the next Stieg Larsson

Norm (aka Uriah) gets annoyed when the only criterion used for predicting the “next Stieg Larsson” is that the author is Swedish. Harrumph. But he does have some female authors to recommend.

There’s likely to be a lot of marketing that hinges on “the next Stieg Larsson” given that the original Stieg Larsson has had such an impact on the book industry. The Washington Post points out there are already many incredibly popular writers from Sweden and Norway, though most of them are arriving late to US shores. The feature starts out with a nice hook:

So you know about the insanely popular Scandinavian crime novelist, right, the author who has sold 3 million books in Sweden (pop. 9 million)? The one published in 40 languages? The crime-writing legend with more than 30 million books in print worldwide?

If you said the late Stieg Larsson, the publishing phenom who has sold more than 500,000 copies of his latest book, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” in the month since it was released, who currently has the No. 1 book in hardcover fiction, trade paperback and mass-market paperback — well, get a clue.

Camilla Läckberg is the Swedish crime writer whose seven books have dominated Stockholm bestseller lists (she makes her American debut this week). Norwegian Jo Nesbø is the guy published in 40 languages. And Sweden’s Henning Mankell, the godfather of the Swedish crime thriller genre, has been moving millions of books the world over since creating police detective Kurt Wallander nearly two decades ago.

The New York Times also comments on the “what should I read / publish / get excited about next?” question when readers have finished Hornet’s / Hornets’ Nest.

“We call them ‘The Girl Who’s Paying Our Salaries for the Next Few Months,’ ” said Gerry Donaghy, the new-book purchasing supervisor [at Powell’s].

But other customers are walking through the door, finished with all three books and pleading for something similar.

Which has given some booksellers pause. Mr. Larsson’s books have caught on because of their ambitious scope, complex characters, strong writing and quick storytelling, said Cathy Langer, the lead buyer for the Tattered Cover stores in Denver — maybe not because of their Scandinavian setting.

“It’s a tricky line to walk,” Ms. Langer said. “I’d probably ask them if they’d read any Henning Mankell. But if you try to duplicate the experience, you’re likely to disappoint the customer.”

Good call, Ms. Langer! Norm would approve.

The Book Maven writes about the impact the Washington Post article was already having on book buyers (as well as “How could they not have mentioned Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo?” – an omission mentioned also by Roberta at Books to the Ceiling) and how she enjoyed Camilla Lackberg’s first foray in the US (with The Ice Princess) with some reservations.

Maureen Corrigan at NPR says “let’s take a brief mental health break from those gloomy Swedes with their hard-to-pronounce-names” and recommends non-Scandinavian mysteries – but then breaks down and puts Henning Mankell’s The Man from Beijing on the list, because “no roundup of recent standout mysteries would be complete without Henning Mankell’s masterpiece of moral complexity.”

Mankell’s latest tale roams from a remote Swedish village turned necropolis to the American West of the 19th century, where Chinese indentured servants hacked through mountains to clear the way for the Transcontinental Railroad. In between are stops in modern-day Beijing and London, as well as Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The thread connecting these disparate narratives is red, drenched in the blood of historical crimes and baroque retribution.

At The Australian, book reviewer Graeme Blundell takes a longer view, using Stieg Larsson’s success as a hook. Crime fiction has gained enormous popularity since he started reviewing, but there’s “mayhem in the mainstream” as public tastes turn to new favorites that can’t be predicted in advance. He traces the rise of the genre (along lines very similar to Patrick Anderson’s book The Triumph of the Thriller) as it stormed the bestseller lists.

A generation ago, crime writing was a minority taste, for many a puritan pleasure, not always admitted to in public; reading mysteries was a sabbatical for the serious-minded. The blockbusters of the ’60s and ’70s, for example, the novels of Irving Stone, Harold Robbins, John O’Hara, Jacqueline Susann and Herman Wouk, preferred to deal with sex, movie stars, religion and exotic foreign places rather than crime. Robert Crichton, Mary Renault, James Clavell were among those who followed and still no big time crime. Best-seller lists were subjugated by literary writers and masters of sex and junk. . . .

Crime novels were still largely written for the entertainment of the reader rather than for the sake of what the writer had to say or any social commentary. The best were about puzzle, riddle or place. Few novels threatened our complacency by deliberately exploiting anxiety in the reader and tapping into familiar criminal concerns the way the genre as a whole does now. “Even a decade ago people were apprehensive about publishing crime fiction,” Hachette Australia publisher Bernadette Foley says. “While crime fiction is based on well-knitted plots, astute storytelling and interesting ideas, they simply weren’t as prestigious as literary fiction. In the past, if you published crime you pretended you didn’t.”

