Thursday, March 26, 2009

Book Review: Swedish Mysteries

"The Man Who Smiled," Henning Mankell

Vintage Crime. 2005 [NYC 2006]

"Sun Storm," Asa Larsson
Delta Fiction. 2003 [NYC 2005/o6]

"The Blood Split," Asa Larsson
Delta Fiction. 2004 [NYC 2007/08]

by Eric Green

If you are going to Sweden be sure to read Henning Mankell first and then pick up Asa Larsson. [And, be sure to see: " Everlasting Moment," film]

Mankell's Kurt Wallander mysteries are the standard by which other mystery writers are judged against, especially Swedish writers. With Mankell there is no bridging to a novel style of writing. Wallander is pure investigator, pure cop, and purely in agony over doing his job right. In the "Man Who Smiled," Wallander investigates a Swedish millionaire icon. An icon who spreads his wealth among all the charities that Swedish people want. He was the wealthy philanthropist that every looked up to. Alfred Harderberg from Farnholm Castle conducts his business around the world. But, they was something wrong with that picture.

The murder of two lawyers, a security guard who was a former policeman, an accountant, attempted murder of Wallander himself, and at the attempted killing by a land mine of a secretary. This mystery is not short on murder.

In this book, Mankell introduces Ann-Britt Hoglund into the male dominated world of Swedish policing.

The mystery takes place, not in Stockholm, but in the Southwest part of Sweden, the Scane. The main town is Ystad with many trips to Malmo on the coast, just across from Denmark. ["Everlasting Moments" took place there also.]

The constructs and writing style of Mankell's mysteries are a form that keeps you reading every page with eagerness. In this mystery, the reader even knows who the guilty party is. The question will Wallander figure it out and make the arrest within the time allotted?

Asa Larsson, on the other hand, has written two mysteries that feature the extreme, fundamentalism of religion in Sweden. Her mysteries take place in the far north of Sweden. Larsson's featured characters are not just official detectives. They include an attorney who gets involved in the death of people who she knows intimately. Rebecca Martinsson is a very dissatisfied attorney who lives in the big city, Stockholm, but keeps strong ties in the North. These are ties, which carry strong ambivalence with them. In the "Sun Storm" she knows the religious leader who is brutally killed. The local police presences in the book are mainly Anna-Maria Mella and Sven-Erik Stalnacke

Yes, you get the picture. Larsson's major characters are women. This book received the "Swedish First Crime Novel Award." That the award carried the word "Novel" was more than just a slight description. In this book, and her second book, "the Blood Spirit" was both written as mystery novels, but a strong leaning toward novel themes. The second book is more novel about life in Northern Sweden than a mystery crime book.

For narrow mystery readers, Larsson's book may not be enjoyable.

Marlaine DeLargy translated both of Larsson's books.

Larsson deserved her award. Following the lives of Martinson and Mella are well with the read. But, the master is Mankell. Mankell is not only fun to read but also the mystery stays with you through the entire book.

For people interested in the culture and people of Sweden, both Mankell and Larsson fill the bill. This is especially true given that both of these writers take you well away from Stockholm.