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 🙂

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And the winner is…

The Petrona Award trophy (image courtesy of Emma  Buckley and Euro Crime)

The Petrona Award trophy (image courtesy of Emma Buckley and Euro Crime)

At CrimeFest this weekend the winner of the inaugural Petrona Award for best Scandinavian crime fiction translated into English was announced as Liza Marklund’s LAST WILL, translated by Neil Smith. To celebrate the win we’re posting Maxine Clarke’s original review of the novel which was first run at her blog in May 2012. We’re sure that once you’ve read the review you’ll be itching to find a copy of the book.


LAST WILL is a fantastic, intelligent crime thriller, containing all the elements I love about the genre. Annika Bengtzon is a crime reporter for the Evening Post, a tabloid newspaper. She’s attending the annual Nobel banquet for the paper, a formal ceremony in which the new laureates dine with the Swedish royal family and assorted dignitaries. Annika is dancing with another reporter when shots are fired – the laureate for medicine and the head of the Nobel committee are hit. Because Annika is a witness, the senior police investigator “Q” slaps a non-disclosure order on her under terrorist legislation.

Annika’s boss is only too keen to find an excuse to keep her away from the office for a while, so she agrees to a period of paid leave. She and Q go back a long way, however, so she keeps up with the investigation, soon realising that the official solution as reported in the papers is a long way from the real truth of the events of that night. Annika also gets to know some of the biological scientists who work at the Karolinska Institute, finding out about their work and how the Nobel prizes are decided upon each year.

LastWillMarklundLiza15232_fDuring this time, Annika moves house into a rural suburb just outside Stockholm, using the money she was awarded in RED WOLF, the previous novel in the series. Annika’s marriage to the selfish, smug Thomas is on the rocks — though she is a devoted mother to her two young children and would not do anything to jeopardise their well-being. Thomas not only exploits Annika on the domestic front, but is becoming politically incompatible with her: he has moved from his original job in local government to a new position in the Ministry of Justice, helping to prepare stringent new anti-terrorist legislation that Annika finds appalling. Not only are things bad with Thomas, but Annika’s oldest friend Anne, who regular readers will know has gone through many ordeals with Annika in the past, has become increasingly unstable and unsympathetic as her own life and career implode, criticising Annika while at the same time sponging on her.

LAST WILL is by no means overwhelmed with domestic trivia, however. It is a clever, muscular thriller, combining exciting action with analyses of many contemporary issues: the dangers of security and terrorist legislation, in particular in the tragic case of a man accused of the Nobel atrocity; the plight of modern journalism and what proprietors do to survive in the internet era; the politics of the science profession and the scope for corruption by the financial interests of drug companies; some great descriptions of biological research; the ethics of scientific publication; and, underlying it all, a cracking, puzzling crime – why was the Nobel victim chosen, who was behind the events of that night, and what is the relationship between the first and subsequent crimes? None of these themes is treated as a cliché or in any predictable way; each is attacked with a fresh perspective by the author, abetted by Annika’s characteristic refusal to compromise.

One of the strengths of this novel is the author’s ability to convey vividly the stresses of modern parenthood and family life, from apparently trivial incidents with difficult neighbours to dangerous events between school “friends”. Without overdoing it, many of the elements in the story turn out to be either related or to have a direct impact on the climactic events towards the end.

I can’t recommend this novel too highly. This series has always been one of my very favourites, but here the author has surpassed herself with a great story, some intriguing historical elements, and convincing human interest – Annika’s dilemmas as a mother, wife and dedicated professional journalist are conveyed in a completely convincing manner that had me rooting for her at the end when she is forced to make a critical decision. And the crime plot is as solid and multi-layered as any I’ve read, as Annika’s tenacity and courageous nature force her to try to uncover what’s really going on. Neil Smith’s translation is remarkably natural, matching the author’s message with perfection. This novel is going to be hard to beat as my crime novel of the year.


This review was first published at Petrona in May 2012

Book Details:

author: Liza Marklund
original language: Swedish
translator: Neil Smith
publication date (UK): 2012

Contributor Details:

Maxine Clarke was the passionate crime fiction reader, reviewer and advocate who inspired this site and the Petrona Award itself

The Inaugural Petrona Award Shortlist

The winner of the first Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year will be announced on 1 June at CrimeFest in Bristol. The award has been created to honour the memory of Maxine Clarke who, blogging as Petrona, was tirelessly promoting Scandinavian crime fiction translated into English long before Stieg Larsson grabbed the world’s attention. This year’s shortlist was derived from Maxine’s published reviews of Scandinavian crime fiction published in the UK in 2012 and the contenders are:

PiercedEngerPIERCED by Thomas Enger, translation by Charlotte Barslund which Maxine thought even better than Enger’s excellent debut novel (BURNED). In this novel the journalist at the heart of this Norwegian series, Henning Juul is asked to find evidence that a prisoner due for an appeal hearing is innocent of the crime he has been convicted of. The carrot dangled before the vulnerable journalist is that Tore Pulli, the prisoner, claims to know something about the fire which injured Juul and killed his young son. Maxine thought the many threads of PEIRCED “combine to make the novel a great combination of detection and thriller”, found it “endearing that Juul sees the world through the eyes of a wordsmith” and enjoyed the occasional references: for crime fiction aficionados such as the mention of French anti-corruption magistrate and turned novelist  Eva Joly.

