Lesser isn’t here to win converts, but even those unmoved by its subject will thrill to the book, a beautifully crafted inquiry into fiction, reality, crime and place ... The book’s first half...is a spellbinding long essay in which Lesser tells us what she has learned in four decades of reading Scandinavian noir ... Her engagement with the source material, hundreds of titles’ worth, is rigorous yet playful. She’s interested in the art on the walls in the characters’ homes, as well as the psychology behind the books’ most frequent themes — children in danger, female sexuality, the political ramifications of immigration ... She manages to interview several real-life police detectives, while also seeing the region’s museums, castles and tourist attractions. It’s charming and illuminating, if not quite equal to the brilliance of the first section. Perhaps when it comes to fiction and reality, what we need most are critics like Lesser, who can dissect the former with the tools of the latter.
Lesser concludes the volume with a useful appendix, in which she shares her favorite Scandinavian mysteries, along with helpful commentary. Whether readers are transfixed by the spectacular exploits of Lisbeth Salander, or impressed with the doggedness of Kurt Wallander, or even if they've never encountered these characters, they'll find in Scandinavian Noir an entertaining journey into the world of these mysteries and the cultural milieu that spawned them
Once these thematic commonalities have been laid out, the examination that follows is utterly delicious. Lesser is the perfect, upbeat guide to all this dour Nordic wet-wash, and she’s eloquent on the bedrock reasons why people might subject themselves to such books in the first place ... It’s a brave author who can so blithely link the term 'sadistic tendencies' with the experience of reading something written by, for instance, Henning Mankell, but Lesser is tenaciously hoping that she’s preaching to the convertible ... Nordic noir has an unaccountably enormous fan-base, and Wendy Lesser has written the ultimate love-letter to both those books and those fans. And given how endlessly allusive Scandinavian Noir is, even those fans may find some new recommendations in these pages, along the general principle of misery loving company, one assumes.