Swedish Language Blog

Swedish Mysteries Across the Pond Posted by on Aug 25, 2010 in Culture

A quick look at the New York Times Bestseller List (really any of the fiction lists) shows just how dominant the Stieg Larsson mysteries are right now.  The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nets is number one on the hardcover list.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire are numbers one and two respectively on the paperback lists.  It’s an impressive showing, and a showing that has continued for quite some time now.

Even the movies, in Swedish, are increasingly popular.  So much so that they are going to be remade in Hollywood.  Plenty of people are upset by this, seeing it as unnecessary; others see it as confirmation of the widespread appeal of the films.

But the popular Swedish mysteries don’t begin and end with Stieg Larsson.  Earlier this year, Henning Mankell, another Swedish writer of crime novels, made it to the list.  Mankell is most famous for his protagonist, Kurt Wallander who spends the majority of his time in Ystad in southern Sweden.  The fictional Wallander has become so popular that there are tours through Ystad in his honor.

I’ll be honest; I haven’t read all of the Larsson books.  In fact, I’ve only managed to get myself through Män som hatar kvinnor (the Swedish title for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). They are long.  Really long.  And it took me quite a while to get into the book.  I had been warned that would be the case but wasn’t quite prepared to read about 300 pages before it grabbed my attention.

The books are incredibly detailed, sometimes to a fault, but the characters are engaging, and the plot exciting.  If you’re interested in Swedish pop culture, the books offer a glimpse of a very different view of Swedish society than what most people think of when they think of Sweden.

Have you been caught up in the popularity of Swedish detective mysteries?

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About the Author: Marcus Cederström

Marcus Cederström has been writing for the Transparent Swedish Blog since 2009. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Oregon, a Master's Degree in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and a PhD in Scandinavian Studies and Folklore from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He has taught Swedish for several years and still spells things wrong. So, if you see something, say something.


  1. Judy:

    I listened to as an audio book this summer while I drove from New York City down to northern Virginia. It was wonderful–a great thriller! I loved the characters, but mostly I appreciated the name dropping of Swedish places of interest that I actually knew! It brought back wonderful memories. Abridged versions of audio books, sometimes cut out some of the extraneous descriptions and back story to hold a listening audiences attention. This book did an excellent job, and so did the actor who read it. I will probably read the 2nd book soon.
    And as it often happens with this blog (it is so timely), I just finished the first Wallander novel a few hours ago. It took me a long time to get through it. I enjoyed the town references in Skåne, but the descriptions were rather long and clumsy. I think it may have been a poor translation, though. I found lots of problems in that regard. The story itself was not the most gripping, either, but it might make a good movie. I don’t think I’ll read another one, though. Mysteries are not usually my genre of choice.

  2. david:

    Stieg Larsons’ books are definitely a good read. As you say, it takes a while until it grabs you. But I couldn’t stop reading after that and wanted the next volumes. Since the translation always takes some time, I decided to try the last volume in Swedish. It was difficult in the beginning but now after one year living in Sweden and a very relaxing Fjälltour I made it through the 700 pages.

    The movies where also nice. I was a bit concerned when I saw the previews. But there are very well made and I think a Hollywood movie will never be as authentic as the Swedish production. It is very refreshing to see a good movie sometimes that is not from Hollywood.

  3. Erik NorCal:

    I agree with David the books are long and takes time to get hooked but Lizabeth Salander character is great. Just saw the second movie of the Millenium triology and it was good but many parts of the book were left out as happened in the first movie. This is why I prefer reading the books because they are much more complex and it allows my imagination to really get into the story.
    I am embarassed that hollywood feels the need to “remake” what so far are very decent movies. Looks like they are riding on the coat tails of the books and swedish movies popularity…shame on them!

  4. Marcus Cederström:

    @Judy – the crime novels arent really my usual genre either. they have their moments but not my favorite.

    I like the idea of the audio book. especially if they cut out some of that extra detail because I felt like all of the detail really bogged down first larsson book.

    @david – getting through 700 pages in Swedish is quite the accomplishment, congrats! They are a good challenge and I think it is a great idea to read one or two in English before going for Swedish. I would imagine it really adds a lot of context that helps.

    @Erik – very seldom do I find a movie that is better than a book. in fact, very seldom do I even find a movie that is even close to being as good as the book.

    In terms of the hollywood version, I really have no problem at all. With the popularity of the Swedish version and how easy it is to find the original both in theaters and in other forms, I think it only serves to strengthen the Larsson brand. And it has most definitely become a brand.

  5. Jon Norcal:

    I found myself amongst a number of readers of the Stieg Larsson books where we all lost sleep reading them late into the night. Not everyone seems to have the same response, but familiarity with all that is Swedish and an excellent story line development made for more enjoyable mystery reading. Having earlier in life read the Swedish detective novels by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, and then Henning Mankell, these books were a natural next chapter. (I still enjoy Mankell’s books as well.) The first movie complements the novel, suggest not seeing without reading. It will not make sense. The American version will not match the “Swedish” aspect that language and temperament provide. And then what American actress can really see themselves with the tattoos and sexual issues played out as they can only be in the Swedish version? The sad case here is the passing of Stieg Larsson and no further books to be published with these characters. A thank you all the same to Stieg Larsson for a great story that spread well over three volumes.

  6. Marcus Cederström:

    There are rumors though that another book (or at least quite a bit of it) exist on an almost mythical laptop held by his sambo.