The Stockholm City Lights Were Slowly Starting to Rise*

This week’s post is devoted to a location rather than a specific book or author. Writer and crime fiction blogger Margot Kinberg highlights a city that has become as familiar to those fans of the genre who like to read translated crime fiction as New York or LA are to fans of the American form of the genre. Even those who’ve never visited.


I haven’t (yet) visited Stockholm, although I’m told (and have seen in ‘photos) that it’s a beautiful city. It’s the largest city on the Scandinavian Peninsula and it’s connected in many ways with the rest of Europe and beyond. What’s more, Stockholm is one of Sweden’s major cultural and economic hubs, not to mention its capital. So it’s not surprising that a lot of Scandinavian crime fiction takes place there. Maxine Clarke was an expert on Scandinavian crime fiction and taught me much about it, so in her memory, let’s take a look at some of the novels and series that take place in Stockholm.

The Harper Perennial editions of the series released from 2006 make a great looking set and each has an introduction from a leading contemporary crime writer.

One of the classic police procedural series (and one which I think should be on the reading list of any crime fiction fan, to be honest) is Maj Sjøwall and Per Wahløø’s Martin Beck series, which takes place largely in Stockholm. The ten novels that comprise this series follow Martin Beck and his fellow investigators through several changes in their own lives. They also examine critically Swedish social, economic and cultural life. In Murder at the Savoy for instance, there’s a hard look at the Swedish class system of the day and at the business and political elites who perpetuated it. In THE ABOMINABLE MAN, Martin Beck and his team investigate the murder of a fellow cop, and we get a look at the Swedish police system and the abuses within it. And in THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN and THE TERRORISTS, we get a look at Stockholm’s relationship with other nations, among other things. Since this is a police procedural series, we also see a lot of the city of Stockholm as Martin Beck and his team interview people, follow up leads and the like. What’s interesting about this series too (at least in my opinion) is its timelessness. Yes, fashions have changed, the Vietnam War protests are over and the like. But the larger questions addressed in this series are still important questions today.

TheBomberMarklundLiza Marklund’s series featuring journalist Annika Bengtzon also takes place mostly in Stockholm. Through Bengtzon’s eyes, we get to see several facets of life in that city. For instance, the main action in THE BOMBER begins when an at-first-unidentified woman is killed during a bomb blast at the newly-constructed Olympic Village. While the story doesn’t focus on the Olympic Games themselves, it does reflect the fact that Stockholm has twice been the host city for the Olympics. And in STUDIO SEX (aka STUDIO 69), Marklund explores the ‘backroom’ deals that go on among powerful politicians and businesspeople. In this case, the discovery of Hanna Josefin Liljeberg’s body in Kronoberg Park leads Bengtzon to Stockholm’s sex clubs and underworld meeting places. It also leads her to some possible government cover-ups and ‘dirty deals.’ As Bengtzon goes about gathering information for her stories, we also get to see what living in Stockholm is like.

Stefan Tegenfalk’s Walter Gröhn/Joanna de Brugge trilogy (ANGER MODE, PROJECT NIRVANA, THE MISSING LINK) is also based in Stockholm. Stockholm County CID Inspector Walter Gröhn and CID trainee Jonna de Brugge are drawn into a series of bizarre murders and later, a hostage situation. The complicated case leads both of them into a web of international intrigue, computer crime and larger questions about the limits of science. A lot of people see this trilogy more as a set of thrillers than more typical crime fiction, and some even call them ‘techno-thrillers.’ Either way, they show among other things how international a city Stockholm has become.

TheSavageAltarLarssonSeveral of Åsa Larsson’s novels featuring attorney Rebecca Martinsson take place in northern Sweden. However, the series starts in Stockholm, where Martinsson works for a large law firm. In THE SAVAGE ALTAR (aka SUN STORM) she returns to her home in Kiruna to help a friend who’s been accused of murder. Although she more or less remains in that area, she still has strong ties to Stockholm. For instance, her on again/off again lover Måns Wenngren lives there and wants her to move back. She also stays in contact with her good friend Maria Taube, who works for the same Stockholm law firm. One of the interesting things that we see in this series is the way Stockholm is perceived in other parts of Sweden. For example, at the beginning of the series, Martinsson dresses in a very particular, professional kind of way, with stylish clothes, coat and boots. That’s how she fits in to the environment. But that way of dressing is perceived as too ‘slick’ – too ‘Stockholm’ – in Norrland, where she’s from and to which she returns. So little by little, Martinsson adapts her ‘Stockholm’ ways and wardrobe to local expectations. It’s an interesting reflection of the way the other parts of Sweden and Stockholm view each other.

