The Department of Sensitive Crimes
Alexander McCall Smith
In this book we meet Ulf Varg, a Swedish detective whose responsibility is sensitive crimes. These are odd crimes in which nobody is really harmed, and where the most serious injury is a stabbing in the back of the knee. Ulf is in love with a woman who works in his department. He has psychotherapy. He has a dog called Martin, who is hearing-impaired and who is the only dog in Sweden to have been taught to lip-read.
The Book of Hygge
Louisa Thomsen Brits
Ulf is Swedish, which is a bit different from being from Denmark, the country that gave us hygge, the Danish art of contentment, comfort and connection. But the Swedes and the Danes agree about many values. This book will tell you all about those values, and how hygge can make you feel much better about everything.
The Hygge Life
Gunnar Karl Gíslason
If you want to be truly Scandinavian (and it is a very comfortable state), then you will need to eat accordingly. This book has many delicious Scandinavian recipes for what to eat when you are busy being authentically Scandinavian. Most of them seem very healthy—and comfortable.
Even if you do not normally read books on economic topics, this one is extremely approachable. It tells the story of how an economic philosophy that seeks to embody fairness can create a wealthy and productive society. This will not go down well in some quarters, but the success of the Scandinavian countries is there to see. Of course if you believe Scandinavian Noir, these countries have an appalling murder rate—but that’s fiction.
This is nothing to do with Scandinavia, but it has everything to do with a well-known wolf from the United States. It is a fascinating story. Ulf Varg, of The Department of Sensitive Crimes, has a lupine name: Ulf means wolf in Danish, and Varg has the same meaning in Sweden. Ulf is therefore Wolf Wolf. In the first book of this series he encounters a case of lycanthropy, or what looks like lycanthropy.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
There is a lot of Scandinavian Noir fiction from which one can take one’s pick. This book is something of a classic of the genre. Stieg Larson blazed a trail, but there are others, including the vastly popular Jo Nesbo. These authors found that people could not get enough of tales of Scandinavian criminal doings. They read these books curled up by the fire, in a living demonstration of hygge.
Like many people, I have enjoyed the recent spate of novels and television series focusing on the slightly darker side of Scandinavian countries. Viewed from abroad, those societies seem so perfect—so well-behaved, so calm, and so enlightened. Scandinavian Noir, the genre of fiction reveling in Scandinavian crime, up-ended all that. Now we became used to dark deeds committed against a backdrop of these otherwise sedate societies. And it seemed we could not get enough of it.
Scandinavian Blanc is my reaction to that. This is fiction set in a Swedish city, with a hero, Ulf Varg, who deals with very unusual and low-key crimes. There are no bodies and autopsies. Everything is very … well, very Scandinavian.
Of course every author has a list of books that have played a role in the emergence of his or her own books. Here are some books of Scandinavian interest that have contributed to my writing my own Scandinavian book, The Department of Sensitive Crimes.
Featured illustration: Lorenzo Gritti