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.
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.