Just published in the Wall Street Journal – “The Strange Case of the Nordic Detectives” by Laura Miller. “Stieg Larsson’s hugely popular Millennium Trilogy (beginning with “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”) is the most visible example of the global mania for Scandinavian crime fiction,” she writes, and goes on to makes some interesting points:
…If you detect a wink behind such sardonic little details, you’re not mistaken. A certain pitch-black humor has always accompanied the legendary Nordic fatalism. Granted, catching the bad guys is never a futile quest, but sometimes the genius of Scandinavian crime fiction lies in elaborating on the idiocies that make doing your job needlessly difficult…
…Counterintuitive as it may seem, the Scandinavian brand of moroseness can be soothing in hard times. Its roots lie deep in the ancient, pagan literature of the region, preserved in sagas that were first written down in medieval Iceland. The sagas, created by and for people who led supremely difficult lives, are about love, death and war, like all great stories, but above all, they’re about fate… In Scandinavian detective fiction, this stoic ideal takes the form of a stalwart, methodical practicality.
…It transports us to a world where charm and glamor barely exist and count for little when they do, a world refreshingly free of flimflam, hype or irrational exuberance. What matters is putting one foot in front of the other and not stopping. There’s something reassuring about this faith in sheer perseverance when your surroundings are in a state of bewildering flux. It’s the kind of calm you get from the simple act of sitting down to make a to-do list in the wake of an incalculable loss…
….The American procedural requires at least one car chase, a dollop of gunplay and a few showdowns with the rules-bound, overly political department brass, so that our hero can demonstrate that his commitment to justice is purer and more passionate than his bosses’. And while the policemen in American crime novels often have messy personal lives, they remain the noble, two-fisted, larger-than-life crusaders you’d expect from a nation of hopeful individualists. Mr. Mankell’s Wallander, by contrast, is decidedly life-size….
And this indicator of what Larsson hath wrought:
In the U.S., Mr. Mankell has a new publisher that is printing five times as many copies of his next book, “The Man From Beijing,” as his previous title.
I’m a little sad that Knopf will be publishing this instead of the non-profit New Press, who introduced Mankell to the US with some funding from the Swedish government. Its seems to me that they should be the ones who benefit given they were publishing Scandinavian crime fiction in the US before it was popular.