A Primer on Scandinavian Crime Fiction AKA Special Guest: Keishon

My name is Keishon and I’m a romance reader whose latest interest in Scandinavian crime fiction prompted me to shut down my old blog and start a new one devoted to nothing but crime fiction. I started reading crime fiction when my favorite romance writers started disappearing on me (Laura Kinsale and Judith Ivory for starters). So, I started branching out and reading mystery and discovered that some mystery novels had a very strong romantic subplot in them that I enjoyed and I wanted to read more of these. Over the years, I’ve noticed that there are quite a few mysteries that feature some sort of romance in them but some authors do a better job than most. Also the subject matter sometimes would be too taboo for romance which was another plus for me leaving the nest. Let’s talk about: Scandinavian crime fiction.

Are you interested in reading Scandinavian crime fiction and don’t know where to start? I hope to offer you some titles of interest to get you started. What do you all know about Scandinavian crime fiction? Did you know that the roots of this sub-genre started with Sjöwall and Wahlöö? They wrote the popular Martin Beck series set in Sweden. There are ten books in the completed series that started with Rosanna. Well most people credit them for starting the trend but the interest didn’t really gain momentum until Stieg Larsson published The Millennium Trilogy.  Then people started throwing out other authors of note in this area, Henning Mankell and Peter Høeg (Smila’s Sense of Snow). I haven’t read any of those authors yet but I’ll get there.

Meanwhile, I want to share with you some of my favorite writers. You see, I have a specific interest in reading European crime fiction. Why? There are several reasons I can list right off the bat: atmosphere.  I love a book that lays out the landscape and weather and makes both a significant part of the story. Novels like these tend to give you a good sense of time and place. I have authors I can recommend who add these elements to their stories and do this very well. Johan Theorin leads the pack of authors who writes/sets most of his stories in different seasons (winter, autumn and spring). His loosely connected quartets of books that start with Echoes from the Dead is set off the Baltic Sea have minor supernatural overtones and are character driven stories.

Second, I like stories with intelligent plots that don’t, preferably follow convention. Karin Fossum would fit that bill as her stories tend to focus more on the effects crimes have on regular people or she can be seen to spotlight regular people making bad decisions. She tends to humanize her characters even the bad ones. Her books are definitely atypical but there is violence that varies from book to book.

Sometimes themes are not all that original and have included at times the age old battle between men and women but what I’ve mostly read has heavily relied on revenge or scorn. I don’t much care for serial killers so I tend to avoid those at all costs. Although, in the right hands…I must mention Arne Dahl’s Misterioso, which featured a serial killer targeting the titans of the business industry in Sweden. The lack of evidence instigates the police to create a task force just to find him. Very action paced novel with a large cast of characters but I didn’t have a problem keeping up.

Do you like a strong female protagonist? Well, guess what? You can find a bunch of them in Scandinavian crime fiction. Asa Larsson is one author I personally love. Her debut novel, Sun Storm (The Savage Altar, UK) gives you two strong female protagonists: a workaholic attorney, Rebecca Martinsson and Anna-Maria Mella with a husband and kids and you see her juggle between having a successful family life and a career as a detective.  The author made both women very strong characters in her four book, continuing series set in Sweden. You shouldn’t miss her. Cravat: Her books have been labeled as having animal cruelty in them and I understand the complaint but I didn’t have an issue with that nor did I see that as being prevalent. The author herself is an animal lover and I don’t ascribe the actions of fictional characters to that of the creator. YMMV.

Do you like police procedurals with psychological suspense? How about giving Jo Nesbo a shot as he seems to be very popular right now and sells all over the globe. He writes the Harry Hole series set in Oslo, Norway. I like Jo Nesbo because his plots are tight and he loves adding elements of misdirection and suspense. Of course his main character is a bit of a cliché – a romantic loner, a maverick who fights his demons with alcohol. He’s disliked by some of his co-workers and he has problems with authority figures. Harry tends to throw us some surprises every once and awhile. He’s a man of routine. He loves to test out his new partners. There’s a subtle romance in the series as he has a thing for single mother Rakel and her young son, Oleg. Jo Nesbo’s books are always character driven and the violence can be pretty bad but the level of violence varies from book to book. There is a very interesting subplot that included three books in the series that dealt with police corruption. It starts with The Redbreast and ends with The Devil’s Star. Jo Neso seems to be well versed in American pop culture and politics, foreign politics and wars. I always feel like he knows his subject matter very well errors aside. Alas, the best book in the series has yet to be published in the U.S. It is The Redeemer  and can stand alone very well.

There is one last author I’d like to give a shout out to and that would be Arnaldur Indriðason. His stories are set in Iceland and feature yet another loner but more melancholy detective  – Erlendur. He has a continued embattled relationship with his drug addict daughter, Eva Lind. I think the author does such an excellent job of joining the personal life of his character with that of the everyday working of murder cases which tend to be old murder cases. Arnaldur Indriðason writes what he describes as “social criticism.” I’ve read three of his books already and they have been consistently strong stories. The first book in the series is Tainted Blood (or Jar City) and as I write this there is a new book coming out in the UK, Black Skies (2012) to continue the series.

Scandinavian crime fiction contains some commonality: most of these stories tend to be very bleak and melancholy. Do you mind dark stories? They tend to be very dark and also very atmospheric. Exotic settings are another plus. It’s the cheapest way to travel to say Norway or South Africa. If you enjoy Scandinavian crime stories, please share some of your favorites. I’m bound to have missed some. Thanks.

0 thoughts on “A Primer on Scandinavian Crime Fiction AKA Special Guest: Keishon

  1. Mary Kirkland (@scarymary66)

    Thanks for the great blog post. can’t say I’ve ever read a Scandinavian crime story . I mostly read Paranomal romance at the moment but I did at one time read true crime, horror, mysteries and crime fiction so while I do like crime fiction and when reading this genre I like it to be dark and very atmospheric..I can’t say I’ve ever read any of the authors you mentioned. Thanks for letting us know about them and this genre.

  2. Shannon

    I haven’t read any Scandinavian fiction, but I’ve seen the Swedish version of the Girl With the Dragon Tatoo and I’ve liked the Wallender series staring Kenneth Branagh on PBS.
    I’ve seen a couple of old Norwegian movies and wanted to put a gun to my head because they were so depressing.
    That Harry Hole series you mentioned seems interesting–I’m going to check it out–and sounds a lot like the Jesse Stone series about the cop in a small seaside town in MA, solving crime while battling his alcohol demons.

    Thanks for the recommendations, Limecello! I son’t always comment, but I read each of your posts.


Join the conversation!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.