Mark Lawson to examine European crime fiction on Radio 4

Date: 05.10.2012     Last updated: 19.03.2014 at 09.30
Category: Radio 4
BBC Radio 4 begins a fascinating season of programmes this month featuring a 15-part examination by Mark Lawson of European crime fiction.

In Foreign Bodies: A History Of Modern Europe Through Literary Detectives, (tx from 22nd October) Lawson investigates the tensions and trends of Europe since the Second World War by focusing on some of the celebrated investigators from European fiction, and their creators.

The series accompanies dramatizations of all the Martin Beck novels, starring actor Stephen Mackintosh in the title role. Written by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö the novels are widely acknowledged as some of the most important and influential crime fiction ever written.

The authors paved the way for subsequent generations of crime writers to illustrate society and its most dysfunctional elements through crime and criminal investigations, future fallible heroes - Kurt Wallander and John Rebus to name but two - making the best fist they can of their own lives, whilst trying to tackle the violence and crime around them.

Gwyneth Williams, Controller BBC Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra, said: “This Autumn we explore the mood and mores of European cities in the company of eccentric detectives. And what better way to take a Radio 4 journey through Europe than to travel with the likes of Martin Beck, Inspector Rogas, Pepe Carvalho, Kemal Kayanka.

"The best of these books capture the times and the flavour of a nation and leave you with a character that lingers and a taste of the local cuisine. Presenter Mark Lawson knows his crime writing so don’t miss his Foreign Bodies – the killer Radio 4 narrative history of Europe.

"And at the heart of the series we bring you a complete dramatization of the little-known but hugely respected Martin Beck books by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö - all ten of them. These are the stories that inspired the Scandinavian explosion of crime writing we have seen in recent years and are referenced by many eminent writers such as Ian Rankin. Stephen Mackintosh plays Martin Beck and he is sure to hook you in.”

In crime fiction, everyday details become crucial clues: the way people dress and speak, the cars they drive, the jobs they have, the meals they eat. And the motivations of the criminals often turn on guilty secrets: how wealth was created, who slept with who, or a character’s role during the war. The intricate story of a place and a time is often explained in more detail in detective novels than in more literary fiction or newspapers, both of which can take contemporary information for granted.

In Foreign Bodies, Mark Lawson focuses on some of the most celebrated investigators - everyone from popular modern protagonists including Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander; Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole; and Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano; through Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus; Lynda La Plante’s DCI Jane Tennison; and Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Martin Beck; back to a Belgian created by an Englishwoman and a French cop created by a Belgian - Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Georges Simenon’s Jules Maigret.

Through the framework of cases investigated by these fictional European police heroes and heroines, Foreign Bodies pursues the shadows of the Second World War and the Cold War, conflicts between the politics of the left and right, the rise of nationalist sentiments and the pressures caused by economic crises and migration. Among the writers helping Lawson with his inquiries into their characters are: Jo Nesbø, Andrea Camilleri, PD James, Henning Mankell, Liza Marklund, Ian Rankin and Lynda La Plante.

The ten Martin Beck detective novels featuring Detective Inspector Martin Beck and his colleagues in the National Police Homicide Department in Stockholm will air in two parts. The dramatizations of the first five novels will start on October 27th, 2012 with the second five airing in Spring 2013. The radio dramas are written by Katie Hims and Jennifer Howarth, and directed by Mary Peate and Sara Davies.

In addition to Stephen Mackintosh the cast includes Neil Pearson as his friend and colleague Lennart Kollberg, Ralph Ineson as Gunvald Larsson and Adrian Scarborough as Frederick Melander. There are two narrators of the dramas, Lesley Sharp and Nicholas Gleaves - one male and one female reflecting the writing partnership of the novels.

Accompanying the dramas and Mark’s series, Radio 4 Extra will broadcast a reading, in five parts, of The Judge and His Hangman in October. Originally published as a novella in 1950 by Swiss writer Friedrich Dürrenmatt, it explores the themes of guilt and responsibility following the Second World War, and shows protagonist Inspector Bärlach finding his own solution to bringing a career criminal to justice.

Note to Editors

The 15-part series Foreign Bodies: A History Of Modern Europe Through Literary Detectives will be broadcast on Radio 4 over three weeks, at 1.45pm from Monday 22 October to Friday 9 November.

The Martin Beck series was written between 1965-1975, and set a gold standard for all subsequent Scandinavian crime fiction, and much crime fiction in Britain and America written since. Challenging the long-standing convention of the lone genius detective, Sjöwall and Wahlöö created in Martin Beck the prototype of the all-too human policeman working with a motley collection of similarly flawed colleagues.

The crimes they tackled in Stockholm and elsewhere in Sweden often followed the news agenda of the 1960s: paedophilia, serial killers, suicide, drugs smuggling. They were written to provide a deliberate critique of what the authors saw as a democratic society in crisis: their aim was to write a Decalogue, subtitled The Story of a Crime, in which they successfully constructed an incisive and realistic portrait of Sweden in the mid-Sixties.

Although it was a country then deemed to be alluringly liberal, Sjöwall and Wahlöö perceived it to be a stifling and directionless place where crimes were solved by painstaking police investigation, led by the dogged and sympathetic Martin Beck.

The Judge and His Hangman was originally broadcast in October 1984 from a translation by Cyrus Brooks. It was read by Bernard Hepton and abridged by Neville Teller.

Radio 4 online will support the series and drama:

  • Mark Lawson’s 15-part series Foreign Bodies will be made available as a download as well as being stacked, enabling all episodes to be available on demand for seven days after the broadcast final episode.
  • The Martin Beck dramas will be stacked and available on demand for seven days after the final drama is broadcast.
  • Character information
  • Crime writers interview collection – a selection of archive interviews from Radio 4’s weekday arts and cultural programme, Front Row.
  • Crime novel enthusiasts can join the conversation on twitter at #bbcforeignbodies