Biblio File, 24 Frames per Second
More Nordic Noir
With the bleakest part of the winter now upon us, some readers may be craving a feast of Scandinavian noir. Jeremy Megraw's excellent blog post from 2013 covered a lot of this chilly ground, but here are a few more contemporary Swedes (and one Norwegian) I've enjoyed.
I'll start with the pseudonymous Arne Dahl (real name: Jan Arnald), an elegant and imaginative writer whose stories tend to have a touch of magic realism. He is the author of the "Intercrime Series," about a fictional elite Stockholm police unit tasked with working "outside the box" to solve particularly baroque crimes with an international flavor, as when an American suspected of a gruesome killing in Newark eludes a police stakeout at Stockholm's airport and proceeds to spread mayhem around the Swedish capital (Bad Blood, the first title published, though it's the second in the fictional chronology).
So far only the first two Intercrime books, Misterioso and Bad Blood, are available in English in the US (a third is out in the UK), but the first five were the basis of a successful TV series (available on DVD), so more can be hoped for. The Intercrime Series should be catnip for fans of police teamwork, and Paul Hjelm, Kerstin Holm and the rest of the quirky cops in the group are vividly characterized. There is also a lot of humor in these books, something that can't always be said of Scandinavian crime stories. Dahl's newer series, the Opcop Quartet, featuring many of the same characters in a more international context, is also excellent, but not yet in English. For more information, see the author's website.
Camilla Läckberg sets her crime novels in her home town of Fjällbacka, a small fishing community on the west coast of Sweden. The series began with The Ice Princess, in which a young woman's corpse is discovered in a bathtub of icy water, her wrists slashed—but was it really suicide? Erica Falck, a childhood friend, is moved to investigate.
The detectives at the center of the stories are a professional (Patrik Hedström, a cop) and an amateur (Falck, a writer, his girlfriend and later his wife) and the stories tend to involve a large cast of characters, all of whom know one another and all of whom have a motive for the heinous crimes that occur… and of course no alibi. For this reason Läckberg has been called the Swedish Agatha Christie, but for me that title is more deservedly applied to a writer from an earlier generation, Maria Lang. (Lang is also eminently readable, but unfortunately, only three titles from her vast output have been translated into English, though a recent internationally distributed TV series may change that.) Several of Läckberg's books have also been filmed.
In Liza Marklund's crime series the heroine is also an amateur and a writer, in this case a journalist employed by a Stockholm tabloid. The crimes are often shocking and draw the narrative into contemporary social issues such as the international drug trade and terrorism, but for me the real interest is the complicated, emotionally volatile character at the center of the stories, Annika Bengtzon, who never met an anger she could manage or an impulse she could control.
In the course of 10 books (so far) we follow her through a disastrous first relationship, an ill-advised and never completely happy marriage, motherhood, and a long slow-burning flirt with the man who may be true love of her life. The texture of her everyday life, and that of those close to her, is portrayed in such detail that non-Swedish readers may feel they have completed a residency in her homeland when they've worked through the series. Several of the Bengtzon books are also available as TV adaptations on DVD, but be advised that Annika's life has been considerably reordered in this version. (The books were also published out of chronological order; The Bomber was the first to be published, but Exposed is where Annika's story begins.) More on Marklund's website: lizamarklund.com
Sweden's "second city," the west coast metropolis Gothenburg (Göteborg, in Swedish), provides the crime scenes in the novels of Helene Tursten. Her heroine is Detective Inspector Irene Huss of the Gothenburg Police, a former European judo champion, happily married to a professional chef and the mother of teenaged twin girls.
Unlike the protagonist in many police procedurals, Huss is not depressed, substance-dependent or a failure in her relationships, but the stories may involve her unusual private life in unexpected ways, and she seethes when she occasionally encounters sexism on the job—even from a female superior. But her colleagues in Gothenburg's Violent Crimes Unit are a generally competent and sympathetic lot, as they are confronted with such baffling cases as the fragment of a tattooed torso that washes up on a beach with its limbs apparently surgically severed (The Torso), or the hit-and-run accident where the victim, a retired cop, may be connected to an international sex trafficking scheme unraveling around the body of a murdered thirteen-year-old girl found near the accident scene (The Beige Man). There are ten books in the Huss series, beginning with Den krossade Tanghästen ("The Shattered Tang Horse," unimaginatively translated as Detective Inspector Huss). Yes, there's a TV series too. Ms. Tursten, who says she has definitely abandoned Irene and is now busy with a new series, doesn't seem to have an official website.
One of the newest stars on the Swedish crime horizon is a husband-wife team, Alexander Ahndoril and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril, publishing under the name Lars Kepler. They have produced five books so far starring the Finnish-born Stockholm supercop Joona Linna, who is never wrong about a clue, never fails to pick up on the one key detail in an investigation that everyone else missed, and is never, ever daunted by being outnumbered and outgunned.
