If you have read any of the popular crime fiction stemming from Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway or Iceland, you’re in for a treat. Now considered the rage in the United States, these novels have made a lucrative place of their own; due to their character series and those made into film. From the huge hit “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, which is part of the Millennium Trilogies to the Kurt Wallender series (character is both Swedish and British), fans can compare what they have read and align the characters made into film.
Economist.com authenticates “Nordic crime” by this description –
Three factors underpin the success of Nordic crime fiction: language, heroes and setting. Niclas Salomonsson, a literary agent who represents almost all the up and coming Scandinavian crime writers, reckons it is the style of the books, “realistic, simple and precise…and stripped of unnecessary words” that has a lot to do with it. The plain, direct writing, devoid of metaphor, suits the genre well.
In these novels the atmosphere is vital. Since this European area is cold and dark, it’s the perfect setting for crimes, ranging from serial killers, secret sociopaths, pedophiles, drug dealers and assassins; going incognito with the ability to hide and avoid the law, using the weather as an asset.
Some characters are caught in a quagmire and going illegal is the only way out. Some are in law enforcement, trying to solve puzzling murders with edged frustration. Some want to lead a normal life but some bizarre situation keeps pulling them back.
Swedish crime novels have touched American shores the most, but here are five crime/mystery writers, one from each Scandinavian country you may wish to read.
SWEDEN – Steig Larsson (15 August 1954 – 9 November 2004). The journalist and writer is responsible for the popular Millennium Trilogies, which consist of three novels - “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, “The Girl Who Played With Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.” All three have been made into films
ABC News revealed in an August 2010 article titled “Stieg Larsson Silent as Real-Life Lisbeth Raped” this –
The wildly popular author of the "Millennium" trilogy, which also includes, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest," is graphic in his descriptions of violence against women, and now his closest friend reveals why.
Larsson had his own dark secret. At the age of 15 he witnessed a gang rape and never intervened, according to longtime friend Kurdo Baksi. Days later, ridden with guilt, Larsson asked the victim for her forgiveness, but she refused.
That girl was Lisbeth, the name later given to the tattooed, Asperger's-afflicted Lisbeth Salander -- heroine of Larsson's three novels.
The guilt over failing to act haunted Larsson his entire life and fueled the subject of his crime novels, according to Baksi, who wrote "Stieg Larsson: Our Days in Stockholm," a soon-to-be published memoir devoted to setting the record straight about Larsson's real-life commitment to social justice
Larsson was an editor-in-chief and co-founder of the anti-racist magazine Expo. Wikipedia excerpts this about Larsson’s publication –
(The) author of the Millennium series of novels, was Expo's co-founder and editor-in-chief from 1995 until his death in 2004. Larsson's pLarsson's political convictions, as well as his journalistic experiences, led him to found the Expo Foundation, similar to the British, with the aim of "studying and mapping anti-democratic, right-wing extremist and racist tendencies in society.
NORWAY – Karin Fossum. Fossum is referred to as the “Norwegian queen of crime.” She is known for the Inspector Sejer Series. PBS’ Masterpiece Mysteries has described Inspector Sejer as this –
Dubbed “the Morse of the fjords,” Fossum’s Inspector Sejer is a tough, no-nonsense policeman with a soft side. A widower who lives alone with his dog and still grieves for his late wife, the middle-aged detective is shrewd, patient and dedicated to his work. With quiet formality, deadpan delivery and painstaking police work, ha uncovers the mistrust, alienation and lies that darken village life in the “Land of the Midnight Sun.”
Fossum’s latest book “The Caller,” released last month, has received rave reviews. Here’s a snippet from amazon.com –
One mild summer evening, a young couple are enjoying dinner while their daughter sleeps peacefully in her stroller under a tree. When her mother steps outside she is stunned: the child is covered in blood.
Inspector Sejer is called to the hospital to meet the family. Mercifully, the child is unharmed, but the parents are deeply shaken, and Sejer spends the evening trying to understand why anyone would carry out such a sinister prank. Then, just before midnight, somebody rings his doorbell.
No one is at the door, but the caller has left a small gray envelope on Sejer’s mat. From his living room window, the inspector watches a figure disappear into the darkness. Inside the envelope Sejer finds a postcard bearing a short message: Hell begins now.
