Sunday, January 25, 2009


There is an interesting post at Scandinavian Crime Fiction that refers to a discussion by Mike Carlson here as to the reason why Nordic crime has attracted all this current attention from UK journalists.

The key section selected by Barbara at Scandinavian Crime Fiction  is "But it remains puzzling to me why, that when contemporary British writers have done so much to move their genre into more challenging territory it takes two Swedes [Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson ?] to get British critics to notice." 

I think the answer is simple, the media pick on something as the flavour of the moment, and in the process they drain the story of every drop of vitality they can and then they abandon it and move on. 
In their view British crime fiction has been around a long while, it has been on television in various guises for many years and therefore is not as newsworthy as something new such as Swedish crime fiction. [I have noted that two of my first creaking blog posts back in September 2006 referred to Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo]
The critics think here is a 'new TV series' with a 'new detective' Wallander, starring Kenneth Branagh, and which is set in a beautiful location, so we must write about it. The fact that the televised Mankell books were published in English between ten and six years ago is irrelevant. 

In the case of  Stieg Larsson the interest has undoubtedly been stimulated as a result of three factors: he died tragically young, the advertising campaign, and the unique character Lisbeth Salander

Will the professional journalists/critics move on to all the other Scandinavian crime writers who have not been televised and who have not been the beneficiary of a Stieg Larsson like marketing campaign [well deserved on the evidence of The Girl Who Played with Fire] ? 
I very much doubt it as the media are quite fickle, but unfortunately the problems dealt with in the books concerning the breakdown of society, single parenthood, gangs, abuse, immigration and drugs are with us for the long haul. 

In 1990 when Sweden was probably a more homogeneous population a Sami, who was very drunk, started a conversation with us on a train from Uppsala to Stockholm. He complained that he was a 'Swedish Apache', a depressed and oppressed minority in his own country. We were rather shocked because that winter we had seen a beautiful country, which appeared snow white in more than one sense, a country where even the bag ladies dressed smartly. We were relieved that this was a short journey because he was very drunk, but as we were about to leave the train he said "if you are going to be oppressed this is the best country in the world to be oppressed."

Perhaps a lot of the interest in Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson is caused by the fact that the liberal media still believe that Sweden is some sort of socialist utopia and are intrigued by the concept that it is a 'real' country.    


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the views expressed so well here. I've been reading Mankell ever since he was first translated. I started Sjowall/Wahloo as a result of reading those 2006 posts of yours! And as Carlson says, the Harper Collins editions are great, with the thoughtful introductions by such literate enthusiasts. (The 10 books are currently selling incredibly cheaply at the Book People).
The media are fickle, endlessly recycling the same story without imagination. Very little research, ie one click to Euro Crime "Scandinavian crime fiction" section, could show them so much. Ha!!!
Re the Sami - I find it interesting that quite a few Swedish and other Scandinavian crime fiction address the fractures in the "socialist utopia", either via indigenous peoples or via immigration. Asa Larsson's "The Black Path" addressed the Sami issue, for examle, and so did Vendela Vida's "Let the Northern Lights Erase your Name" - all about a woman's gradual (and to her, surprising) discovery of her cultural identity. (And her mother's realisation of it.)
Perneille Rygg (Norway) and Kjell Erickson (Sweden) also address these issues. Liza Marklund also, of course. Frode Gryttan's very good short first novel, "The Shadow in the Water" was about the uneasy relationship between small town mentality and the immigrant population. There is a lot of it about, and not exactly hard to find, if only "the media" would bother to look.

2:09 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

I am reading The Black Path at the moment and enjoying it. I did include a link to your comprehensive Larsson roundup which is very useful for us plagiarists.
Many of the themes of the Scandinavians are the same as in the Italian Crimini short stories, the search for success, corruption and the foreigner.
I think the interest among the bloggers will last a lot longer than the mainstream. How Sweden and the other Nordic countries will cope with their large immigrant communities alongside a relatively small indigenous population is going to be interesting?

2:49 PM  
Blogger Dorte H said...

A most interesting post - and discussion. My Danish angle: Scandinavian crime fiction is certainly not uniform. Swedish crime novels are usually highly critical of society and the police force. Danish crime writers (and to a certain extent Norwegians) seem to be more content with life and trust "the system."

3:34 PM  
Blogger Bernadette said...

Some thought provoking comments.

I read an article in a mainstream paper here about the issues being tackled by Scandinavian crime fiction and what struck me was that the same things are happening in our own society (e.g. influx of refugees and people's unwillingness to accept them) but it's easier to pretend that the problems are taking place elsewhere and that way we don't have to look to hard at ourselves. Of course I could be reading too much into it :)

3:41 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Dorte I haven't read enough Danish crime writers to know, Only Leif Davidsen's prophetic The Serbian Dane.
I think I would agree about Jo Nesbo and K.O.Dahl. It is not so much the system as the bad apples in society that are the problem, and in Nesbo's case his disdain of Norway's convenient false memories of the war.

