Anyone thinking Nordic noir is a recent development should take a look at Wallander author Mankell's newly translated (by Ebba Segerberg) novel, first published in 2001 as "Tea-Bag". The Shadow Girls is packed with wannabe crime writers, from young migrants to Jesper Humlin's stubborn mother and wild investment broker. Humlin's publisher is desperate for his client to stop penning honourably opaque poetry and join them. Instead, Humlin, a jealous, suntan-obsessed misanthrope with a stagnant relationship and career, is drawn first to host a series of writing classes for young migrants, and then into the lives of three of his pupils: Leila, Tea-Bag and Tanya. The subject is arguably dearer to Mankell's heart than the detective fiction he made his name with – his international projects include running a theatre in Mozambique – and Humlin becomes increasingly sympathetic (if no less hapless) as he moves through a tragicomic succession of brawls, geriatric phone-sex operators and sleepless nights, and hears of the girls' grim and shifting pasts. As a story, it rarely thrills, but Mankell adroitly mixes cheerful satire and harrowing detail, and this hymn to the mistreated and marginalised sparks with passion.
London-based writer and editor James Smart reviews books (including a fair few graphic novels) for the Guardian