"Even those unmoved by its subject will thrill to [Scandinavian Noir], a beautifully crafted inquiry into fiction, reality, crime and place . . . Perhaps when it comes to fiction and reality, what we need most are critics like Lesser, who can dissect the former with the tools of the latter." --Kate Tuttle, The New York Times Book Review
An in-depth and personal exploration of Scandinavian crime fiction as a way into Scandinavian culture at large
For nearly four decades, Wendy Lesser's primary source of information about three Scandinavian countries—Sweden, Norway, and Denmark—was mystery and crime novels, and the murders committed and solved in their pages. Having never visited the region, Lesser constructed a fictional Scandinavia of her own making, something between a map, a portrait, and a cultural history of a place that both exists and does not exist. Lesser’s Scandinavia is disproportionately populated with police officers, but also with the stuff of everyday life, the likes of which are relayed in great detail in the novels she read: a fully realized world complete with its own traditions, customs, and, of course, people.
Over the course of many years, Lesser’s fictional Scandinavia grew more and more solidly visible to her, yet she never had a strong desire to visit the real countries that corresponded to the made-up ones. Until, she writes, “between one day and the next, that no longer seemed sufficient.” It was time to travel to Scandinavia.
With vivid storytelling and an astonishing command of the literature, Wendy Lesser’s Scandinavian Noir: In Pursuit of a Mystery illuminates the vast, peculiar world of Scandinavian noir—first as it appears on the page, then as it grows in her mind, and finally, in the summer of 2018, as it exists in reality. Guided by sharp criticism, evocative travel writing, and a whimsical need to discover “the difference between existence and imagination, reality and dream,” Scandinavian Noir is a thrilling and inventive literary adventure from a masterful writer and critic.
Part literary criticism and part travelogue, this exceptionally well-conceived cultural history compares the "mental image" of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden that critic Lesser (Jerome Robbins: A Life in Dance) derived from immersion in Nordic noir thrillers, and the reality she found when she finally visited those countries. In the book's first half, she relates how Maj Sj wall and Per Wahl 's 10 novels featuring detective Martin Beck jump-started her fascination with the genre. She then exhaustively identifies themes common in the work of Scandinavian crime novelists, including the sadism of their criminal characters, the alcohol problems shared by their detectives and criminals, and the relative lack of emphasis on judicial proceedings. Traveling to Copenhagen, Oslo, and Stockholm in the book's second part, Lesser discovers that the murders so rampant in the novels are comparatively low 100 to 120 per year for all of Sweden, for example and that the violence against children so frequently depicted "doesn't happen all that often in real life," which is "precisely why it appears in fiction." Lesser is remarkably encyclopedic in her knowledge of Nordic noir and easily conveys her enthusiasm to readers. This fine exploration of fiction as reality and reality as fiction will draw many readers to the authors she covers.