Sweden’s reputation as a nation of relaxed and peace-loving people has already taken a bit of a battering, thanks to the success of Henning Mankell’s Wallander series and the Stieg Larsson novels. Take a quick glance at the country’s TV schedule, meanwhile, and it suggests this newfound crime fascination is only growing.
Every Tuesday night almost a million people tune in to watch Veckans brott (Crime of the week), a television show about real life crimes. The programme, which digs up old, unsolved crimes and aims to give a realistic picture of detective work, has become one of public service broadcaster SVT’s big successes since it launched last autumn. In January, SVT’s mini series about a man who stole precious books from Sweden’s national library – fictional, but based on a true story – drew similar ratings, and rival channel TV4 recently began showing a new documentary series about the Swedish mafia.
It all started with the unprecedented success of the Swedish crime novel. In the past few years, the genre has been selling like never before and Mankell, as well as Camilla Läckberg and Larsson, have become international stars. First, the books were turned into films and television series – and now it’s the turn of the documentary. Even SVT, which previously steered clear of the sensational crime reportage genre, has caved in.
“SVT hasn’t had crime programmes before. But now, the time was right,” says Camilla Kvartoft, the show’s presenter. “We want to put crime into a context and show that in Sweden the risk of becoming a crime victim is not so big.”
In spite of living in a relatively safe country – or maybe because of it – Swedes are fascinated with crime. Part of the explanation lies in the nature of crime as a perfect topic for storytelling: the stakes are high, the contrasts between good and bad clear. But is there something specific about Sweden that explains this insatiable appetite for murders, shady underworld dealings and break-ins? Kvartoft believes that it’s just a question of commercial reasoning. “The success of the Swedish crime novel has shown that it’s a genre that you can make money on,” she says.
In addition, Sweden as a society is probably well suited for crime as a form of visual entertainment. When nothing really bad is likely to happen to you in real life, it’s safe to get lost in the thrilling world of criminality for an hour at a time. And what better way to fill the long, dark evenings of a Scandinavian February than giving the police a hand trying to solve few crimes? “I like to look at crime series and read detective novels myself,” says Kvartoft. “It’s fun to play detective – and it’s also a good way of facing your own demons.”