Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Scandinavian Mysteries

Today's Times has an entertaining article about how publishers are scrambling, in the wake of Stieg Larsson's wild success, to publish more Scandinavian (and Icelandic, and Finnish) mystery novels. Here's a sample:
If there is a formula to the genre, it often includes a cold, stark setting and a grizzled detective figure who consumes too much coffee and junk food. The book covers tend to the bleak and icy, with images of frozen lakes, barren forests and perhaps a foreboding bloodstain.
And another:
At Powell’s in Portland, Mr. Larsson’s books are selling so quickly — at least 1,500 a week — that the store’s grateful employees have given them a nickname.

“We call them ‘The Girl Who’s Paying Our Salaries for the Next Few Months,’ ” said Gerry Donaghy, the new-book purchasing supervisor.
That makes these books the Harry Potter series of 2010.

I'm surprised, though, that this article doesn't mention the Martin Beck series, written by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo in the 1960s and 1970s. They're the real progenitors of the Scandinavian style; the books are bleakly plotted and you get a real sense of the looming darkness of the Swedish winter. Give them a try!


Anonymous said...

I haven't read Larsson but I second your endorsement of the Martin Beck novels. My favorite was The Locked Room, which contains a scene of physical comedy so vividly described it's as good as having seen it on a movie screen.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I read the Martin Beck novels so long ago that I don't remember much about them. Must remedy this!

The Larsson books are overlong, somewhat clumsily written, and extremely compelling nonetheless. We saw the Swedish film of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" a couple of weeks and it is very good, with excellent acting and photography and a script that tightens things up in the right places. Also pretty violent, as is the book.