CRIME CULTURE: Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

CRIME CULTURE: After an unsuccessful heist, a bank robber takes refuge as well a number of hostages in an apartment up for sale. Therese Taylor with this review of a Swedish crime fiction tale that decidedly goes against the grain when it comes to Nordic noir.

Anxious People is a crime novel without villains. The person who commits most of the legal offences is hapless, although only slightly more so than the police officers who respond to the emergency. Although the tone of the novel is light-hearted, it represents the despair and desperation of people caught in economic and social injustice.

This novel is set in a Swedish town, where people seem to grapple with a sense of being provincials. There are a series of jokes about Stockholm. The entire novel is full of ironic comments and amusing asides. The author shows great skill in taking up very grim and confronting topics, such as suicide and family breakdown, but presenting them with a light touch and unwavering sympathy.

But the jokes might cause some readers to labour through this novel. One has the impression that the author decided to write a crime novel which was the very opposite of Nordic noir.

This novel might be taken as a contradiction of the idea that Swedes have no sense of humour. However, the novel might also give the impression that Swedish humour is as sturdy and clunky as the design of a Volvo.

In Anxious People a bank robber gets loose after an unsuccessful heist and takes hostages in an apartment which is for sale. All of the hostages, as well as the father and son police team, are linked to previous losses and events which have marked the life of their town.

This town goes unnamed all throughout the novel. I am not sure if this is because it is an imaginary place, or if to a Swedish reader, the town linked by a bridge, with apartment buildings overlooking it from both sides, is a well-known location.

The last chapters of the novel are full of a sympathy for the human condition, and unwind all the details of the plot in a seamless way. Without appearing to be, this is a carefully plotted crime novel, set to a ‘romcom’ tune of self-realisations and happy coincidences.

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About Therese Taylor 9 Articles
Therese Taylor is a Lecturer in History at Charles Sturt University in Australia. Her book, 'Bernadette of Lourdes, Her Life, Visions and Death' is widely read. She has published articles in the Fortean Times, The Diplomat, and other magazines. She frequently comments on media studies, histories of crime, and religion and society.

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