Pantheon, 240 pages, $24.95
So, Alexander McCall Smith, author of the Botswanan No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Scottish Isabel Dalhousie, and 44 Scotland Street series, has ventured off to capture the Scandinavian ethos in the first book in a projected series (I imagine) starring Malmö police detective Ulf Varg. What do Swedish people think of Älexander McCall Smith’s usurpation of its long-honored Swedish crime fiction? Can someone who wrote about a female detective in Botswana and a philosopher in Edinburgh also write successfully about a Swedish detective?
McCall Smith has successfully written scads of books and presumably gainfully employed himself in the process. I don’t know what credentials McCall Smith may have to allow him to exert his Swedish literary muscles. All I can say is that “The Department of Sensitive Crimes” captured an essence of Swedish writing, surrounded it in bubble wrap (no violence or harsh words), and served up a slice of ordinary life with unusual (and sensitive) twists.
In the best way possible, McCall Smith humorously and frequently slips into asides. Pertinent crime-related information must stand by as Detective Varg and his cohorts (Erik, Anna, Carl, Blomquist) discuss, for instance, fishing, vitamin D, “Davidson-Harley,” and whether small people, dwarves, or midgets might be the proper phrase. Varg politely follows each sidetrack until he can continue to follow the course of a crime. Are Swedish people, in general, this polite? Doesn’t matter.
McCall Smith, as we have learned from his other books, writes with charm and a fascination for the nature of what it means to be human. The several crimes in this book reflect this. One crime involves a “small person,” a dance teacher, it turns out, who cries a lot, feels deeply, and doesn’t want to disarm bombs. In another story, there are three young women. Jealousies and insecurities in their group eventually need the services of the police, but only in the tidiest way. And as far as the final case is concerned, I am at a loss to describe it. (A nude beach and talk of werewolves are involved.)
If you like/love/fan-obsess McCall Smith, here is more of the same, with humor and really nice niceness, the Swedish version.
P.S. Do you like the umlauted version of McCall Smith's first name? McCall Smith's subtle joke, no doubt.