why Scandinavia? why now?

Julia Keller of the Chicago Tribune takes a good look at the appeal of Scandinavian mysteries.

It is a world of bleak twilights and tortured souls. A world of cold dawns and dour sleuths. A world of frozen lakes and repressed detectives.

A world of winters and losers.

Yet as grim, glum and downright depressing as a Scandinavian setting for a mystery novel can be — and those adjectives also could describe January in Chicago — something remarkable is afoot: Such novels continue to be fabulously popular in the United States . . .
There is a deeply unique resonance to places, a stubborn aura; one region is not the same as another. As much as we proclaim in noble speeches that the world is just one big homogenized blur, that differences don’t matter, the truth is otherwise: The ground beneath your feet dramatically affects your worldview — especially, perhaps, if you’re a homicidal maniac or a detective in charge of catching one.

Why Scandinavia, and why now? ….

Sarah Weinman, author and critic who writes a renowned blog on mystery fiction, “Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind,” notes that Scandinavian mysteries fill a gap left by some American writers who moved away from the police procedural: “Scandinavian crime novels, in a way, hearken back to more traditional types of crime fiction.” Indeed, fictional detectives such as Mankell’s Kurt Wallender, Fossum’s Konrad Sejer, Dahl’s Frank Frolich and Nesser’s Van Veeterenmethodically track down the bad guys (or gals) clue by clue, visiting one dank, run-down location after another.

Scandinavian mysteries also tend to use criminal investigations as a way to explore pressing social issues such as immigration, economic inequities, the treatment of the elderly and impoverished, and sexual mores.

Thompson, whose “Snow Angels” introduces a Finnish police inspector named Kari Vaara, was born and raised near Ashland, Ky. He believes the singularity of Finnish culture accounts for Americans’ enthrallment with it. “Finland is an eccentric country,” he says. “It hasn’t been exposed to the world that much. It’s cold and dark, and the people are fairly silent.”

Fortunately, however, the writers aren’t silent at all. As more and more Scandinavian crime fiction is published in English, another reason for its popularity becomes clear: It’s great stuff. “The quality of the writing of those authors who do cross over (to the English-speaking world),” declares Weinman, “is by and large very good.” . . .

Cheering news on the Liza Marklund front from Euro Crime – several of her Annika Bengtzon novels will be released in the UK, starting with Red Wolf. (Oh, and that Patterson thing, too. Yo, James – you got her back on the scene; your work is now done.)

A short article in Oregon Live alerted me to this feature in which Henning Mankell describes the seven wonders of his life (and says sweet things about his wife). Apparently Mankell will be touring in the UK — and be still my heart — Jo Nesbo will tour in the US this year. (He has one of the most sophisticated and graphically lovely sites, by the way. Not that he’s exactly hard on the eyes.)   More on Nesbo from Peter’s  Nordic Book Blog.

The Irish Times has an interview with Henning Mankell, “A Radical in Two Worlds,” providing a detailed profile of his theatre work in Maputo as well as the tidbit that though they’re on the same side – that of social justice – Mankell doesn’t really click with Wallander.

“I came to Africa when I was 20, 40 years ago,” he says. “I wanted to see the world from a different perspective.”

I asked him if he had difficulty in keeping his work with Teatro Avenida separate from his work in Sweden. “I don’t think I do keep them separate,” he says, seeming a little taken aback by the suggestion. “I write when I’m in Africa and when I’m in Sweden.”

Mankell once admitted to being a very radical person, explaining that “my books all have in common my search for understanding of the terrible world we are living in and ways to change it. Wallander wants to engage with life and change it. 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.”

Speaking of Wallander, I ask whether there isn’t a temptation to make Wallander reflect his author’s concerns regarding Africa. But Mankell puts paid to any future connection between his famous protagonist and Africa: “As long as I’m in control of him, which, being his author, is always, Wallander will never come to Africa. He has no reason to.”

Clearly Wallander is no simple projection of his creator. “Wallander and I have only three things in common: our age, our belief that no one is born evil, and our love of opera. If he were a real person, I don’t think that we would be friends. I don’t really like him, and that’s the way I like to keep it.”

More on the Mankell/Wallander dynamic in the Times.

Finally, the Material Witness has reopened an investigation into Wallander’s elusive ringtone … and Maxine proposes a theory. Any one with further information is encourage to submit their evidence to the blog forthwith.

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