Too Much Plot, Too Little Existential Despair

Document generated by physiokinetic impact print, ie, manual typewriter


Just finished Jo Nesbo’s The Son, and I think that I’m now done with Scandi-noir, after a good long run with it. I’ve read a round dozen or so of Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and even Icelandic mysteries so far, and I am tired of them. The stories are all plot, plot, mechanistic plot, full of improbabilities and with little character development, not much attention to setting, and a rather standard moral ambience. The usual list of stock characters reminiscent of pulp novels: the brilliant (and often physically imposing) Super Villain, the Flawed Pursuer (often with One Last Chance to redeem his honor before retirement), numerous full or partial Traitors, the requisite Beautiful Redemptive Woman (or two, or three; no one’s ever plain if they are victims or heroines, though it’s okay for supporting characters). And they generally feature a level of violence surpassing that which we endured in Los Angeles in the 90s. Apparently they all want to be James Ellroy, but with more killing and none of the harsh poetry of his style.

This stuff is popular–it’s engaging without being in the least demanding–but it seems to serve up a lot of empty calories. I want something more, and there’s lots of it around. I’m sticking to more literary stuff for a while–Elena Ferrante’s great work was far more satisfying to me than this shoot-n-slice epic, though it didn’t lack for violence; likewise Milkman.

Yes, I’m just grousing. I had high hopes for the story. But I always do, when I pick up a new book. Fortunately there’s plenty of good stuff to keep me reading for the rest of my life.

If you want to see my own literary take on noir, check out my first two novels; they are, inevitably, on Amazon, in print or pixel. They’re not perfect, but they’re pretty good. I’ve even managed to sneak some literary noir into hard-core magazines such as Switchblade–three pieces so far. Links on my CV, if you’re interested.

Rick Risemberg