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 🙂


23 thoughts on “The Stockholm City Lights Were Slowly Starting to Rise*

  1. Pingback: The Stockholm City Lights Were Slowly Starting to Rise* | Confessions of a Mystery Novelist...

  2. Margot, it has been about 20 years since we visited Stockholm which in winter was incredibly beautiful. It seemed almost empty of people in comparison to other European and North American cities I had visited. It was rather nice to wander round museums without any crowds, but that has probably changed now.
    But what I found interesting was that there were two exhibitions, both about events that could be classified as Swedish disasters. One commemorating the sinking in the harbour of the newly built top heavy warship the Vasa in 1628, and one the defeat by the Russians at Poltava in 1709. I think this was a sign of a very self confident country that, despite the case made by Sjowall and Wahloo and Henning Mankell in their superb books, was very pleased with its situation and status in the world. Even the bag ladies looked prosperous, class differences then were in our opinion far less visible than in London, Paris, LA or New York.
    If you get to Stockholm the Vasa Museum and Skansen are must sees.

    • Norman – Thanks very much for the recommendation. I’m very glad for you that you had the chance to visit Stockholm, a city I’ve wanted to visit myself for quite some time. It’s good to hear that it seems like a more egalitarian society than a lot of others are. Most definitely it’s ‘up there’ on my list of places I want to go.

  3. I have always wanted to visit Sweden ever since having a Swedish friend when I was 16. She was an au-pair for a local businesswoman and she came from Malmo and I thought she was so exotic and sophisticated; we remained pen-pals for many years then lost touch sadly. She awakened a curiosity in me which I have never managed to quench….yet! I have met many Swedish people and they seem quite prosperous as far as I can tell and so it is interesting that they suffer with high crime too. I find their stories such as with the Wallander series fascinating, everything seems s dark and forlorn and this came across in the Stieg Larsson stories. A different setting for crimes and quite refreshing story-lines too. I should really read more from their authors and if they are all translated into English I hope to do so at some point. Meantime I have really enjoyed the television depictions of many of their writers and books, so I shall keep an eye out for more Swedish writers in the meantime. Thanks Margot, so interesting.

    • Jane – Oh, how interesting that you had the chance to get to know someone from Sweden. An interesting way to get a look at a society. It’s sad, too, isn’t that there’s a high crime rate even in a prosperous country. I’m glad you found this post interesting, and I do encourage you to try some of the authors who write about Stockholm. As you say, interesting depictions and some really excellent storylines.

  4. Greetings from Stockholm – and thanks for these recommendations! I’ve read quite a few of the Beck books (and Wallander, though he is down in the balmy south 😉 ) but there are some new names here, so thanks.

    I have found Stockholm incredibly inspiring, not least, because of the unique (in my experience) light and quality of light. Lunchtime sunsets in December and 1am-stumble-home sunrises in June add a magical, atmospheric touch to the most mundane of days, which, for whatever reason, seems to get the creative juices flowing!

    • Claire – Thanks for sharing your perspective on what it’s like to live in Stockholm. I think the Martin Beck series is one of the finest crime fiction series there is, so I’m glad you’ve had the chance to experience it.
      I can see why you find Stockholm inspiring too. I’ve never known what it was like to see 1:00 am sunrises or lunchtime sunsets. It must be surreal, at least at first. I’m glad you enjoy life in Stockholm and I wish you success.

      • It is incredibly surreal. That first summer I hardly got any sleep as I think I was unconsciously waiting for darkness to go to bed… and I had to wait about six weeks. Thanks so much!

        • I think that would be the biggest adjustment I would have to make. One can usually adjust to different languages and ways of doing things. But day/night and sleep patterns? That’s awfully ingrained. I’m happy for you that you were able to make the adjustment.

  5. Great roundup Margot, and of course I too would like to visit one day. I went to Copenhagen earlier this year, and one reason I wanted to see it was because I enjoyed the Danish TV series The Killing so much. Stockholm seems equally attractive.

    • Moira – Thank you. I’d very much like to visit Stockholm too, and I hope to someday. I can well imagine why you’d be tempted to visit Copenhagen after having seen The Killing. I would love to know if that city’s tourism has grown as a result of that series; I’ll bet it has!

  6. What a wonderful overview, Margot. Not only have you covered Stockholm as a setting, but also introduced me to two series I had never heard of. I have only sampled the Martin Beck series so far, but plan to try all of the series you have mentioned here.

    • Tracy – Thank you. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I’m also really glad you’ve had the chance to try the Martin Beck series. It’s one of the staples of crime fiction I think. And I hope you’ll like the others.

  7. Great review of Stockholm! I always enjoy crime fiction set in Sweden, whether in Stockholm or Goteburg or points in-between, and certainly Sjowall and Wahloo’s series, Asa Larsson’s books and the two I’ve read by Liza Marklund. I must try the Grebe and Traff books.
    I like Martin Beck’s investigation methods and social commentary, but all of the books set in Stockholm are fun to read.

    • Kathy – I agree. The Stockholm-set books really can be great. And I’ve always liked the mix of strong, solid story with social commentary in the martin Beck series. Few authors do that as well as those authors did.

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