Guilty. One word on a beggar’s cardboard sign. And now he is dead, stabbed in a wintry Copenhagen street, the second homeless victim in as many weeks. Dagbladet reporter Jensen, stumbling across the body on her way to work, calls her ex lover DI Henrik Jungersen. As, inevitably, old passions are rekindled, so are old regrets, and that is just the start of Jensen’s troubles. The front page is an open goal, but nothing feels right… When a third body turns up, it seems certain that a serial killer is on the loose. But why pick on the homeless? And is the link to an old murder case just a coincidence? With her teenage apprentice Gustav, Jensen soon finds herself putting everything on the line to discover exactly who is guilty.
That’s the premise of Heidi Amsinck‘s second book My Name is Jensen, set in snowy Copenhagen, and published by Muswell Press in August 2021. Together with Katrine Engberg and Lone Theils, Heidi will be discussing Danish Noir at the online event Murder most foul in the evening of 27th October and organised by Barnet Libraries. Tickets – Eventbrite. Here, however, you can read Heidi’s thoughts on the writing process of a novel set in her hometown yet not written in her mother tongue which I found so intriguing.
‘I’m Danish but write in English. I rarely give it much thought, but reading my Copenhagen Crime novel My Name is Jensen translated into my mother tongue by a fellow Danish author has made me reflect: how strange is this?
I was born in Copenhagen where my parents met as kids in the 1950s. I grew up in Denmark, didn’t leave the country till I’d graduated from journalism school, and wrote articles in Danish for newspapers back home for many years. However, in all the time I’ve been writing fiction, I’ve been writing in English.
Thinking about it, it must have something to do with wishing to belong in my adopted homeland. Shortly after arriving in London on a foggy winter’s night to begin a new life as a foreign correspondent, someone told me that if I wanted to master English, I should listen regularly to The Archers. I followed the advice (still do), all the while inhaling as many short stories and novels in English as I could lay my hands on.
I read eclectically but have always been a fan of the dark and mysterious: Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, Daphne du Maurier, Isak Dinesen (AKA Danish author Karen Blixen who wrote in English and Danish both). In my youth I devoured the novels of Stephen King, and once in England began to work my way through the crime fiction greats: Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell, PD James, Colin Dexter, Ian Rankin and many, many more.
Yes, even all that doesn’t seem enough to explain why, when my own dark stories began to take shape with a series of Copenhagen twilight tales for BBC Radio 4, they did so in English.
As I settled in Britain, I had kids and made friends, and there is probably a part of me that wanted to use fiction as a means of showing them where I come from in a language we share. But, more than that, I’ve realised that writing in English about my home country lets me keep my distance in useful ways.
When I wrote My Name is Jensen during the first lockdown in spring 2020, distance to home wasn’t a choice. Unable to travel, I yearned for Denmark and my Danish friends and family. I found writing about my beloved Copenhagen extremely soothing.
Jensen is a Danish reporter who returns home from London after many years, something I never did, though I often imagined what it would be like. As Jensen travels through the city on the hunt for a killer, in a race against her on-off lover DI Henrik Jungersen, she notices its otherness in a way no Copenhagener would. If I’d written the novel in Danish, that might have been harder to pull off, and I would not have been so free to make things up.
It’s a long while now since I lived in Copenhagen, but in other ways, I never left. The city has a hold over my imagination like no other and is the place to which my fiction always returns. I want you to go there with me, to see its light and shade and everything in between. I guess that, by writing in my second language, I am merely choosing to take the long way home.’