Nordic Noir, a Love Affair

Nordic Noir, a Love Affair

The flawed, gloomy detectives of the classic noir tradition
find natural homes in the Nordic countries, where the low light,
long winters and glacial landscapes have created a sub-genre all of
their own.



Whether
they’re cool, slow-burning mysteries or violent
thrillers, Nordic noir uses foul play and felonies to unpick
stereotypes of Scandinavia as a haven of prosperity, equality and
liberal thinking.

Two early Scandinavian crime writers, Maj Sjöwall and Per
Wahlöö, explored post-World War II socialism and its failings
through their Martin Beck novels in the 1960s. Hostile attitudes
towards immigration in Sweden in the 90s inspired Henning Mankell
to write his Wallander series, while the original Swedish title for
Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo spells out one of
its key themes: Men Who Hate Women.

Nordic noir has spilled over into film and television, spawning
US and UK remakes in its wake. Danish cult show The Killing
uncovered the frailties of politicians via a small-town tragedy,
while The Bridge featured the grisly homicides, hardened
journalists and dour cops that define the genre. The Nordics occupy
a special place within the noir canon, and the books below
highlight some of the best of it.

Best Nordic Noir novels

Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, Peter Hoeg

Miss Smilla Jaspersen is a scientist specialising in snow and
ice, which leads her to realise the death of a local child off a
snowy rooftop was no accident. Set across Denmark and Greenland,
with its strong, intelligent female lead character, Miss Smilla was
a forerunner of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Let the Right One In, John Ajvide Lindqvist

A vampire-mystery-love-story on a Stockholm sink estate,
12-year-old loner Oskar teams up with his mysterious neighbour Eli
to seek vengeance on the school bullies and authority figures who
have betrayed them. Let the Right One In manages to make the
relationship between the two central characters moving, despite the
high blood and body count they ratchet up between them.

Jar City, Arnaldur Indridason

Iceland plays host to this thriller, a story with an unusual
twist as the book opens with the murder of a man who is truly
despicable. A twisty police procedural plot set in an unforgiving
landscape, the ‘Jar City’ of the novel’s title refers to specimen
jars held in a forensic lab.

The Snowman, Jo Nesbø

An expert in the thriller genre, Norwegian author Nesbø sets his
detective Harry Hole to work trying to understand why snowmen have
appeared at the scene of a string of murders. The novel makes the
inner workings of the Oslo police, and Hole’s troubled inner life
highly compelling (and also ensures henceforth that snowmen will
freak you out).

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson

This is the first in the blockbuster Millenium series of novels
that were pretty hard to avoid a few years ago, but for good
reason. They clatter darkly along at a fast pace and feature one of
modern literature’s most famous heroines: hard-living, tatted-up
computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, who wades into the decades-old
secrets of a wealthy Swedish family.

Don’t Look Back, Karin Fossum

Fossum plants her stories in a quiet Norwegian valley town. In
Don’t Look Back, she explores what neighbours do and don’t know
about each other after a young girl goes missing and then
reappears, unharmed. Dark deeds in small communities aren’t a new
trope in crime writing, but Fossum has a subtle, melancholy style
in keeping with the seemingly tranquil setting which sets her
apart.