Suspense at Frankfurt: Can Iceland’s ‘Blood Drop’ Winner Go the Distance?

In Feature Articles by Marie Bilde

Oskar Guðmundsson’s ‘Hilma’—with its strong female characterization and mind-of-the-murderer insights—took Iceland by storm, ‘in spite of very scarce advertising.’
Author Óskar Guðmundsson's handsomely awarded debut 'Hilma' is Frankfurt-bound. Image: provided by Bjartur and Veröld

Author Oskar Guðmundsson’s handsomely awarded debut ‘Hilma’ is Frankfurt-bound. Image: provided by Bjartur and Veröld

By Marie Bilde | @MarieBilde

The Optician’s Bestseller Has a Sequel, Too

hilmaThis year, Iceland’s award known as the Blóðdropinn (“Blood Drop”) was given to author Óskar Guðmundsson, for his debut novel Hilma.

The prize is Iceland’s annual award for crime fiction. The jury chose their winner among 10 authors. When selecting Hilma, they praised it especially for its characters, suspense and crafty plot: “The reader is drawn into the story in a very clear way,” the jury decided. “The plot and the suspense build up gradually and it culminates in a dramatic showdown that comes as a blow.”

Publishing Perspectives spoke with Guðmundsson’s publisher and agent, Pétur Már Ólafsson of publishers Bjartur and Veröld. We started by asking him about his expectations and plans for the foreign rights sales of Hilma. Ólafsson says he has lined up meetings with a range of publishers at Frankfurt Book Fair and is keenly optimistic about it.

What’s more, Bjartur will publish Óskar Guðmundsson’s second novel about Hilma in March 2017.

Ólafsson gives us a quick glance at Guðmundsson’s background: “Hilma was Oskar’s debut. He trained as an optician in Stuttgart in the 1990s, and for years he ran his own optician shop in Reykjavik. He also studied art and he has exhibited some pieces. He took courses in creative writing. As he was not at all known in the book market, his appearance came as a very big surprise–not to mention the big success of Hilma.”

Hilma initially was released in paperback in 2015. It has sold 5,000 copies in Iceland—where the population is a bit under 350,000. In addition, an Icelandic film company has optioned the film rights. As yet, the book hasn’t been published abroad.

“As readers, we’re invited into mind of the murderer—without knowing who he or she is until the very end.”Pétur Már Ólafsson

We asked Ólafsson what it was about Hilma that made it an outstanding novel to him, personally.

Hilma was originally published by another publishing house,” Ólafsson says. “Therefore, I hadn’t seen it before it was in the bookshops.

“Oskar took the market by storm with this book. Hilma hit the bestseller lists, in spite of very scarce advertising. The word of mouth sold the book. When I finally read it, I thought: I want to publish this guy! You can see influences in it from Arnaldur Indriðason (Glass Key award 2002 and 2003, Blóðdropinn 2008)Yrsa Sigurðardóttir (Blóðdropinn 2011 and 2015); and Ragnar Jonasson in his writing.

“But he clearly has a voice of his own. Hilma is characterized by its psychological depth, a complex murder case, the well-drawn characters, and a lot of action,” says Ólafsson.

Here is a video trailer made for Hilma.

Nordic Noir, Alive and Well in Reykjavik
Pétur Már Ólafsson

Pétur Már Ólafsson

Ólafsson confirms that Nordic noir and crime fiction in general is very popular in Iceland, as it is in other countries. Around 30 Icelandic and translated crime novels are published every year, he says.

“Sara Blædel, Jo Nesbö, Viveca Steen, Roslund & Hellström are all very popular among Icelandic readers,” Ólafsson says. “On the other hand, Icelandic crime authors are still more popular. This is even more significant up to Christmas, when 90 percent of the books on the Icelandic market are sold in hardcover. For the past decade, Arnaldur and Yrsa have been by far the most popular authors in the country, with Ragnar following close behind in recent years.”

When asked what distinguishes Hilma from the many other Nordic noir stories, Ólafsson emphasizes the main character and its complex storyline: “Hilma has a strong female character. As readers, we’re invited into mind of the murderer—without knowing who he or she is until the very end. The policewoman Hilma doesn’t only have a complex murder case to solve but is also chased by a villain who wants her dead. In a way, the storyline is way more complex and rich, which makes it a very rewarding read.”

As the winner of Blóðdropinn, Guðmundsson will automatically be shortlisted for the Nordic crime fiction award, the Glass Key, which owes its name to Dashiell Hammett’s novel. Each Nordic country nominates only one candidate, and the members of the Crime Writers of Scandinavia (Skandinaviska Kriminalsällskapet) select the winner.

Previous Glass Key winners include Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell from Sweden; Arnaldur from Iceland; Jussi Adler-Olsen from Denmark; as well as Jo Nesbø and Karin Fossum from Norway.

More reading: Publishing Perspectives had this interview with Pétur Már Ólafsson in 2011, when Iceland was Frankfurt’s Guest of Honor.

For more on Frankfurt Book Fair, be sure to download our Fall Magazine, which includes a Frankfurt Preview Guide. Your free copy is available here.

About the Author

Marie Bilde

A digital publishing enthusiast focused on disruption, infrastructure, globalization, and new business models, Marie Bilde has spent 20 years in various areas of Danish publishing, holding positions as lexicographer, digital editor, and manager of digital production and distribution. Today she works as an independent book industry consultant.