Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Swedish noir(ish) crime fiction: Liza Marklund

Liza Marklund has used (apparently) a remarkable process for the development of her series featuring star reporter Annika Bengtzon of the fictional Stockholm tabloid newspaper, Kvällspressen. The Bomber was released first, around the turn of the millennium (a bit before in the original language). The Studio 6 (or Studio Sex, or Studio 69 as it is normally called now--the Swedish title is a pun, since the Swedish word for 6 is sex). Studio 6 is a "prequel," providing the background for Annika's criminal past, her employment at Kvällspressen, and her rise to the peak of her profession. Then Paradise provides another link in the development of her career prior to The Bomber (as well as a social theme that Marklund has developed in nonfiction, the exploitation of women). And now Prime Time completes the circuit, leading up to and providing hints about the plot of The Bomber. Prime Time has some elements typical of the mystery genre, more than noir (13 people at a country house, one dies and the rest are suspects--you know the drill; plus there's a murder at the beginning and no real threat to anyone in the rest of the plot). Marklund has been extraordinarily thorough and careful about providing her heroine's backstory. A mere hint of a trip to Korea in the first novel (The Bomber, first in order and last in sequence--you have to pay attention to keep this straight...) is substantiated in some detail in Prime Time, as well as the history of her friend Anne Snapphane's career in broadcast journalism, and Annika's sometimes troubled home life, etc., etc. It's fun to see how it all links up, but it's time now for Annika to move forward (her life story is getting little tedious). Annika's exploits rely on her job as a reporter--she never shifts into amateur-detective mode. That's a positive element in the books, to me, but it also limits the story to what a reporter can dig up or drag out of the police (though Annika conveniently has unique access to a top cop). And you have to be interested in (or have some tolerance for) the politics of the newsroom and the news business, since there's a lot of that in all the books (particularly in Prime Time, which has both the TV news and tabloid newspaper as primary focuses of, respectively, the murder plot and Annika's life). A reviewer on the Amazon site complains that Annika is a too all-capable to be believable, but I don't really find her annoying in that way. She's lucky in her occasional physical encounters with the crime-doers, but at the same time none of her opponents are master criminals or superheroes. Most of her characters, good and bad, are flawed, upwardly mobile Stockholmers--and that's perhaps the strength as well as the uniqueness of her books in comparison to the other entries in the current Scandinavian crime wave (and perhaps a limitation from my perspective, since her world is really too middle class to be the proper zone of "noir"--she always fits more neatly into a "mystery" category, as I mentioned above with respect to the new book). She may encounter sleazy Stockholm occasionally (especially in the first two books, chronologically speaking: Studio 6 and Paradise), but she's mostly working in professional circles rather than sleazy bars, etc. My complaint with Prime Time is mostly with the final resolution (Annika is perhaps too intrusive and too clever to take the role she does in the denouement; it's almost as if Marklund couldn't figure out any logical role for Annika at that point, so she just stuck her into the situation). Plus her home life is a bit too much of a soap opera to me (my wife says it's characteristic of my taste that I like the Law & Order type of TV series--focus on the crime rather than the detective's private lives). But I enjoyed catching up with Annika, and bringing her story up to date. I went back to The Bomber to check out details (and would like to see the movie versions of Annika's stories that are being made by Colin Nutley, but they're not available in U.S.-standard dvd formats, apparently). But I'm most curious about where she goes from here...

1 comment:

Maxine said...

Good review. I agree that the resolution is always the weakest point of this series: I put it down to the limited attention span of journalists ;-) Once they have the bare bones of a story they lose interest and go on to the next thing.
I read these books completely out of order, but enjoyed them all and love the way that the plot hints in one are elaborated in another (reminds me slightly of J K Rowling, who roots so many ideas in earlier books which are then fully developed in subsequent ones).
I agree that Marklund is not noir: I find them particularly attractive because of my identity with the main character's domestic/work life (trying to cope with being a "good" mother in combination with being a perfectionist and driven at work - it defeats me!). So I don't find her private life a distraction, though I do know what you mean, as I find this kind of thing irritating in other series.