the “why” of Scandinavian crime fiction

Spiked has a thoughtful piece on Stieg Larsson, Sweden, and why Swedish crime fiction has so much to say about things going wrong:

…Through the prism of violence, misogyny, murder, perversion and breaches of justice, Swedish crime writers are taking a forensic look at their society, passing a magnifying glass over the calm surface of what to many right-wingers and liberal lefties is still a socialist’s dreamland….

Perhaps it is precisely the strength of the image of Sweden as a civilised, democratic, equal and pacifist society – the nice kid just to the west of the former Eastern block – that gives its crime writers, many of whom have become international bestsellers, their allure. The calmer the surface, the more forceful the revelations of supposed sordidness simmering beneath it. . . .

While Larsson may have wanted to expose some of the illusions of the happy-go-lucky Swedish welfare state, his faith in decent protectors of Swedish ideals and tolerance shines through. The Millennium books depict a clueless police force, inept social services, a sleaze-hungry media industry, and a corrupt secret service, but the book also introduces us to plenty of characters from within these cherished Swedish institutions who live by their employers’ stated ideals. Mostly they are women.

…if this success can help challenge the stereotype that Sweden is a utopian social democratic state filed with buxom blondes and suicidal depressives, that will be a good thing.

Maxine reviews Inger Frimansson’s The Shadow in the Water – a followup to a book she reviewed last month, Good Night My Darling, pronouncing more unsettling than the first, finding it “a very disturbing novel, clouded and obscured by perceptions and suspicions so that nothing is what it seems.”

She also reviews Jo Nesbo’s The Redeemer. “I think the Harry Hole books comprise one of the top police-procedural series being written today. Although the books have flaws, they are flaws of ambition – the plots are very clever, and if perhaps they are sometimes a bit too clever, that’s better than the opposite. These novels are thoughtful, intelligent, exciting and above all, have a great central character.”

Karen Meek has a great review of Don Bartlett, translator of many of our favorite Norwegian writers, including Jo Nesbo. Read part one, part two, and part three. In answer to why Scandinavian crime is so popular he calls it a “welcome surprise” – and goes on to say:

The best Scandi crime fiction has a strong sense of place, evocative writing, thinking characters, an interest in the fabric of society and our lives today, the ‘why’ of crime rather than the ‘how’. It has adapted solid models in a relevant, personal way.

Finally, The Register reports that a Norwegian consumer council has found the Kindle in violation of Norwegian law because its warranty is too short (in Norway they should last five years, not one year), there are privacy concerns, and – my favorite – the terms of service themselves are problematic: “the very language used is probably illegal, as Norwegian law requires such contracts to be clearly written.”

…and more links

PBS highlights international crime fiction with a rather sophisticated site – Both Karin Fossum (Norway) and Arnaldur Indridason are featured.

Glenn Harper reviews Yrsa Sigurdardóttir’s My Soul to Take – and wonders which is the better cover at representing the Icelandic setting. He prefers Arnaldur’s series, but says this second book in the Thóra Gudmundsdóttir series “revisits the Gothic realm and revivals of myth in contemporary life, but in a lighter, frequently comic, and rural vein.”

He also says “I’m hoping that Árni Thórarinsson’s urban noir novels, very succesful in Europe, will soon make their way into English.” Fingers crossed.

Peter reviews Henning Mankell’s One Step Behind at Nordic Bookblog.

Shaz wonders (toward the bottom of this Dead Guy post) “Are there any humorous Scandinavian crime novels? If not, would someone like to remedy the situation to save what’s left of my sanity?” No worries, Sharon – there’s plenty of humor in there. Just ask Peter Rozovsky. He has some insightful things to say in a 2007 interview with Julia Buckley:

I do notice a common theme of sympathy in the work of Swedish crime writers, a concern for investigators, criminals, suspects and friends, relatives and lovers of all the above. Håkan Nesser shares that sympathy and also the proverbial Swedish concern for social justice. His novels also have a playful sense of humor, which is probably not a generalization many people would make about Swedish crime fiction.

Michael Walters writes about Jo Nesbo’s excellent series featuring the complicated hero, Harry Hole. Walters comments on the translations (by Don Bartlett, who recently spoke at CrimeFest and caused a bit of swooning in the audience), their out-of-order publication in English, and Harry’s “dry-as-dust, sometimes bitter irony.”

raised eyebrows, humor, and the universality of dialogue and difference

J. Kingston Pierce of the incomparable Rap Sheet notices John Harvey’s quote from a Hakan Nesser interview – to whit:

The crime novel used to be, and I stress used to be, a despised genre, diversionary literature not to be taken seriously. Then came the upturn and the so-called wave of crime novels, then the surfeit, of course, it all got too much, there were just too many of them. But now we’re entitled to raise an eyebrow at the poor quality and the amount of rubbish out there.”

. . . which causes Jeff to wince; do we really have to put the genre down to distinguish ourselves? (Sadly, I couldn’t find the interview online or in LexisNexis.)

The Bibliophile of (Another) 52 Books will be attending the Glass Key award. She reports “[t]here will be a panel discussion with the authors afterwards, and on Saturday there will be lectures, followed by a panel discussion with the participation of Jo Nesbø, Diane Wei Liang and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir.” <Sigh. Wipes drool off keyboard.>

Quercus appears to be having cash-flow problems that some attribute to the advance for Millennium Trilogy III. It’s causing some consternation among their other authors. Here’s hoping all works out – it’s a good publisher with a strong list.

Euro Crime presents an advance peek at K. O. Dahl’s soon-to-be-released (in the UK) book, The Last Fix.

Norm, aka Uriah, has intriguing coverage of the Foreign Correspondent’s panel of translators at CrimeFest. Evidently the audience had difficulty focusing, being stunned by the Godlike attractiveness of one of them. <Wipes drool off keyboard again.> We are, alas, forced to await the reveal of what Don Bartlett (aka Adonis) wrote in his inscribed copy of The Devil’s Star.

DJ, aka Dorte, raises a very interesting question about humor in Nesser’s work and gets many thoughtful responses, including the possibility that some readers expect gloom from Scandinavian writers and also that humor is sometimes difficult to understand because it can be so culture-specific. Not in the particulars, I suspect, but in being able to catch the nuances and inflections that signify dry wit or gentle sarcasm.  Humor in Scandinavian crime fiction is a subject that Peter Rozovsky has discussed elsewhere.

In the following article in this thematic issue of Mystery Reader’s Journal, Nesser addresses the notion that all Swedes write the same way:

We have things in common. First, most of us write crime fiction. Second, we write in Swedish. . . .But no way there is such thing as a Swedish way of writing a crime story. Because a book—every book—is a dialogue between two people. One writer, one reader. If a book is good it doesn’t matter a great deal if these said protagonists were born and educated in very diagonal corners of the world, or raised under whatever incompatible circumstances, because people are people everywhere. And when it comes to important matters—e.g. good stories—we understand each other.