- Scandinavian Crime Fiction ed. by Andrew Nestingen and Paula Arvas
This collection of essays is part of a series, European Crime Fictions, and its contributors engage literature, film, and television programs from the Scandinavian region from the 1990s to the present. Twelve essays, including one each by the co-editors, are organized under three headings: Revisions of the Socially Critical Genre Tradition, Questions of Place, and Politics of Representation. Eight of the contributors are based in Scandinavian countries (four in Sweden, and one each in Norway, [End Page 521] Denmark, and Iceland). The collection has lofty goals; as described by the co-editors in their introduction, "this collection of essays seeks to foster greater understanding of Scandinavian crime fiction among its readers, as well as to contribute to a critical account of the form, its history and the problems inherent in the notion of 'Scandinavian' crime fiction, not least the categorization of distinct national literary and cultural conventions and traditions under such a rubric" (15). Its publication is a welcome sign that Scandinavian crime fiction continues to gain ground as a subject worthy of serious study, and it is recommended to all readers of Scandinavian Studies interested in the genre.
Given the collection's billing as "the first English-language study of this widely-read and influential form," one would expect to find the authors contextualizing their material for English-speaking readers and viewers of Scandinavian crime fiction and television. Some of the contributions succeed in addressing this audience by introducing new authors and texts and by offering insight on the specifically Scandinavian context (reviews, author interviews, sales, and translation patterns) that would be less accessible to those readers without knowledge of the languages. (Very few readers, even of Scandinavian Studies, will have competence in all of the languages represented, and there is a potentially broad readership of the volume that will be entirely reliant on English translations.) Some of the essays provide introductions to books by lesser-known authors by including some unavailable in English translation. Notable in this regard is Katrín Jakobsdóttir's essay, "Meaningless Icelanders: Icelandic Crime Fiction and Nationality," which introduces its topic with a quick glance at "what was probably the first Icelandic crime story," a short story written by an Icelandic emigrant to Canada and featuring an Icelandic-Canadian as sleuth. Along with persuasive readings of Icelandic crime novels by Arnaldur Indriðason, Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson, and Ævar Örn Jósepsson, Jakobsdóttir offers readers context for Icelandic crime fiction and introduces some writers who are likely to be new names for many readers. "Straight Queers: Anne Holt's Transnational Lesbian Detective Fiction," by Ellen Rees, introduces Holt's Hanne Wilhelmsen series to English-language readers who are likely to be more familiar with Holt's Vik and Stubø novels; the first title of the Wilhelmsen series only become available in English translation last year, roughly contemporaneous with the publication of this essay collection. The specifically Scandinavian context of reception and interchange among authors and critics receives valuable attention in several essays, particularly those by Sara Kärrholm and Magnus Persson, discussed later in the review.
The collection is less successful, however, when it comes to providing comparative analysis with Anglo-American crime fiction. Scholars who [End Page 522] offer a genealogy of their subject that draws on traditions outside their subject region have an obligation to demonstrate working knowledge of the relevant literary history, and several essayists who have chosen to discuss Anglo-American precursors or contemporary examples do not fulfill that obligation. This can skew claims concerning specifically Scandinavian characteristics; for example, Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse is an obvious counterpart to Mankell's Wallander, but U.K. procedurals are largely missing from the collection and there is not a single reference to Morse, either in print or in the long-running television serial. Basic characterizations of English versus North American crime fiction traditions are frequently too simplistic, an ironic weakness in a volume that seeks critical engagement with ideas of national literary traditions in the Scandinavian region...