As the ship sails into Stockholm harbour, the mood is more Escape to the Country than Midsomer Murders. Below a skyline of spires lies a sleepy haze of wooden houseboats and cobbled waterfronts, with cafes serving coffee and cinnamon buns. This is a countrified capital where fishermen catch salmon in the shadow of the royal palace, and where sun-kissed children swim off improbably shimmering islands. Anything less like a gritty Swedish crime scene would be hard to imagine. Yet this is Stieg Larsson country, the capital of Scandinavian crime fiction, populated by serial killers, Nazi sympathisers and an antisocial computer-hacking heroine.
Delve into Stieg Larsson’s dark world by going on a detective trail that reveals a secret side of Stockholm, along with dramatic waterside views, design shops and bohemian cafes. The trail revolves around the urban island of Södermalm, where Larsson lived in real-life, and where `the good guys’ inhabit his fictional world. In the Hollywood remake, Mikael Blomqvist, the crusading journalist, is played by ponderous, `licensed to kill’ Daniel Craig and aided in his search for a missing girl by Lisbeth (Rooney Mara), the troubled, tattoed wild child with a penchant for violence.
Cross the bridge from Gamla Stan to Sodermalm, a shift from the picturesque cafes of the Old Town to the deliciously forbidding towering cliff-tops beloved by the locals: legend has it that child-snatching witches once leapt off these soaring cliffs. Follow Sodermalm’s bohemian back lanes to Bellmansgatan, Mikael’s romantic attic eyrie. The fearsome hacker’s fictional home is a turning off Gotgatan, via a Synagogue, a domed church and Mikael’s fictional offices. (On your way back to the Old Town, call in at the City Museum to see a recreation of Mikael’s Millennium offices). Fiskargatan 9, Lisbeth’s swish 21-room apartment, bought with her ill-gotten gains, was where she “sat in the dark all evening, on her window-seat, watching the water on Saltsjon.” When her mood lifted, she headed to Mosebacke around the corner, an inviting square decorated with a statue of entwined sisters, and to the Sodra Teatern, still a summery terrace for lingering over a beer and the beguiling waterfront below.
On Sodermalm, the food is often as gritty as a Larsson crime scene: smoked reindeer, pickled cucumber, and elk meatballs. Nearby, on Gotgatan, awaits Kvarnen, an old-world tavern where Mikael enjoyed a drink, and where Lisbeth met her rock chick friends. In real life, the beer-hall welcomes a cheery mix of architects and Hammerby football fans - and where the victors tend to tuck into Swedish meatballs and mash, with consolatory reindeer steak for the losing side.
We bid farewell to Stieg Larsson’s world in Mellqvist Kaffebar at the end of bustling Hornsgatan. This hip café was a hotbed of intrigue, where Mikael met both Lisbeth and Erika, his mistress. In real life, this was where Stieg Larsson often used to write, just to the left of the entrance, until his heart attack at the age of 50. The film crew, following in his ghostly wake, also took to this trendy bar, in tribute. But Eva, my guide, is ever the unsentimental Swede: “When you’re fifty, eat a lot of fast food and don’t exercise, that’s what happens.”
With cosy cafes but dark Nordic nights, the city veers between pretty and gritty, much like Larsson’s novels. It’s a film noir journey from the picturesque Old Town to Sodermalm, the Brooklyn of Stockholm, reflecting the trajectory of Larsson’s characters. Won over by the damaged heroine, we half-expect to see Lisbeth skulking in the shadows, stalking us in silence. But to break the spell, drop into the glitzy Gold Bar, where the martinis, shaken not stirred, suited Daniel Craig in 007 mode rather than in his earnest Mikael persona. This is Stockholm without the Stieg Larsson Blues.