More and more crime writers from Scandinavia are catching the attention of the English reading world. Their novels offer readers a new style in crime writing, with the ability to create an atmosphere in their work as chilling as the Nordic landscape. Collectively, their fiction style is associated with their geographic and climatic uniqueness. A place where life is effected by isolation, the long icy cold and an enduring darkness over the winter season. The harsh environment of the natural surrounding is also reflected in the cruelty and senselessness of the criminals within Nordic fiction.
Denmark and Sweden produce the most best sellers in the crime writing genre from the region. Readers might already know Henning Mankell, a Swedish writer, who created the famous detective Kurt Wallander in a series of titles. The outstanding achievement of this writer is that he is able to put his stories into a bigger social context. Local stories of political and social unrest are often linked strongly with global politics and social themes, such as global immigration, war on terrorism.
Wallander is not a hero who is cool or physically fit, but is very much a down to earth policeman – a man troubled with devoice, gloomy most of time and struggles with diabetes and being physically unwell. He is also extremely worried about his daughter who is unsettled and who he can’t get through a proper conversation with. However he is resilient and always solves the case, no matter what happens in his own life.
Henning Mankell’s latest book however is a departure from the world of Kurt Wallander. ‘Italian Shoes’ is about an elderly man, Fredrik Welin’s lonely journey on a remote island with only an old dog and a cat for company. When Harriet; Welin’s lover from 40 years ago, turns up on the scene, Fredrik ditched her without any reason. Why did she come to this remotest area of the world and what will happen? Italian shoes is a metaphor for one man’s journey of redemption.
Stieg Larsson is another Swedish author whose titles become instant best sellers. A former journalist, Larsson looks at issues in Swedish society. His work is sharp and uncompromising. In his Millennium series: ‘The girl with the dragon tattoo’, ‘The girl who played with fire’ and ‘The girl who kicked the Hornets’ nest’, Larssons creates an extraordinary heroine with the character Salander.
Salander is tough and unflinching, but most of all she fights against injustice. She may appear to be weak and the author almost always putting her into hopeless and helpless situations. She is abused by the social welfare system, the police and the politicians, wanted for the murders that she did not commit, but she gets around it all and hits back with a vengeance. The plot is so well crafted, that you’ve got to admire the author, as well as the character for the way in which Salander is able to manoeuvre out of some difficult situations. Larsson really places a female heroine in an unique and heroic place. Larsson is able to clearly and precisely combine some big social and political issues along with lot facts into his stories. He tells us that democracy can be at risk by a small group who controls and manipulates power under the name of national interests.
Unfortunately Larsson died suddenly and is not able to write any more.
Peter Hoeg isn’t a new author. From Denmark, his book ‘Miss Smilla’s feeling for snow’ profoundly reflects throughout the big social and cultural issues in Denmark. There is a movie with the same title that was adapted from the book in 1997. Both the book and the movie received various industry awards. ‘The Quiet Girl’ is Hoeg’s latest translation in English.
There are other established writers from this area, for example, the husband and the wife team of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. Together they have published ten books in 1960s and 70s with the main protagonist, detective Martin Beck. Beck’s life changes from time to time in different books. The whole series is a glimpse of Swedish society half a century ago. Political events and other social issues all play significant roles as background context through out. Nordic writings, whatever the plots or characters, reflect not isolated events but society as a whole. Long and harsh cold winter is a constant cause of human misery,
Arnaldur Indridason, from Iceland, is able to set the icy environment as his background which colours his writing. The scene of cold and loneliness has the same bearing as crime. Indridson has established his reputation as one of the most popular authors in Iceland as well as other Nordic countries after producing great writing, such as ‘The draining lake’, ‘Voice’ and ‘The tainted blood’ and his latest title,‘Hypothermia’.
Jo Nesbo is a prominent name in this group of Nordic countries. He’s a Norwegian writer and musician. He has created a series of titles about Harry Hole, who solves crime on the streets of Olso. The author also writes The Doktor Proktor series.
Some new names coming from the region in triumph include Karin Alvtegen, Karin Fossum, Mari Jungstedt, Camilla Lackberg, Hakan Nesser, all of which deserve our attention. Their description of Nordic landscapes and their plots that deal with environmental and social issues are not that far removed from the global centre, yet remain unique in their own way.
If you’re a crime fiction fan, then you should never ignore those writers, they are well worth the look in.