The popularity of the trilogy of books by the late Swedish writer Steig Larsson has spurred interest in other Swedish mystery writers, notably Henning Mankel, Karin Fossum and Leif GW Persson, who has just released a new novel in the United States, “Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End.”
Why are American readers flocking towards stories about Swedish crime?
“Perhaps it’s the cold,” Larsson says via e-mail. “All those frostbitten hearts. All those unspoken words. The loneliness. Being a Swede is being lonely.”
Persson is no newcomer to the Swedish cavalcade of mystery writers; his first novel, “Grisfesten (Pig Party)” was published in 1978. A noted psychological profiler, Persson also has served as an advisor to the Swedish Ministry of Justice. “Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End” seems to use the author’s skills to create profiles of the labyrinthine layers of Swedish law enforcement. When an American jumps from a building, the local officers see it as a simple case of suicide. Despite the fact that the jumper’s shoe arrives a few seconds after he does, killing a dog being walked by elderly man.
Officials from Sweden’s Secret Police are interested, but for a reason that transcends the death of a foreigner on Swedish soil. And something about the incident bothers Lars Martin Johansson, a superintendent with Sweden’s National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, especially when a note is found in the heel of the deceased American’s boot, addressed to Johansson.
What emerges is a complex profile of Swedish law enforcement, but Persson insists that was not his intent.
“I have very humble ambitions when it comes to writing novels: A story worth telling, thrilling with a documentary tone, if possible with some humor in it,” he says.
As the plot unfolds, the novel — set in the mid-1980s — starts to involve the upper reaches of Swedish government in general, and in particular Olof Palme, the Swedish prime minister who was assassinated in 1986. His killer was never found, and much of “Between Summer’s Longing … ” indulges the speculation that Palme was murdered because of rumored ties to the Soviet Union.
Persson agrees that for many in Sweden, especially Social Democrats, Palme’s murder was comparable to the assassination of John F. Kennedy in the U.S.
“Among liberals … the Olof Palme assassination is a kind of national trauma,” he says, noting that especially officials in the police and military believed the prime minister was working with Russians. “Palme was a very, very controversial politician according to the Swedish standards.”
Because he’s Swedish, Leif GW Persson’s work is going to be compared to that of Stieg Larsson, the author of the wildly popular Millennium trilogy. That’s patently unfair; are all Irish novelists compared James Joyce, or U.S. writers judged by the standards set by Faulkner or Twain?
Persson’s novel ‘Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End,’ was published in Sweden in 2002, three years before ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.’ It’s a brainy, complex thriller with deep psychological underpinnings, the antithesis of the breezy mystery novel. Persson takes his time, developing his characters deliberately; the plot unfolds at a similarly deliberate pace. That suits a novel that is by turns intriguing and horrifying, occasionally leavened with a dark Swedish humor.
â¢ Rege Behe