I never jumped on the Scandinavian crime fiction bandwagon. Back in the late 2000s and earlier 2010s when the genre was enjoying its peak in popularity, it seemed like I was the only one riding the bus or hanging out at the coffee shop who wasn’t reading something by Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbo or Henning Mankell. No matter how many of my friends, co-workers and fellow book bloggers raved about the stuff I never felt the urge to read any of it. But over the last few years as I participated in reading challenges like Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge and Introverted Reader’s Books in Translation Reading Challenge, slowly but surely found I myself reading thrillers, crime fiction and assorted noir-like novels set in other countries, frequently penned by foreign authors. In retrospect, I’m thinking well, why shouldn’t I? For as long as I can remember, I’ve been intensely curious about the life, politics and goings on in countries around the world. So, if Dostoyevsky thought the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons, then I’m pretty confident a piece of crime fiction can serve as a kind of window onto a nation’s soul.
Therefore, with all those past recommendation in mind and duly inspired by two above-mentioned reading challenges, I recently grabbed a copy of Henning Mankell’s The Dogs of Riga from the good people at my public library. After what felt like only a few pages I soon realized why everyone has been so gaga over Scandinavian crime fiction. Darkly realistic, morally complex and set in an exotic while at the same time not too terribly alien environment, I can now see why these Nordic noir novels have been so popular with American readers. On top of that, Mankell’s novel is smart, fast-paced and entertaining.
Set in 1991, The Dogs of Riga begins when a life raft containing a pair of well-dressed dead bodies washes ashore on an out-of-the-way Swedish beach. After determining the two men were shot execution style and hailed from Eastern Europe, local Inspector Kurt Wallander’s search to solve the crime takes him across the Baltic to Latvia, at that time still part of the Soviet Union when the USSR was slowly collapsing, but hadn’t collapsed completely. In his quest for answers Wallander soon finds himself caught in the middle between those in Latvia who would rather live under Soviet rule and those who yearn for political independence.
After enjoying The Dogs of Riga as much as I did I’m ready not only for more of Henning Mankell’s fiction but also more Nordic noir. So, even though I’m a big fan of nonfiction, don’t be surprised when you see more stuff like The Dogs of Riga featured on this blog. Of course keeping in mind how popular that fiction is, I doubt any of my blog’s readers will be disappointed.