SomeKindOfPeaceGrebeAnd then there’s Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff’s series featuring Stockholm psychologist Siri Bergman. In her first outing, SOME KIND OF PEACE, Bergman becomes the target of what seems like a stalker determined to ruin her reputation and her practice – and worse. When the body of one of her clients is found on her property, she also gets drawn into a murder investigation. In MORE BITTER THAN DEATH, Bergman and her friend and business partner Aina Davidson agree to host a weekly group session for women who’ve survived domestic abuse. This leads Bergman into a high-profile case of murder when Susanne Olsson is murdered, and the boyfriend of one of the group’s members becomes the prime suspect. This series also gives the reader a strong sense of daily life in Stockholm, and both novels address some larger issues such as the domestic abuse and the state of mental health care.

Stockholm is a fascinating city and it’s been the source of inspiration to several writers. Little wonder there is terrific crime fiction that takes place there. I’ve only had space to mention a few examples. What’s your favourite Stockholm-based novel or series?

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Scandinavian Skies.


Contributor Details:

Margot Kinberg is an Associate Professor working in the fields of linguistics and literacy, a published crime writer and prolific blogger. At Confessions of a Mystery Novelist her daily posts on the themes and ideas explored in crime fiction are always thought-provoking and the back catalogue is a fabulous resource for anyone even vaguely interested in the genre. Margot’s occasional quizzes are fiendish fun for the aficionados. Those familiar with Margot’s blog will not be surprised to see she has found a Billy Joel connection to Scandinavia 🙂

Advertisements

ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER LIFE by Leif G.W. Persson

This week’s much loved crime novel is a modern Swedish epic and is the choice of Yvonne Klein, editor of Reviewing the Evidence, one of the web’s oldest and best sites devoted to this genre.


UK cover

UK cover

In the heady days of 1975, a band of young people took over the West German Embassy in Stockholm, holding hostages, mining the place with explosives, and demanding the release of members of Baader-Meinhof, the Red Army Faction (RAF), then being held in a German prison in harsh conditions. The Swedish police, perhaps a bit unclear on the concept, waited for the “Stockholm syndrome” to kick in, but before the affair was over, two hostages were shot and killed, and two Red Army Faction members were dead or dying as a result of accidentally detonating their own bombs. Persson recounts the events, which indeed happened, in the detached and faintly sardonic tone that characterizes the style of the narrative as a whole. Eleven years later, the Swedish prime minister, Olof Palme, was assassinated. The perpetrator has never been established, but RAF did claim responsibility for the murder, via a group calling itself the Holger Meins Commando, Meins being a jailed member who died during a hunger strike in prison in 1974. All this is essential history for the weighty novel that follows from it.

Clearly, the terrorists must have had help, and local help at that. Who these may have been was not established and there seems to have been a curious reluctance on the part of politicians and police to pursue the matter too closely. In the end, the matter is allowed to die out, swaddled in the notion that terrorism was somehow so “un-Swedish.”

US Cover

US Cover

We leap forward to 1989, to the scene of a fictional murder of a government statistician named Kjell Göran Eriksson, stabbed in his flat. He might have survived had not the emergency services been otherwise employed thanks to a mass rally of Swedish nationalists and neo-Nazis commemorating King Charles XII. The investigation falls rapidly into the sweaty hands of Inspector Bäckström, who comes almost instantly to the unshakeable conclusion, based on the undeniable neatness of Eriksson’s flat and the tastefulness of his furnishings, that Eriksson was the victim of a homosexual affair gone wrong,. Bäckström, who also appeared in the first novel in this trilogy, BETWEEN SUMMER’S LONGING AND WINTER’S END, is an appalling toad, obsessively fixated on possible homosexuality wherever he looks. His vocabulary consists almost exclusively of anti-gay terms of abuse, of which he has a limitless store. As for women, he views his female colleagues all as “temporary,” (real police being, of course, male) and if they are insufficiently subordinate, as “attack dykes.” He is, moreover venal – in this case sneaking back into Eriksson’s flat to pack up the victim’s suitcases with as much liquor as he can manage and lifting as well some bath towels to which he has taken a fancy. In time and to no one’s surprise, the investigation peters out.

