I absolutely adore crime/detective novels and it is without doubt my all-time favorite genre.
This month, I found myself moving away from the regular English crime fiction to lap up the writings of the Scandinavians. I have thus far completed two from Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo and one from Swedish writer Hakan Nesser. (CLICK HERE for previous book reviews of Nesbo) The titles are shown below:
So in this post I will share three reasons why I love my Scandinavian crime stories:
1. Scandinavian detectives are never perfect. They are rarely the well-bred, intelligent and moralistic heroes who will save the world at the end of the day. Rather, these detectives veer into the categories of shady and broken characters who are never too far from breaking the law themselves.
Eg. Harry Hole, detective from the Jo Nesbo’s series, is an alcoholic with a substantial drug-taking history and is engulfed in a slew of troubled relationships with an estranged girlfriend, her son who regards him as a father figure but he cannot meet and barely a few true friends. In spite of all these flaws, he remains as the best detective on the Norwegian crime squad.
2. Nordic crime fiction can be deliciously grisly and cruel. I find that Scandinavian novels provide the same kick as watching horror movies like the “Saw” movie installments because unlike in Agatha Christie’s crimes where a murder is simply pronounced, the Scandinavians like details. Pages and pages will be spent on elaborating how the victim died, the killer’s methodology and his choice of weapons in a cool and calm manner that doubles up on the creepy factor.
Eg. Leopold’s Apple, named after King Leopold II of Belgium, is the torture device used in Jo Nesbo’s book ‘The Leopard.’ It is a metallic ball-shaped contraption made to just fit inside a human’s mouth so that the victim cannot speak, swallow or breathe properly. The discomfort will slowly and painfully drive the victim to pull the wire attached to the ball, which in turn releases 24 metal spikes to drown the victim in his own blood. Thank goodness this psychotic device is entirely concocted by Jo Nesbo, but it certainly speaks volumes of his state of mind.
3. Scandinavian novels are mini-criminal psychology textbooks. Chapters are often written alternating first-person narratives between the criminal(s) and investigators in attempt to read into the different psychological mindsets from multiple angles.
“A crime is born in the gap between the morality of society and that of the individual,” said retired Detective Chief Inspector Van Veeteren who features frequently in Hakan Nesser’s novels. It is this tenuous balance between the ethics of the individual and the morality of the society that the Nordic writers are always exploring and challenging the boundaries.
Here is another line from Van Veeteren worth sharing:
“I don’t defend evil deeds, but if you can’t understand the nature of crime… the motives of a criminal… well, you won’t get very far as a detective. There is sort of twisted logic which is often easier to discover than the logic that governs our everyday actions. As we all know, chaos in the neighbour of God: but everything’s usually neat and tidy in hell.”
Though Scandinavian works have been gaining popularity amongst the English-speaking world, it is still being translated slowly which is such a pity.
If you have any crime novels from Nordic countries such as Denmark, Finland or Iceland that have been translated to English to recommend, please leave the titles or authors below in the comment box!