In its December issue, Travel and Leisure features an article called Stockholm Syndrome by Reggie Nadelson, which provides one of the better travel guides to visiting Stockholm for fans of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and other novels by Stieg Larsson and other “nordic noir” writers. Excerpts are below.
Late on a chilly afternoon, a cold rain is falling. It turns dark. The streets empty. The cobblestones are slick. A man seems to follow you. Suddenly, Stockholm—with its sunny summers, star-spangled winter nights, placid harbor, and beautiful blond youth—is recast as a secret, hidden, frightening place. “A day for murder,” says one of the tourists as we descend on Mellqvist Kaffebar.
“This is it,” they whisper to one another—the café where Stieg Larsson plotted his Millennium trilogy. Forget Hemingway’s Café Flore, in Paris, or the Grand Café, in Oslo, where a chair is still marked, Reserved, Dr. Ibsen—Europe’s newest literary shrine is this pleasant coffee shop in Södermalm, Stockholm’s bohemian quarter. Led by a guide from the City Museum, the visitors next move on to the local 7-Eleven, where Larsson’s heroine, Lisbeth Salander, shops for Billy’s Pan Pizza. We peer into the freezer at packets of pizza as if at the Shroud of Turin.
It seems that Scandinavia is awash in crime writers, and many have made brilliant use of its geography: Arnaldur Indriðason’s claustrophobic, inbred, bankrupt Reykjavík in Silence of the Grave; Jo Nesbø’s frozen Oslo and its surrounding countryside in The Snowman; Peter Høeg’s ice-locked Copenhagen in the brilliant Smilla’s Sense of Snow. But because of the Larsson phenomenon—more than 60 million books sold to date—I’ve come to Sweden, ground zero for crime fiction.
The world that Swedish crime writers evoke—murder, corruption, rape—feels, at first, like a kind of fever dream. Is the extreme violence of some of the books a kind of catharsis? A Greek drama in modern dress? Are the blood-soaked mysteries connected to an uneasy sense of an unredeemed past, with unsolved political murders and espionage cases? Of fascism always lurking?
Then, too, there is the way issues of class, race, and sex, often tidily hidden in a famously egalitarian country, can boil over; or the way new money comes into conflict with the old verities of the welfare state. For some, the presence of immigrants, of people of color from alien-seeming cultures, feels an invasion.
In Larsson-land, the good people live in Södermalm, one of the 14 islands that make up Stockholm. Söder, as it’s affectionately known, was once working-class; now its old warehouses have been transformed into cafés and boutiques.
Here is the apartment of Mikael Blomkvist, crusading journalist and Larsson’s alter ego; there Kvarnen, where everybody eats and drinks—including Lisbeth Salander, the invincible girl-woman punk detective who can hack any computer and put an ax in any man’s head. Inspector Jan Bublanski, the cop with a conscience, attends Adat Israel, the ancient synagogue on St. Paulsgatan. Scenes from David Fincher’s new version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, starring Daniel Craig as Blomkvist, were shot in Söder.