You know how surreal the world has become when the blurbs on a book's front cover praise the author's nationality and say nothing about the book.
Cover blurb on the latest Karin Fossum, The Caller:
"Another Scandinavian wonder." -- Entertainment Weekly
On the front cover of an Arnaldur Indridason book:
"The market and appetite for [Stieg Larsson's books] seem to be unappeasable, as does the demand for ... the stories of Arnaldur Indridason." -- Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair
Why, as an industry, do we engage in such inane behavior? It must be because we believe all Scandinavians are the same, whether Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, or Icelandic. Because nobody can tell the difference between Stieg Larsson and all those other Northern Europeans, right?
You know, this wouldn't bother me so much if anyone had spent any ink on discussing the relative merits of these writers. Personally, I like Stieg Larsson's pacing; Lars Kepler's inversions; Karin Fossum's twists; Arnaldur Indridason's economy. They're all different enough that I'd be able to tell who was who from reading a manuscript. But there we go, lumping them all into the "hot new Scandinavian" category.
Remember the Robert Fulghum book from a decade or so ago, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? Well, this holiday season I present:
Everything I Learned About Scandinavia From Reading Crime Fiction
1. It is really cold in Scandinavia, but most people take it in stride.
2. The media still matter in Scandinavia, especially newspapers and magazines.
3. The people have really good sex lives.
4. All top-ranking police officials are estranged from their spouses.
5. People like to move to Scandinavia from other parts of Europe. They are usually murdered.
6. Scandinavians drink a lot of coffee and smoke a lot of cigarettes.
7. Scandinavia has lots of drug problems, many of which lead to murder.
8. Scandinavians in general have fewer neuroses than the rest of us, except for their inability to communicate effectively with friends, lovers, husbands, wives.
9. Everyone has at least one dramatic, precocious, or unstable child. This child may be a drug addict (see #7).
10. Not all Scandinavians are blond. There are some redheads.
11. Despite attempts to achieve social equality, Scandinavia still has quite a bit of stratification.
12. Scandinavians drink Coke, just like the rest of us.
13. The residents of Scandinavia enjoy outdoor sports.
14. Higher-ups in Scandinavia are somewhat less obnoxious than higher-ups in the rest of the world, but they are still annoying.
15. All Scandinavian crime authors are positioned by their publishers as the next Stieg Larsson.