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Avoiding the “new Stieg Larsson” syndrome

One thing that irritates me about publishing is the “band wagon effect”.  Once an author is established as a bestseller, particularly if they have mined some new vein of gold, then new authors in the same or similar sub-genre are, on the publisher’s blub hailed as “The New <INSERT AUTHOR NAME HERE >.

The unfortunately early death of Stieg Larsson compounded this effect because he opened up “Scandinavian Noir Thrillers” but left readers wanting more but this is unlikely to be fulfilled (unless the possibly mythical fourth book actually exists). There has been a stampede to fill this gap, at least by publishers if not with the active support of the authors caught up in this.

Jo Nesbro writes good police procedurals but, despite book covers to the contrary, is not comparable to Stieg Larsson.  As mentioned in an earlier post, to me he is more a Scandinavian Ian Rankin.  There are other good Scandinavian crime and thriller writers out there who have suffered, in my view, from this sort of comparison.  It may help short-term sales but does not necessarily assist them establish themselves in the British novel market as writers with their own distinctive “voice”.

Last week I found myself at Gatwick Airport, waiting for a flight, only to discover I had left the novel I was in the middle of behind. While this could be a good incentive to reach for the laptop and write myself, there are times when this is impractical or forbidden on a flight and I hate having “dead time” when I could be reading.  A quick visit to WHSmiths and I emerged with “Burned”, a Scandinavian thriller by Thomas Enger.

Enger is a Scandinavian writer and this is his first novel. Nowhere on the covers or the interior quotes is there any mention of Larsson.  There are some similarities: while Enger is  a former journalist like Larsson (but he is Norwegian and the story is set mostly in Oslo whereas Larsson’s Millenium trilogy is set in his native Sweden) and journalists provide the main protagonist’s point of view (PoV) in both authors work.

However, the books are sufficiently different. Enger does not dwell on violence towards women in the same way even though the opening is a particularly unpleasant ritual killing of a young female university student.  Enger’s plot starts down a Muslim fundamentalist route, only to twist and turn along the way to a satisfying twist at the end; not completely a surprise as implied in the blurb but it works well and is true to the set-up while not being overtly telegraphed.

Henning Juul, the journalist PoV in “Burned” has a past and is realistically drawn, especially in how he suffers from the after-effects of the fire which killed his daughter.  There is a follow-up novel scheduled for mid-2012 and the ground-work for this has been laid without in any way spoiling the satisfactory conclusion of this novel.

So, Enger is not the new Stieg Larsson. He is a good author in his own right and his debut novel is recommended as such.

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