Zac O’Yeah is a Swedish novelist, critic and an amazingly engaging conversationalist. He writes a monthly column on crime fiction for Mint. His most recent book in English, Once Upon a Time in Scandinavistan – a crime thriller set in a future Sweden colonized by India, was published by Hachette in December 2010.
We asked Zac to pick out his favourite Crime Fiction novels, and also his pick of Swedish Crime Fiction. He came up with two different lists:
Zac O’Yeah’s Favourite Crime Fiction (Worldwide):
1. James Ellroy: The Black Dahlia – seminal novel by the hardest-boiled crime writer alive and part of Ellroy’s ‘LA Quartet’-series: brilliant fiction based on a demonic personal rage that is the stuff of legends.
2. Amitav Ghosh: The Calcutta Chromosome – a fantastic one-off Gothic detective story which remains among the most mind-blowing narratives ever told.
3. Martin Cruz Smith: Polar Star – featuring one of the most wonderfully tragic fictional cops, Renko, who is based in Moscow but here banished to exile on a decrepit fishing ship in the Arctic Sea, and the best thing is that the Renko series that started with “Gorky Park” in the early 1980s continues even today.
4. Vikram Chandra: Sacred Games – deserves the Nobel Prize simply because he wrote a crime novel set in Mumbai and that is worth more than ten novels by normal authors.
5. Norman Mailer: Tough Guys Don’t Dance – this is one of the most thrilling crime novel plots ever constructed, written by a literary master.
6. John Burdett: Bangkok 8 – first in a series of four wonderful crime novels set in Thailand, and for the first time detective fiction takes into account the possibility of karma and samsara, thereby changing the entire idea of crime and punishment.
And here are Zac O’Yeah’s favourite Swedish Crime Fiction novels:
1. Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö: The Locked Room – the police procedural was taken further in the 1960s by this husband-wife team who wrote a series of ten social-realistic novels about the Stockholm police, capturing a time when the welfare state was trying to do its best, and hardworking cops were trying to deal with that which fell outside the welfare state; and in this particular novel the authors are having a bit of fun with the old-fashioned ‘Locked Room’ plot formula.
2. Kjell Eriksson: The Princess of Burundi – here we see the police novel being used to explore the complex social structure of the university town of Uppsala, with a complex female cop hero, Ann Lindell, who has to fight it out in a male-dominated work environment.
3. Stieg Larsson: The Millennium Trilogy – a set of novels that demonstrate the myth of the welfare state and the moral emptiness of the West, while providing great suspense stories featuring Lisbeth Salander – the ultra-tough geeky genius, a social and mental misfit who just might wipe you and your cyber-traces off the face of earth if she thinks she has a reason to.
4. Kerstin Ekman: Blackwater – is actually a very classy, highbrow, serious novel, but the author can’t resist turning it into a murder mystery, in fact she used to be a pulp crime queen before becoming a highbrow novelist (and in 1978 she was elected one of the eighteen committee members of the Swedish Academy, the same organization that awards the Nobel Prize for Literature).
5. Johan Theorin: The Darkest Room – a spine-chilling and exquisitely crafted novel that heralds a new trend in Swedish crime fiction, where the possibility of ghosts complicates an already spooky murder mystery.
6. Inger Frimansson: Good Night, My Darling – a genuinely shocking novel about a strange woman who seems to make accidents happen wherever she goes, written by the master craftswoman behind a number of psychological crime thrillers.