But just before the statute of limitations will run out on the embassy attack, it surfaces once again in March, 2000 and this time, much has changed. There is a strong political motive to clarify the identity of the Swedish citizens who abetted the German terrorists. The bulk of the investigation is carried out by a group of women police officers, one of whom Bäckström viewed as temporary ten years previously. And their police work is inspired. Gradually the embassy case intersects with the Eriksson murder to produce a brilliant solution to both crimes. Do the women police get credit for their labours? Well, not everything has changed in Sweden. Is strict justice done? Well, that depends.

ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER LIFE is a monumental novel, of a kind that with its irony, coolness, and thinly disguised fury at the decline of social democracy is hard to imagine being presented as a crime novel in America. If it were not for the wistful hope of the emergence of a new Stieg Larsson, I wonder if it would have been translated at all. And readers who also hope for another Lisbeth Salander will be sadly disappointed. ANOTHER TIME is very short on action, deficient in thrill, and infinitely detailed. It does, on the other hand, effectively meld fiction with historical fact and situate a crime within the context of massive historical change. It is also engrossing and provocative and, in Paul Norlen’s translation, very readable indeed.


Maxine Clarke shared Yvonne’s enjoyment of this novel and posted her own review last year which prompted the book’s inclusion on the shortlist for the inaugural Petrona Award.

Book Details:

author: Leif G.W. Persson
original language: Swedish
translator: Paul Norlen
publication date (UK): 2012

Contributor Details:

In addition to being an editor and regular reviewer at Reviewing the Evidence Yvonne Klein is a retired professor, writer and translator living in Montreal.

THE DRAINING LAKE by Arnaldur Indriđason

This week’s much-loved crime fiction heralds the third appearance of Icelandic author Arnaldur Indriđason here at Petrona Remembered. The tiny country definitely punches above its weight in the hearts of crime fiction fans, including the appropriately mysterious host of Mrs Peabody Investigates


TheDariningLake1This review of Arnaldur Indriđason’s 2004 novel THE DRAINING LAKE was my first post on the crime fiction blog Mrs. Peabody Investigates, and was published with great anticipation on my part at the beginning of 2011. Much to my disappointment – as is the way with new blogs – it went pretty much unnoticed and unremarked (a good few weeks passed before I started making proper links in the crime blogging community and readers started engaging with my posts).

In March 2011, Maxine found the blog, and from that point onwards was often the first person to comment on my reviews. She became a constant, encouraging presence for me as a rookie blogger, and taught me an enormous amount about the crime genre by allowing me to tap her vast knowledge of the field.

One of the moments I felt Maxine’s support most keenly was in April 2012, when she left a comment on the now year-old review of THE DRAINING LAKE. She had taken the time to go back and read through some of my early posts, and I remember really appreciating that she’d provided this poor, neglected review with some feedback at last. Her comment and my reply are still the only responses on the post, and for that reason it remains very special to me.

Although this 2004 novel is written by an Icelander and set in Reykjavik, it’s firmly indebted to the classic Swedish police procedural. Detective Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson can be viewed as a third-generation representative of the Swedish police investigator, following in the footsteps of Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Martin Beck, and Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander. Morose, cynical and consumed with self-doubt, these policemen have become progressively more embattled and isolated with each generation. In Erlendur’s case, he’s forced to question the extent to which his absence as a father is responsible for his daughter’s slide into a drug addiction – one the novel describes in sober and hard-hitting detail.

The draining lake of the title is Lake Kleifarvatn, whose mysteriously receding waters reveal an old skeleton weighed down with a heavy Russian radio device. As Erlendur and his team begin the painstaking process of investigating this strange find, they are transported back to an era of international espionage and political unrest during the Cold War, whose consequences can only now be fully understood.

Two things lift this crime novel a cut above the average police procedural. The first is the fascinating insight the novel gives into the Cold War period, and in particular, the experiences of young, idealistic, Icelandic communists who were offered the opportunity to study in East Germany in the 1950s. The second is the sensitive treatment of the theme of ‘the missing’ and of the impact that losing someone without knowing his or her final fate can have on the individual.

