#2—Nordic Mysteries Continued

#2—Nordic Mysteries Continued


In my first post, I covered what I considered to be a Nordic mystery, how I discovered them, and the myriad reasons I love to read them. This post goes on to discuss additional authors.

The Master: Henning Mankell

Henning Mankell is best known as the author of the magnificent “Kurt Wallender” detective series, although he has written other excellent mysteries. The books below are laid out not in publication order, but in the order in which they are best read, which is chronologically according to the life of Wallander.

While I was photographing my books, I discovered (to my dismay) that I was missing one of the books in the series! I don’t own “An Event in Autumn”, an oversight I intend to remedy IMMEDIATELY by ordering it from an #IndependentBookstore (of course). It should be after “The Man Who Smiled”.

Why do I call Mankell “the master”? The complexity and depth of his plots, the settings he describes so vividly, but most of all, his central character. Wallender is deeply and profoundly affected by each case he works on. It’s Wallender who keeps me coming back to the books again and again, and why I think that Mankell has gone beyond the mystery genre to write great novels.

Credit goes to Fabien on howtoread.me for the following:

Kurt Wallander is a fictional character created by Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell. He is a cop working for the Ystad police department. He is the kind of detective that invests himself on a very personal level in order to solve a crime.

Divorced, Wallander also has a daughter who, like him, became a cop. She is at the center of one book, but Mankell didn’t give her a series after the suicide of the actress playing the role in the Swedish TV series.

“The Pyramid” is actually a collection of stories, starting with Wallander on his homicide first case as a twenty-one-year-old patrolman, but also as a young father facing unexpected danger on Christmas Eve, as a middle-aged detective with his marriage on the brink, as a newly separated investigator solving the brutal murder of a local photographer, and finally as a veteran detective.

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Back to Norway: Karin Fossum

My Fossum books in order of English translation

There could not be a bigger contrast between the detective in Fossum’s novels, and those portrayed in Nesbo and Mankell’s books. From Jeremy Megraw at Crime Fiction Lover:

Karin Fossum is exceptional, not just in Scandinavian crime fiction circles, but in the broader crime genre. Referred to as the ‘queen of crime’ in Norway, she came into the genre as a poet whose work in the health and social work field has informed her compassionate meditations on crime. Her creation, the mild-mannered Inspector Konrad Sejer, is not typical of Scandinavian detective figures. Don’t expect an unhealthy, hot-headed drunk with failed relationships and dysfunctional family issues. Sejer is a soft-spoken widower who never loses control nor runs foul of his boss. While many of his contemporaries have problems with authority, Sejer actually finds comfort in the concept, and the order it brings.

I like the Fossum books because of the deceptive simplicity of the writing, which makes them compelling reads that are easy to consume in a single sitting. NB: I read pretty fast, but especially so in the style inherent to many of the Nordic authors.

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Next Destination: Iceland and Arnaldur Indriðason

With a character more in keeping with the other detectives than Inspector Sejer, Indriðason’s creation Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson is a brilliant policeman, but also a gloomy and thoroughly anti-social figure who guards his privacy jealously. He is a solitary man who spends his free time reading his private library of papers about people lost in the wilds of Iceland. We learn that his obession with this subject comes from his sad history; as a child, he found himself in a bad storm with his little brother who was lost forever. He blames himself for his brother’s death, and periodically goes back to his birthplace to search for his body.

Missing: Hypothermia, Into Oblivion, The Shadow Killer

Set in Reykjavik, and across Iceland’s stony, unforgiving landscape, the books create a strong impression, reflecting the silent, glacial progress of Erendur’s battle with his own inner storms. His investigations provide rich insight into Icelandic culture, old and new. We hear a lot about certain issues – the criminal justice system, nationalism, racism, immigration, corporate greed, the welfare state. One book even touches on genetic disease. The small gene pool is a concern in this small, isolated country. These are thematic elements shared across the Nordic noir sub-genre. (emphasis mine.)

Jeremy Megraw, crimefictionlover.com

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Return to Sweden: Håkan Nesser

The Nesser books I own are from the “Inspector Van Veeteren” series; he is the author of several other novels. The interesting thing about the Nesser books is that they take place in a fictitious city called Maardam, said to be located in northern Europe in a country which is never named but resembles Sweden, the Netherlands, Poland and Germany. The names however are mostly Dutch (see blog #1, Janwillem van de Wetering).

The interesting thing about Van Veeteren is that the first five novels he is still a Detective Chief Inspector; in the last five novels he is retired, but sometimes he leaves his antiquarian book store to help out with investigations. Van Veeteren is a bit grumpy and cynical, enjoys dark beer and chess. He is very intuitive when it comes to reading people, a key factor in his success in solving his cases.

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In my final Nordic mystery blog I will be discussing the following authors:

  • Helene Tursten (Sweden)
  • Lene Kaaberbøl (Denmark): Author of the “Nina Borg” series with Agnete Friis.
  • Lars Keplar (Norway)
  • Yrsa Sigurdardottir (Iceland)
  • Jussi Adler-Olsen (Denmark)

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