Something wholesome in the state of Denmark?
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.
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.
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.