If the last Swedish book you read was “Pippi Longstocking,” allow us to give you an update. In recent years, the major Scandinavian literary import has been a steady stream of dark and often downright creepy crime fiction featuring creatively nefarious bad guys being tracked by depressed, disheveled and sleep-deprived antiheroes. It was with the publication of Stieg Larsson’s wildly popular “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” that many of us got our first glimpse of the gold mine of Nordic noir that is becoming increasingly available in this country and in your Summit County libraries. Here are a few of the best of these intriguing novels.
Swedish author Henning Mankell’s 11th (and reportedly last) novel to feature detective Kurt Wallander is “The Troubled Man.” Here, we see the brooding 60-year-old Wallander stepping out of his jurisdiction as a member of the police force of the small Swedish town of Ystad to investigate the disappearance of his daughter’s father-in-law, a retired naval commander. Just as Wallander’s investigation gets under way, the commander’s wife also disappears, and the detective finds himself trying to solve not only a murder but also a 20-year-old case of Cold War espionage. Interwoven with this story are Wallander’s ruminations as he faces his mortality, his morality and his up-and-down relationships with those he loves.
A journey to Norway in the company of author Jo Nesbo’s character Harry Hole will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, if not fall out altogether. His recent book “Phantom,” while not his most creepy (I save that honor for “The Snowman”), is a tension-filled tour of the dark streets of Oslo, as Hole attempts to clear his stepson of a murder charge. In the process, the reader is immersed in Oslo’s drug culture and Hole’s interactions with a spooky street priest, bent cops and a very bad group of Russian thugs. As with all the Harry Hole novels, this intriguing character’s inner battles reveal a man with a stringent and unconventional code of ethics, a sincere concern for the victims (not always so innocent) of his country’s crime culture and his frequent sparks of witty, black humor.
No discussion of the somber and chilling world of Scandinavian crime fiction would be complete without including Denmark’s Jussi Adler-Olsen, creator of the quirky and difficult detective Carl Mork. Mork is so difficult, in fact, that the Copenhagen police administrators have put him in charge of a one-man, cold-case department (Department Q) and stuck him in the basement of police headquarters with only an exceedingly cheerful assistant, Assad, for company. His personal life is a complete mess, but he is a dogged and fearless investigator. In the most recent Department Q novel, “The Absent One,” Mork reopens a case that has actually been “solved.” His investigation uncovers a group of former school friends who were involved in a series of evil acts; one member of the group has become completely mad, and the others want to find her before she finds them and ultimately ruins their lives. What follows is a tense and dark chase to the end.
If you like your murder and mayhem on video, check out the excellent BBC series “Wallander,” based on some earlier Henning Mankell novels and featuring a brilliant Kenneth Brannagh as the scruffy, melancholy and exhausted Kurt Wallander. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is available on film in both an American production starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara and in the original Swedish films featuring Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace and including a stand-alone film of each of the three Millennium Trilogy novels (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”).
All of these authors are skillful in raising your blood pressure and keeping you up nights. So if you love a good yarn with a grizzly murder or two and some screamingly mad perpetrators, dive right in and scare yourself silly with wild abandon. After all, it’s only fiction. Or so they say. On the other hand, maybe it’s best to keep looking over your shoulder, just in case.