She doesn’t – as far as we know – have a sartorial trademark like leather trousers or a Faroe jumper. But she’s a fisherman’s daughter, with a passion for driving motor boats at high speed, so maybe state-of-the-art Scandinavian waterproofs figure somewhere. And in moments of high stress, when Sarah Lund might jump into her car without explanation, when Saga Norén might make a factually correct and emotionally clueless remark, Annika Strandhed of the Oslo murder squad is more likely to crack a joke. Trouble is, her colleagues seldom think she’s funny …
But instead of me telling the whole thing, badly, far better to listen to Annika Stranded (click here for BBC link) on Radio 4, 7.45 pm for the next three Sundays.
For some in the UK the Scandinavian crime ‘bubble’ has already burst – ‘it isn’t great and actually it’s just boring’ – but this isn’t a view I share. For one thing, I don’t think it’s a bubble. Granted, fewer lucky journalists are likely to be dispatched to Copenhagen to have coffee with the likes of Sofie Gråbøl in future, but that’s because Scandinavian crime drama has settled down to take its murky place in our everyday viewing culture, just as American crime has for decades. And for another thing, I’m a fan, a junkie even. No, I haven’t read much (although I did enjoy Henning Mankell’s The Dogs Of Riga years ago) but telly’s another matter. Dysfunctional detectives? Beautiful but bleak coastal landscapes? Murky warehouses? Wood-panelled interiors? Subtitles? Bring them on …
So when Annika-writer Nick Walker suggested his singular take on the genre, he was pushing at an open door.
The Two Walkers
They’re not related, they’re not one and the same person, but I suspect they are symbiotic in some way. The first thing to know about Nick Walker is that more people should know about Nick Walker. He has written two novels – Blackbox and Helloland – but most of his energy is directed towards radio and theatre work. Because of this, I can’t point you towards his back-catalogue in the same way as with a novelist, and can only hope you’ve caught up with some of his wonderful works on BBC Radio in recent years. To name but a few: the recent play Stormchasers (broadcast over Christmas), the poignant and inventive Messages To A Submariner, and the First King Of Mars stories (voiced first by Peter Capaldi and later, by Dave Lamb.)
Fans of Spooks, and lately, Last Tango In Halifax, will need no introduction to Nicola Walker. TV casting has tended to put her in victim or generally-put-upon roles – and since Nicola is good in all she does it’s a safe bet – but radio has so far provided more scope to show how warm, versatile and funny she is. In Annika Stranded she is all these things, and inhabits the character so completely that it would be easy to believe she’d written the stories herself.
As luck would have it, a previous ‘Nick-ola Walker’ production, Lifecoach, is repeating on Radio 4 on 7 February. I’ll post the link when it becomes available.
The classic approach to a radio story is ‘less-is-more': a reader, a story and at most a little ‘top and tail’ music, putting as little as possible between story and listener. And this still works best with most stories. But Annika Stranded is effectively a series of mini-dramas – performed as such – so it needed something more. Nicola was recorded in studio – neither time nor budget permitted going to Norway – but Nick collected some very good wild-track when he went to Oslo for research. So most of what you hear in the background is authentic Oslo noise. And there’s music from Swedish duo First Aid Kit and some haunting cello from Icelandic musician Hildur Guðnadóttir, too.
This is an unashamedly biased piece. I hope that if you listen to Annika Stranded you enjoy it as much as I do. And as always, thanks for reading.