Steven Peacock’s study is the second of two books published in 2014 that concentrate on Swedish crime fiction (SWCF). The other is Kerstin Bergman’s Swedish Crime Fiction: The Making of Nordic Noir. The main difference between the two is that while Bergman focuses exclusively on novels, Peacock shows more interest in their film and television adaptations. (I will use
film from this point, to cover feature films and TV series.) Peacock divides his work into five chapters: Nation, Genre, and Institution; Community and the Family; Space and Place; Bodies; and Interview Transcripts. In his introduction, Peacock says he intends to follow Mark Bould in his view that the term noir needs to be studied outside America,
in other national, linguistic, and international contexts,
and Michael A. Boyce in his
understanding of noir as ‘a particular sensibility or mood, one of alienation, pessimism, and uncertainty’ 3
. Since SWCF novels have been studied by recent English-language critics, notably Barry Forshaw
and Kerstin Bergman
, this review will concentrate on Peacock’s approach to film adaptations, a decision strengthened by the fact that Peacock, by his own admission, reads the novels in English and follows the dialogues of Swedish films through English subtitles. I should add, by way of further introduction, that Peacock is both careful and generous in his selection of other critics’ views.
While many SWCF enthusiasts would consider the first Swedish film version of Stieg Larsson’s Männ som hatar kvinnor Men Who Hate Women, directed by Niels Arden Oplev in 2009, to be their adaptation of choice, Peacock justifies his concentration on David Fincher’s 2011 remake, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, with an expert and fascinating reading of Fincher’s technique. His film
opens outside of time and space, with a bravura title sequence separated from the diegetic world of the narrative, and thus from Sweden 114
. Peacock then centres his attention on Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). In Fincher’s opening sequence proper, we are in Stockholm, and Blomkvist has lost his case against Wennerström:
…television screens in cafés and shops hang heavily over the journalist’s head.
Re-viewing the film a second time, these images can be seen as a foreshadowing of Blomkvist’s ultimate fate: caught on camera (literally) strung-up in Martin’s basement lair, ready for slaughter.
Peacock then quotes Casey Benyahia’s view that Salander is seen by Larsson
as a product of society’s fear of and attraction to the digital world 129
. For Salander, as for any individual,
the possibilities of ambiguity and deception created by cyberspace can alter the nature of social exchange, introducing a precondition of uncertainty or anxiety into all virtual contacts 129
. Peacock now cleverly links Salander’s expertise in a virtual world with her journey from Stockholm to Hedeby Island:
The speed and dexterity of her movements through cyberspace find tangible
real-world expression in the shots of her riding on her motorcycle—navigating the webs of roads and bridges on the streets of Stockholm and out on Hedeby Island. Cyberspace offers her a position of immunity, a site from which she can map her experiences in the geographical spaces of the real world.
Stieg Larsson was clearly attracted to outsiders and shared with other SWCF writers the fear that Sweden’s welfare state, especially in its perceived late 20th-century decline, can deprive its citizens of what was once the country’s badge of pride: individual freedom. In Leif G. W. Persson’s Mellan sommarens längtan och vinterns köld
Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s Cold, Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy
, and Henning Mankell’s Den orolige mannen
The Troubled Man
, the state has become secretive and Orwellian, prepared to go beyond mere surveillance to murder in order to protect itself. Throughout his book, Peacock is aware of this larger tension and of its microcosmic reflection in institutions, business, and the media. His approach to Liza Marklund’s journalist heroine, Annika Bengtzon (Helena Bergström), in Colin Nutley’s 2001 film Sprängeren
provides a visual image of what Mankell has called
the Swedish Anxiety quoted in Peacock 16
. The novel begins when someone—surely a terrorist?—has blown up the nearly-completed stadium for the Olympic Games. The attack is more terrifying, more un-Swedish if you like, when the police discover that the chair of Sweden’s Olympic committee, Christina Furhage, has been dismembered by the blast. In his chapter Bodies, Peacock shows how such a violent act
suggests the fragmentation of self and society 134
In The Bomber, Colin Nutley quickly establishes a pattern of editing shots of body parts into abstract collages. Footage of Olympic participants is presented in this way, and connected to the close-up shots of a mangled corpse in the opening scene. Both are violently cut, chopped up to be made pointedly anonymous.
In the microcosm of her office milieu, Bengtzon is presented by Marklund
as a noble loner, standing apart from the pack mentality of the press 79
The 2003 film of the novel develops these tensions between Bengtzon as individual and member of the press in its compositions of characters in the workplace. It presents the news editorial boardroom in the much-favored modern style of a shaky-cam, suggesting the team’s constant anxiety or unpreparedness for the next big news story.
… The free camera provides an intimate feel but keeps Bengtzon at a distance. The film does the same with the killer, holding us with the news reporters, presenting nothing from the murderer’s perspective. Our sense of the fictional world is filtered through a press-eye view, and Bengtzon’s separateness again aligns her with the killer’s outsider status.
In a section called
, as a lawyer in the capital—makes her feel claustrophobic. It is
Country houses, locked rooms, and snow-bound mysteries 124-26
, Peacock takes us to Åsa Larsson’s arctic community of Kiruna and another outsider, Rebecka Martinsson (Izabella Scorupco in the first Åsa Larsson film). She feels “at home” in the place where she was born; at the same time, the community, with its secrecy and hostilities to Stockholmers—Rebecka works, at least in Larsson’s first novel
a cold and insular place 125
. In Leif Lindblom’s film version,
in the opening images the camera turns immediately to the skies, to the majesty of the northern lights.
as the camera pans from left to right, it brings into view the sights of a modern church building, all metallic struts and plastic sheeting. This building, this church, forms the shell under which the clammed-up community gathers 126
. The audience will immediately sense something alien about the structure, and of course the first murder will take place here, spreading paranoia and more violence through the
winter landscape. As vast and beautiful as Sweden’s forests and mountains may be, there is no hiding place. With the economy that characterizes film at its best, Lindblom captures a major concern of SWCF as a whole: the question of
what happens in settings where the idea of a public good has been lost Nicole Rafter and Michelle Brown 2011, quoted in Peacock 99
Peacock ends his book with five rewarding transcripts of interviews conducted between him and the following filmmakers and authors: Mikael Wallén and Erik Hultkvist of Yellow Bird Productions, who gave us the Swedish Wallander series and the Millennium films; Andy Harries of Left Bank Productions, the company that co-produced the BBC Wallander series starring Kenneth Branagh; the novelists Johan Theorin and Mari Jungstedt; and an interesting odd man out, John Ajvide Lindkvist, writer of the best-selling novel Låt den rätta komma in
Let the Right One In
, that was filmed in Sweden
by Thomas Alfredson and in America
by Matt Reeves. Peacock is, I think, justified in claiming that his interview with Lindkvist provides us with insights into
thematic intersections between the horror and crime drama genres 23
While wishing that Steven Peacock had placed more trust in his own special field of film and not devoted as much space to SWCF in its novel form, I have found this a rewarding and stimulating book. One can only hope that similarly specialized studies of Nordic Noir in Iceland, Norway, Denmark, and Finland will soon appear.