Beginning with the second book we also have Joona's female counterpart, Saga Bauer of the Swedish Security Police, as beautiful as a fairy-tale princess and twice as tough as nails. I find these books a little (for want of a better word) trashy, compared with the production of some of the authors on this list, and a very large pinch of "suspension of disbelief" is sometimes required, especially when it comes to the Hannibal Lecter-like exploits of the villains. But they move fast, and the stories do keep the reader involved as one suspenseful situation follows another. The series began with The Hypnotist, which was also a feature film that received a brief U.S. release last year (as an aside, the writing, with high-speed car chases and showdowns in picturesquely desolate places, sometimes seems designed with an eye on the slogan "Soon to be a major motion picture"), but my personal favorite so far is the third installment, The Fire Witness. The story is tighter and more credible than in the earlier books, there are twists within twists, and the working out of an incorporated ghost story is surprising and effective. The Lars Kepler official website is larskepler.com
The lone Norwegian on my list is Gunnar Staalesen, whose hero, the Bergen private eye Varg Veum, is of the hard-boiled school, though his previous life as a child welfare worker gives him a special empathy for the younger set on both sides of the criminal line. In one of the early Veum books (the second in the series, Yours Until Death), our hero takes on "the youngest client I'd ever had," an eight-year-old boy whose bicycle was stolen by a gang of teenaged toughs. As he follows up on the case he is led into a tangle of misery, desperation and eventually murder in the grim housing projects on the outer fringes of the Norwegian "good society." Bergen, a proud old city on Norway's west coast with hilly streets and legendarily rainy weather, bears a certain spiritual resemblance to the classic noir metropolis San Francisco, and it's not hard to imagine Veum hanging out in a bar, trading gumshoe tips with the likes of Sam Spade. (Staalesen admits to drawing inspiration from the "holy trinity of American crime writers," as he calls Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald.)
Staalesen is somewhat older than the other writers presented here, and when the Veum series began in the late seventies, there was no Internet, no cellphones, and the world was quite a different place. Norway too has undergone considerable cultural upheaval since that time, but Veum is still plying his trade in our fraught decade, older but as melancholy as ever about the way of the world and man's inhumanity to man (and child). Only a handful of these books are available in English so far, but a new UK publisher, Orenda Books, has taken up the Varg Veum cause, and translations of his three latest are promised for the next couple of years. There are recent film/DVD versions of a number of the books that update the action of the earlier stories to the present and soften the character's edges. Staalesen's (or rather Veum's) official website is in Norwegian only (with some links to international content): vargveum.no
For information about all of these authors and their works, besides the official websites given above, I recommend a Gale Group database, the Literature Resource Center, which is available for free to anyone with an NYPL library card. In particular, one of its components, Contemporary Authors Online, has biographical information, bibliographies and extensive listings of print and online reviews and other features for everyone mentioned here.
I'll follow Jeremy Megraw's example and list the main crime series of these authors, in chronological order (or in the fictional chronological order in the case of Arne Dahl and Liza Marklund). English titles of books not yet translated are in square brackets, original titles are in parentheses, and catalog links are given where available.
Arne Dahl — Intercrime Series (1998–2007)
1. Misterioso, also published as The Blinded Man (Misterioso)
2. Bad Blood (Ont blod)
3. To The Top of the Mountain (available in the UK) (Upp till toppen av berget)
4. [Europe Blues] (Europa blues)
5. [Many Waters] (De största vatten) (In Polish: Wody wielkie)
6. [A Midsummer Night's Dream] (En midsommarnattsdröm)
7. [Requiem] (Dödsmässa)
8. [Hidden Numbers] (Mörkertal)
9. [Afterquake] (Efterskalv)
10. [Eye in the Sky] (Himmelsöga)
Camilla Läckberg — Fjällbacka series (2003–2014)
1. The Ice Princess (Isprinsessan)
2. The Preacher (Predikanten)
3. The Stonecutter (Stenhuggaren)
4. The Gallows Bird, also published as The Stranger (Olycksfågeln)
5. The Hidden Child (Tyskungen)
6. The Drowning (Sjöjungfrun)
7. The Lost Boy (Fyrvaktaren)
8. Buried Angels (Änglamakerskan)
9. [The Lion Tamer] (Lejontämjaren)
Liza Marklund — Annika Bengtzon series (1998–2013)
1. Exposed (earlier translation: Studio 69) (Studio sex)
2. Vanished (earlier translation: Paradise) (Paradiset)
3. Prime Time (Prime Time)
4. The Bomber (Sprängaren)
5. Red Wolf (Den Röda Vargen)
6. Last Will (Nobels testamente)
7. Lifetime (Livstid)
8. The Long Shadow (En plats i solen)
9. Borderline (Du gamla, du fria)
10. [proposed English title Nora's Book] (Lyckliga gatan)
Helene Tursten — Irene Huss series (1998–2012)
1. Detective Inspector Huss (Den krossade tanghästen)
2. Night Rounds (Nattrond)
3. The Torso (Tatuerad torso)
4. [Cold Murder] (Kallt mord)
5. The Glass Devil (Glasdjävulen)
6. The Golden Calf (Guldkalven)
7. The Fire Dance (Eldsdansen)
8. The Beige Man (En man med litet ansikte)
9. [The Treacherous Network] (Det lömska nätet)
10. [Awake in the Dark] (Den som vakar i mörkret)
11. [Shielded by Shadows] (I skydd av skuggorna)
Lars Kepler — Joona Linna series (2009–2014)
Gunnar Staalesen — Varg Veum series (1977–2014) (Novels only)
1. [Fox Guarding the Henhouse] (Bukken til havresekken)
2. Yours Until Death (Din, til døden)
3. [Sleeping Beauty Slept for One Hundred Years] (Tornerose sov i hundre år)
4. [The Woman in the Fridge] (Kvinnen i kjøleskapet)
5. At Night All Wolves Are Grey (I mørket er alle ulver grå)
6. [Black Sheep] (Svarte får)
7. [Fallen Angels] (Falne engler)
8. [Bitter Flowers] (Bitre blomster)
9. [Buried Dogs Do Not Bite] (Begravde hunder biter ikke)
10. The Writing on the Wall (Skriften på veggen)
11. [Through a Glass Darkly] (Som i et speil)
12. [Face to Face] (Ansikt til ansikt)
13. The Consorts of Death (Dødens drabanter)
14. Cold Hearts (Kalde hjerter)
15. We Shall Inherit the Wind (Vi skal arve vinden)
16. Where Roses Never Die (Der hvor roser aldri dør)
17. No One Is So Safe in Danger (Ingen er så trygg i fare)