Getting a flavour of Scandinavian/Nordic Crime Fiction

Posted: March 25, 2012 in Book Awards, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, notes, Scandinavia, Sweden

 Two of the most knowledgeable experts on Nordic Crime Fiction, Ali Karim and Barry Forshaw, recently came together on The Rap Sheet to discuss Barry’s new book Death in a Cold Climate. At the end of  an interesting interview Ali Karim put Barry Forshaw on the spot asking  “For readers who want to get a flavor of Scandinavian/Nordic crime fiction, but don’t have a lot of extra time, which five or so works would you recommend their reading?”

His choices were: Smilla’s Sense of Snow [1992] Peter Hoeg, The Laughing Policeman [1968] Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo, The Redbreast [2000] Jo Nesbo, Firewall [1998] Henning Mankell, Woman with Birthmark [1996] Hakan Nesser, Jar City [200] Arnaldur Indridason. 

These lists are always a minefield for the creator, and it would be very difficult to argue against the inclusion of any of these authors. Apart from Sjowall and Wahloo who were writing before it was first awarded all the others have won the Nordic Glass Key  [Hoeg 1993, Nesbo 1998, Mankell 1992, Nesser 2000, Indridason 2002 and 2003] a pretty good judgement on their standard of excellence.

I am not sure I agree with all the specific book selections, particularly with those books chosen for Henning Mankell, and Hakan Nesser, but my main quibble is with the lack of women authors. [Five and a half men to half a woman!]

Also as you can see from the dates there is not much new blood on that list. I think potential readers should be offered a wider choice of books, so here is my long list. Some are my favourites and some are not, but they are a cross section of the very different types of Scandinavian crime fiction on offer:

The Inspector and Silence: Hakan Nesser – Deadpan humour, introspection and terrible crimes blended together by one of my favourite Swedish authors.

The Locked Room: Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo- More humour and a new twist on the locked room mystery in one of my personal favourites from the series.

Missing: Karin Alvtegen- Astrid Lindgren’s great niece writes a superb thriller about Sibylla Forsenstrom, an outsider on the run, five years before Stieg Larsson created Lisbeth Salander.  

The Gallows Bird: Camilla Lackberg- If you are trying to get a flavour of Nordic Crime Fiction you can’t ignore a writer who sells such huge numbers of books. Domesticity mixed with crime is popular. 

Sidetracked: Henning Mankell- I read this a long time ago but still remember it as one of the best Mankells I have read. It won the CWA Gold Dagger in 2001.

Echoes of the Dead: Johan Theorin, a stunning prize winning debut with an octogenarian investigator. An almost perfect blending of a back story with the present day, and a twist in the tale.

The Redbreast, Nemesis, The Devil’s Star: Jo Nesbo- the brilliant Oslo trilogy that introduced readers to Harry Hole, and Norway’s problems with right wing extremists. Sadly prophetic.

Exposed: Liza Marklund- a recent read for me, but with so many interesting and relevant themes to today’s situation,  from journalistic ethics to political chicanery, it is surprising it was written in 1999. 

The Water’s Edge: Karin Fossum- A writer who respects her readers and whose psychological crime books are more interested in the effect of crime on complex human relationships.

The Draining Lake: Arnaldur Indridason- Another superb book with a clever back story, with Erlendur unravelling the past, while dealing with present day problems. 

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest: Stieg Larsson-  By the time he wrote book three Stieg was avoiding some of the 150 page digressions of  his previous two books. This book promised so much …………

Mercy: Jussi-Adler Olsen- an inventive beginning for a series that has two fascinating and contrasting protagonists. 

Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End: Leif G.W.Persson- Not the easiest read, but the professor wins prizes, and this convoluted book is an example of the Olof Palme conspiracy sub genre of Swedish crime fiction. 


A baker’s dozen of authors, a very varied collection of books, and four and a half women authors. Simples. 

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Norman — Some excellent suggestions here!! Thank you :-). I don’t think it’s possible to make a list of any reasonable length that doesn’t omit someone’s favourite and that truly includes all of the excellent work in the category. I think you’ve added some fine novels…

  2. Norman Price says:

    Thanks Margot. i hope I haven’t made you hungry with that photo. 😉

  3. Jose Ignacio says:

    Excellent post Norman and excellent choices.

  4. Super summary, Norm. I hope that one day I will find more time to read translated crime fiction.

  5. Maxine says:

    Great suggestions, Norman. er, aren’t there more than five 😉 ? Just goes to show how many great books there are coming out of this region, even if some of the newer ones are a bit “me too”.

  6. Peter says:

    Given your objection, I’m tempted to suggest Karin Fossum’s He Who Fears the Wolf. That deserves a place on any any best-of Nordic list, but I’m not sure it’s typical. It has very much more low-key humor than Nordic crime writing, including Fossum’s own, typically does. Harri Nykänen’s Raid and the Blackest Sheep is another fine because atypical Nordic crime book.

    I like the your comment on The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. It’s a nice way of saying that Larsson might one day have become a good novelist. In fact, he might have done so. I enjoyed this becomingly modest e-mail from Larsson quoted in a review of a book about him:

    “I am not altogether confident of my ability to put my thoughts into words: My texts are usually better after an editor has hacked away at them, and I am used to both editing and being edited. … I think the first few chapters are a bit long-winded, and it’s a while before the plot gets under way.”
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    “Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

  7. Peter says:

    Or else yo could just scarf down some meatballs at an Ikea cafeteria.

  8. kathy d. says:

    Well, I’ve read all but The Redbreast and Firewall of Forshaw’s choices. And I’ve read 6 of yours. I like some of your choices, but I’m not a fan of Missing (didn’t like the character, which I kind of need to do) and with Indridason, I would have chosen Hypothermia. I also liked The Silence of the Grave and Outrage. And, if we’re including Denmark, I would have listed The Boy in the Suitcase.
    And Sjowall and Wahloo, I like your and Forshaw’s choices. Also, Roseanna. I would say The Inspector and Silence for Nesser. And I also liked Vol. 3 of S. Larsson’s trilogy.
    Interesting lists, though. The Nordic writers are very different, so it’s hard to ascribe a particular style or theme or trait to the region. A sampling of the various styles is good.

    A friend to whom I loaned some of Indridason’s books — who read them in the winter in a not well-heated house, replied “Cold,” when I asked her to characterize the books overall. So, there you have it.

  9. Norman Price says:

    Peter am I the only person in the world who has never been to Ikea?

    Kathy in our small house when we cook kippers the whole place has the perfect ambience for reading Icelandic crime fiction.

  10. kathy d. says:

    I haven’t been to Ikea, and when I read of the Nazi links to the owner of that corporation, I decided to avoid it like the plague.

  11. Norman Price says:

    Thanks Kathy. I hadn’t known that so perhaps my subconscious knew not to visit IKEA.

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