Opinion: Nordic Crime Writing

Posted: July 22, 2011 in notes, Scandinavia, Sweden

Barry Forshaw, whose latest book, Death in a Cold Climate: Scandinavian Crime Fiction will be released in early 2012, was recently interviewed for the Kirkus Review by Jeff Kingston Pierce. When asked for reasons for the sudden interest in Nordic crime fiction Barry commented that:

The analysis of society freighted into the novels is more forensic and detailed than in the crime fiction of virtually any other country, even within the orbit of such mordant social critics as the writers James Lee Burke [in America] and Val McDermid [in Britain].

I would disagree somewhat and say this detailed analysis of society is not restricted to Nordic crime fiction, or even novels in an American or British setting. Claudia Piniero, Ernesto Mallo [both in Argentina], Andrea Camilleri, Leonardo Sciascia, Carlo Lucarelli, Massimo Carlotto, Donna Leon [all in Italy], Deon Meyer [South Africa], Dominique Manotti [France] Yasmina Khadra [Algeria], Ken Bruen [Ireland] and Petros Markaris [Greece] are just some of the authors whose books shine a bright light on the rotten structures in the fabric of their countries. 

Nordic crime fiction has achieved great success based on the talent of a group of writers who are good storytellers, the creation of some uniquely interesting characters, and some exceptionally powerful marketing. There is also the novelty factor in that we know Italy and Argentina are not shining examples of good government, but for years the social democratic Scandinavian state has been presented to British and American observers as the ideal. In my first trip to Scandinavia back in the early 1990s I noted that even the homeless bag ladies looked prosperous, rather like Sibylla in Karin Alvtegen’s Missing. 

But even then, although Sweden’s wealth was obvious, it was possible to see the cracks in that utopia, and I discussed this in my 2009 post The Swedish Apache. Are we guilty of getting some vicarious pleasure in reading about the problems faced by the wealthy Nordics? Or do we just like well written, and translated, stories by excellent authors such as Karin Fossum, Karin Alvtegen, Liza Marklund, Hakan Nesser, Arnaldur Indridason, and Johan Theorin, who are all good examples of the best that Nordic crime fiction has to offer.

The media are again treating Nordic crime fiction rather like the flavour of the month, and frequently we don’t know whether an author is being translated because that book is very good, or whether the publisher just wants to jump on the bandwagon.  When the media interest dies down I hope that readers will not have been put off translated crime fiction as a result of the overenthusiastic marketing of some books. 

[Photo: A selection of Nordic Crime Fiction from Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.]  

Advertisements
Comments
  1. Norman – Well-said! Your remarks are well-thought-out and clear, and you give some excellent examples to support your points.

  2. Keishon says:

    The media are again treating Nordic crime fiction rather like the flavour of the month, and frequently we don’t know whether an author is being translated because that book is very good, or whether the publisher just wants to jump on the bandwagon. When the media interest dies down I hope that readers will not have been put off translated crime fiction as a result of the overenthusiastic marketing of some books.

    Yep.

  3. Maxine says:

    Spot on, Keishon.

    Mind you, I don’t think the admiration for Swedish ways was universal, I think many people realised that it would not translate to a larger population and such huge welfare benefits would ultimately be unsustainable. The Swedish economy is not doing so badly again now, having been through a bad patch in which they lost all their industry such as Volvo (good tennis players, etc).

  4. […] Forshaw, who has a new book in the wings, is interviewed by Jeff Kingston Pierce for Kirkus ; Norman responds with his thoughts on how the Nordic nations do not have a corner on social critique but rather are […]

  5. Peter says:

    I didn’t think of it that way at the time, but perhaps my current blog post offers a guess at the reason for Nordic crime writing’s popularity:the novelty of a world orientated toward the Baltic and the North Sea rather than toward the Mediterranean. Or mabe it’s just that I’ve been reading Roslund and Hellström as well as Agnete Friis and Lene Kaaberbøl.

  6. […] Crime Scraps Review on the reasons for the success of Nordic crime fiction. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s