Category Archives: crime fiction

Contemporary Scandinavian Crime Fiction

Over the past few years, I have read every Wallander mystery by Henning Mankell (my favorite was the one in which he worked alongside his adult daughter for the first time–I hope Mankell will continue this trend). When Steig Larsson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series came out, I read them all too. Wanting to delve deeper into this crime subgenre, I read the following:

MY FAVORITE: Kjell Eriksson
Swedish crime fiction, police procedural

Inspector Ann Lindell: I am immediately drawn to this series because of single-mom Lindell and because the setting is more rural, in small-town Uppsala, Sweden. Very atmospheric, lots of moral ambiguity, large casts of characters. I read these last summer, so details are gone from memory, but what sticks with me was the extent to which I empathized with the criminals, the families in crisis, and the police. Very nicely written. Read more.

The Princess of Burundi (2007)
“Eriksson not only reveals a deep, sympathetic understanding for his large cast of characters but also evokes a pervasive sense of despair” (Publisher’s Weekly). Lindell is just one amongst an ensemble cast of inspectors in this first book. I believe this one was my favorite of the three.

The Cruel Stars of the Night (2008). More focus on Lindell here. “Once again Eriksson displays considerable finesse in portraying the inner lives of his cast and in showing how the various inspectors attempt to cope with the strains of the job” (Booklist).

The Demon of Dakar (2009). Third in series. “With Kjell Eriksson, what we find is an extraordinary depth of feeling for honest people caught up in serious crime” (New York Times Book Review).

MY SECOND FAVORITE: Arnaldur Indridason
Icelandic crime fiction, missing persons cases (gentler than homicides)

Inspector Erlandur notes repeatedly that Icelandic crime is often petty, sloppily done, and easily solved, and that the justice system is often lenient to a fault, an “insult” to the victims of crime. Also, Icelandic diet is shocking–sheep heads, weird meat pates. One reviewer said Indridason is “reminiscent of Simenon.” I LOVE Simenon.

Hypothermia (2007)
Loner Inspector Erlandur with recovering drug addict daughter and ex-wife with whom no reunion is possible, obsessively follows leads on a suicide and 2 missing persons cases long gone cold. No repartee with co-workers, in fact only a few lines in book to show that nobody likes him and he has no relationships at work–this is so refreshing! Thoughtful, haunted by disappearance of own brother when he was a child. This book is not a police procedural. It is a puzzling out of linked cases by a lone inspector. Nice tone, relaxed pacing, introspective, compassionate. All loose ends tied up into a neat, finished ending. Erlandur is quiet and unassuming, but dogged, mulls over his cases nonstop, and is periodically interrupted by his painful broken relationships with his son and daughter. (Icelandic place names are even longer and stranger than Swedish ones.)

The Draining Lake (2004)
Erlandur is again obsessed with a long-cold missing persons case, brought to life again when a skeleton is found in a draining lake. The backstory is of Cold War Stasi espionage amongst Icelandic university students in Communist Leipzig, East Germany–not compelling to me beyond the love story. This book is a police procedural since Erlandur here works alongside two fellow inspectors, one female and one male. Erlandur’s daughter, Eva Lind, is in the throes of drug addiction in this installment; I wish this relationship was given more space in the book, perhaps made integral to the case somehow. Indridason continues his style of writing alternating chapters from the point of view of the killer, allowing the reader to empathize fully with the killer, and taking disparate pieces of a missing persons puzzle and drawing them together until the case is solved in a neat bow at the end. I prefer the cases to stay within the border of one country, and ideally within the borders of a family or small community (like P.D. James stories all do). More domestic. Though I like Erlandur’s character and his family backstory.

LEAST FAVORITE: Ake Edwardson
Swedish police procedurals / crime fiction, homicide cases in Gothenburg

Inspector Erik Winter: “A bit remote and contemplative, a loner, quite a bit of a snob, likes expensive brands and jazz, slightly philosophically oriented” (from fan site: http://akeedwardson.com). Not too fond of Winter’s arrogance and snobbishness, but intrigued by the extremely atmospheric and psychological nature of these books. Frustrated by the VERY loose endings–conclusions only slightly hinted at; much mystery left to reader’s imagination. The sociological aspects, particularly racism / Swedish nativism in a changing country, can be refreshing and annoying simultaneously. Think I will NOT read more of this author.

Death Angels (1997; translated for U.S. in 2009)
Pretty gory, with killings of Swedish tourists in London and London tourists in Sweden. Winter pairs up with a British inspector to solve the crimes. Echoes for me of the Dragon Tattoo series with grit and violence. Not as well written, though.

The Shadow Woman (2010)
I enjoyed this one significantly more–a woman is killed and her young daughter is held hostage. Gritty and atmospheric, but violence is less brutal than in Death Angels. Alternating chapters from the viewpoint of the daughter. Current case links to a cold case from decades before.

NEXT READS:

  • More Kjell Eriksson: The Hand that Trembles (coming summer, 2011)
  • More Arnaldur Indridason: Jar City (2000), Silence of the Grave (2001), Voices (2003), Arctic Chill (2005)
  • Explore Karin Fossum: Norwegian, Oslo, teen characters, Inspector Sejer (male, shy). Start with When the Devil Holds the Candle (2007).
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