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Friday, September 7, 2012

Those mysterious Scandinavians

BUSINESS in the Nordic countries has suffered a series of humiliations in recent years.

Nokia is a shadow of its former self. Volvo has been passed from one foreign owner (Ford) to another (the Zhejiang Geely Holding Group), and Saab Automobile has collapsed. Iceland’s banking industry has imploded.

But in one business, at least, Scandinavia is sweeping all before it: the production of crime thrillers.

We've all heard of Steig Larsson et al.  And enjoyed their bloodsoaked thrillers -- on screen as well as on the printed of e-ink page.

Yet there is a mystery.  Scandinavia is not a crime-ridden area.

As Schumpeter ruminates in The Economist, such success can come from the most unexpected places. Scandinavia is probably the most crime- and corruption-free region in the world: Denmark’s murder rate is 0.9 per 100,000 people, compared with 4.2 in the United States and 21 in Brazil. Scandinavians are also lumbered with obscure and difficult languages. A succession of mainstream British publishers rejected “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, Larsson’s first book, before Christopher MacLehose decided to publish it. Mr Indridason at first had poor sales because people found it hard to grapple with Icelandic names.

So where does the success come from?  One persuasive theory is that the history of bloodsoaked Icelandic sagas helps. Similar myths and legends of warriors and revenge are found in all cultures, and so the novels connect with something atavistic in the reader.

Another clue might be the fact that writers in Scandinavia are encouraged, many prizes and awards being available to anyone with promise.

Read on

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