Alice Johnson looks at the growing popularity of crime in a cold climate, focusing on two novels, Hour of the Wolf by Hakan Nesser and David Hewson's The Killing, which is based on a hit TV series.
Stieg Larsson's success fuels interest in Nordic noir
What is it that makes Nordic noir fiction so compelling to its many fans? Is it the barren landscapes, unpronounceable surnames, woolly-jumpered detectives or the serial crimes committed in ice-cold surroundings that so definitively stimulate intrigue among readers? And while the acclaimed Swedish writer Stieg Larsson kicked up a hornet’s nest with his Millennium-series trilogy, is he still the undisputed king of Nordic noir?
Step forward Hakan Nesser, a fellow Swede, who published his first novel Koreografen in 1988, having his second (1993) novel The Mind’s Eye translated into English by 2008. This year’s translation of Hour of the Wolf previously sold more than 10 million copies worldwide, even though it was written more than a decade ago, placing it (in sales at least) into the same realm as his late compatriot.
“Long before the Stieg Larsson phenomenon, Hakan Nesser set the standard in Scandinavian crime fiction,” the jacket reads. However, did Nesser really make the running, or is he simply cashing in on the whirlwind created by Larsson?
Hour of the Wolf is the seventh in the Chief Inspector Van Veeteren series, following the retired detective in the fictional Nordic town of Maardam.
When a teenage boy is run over, the consequences spiral and Nesser weaves a tangled web of murder, guilt, blackmail and torment. Perspective is key here and Nesser uses it to bind his plot artfully around his characters.
But he isn’t the only writer reaping the benefits from this popularised genre.
David Hewson – of the Italy-based Detective Costa series’ fame – has recently taken on the challenge of adapting Soren Sveistrup’s hit TV series The Killing. While researching the television show in Copenhagen, Hewson also consulted with the Danish scriptwriter to produce this weighty novel of the same name.
The 600-plus-page work takes the well-known character Detective Sarah Lund on a roller coaster ride through a teenage girl’s murder investigation, with her move to Sweden, engagement to her long-time fiancée and even her faith in her superiors all sacrificed in her determination to find the killer.
Famous as much for her impressive collection of knitwear as for her dogged investigative work, Lund comes to life in Hewson’s pages, as he renders an accurate representation of what it is like to be both a mother and a police officer.
One hopes Hewson’s move from an Italian to a Scandinavian crime scene will not be short-lived, because his adaptation of The Killing – while hefty – is well-researched.
Is there more to come? There must be. With the adaptation of Larsson’s Millennium-series trilogy for film, the ongoing translation of Nesser’s crime novels and many more writers jumping on to the crest of the Scandinavian wave, there’s little chance of popularised Nordic noir fizzling out any time soon.