Nordic noir meets approval

Via Dave Lull, I read of the experiences of Joe Queenan of the LA Times. Mr Queenan writes: "I first became aware of the Nordic Mystery Boom two years ago while dawdling in a bookstore in Philadelphia, my downbeat hometown. Informing the manager that I was tired of the French, the Italians, the Aussies, the Scots and those coy mysteries set in Botswana, I asked if she could recommend something a bit more exotic."

The bookseller recommended a novel by Henning Mankell, "a deceptively gifted writer who uses the plebian mystery format to address the disintegration of Swedish society, the horrors of old age, the very meaning of police work."  Having read one Wallender book by him (The Dogs of Riga), Mr Queenan lost no time in polishing off his entire oeuvre, following this achievement by a quick run through all of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo's ten Martin Beck novels. "Then I began gobbling up Mankell's numerous proteges and imitators. God, were they glum." These authors include Arnaldur Indridason, Kjell Ericksson, Ake Edwardsen, Helene Thurston (a recent jewel of a find of mine), Hakan Nesser and Karin Fossum.

All these authors are highly recommended by me: you can read reviews of many of their books (and plenty of other Scandinavian authors), via Euro Crime's Scandinavian archive - some of these reviews are by me, but more of them are by other reviewers. Highlights among many other authors include my beloved Liza Marklund, Stieg Larsson, Asa Larsson (no relation), K. O. Dahl, Jo Nesbo, Ysra Sigurdardottir, Leif Davidsen and the wonderful new talent Johan Theorin. (My review of his debut, Echoes of the Dead, is in press at Euro Crime).

Let's leave the last word with Mr Queenan (who is also a fan of Ruth Rendell, Fred Vargas and others): "few writers from Italy, the Netherlands, Brazil, France or anywhere else can approach Coben or Connelly or Dennis Lehane for ingenuity, pacing and thrills; Elmore Leonard for dialogue; Raymond Chandler for atmosphere; Dashiell Hammett for style."  OK, fair point (don't forget Robert Crais and Mary Higgins Clark in the first category, though). "Yet the Nordic mysteries …possess a seductive charm all their own…. The unrelenting bleakness, the zero tolerance for chuckles and the ferocity of the crimes…make the books much darker and spookier than glib mafiosi capers from Bologna and Bensonhurst. And the Swedes do not write conventional whodunits; they are obsessed with understanding why people become ax murderers in the first place."

1 thought on “Nordic noir meets approval

  1. This post made me chuckle, since I was discussing a similar topic with a Moldovan friend recently, who also likes reading crime novels. She told me that, in her experience, mysteries were a Russian and East German phenomenon, and British murders were all genteel, and thus she was quite surprised to discover there was *any* crime in Scandinavia, let alone enough to inspire a whole genre. Certainly she didn’t buy my argument that the perceived failure of the welfare state was a decent explanation for so much recent Nordic bloodshed!

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