It disturbed me a little a few years ago when the whole Scandinavian crime book wave swept the genre. There were a whole bunch of them suddenly, crowding out my vested interest in British and North American fare. I’m not sure I have them in the right order, but with books and films came two different Wallanders and a Martin Beck. They, and others from the cold corner of the planet climbed the charts. Then, at an insurmountable peak, there was that woman with the tattoo. Just how much fascinating crime fiction could a relatively small country like Sweden produce?
Turns out, quite a bit. I imagine that many of you are way ahead of me here, but if you’ve somehow neglected to watch Annika Bengtzon: Crime Reporter and Johan Falk, both Swedish imports, go back and take a look. In addition to the country of origin, they have quite a bit in common — high production values, an evolving but not intrusive backstory and a thriller rather than who-done-it structure.
Annika, Malin Crépin, is a devoted reporter, perhaps too devoted, who will do nearly anything to get the story before her competitors. Her marriage is on the rocks and her husband, no saint, tries to make the case that the children deserve a more devoted mother. The cracks in her character add to the realism of the drama. And we can choose whether her obsession with the cases she investigates is based on mental deficit, pursuit of justice or empathy for the victims. What this reminds us is how similar an investigative reporter is to a private investigator. Both have professions that allow them some special access, but no real authority and both seem to have a confrontational relationship with authority. The series is based on novels by Liza Marklund.
Johan Falk, Jacob Eklund, is another in a line of seemingly thousands of troubled ex-cops as protagonists. He believes in good and evil and is generally demoralized by the corruption of the judicial system and, personally, how the system has treated him. As we meet this specially trained tough guy, he is a member of the police force, but things change during the course of this exceptionally, deceptively smart series. The good thing here is that we don’t just have clash of good and evil, we are exposed to and scared of just how evil the world might be in stories we wish we couldn’t believe.
While Annika, the crime reporter, can handle herself with a gun, or a crowbar if necessary, Falk is the more, beat’em up, shoot’em up, car-chase, explosion-oriented series for those who like that sort of thing. And I do. There are several episodes in each series and more to come.
It is said that Sweden has become more European in its tastes, so recommending a fine wine accompaniment for the evening wouldn’t be wrong. However, vodka is still the national drink. You might want to skip Russian vodka for the evening, or forever, and enjoy the Vodka from Sweden — Absolut.