For the past few months, when I’ve had time to think about story, I’ve had several current and future projects on my mind. One of them is a mystery set in Copenhagen, with one of my (current) favorite characters, Nicholai Jens Olesen, aka Nicky O (to his American friends). You might remember Nick from a few short stories I’ve shared here on the blog, Copenhagen Blues and Lost Hearts in Copenhagen. But one day soon (or you know, a year or so from now), I’m going to write Nick’s full-length story.
I’m already planning the trip back to Denmark for research. And for visiting my husband’s family and having great food and drinks and hygge, but also, research. Definitely research. I’ll want to find ways to use Copenhagen as more than just backdrop and scene setting. I’ll want to infuse Nick’s entire story with a sense of that unique place. And all this has me thinking about another story my husband and I binge-watched, the American TV series The Killing set in Seattle*, which is an adaptation of a Danish TV series (Forbrydelsen, which roughly translates to ‘Crime’).Having been to Denmark a few times (my husband is a Dane who moved to the US at the age of nine and we’ve gone to DK several times to visit family) as well as to Seattle (we have relatives there, as well), it’s been fun for us to compare real-world Seattle with the fictional one in the series, and to see how similar the fictional one is to Denmark.
The first thing that struck us about the setting of The Killing was that the nearly non-stop rain and frequent deluges in the American series seem more typical of a Danish winter than a Seattle fall. We Americans tend to think of the Pacific Northwest as one of the rainiest places on our shores, but, according to our sources, gray mist punctuated by occasional soaking rains are much more common than downpours. Still, if you were a location scout charged with finding someplace in the continental US that is gray, gloomy and gritty enough to match the mood of the show’s events, Seattle’s working class neighborhoods with some extra rain would be a good choice.
Another thing that struck us was that both the homicide detectives who are the main characters of The Killing are smokers. These days, you rarely see a main character on American TV who smokes. On the X Files in the ‘90s, there was a notorious smoker, a shadowy informant who was a secondary character. The character was actually known as ‘the smoking man’, not to be confused with any other smokers on the show because there were none. In Denmark, smoking rates are higher and while trends are slowly changing, smoking – even publicly – is not openly shunned the way it is in the US. In The Killing, detectives Linden and Holder are rare exceptions to the non-smoking trope.
There are other little details that are nods to the series’ Danish roots. The family of the murdered girl is Larsen, which is a very Danish name (even though the father, Stan Larsen, has ties to the Russian mob). In the story, Larsen’s moving company is on Ballard Avenue. In real-world Seattle, Larsen’s Bakery (which makes Kringle – the best pastry EVER) is located in the Ballard neighborhood of the city. The assistant DA speaks with a Danish accent because she is played by Danish actress Sofie Grabol. Grabol also played the lead detective in the Danish series.
As a writer, I find it interesting to consider all the creative choices that give a book or movie or TV series its ‘feel’. In the case of The Killing, it’s an American murder mystery with some decidedly Scandinavian undertones. What have you read or watched recently that used setting and details to underscore the mood of the story?
*The series The Killing was actually filmed in Vancouver, whose weather is perhaps more ‘Danish’ than Seattle’s.