Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Girl Who Reads Scandinavian Noir.

I can't believe I haven't ever written a blog post about Scandinavian noir. So here's how it all started: I was in college and had to take my world literature requirement for my English major. I chose Global Detective Fiction a) because it fulfilled the requirement, b) I had a crush on the professor, and c) it sounded cool. Perfect, right? And it was.
In that class, in addition to books that took place in Italy (written by Donna Leon) and Africa (written by Alexander McCall-Smith), we read Henning Mankell's Sidetracked which is set in Sweden. I was hooked. It was so dark and multi-faceted that I had to read more. So I read more by Mankell, and then some Karin Fossum (Norway), Kjell Eriksson (Sweden again), and Arnaldur Indridason (Iceland). The whole genre is fascinating. First, it's COLD in the winter, which makes the hideous crimes mean more, at least to me, because it would seem that there would be less crime since people are inside trying not to freeze to death. If you are making that effort of killing someone, it better work and be worth the trouble. Second, the nights are long and dark, which is spooky. The countries are very isolated, especially Iceland which is just floating out there in the middle of the North Atlantic, so one could easily kill someone and get away on a boat, or toss a body into the sea. Finally, these are not vast countries, so there is a great sense of local color, food, and names that often end in -son or -dottir.
That brings me to Stieg Larsson. He wrote the wildly popular Millenium Trilogy consisting of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. At first, I thought this was another author who jumped onto the bandwagon. But I was so wrong. I've only read Dragon Tattoo so far, but it was so exceedingly amazing and carefully crafted that I could not stop reading it. I then watched the Swedish movie of the book, starring Noomi Rapace, and I was clinging to my couch. I can't even describe the detail that Larsson has put in his books. Dragon Tattoo starts off slow with a lot of background, as most of the Scandinavian noir that I've read does. It is rather boring, to be honest. But then BAM! You're hooked into this complex web of awesome.
I read that Larsson intended the Millenium Trilogy to be ten books, but sadly he died suddenly in 2004 leaving us with only three. Also, there may possibly be a fourth book out there in the ether, but it is unclear if it is supposed to be fourth or fifth in the series. Larsson wasn't married, but he did have a longtime partner, but since he didn't leave a will, his estate goes to his father and brother under Swedish law. However, Larsson's partner Eva Gabrielson has the laptop with the fourth book but won't publish it unless she gets rights to Larsson's literary property. It's all very convoluted and mysterious. If you're intrigued, you can check out this website about Larsson and the whole series, characters, etc.
So, in summary, try some Scandinavian noir! I like Henning Mankell and Karin Fossum the most. Stieg Larsson is absolutely amazing and I hope the fourth book gets published someday. In the meantime, the Millenium Trilogy is intense, violent, and breathtaking and I recommend it. If you're not a book person, the books have been made into films in Sweden that are available in the US, and the US film industry is making them here into what I anticipate will be watered-down versions. Get the originals and watch them with the subtitles ON.

Enjoy the darkness.

Ex libris,