Friday, January 8, 2016

Nazis in Scandinavia

“Redbreast – A Harry Hole Novel,” by Jo Nesbǿ, 2000

Literary conventions seem to cross boarders, as do topics.  Very few detective novels in the U.S. involve fascists, given the generally tired, crime-crazy and non-political slant of most of the U.S. genre.  But in Scandinavia, for clear reasons, Nazis are popular in fiction.  Norway was dominated by a pro-German Quisling government throughout World War II and the scars still remain. The term ‘quisling’ has become a synonym for ‘traitor’ after all.  Sweden maintained ‘neutrality’ during the war, but that meant that pro-fascist elements were rife in the country among the upper classes, while Sweden also became a refuge for all of Denmark’s Jews.  The ‘neutral’ Swedes still let the Wehrmacht use Sweden as a jumping off point for the German invasion of the USSR in 1941.  1918 saw a class-based civil war in Finland, which was drowned in blood by Finnish Whites and German troops, who also put down their own insurrection in Germany a year later.   Finland officially allied with Germany during World War II and fought the Soviets twice – the first during the ‘Winter War’when Stalin questionably decided to invade Finland and annex it.  When eventual peace was declared, Finland lost Karelia to the USSR. 

The Robin - for some reason.
So fascism is not an abstract or fuzzy notion in Scandinavia, as it is in the U.S., where most people couldn’t identify a real fascist for the life of them.  Recent right-wing developments in Scandinavia show the links.

This book might be seen as a forerunner to the Stieg Larsson Millennium series.  That series started in 2005 with ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,’ but was written before that, perhaps in 2002.  The latter featured rich Swedish fascists who murdered women on a regular basis across Sweden.  Larsson himself was a real leftist journalist, dying in 2004.  Larsson created a team of an older male journalist and a young, kick-ass female punk skilled in technology and complete commitment.  Lisbeth Salander, a rape survivor, became a world-wide female action heroine in the process.   

Nesbǿ is a Norwegian who instead follows the convention of the intelligent but troubled male detective, who then becomes his stock character in several books.  Hole drinks too much, gets into fights easily, defies authority, but is also the best detective on the Oslo force - of course. 

In Nesbǿ’s book there are no heroines, just one police female, a close friend of Hole’s, who is murdered by a mysterious person.  Hole follows the traces of a large sniper rifle, a Märklin, which turns up in Sweden during a series of murders of former Norwegians who fought with the Germans.  This is all preceding a visit by Swedish royalty.  Early on Hole shoots someone he thinks is an assassin gunning for the U.S. president, only to find out it is a U.S. secret service agent who was not where they were supposed to be.  He is promoted for his alert role here - a bit of humor at the expense of the Americans.  Hole misses a very right-wing gunrunner who turns out to be a detective on Hole’s own force, and who is also a killer.  So he’s not perfect. 

The story revolves around a group of young Norwegian Nazi punks who link up with an older Norwegian fascist who fought on the Russian front in World War II, besieging Leningrad.  One of these older soldiers is killing a whole slew of people who fought ‘for Norway’ on the front.  Hole tracks the very expensive and accurate Märklin rifle from South Africa (of course) to this individual, who oddly enough has a ‘split personality’ and is that much harder to identify because of it. This is an unnecessary fictional ‘out’ that really weakens the story, making it more unbelievable.

Hole eventually nails the assassin, but after you are witness to the odd world of former collaborators and skinhead violence.  During the war, most Norwegians waited to see which side would win before they declared for a side.  Very few were anti-Quisling partisans.  Instead after the war the ‘neutral’ Norwegians pretend to have always been anti-Quisling, and so a deep social lie develops – much as it did in West Germany, Vichy France, Finland, Italy, Spain and other western countries where sections of the population collaborated with the Nazis or were passive bystanders during World War II.  Nesbǿ pokes fun at this lie. 

Nesbǿ is rated as one of the top detective fiction writers in Europe and he’s worth a read, though Larsson seems to have done a more progressive take on the genre.

Other reviews of genre cop stories below: 'Sycamore Row,' 'Gone Girl,' 'Prudence Can't Swim,' and 'The Meta-Meaning of Ridiculous Cop Shows.'

Red Frog
January 8, 2016

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