Icelandic author Arni Thorarinsson has written numerous screenplays and crime novels, including Blue Moon, The Seventh Son, and Angel of the Morning. His novel Season of the Witch, released in English this week, was nominated for the Icelandic Literature Prize.
Arni Thorarinsson: I was getting worried! Season of the Witch was written during the economic and social boom years in Iceland, which collapsed in 2008. So what inspired me was an increasing sense of unease about my country. I felt we were quickly losing our traditional values and way of life to a new kind of value system. Of course, it wasn't new at all—it just hadn't taken our small country over before. I'm talking about egotism, greed, and the lack of respect for things that can't be bought and sold. It's the philosophy of "I do it because I can."
When I decided that this was what I wanted to write about, I thought of the old Icelandic play Loftur the Sorcerer, based on a legend which in turn is based on the Faustian theme of a man selling his soul to the devil. For me, the play became a perfect illustration of this predicament of the nation. Donovan's classic rock song "Season of the Witch" quickly entered the picture, and a murder mystery plot started to emerge.
Q: Why did you make your protagonist, Einar, a newspaper reporter?
AT: My hero couldn't be a private detective because there are no private detectives in Iceland; or a police detective because I don't have firsthand knowledge of that work. But I do know a lot about journalists. They have some of the same opportunities to enter other people's lives as police officers do, to ask questions and uncover information.
Q: How did you get your start as a crime writer?
AT: I started out as a journalist when I was 20. I loved my profession and had no intention of doing any other kind of writing—crime writing really happened by accident. I was on vacation reading a book by one of my favorites, Ross Macdonald. I was so immersed in the book that I didn't notice rain was pouring down. The book and I got drenched. While it was drying out, I killed time by contemplating possibilities—clearly inspired by Macdonald—of setting a crime novel in Iceland. Four years later, Einar was born. We have been inseparable ever since.
Q: Northern European crime novels have become popular worldwide. What's the appeal?
AT: Some Nordic crime authors write violent, fast-paced action thrillers; others, like myself, write social crime novels; and many fall somewhere in between. Maybe readers find it interesting that crime can fester in small countries famous for their welfare systems, higher education, and liberal humanistic ideologies--the "trouble in paradise" syndrome. We are all very different, but I think we have one thing in common: At the core of our fiction is a strong sense of the social roots of crime, how even people in societies that pride themselves on respect for law and order get alienated from each other. This feeling gives Nordic crime novels their conscience, heart, and sense of justice.