Monday 9 August 2010

More about The Swedish Crime Story

I mentioned recently The Swedish Crime Story by Bo Lundin, which provides a concise but useful account of the genre’s highpoints up to 1980. It’s a short survey, and the book contains both the Swedish text and an English translation (which reads oddly in one or two small respects, but is otherwise okay.) Bo Lundin does not exactly have the critical or literary skills of Julian Symons, but all the same, I’ve found Lundin’s account very interesting.

Lundin highlights two distinctively Swedish elements of crime fiction. One is called ‘the Trenter Syndrome’, named after its foremost proponent. Stockholm’s Stieg Trenter wrote books in which the atmosphere of his home city was as central to the book as the mystery itself.

‘The Ulcer Syndrome’ (named after Inspector Martin Beck’s troublesome ulcer in the books by Sjowall and Wahloo describes books with a strong sociological, although sometimes far from socialist, element. Lundin says: ‘There is a typical Swedish disappointment to be found in these books, an injured idealism...the big disappointment has its basis in a dream which once seemed close to fulfilment.’ In these books, settings are not so much used for local colour as for casting light on the characters.

Lundin identifies the first real Swedish crime story as The Stockholm Detective, by Prins Pirre, published in 1893. I found it interesting that early Swedish crime writers studied Sherlock Holmes, Arsene Lupin, and Agatha Christie. Indeed, if Lundin is right, two books by Major Samuel August Duse anticipated The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. We already know that Anton Chekhov, no less, used an ‘acroidal’ plot in The Shooting Party. So perhaps The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was not quite as ground-breaking as everyone in the English-speaking world seemed to think at the time. Though I very much doubt that Christie knew the Pirre book, and probably not Chekhov's, either.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Interesting! I hadn't thought about either of those elements, but now that you mention it--I saw both in Stieg Larsson's books, which are the most recent Swedish crime novels I've read.

Risto Raitio said...

FYI: the (pen) name for the author of Stockholms-detektiven is Prins PIERRE, act. Frederik Lindholm (1861-1938).