2:01 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Maxine, is their another book called The Shadow in the Water by Inger Frimansson?

Bernadette I think you are right. It is a lot easier to read about the problems of integration in Malmo or fascist biker gangs in Stockholm than to face up to the realities of life in our own cities.

2:21 AM  
Blogger Maxine Clarke said...

I just checked, Norm -it is Shadow in the River I am referring to- my Euro Crime review is here:

I got the wrong title. I am looking forward to reading Shadow in the water (Frimansson) one of these days- have not got hold of a copy yet but it is on my want list.

I am sure there must also be crime fiction books about immigrants/ethnic minorities in the UK but I can't think of any offhand - I can only think of non-genre books like My Beautiful Laundrette and Bend it Like Beckham. But there must be some.

One of the later Camilleri books was very moving on this subject - Rounding the Mark. I found it unbearably sad.

5:14 AM  
Blogger Dorte H said...

British crime fiction about immigrants: Rendell touches upon the theme in "Not in the Flesh", and her "Simisola" from the 1980s is about illegal immigrants. I think they also feature in Minette Walter´s "Acid Row" but not sure how much.

7:02 AM  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

The more I read about crime fiction, especially the Scandinavian sort, the more I want to read it. This is such an interesting, post, Norm - and it makes it all so enticing. I have two little snippets to add from the limited amount of crime fiction I have read: Miss Smilla's author, Peter Hoeg is 'Danish', I believe - and to me his book came over as critical of society's treatment of another minority in Denmark - the Inuit.

Also, in the British Crime Fiction scene, I happen to know that my friend Margaret Murphy has written about asylum seekers in one of her crime novels based in Liverpool - 'The Dispossessed'.

Right, now I've made that little excursion into crime, it's back to the mainstream for me - but I shall definitely have to pop out again soon! I keep reading about this Stieg person, and am intrigued.

7:32 AM  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Sorry, I meant 'Uriah' instead of 'Norm' - I'm embarrassingly hopeless with names.

7:34 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Norm here, I did not actually to intend to use the alias Uriah when I first started this blog but blogger had a mind of its own.
The problems of multiculturalism affect everywhere in Detective Inspector Huss the rich people had a Finnish immigrant cleaner, and in the book I am reading now there is some kind of tension between Swedes, Sami and Finns.
Did Wexford making a terrible ? racist blunder in Simisola? I read it years ago but vaguely remember something like that.

8:26 AM  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Ha! No wonder I'm confused...(though it doesn't take much):-)

8:32 AM  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Yes, Wexford made a rather clumsy mistake. In fact it bothered him so much that he still remembered it in "Not in the Flesh" which I reviewed the other day :)
I do understand him, however. We lived in Ethiopia for six months, and in the beginning it was difficult for us to tell our servants from each other. But they say that to Chinese people we look alike so it is hardly ´real racism´.

8:32 AM  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You may be the king of Camilleri, but you're also in the line of succession the Scandinavian crime thrones. Good, thought-provoking post, and a priceless anecdote about the Swedish Apache.

Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

9:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course, I remember those Rendell books - how could I have forgotten. Funnily enough, having written the above comment about UK authors and immigrants/minorities, the book I have just started reading is exactly on that issue - A Place of Safety by Helen Black - about asylum seekers from Kosovo. Jolly good so far.

Clare - the crime fiction genre is so popular, and I think authors are increasingly using it as a framework to address wider issues. For me, these are the best crime novels - the plot framework holds the attention of the increasingly doddery reader (if you are like me!), and the author can then explore politics, psyschology or anything, really, in that framework and the reader can both learn a lot and experience strong emotional reactions. Kim at Reading Matters commented the other day that I read a lot of crime fiction (which I do) and that she finds one genre too boring after a while. I understand what she means, but if you get the best crime fiction (eg not the best=selling Patterson/Cornwell/Martina Cole all the time), but chose from some of the less-heavily-marketed options, you can have an incredibly varied reading experience- as demonstrated by this comment thread!

Sorry for "going on at length" as usual, Norman!

3:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS Dorte, Acid Row- yes, this was Walters's "24" - action took place over 24 hours and involved a siege in a housing estate. Unfortunately, the racism or ethnic minority or immigrant aspects have now escaped my mind. But I remember it as pretty good. I admire Minette Walters for always trying something new in each book, in terms of theme, form, etc. (Though I find some of her books less successful than others.)

3:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been reminded today of another UK book covering these themes: Cold in Hand by John Harvey.

12:11 PM  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

One of Irene Huss' colleagues, a colleague especially good at his job, is an ethnic Finn, too, if I recall. This gives Helene Tursten another way to explore the position of Finns in Sweden.
Detectives Beyond Borders
“Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

3:56 PM  

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