Having read close to 30 Scandinavian crime novels over the last several months, I can come to only one conclusion: Scandinavia is a bleak, ungodly, extraordinarily violent place to live. The capitals are seething hot pots of murder. In Oslo, a serial killer slips red diamond pentagrams under the eyelids of his victims (Jo Nesbø’s The Devil’s Star), while in Stockholm a stalker terrorizes young girls in public parks (Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s The Man on the Balcony). The situation is even worse at the local level. Take, for instance, Ystad, population 17,000, a quaint fishing village on Sweden’s southern shore best known for its high-speed ferry terminal. It has suffered, in the novels of Henning Mankell, the following horrors: the torture and execution of an elderly farmer and his wife (Faceless Killers); the torture and execution of two men who are found floating off the coast in a life boat (The Dogs of Riga); the impalement of a retired bird-watcher on sharpened bamboo poles (The Fifth Woman); and the self-immolation of a teenage girl (Sidetracked). Each of these crimes—and many, many more—is committed by a different killer and all within just three years. In terms of per capita incidence of violent crime, Mankell’s Ystad would rank behind Mosul but well ahead of Johannesburg and Mogadishu. Fortunately, more people are murdered every year in the pages of Scandinavian crime novels than are murdered in Scandinavia itself. The homicide rates in Scandinavian countries are among the lowest on the planet. This year, the Global Peace Index ranked Denmark and Norway the second and third most peaceful countries. Sweden came in 13th. The Nordic countries also consistently rank as the happiest countries in the world.
more from Nathaniel Rich at Slate here.