A number of the characters, including Erlendur, have lost someone close to them, and the novel is haunted by their many absences. While some eventually learn what happened to their loved ones, others are not so fortunate. They, and crucially the reader, are left without an adequate resolution to the story of these disappearances, a deliberate omission that adds tremendous power to the narrative. Thus, while the central murder is solved, other aspects of the plot are left open, questioning the notion that a case can ever be fully solved. We might know who the murderer is, and understand what motivated them, but the void left by ‘the missing’ remains.

THE DRAINING LAKE is well written, enjoyable and thought-provoking: a first-rate, multi-layered crime novel. Erlendur is a welcome and worthy successor to Beck and Wallander, and the novel’s Icelandic setting adds a beguiling and unusual dimension to the chilly subgenre of dark, Nordic crime.

The novel is the 4th in the ‘Reykjavik murder mystery series’, and in my view, it’s the best so far.


This review was first published at Mrs Peabody Investigates on 2 January 2011 (and is reproduced with the permission of the site owner)

Book Details:

author: Arnaldur Indriðason
original language: Icelandic
translator: Bernard Scudder
publication date (UK): August 2007

Contributor Details:

Mrs Peabody is the pseudonym of a UK-based academic and crime fiction fan who has been blogging about crime novels, television and movies at Mrs Peabody Investigates since 2011 and reading within the genre for several decades. One of her fascinating subjects of special interest is an ongoing research project to develop a database of German, English and foreign-language crime novels (or novels using elements of the crime genre), which explore the history, memory and legacy of National Socialism.

INTO A RAGING BLAZE by Andreas Norman

This week’s much-loved crime novel is something those of us who can’t read Swedish won’t have had a chance to read yet, which does make it an oddly perfect choice for this site. It is the choice of the multilingual Ann who discusses books at Bookwitch (and at Swedish Bookwitch).


IntoARagingBlazeI would like to think that this new Swedish thriller, which has yet to be translated into English – but is going to be – will be the next huge success story from the country that gave the world the Millennium trilogy. And I would like to think that Maxine as Petrona would have been among the first ones to read, review and above all, to like it.

Written by Swedish diplomat Andreas Norman, who has so far only produced a little poetry, INTO A RAGING BLAZE is a terrific read. EN RASANDE ELD, as it is in the original, is more thriller than detective story. Like THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, it begins with seemingly unconnected things, and the seemingly humdrum routines ‘at home’ at the Foreign Office in Stockholm.

You wouldn’t think that finding out about department meetings or how to request a new office chair for yourself would be interesting. But it’s compelling reading from the first page, and by the time you’ve grown quite fond of FO employee Carina Dymek, her career is in tatters and you swiftly move on to Secret Security Agent Bente Jensen, based in Brussels.

Bente is probably very slightly on the autistic spectrum. She is no Lisbeth Salander, though. Very likeable and very competent, it is she and her secret team who have to work out what’s happened. Did Carina really handle top secret, potentially terrorist, material on purpose, or was she set up? Is her Arab boyfriend Jamal cultivating her to aid him in some sinister plot? Or are they – as they seem to be – simply two nice young people, accidentally caught up in something much bigger?

MI6 are the bad guys here. You need to get used to that. Very efficient, and quite scathing about the naïve Swedes, they really set the ball rolling. And once they have, it’s well nigh impossible to stop it.

So here you have various secret services having to work together, but in reality working against each other. It is very much a page turner, and you get quite paranoid after a while. How can anyone ever be safe from the intrusion of agents the world over?

It’s not great literature, but you don’t need it to be. INTO A RAGING BLAZE is the first of a trilogy featuring Bente Jensen. It was published in Sweden this spring, with the second one due in 2014. English language readers have something fantastic to look forward to.


Book Details:

author: Andreas Norman
original language: Swedish
translator: unknown
publication date (UK): not yet (published in Swedish in 2013, Quercus has the worldwide rights)

Contributor Details:

Ann Giles was born in Sweden but lives in the UK with her British husband. She discusses an eclectic mix of children’s books, crime fiction, and literary works at Bookwitch (and Swedish Bookwitch). In addition to her reviews her author interviews are a treat.