Seriously, what is it with crime fiction and the Scandinavian countries? And I don’t mean Stieg Larsson, though he is possibly the best known name among them. I am going through this phase where I am reading crime fiction from that part of the world (last year, it was Indian detectives) – it’s stunning how good the quality of story-telling is, even if most of them are translations. These are mostly in the genre of police procedurals that take you gently, slowly, sometimes too slowly, through the agony of being a policeman / detective in the wake of some gruesome crime.
I am now reading the Martin Beck series by the unpronouncable Sjowall and Wahloo and the books featuring Harry Hole by Jo Nesbo. I briefly flirted with Indridason before I decided to make my way through the others completely before I started on a new author (I did read three of his books in a row). Next on my list are Henning Mankell and Peter Hoeg.
So as you can imagine, my head is full of not-so-pleasant thoughts about mutilated bodies and confounding clues. The thing is this, what must it do to those who work on such crimes all their lives? The answer is easy enough to see in the personality and lifestyle of all these fictional detectives – they are tenacious, loners, social misfits, possibly addicted to drink and generally, their family has given up on them. In other words, they mirror the personalities of the serial killers they hunt. But they are all interesting and complex characters – and their all-too-human vulnerabilities and strengths come through the pages. These authors also painstakingly flesh out even the minor characters in the books – which makes it all even more interesting. Often, the identity of the killer is not the point – it is the process of getting there. Not usual for the crime genre.
And these books (I know I speak of them all as if they are by the same author – but believe me, as a group, Scandinavian crime fiction is stellar) stand out for another reason – the way the stories portray changes in the larger society outside and how their people struggle with everything that is new and unexpected. Sexual mores, racial tensions, class divide, immigrant problems – they are serve as backdrops to these stories and in doing so, bring alive a part of the world that is otherwise so alien to me.
Sure, they are mostly bleak, dark and depressing – think winter in Sweden – but if you want a good, engrossing read for a rainy afternoon, pick up one of these books – you cannot go wrong.