We’re All Swedish

Hi, Gerhard here, creator of the Jack McMorrowsson mystery series. It’s about an ex-Göteborgs-Posten reporter exiled to the northern city of Ostersund, where he chases stories and gets involved with a host of nefarious Swedish criminals. Ostersund is a very gray city, where it snows six months a year and everyone drinks strong coffee and the police drive sturdy Volvos. If you liked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, you’ll love the McMorrowsson novels. As you know, there’s nothing like a Swedish crime novel for topping the bestseller lists.

Just kidding, of course. But I’ve got to say, watching the Stieg Larsson phenomenon over the past few years has had me wishing I’d spent some time in Stockholm. Or at least my protagonists had.

It’s interesting just how fascinated the world is with Swedish crime. This is particularly notable because Sweden really doesn’t have an inordinate amount of criminals. It does have good writers and a tradition of character-driven crime novels where the plot is often secondary to the investigators’ ruminations on life. My kind of books.

As I write this, I’ve turned in my chair to the study bookshelf. There, on the shelf of honor, are books by a couple of writers who may be considered the founders of the tradition, or at least close to it. Beginning in the 1960s, Maj Sjowell and Per Wahloo co-wrote 10 mysteries starring a Swedish cop named Martin Beck. Beck has issues, to say the least. But readers like me found they just delighted in being in his company.

I’ve just reached for The Fire Engine That Disappeared, the fifth in the series. The opening chapter is masterfully done, with lovely sketches of hapless characters, both minor and major, and a riveting lead-up to the event that launches the plot: a massive explosion in a Stockholm apartment. It’s a great book, as are The Man Who Went Up in Smoke, The Laughing Policeman, The Locked Room. They’re brief by Stieg Larsson standards, but like the best of the genre, stay with you for years.

At least they have with me, though sometimes I feel like a bit of a dinosaur. At a book event last week, I was asked what writers were influences on my work. I hesitated before mentioning John D. MacDonald, who was writing before many of the people in the room were born. But then someone came up to chat afterwards and said, “Have you read Maj Sjowell?” “And Per Wahloo,” I said. That conversation was a highlight of my night.

So my point here (ah, yes, the point) is simple. When you read a crime novel off the bestseller list, don’t forget the crime writers who paved the way. Some of the writers of an earlier generation, whose name aren’t and weren’t ever household words, were masters of their craft.

 

 

 

 

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6 Responses to We’re All Swedish

  1. Barb Ross says:

    My daughter just started a masters of creative writing in London. Her first assignment in her workshop class was to read the first 150 pages of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I can barely wait until this Thursday to find out what the point of that assignment was.

    I keep wondering if there is some deep connection between Viking sagas and thrillers. I dimly remember a course in college the point of which was the connection between Icelandic sagas and Westerns, so what the hey?

    Like

  2. MCWriTers says:

    Gerry (Gerhard)…I happily read my way through law school reading this series, and then the Van de Wettering Amsterdam mysteries, and this reminds me that I should put aside Alastair McLean’s The Golden Rendezvous (firm-jawed hero and writing a bit like gravel) and go reread the Martin Beck mysteries.

    I know I’m in the minority in not liking The Girl books…but that first one has a moralist for a central character who then allows The Girl to be immoral as hell on his behalf. It reminded me of all those American crime book that have an immoral “buddy” who can do the dirty work–like Robert Parker’s Hawk, and Dennis Lehane has one, and of course, Janet E. has the delicious Ranger. I’ve joked for years that we need a female immoral sidekick…and now we’ve got one.

    Maybe for fun, we can write a group novel, set up in the county, with meth cookers and international drug smugglers and cross-border terrorists, and lots of blood and gore, and a female game warden as one of the protagonists and a former drug-runner turned born-again Christian as her bloody sidekick. It oughta sell like hotcakes. Aroostook County: THE NEW SWEDEN.
    Kate

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    • Gerry Boyle says:

      Another fan! And Iike the group-write idea, in Maine’s own stretch of Sweden.

      Don’t forget the Bath Salts!

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      • MCWriTers says:

        Bath salts. Brilliant. How could I forget. Now…imported? Or domestic product? When potatoes fail, bath salts fill the gap?

        This could be a heck of a lot of fun.

        I think we also need a bitter former potato blossom queen. A couple lumberjacks, and a dead priest.

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  3. Gerry Boyle says:

    Only the first 150 pages? Let me know what you find out about that one.

    By the way, some of the Martin Beck mysteries are a mere 220 pages. Over the past 50 years or so, stories seems to have grown. A friend of mine just got back from vacation. Read a Simenon a day for weeks.

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  4. Gerhard, I tried to look up how to say “very funny” in Swedish, and found instead a video of a dancing Swedish policeman. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0RZaJo6Ujb4

    Somehow this will be important to our New Sweden Series… I just know it…

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