A journey into Norwegian Noir

Purdue students explore crime fiction at the source

Purdue University

Photo: Courtney Hardin
Professor Jerry Holt (right) presents author Gunnar Staalesen with an exact replica of the Maltese Falcon, sculpted by Vidar Bratlund-Mælund.

Purdue University Northwest

They traveled to the top of the fjords; they rubbed shoulders with the most famous Norwegian authors—and they investigated Norway’s most famous unsolved murder case. The Norwegian Noir study class of December 2019 did it all—and they managed to do it in eight days.

The class came about after I, fresh from a Fulbright in Bergen, decided to offer a graduate class in American and Norwegian Noir at Purdue’s Hammond campus.

Noir has become the fastest-growing literary form in Scandinavia in the wake of the Steig Larsson’s “Dragon Tattoo” series out of Sweden and the international success of the Jo Nesbø novels out of Norway. The Purdue class interacted with four of the most famous Norwegian Noir writers, including Gunnar Staalesen, author of the famed Varg Veum series—who not only workshopped with the class but led them first on a Noir tour of Bergen—and then to the site of the mysterious—and still unsolved—Isdal Woman murder case in Ice Valley—a haunting journey indeed.

Purdue University

Photo: Jerry Holt
No crime fiction tour to Bergen would be complete without a stop at the statue of the fictional detective Varg Veum.

In subsequent days, the students would interview Trude Teige, who writes her own crime series; Alex Dahl, author of two stand-alone bestsellers; and the great Karin Fossum, Norway’s most famous Noir—and most reclusive—writer. Jim Nelson, another Scandinavian scholar who was part of the group, led the Teige interview, while students Kiana Sopkowski and Sienna Meloy helmed the interview with Alex Dahl. Courtney Hardin was the moderator for the Fossum interview—and the notoriously elusive writer turned out to be the most delightful and informative of subjects.

A journey by boat to the fjords; extensive tours of the Munch exhibit at the KODE Musuems and the Bergen Historic Center—and a trip to the top of Mount Fløyen followed—but one especially charmed night had its own magic: a group of the University of Bergen students Dr. Holt taught during his Fulbright joined the Purdue group for dinner along with Staalesen and his wife, Ellen. It was a true “hands across the waters” moment.

As a special gift to Staalesen, the Purdue group contacted the sculptor who made the famous statue of Staalesen’s series character Varg Veum that overlooks the Bergen harbor.  That sculptor, Vidar Bratlund-Mæland, agreed to create an exact replica of the iconic Maltese Falcon for the Staalesens, and they were thrilled. It now adorns their living room.

And the students did their homework, as they kept journals in preparation for a presentation to tell the story of their remarkable journey.

This article originally appeared in the April 3, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.