Stieg Larsson was a Swedish investigative reporter and editor, who died at the age of fifty--just after handing in three manuscripts for what ultimately became an international bestselling series of thrillers.
His Millenium trilogy features the unlikely Swedish sleuthing team of Michael Bloomquvist-- a man much like Larsson--and Lisbeth Salander--a fearless, young savant-like computer hacker, unlike anyone else in crime fiction.
Salander is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo--a "locked door" missing person mystery which launched the series. She and Bloomqvist also appear in the next two books, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.
I loved the first book and liked second.
Now,Hornet's Nest is on my summer reading list.
And based on international book sales--everyone else will be reading it, too..
In fact, booksellers joyously and jokingly refer to the series as, "The Girl Who Pays Our Bills"
These books are so good, there should be a movie. And thankfully, the Swedes beat the Americans to it.
Whether you read the books or not--don't miss the Dragon Tattoo film--in Swedish with English subtitles.
Here's the link to the Internet Movie Database description:
And if you can't get to see it at your local independent movie theatre, take heart.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (in Swedish the title is Men Who Hate Women) is coming to the home DVD and Blu-Ray market on July 6th through Music Box Home Entertainment--complete with special features I may be scared to watch.
Many book critics, social critics, and readers in my book group, have gotten hooked on Larsson's series because of the strength of his heroine, Lisbeth Salander. But others are drawn in by the stark landscapes, the slower pacing, and descriptions of light and darkness--that have given the genre the term "Scandinavian noir."
Americans are taking note. One of them is Menlo Park Library book group member, Richard Leonard, who sent me an article from the June 17th Washington Post entitled :Very cool cases: Scandinavian crime novels are exceptionally hot properties.
You can link to it below
The article, which mentions a host of Scandinavian crime writers long popular in Europe and recently discovered in the United States, has inspired me to create the following series, which I am calling:
Ice Capades: A Survey of Swedish Crime Thrillers.
You can call your series whatever you want to call it--especially if you are too young to remember Ice Capades.
The Washington Post has assigned Larsson and his cohorts an exciting new genre: Subarctic Crime.
And it includes the insights of Sonny Mehta, the publisher and editor in chief of Knopf, which publishes Larsson and other subarctic writers.
"It is extraordinary, this strain of crime writing appears to be persistent in all the Scandinavian countries…..They don't zip along, these things. They're brooding. It's not plot-driven in the way that many of their American contemporaries are. . . . Part of the appeal is you're being introduced to something that should be familiar, that seems familiar, but it's not."
Here's how I would design my subarctic series--and you can, too.
We start with the food.
What do you serve? If there is an IKEA near you, check out the food stalls. Or make your own Swedish meatballs. Or serve those terrific colorful Swedish fish candies.
Ligonberry jam or jelly, if you can get it, is also terrific.
And make sure to have plently of black coffee on hand. Our detectives drink gallons of it.
Now on to the literature:
1) I would start the series with Stieg Larsson’s bestseller: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
Within the next month, you will even be able to show film clips from the Swedish movie.
Be sure to tell the dramatic story of Larsson's life and death and the lawsuit his heirs have filed, since he was broke before submitting the manuscript and did not have a detailed will.
Here's a story about it that ran recently in The New York Times Magazine
2) I would then continue the series by introducing two or three more Swedish thrillers by authors who are just now being translated into English--and catching on with American audiences.
Here are some ideas, taken from the Washington Post article and reviews by readers at America's favorite women's club.
The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackburg 400 pages (2008)
Here’s the starred review from Publishers Weekly:
At the start of Läckberg's haunting U.S. debut, the first of her seven novels set in the Swedish coastal town of Fjällbacka, biographer Erica Falck returns home to sort through her deceased parents' belongings and work on her next book. But this is not the same hometown she grew up in. Summer tourists are turning the former fishing village into a thriving resort, and Erica's controlling brother-in-law is pressuring her to cash in by selling the family home. The apparent suicide of childhood friend Alexandra Wijkner contributes to Erica's grief. Once inseparable, they drifted apart before Alex's family abruptly moved away, and Erica feels compelled to write a novel about why the beautiful Alex would kill herself. Läckberg skillfully details how horrific secrets are never completely buried and how silence can kill the soul. A parallel between the town's downward spiral and the fate of one of Fjällbacka's wealthiest families adds texture.
Blackwater by Kerstin Ekman 448 pages (1996)
Here is the review from the American Library Association’s review guide, Booklist:
Ekman is one of Scandinavia's most renowned mystery writers. Blackwater, her seventeenth novel but the first to be translated into English, won the Swedish Crime Academy's August Prize for best crime novel. It is a disturbing book, set in a small, bleak village in the distant north of Sweden where the only diversions seem to be gossip, drinking, and adultery. Blackwater is a community without hope; even the virgin forest is being clear-cut. Annie Raft and her six-year-old daughter, Mia, show up in the community on Midsummer Eve, 1974, planning to join a local commune but, instead, happen upon the bodies of two people who have been horribly murdered. Despite the best efforts of the bulldoglike local constable, the crime cannot be solved, and one of the victims cannot even be identified. Eighteen years later, Annie sees the face of the man she saw fleeing the murder site that awful night; unfortunately, he is now courting Mia. Ekman hasn't written a traditional mystery, with a crime that is followed in succession by its investigation and the presentation of its solution; rather, this is a novel about how murder unravels the fragile weave of family and society. If Ingmar Bergman had written mysteries, a novel like Blackwater would have been the result. Recommended for the same audience who made a best-seller of Peter Hoeg's Smilla's Sense of Snow (1993)
The Man on the Balcony by husband/wife team Maj Sjowell and Per Wahloo
This 192 page book was written in the 1970s and reissued in 2009 as a Vintage Crime paperback.
Here is the black flap description:
The chilling third novel in the Martin Beck mystery series by the internationally renowned crime writing duo Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, finds Martin Beck investigating a string of child murders.
In the once peaceful parks of Stockholm, a killer is stalking young girls and disposing their bodies. The city is on edge, and an undercurrent of fear has gripped its residents. Martin Beck, now a superintendent, has two possible witnesses: a silent, stone-cold mugger and a mute three year old boy. With the likelihood of another murder growing as each day passes, the police force work night and day. But their efforts have offered little insight into the methodology of the killer. Then a distant memory resurfaces in Beck's mind, and he may just have the break he needs.
The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell (2009) 384 pages
Mankell’s books have been made into a PBS series starring Kevin Branaugh and they feature detective Kurt Wallender.
You can learn more about the series here:
The Man from Beijing, however, is a stand -alone book that does not feature Wallender. Instead, the book, which opens with a mass murder in a small Swedish village, has a female sleuth and settings ranging from California to China.
Here is the review from Bookmark’s Magazine:
Critics generally agree that Mankell's stand-alone thriller--a combination of police procedural and geopolitical novel--lives up to the best of the Kurt Wallander series. Piercing into its inquiries into corruption, revenge, as well as imperialism, Communism, racism, and other evil "isms," The Man from Beijing reaches for deeper truths about humanity and largely succeeds. Some reviewers identified a few missteps, with the Spectator criticizing the wandering narrative and polemical tone. But in the end, the novel just may, as the Los Angeles Times noted, "cement Mankell's reputation as Sweden's greatest living mystery writer."
Hope this entices you.
And remember that if you don't like or are not interested in Sweden, you can find dark mystery in almost any part of the world. In fact, these days, it seems like mystery writers have become the new travel writers.
More on that in another blog.
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