ICELAND – Arnaldur Indridason. The crime/mystery writer is from Reykjavik, Iceland and is known for the Detective Erlendur Series. Masterpiece Mysteries portrays him as follows –
Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson is a melancholy, 50-something detective with the Reykjavil police, Erlendur is a loner with a bitter marriage behind him and two substance-abusing adult children at arm;s length. He spends most evenings alone reading Icelandic lore and obsessing over true-life tales of people gone missing in te Icelandic wilderness. A country boy whos never felt at home in the city, he’s old –fashioned in his habits and views, not to mention his palate. He loves Iceland’s deep winters and loathes the summer ‘s midnight sun. But when it comes to criminal investigations, the veteran tracker doesn’t give up until he’s shined a light in every corner.
Indridason’s latest book in the series (released Sept. 17) is “Black Skies: An Inspector Erlendur Novel” with the following plot –
A man is making a crude leather mask with an iron spike fixed in the middle of the forehead. It is a "death mask," once used by Icelandic farmers to slaughter calves, and he has revenge in mind. Meanwhile, a school reunion has left Inspector Erlendur's colleague Sigurdur Óli unhappy with life in the police force. While Iceland is enjoying an economic boom, Óli's relationship is on the rocks and soon even his position in the department is compromised. When a favor to a friend goes wrong and a woman dies before his eyes, Oli has a murder investigation on his hands.
From the villas of Reykjavik’s banking elite to a sordid basement flat, Black Skies is a superb story of greed, pride, and murder from one of Europe's most successful crime writers.
FINLAND – Matti Yrjänä Joensuu (31 October 1948, Helsinki, Finland – 4 December 2011). From Wikipedia –
Joensuu has written several novels about the personal life and work of policeman Timo Harjunpää. He is a very credible and pleasant man, who treats the criminals as humanely as his own family, which consists of Timo, his wife Elisa and three children (Valpuri, Pipsa and Pauliina).
One of Joensuu’s crime novels that was a major success was “The Priest of Evil.” It was nominated for the Glass Key, described as “the major prize for crime fiction competed for across all the Scandinavian countries.” Joensuu’s book was released in 2003 but was translated by David Hackston under Arcadia Books in 2006. He won the Martin Beck award in 1987 under the Swedish Crime Writers Academy. The last book published by Joensuu was "La stanza di ferro" in paperback on January 1, written in Italian.
Here is the storyline of The Priest of Evil –
After a succession of suspicious deaths at Helsinki subway stations leaves police baffled, Detective Sergent Timo Harjunpaa of the Helsinki Violent Crimes Unit takes up the case only to uncover overwhelming forces of evil. With no witnesses to the deaths and closed-circuit tapes revealing even less, Detective Harjunpaa slowly discovers the madman behind the murders—a fanatical priest who brainwashes teenagers into carrying bomb-filled backpacks. No stranger to the seamier side of human nature, Detective Sergent Harjunpaa must now face the most terrifying case of his career.
DENMARK – Lene Kaaberbol. Kaaberbol is a Danish writer from Copenhagen, Denmark. Other than crime fiction she is also known for writing children’s books.
Her first book (with Agnete Friis) under the Nina Borg crime series “The Boy in the Suitcase” was a huge success in the United States and worldwide. Here is a snippet from the book –
Nina Borg, a Red Cross nurse, wife, and mother of two, is a compulsive do-gooder who can't say no when someone asks for help—even when she knows better. When her estranged friend Karin leaves her a key to a public locker in the Copenhagen train station, Nina gets suckered into her most dangerous project yet. Inside the locker is a suitcase, and inside the suitcase is a three-year-old boy: naked and drugged, but alive.
The New York Times Book Review named the book Notable Crime Book of 2011. Comments from other critics are below.
“Here’s something you don’t often see in Nordic noir fiction — a novel written by two women about the criminal mistreatment of women and children, compassionately told from a feminine perspective and featuring female characters you can believe in…. the first collaborative effort of Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis, and it packs an almighty punch.”—The New York Times Book Review, Notable Crime Book of 2011
“Fans of Nordic crime fiction, rejoice: Something is rotten in Denmark. But never fear, Red Cross nurse Nina Borg is on the case.... A wild ride.”—New York Post
“Terrific.... What’s for sure is that, once you start reading, you can’t stop — it’s as if the poor kid’s life depends on your getting to the end as fast as possible.... looks like another winning entry in the emotionally lacerating Scandinavian mystery sweepstakes.”—The Washington Post
The second novel to the Nina Borg series is “Invisible Murder” which was released in October 2012.
The American Film Institute (AFI) finished this week films that were dedicated to Scandinavian crime. The movies began in early July. Some of the films have already been seen on pay cable channels such as “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and “Smilla’s Sense of Snow.”
AFI is located at 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, MD - (301) 495-6700, website www.afi.com.
Have you read any Scandinavian crime books? Put in a comment or suggestion and let me and readers know your opinion.