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The search is on for the next Lisabeth Salander–Snabbt! Snabbt!

June 16, 2010

Camilla Lackberg -- the new Stieg Larsson? Probably not, but still worth reading.

Stieg Larsson, being inconveniently dead, won’t be writing any more novels featuring the punk rebel savant, Lisabeth Salander. Publishers and booksellers are hoping readers, looking for the next best thing, will snatch up books by other Swedish crime novelists.

Larsson inconsiderately failed to take care of himself, dying of a heart attack in 2004, age 50. That was just before his first novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, became a worldwide smash. Fortunately he had finished three books in the series, known as the Millennium trilogy.

But now the third one, The Girl Who Kicked a Hornet’s Nest, is out and on the bestseller lists. Who is feeling more bittersweet joy, readers or booksellers?

Hard to tell. As The New York Times reports, workers at Powell’s bookstore in Portland, Ore., are calling the new book “The Girl Who’s Paying Our Salaries for the Next Few Months.” One of the country’s leading independent book shops, Powells is selling “at least 1,500” copies a week.

Indeed, since 2006, Larsson’s three novels –the middle one is The Girl Who Played with Fire –have sold six million copies in the U.S. and 35 million worldwide. With numbers like that, it’s inevitable American publishers will rush to find the next Stieg Larsson among the lists of Swedish crime writers.

“The question is, after everybody reads Hornet’s Nest, what are they going to do?”  Stan Hynds, a book buyer at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vt., tells The Times. “I’ve got this funny feeling that every publisher is going to come out with the next Stieg Larsson.”

Whether other Swedish crime novels can duplicate the magnetic pull of Larsson is another question. Lisabeth Salander, one of the great characters is popular fiction, accounts for a significant portion of the Millennium trilogy’s success.

Other factors, according to Kathy Langer, lead buyer for Denver’s Tattered Cover independent bookstore, include “ambitious scope, complex characters, strong writing and quick storytelling.” As she tells The Times, “[I]f you try to duplicate the experience, you’re likely to disappoint the customer.”

Of course, the search for the Next Harry Potter never quite panned out. Yet several of the candidates — Rick Riordan, Daniel Handler (Lemony Snickett), Suzanne Collins, Catherine Fisher — produced good books, each finding an appreciative audience. Just not a Harry-sized audience.

Likewise, if readers can set aside unrealistic expectations, they will find some first-rate crime fiction.

You may be surprised to learn that Sweden has a rich genre tradition — sometimes called “Nordic Noir” — that goes back at least 30 years to Per Wahlooand Maj Sjowall, a husband-and-wife team whose 10-book series featuring Det. Martin Beck was an international sensation. (Interestingly, Larsson planned a 10-book cycle for Lisabeth Salander. Alas.)

Henning Mankell, for example, with his Kurt Wallender series, is probably the second most famous crime writer outside of Sweden. Camilla Lackberg, author of seven Swedish bestsellers, who has the advantage of being young and photogenic, will get a big push, too. Her first novel, The Ice Princess, published in Sweden in 2002, marks her American debut this month.

Meanwhile, Lackberg has thoughtfully suggested the names of other Swedish crime writers and their books in this article at The Guardian. Among them: Hakan Nesser, The Mind’s Eye; Kerstin Ekman, Black Water; Asa Larsson, Sun Storm.

And you can find a knowledgeable, chatty essay on Nordic Noir by Glenn Harper at Crimeculture.com. It’s slightly out of date, but informative, touting, among others, Karen Fossum, whose latest, The Water’s Edge, received a rave review from Marilyn Stasio in The New York Times.

So if there are any Stieg Larsson aficianados out there, please let me know: Will you be looking for more Swedish noir? Or is the Millennium trilogy a fluke?And if anyone knows the work of the other Swedish noirists, please tell us what you think.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. rebekah permalink
    June 16, 2010 12:35 pm

    I’m always looking for a good mystery, and I’ll try Nordic Noir. I think it’s less the genre than the characters that make people love Larsson. Salander, Blomkvist and Berger are all proud, dogged and bold. There’s a lot to root for there.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      June 16, 2010 12:43 pm

      The only one of the other Swedes I’ve read is Henning Mankel’s The Man From Beijing, which I did not love. But that’s because he fares too far afield — not only Sweden and Africa, where he’s spent time, but also 19th century America and China, and contemporary Beijing. As long as he stays in Sweden, though, his story is gripping. One thing he does well, though, is character. Even his minor characters are textured and pungent. I think you’d like.

