Saturday, June 04, 2011


A few days ago I finished reading Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen [review to follow next week] and noticed one of the blurbs on the back cover, this one from the Guardian.

'Gripping storytelling. Features all the hallmarks Scandi-book fans have come to adore.'

I know publishers have totally overdone the blurbs and stickers that adorn Nordic Crime Fiction, but these books must have some features in common that are enjoyed by readers.
Also I am fairly sure I prefer being called 'chattering classes' by Mike Ripley in his Getting Away with Murder columns at Shots Magazine which feature his constant digs at Scandinavian crime fiction rather than be called a 'Scandi-book fan' by the Guardian.

I listed some of hallmarks of the Martin Beck novels that could relate to the modern Scandis [Scandinavian and Nordic crime fiction novels] in this April post More Detective Fever. The stories contain:

a] Social commentary
b] Large doses of cynicism
c] Team work, and the difficulties of working in a team.
d] Dollops of humour, light and dark.
e] Characters express distrust of superiors.
f] A feeling of loneliness and despair is expressed by various characters.
g] There are superbly drawn characters in the books.
h] There is a brooding atmosphere of disaster about to happen.

With apparently 80% of the readership of crime fiction novels female, there are some new factors, since the days of Martin Beck, that have added to the popularity of 'Scandis'.

1] The Female author

Even then [1965-1975] Maj Sjowall was at least half the the creative process behind the male investigative team featured in the Martin Beck series.

'Scandis' are written by large numbers of very successful female authors, such Asa Larsson, Camilla Lackberg, Helene Tursten, Mari Jungstedt, Anne Holt, Liza Marklund, Karin Fossum, Karin Alvtegen, Inger Frimansson, Yrsa Sigurdardottir and debut novelist Camilla Ceder.

2] The Female protagonist

'Scandis' frequently feature strong capable women fighting corruption and crime usually perpetrated by men. These could be lawyers, reporters and policewomen such as Rebecka Martinsson and Anna-Maria Mella [Asa Larsson], Irene Huss [Helene Tursten], Annika Bengtzon [Liza Marklund] or Thora Gudmundsdottir [Yrsa Sigurdardottir].
And many of the most successful male crime fiction authors feature female protagonists policewoman Ann Lindell [Kjell Eriksson] and victims Lisbeth Salander [Stieg Larsson] and Merete Lynggaard [Jussi Adler-Olsen].

I am not sure you can 'adore' a hallmark as the Guardian suggests, but I am pretty sure you can believe in, and adore a feisty character like Annika Bengtzon.

'Watch it,' Annika exclaimed sharply. 'You can't just detain journalists for questioning. If the police have detained or arrested a reporter working for one of Sweden's major newspapers, you are required to report that fact to his employer.'
That wasn't true, but the officer didn't know that for sure.
Prime Time: Liza Marklund


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Norman - Thanks for this summing-up of what several Scandinavian crime fiction books seem to have in common. It's an interesting way to look at what in some ways is a very disparate group of novels. You've got some very well-taken points here, too... And I agree; I don't think I'd want to be called a Scandi-fan...

9:30 AM  
Blogger Maxine Clarke said...

What a great post, Norman! I am glad there are some nice male characters in "Scandi" crime fiction, though dentists don't come out of it too well....

9:39 AM  
Blogger Bernadette said...

Very nice summary of the things I enjoy about the crime fiction from Scandinavia Norman. There's even something for the romantics in some (i.e. Patrick Hedstrom from the Camilla Lackberg series who must be the nicest bloke in crime fiction).

I'm not sure which of those objectionable terms I find least offensive - at least the Guardian's choice is just ignorant, Ripley's shtick is pure spite.

4:25 PM  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Thank you for such an interesting and thought-provoking post.

I have thought of Nordic noir as being primarily written by male authors, especially those who dominate sales, such as Mankell, S. Larsson, Nesbo, Nesser, Indridasson, all of whom have male protagonists.

But your points are good: that there are many Scandinavian writers who are women -- and are popular -- and many protagonists are women. Good to remind us of that.

And also, even in The Man from Beijing, there are several strong women characters, and in S. Larsson's Vol. III, there are about seven strong women characters (unfortunately, most are not in the movie), including Salander's attorney, who is outstanding.

I have read most of the women authors you mention, although I don't like all of their writings, however, the main point is that they're writing, being published and read.

6:18 PM  
Blogger Mediations said...

Splendidly thought-provoking post, Norman. Interestingly it is not just UK readers who are in love with Scandinavian crime - Johan Theorin was in bookshop windows across Holland and Germany last week, and of course, they are hugely popular in Scandinavia, too!This last point is not meant to be flippant - Läckberg, Jungstedt and Marklund are well represented at every supermarket checkout stand, and I don't think I have visited a Swedish home without seeing a Stieg Larsson.

It occurs to me that you are right in identifying the prevalence of social commentary and distrust of superiors but it is done in a way that travels well. Immigration is a recurring theme and outsiders are often early suspects (Mankell) but so too are failings in welfare and bureaucracy; there are fewer people in Sweden but it often seems to take longer to get things done, and you seem to spend longer in queues!

Although characters are often defined in part by ethnicity, the myriad gradations of social class that are so much a part of British fiction aren't really there in Scandinavian work. Yes, we meet the elite, the old families and rich industrialists, but the wider populations is not portrayed through a lens of minute social stratification that is part of British life - another reasion Scandinavian fiction travels well?

1:14 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks for all your interesting comments.

7:14 AM  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

And thanks for your synopses of the main points in Nordic noir. It's appreciated, the women writers and protagonists, too.

4:18 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home