The popularity of Scandinavian crime fiction in Europe may be due to these writers’ attempt to describe and explain the presence of “radical evil” in strongly secularized and socially managed societies, writes Risto Saarinen in the journal Dialog (June).
In recent years, Scandinavian writers have become popular practitioners of crime novels, (now the leading fiction genre in Scandinavia) finding a large readership in the rest of Europe (particularly Germany and France). Saarinen, a Finnish theologian, writes that such best-selling authors as Henning Mankell, Anne Holt and Sven Westerberg deal with the “surplus of evil…that is, the problem of why we still meet so much unexplained badness and tragedy in spite of our best efforts to build up a just welfare society . . .”
It is no coincidence that these best-selling books often have the word “God” or the “Devil” in their titles, Saarinen adds. But far from signaling a return to religion, they use the metaphor of the absence of God as a way to describe the puzzling “secular presence of evil “ This can be seen in the titles of three best-sellers: “The Terrible Absence of God,” “What God Didn’t See,” and “God Sits Silent.” Scandinavian crime fiction also echoes the Lutheran concepts of the “hidden God,” and evil as a destructive force extending to social injustice and even illness that cannot be explained only in terms of ignorance and lack of education.
Saarinen writes that “Many Scandinavian authors of previous generations accused narrow-minded religiosity for conflicts and intolerance. The contemporary authors, however, claim that modernist liberal tolerance does no better in offering social welfare [which] is helpless in facing the radical evil expressed by brutal crime and tragic life histories of the criminals.”
(Dialog, Pacific Lutheran Seminary, 2770 Main Ave., Berkeley, CA 94708)