterisation, coupled with a perceptive translation by Sarah Death.

Petra Rautiainen - LAND OF SNOW AND ASHES tr. David Hackston (Finland, Pushkin Press)

LAND OF SNOW AND ASHES is set at a prison camp in Finnish Lapland in 1944 during the occupation by Nazi Germany, and in 1947 when journalist Inkeri arrives in remote Enontekiö on an assignment to chart the area’s social development. Inkeri gets to know the small community, discovers disturbing silenced crimes, and tries to find out what happened to her missing husband. Rautiainen weaves in the elements of Finland’s recent hidden history in the European context, and gives voice to the Sámi people, while Inkeri’s personal investigation shows the painful truths of human brutality and the cost of survival in extreme conditions. 

A harsh yet beautiful landscape adds to the mystery and allows for reflection and thought in this striking historical but contemporary novel. 

Joachim B Schmidt - KALMANN tr. Jamie Lee Searle (Switzerland, Bitter Lemon Press)

A local hotel owner and entrepreneur has gone missing, then Kalmann Odinsson discovers a pool of blood in the snow in the quiet village of Raufarhofn. Kalmann is an engaging, highly observant,  neurodiverse character who sees the world his own way and who can easily become overwhelmed. He hunts and makes fermented shark and his usually quiet life in the small community falls into turmoil as the police arrive to investigate formally. 

This quirky Icelandic story quickly draws the reader in, and information is revealed slowly as the mystery is solved. KALMANN is a beautifully written, absorbing, character-driven tale set in a rich Icelandic landscape.

Lilja Sigurðardóttir - RED AS BLOOD tr. Quentin Bates (Iceland, Orenda Books)

Following the events in COLD AS HELL, the UK-based financial investigator Áróra Jónsdóttir still searches for her sister Ísafold in Iceland, now convinced she will only find her sister’s body. Teaming again with Daníel, an old family friend and a detective, she becomes involved in the murky, violent, criminal underworld when the entrepreneur Flosi’s wife gets kidnapped. 

The chilling scenery and tight plotting with unexpected twists propel the novel into the uncommon sphere of financial crime mixed with a strong sense of unease and danger. The writing is sharp, intelligent and witty, and the characters authentic. Sigurðardóttir surprises at every step with her exciting style, faultlessly brought into English by Quentin Bates. 

Gunnar Staalesen - BITTER FLOWERS tr. Don Bartlett (Norway, Orenda Books)

BITTER FLOWERS is set in Norway in the 1980s during the heated atmosphere of toxic waste environmental protests. Private investigator Varg Veum is just out of rehab for his alcoholism. The story starts with a body found under suspicious circumstances in a swimming pool. The lifestyle of the rich, their power and the privilege their money affords them comes into question.

Staalesen is an expert at making his characters just complex enough that the reader can empathise with the human condition in the majority of them. BITTER FLOWERS is finely crafted and translated giving the reader a clear sense of location and an array of vivid characters to spend their time with.

The judges

Jackie Farrant - creator of RAVEN CRIME READS and a bookseller/Area Commercial Support for a major book chain in the UK.

Miriam Owen - founder of the NORDIC NOIR blog, passionate about the arts, she moderates author panels and provides support at crime fiction festivals.

Ewa Sherman - translator and writer, and blogger at NORDIC LIGHTHOUSE

Award administrator

Karen Meek – owner of the EURO CRIME blog and website.

On social media, please use #PetronaAward23.