Why Do Scandinavians Seek The Darkness?


One of the biggest selling, most highly-praised novels at my bookstore right now is The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.

Since it just came out in paperback, we’ve been selling like six of them a week. Based on reading the book’s blurbs and hearing about it from customers and coworkers, it appears that The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, although ostensibly a thriller and a mystery, is also one of those rare, genre-defying gems that makes it confusing to know where to shelve it: mystery or literature? (i.e. shitty books or good books).

Larsson, it would seem is one of those accomplished crime novelists, like Chandler, Hammett, Simenon or Highsmith, who transcends the limits of the mystery genre and comments on the human condition as a whole in all its varied facets.

At Slate this week, Nathaniel Rich ponders why it is that Scandinavians, a seemingly prosperous, happy, and largely peaceful people, write such amazing crime fiction.

“What distinguishes these books,” Rich asserts, “is not some element of Nordic grimness but their evocation of an almost sublime tranquility. When a crime occurs, it is shocking exactly because it disrupts a world that, at least to an American reader, seems utopian in its peacefulness, happiness, and orderliness.”

It would seem than that the key to writing good crime fiction is using strong juxtaposition. (This method probably works for all kinds of fiction, and poetry.) A murder for instance that’s committed in some terrible inner-city slum, while appalling, won’t be as startling on the page as a “dark bloodstain on a field of pure white snow.” And perhaps a happier person, or a person from a considerably more prosperous place can better appreciate, from an aesthetic point of view, the darkness, strife, mayhem and murder that are all necessary ingredients in a superb crime novel. Since they don’t have to live with it, it is easier to imagine maybe.

Personally, I’ve had a more-or-less happy existence (knock on virtual wood) but find that my own writing has been veering towards a grim hyper- noir style replete with crimes I’ve never committed, corpses I could never imagine and men and women in peril who I’ve never befriended. In short, if the American experiment fails again (and again), I’m high-tailing it to Scandinavia to finish my novel-in-progess about female mobsters and the women who love them.

Michael Berger is a barely-published writer and book-seller living in San Francisco. He is one of the founding Corsairs of the Iron Garters Bike Club and is currently pursuing a degree in applied pataphysics. He sometimes eats oatmeal for dinner. More from this author →