In late 2005 I picked up a book called The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and discovered the grim criminal landscape of Sweden! What was, until then, a fairy tale country in my mind suddenly transformed into a dark and horrific landscape of violent crimes. Okay maybe that’s an exaggeration. But if you’re fascinated by the darker side of life, Nordic Noir is for you. Here are six writers who create gruesome murder mysteries and are available in English translation.
Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö
Crime fiction in Scandinavia really took off with this Swedish couple who wrote a series of books featuring homicide detective Martin Beck and his team. Written over a span of 10 years, the journalist duo dug into their Marxist roots and wrote to hold a mirror to Sweden’s rapid modernisation during the 1960s.
Thought provoking and meticulously researched, almost every contemporary Scandinavian crime writer swears by Sjöwal & Wahlöö’s Martin Beck series.
- Roseanna: Amazon | iBooks
- The Man Who Went Up In Smoke: Amazon | iBooks
- The Man on the Balcony: Amazon | iBooks
Indridason is from Iceland and takes inspiration from the great storytelling tradition of that remote and beautiful country. His most popular series is based on Erlendur Sveinsson, the commissioner of police in Rejkyavik.
Indridason began as a journalist and then a film critic for Morgunbladid, Iceland’s biggest newspaper. He is considered to be one of the most beloved writers in Iceland. Jar City is a good place to start; you can also see the 2006 film of the same name by Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur.
Nesbø is probably one of the most well known Scandi crime writer outside of Scandinavia. This Norwegian celebrity is an eclectic mixture of singer-songwriter for the Norwegian rock band Di Derre, a crime fiction writer and a children’s book writer!
Based in Oslo, his detective is Harry Hole, a heavy drinker, smoker and cynic. Hole is the classic unconventional cop; brilliant with his work and unorthodox in his methods. His themes are famously dark, crafted seamlessly with gut-wrenching plot twists.
Often referred to as the Norwegian Queen of Crime, Fossum debuted as a poet in 1974, winning the Tarjei Vesaas’ debutantpris that year. Her main character is Detective Konrad Sejer, a relatively more stable man than most of the other detectives in Nordic Noir. Sejer is an unassuming and cautious detective and doesn’t jump to conclusions without giving a chance to alternate possibilities. Often based in Oslo and the surrounding villages, Fossum’s Sejer makes for a surprisingly emphatic read.
- Don’t Look Back: Amazon | iBooks
- He Who Fears The Wolf: Amazon | iBooks
- When the Devil Holds the Candle: Amazon | iBooks
Although Sweden and Norway lead the race in crime fiction authorship, Denmark has a few too. Adler-Olsen was born in Copenhagen and grew up in doctor’s quarters in mental hospitals all over the country (his father was the famous psychiatrist and sexologist Henry Olsen).
Adler-Olsen’s series is based on the one man Department Q, a special unit of the police reserved for unsolved crimes. Carl Morck is transferred here after the death of two colleagues. Morck, in and as Department Q, is left to break a stack of cold cases on minimal resources.
Currently the best known Scandinavian crime writer in the world, Larsson began as a journalist. All of his fiction has been published posthumously; he died in 2004.
His Millenium Trilogy, which begins with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, is a series of novels featuring hacker Lisbeth Salander and writer Mikael Blomkvist, with Stockholm as the backdrop and violence against women as the theme. Disturbing, face-paced and full of fleshed-out, fascinating characters, it’s no wonder that the Millenium Trilogy books have topped bestseller lists since their releases beginning in 2005 (in Swedish) and 2008 (in English). Acclaimed Swedish and American films of the series have been made, most recently by American director David Fincher.
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Amazon | iBooks
- The Girl Who Played with Fire: Amazon | iBooks
- The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest: Amazon | iBooks
- Anne Holt for her detective Hanne Wilhelmsen series
- Henning Mankell for his Inspector Kurt Wallander series
- Peter Høeg for Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow
Did we miss your favorite Nordic Noir writer? Let us know in the comments!