Monday 22 January 2018

Ahnhem ramps up the chill factor in Nordic Noir

Scandi sensation: Stefan Ahnhem
Scandi sensation: Stefan Ahnhem
The Ninth Grave by Stefan Ahnhem

Myles McWeeney

Call it what you like, Scandinavian Noir or Nordic Noir, crime fiction written by quite literally dozens of Northern European authors, has enjoyed huge success worldwide for the last decade or so.

Thriller: The Ninth Grave, Stefan Ahnhem, Head of Zeus, tpbk, 551 pages, €17.99

The charge to the top of the bestsellers lists ­everywhere was led by Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallender series; the late Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels; Norway's Jo Nesbo; and the Martin Beck series written by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. These in turn have spawned a gripping TV genre, with popular series such as The Killing, The Bridge and Trapped shown worldwide. Amazingly, each year more than 600 thrillers are published in Sweden alone.

The latest Scandi literary sensation is Stefan Ahnhem, who grew up in Helsingborg in southern Sweden. Although dyslexic as a child, he became an avid reader in his late teens and knew he wanted to be a writer.

Perhaps surprisingly, he developed into a skilled comedy writer with several Swedish TV hit shows to his credit, and then morphed into a television screenwriter with, among others, a successful adaptation of Henning Mankell's Wallender series for Swedish television. His first detective novel, and the first in a series to feature detective Fabian Risk, was Victim Without a Face, which won Sweden's CrimeTime Novel of the Year in 2014 and was a top 10 bestseller in Germany, Sweden and Ireland.

The second Fabian Risk adventure is The Ninth Grave, which is set in one of the worst winters Stockholm has ever seen. When Sweden's Attorney General walks out of his office into a driving blizzard and fails to appear for a parliamentary debate, it is assumed he has been delayed by the snow but, in fact, he has vanished.

But then the wife of a Danish TV star is found gruesomely hacked to death in her home. To everyone's consternation, it appears the two cases may be connected, and the Stockholm and Copenhagen police forces are at total loggerheads at the prospect of having to work together.

As the death toll rises, it become apparent that two separate and utterly ruthless killers are stalking the streets of Stockholm and Copenhagen. One of them is a skilled surgeon who methodically dissects his victims, the other a brutal predator targeting women. Fabian Risk, with dawning horror, realises that some of the victims are actually being targeted because they have something their killer wants - healthy organs.

Ahnhem's story is as bleak as the depths of a Nordic winter, as gory as a charnel house, and as far removed from the concept of Scandinavian hygge comfort as can be imagined, but still grips like a vice.

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