29 May 2011

Nordic Novels Provide Insight Into Swedish and Finnish Culture

I like to read detective novels. I read most of the better-known American authors as soon as I can borrow their books from the library, which often means waiting for them after requesting them online.

When I first heard about the Swedish novels in Stieg Larsson's best-selling "Millennium" trilogy, I turned to reading about crime-solving in Sweden with great interest--along with thousands of other readers. His books resided on the New York Times best seller lists for months. The books in the trilogy aren't really detective novels, as they feature Lisbeth Salander, computer hacker, and Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative journalist. Nevertheless, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and The Girl Who Played with Fire, held my attention during marathon reading sessions, not only because of the interesting story lines, but also because they helped me revisit some of the places I had visited in Sweden during my employment as a metals industry trade magazine editor. (Sadly, Larsson died after submitting the manuscripts to his three books to his publisher, so there won't be any additional books in this series.)

More recently, I obtained a copy of a first novel, Snow Angels, by James Thompson. This novel was set in Finland, above the Artic Circle, and the locations described resonated with me again because of my business travesl to Finland--and with my heritage as a Finn-American.

Here is how one critic describes the book: "Thompson’s protagonist, police inspector Kari Vaara, is in some ways the author’s doppelgänger: Vaara, a Finn, is married to an American woman; Thompson, an American, is married to a Finnish woman. Snow Angels opens with a shocking murder: Sufia Elmi was nothing if not a walking contradiction—by some accounts a virginal starlet, by others a drug-abusing sexual deviate. Now she lies dead, and in an exceptionally grisly manner, her death-throes painting an obscene crimson snow angel in a remote Finnish field.

That first book was published in 2009. Thompson recently brought out his second novel (March 2011) featuring Inspector Vaara, entitled Lucifer's Tears, and set in the Finnish capital of Helsinki. It was another interesting story, involving solving crimes related to Finnish politics. Also, for me, reading it provided more reminders of my brief visits to Finland, as well as exposure to aspects of contemporary Finnish culture.

I have since learned that there is something of a Nordic noir--crime novels involving moody detectives, and of course, the cold weather in the Nordic region. Some names of other Scandinavian crime writers that I aim to read include Karin Fossum (her Inspector Sejer novels take place in Norway); Arnaldur Indridason, who sets his books in Reykjavik, Iceland; and Henning Mankell, creator of the moody Kurt Wallander, a police inspector in Sweden. I was introduced to Inspector Wallander by several eposodes in the PBS Series, Masterpiece Mysteries.

I read a lot of novels, and I find that I learn a lot from them. In this case, I expect to learn more about Sweden, Norway, and Finland.

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