Friday, December 23, 2011

Day 23: The Joy of Bleak

Welcome to Day 23 in our 24 Days of Books. Today we're in a bleak mood. Not really, but work with us. The emergence of “Scandinavian Noir” as a genre has been fueled largely by Stieg Larsson novels over the past few years. His Millennium Trilogy featuring Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander and the Swedish movie adaptations of them are hugely popular – and the forthcoming American adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo promises to continue our national mini-obsession with all things Stieg. Or perhaps we should say all things Lisbeth. Because really, isn’t she one of the most interesting characters in contemporary fiction? 

Sadly, Stieg Larson’s planned ten-book series stopped at three with his death in 2004. (Well, there may be a fourth book lurking in the wings, but that’s the topic for another blog). But as most mystery fans know, there’s much, much more to this dark genre than one author. Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallender novels are superb (and you can watch the BBC adaptations starring Kenneth Branagh – amazing). Many of Hakan Nesser’s novels feature Van Veeteren, a detective and antique book dealer (how can we resist that?). Danish crime writer Peter Hoeg’s first American success was Smilla’s Sense of Snow in 1992, and he has continued to write compelling stories. And we were so happy when Random House reissued the Martin Beck mystery series by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. These ten novels (beginning with Roseanna), first published between 1965 and 1975, predate the edgier books being written today (they also predate cell phones, personal computers, modern forensic technology, etc.) but are keenly observed commentaries on contemporary Scandinavian society that hold up some forty years later.

There are dozens of Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Dutch, and Icelandic authors worth considering if you enjoy a brooding, flawed hero and a menacing, elusive villain. One of the very best (some say THE best) of these is Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo, whose Harry Hole novels have caught the eye of readers everywhere. To date, there are eight novels in this series (only six available in English), including the most recent one, The Leopard, which just hit our store on December 13th.

Inspector Harry Hole is a loose cannon in the Oslo Police Department. A heavy smoker and alcoholic, he is difficult in many ways but manages to keep his job because he is a brilliant detective who specializes in serial murders (and there are lots of serial murders in Norway). The Harry Hole series begins with the book The Redbreast. The newest book, The Leopard, begins with the discovery of two murder victims, both young women who drowned in their own blood. The media grabs the story and runs with it. Is there a serial killer at work? Inspector Hole soon discovers that he is dealing with a psychopath for whom “insanity is a vital retreat."

Jo Nesbo’s thrillers are literary (that is, well written) as well as suspenseful. Is there a Nesbo fan on your shopping list? If so, you’re in luck! Surprisingly, given the bleakness of his thrillers, Nesbo also writes books for middle school readers, a series that begins with the book Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder, followed by Bubble in the Bathtub (And in January, Who Cut the Cheese?). All full of middle-school fartiness fun.

Here’s a short video that features the author talking about his latest novel, The Leopard. (The cover shown in the video is from the UK publication, not the US.):    


  1. Thank you for this post! I love Scandinavian noir and you've given me some ideas for books I haven't read yet.

  2. Thank you for this post. I love Scandinavian noir, and you've given me some ideas for my winter reading.


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