I understand. I really do. Publishers want to make money and, traditionally, the best way to do that is to keep producing something like a guaranteed winner. After The Da Vinci Code became a hit, the bookish world was treated to a flood of books about historical mysteries that would change everything we ever knew about the world. Publishers are still trying to find books like the Harry Potter series, Gone Girl, and others. I don’t have a problem with any of that.
Getting lightning to strike twice, as it were, is hard work. One has to learn about the exact conditions that caused the lightning and how to reproduce those conditions. What was it about Harry Potter that made readers fall in love? Why on earth was Twilight so popular? It’s like having to psychoanalyze without being able to actually talk to anyone. One can only make decisions based on impressions and it’s no wonder that publishers sometimes get it wrong and produce books based on incorrect deductions.
So far, I’m good. What I do have a problem with, is when publishers try to copy the wrong parts of the books people liked and go too far, only to produce one note books that are just not what we wanted. For example: The Wolf and the Watchman, by Niklas Natt och Dag. I don’t blame Natt och Dag for what that book ended up becoming. I blame whoever edited and published it. Reading it felt like someone told an author, people like really dark, awful things set in Scandinavia. Nothing about the society. Nothing about the detectives, really—just violence on top of violence. I can’t believe that almost the entire population of Stockholm circa 1793 were sadists.
Scandinavian noir has been big in the English language market since The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo broke out in 2008. Since that book made it big, we’ve seen dozens of books set in the freezing north: the Inspector Erlendur novels, the Kurt Wallander books, the Harry Hole series, and so on. They tend to feature moody, troubled detectives uncovering awful secrets hidden behind the seemingly egalitarian and calm façades of Nordic life. The grumpy detectives are nothing new. We’ve had those since Sherlock Holmes. The setting is new and who doesn’t love lifting up rocks to see what’s hiding underneath? The best books in this sub genre are deeply appealing for their psychological depth. Unfortunately for me, The Wolf and the Watchman had none of the good things about Scandinoir.
Pity the poor readers who end up on the receiving end of terrible books like the Fifty Shades series (which began as fan fiction of Twilight) or all the books about teenagers required to kill each other after The Hunger Games came out. I might be more inclined to forgive if I hadn’t just finished a copycat book that got it wrong. What about you, gentle readers? Have you ever read a terrible book that seemed like to come straight from a focus group?