In Book Form: Modus

See what I mean about the cover?
See what I mean about the cover?

The late Keith Waterhouse, a writer of distinction, used to love the word ‘Serendipity’, which means the art of making happy discoveries by chance. I can’t say it’s happened to me too often, but there was a flutter of it earlier this week.

After reading the two Jodi Taylor books sprung on me by Stockport Library, I decided to take advantage of an appointment at my Bank to return them, well ahead of their due date. Having registered them in the self-service machine, I happened to glance up, at the New Books shelving, and see the word ‘Modus’ and the faces of the two Ings.

Yes, here was the English translation of Anne Holt’s novel, Fear Not, which was the basis of the recent Saturday SkandiKrime series to be featured here (not that either writer or actual title got more than a fraction of the cover when set against the TV link-up). As I currently have a week off, to rest and recharge, I decided to borrow it, to compare the two versions.

The first and most obvious difference is the change from Norway, where the books are set, to Sweden, which also necessitated the almost total complete of names throughout. Marcus and Rolf, the gay couple, stay the same, as do their professions, and similarly Niclas the artist. The murdered Bishop is Eva not Elizabeth, but her family retained their book names. Richard Forrester, the killer, also kept his name, but everyone else has different names.

Most interesting of all was that Inger Johanne Vik of Modus is only Johanne Wik in the books, wherein she’s married to senior NCIS Detective Adam Stubo, so this thing with the infinitely wet Ingvar and the similarity of names was a deliberate choice by the producers. Oi vey!

The bigger surprise is that the presentation of Modus as a whydunnit is a complete invention. Fear Not is a far more conventional detective story. I shrink from calling it a whodunnit because it is far more a character piece that a story of detection: for much of the story, there are only two overt murder cases under investigation, and one of those in the deep background, by a supporting character unconnected with Adam.

In fact, it’s a very strange sort of detective story overall and one that, the longer the book went on, I found to be increasingly tedious, because there was no real detection of any kind going on.

Knowing the ultimate story from Modus helped make things a lot more comprehensible, as I recognised certain story strands for what they were where, in the book, they are completely detached from everything else. It’s a viable, indeed long-standing technique, which the series adopted in its first half, bringing in characters without connecting them to the drama. Given the overall slowness of things, and especially the way Johanne plays no overt role until very late on, I suspect it would have been boring had I not had the answers in advance.

And it was interesting to see how the series built up the sub-plot concerning Johanne’s daughter being stalked by Forrester from actual incidents in the book that turned out to be a string of coincidences and nothing but complete paranoia of Johanne’s part.

Some of the worst idiocy of Modus, such as the ending in which Inger Johanne half-kills Forrester, was also made up out of whole cloth, like the indefinite Ingvar, but then it would have had to be. Anything like a faithful adaptation of Fear Not would simply not have worked on TV because there isn’t enough of a story in the book. A lot of what was done was akin to Peter Jackson’s approach to The Lord of the Rings films: putting onscreen things reserved to the background in the book.

Though Jackson never hammed anything up the way Modus did.

An interesting little experiment, but if any other of Anne Holt’s novels sneak into the library – and the book jacket advertises three others, without the prominence of the ‘M’ word – I can’t see me being tempted. I have enough books of my own to read.

Still, let’s be generous and admit the word ‘serendipity’. Friends say, well, you know, got a blog out of it.


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