Steig Larsson is seen as having spearheaded the Nordic noir surge with his book The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo published in English in 2008. However, Larsson was able to draw from a strong crime fiction tradition, most notably the writing duo, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö.
As an online blogger with my site Crimepieces and a judge for the Petrona Award for translated Scandinavian crime fiction, I’ve experienced first hand the huge popularity of the genre. As a reader, I have my own personal favorites. It’s a movable feast. Ask me next week, and my top ten would be different. But here, in my opinion, are the very best Scandinavian crime novels.
Hakan Nesser – Woman with Birthmark (Sweden)
Nesser manages that delicate balance between sober writing and achieving a wry humour with his narratives. It is a very clever story with a poignant social message.
Johan Theorin – Echoes from the Dead (Sweden)
A book that deals with loss and longing and, always a difficult subject, the death of a child. A supernatural undertow which never fully realised makes for an unusual read.
Arnaldur Indridason – Jar City (Iceland)
The book that made Icelandic crime fiction internationally popular. Also deals with loss in childhood but combines this with identifying social problems in modern day Iceland.
One of the earliest Scandinavian crime novels to become popular in the UK. The ending peters out slightly, but still a compelling read about the investigation into the death of a young boy.
Anne Holt – 1222 (Norway)
A train crashes in the snowy Norwegian mountains. The survivors battle their way to a hotel but then a murder is committed. As the body count increases retired detective, Hanne Wilhelmsen, paralysed from a bullet is forced to discover the killer.
Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö– Roseanna (Sweden)
The first book in the seminal series from the 1960s. A young woman is found dead in the Göta canal. Martin Beck and his team begin a meticulous investigation in what has become a classic police procedural.
Jo Nesbo – Nemesis (Norway)
The superstar of Norweigian crime fiction, Nesbo has created, with Harry Hole, a protagonist that resonates around the world. An alcoholic and intermittent drug addict, Hole should be a cliché but the power of the writing has won legions of fans.
Jan Costin Wagner – Ice Moon (Finland)
A soberly written investigation into a woman’s death by a detective grieving for his wife. Although the writer is German, he perfectly captures the Finnish landscape and relates it to the absolute bleakness of the story.
Yrsa Sigurdardottir – I Remember You (Iceland)
I love ghost stories and this contains all the elements that you’d expect in a supernatural tale: an atmospheric setting, a series of strange happenings and the gradual dawning that options for escape are fading.
A book that doesn’t feature Mankell’s famous detective, Kurt Wallander. Instead a young policeman with cancer investigates the murder of a former colleague. The novel touches issues that preoccupy modern day Sweden – bigotry and a liberalism that is scarred by a resurgence in the neo-Nazi movement.
Sarah Ward – Crimepieces Sarah Ward is an online book reviewer whose blog, Crimepieces, reviews the best of current crime fiction published around the world. She has also reviewed for the Eurocrime and Crimesquad websites. As a reviewer, her particular interests are European fiction and she is a judge for The Petrona Award for translated Scandinavian crime novels. She is a member of the UK’s Crime Writers Association (CWA). Sarah lives in rural Derbyshire in England where her debut novel to be published in July by Faber and Faber, In Bitter Chill, is set. You can read more from her on the Crime Pieces website.