Sweden has a proud tradition as a country of exports. American homes are not only decorated with furniture from IKEA— their bookshelves are bursting with suspense novels from a morbid country on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean with a disproportionate number of crime writers per capita.
Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö paved the way with detective Martin Beck in their socially critical novels, published back in the sixties. Hennig Mankell walked the same path a couple of decades later, and then, in the beginning of the 21st century, Stieg Larsson took the sensation of Swedish crime to a completely new level. His Lisbeth Salander novels have sold close to 100 million copies worldwide.
Current Swedish crime writers would not have reached the same success if not their predecessors hadn’t cleared the path all the way to the American’s Billy-bookshelves. Roslund-Hellström, Camilla Läckberg and Hjorth-Rosenfeldt are just three of the names in the pile of those who made it to the bestseller lists.
But that is all coming to an end, there will be no more scandi-crime success stories sweeping across the US and the world. The reason is the Swedish state’s investigation DS 2020:12, expected to lead to new legislation. Exactly what it entails, you’ll soon find out. First, we need to understand an important but often overlooked detail which has been a crucial competitive advantage for the Swedish crime writers on the international scene.
The successes as of late are not, as plenty of experts in the book industry suggests, thanks to the barren Nordic nature or a unique national feature. It’s not about the many creative writing courses that have sprung up either. The explanation is much easier than that. It’s about the widespread use of unregistered prepaid phones.
That those are allowed in Sweden has been a goldmine for us crime writers. Whenever the plot starts to slow, you just throw in a text message. The victim’s phone can be found and contain a message that leads the investigators to the dark secret behind the bestial murder. A hundred pages later the hero or heroine can get a threat from the same cash card: “Stop digging around in the case or else it will end badly.”
The text messages are anonymous. Someone is after our main character, but we do not know who. What we do know is that the villain is nearby, since the police obviously asked the phone operator to ping the cellphone. The precision of the position mentioned is determined by how many towers to which the anonymous prepaid phone had connected. The author picks a radius that suits the plot and the environment in which the story takes place. And then the threatening, faceless murderer can elude the police and the reader stays with the book.
Back to DS 2020:12. You can guess what the proposed legislation is by now, right? To make it harder for criminals to communicate with each other, the Swedish government wants to invoke a ban against unregistered prepaid phones.
Growing gang violence needs to be stopped and many countries have already established similar regulations, you can find as the motivation behind the proposal. What the government doesn’t seem to understand is what a knockout blow the new legislation would be for the entire genre Swedish crime literature. In their aim to prevent real crime the politicians have also put stop to the fictive. Swedish crime writers will lose their competitive advantage, which most likely will lead to faltering sales both internationally and in the home markets. The consequences will leave large holes in the state budget. The authors pay tax on their royalties in Sweden, after all.
This senseless politics will also lead to changes in the creative fields. We predict a rise of Swedish crime-fiction set before cell phones were around. The equivalent to the anonymous text message will then be the classic threat letter, tucked in the pocket of the victim’s jacket (alongside the mints and monocle). The letter has no signature and is written on the hotel’s own letterhead. The killer remains faceless but is‚of course—right around the corner.
For the readers who aren’t familiar with irony as a storytelling technique, we should say that this piece is an example of just that. We don’t want Swedish trolls to find this text, intentionally misread it and say that we are opposed to necessary legislation to prevent gang crime.
These days this kind of disclaimer is unfortunately necessary. The alternative would have been to not sign this letter. But by now it should be obvious that anonymous messages are best left to the pages of a crime novel.
Mohlin & Nyström
Authors of the crime novel The Bucket List which will be published in the USA July 2021.