Crime Writers Expose Scandinavia's Dark Side

Anders Behring Breivik (shown in an undated video) is accused of killing at least 76 people in Norway. Scandinavian crime writers have focused on many of the social issues at play in Breivik's case.

Anders Behring Breivik (shown in an undated video) is accused of killing at least 76 people in Norway. Scandinavian crime writers have focused on many of the social issues at play in Breivik's case. AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption AFP/Getty Images

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg expressed confidence Wednesday that his country's open, democratic society will not be intimidated by a right-wing extremist's brutal twin attacks that killed at least 76 people.

But questions are being raised about authorities' failure to recognize the potential threat from the ultra-right — a threat that has been clearly described by some of the country's leading crime writers.

Five days after the bombing at the government district and the killing spree at a youth camp, a mood of collective sorrow still grips Norway.

Addressing the media Wednesday, Stoltenberg vowed that his country will fight back with more democracy and will not bow to panic and fear. But he acknowledged that following the attacks, a different country will emerge.

"But I hope and I believe that the Norway we'll see after will be a more open, more tolerant society than the one we had before," he said.

Norway is one of the world's richest countries, has virtually no unemployment, and enjoys one of the most generous welfare systems. But Friday's attacks have ripped off the veneer, and revealed the existence of a tormented and divided society beneath the surface.

Crime Writers Tap Into Society's Underbelly

Politicians have been taken by surprise; not so crime writer Anne Holt, who has been tracking right-wing extremism on the Internet for years.

Her last book, Fear Not, is about the increasingly strident public debate and hate crime — "the relation between spoken violence on one hand and actual violence on the other," she says.

"After the last days' events in Norway, the question is more relevant than ever," she says.

Holt is a former police official, a former justice minister and currently one of Norway's best-selling writers of detective fiction.

She belongs to what's called the Scandinavian crime fiction renaissance — said to have taken off after the 1986 murder of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme.

As yet unsolved, that assassination raised many questions about wealthy, complacent welfare state societies unwilling to question themselves and their occasionally ambiguous past.

In Sweden and Norway, in particular, crime writers have picked up the torch of the 19th-century social novel. They are exploring the undercurrents that Holt recognizes in Norway, a society undergoing great social changes — including growing racism and discrimination against new immigrants, as well as a rise in anti-Semitism and homophobia.

Holt says politicians would do well to read crime fiction. It's "the best genre to reflect society," she says. "Crime fiction is a mirror."

It's a mirror that reflects what a society is afraid of and, as Holt notes, "what people are afraid of says a lot about the society."

Turning The Mirror Inward

In low-crime-rate Norway, Holt says, people are most afraid of deranged murderers and hate crime.

Anders Behring Breivik, who has acknowledged the attacks, appears to fit that crime fiction profile to a T.

He represents of a new kind of radical right: well-educated; fluent in foreign languages; and, thanks to the Internet, he doesn't have to reveal himself and risk meeting co-conspirators in public.

"This guy was absolutely impossible to get into the radar, because of the fact he has been a law-obeying citizen all his life," Holt says. "He is 32 years old, and he has some traffic tickets."

Holt is convinced a society cannot protect itself from a Breivik through surveillance or increased security.

"The only way to prevent this from happening in the future is to turn the mirror, look at ourselves and see what the hell happened," says Holt. "This boy is born in the best and richest country in the world, he has had every single chance of being happy, perfectly adjusted human being, but something went terribly wrong, and we have to ask ourselves why."

Norway's image as a caring, loving society, the crime writer says, is only half true. And the country must now brace itself and try to deal with its darker, less tolerant side.

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