The World Discovers Scandinavian Crime Fiction
Thanks to Stieg Larsson’s THE GIRL WITH PLAYING WITH FIRE reaching #1 on the UK hardback lists and the Kenneth Branagh-starring adaptation of the Inspector Wallander novels by Henning Mankell, Scandinavian crime fiction is way beyond hot, as the Guardian’s John Crace discovers:
And about time too. Scandinavian crime fiction may still be
something of a novelty act in the UK, but it's a well-established genre
in the rest of Europe, particularly Germany and France. So how come we
got left behind? Put it down to that old national weakness for
effortless superiority combined with instinctive parochialism. While
other European countries are happy to publish roughly 25% of their
books in translation, in the UK that figure is nearer 3%. And when you
reckon that 3% includes academic and childrens books, that doesn't
leave a lot of room for anything else.
"There's a nice irony
here," says Gunnar Bolin, veteran producer for arts programmes on
Swedish Radio. "For a long time, British crime fiction was regarded as
the best in the world by Scandinavians and it was its popularity that
inspired so many of our writers to try their hand at it. They were
having little joy getting their serious work translated and they wanted
to make some money from foreign rights."
The Independent’s Boyd Tonkin also takes note of Larsson’s bestselling success and contrasts the Millenium trilogy’s urgent style with Mankell’s “seasoned timber”:
from the assumption that a once-benign welfare state has been corrupted
from the top. Here, the traders in terrified Baltic teenagers depend on
the connivance of cops, judges and lawyers. The youthful terrors that
Salander endured show "the shipwreck that was the state justice
system", and "the collapse of the whole social safety net". He writes –
or, sadly, he wrote – out of rage at lost values. Yet studies show that
Sweden still protects the vulnerable better than its peers – certainly
better than Britain. So where are the native stars of crime who might
expose the broken parts of this society and convert them into
electrifying entertainment? Let's hope, and search, for a home-grown
While I’m sorely tempted to wag a finger at Tonkin for not paying attention to current trends in UK crime fiction, maybe it’s better to make some obvious suggestions. I mean, Mark Billingham’s IN THE DARK? Dreda Say Mitchell’s RUNNING HOT and KILLER TUNE? Martyn Waites’ entire body of work? No doubt the list goes on….
And one last thing: I really hope THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST is not the final title for the third book in Larsson’s trilogy. CASTLES IN THE SKY (or a more literal translation of the original title, THE AIRCASTLES THAT BLEW UP) can’t work for commercial reasons, and THE GIRL WHO BLEW SHIT UP wouldn’t play well in the supermarkets, but let’s help out on this score as well!