Forget the superficially shiny side of Scandi crime and the clean-cut appearance of IKEA Sweden. This high-class anthology set in Sweden’s capital city exposes the queasy realities of social inequality, soul-diminishing isolation, bigotry and brutality in thirteen separate stories that offer an unflinchingly grim picture of the Scandinavian urban environment. This is midnight noir indeed – but the editors skilfully balance this collection of previously unpublished, contemporary tales with slices of satire, sardonic observations and even a sprinkling of supernatural whimsy. So it’s not all relentless misery…
Stockholm Noir is divided into three topics – crime and punishment, fear and darkness, and the brutality of beasts – which explore extensive territory in the landscape of crime fiction. The anthology includes paranoid psychological chillers, police procedurals and gangland justice alongside a couple of tales of the unexpected which twist brilliantly in the final lines. It pays homage to the hardboiled noir of the golden era – an archetypal femme fatale appears in the opening effort, while gangsters demand total loyalty in ‘The Smugglers’ – but the action never leaves the modern city limits. ‘Still in Kallhall’ highlights the misery of being gripped in social stagnation, while ‘Northbound’ comments on the sterile sexuality and potential menace of internet dating.
‘From the Remains’ is maybe the odd one out here; it appears to echo the themes of ‘Let The Right One In’ and then takes an extremely sinister turn. ‘The Splendors and Miseries of a Swedish Crime Writer’, although an amusing interlude, didn’t quite hit the same high as the other stories. However, it raises appropriately pertinent points about the ubiquity of fictional crime in a country which remains, even today, relatively untroubled.
Nathan Larson finishes this literary collection with a dramatic depiction of the nature of hate in ‘10/09/03’. The pages almost drip with small-minded spite, as a convincingly chilling extremist masterminds an appalling hate crime. Superb storytelling: horrible subject matter. It’s a fitting end to a mature ensemble of suspense, violence and intrigue, one which leaves the reader entertained, yes, but also educated and somewhat sobered.
Some of the names you’ll recognise, like Ake Edwardsson, but many of the authors are less familiar and seldom translated into English. Stockholm Noir is a welcome introduction to their talents.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Stockholm Noir from Akashic Books is available in paperback or ebook
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