Tuesday 24 October 2017

Latest chapter in wave of Nordic crime novels

Liza Marklund is a best-seller in Sweden, says Joanna Kiernan, and she's likely to be just as popular here

Liza Marklund is a Swedish crime writer little known on our shores, but not for long. Over the past couple of years, she has taken Scandinavia by storm and is now quietly creeping into the US and European literary markets.

"I started writing when I was eight and her name was Annika even then," Liza tells me.

Annika Bengtzon, the protagonist in Liza's latest series of crime novels, is an ambitious reporter for a Swedish newspaper, a strong and complex character, something that Liza feels many female characters in the genre often lack.

"I wanted her to have a wide range of characteristics even though she's a woman," says Liza. "Women are not really supposed to be this complex, at least not in crime literature. The women are supposed to be somebody that the man can get into bed."

Having grown up in the north of Sweden, close to the Arctic Circle, just like Stieg Larsson, Liza explains that "there was absolutely nothing to do except read books".

She always knew that she wanted to be a writer, and had often tried to write novels, only to stop half way. "I couldn't find a way to finish them," Liza tells me. "So I applied to journalism school and I was accepted. I became a journalist because I wanted to write and also because I am obsessed with unfairness.

"I can't see something unfair. Even as a little child, I was really upset when something was unfair. It was almost embarrassing," she exclaims.

Liza was initially a campaigning journalist, and though she met opposition from her editor, who said no one was interested in stories of violence against women, she went on to become the editor-in-chief of a morning daily and the executive editor of Sweden's Channel 4 News. Then she decided to quit and concentrate on fiction.

Liza's books are as much a continuation of her fight against injustice as they are suspense-filled page-turners.

"My books are about media abuse, violence against women, abused kids, I mean things that 'don't sell'. And as for that news editor who told me, 'this is stone dead commercially, it wouldn't sell a paper'? It sold 30 million books. I am so glad he was wrong."

The first book Liza wrote was based on the true story of an abused woman.

"She told me her story and I wrote it into a novel," says Liza. "That was the first time I actually succeeded in finishing the book. I couldn't stop half way because this woman was dying, she was going under, she was living underground, hidden by the authorities because she was threatened and she was finally granted asylum in the United States. I had to keep going because I couldn't let her down. So it kind of broke the spell for me."

According to Liza, crime novels work so well in Scandinavia because of the contrast.

"We have the most perfect, peaceful society on earth," she explains, "We haven't been at war since 1809, when Russia took Finland away from us. We have lived in peace for more than 200 years.

"To have this horrible crime on the backdrop of the peaceful society, that's when you get the contrast.

"You can't find crime novels in places where there's war or dictatorship. South America doesn't have crime novels; nobody writes them, nobody reads them. In Africa, they don't exist."

The fact that it is mainly middle-class women that read crime is not lost on Liza. This is perhaps one of the reasons her books are selling so well, regardless of reviews.

"I have mostly had good reviews, but they have never been important, not the good ones and not the bad ones. It's not important what other people think. I'm not doing it to get patted on the back," she says.

The books have taken off to such an extent it's hardly surprising film-makers are interested. "I was careful when I chose the people who were going to make movies out of the books. I didn't want them to abuse the books or anything, but when it comes to the books they're not my little darlings, they're my work," she remarks with a smile.

So, has success changed her?

"I hope I can continue the way I'm going," she responds with an air of serenity. "I mean, I have the same husband and the same kids and even the same car as I had before I had all the success and before my books started selling. I hope I can continue to write books, that's my goal."

'Exposed' by Liza Marklund is out now, published by Corgi

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