Oline Cogdill
The United States and Canada don’t have a lock on mystery fiction conferences. One of the most famous is located in Harrogate, England.

New to the mystery fiction conference scene is Iceland Noir, which launches its first gathering Nov. 21-24 at The Nordic House in downtown Reykjavik.

While Iceland has a rich history of literature, mystery fiction is fairly new to this country. Now Iceland has a handful of highly respected mystery authors who are showcasing their country through gripping crime fiction.

Special guest of honor at Iceland Noir will be Arnaldur Indridason, right, who is Iceland’s best selling crime novelist with his Detective Erlendur crime series. Indridason earned the CWA Gold Dagger in 2005 and twice has taken home the Glass Key Award for the best Nordic crime novel. In 2003, he had five novels on the Icelandic best-sellers list for a week, the only author other than J.K. Rowling to simultaneously hold the top three spots. In 2004, he sold 100,000 copies of his mysteries. That’s the year that his novels were seven of the 10 most popular titles borrowed from the Reykjavík City Library.

Arnaldur (phonetically ARE-nald-UR Ind-RID-a-son) has been credited with the starting a new wave of Icelandic crime fiction, beginning with his 1997 Sons of Earth (Synir duftsins). Arnaldur—it’s the custom to call the Icelandic by their first name—didn’t originate crime fiction in his country, but he did find a way to tap its potential.

I interviewed Arnaldur a few years ago for Mystery Scene (Holiday Issue 2006, No. 97) and we talked at length about Iceland and its novelists.

Here is an excerpt from that interview:

“People used to think that it would be too ridiculous to have crime fiction in Iceland because nothing happened here,” said Arnaldur.

But Iceland has undergone enormous changes during the past 50 years.

“Before World War II, Iceland was a very poor, peasant country with most of its people living in rural areas,” he said. “If there was a murder, it was generally a knife stabbing in a drinking brawl. Crimes were not very well thought out.”

But during the past 20 years, Iceland has leapt into the cyber age with the arrival of international companies. Cities are expanding, edging into rural areas.

“In the past we were an isolated country in the middle of the Atlantic, a peasant country with not much going on in the way of crimes. Now we are in the middle of Europe, so to speak. And in many ways, we are also in the middle of America. We take influences from both sides,” said Arnaldur who, despite high-tech’s impact on his country still uses his computer only as a typewriter and doesn’t have a Web site.

It’s this conflict between old vs. new that Arnaldur explores in his novels. Using the police procedural as a foundation, he weaves the country’s history and legends into stories that explore how contemporary issues affect Icelandic society. Jar City dealt with the Iceland’s database of genetic research. Silence of the Grave includes subplots of American soldiers stationed in Iceland during World War II, domestic violence and urban sprawl. (end of Mystery Scene excerpt)

Since that interview, Iceland has undergone even more changes in its economy and landscape.

Iceland Noir
also will feature Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, bestselling Icelandic author of the Thóra mystery series and 2012 Glass Key nominated crime/horror novel I Remember You, which is being turned into a Hollywood film. Quentin Bates, British author of the Iceland-set Officer Gunnhildur crime novels. Michael Ridpath, English, author of the Fire and Ice series of crime novels set in Iceland. Other authors who don’t have a connection with Iceland include Anne Cleeves, William Ryan, Zoe Sharp, Susan Moody and Matt Hilton.

And the list of Icelandic authors continues to grow. One of the newest ones will be Snorri Kristjansson whose epic Viking saga debut Swords of Good Men comes out in January from Jo Fletcher Books/Quercus.

I wish Iceland was on my travel plans this year, but it is not. Iceland Noir sounds like a promising conference. As an aside, my next-door neighbors are from Iceland.

Iceland sounds like a perfect place to launch a new mystery fiction conference. The entire nation has just over 300,000 residents and its literacy level hovers around 96%. My neighbors told me that one of the Christmas traditions is to give books; so I load them up with books when they go to see their daughter in Atlanta during the holidays.

BBC News
recently reported that Iceland is “is experiencing a book boom," with "more writers, more books published and more books read, per head, than anywhere else in the world," BBC News reported, noting that one in 10 Icelanders will publish one. There is even an Icelandic phrase, “ad ganga med bok I maganum,” which means “everyone gives birth to a book” or, literally, everyone “has a book in their stomach.”

In that BBC News interview, Agla Magnusdottir, head of the new Icelandic Literature Centre, said that authors “write everything--modern sagas, poetry, children's books, literary and erotic fiction--but the biggest boom is in crime writing.”

BBC News also quoted novelist Solvi Bjorn Siggurdsson: “We are a nation of storytellers. When it was dark and cold we had nothing else to do. Thanks to the poetic eddas and medieval sagas, we have always been surrounded by stories. After independence from Denmark in 1944, literature helped define our identity.”

BBC News added: “Iceland's black lava riverbeds, its steaming, bubbling earth, with its towering volcanoes and fairytale streams also make it the perfect setting for stories.

No wonder JRR Tolkien and Seamus Heaney were entranced and Unesco designates Reykjavik a City of Literature.”

It’s not too late to book your air flight and hotel.

Photos: Top: Arnaldur Indridason, The Nordic House, the Blue Lagoon, Northern Lights. Stock photos