Something wholesome in the state of Denmark?

Recently I’ve been sitting up red-eyed, late into night hooked on something I just can’t kick. The habit just grew me and before I knew it I was blowing large sums of money to feed my addiction.

Don’t worry though, readers, I haven’t  taken up crack cocaine or blown the house on internet poker. Just  belatedly discovered hit Danish crimi The Killing (Forbrydelsen), now being re-run on BBC4, and splashed out on the boxed DVD set to find out whodunnit.

We Brits, it seems, just can’t get enough of Inspector Norse (see BBC4′s excellent documentary Nordic Noir )   who inthis case is austere, self-sufficient,  jumper-wearing obsessive DI Sarah Lund.

There’s a  very strong political sub-plot in the series  as Lund’s investigation of the brtual murder of 19 year old women Nanna Birk Larsen leads ever closer to Copenhagen City Hall and the closely contested mayoral election between Liberal candidate Troels Hartmann and incumbent (Social Democrat?) mayor Bremer. Hartmann is most closely implicated as one of his campaign cars is used to dump the body of the  victim,.

I won’t give the plot away, but what’s interesting from a political science point of view is how well the Danish political system comes out.  Although clearly a political pro accustomed to wheeling and dealing, Hartmann is (with some key exceptions)  basically a rather principled reformer.  He refuses some of the dirtier strategems proposed by his advisors and the pressures to comprise his core beliefs for the sake tactical conveneince or because of pressure from his national party.

The police are subject – and for a while amenable – to political pressure to protect powerful figures from investigation, but in the end they are prove independent enough to go for them.

The municipal public administration perhaps comes out worse, although personal failings rather than institutional failure seem to lie at the heart of the what the ‘tecs uncover.

Power corrupts then, but not that much maybe.

Henning Mankell

A big contrast then with some of the older more established works of Scandi-crime writing, especially that of left-wing Swedish writers like Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell and more distantly Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö . Here, behind the facade of a well-governed welfare society something is rotten in the state of Sweden with big businesspeople (sometimes pervvy or psychopathic), right-wing extremists, sinister spooks, blowback from the exploitation of the Third world and (post-1989/91) collusion with East European mafias being some of the favourite themes.

Personal crimes and misdemenours peel back to reveal inner social and political malaise.

The Killing has it the other way round.

Still worth getting to Denmark? (Photo Casey Marshall)

Despite shockingly delivered plot twists, very  dark subject matter and lashings of  human tragegy and personal destruction wreaked on all characters, its underlying image of Denmark’s social and political institutions is, realistically,  a rather positive one. Although individuals crumble and collapse – and issues such integration of migrants, while constantly mentioned, by Hartmann et al  are  basically rather glossed over – the country’s institutions work tolerably fairly and tolerably well.

I don’t know if Francis Fukuyama reads crime fiction – I would guess not – but I think he would like it.  I do.

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One response to “Something wholesome in the state of Denmark?”

  1. placevalues says :

    Hi Dr Sean – thanks for the blog – I think you speak for all of us “the killing” fans out there!
    what a great series!
    Sarah

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