Scandinavia has a history of mystery fiction novels. Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, a husband and wife writing team, began writing Swedish crime fiction in the 1960s. They were followed by Henning Mankell, another Swedish writer who started his Kurt Wallendar series in the 1990s. Both wrote top mystery novels and Scandinavian noir before Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy.
Sjowall-Wahloo wrote 10 Inspector Martin Beck novels, and helped popularize police procedurals. He was the head of the Stockholm Homocide Squad. Sjowall-Wahloo developed other members of the team as well as Beck. Their mystery books are international best sellers. The authors rated 15 on the Times of London best crime writers.Credit: Amazon
Scandinavian noir is as morose as a Swedish winter night, and Sjowall-Wahloo led the way. Martin Beck’s life breaks down during the series. He is a diabetic and has a daughter that causes him grief and problems on occasion.
Rosanna was the first of the Inspector Beck series. The fourth, The Laughing Policeman, is perhaps the best known in the United States. It is one of their best mystery books. It was a best seller and made into a 1973 movie with Walter Matthau as the main character. The movie is set in the United States rather than Sweden. It follows the novels plot lines and twists. One thing it doesn’t do is explain the title. The movie makes a vague reference, but mostly ignores the title.
Reading the series out of order doesn’t make much difference, but reading them in order lets one watch the characters develop. They may refer back to earlier cases, but the major plot doesn’t depend on the earlier case to make sense. Either Rosanna or The Laughing Policeman is a good Sjowall-Wahloo book to start reading the Inspector Beck series.
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The first Wallender novel is Faceless Killers. It deals with a farmer and his wife murdereCredit: Amazond at their remote farm. The investigation leads them to believe an immigrant may have committed the murder. This possibility aggravates the existing anti-immigrant feelings. A foreign refugee camp is nearby. Wallendar has to try to solve the case without stirring up trouble.
Joe Queenan, writes in the Los Angeles Times that Mankell compares well to Georges Simenon, and Wallendar to Simenon’s character Inspector Maigret. Simenon and Mankell resemble each other in that they allude to the breakdown of everything. Society, humans and old age, police work and life.
Mankell is best known for his Wallendar series, but writes other stand-alone books as well. A side note not related to his writings is that he is married to Ingmar Bergman’s daughter, Eva.
Swedish procedurals feature detail oriented work with detectives doing work-a-day police procedure. There jobs can be described as straining at gnats. They plow through reports and interviews to find clues. Nothing is black or white. They don't have the glitzy technology to which modern crime TV programs have access. The closest to a flamboyant detective in a Scandinavian noir would be the loose cannon, Lisabeth Salander, in Larsson's mellennium trilogy.
Why read a dark, gloomy book? They’re addictive. A reader can understand and relate to these characters. We all had depressive days we’d like to chuck in the garbage. The protagonists get irritated with coworkers that disagree with them. The characters are human.
Scandinavian crime novels are top international best sellers with a large fan base. They are well written with absorbing characters. The plots are well written, well defined, twisted, and interesting. As with anything, some readers will love these books, others hate them. They’re worth a look for mystery fans.