In search of the next Stieg Larsson

Summer is the perfect time for an engrossing international thriller, but how do you top "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"?

Jan Collsiöö/Scanpix Sweden
Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson didn't live to see the spectacular success of his Millennium trilogy – although he is reported to have said that he was counting on the books as his "retirement fund."

Not so long ago, the concept of a Scandinavian thriller seemed rather exotic. Today, however, with The New York Times reporting that Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy – including "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," "The Girl Who Played with Fire," and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" – has sold 6 million copies in the United States and 35 million copies worldwide, nothing could seem more mainstream.

But now here comes the summer – season of the thriller – and there are no more Larsson titles to follow. (The Swedish journalist died shortly before the publication of his books.) And the big question seems to be: Where will readers turn after the Millennium trilogy?

The New York Times and The Washington Post have both suggested Scandinavian alternatives, including fellow Swedish authors Camilla Läckberg and Henning Mankell, Norwegian writers Jo Nesbø and Karin Fossum, and Iceland's Arnalder Indridason.

But it doesn't necessarily follow that all readers of mysteries will want to remain in Arctic climes this summer. The Scandinavian offerings are "all usually placed in cold, dark, wintry settings, with people drinking a lot to keep warm," editor and mystery bookstore owner Otto Penzler told The Washington Post. "There's the general gloominess of the people, who seem resigned to the worst thing happening. There's not much humor. There certainly are no Carl Hiaasens or Elmore Leonards."

Maybe that's why NPR – even while conceding that this is "the summer of the Swede" – is suggesting that readers will want to "take a brief mental health break from those gloomy Swedes with their hard-to-pronounce-names, and celebrate some fine recently published mysteries a little closer to home."

NPR's summer thriller list sends readers to Manhattan, Los Angeles, and San Francisco (with a nod to the Swedes by including Mankell's "The Man from Beijing.")

Here at the Monitor our summer reading guide is also light on Scandinavians – but that doesn't mean that we're being provincial. Among new releases, our favorite mysteries include "Faithful Place" by Tana French (set in Dublin), "City of Veils" by Zoe Ferraris (set in Saudi Arabia), "Agents of Treachery" edited by Otto Penzler (with stories set all around the world), and "The Spy" by Clive Cussler and Justin Scott (set in the World War I-era US).

Other international thrillers our reviewers have recommended include "The Angel's Game" by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (Barcelona), "Fieldwork" by Mischa Berlinski (Thailand), "The Summer Snow" by Rebecca Pawel (Fascist Spain), "The Rainaldi Quartet" by Paul Adam (Italy), and "The Exception" by Christian Jungersen (this book is set in Copenhagan – our nod to Scandi-mania).

Meanwhile, the US press coverage of the Scandinavian mystery genre is becoming almost as entertaining to read as the books themselves. The best quote appeared in The New York Times, which interviewed Gerry Donaghy, the new-book purchasing supervisor, at Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore. Powell's employees have given the books of the Millennium trilogy a new nickname. “We call them ‘The Girl Who’s Paying Our Salaries for the Next Few Months,’ ” Donaghy told the Times.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.

Have you been gripped by Scandi-mania? Join the Monitor's book discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of 5 free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.