It was just before Christmas 2000 that I first went to Sweden, on a storm-tossed ferry from North Shields to Gothenburg. We were going to see our elder son, who had followed a beautiful Swedish girl back to her homeland. He’s still there and we have been regular visitors ever since.
During that first wintry visit I was captivated by the landscape of Skåne, the southernmost region of Sweden. Part of the time we stayed in Ystad with a police detective based in the town. She has become a firm friend (and police adviser), as has her ex-partner, who still serves as a detective in Ystad. At the time I was interested in writing film scripts and after a couple of summer visits I had written a screenplay for a mystery story and come up with the treatment for a crime story, which I set in Malmö.
It was then that I discovered Henning Mankell, quite by chance, in a bookshop in Newcastle. At the time he only had a couple of translated novels out over here. I was amazed to discover that they were centred in Ystad and the surrounding countryside that we were becoming so familiar with. Soon the trickle of Scandinavian crime novels became a steady stream. So I decided to dust off my old film treatment and try and turn it into a novel.
Though the central figure, Anita Sundström, was to be a Swedish police inspector I wanted to give British readers an outsider’s view of the country. The novel is a basic introduction to Sweden, as home-grown Swedish writing – just as crime writing from any other country – assumes a certain degree of local knowledge and cultural understanding in their readers. I have attempted to fill in some of the gaps. So, the story starts off with a British character who is invited to Malmö to interview an old university friend. He becomes embroiled in a murder investigation to which Anita Sundström is assigned.
I also wanted Anita to be different from many other fictional detectives. Unlike Kurt Wallander, Harry Hole, Morse, Rebus and even Jane Tennyson, she’s only one of a team. She’s not running the investigation. She’s only a cog in the machine and has to work within those restrictions. She can’t be the clichéd maverick figure. It’s her role within the team that leads to tensions.
The other main character in the story is Malmö itself. My son has called it home for several years. It’s a pleasant city – particularly in the summer with all its beautiful parks. It’s also a cultural melting pot. Thanks to the opening of the Öresund bridge in 2000 linking it to Copenhagen, it has transformed itself from backwater town into cosmopolitan city. It also has a large immigrant population that has been brought into sharp focus with the spate of recent shootings. This is Anita Sundström’s beat. I hope she’s on it for more than one book.
Meet Me in Malmö by Torquil MacLeod is published by Hale