Then it changed. Genres split in all directions as the world rapidly shrank with the process of globalisation, the movement of capital and the spread of technological innovations and ever-faster communications. . . .

And the rest is history. Peter Temple has just won Australia’s Miles Franklin award, the most prestigious award for fiction. Fiction, full stop. Well done, Australia!

If you’re wondering what to read next, you could read Temple’s Truth; otherwise, here are a few reviews to pique your interest:

Happy reading!

12 thoughts on “the next Stieg Larsson

  1. Yes, women writers. The Irene Huss books by Helene Thurston, are good. There is also Asa Larsson (although I’m recovering from her last book, very well-written, but brutal). The Icelander Yrsa Siggurdadottir is fun to read. Have “The Ice Princess,” by Lackberg on my library reserve list.

    “The Man from Beijing” is a top read; it’s intellectually and politically challenging–and there are 3 strong women characters.

  2. Just to add: Sjowall/Wahloo should have been mentioned in the New York Times article cited above. They were, after all, the forerunners of the next generation of Swedish crime writers.

  3. Barbara, thanks very much for the mention.
    The impact of Stieg Larsson has been a relatively recent phenomena. In 2009 along with Reg Keeland [Stieg Larssons translator] I looked round a large WH Smith’s in Bath to find “his books”, and there was a solitary tucked away TGWTDT on a two for three offer. Times have changed and it will be great if more readers try some of the Scandinavian crime writers as a result of Stieg Larsson’s success. But Johan Theorin’s books are so good they shouldn’t need to rely on the Larsson effect.

    • I’m afraid the bounce is due to Americans coming late to something the rest of the world already knew about and publishers who should know better suddenly thinking “how can I cash in?” because they’re focused on blockbusters. And it’s exacerbated by the fact that the last of the trilogy was just published here, so they feel there’s an opportunity to seize. I agree about Theorin, and it’s silly to push them as being anything like Larsson; they’re so subtle and nuanced.

    • Hello Norm, I absolutely agree with your pitch towards Johan Theorin. Two of the best books, drenched with all facets of nordic characters, scenes, weather, and gloominess.
      I have read all the Nordic books coming my way for the last two years. Gunnar Staalesen is rarely mentioned. His book, AT NIGHT ALL WOLVES ARE GREY was so well written that I kept reading the paragraphs over and over. So beautifully crafted and chilling.

  4. And there’s also Arnaldur Indridason, who writes very differently from Larsson, but his books are very good.

    I think that Europeans and other readers around the world read more fiction written from countries outside of their own. And it’s more readily available.

    I grind my teeth out of frustration when I see great books listed as possible contenders for the International Dagger (before the shortlist was announced), books from several countries–and they are not available here yet–books from Spain, Italy, France, and Scandinavians. And so I’m now ordering from the Book Depository which delivers quickly and does not charge shipping fees.

    I’m not sure I get why there has to be a “U.S.-edition” of a book, why we can’t just read the UK editions, UK translations of other languages, etc. This is so frustrating.

    • Hi Kathy,
      I read the US edition of MY SOUL TO TAKE by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, while my friends were reading the UK and other versions. The US version lost its Nordic flavor, at times, using the american equivalents of the wording. I now search for the UK editions.

  5. I’m not sure why we have to find the next Stieg Larsson. Can’t we find the next Yrsa Siggurdadottir, Camilla Lackberg, Asa Larsson? I suggested them as well as Ann Holt in prior messages. There are many more.
    We need to break the millinium addiction and venture out a bit.

    • I think this search is largely publishers saying “hey, this really worked! Can we do it again?” Which … never works. I agree, there are plenty of good writers out there, and plenty of variety.

  6. Well, I just finished “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest,” and was very impressed. I gladly spent my weekend reading it. Some things that made it a great book: Salander’s brilliance, skills, abilities, her help for another woman; Blomkvist’s steadfast campaign to vindicate her; an excellent in-depth expose of a complicated conspiracy (though I needed a glossary to keep the Swedish names straight, which I gave up on); and, best of all, several brilliant women characters–Annika Giannini, Monica Figueroa, Erica Berger, Linder and others. No wonder women are reading these books.
    And it shows that thrillers can be bestsellers and have women characters who are not just victims of abuse or murder, who are objectified, who exist only as peripheral to the main male character, as a partner or potential for an affair with him, but women who are tough, smart, extremely capable, etc.

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