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Photo by Ola Erikson/imagebank.sweden.se.

“The Da Vinci Code” did it to Paris. “Angels and Demons” did it to Rome. Now, Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and the subsequent books in the “Millennium” trilogy are doing it to Stockholm and Uppsala: sparking a series of tours based on popular fiction.

But there’s a key difference, at least when it comes to Americans. We tend to have a multitude of images of The City of Light and The Eternal City, but Sweden is less-traveled.

The Swedish government seems to have come to the same conclusion, and launched a new website Oct. 4 to give prospective visitors another perspective of the country.

Called “Sweden – Beyond the Fiction,” it showcases the country, which doesn’t come out of Larsson’s – and other Swedish crime novelists’ – books smelling of roses.

Courtesy Melinda Martino.

“It’s a unique site that explores the image of Sweden depicted in crime fiction – whether it be film or literature,” Swedish embassy spokeswoman Gabriella Augustsson said in a press release. “If you’re a fan of Stieg Larsson, then Åsa Larsson, Henning Mankell and Camilla Läckberg are other major Swedish crime novelists to investigate.”

The website seeks to answer one question above all others: Is Sweden really as dark, cold and depressing as the latest wave of Swedish crime fiction leads you to believe?

I’ve never been to Sweden. It is, however, one of the places I most want to visit. And yes, part of that is because I picked up “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” on vacation and couldn’t put it down.

One of the aspects of the site that I found to be insightful was the photo gallery of places in Stockholm that make appearances in Larsson’s trilogy.

Larsson describes the places well, but as with any author, he cuts and chooses which pieces to show – reading 1,000 words about a street corner is generally bad for plot flow. Seeing those in beautiful photos from the site, however, enhances the experience reading the novels.

According to the site and experts in The United States, Sweden is not a dark country with a depressing and overbearing criminal element.

“It’s not that Swedish culture is dark. Rather, these writers use fiction as a means of dealing with a darkness that exists in all cultures. They’re willing to confront some really harsh stuff, which makes for compelling fiction,” said Linda Rugg, professor of Scandinavian literature and culture at the Scandinavian Department at U.C. Berkeley.

One of the things I always do as a traveler is learn a little bit about the history of a place before I visit. Another is reading fiction set in the location, preferably from an author who is from the area. I feel that it gives me a better understanding of the culture and the story of a place I’m about to visit and enriches the experience.

Photo by Mark Harris/imagebank.sweden.se.

“Sweden – Beyond the Fiction” is certainly an interesting website that is visually attractive and worth a look even if you’re not planning on going anytime soon.

From a journalist/social media marketing perspective, I think Sweden is ahead of the curve when it comes to tourism marketing at a national level. About a year ago, a friend of mine who is Swedish pointed me to a Twitter account: @Sweden.

The Twitter handle is every traditional public relations person’s nightmare: A citizen sending messages that represent the country out into the Internet, seemingly with no vetting.

Each week, there’s a new Swede at the helm. I assumed it would be a stodgy, canned approach that would end up being a transparent manipulation of social media by the government.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. It could be a clever manipulation of social media, but I doubt it. The people behind the Twitter handle feel too real, and they have ranged from a graphic artist to an entrepreneur to a lesbian truck driver.

Take a few minutes and check out the Twitter handle and the website. I’ve found them to be enjoyable windows into a country that I haven’t studied much, but which I feel drawn to more and more with each little morsel I learn.

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