By Carol Van Why
Do you remember about 10 years ago when everyone was reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Swedish author Stieg Larsson? Larsson died unexpectedly in 2004 leaving crime fiction readers everywhere wanting more. By the end of 2012 his trilogy, beginning with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, had been translated into 50 languages and had sold 73 million copies worldwide.
It would be misleading to imply that Larsson was the first Scandinavian crime fiction writer to catch the attention international audiences. An English translation of a work by the writing team of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö appeared in 1968. English editions of Peter Høeg’s award-winning Smilla’s Sense of Snow and Henning Mankell’s popular Wallender series followed in the 1990s.
But it wasn’t until Larsson’s works took the world by storm that the phrase Scandinavian Noir emerged as a name for this crime fiction genre. What’s more it should not be surprising that after his success, publishers scoured Scandinavia in search of books to translate for insatiable and growing audiences.
Those who follow this topic seriously report that at least 100 crime fiction authors from all over Scandinavia have been published in English. And since several Icelandic authors’ works have now been translated the genre is more inclusively termed "Nordic Noir. " It’s become such a phenomenon that Gustavus Adolphus College held a three-day conference on the topic in 2012 and the Swedish Institute shop offers a huge selection of crime fiction for sale.
For me good stories, believable sleuths and glimpses of Nordic culture, society and landscapes are the appeal. Insights into contemporary issues such as immigration and economic and social inequalities are often woven into the narratives. Descriptions of seasons, weather and geography are simultaneously familiar and yet very different for a Minnesota reader.
Coffman Library’s collection contains the works of over a dozen "Nordic Noir" authors, including those already mentioned. Other titles in the collection are by: Sara Blaedel, Arnaldur Indridason, Camilla Lackberg, Liza Marklund, Jo Nesbo, Kristina Ohlsson, Leif Persson, and Yrsa Siguaradottir. Look for them all in the Mystery/Spy/Adventure section on the library’s upper level. If you exhaust our library’s offerings both the Ramsey County Library and the St Paul Public Library systems have good collections of "Nordic Noir."
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