Stockholm is a sublime city in summer, Sweden without the winter blues. But to Ingmar Bergman, “Stockholm is not a city at all: it’s simply a rather large village, set in the middle of some forest and some lakes. You wonder what it thinks it’s doing there, looking so important.” As a film director, Bergman captured his city with cinematic precision. He was right: this is a countrified capital where fishermen catch salmon in the shadow of the royal palace, and where sun-kissed children swim off improbably shimmering islands.
Before me lies a sleepy haze of wooden houseboats, cobbled waterfronts and craggy cliffs. Below a skyline of spires, cafes are serving coffee and cinnamon buns. Anything less like a gritty Swedish crime scene would be hard to imagine. It feels more Escape to the Country than Midsomer Murders. Yet this is Stieg Larsson country, the capital of Scandinavian crime fiction, and I’m here to follow in the footsteps of serial killers, psychopathic giants and a punkish wild child.
In readiness for a day deep in the Swedish crime underworld, I take the short ferry hop to the garden island of Djurgarden, a former royal hunting ground. This is Stockholm cut adrift from its moorings: dreamy, with sloping banks, princely turrets, and summer houses in pastel shades. Stockholm is the city that floats on water. A city that is two thirds water and greenery was bound to have a bucolic quality. Time to leave the grassy knoll for the gritty city and `Stieg Larsson’s Stockholm’ in Sodermalm.
In terms of famous Swedish exports, the Stieg Larsson brand feels far more Ingmar Bergman than Abba. Larsson’s was a brooding sensibility, more Stockholm in winter than sun-kissed midsummer. But the crusading crime-writer struck a chord, stirring our interest in all things Swedish. Thanks to Stieg Larsson, Scandinavian crime fiction is currently even more popular than Swedish cars, supermodels, flat-pack furniture or vodka. Larsson’s abiding legacy has been the birth of Swedish Noir in `Scandi crime’. "It's the Bjorn Bjorg effect," claims Swedish journalist Dan Lucas: "For us, it is the same as when Bjorg won Wimbledon five times, suddenly there were tennis players all over the country. Now there are crime writers."