Some of Sweden’s most prominent useful stooges have been crime novelists.
Maj Sjöwall (b. 1935) and her partner Per Wahlöö (1926-75), both Communists, invented the Swedish police procedural in the 1960s as a means of promoting their politics. As Wahlöö put it, he and Sjöwall sought to “rip open the belly of an ideologically impoverished society.” Why do this via crime fiction? Because, Sjöwall has said, “people read more mysteries than they do political pamphlets.”
In their series of ten novels featuring detective Martin Beck, the two writers approached their propaganda effort in a very canny way: to quote Danish writer Niels Vestergaard, they used their first three volumes to “bait…the general crime reader”; in the next three, they gradually dialed up the social critique; in the last four, they pulled out all the stops, serving up full-fledged “Communist indoctrination.” Great admirers of the Soviet bloc, Sjöwall and Wahlöö are universally acknowledged today as the precursors of such Swedish crime writers as Jan Guillou, Stieg Larsson, and Henning Mankell – all of whom have also used their fiction to critique democratic capitalism and celebrate Communism.
When Henning Mankell died in October 2015, aged 67, Sweden lost one of its most famous writers – and one of its most useful stooges. In the 1970s, Mankell – who is most famous for his series of internationally bestselling thrillers about a police officer named Kurt Wallander – was active in a Maoist party in Norway. He’s expressed sympathy for Palestinian suicide bombers. In 2010 he took part in the Freedom Flotilla, which sought to break the Israeli embargo of the Gaza strip.
Hardly any author of our time has been as successful as Stieg Larsson (1954-2004), whose posthumously published crime novels, beginning with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, have sold tens of millions of copies. He was also, in the words of Christopher Hitchens, an “old-shoe Communist.” He belonged to the Kommunistiska Arbetareförbundet (Communist Workers’ League) and edited a Trotskyisk periodical. In 1977 he went to Eritrea to teach female Communist guerrillas how to use mortars.
Larsson has been lavishly praised as a feminist, but British columnist Nick Cohen has noted that while Larsson “wrote with real anger about the oppression of women with white skins,” he denounced as racist those who
tried to do the same about the oppression of women with brown skins….Believe that western legal systems, for all their faults, were preferable to forced marriages, religious courts where the testimony of a woman is worth half that of a man and the stoning to death of adulterous women and you were a “rightwing extremist,” carrying on the fascist tradition.
Then there’s Jan Guillou. Tune in tomorrow.