In this collection, Kerstin Bergman has assembled contributions from crime literature
critics and researchers who presented at a crime literature seminar at Lund University.
Each contributor introduces one of Sweden’s twenty-five provinces, so called landskap [landscapes] as depicted in crime literature. Bergman has written extensively about Swedish crime
literature, most recently in the book Swedish Crime Fiction: The Making of Nordic Noir (2014), but compared to her other more academic writing, Deckarnas svenska landskap offers a lighter fare. If the book had been glossier and larger it would have worked
perfectly as a coffee table book, especially considering the beautiful (summer) landscape
photos, which introduce each region. In the introduction, Bergman talks about the
Swedes’ deep connection to nature and how it is carried over into literature. Indeed,
it is this attention to nature depictions in the crime novels, she argues, which makes
them so typically Swedish. She believes that the connection to the local environments
gives a sense of realism and increases the readers’ perception of the authenticity
of the stories. Finding a dead body in the peacefulness of Swedish nature makes the
crime even more frightening.
Each landskap is represented by at least one reasonably well-known Swedish crime writer, not necessarily
because these authors come from there, but rather because they have chosen to set
their stories in that particular region. Bergman defines four different categories
of crime writers in the framework of how they relate their texts to nature: one, by
letting nature represent evil itself; two, by showing how nature and weather reflect
the criminal investigation and the protagonists’ emotional states; three, by using
local attractions and regional highlights to function as a sort of guidebook for possible
tourists; and four, by re-enacting the mystical relationship to nature in one’s childhood.
It’s clear, however, that the function of nature for the many writers introduced in
this collection can seem somewhat repetitious within these definitions, which is understandable
considering the sheer volume of crime writers (more than 30) introduced in this work.
The chapters, on average seven to eight pages long, are organized geographically from
south to north (we are provided with a map of Sweden), and, at the end of each chapter
a list of other authors of local interest is presented. It’s probable, and recommended,
that readers approach the texts by picking the landskap they are particularly interested in. To read it from cover to cover can be daunting
with one forest depiction gliding into the next, making the regions blur together
into one single long stretch as if one were driving along the E4 highway. This is
especially true for the chapters that almost solely focus on plot summaries interspersed
with quoted nature depictions from its chosen crime writer. The most memorable chapters
are those written with the intention to not just describe nature but rather to analyze
the works in which they appear. Noteworthy are Sara Kärrholms’ intriguing reading
of major themes connecting the supernatural and mythological to the past in Johan
Theorin’s novels, Emma Tornborg’s clever analysis of how the conflict between nature
and culture is illustrated in Kerstin Ekman’s landscape depiction, and Carina Sjöholm
and Katarina Tornborg’s presentation of the complex relationship between tradition
and modernity in Tove Klackenberg’s works.
The major attraction of this book is definitely its introduction of many exciting,
and to some, new authors and landscapes other than the obvious cases of Henning Mankell
and the Scania of his Kurt Wallander or Åsa Larsson and her Rebecka Martinson’s Lappland
(although they too are of course represented here). In this sense, Deckarnas svenska landskap will work as a gate to further exploration of Sweden and its regional crime writers;
it’s easy to see the appeal of bringing this book along for a road trip or to put
it in the guest room in the summer cottage. While the book will be of primary interest
to Swedish tourists and crime readers, it could also be beneficial to instructors
of Swedish studies who want to introduce settings beyond the more traditional urban
ones in their teaching. This much is clear: you are not safe anywhere in Sweden.
University of British Columbia