I thought I’d recommend a couple Nordic mystery series that I’ve enjoyed lately (we’ve — Sarah has read them all too).
The one I’m most excited about is the Swedish trilogy (so far?) by Asa Larsson (no relation to Stieg). These are Sun Storm, The Blood Spilt, and The Black Path, all featuring as protagonist a troubled young lawyer named Rebecca Martinsson. In the first novel we learn that although Martissson is working at a fancy law firm in the city, she grew up in the rural far North of Sweden where she was involved in some way with a fundamentalist Christian church. When the pastor of this church is found brutally murdered, she returns home and gets sucked into the investigation. Actually, I think the series takes an uptick in quality after this first one; I liked Sun Storm but thought both The Blood Spilt and The Black Path were really impressive. I hate to invoke this invidious concept, but the latter two in the series seem to transcend the procedural genre, achieving the qualities of really good, complex literary fiction, with a range of highly individualized, distinct consciousnesses all represented precisely and evocatively. However, it’s worth starting at the beginning with Sun Storm.
The novels have some things in common with Henning Mankell and, yes, with Stieg Larsson. They don’t have the Tom Clancy-ish, pulpy qualities of Stieg’s — they’re pretty sober and measured in tone with no techo-thriller flourishes — but they are similarly obsessed with misogyny and male institutional/structural domination of women. And while the “feminism” of the Stieg Larsson series is sometimes challenged on the grounds that his novels wallow in depictions of violence against women, these Asa Larsson books are certainly deeply female and I think feminist in approach. Sarah remarked on how good they are on parenting and motherhood — subtle depictions of the complicated emotions involved in raising young kids (especially in relation to one very appealing policewoman).
The other series is Arnaldur Indriðason’s Icelandic novels. I wrote about Jar City and Arctic Chill a while ago and just read Voices, the third in this series featuring detective Erlendur Sveinsson. OK, a Wikipedia check revealed that there are actually TEN in the series and that I’ve read them slightly out of order. The one I just read, Voices, actually belongs after Jar City and Silence of the Grave (which I’ve also read) but before Arctic Chill. Anyhoo, these are all excellent, pretty straight-forward procedurals in the Mankell style. Erlendur is a lot like Kurt Wallender and the novels, like Mankell’s, expose the seamy underbelly of a Nordic society adapting to new forms of immigration, diversity, and associated stresses and pathologies. Indriðason is particularly obsessed with child abuse and other issues related to children and parents. Voices takes place in and around a Reykjavik hotel where the longtime handyman/doorman is found stabbed to death in his Christmas Santa Claus outfit. We soon discover, of course, that the murdered man has an interesting past — he was once a famous child-prodigy choirboy whose rare recordings are now valuable. Erlendur and his colleagues delve into the mystery while dealing with the usual family pressures of Christmastime (Erlendur is trying to reconcile with his drug-addict daughter).
Anyway — good reads. If you liked Stieg Larsson they’re worth a try, and in fact if you didn’t like Stieg you might like these as they’re a bit more “literary” and restrained in style, lacking some of Stieg’s pulp-fiction, Ian Fleming-esque excesses (no giant Russian thugs impervious to pain, etc.)