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A Lust for Blood

Such a nice place—why all the mayhem?

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Nowhere—except for maybe Murder, She Wrote’s Cabot Cove—is the gap between actual and fictional homicide stats greater than in Scandinavia. What has driven the safest, most egalitarian part of the world to excel at inventing brutal murders? Partly it’s the cold and the darkness, the high suicide rates. “The cliché is that the detectives are all fiftysomething functioning alcoholics,” says Nordic ­fiction scholar Andrew Nestingen. “And that’s certainly a commonality.” There’s also the basic desire to puncture a ­picture-perfect image, beginning with Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö (see the Sjöwall interview below). “These authors use the genre to criticize things that they see wrong in their society,” says professor Ross Shideler—an impulse that only grew along with the collapse of the Soviet Union and a subsequent surge in both ­immigration and crime. Yet even as murder rates leveled off, writers kept churning out procedurals. If the genre has enjoyed more literary respect than it has elsewhere, it’s partly because many of its writers are moonlighting. Larsson, like his character Mikael Blomkvist, was a muckraking journalist; Kerstin Ekman has been a member of the Nobel–­endowing Swedish Academy. Which doesn’t mean motivations are always idealistic. “You have to be extremely careful what you take on now, because there are some gold-diggers,” says literary agent Niclas Salomonsson. “When it doesn’t come from the heart, you notice.”


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