In Sweden it is almost expected that summer reading will include at least one crime novel. There are a whole bunch of contemporary Swedish crime writers, Stieg Larsson being perhaps currently the most popular world wide after the phenomenal success of his Millennium series. But Henning Mankell is perhaps the better known and the most widely read, his Wallander novels having been translated into multiple languages and inspiring at least two separate TV series, one Swedish and one English. But there are a variety of others; it seems the most sure fire way of gaining a readership in Sweden, to succeed in this genre. The very first full novel I read in Swedish was a story based on an unsolved murder that happened here abouts in the 50s, a book by Håkan Nesser, with the unlikely name of and Kim Novak never swam in the Sea of Galilee.
This last week I embarked on another author who Maria has been enjoying lately, Anna Jansson, who is one of a whole row of Swedish female writers in the crime genre, a group that includes Liza Marklund, Helen Tursten, Mari Jungstedt and Camilla Läckberg. I think Maria’s interest was sparked when she realised that Anna Jansson was a nurse who she once worked with at the local hospital here in Örebro. Jansson is now a full time writer and has achieved quite a following in Sweden with her Maria Wern novels, which has also inspired a TV series, the 10th of which I read earlier this week (but the first I have read by Jansson).
Först när givaren är död – “First when the giver is dead” – is set on Gotland, the large Swedish island in the Baltic sea with its famed capital of Visby, a city with an ancient stone wall encircling it, dating from mediaeval times. It is a good read, all the more entertaining because it taps into local history and weaves a tale which delves back into the ancient times when Sweden was just becoming Christian, but still retained much of its pagan character. The story, with its series of seemingly unrelated murders and its cast of unlikely and eccentric personalities, is a real page turner. It was a pleasant diversion for lazy afternoons at the cottage in Orsa where we have been as usual this summer.
The morbid interest in crime, and specially unsolved mysteries, is fascinating. What is it about such stories that gets us in, whether the vehicle is books or TV? Is it a fascination with evil and the desire to see justice done, a grappling with the age old themes of the good and bad in us and around us? Is it just the delight in solving a riddle? One thing is sure, these stories are a voice for contemporary writers’ views on the world. Like TV and the cinema such novels are one of the mind molders of our generation.
The Anna Jansson novels seem to have been translated into German but not into English.