The Times has a meditation on Swedish crime fiction and the particular place Henning Mankell holds in it as a new television drama of Sidetracked from the BBC starring Kenneth Branagh as Wallander nears its November release and as Pyramid, a short story collection, reaches bookstore shelves.
The article includes an interview with Mankell that reveals a lot about what underpins his writing – and what he says can actually be extrapolated to much of Scaninavian crime fiction.
The Stockholm-born Henning Mankell writes Wallander as so damn Swedish, it makes your heart sing. Strindberg or Bergman could have created this man with ease. Yet he’s a huge global hit, selling about 30m books in 100 countries, translated into 40 languages. Perhaps it’s because his mission is the greatest a literary sleuth can accept: to explore the dark heart of society and, in his case, the collapse of the liberal Swedish dream. When I meet Mankell, who was a successful author before he created his gloomy gumshoe, he explains that Wallander was born in May 1989, out of a need to talk about the creeping xenophobia [Mankell] was witnessing in his home country. The first book examines the anti-immigration sentiments that boil over when an elderly couple are presumed murdered by “foreigners”.
“I had no idea this would be the start of a long journey,” Mankell says. “I was writing the first novel out of anger at what was happening in Sweden. And, since xenophobia is a crime, I needed a police officer. So the story came first, then the character. Then I realised I was creating a tool that could be used to tell stories about the situation in Sweden — and Europe — in the 1990s. The best use of that tool was to say ‘What story shall I tell?’, then put him in it.” . . .
“People see how essential the relationship between democracy and the system of justice is,” he argues. “We know that if the system of justice doesn’t work, democracy is doomed. Wallander is worried about that, and so are many people in democracies. Maybe that’s why he is so popular. I am a very radical person — as radical as when I was younger. So my books all have in common my search for understanding of the terrible world we are living in and ways to change it.”
This interest in social problems – and what it takes to confront and overcome them – infuses Scandinavian crime fiction. How intriguing that this radicalism has found such an international audience.
via Sarah Weinman.