Book Buzz: A Swedish Crime Fiction Revolution
Stieg Larsson's story is a striking fusion of triumph and tragedy. The Swedish author's crime trilogy -- The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest -- became a global phenomenon, with sales exceeding 50 million books, but only after Larsson died at 50 of a heart attack. He never got to savor the acclaim, and the wealth generated by the novels fueled a rancorous estate battle between members of his family and Larsson's longtime girlfriend, Eva Gabrielsson.
Gabrielsson eventually wrote a book of her own, "There Are Things I Want You to Know" About Stieg Larsson and Me, offering glimpses of their relationship and of Larsson's writing life. Meanwhile, the clamoring of publishers to find "the next Stieg Larsson" has expanded the reach of other Nordic writers. So many are being translated into English, in fact, that there's a new nonfiction release, Death in a Cold Climate: A Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction, by British author Barry Forshaw. He also wrote The Man Who Left Too Soon: The Life and Works of Stieg Larsson.
Here are five translated Nordic novels that are currently popular in the United States:
1. The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler. In icy Tumba, Sweden, a boy survives a knife attack in which three members of his family are murdered. A hypnotist tries to improve the boy's memory of the killer but instead touches off an alarming chain of events that made the novel a bestseller in France, Germany and Spain.
"In keeping with the Swedish trend of producing page-turners, this one hooks the reader from the beginning," says reviewer Havovi Wadia, writing for the blog DNA: Daily News & Analysis. "It seems a little tame to call this novel a 'thriller,'" Wadia adds. "It belongs among the greater crime fiction of our time -- with the works of authors such as P.D. James and Minette Walters."
Kepler, a nom de plume for the husband-and-wife writing team of Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril and Alexander Ahndoril, employs "deft intercutting, nimble chronology-juggling and a ticking clock" to stoke the suspense, writes reviewer Mindy Farabee in the Los Angeles Times. Intense visuals bode well for the movie version, she adds, noting that Oscar winner Lasse Hallström has been tapped to direct an adaptation. Kepler also has a sequel, The Nightmare, due out in July.
2. Easy Money by Jens Lapidus. A student desperate for money accepts a job dealing drugs in a novel set among mob bosses and thugs in Stockholm's seamy underworld. Lapidus, a former defense attorney, conjures a corrupt justice system in story that sold 700,000 copies in Sweden -- the first installment of a three-book saga. "If you're hardy enough to tackle crime narratives drenched in vitriol, grit your teeth and tackle Jens Lapidus's lacerating Stockholm Noir trilogy," writes Barry Forshaw in the British newspaper The Independent. "Lapidus paints a more cosmopolitan canvas than other writers -- not to mention employing a far grimmer and more nihilistic use of the genre."
Stockholm, as depicted in a narrative that frequently shifts points of view, is "a complex world, and the interrelationships between these men -- never fully revealed to them, but revealed piecemeal to the reader -- is equally complex," writes reviewer Matt Craig in the book blog Reader Dad. Lapidus constructs a distinctive story that's "much more than the sum of its parts," Craig adds. "The comparisons with Larsson are undeniable and, in my opinion, well-founded."
3. Headhunters by Jo Nesbø. This Norwegian thriller involves a corporate headhunter who struggles to support his indulgent lifestyle -- and that of his high-maintenance trophy wife -- by trafficking in stolen art, a sideline that soon has him in dire straits.
"This is a stylish read in the best traditions of crime-writing, which is as you might expect from a writer like Jo Nesbø, who has won so many prizes for his earlier books," writes Tom Cunliffe of the blog A Common Reader. "He does not shrink from graphic detail of the more violent incidents but is a master of restraint when it comes to providing clues to guide the reader through his complex plotting." Nesbø, an ex-soccer player, ex-stockbroker, ex-journalist and a singer and songwriter for a rock band, has sold more than 1.5 million books in Norway.
"Following Larsson's death, Norwegian Jo Nesbø is the next big thing," writes Yasmeen Khan in a blog called The Quietus, lauding the film version of Headhunters, which opened last month in British theaters. "Like Nesbø's novel," Khan says, the darkly comic film "skates smoothly over the surface of the story it's telling, presenting an amoral corporate world that's just a shell, barely concealing the savagery underneath."
4. by Jussi Adler-Olsen. One of Denmark's preeminent crime novelists presents a baffling cold case in Copenhagen: the disappearance of a politician who is presumed dead, but no one knows for sure. The file ends up with ill-tempered detective Carl Morck, a troubled but brilliant investigator who is an outcast in his own department, functioning with the aid of his immigrant assistant, Assad.
"Assad is lively, curious and hyper -- everything Carl is not," says reviewer Alan Rose of the book blog Columbia River Reader. "Just as Larsson's Girl trilogy was elevated above the norm by the fascinating character of its tattooed hacker Lisbeth Salander, what sets Keeper above the norm is Carl and Assad's relationship." Reviewer Joe Hartlaub of the blog BookReporter likens the post-Larsson literary deluge to the British music invasion that followed the Beatles. "Sure, Nordic crime novels have been popular here before," Hartlaub writes, "but not quite like this, with so many at once and so very well done." Adler-Olsen's next book, a sequel titled The Absent One, is due to arrive in August.
5. The Stonecutter by Camilla Läckberg. A detective who has just become a father must investigate the murder of a young girl found drowned in a fisherman's net in this tale by Sweden's top-selling female writer. Set in the remote seaside village of Fjällbacka, where the author was born, the novel examines intense relationships in a confined community and juxtaposes present events with the buried past."Läckberg has created entirely credible characters who range across a spectrum that starts with 'like a lot' and ends with 'would like to see boiled alive in a vat of hot tar,'" according to the blog Reactions to Reading. Woven into the narrative is the story of a quarry owner's daughter who, decades ago, became pregnant by her involvement with a stonecutter -- an event whose ripple effects become relevant to the murder. "The Stonecutter is an interesting, exciting and action-packed crime-fiction novel, even better than Camilla Läckberg's earlier book, The Ice Princess," says the Nordic Bookblog.
SecondAct asks: What books are you enjoying? Share your recent reads in the comments section below.
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