BlackSkiesIndridasonBLACK SKIES by Arnaldur Indridason, translation by Victoria Cribb, is set partly in the recently turbulent world of the Icelandic financial sector and centres on detective Sigurdur Óli who is asked by an old friend for some discreet help when his sister-in-law and her husband are being blackmailed due to an ill-considered episode of wife-swapping. When Sigurdur Óli discovers the blackmailer dead he decides to investigate the case without telling his colleagues all the salient facts. Maxine’s review includes this summary

…an author as experienced as Indridason never forgets that he’s writing a crime novel first and foremost; the plot is a satisfying and topical one. It is well-paced, as Sigurdur Óli’s and the official lines of enquiry obscure each other until they merge; the story then takes a sudden new direction – which is when the author fully gets his teeth into the financial cowboys (“the new Vikings”) that have wrecked his country’s economy and the lives of many of its citizens. Yet the author also provides us with an excellent character study of Sigurdur Óli, whose arrogance at the start of the book gives way to some personal insight and maturity by the end, partly by his new willingness to examine his relationships with friends and family, but in particular via the tragic case of Anders [a local addict whose revenge fantasy plays out in parallel with the main story].

LastWillMarklundLiza15232_fLAST WILL by Liza Marklund, translation by Neil Smith is the sixth novel to feature Swedish journalist Annika Bengtzon and Maxine thought it “…a fantastic, intelligent crime thriller, containing all the elements [she loved] about the genre.” As it opens Annika is attending the annual Nobel prize banquet on behalf of the paper when the laureate for medicine and the head of the Nobel committee are shot. Because she is a witness Annika is not allowed to cover the incident but does carry on an unofficial investigation. Maxine went on to say of LAST WILL

It is a clever, muscular thriller, combining exciting action with analyses of many contemporary issues: the dangers of security and terrorist legislation, in particular in the tragic case of a man accused of the Nobel atrocity; the plight of modern journalism and what proprietors do to survive in the internet era; the politics of the science profession and the scope for corruption by the financial interests of drug companies; some great descriptions of biological research; the ethics of scientific publication; and, underlying it all, a cracking, puzzling crime – why was the Nobel victim chosen, who was behind the events of that night, and what is the relationship between the first and subsequent crimes? None of these themes is treated as a cliché or in any predictable way; each is attacked with a fresh perspective by the author, abetted by Annika’s characteristic refusal to compromise.

AnotherTimePerssonANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER LIFE by Leif G.W. Persson, translation by Paul Norlen, is the second part of a trilogy subtitled ‘the story of a crime’ and opens with a consideration of a terrorist attack on the German embassy in Stockholm in 1975 before moving on to a 1989 murder investigation and an even more modern investigation a further ten years after that. After observing some stylistic and topical links to the work of eminent Swedish crime writers Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo Maxine says of the book’s opening segment

The presentation of this first, short section of the book is so distinctive, setting the tone for the rest. It is measured and sober, describing enormities of violence, procedural deficiencies, and institutional stupidities in dispassionate terms, allowing the reader to absorb their full impact. The author’s refusal to be overtly opinionated at first gives his words a face-value authority, but as the book progresses one sees the extent to which the author is wooing the reader to his particular subversive perception of his country’s criminal justice system.

She finishes her review with these thoughts

There are many layers of subtlety in this gripping novel which I haven’t addressed in this brief review, but which I greatly appreciated – in particular the acute characterisations, including (in some cases) the disparities between people’s thoughts and actions. I can only urge you to read it. I eagerly devoured every word, even though it is a very long book. In its superb anatomy of Sweden using the police and criminal justice system as a metaphor, as well as many of the ways characters are presented and evolve, Leif Persson is the true heir of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, authors of the best crime-fiction series ever written.

You still have a couple of weeks to read all four titles vying for the first Petrona Award and, until 29 May, you can vote on which of the novels you think will win the award and which of them you want to win the award. Head over to Euro Crime to vote and stay tuned to find out which of these fantastic novels takes out the inaugural Petrona Award.