Thursday, September 16, 2010

After Wallander: a new generation of Scandinavian detectives takes overThe bleak Scandinavian landscapes have inspired a series of hit books about dour detectives, and more writers are now lining up to claim the Nordic crime crown

Vanessa Thorpe The Observer, Sunday 12 September 2010
Kenneth Branagh as Wallander. Photograph: BBC/Left Bank Pictures/Phil Fisk/BBC/Left Bank Pictures/Yellow Bird

Among the growing band of the faithful – the millions of readers drawn to the bleak tradition of Swedish crime fiction – the litany can be recited with ease: Inspector Martin Beck, created by Sjöwall and Wahlöö in the 1960s, begat Henning Mankell's Wallander, and then Wallander begat Stieg Larsson's Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo.

With new episodes of Kenneth Branagh's Wallander promised and big-screen versions of Larsson's Millennium Trilogy due out soon in English as well as Swedish, what started as a genre with cult appeal has become part of the money-making mainstream.

Yet well before Mankell and Larsson's crime-solving anti-heroes reached our cinema screens, true aficionados of this Scandinavian genre understood that the family tree was more complex. How closely related, for example, is Miss Smilla, star of the icy world depicted in Peter Hoeg's 1992 Danish hit Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow? And how exactly do the open, light-drenched landscapes of the Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman feed into the bloodline?

And then comes the most crucial question of all: is Jo Nesbø's new Norwegian detective Harry Hole, really fit to take up the lonely beat of the Nordic cop, or does Inspector Christian Tell, the hero of Camilla Ceder's new book, make a better candidate?

The fraught issue of the rightful inheritor of the authentic voice of the Scandinavian crime novel has never been more pressing. With the untimely death of Larsson in 2004 came the end of Lisbeth Salander, his punk avenging angel, and now that Mankell has also vowed to forsake the jaded Kurt Wallander after his next book, there is a big vacancy looming. Larsson's three books, after all, have sold nearly 30 million copies in 40 countries, while Mankell's have sold more than 35 million. So a large amount of money can be made by the publishing house which picks a worthy successor.

As Ian Rankin recently said: "For me the baton of Swedish crime fiction was passed from Sjöwal and Wahlöö to Mankell. They charted changes in Swedish society in the 60s and 70s. Mankell does the same for more recent decades.
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