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Barry Forshaw: Euro Noir (Pocket Essentials/Oldcastle)

Barry Forshaw has, for some time, been the go-to critic for Nordic Noir.

He wrote one of the first biographies of Stieg Larsson, and two of his previous books - Death In A Cold Climate and Nordic Noir - fed into the interest that stemmed from Larsson's work and the success of TV shows such as The Killing.

With Euro Noir, Forshaw widens his focus across much of Europe. In just under 200 pages, it covers a lot of ground. This results in a few curious omissions and a feeling that some entries don't get the attention some readers may feel they deserve. Forshaw himself admits this much in his introduction: "I've concentrated on Western Europe and I've had to be selective, with an emphasis on the contemporary rather than the classic." This is a rough guide to the scene rather than a full-on analysis, and as such is extremely successful, even if it does leave you desiring just a little more meat on the intriguing bones.

Film and TV feature alongside the more traditional prose entries. Forshaw delights in covering the fertile grounds of European film and television, examining not only the most popular works, such as The Bridge and the under-rated Parisian cop series Spiral, but also some that may have slipped under the radar such as the compellingly brutal Romanzo Criminale, from Italy. And, of course, much is made of an interesting interview with Sofia Helin, who plays the wonderfully blunt detective Saga in The Bridge.

Forshaw carefully organises the book by country. Italy and France lead the pack, while the German-speaking countries, Poland and Spain all get their own entries. Those countries with more in translation naturally get more attention, but it's good to see discussion of the unexpected. Each chapter alternates between basic synopses of important work, some light criticism and illuminating interviews with critics, authors and editors. Forshaw takes the genre seriously and is determined to show the variety and scope of crime fiction across Europe. Entries on Romania, Greece and Spain are particularly fascinating, discussing crime fiction's ability to reflect history and politics in ways that open these worlds to foreign readers. Books such as Petros Markaris's Foul Play use the genre to examine the nuances of the political scene in modern Greece, while Antonio Hill's analysis of the Spanish attitude to police procedurals in The Summer Of Dead Toys covers post-Franco political tensions.

This cultural cross-referencing results in unique twists on familiar genres. Greek author Ioanna Bourazopoulou's What Lot's Wife Saw, for example, is a "post-apocalyptic socio-political critique" as well as being a startling conspiracy thriller. In Attack In The Library, Romania's George Arion uses Christie's body-in-the-library tradition to create not simply a mystery but "a thorough-going and thoughtful critique" of the dictatorship under which he wrote during the 1980s.

Forshaw's whirlwind tour of European crime closes with the inevitable chapter on Scandinavia. While these entries may already be familiar to anyone with an interest in the genre, they cover ground that Forshaw has not previously explored, including the rise of the "Scandibrit" authors such as Quentin Bates and Michael Ridpath; British-born authors writing convincingly of foreign countries.

Finally, appendices feature interviews with editors and industry experts. It's heartening to see unusual favourites, expanding on Forshaw's own recommendations. Patrick Janson-Smith of Blue Door gives deserving mention to the strange and brilliant German thriller, Sorry, while Weidenfeld and Nicholson's Sophie Buchan generates excitement for the forthcoming translation of Austrian writer Bernhard Aichner's Totenfrau.

Euro Noir is a fascinating and well researched, if all too brief, snapshot of European crime fiction. The focus on fresh voices, and discussion of the political and social realities that give rise to these stories, is refreshing and accessible. The entries on Scandinavian crime are interesting, even if you're bored of Harry Hole and never want to see another Dragon Tattoo.

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