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Nordic noir fiction can be divided into two periods.
Before the girl and after the girl.
The girl being “The Girl.” You know, the one with the dragon tattoo.
Late author Stieg Larsson’s 2008 novel “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” took the publishing world — make that the world — by storm.
The first book in his Millennium series introduced the world not only to punkette heroine hacker Lisbeth Salander and crusading journalist Mikel Blomkvist as they attempt to track down a young girl lost for decades. Larsson also introduced the rising genre of Nordic noir. The titles in his series have sold a phenomenal 53 million copies in more than 50 countries, including more than 1 million e-books.
Suddenly, in Larsson’s wake, dark and bloody books set in the Swedish (or Norwegian, or Icelandic) countryside began hitting best-seller lists worldwide and flying off library shelves. These were not necessarily new author names, but Lisbeth made them popular.
For nearly a decade before this genre-changing character arrived on the scene, writers such as Henning Mankell, Karin Fossum, Hakan Nesser, Jo Nesbo and Peter Hoeg had been delving into the dark side of sunny Scandinavia.
Their gritty, philosophical thrillers merged tenets of hard-boiled American noir, such as the troubled detective, with specific regional concerns, such as anti-immigration and anti-welfare-state sentiment. And lots of snow and ice, of course.
“There was a Scandinavian invasion years before Stieg Larsson. It really all started with Henning Mankell, whose books began appearing here in the late ’90s,” says Bill Ott, editor and publisher of Booklist Publications of the American Library Association, who has written extensively about the trend.
“What Stieg Larsson did was become popular, not just with crime-fiction readers but with everyone.”
Wendy Bartlett, collection development manager for the Cuyahoga County Public Library system, has seen the trend explode locally.
“Interest in Scandinavian writers was building, but Larsson blew it wide open with ‘Tattoo,’ ” she says. “We have as many Larsson books circulating as you normally would for a John Grisham.