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Swedish crime in the capital

Jairaj Singh writes about a week-long festival on how Scandinavian crime fiction has come of age.

books Updated: Apr 16, 2010 22:13 IST
Jairaj Singh
Jairaj Singh
Hindustan Times

If you've been following literary critics rave about the so-called 'Scandinavian invasion' on the international bestsellers' list, then the coming of age of Swedish crime writing mustn't come as a surprise.

This has had a lot to do with the international success that's followed Stieg Larsson's exceptional posthumous crime novel The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its sequel, The Girl Who Played With Fire, part of the Millennium trilogy. According to its publishers, the trilogy has sold over 20 million copies across 40 countries.

While Larsson is considered the latest crime writer to lift Swedish crime writing from cult status to a literary genre, there are others who deserve mention.

In the 1960s and 70s, Swedish couple Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö brought attention to crime writing with their Martin Beck series. But it was Henning Mankell with his Wallander series (made into a BBC television series), Danish writer Peter Høeg and Miss Smilla who got Nordics their taste of international success.

American critics like to believe the popularity of Swedish crime writing has to do with the 'exotic element' its landscape offers — and there's no denying it. Locations and trails mentioned in Larsson's trilogy and Mankell's series are popular tourist attractions today.

British critics mention the influence of early British crime writers from the Golden Age, such as Arthur Conan Doyle, is hard to miss.

But Swedish crime writing has its own distinct traits. As The Guardian puts it: the plotlines are bleak, the locations are forbidding and the main characters usually angst-ridden alcoholics. Another reason for its popularity is that these crime stories are harsh critics of the functioning of 'morally debatable' welfare state societies.

"Crime fiction has moved with the times. It has become reflective of society in a way — mirror imaging the changing trends, questioning authority, taking a closer look at the grime underneath," says Lars-Olof Lindgren, Swedish ambassador to India.

"Whether that is a correct picture of reality can be debated."

The Swedish embassy is organising a Swedish Crime writing festival next week at the India Habitat Centre that will include talks, panel discussions, a film preview, as well as a workshop on crime fiction writing. Swedish writer Håkan Nesser will be in town to talk about crime writing.

"I will touch upon a number of aspects and try to explain why, all of a sudden, the whole world seems to be reading Swedish (or Nordic) crime fiction," says Nesser.

"I will, of course, explore my own ideas about the genre," he adds.

The Swedish Crime Fiction Week
Begins on April 19 and goes on till April 24 at the India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road. The theatrical reading will be followed by panel discussions, lectures and a workshop on how to write crime fiction. For more information call: 011-44197100