Superdetective Blomkwist leeft gevaarlijk

By Astrid Lindgren

My favourite Astrid Lindgren books (and one of my all-round favourites, at that) were those about Superdetective Blomkwist: Mästerdetektiven Blomkvist, Mästerdetektiven Blomkvist lever farligt and Kalle Blomkvist och Rasmus. Of course, my Swedish being what it is, I’ve never read these book in the original language, but rather in the praiseworthy translation by Rita Törnqvist-Verschuur. And now my daughters have reached the ripe ages of seven, seven and nine, I’m reading the stories to them.

  • Author: Astrid Lindgren
  • Title: Superdetective Blomkwist leeft gevaarlijk (in De Bende van de Witte Roos)
  • Pages: 142
  • Published: 1987 (1951)
  • Publisher: Uitgeverij Ploegsma
  • ISBN: 90 216 0548 1

I did the first book, simply called Superdetective Blomkwist, before I started Fading Memories, so I’ll just note that it it’s a delightful introduction to a delightful miniseries. A fine and complete story, redolent of the good smells of a rather idyllic Swedish countryside village. The book, having been written in 1946, is surprisingly fresh and up-to-date in all respects but one.

I’d better get this one complaint uttered before I continue the regularly scheduled eulogizing. Briefly it’s this: if you read this book to your children, you have to be ready for the bits where Astrid Lindgren waxes poetic about the beautiful innocence of small boys and little girls. You can safely skip it, because nothing in the descriptions of these children shows them to be innocent, innocuous, naive little poppets.

If they were, they wouldn’t be able to do what they do. Which is, briefly, while waging the bloody war between the White and the Red Rose, finding the clues that are needed to lock up a murderer. The superdetective from the title is Kalle Blomkwist, the thirteen-year old son of the grocer, who, in part I, solved a jewelry robbery. In this book it’s he, who through his avid reading of Dorothy L. Sayers Lord Peter Wimsey books (and other detective novels) knows how to perform Marsh’s test — surely no mean feat for someone of his age.

Eva-Lotta Lisander is the only female knight in the armies of the Roses (but remember that this was written in 1951), and she discovers the corpse, having asked the murderer for the time just a few minutes earlier. Anders Bengtsson is the son of the cobbler, and he’s the leader of the White Rose.

Opposed to this fairly standard children’s gang (see for instance Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens) is the Red Rose, which consists of Sixten, Benka and Jonte. And these gangs war for the possession of a mystical stone called, in translation, the Bommeldrom.

It’s this stone that proves to be the prime mover of the plot. The story mostly flows about naturally, and it’s only after the ‘real’ end that we get stuck with unlikely coincidences. Not that my kids noticed…

And there are nice touches, such as when Kalle puts a key back in a lock to faze the Red Roses. That key is later used to lock up the murderer. Astrid Lindgren was a master of the craft, unsurpassed, even superior to our own Annie M.G. Schmidt, and she has no equal in the English world.

All of Astrid Lindgren books I’ve read have been translated from the Swedish by Rita Törnqvist-Verschuur (who is an author of children’s books in her own right), and only someone who has read her translations knows how execrably bad most recent translations are. Really, I don’t know who got a rottener deal, J.K. Rowling or Diana Wynne Jones. It is impossible, I find, and I am rather good in reading books to an audience, to read the long, bland, convoluted sentences in the Dutch translation of Harry Pottter without tripping over the lack of rhythm or the idiotic translations of some names.

By contrast, reading Superdetective Blomkwist leeft gevaarlijk is easy. The sentences flow over the tongue. Every person has a clearly defined voice. The vocabulary is correct. The names aren’t translated, unless they have a clear meaning (as in ‘Japie Stompvoet’). I’m already looking forward to reading out part III.

It’s a pity that this book is not available in English, as far as I can ascertain. So you’ve got a choice: learn Dutch or Swedish. But read the book.