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