  2. Candice Simmons permalink
    June 16, 2010 12:40 pm

    I love the alliteration–“Nordic Noir.” That in itself makes me want to seek it out.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      June 16, 2010 12:45 pm

      I recommend you start with Camilla Lackberg or, even better, Karen Fossum. I don’t know why, as I’ve never read them myself. It’s the vibe I get from the research I did, or maybe from the ether, or the unwashed laundery in the bedroom closet.

  3. Oline permalink
    June 16, 2010 12:45 pm

    Camilla Lackberg’s The Ice Princess is quite good as are Karen Fossum’s novels. The finale on her The Water’s Edge is chilling.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      June 16, 2010 12:46 pm

      There, ladies and gentlemen, we at last have an expert opinion. Oline Cogdill, long the mystery novel reviewer for the Sun-Sentinel, is one of the best critics in the field. If she likes Lackberg and Fossum, then I think we’re safe in proceeding.

  4. Tommy Smart permalink
    June 16, 2010 1:08 pm

    I have no love for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo or for that matter, Men Who Hate Women.

    I do like Henning Mankell. I have not read his Man From Beijing, but his Kennedy’s Brain novel suffered the same unbelievable and aimless globe-trotting. The lead character went from Sweden to South Africa to Barcelona and back to Sweden in the space of twenty pages. Greece, Australia and Singapore were also visited. Mankell does shine, like a splendid Swedish sunrise in “Italian Shoes” and “Depths” (two of his non-crime novels) were the action or inaction takes place on isolated islands, literal and figurative.

    I recommend Hjalmar Soderberg for anyone interested in Swedish authors. A hundred years after his novel “The Serious Game” was written it is still being translated, and the themes and writing in “Doctor Glas” remain fresh even today.

    I will give Lackberg and Fossum a look (thanks Oline) after I am done with my collection of American crime novels, because everyone knows Americans know crime best.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      June 16, 2010 11:26 pm

      Tommy, thanks for the Soderberg recommendation. I’ve not heard of him (?) before.

  5. Connie permalink
    June 16, 2010 1:38 pm

    Even as a huge Larsson fan, I doubt I’ll check out any and all crime novels written by Scandinavian authors; I might want a recommendation first (thanks, Oline!) Not too long ago I tried reading a thriller set in Finland, up near the Arctic Circle that came highly acclaimed. It was too violent even for me, loving descriptions of a mutilated woman’s body that kept me from getting more than 50 pages in. I disliked it so much I’ve completely blanked on the name of the author.

    However, I do remember with great fondness Peter Hoeg’s “Smilla’s Sense of Snow.” You take the good with the bad, I suppose.

  6. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    June 16, 2010 11:48 pm

    I haven’t read Smilla, but I did read The Quiet Girl, Hoeg’s 2007 novel about a famous circus clown with tax problems and a sense of hearing so keen he can hear the “acoustic core” of other people — their souls, in effect. It’s beautifully written, and the protagonist is appealing, but the thriller aspects strain credibility, while what some sympathetic critics have called its “post-modern” aspects seem to me merely unsuccessful attempts at fantasy. It had me going until the ridiculous ending, though. Also, back in 1994, I reviewed Borderliners, his follow-up to Smilla. I didn’t much care for it. Here’s a link to my ancient review, if anyone’s interested:

    http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/1994-11-20/entertainment/9411170638_1_danish-school-katarina/2

  7. Connie permalink
    June 17, 2010 12:17 pm

    I guess some people only have one good book in ’em.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      June 17, 2010 2:46 pm

      That’s an interesting observation, one worth an entire discussion all it’s own.

  8. Kris Montee permalink
    June 18, 2010 1:00 pm

    Ditto on what Oline said about Karin Fossum. I read “Don’t Look Back” and it made me want to seek out her other books. Good psychological suspense a la the best PD James, and better written than Larrson. I am slogging through Larrson’s second door-stop right now. I think the title of this one is “Flickan som uttråkad mig till döds.” *

  9. Kris Montee permalink
    June 18, 2010 1:01 pm

    * The Girl Who Bored Me To Death

  10. August 24, 2010 12:07 pm

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