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Nordic Noir: short stories set in Denmark, and chatting to the author about Copenhagen

12th February 2018

Last Train to Helsingør by Heidi Amsinck, short stories set in Denmark.


short stories set in Denmark

Last Train to Helsingør is the eponymous title of the first story in this slim volume, full of duplicitous perpetrators and situations with underlying menace.

Many are set in Copenhagen, but some are set beyond the capital, on the train to Helsingør, or Brokholm further North, for example.

Conniving elderly women will surely hook their victim in, the lure of an ancient Chinese vase too much for one antique dealer. Or woods full of those wonderful buttery mushrooms, in The Chanterelles of Østvig, who will there be to hunt them out in the future, as life ebbs away? And that window with a face, in the swish old “and most imposing apartment building in Frederiksberg” that you could visit today if you are in Copenhagen  – the same face appears in every photo taken of the building over the last century. If it is indeed Mr Schliemann, then he must be well over 100 years old, and no-one has seen him, despite being the subject of investigation by Mrs Vonnebosch.

Viggo Jensen is retiring but he is reluctant to do so whilst the killer of Leif Heinemann is still at large, but soon he discovers the alarming story behind his murder…

These are easy to read stories and perfect for fans of #NordicNoir, that will capture the imagination and conjure up the oftentimes darker setting of the city and environs. A little horror, with the occasional supernatural elements keeps the stories individual and gruesomely entertaining. The book was read on BBC Radio 4 

Tina for the TripFiction Team

Over to Heidi for our #TalkingLocationWith….Feature: Copenhagen

short stories set in Denmark

I left Denmark for the UK many years ago, but Copenhagen still sparks my imagination like no other place on earth. I was born there and – though we moved three hours away when I was just six – spent most holidays in the Copenhagen homes of my grandmothers throughout my school years. Those houses, and the castles, churches, shops, fairgrounds, museums and neighbourhoods I was taken to, are etched on my memory, darkened by time and blurred with the Hans Christian Andersen and Grimm fairy tales that I swallowed raw as a child, along with any ghost story I could lay my hands on.

My debut story collection Last Train to Helsingør is set in and around the city in real locations with (mostly) fictional names. From the affluent, leafy suburbs to the north along the coast of Øresund (the Sound which forms the Danish-Swedish border), to the narrow streets and canals in the heart of the city, Copenhagen is everywhere in my work. But my long absences, and writing in a second language, has allowed me to take certain liberties with the city. I try to notice its ‘otherness’, like a stranger might.

Visitors may not recognise my twilight city in this modern capital of ‘hygge’ and happiness whose bicycle-riding citizens appear to enjoy an enviable lifestyle. Copenhagen is an open and inviting city, and at just over two million inhabitants (Greater Copenhagen), small enough to explore by foot. But I like to notice the city’s shadows, the history in its streets, and imagine what horrors and mysteries might have come to pass behind its facades.

Setting and atmosphere come first for me. I always carry a notebook and jot down ideas as they come into my head, often writing page after page of rambling description. Eventually, inevitably, characters come along with their frustrated intent, their flaws and their fears. It might take two or three years, or longer, for an initial idea to percolate into a finished tale.

Some of my work is inspired by real stories. In The Crying a man finds his grand apartment, a stone’s throw from Amalienborg (the royal castle), haunted by a wailing infant. This happened to a friend of mine in a 250-year-old building linked to Hans Christian Andersen. And in a similar wood-panelled dwelling, this one close to the dark waters of Copenhagen harbour, I was once implored by its elderly resident to stay until he had fallen asleep, just like a British antique dealer who gets his comeuppance in Conning Mrs Vinterberg.

Few visitors to Copenhagen will miss Tivoli Gardens, one of the world’s oldest amusement parks. Though updated now with the latest thrill rides, Tivoli retains a lot of its original charm and nods to traditional Danish culture. I have spent many happy days there throughout my life, and Tivoli’s scented atmosphere, heady with candyfloss, ice cream, flowers and adreneline, still powerfully evokes my childhood’s Copenhagen. In my story The Suitcase a travelling salesman, upset by the loss of his luggage at Kastrup Airport, is horrified watching from his high-rise hotel window as thrillseekers are ”hoisted up the side of a tall, golden tower then sent tumbling to the ground”.

However, the Copenhagen location to which I most often return in my imagination is the house of my paternal grandmother, a rambling suburban residence with a large rose garden and a terrifyingly dingy basement in which my older brother once laid out a ghost trail so convincing I wet myself. The house features prominently in my story The Climbing Rose, in which a postman falls prey to one of the homicidal ‘little old ladies’ that are a hallmark of my writing.

I still travel back to Copenhagen as often as I can, staying in the homes of family and friends, and walking everywhere. The city is home to hundreds of neighbourhood cafés that are perfect for eavesdropping. But I get my best ideas near the water of the Sound, or walking through Dyrehaven – the vast forest deer park to the north of the city – or around the streets of Ordrup where my late parents grew up, and met in a teenage bedroom in 1951.

Occasionally, I will make a detour to the Viking city of Århus where I took my journalism degree, or to the far north coast of Jutland, the remote setting for my story The Chanterelles of Østvig, inspired by my father’s lifelong obsession with the elusive fungi. My family owns a wooden summer cottage on this wind-swept shoulder of Denmark, and I love the emptiness of its wide, sandy beaches and huge pine plantations where you rarely meet other people. Every year, at Easter and in July, my siblings and I get together with our children to swim and hunt for mushrooms along the forest trails.

The Chanterelles of Østvig

Eventually, though, I always yearn for Copenhagen, and even after all these years, the city is still ‘home’ to me. Luckily, my next book, a murder mystery, is also set there, giving me the perfect excuse to go back again and again and again.

Thank you Heidi for your brilliant insights into Copenhagen!

Useful links:

Visit Copenhagen

Visit Denmark

The Local

You can follow Heidi on Twitter

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For more books set around Denmark, just access the TripFiction database

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