We all have certain genres we turn to when we need an escape from everyday life. Recently, I’ve been picking up books that are dark and gritty, but removed enough from the current climate that it still feels like an “escape.” Currently, that means I have a big stack of Nordic Noir books that are sitting on my bedside table.
WHAT IS NORDIC NOIR?
At its most basic description, Nordic Noir (also known as Scandi Noir or Scandinavian Noir) is crime fiction, usually from a police procedural point of view, set in a Scandinavian country. One of the major characteristics of Nordic Noir is the troubled protagonist. Often, the reader gets a deeper look into the inner turmoil, past secrets, or life-long regrets than you’d typically see in a mystery or thriller.
Just as important is the atmosphere, which often feels like its own character. The atmosphere is bleak, dark, and ominous, creating a feeling of uneasiness that persists throughout the storyline. The cases themselves are vicious, shining a light on the darkest parts of humanity, whether that’s based in violent crime or political corruption.
So if you’re interested in getting started with Nordic Noir, we’ve created a list of books to pick up to get to know the genre, and if you’re a long-time fan, we’ve included a list of newer releases.
Note: There is a dearth of diverse authorship in Nordic Noir literature. If you have any genre favorites written by a person of color, we’d love to hear about it on social media!
CLASSIC NORDIC NOIR BOOKS
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO BY STIEG LARSSON
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the first book in the Millennium series, is arguably one of the most well-known Nordic Noir. The series follows the cyberpunk hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist in their quest to bring Sweden’s darkest secrets to light. The first three books were penned by Stieg Larsson, and all subsequent works have been carried out by David Lagercrantz without input from Larsson.
THE SNOWMAN BY JO NESBØ
Though The Snowman is book #7 in the Harry Hole series, it is often touted as the front-runner of the series. The books work independently of each other, but if you jump ahead too much there are some spoilers. Crime by the Book has a great guide on different orders to read the series based on what kind of reader you are.
The novel starts with a boy awakening in the night to find his mother gone. Seemingly in her place: a snowman in their front yard with his mother’s scarf around its neck. Henry Hole expects there is a link between this disappearance and a menacing letter he’s received. The investigation leads Hole into a terrifying game with all rules devised by the killer.
THE ICE PRINCESS BY CAMILLA LÄCKBERG
Returning to her hometown following the death of her parents, Erica Falck learns that this loss is not the only tragedy. Her childhood friend, Alex, is found in an ice-cold bath, seemingly having died by suicide. Like Erica, local detective Patrik Hedstrom also has some suspicions about the way Alex died, and when they come together the secrets finally begin to expose themselves.
SNOWBLIND BY RAGNAR JÓNASSON
The first book in the Dark Iceland series, Snowblind takes us to a quiet fishing village in Northern Iceland. When a woman is found unconscious and half-naked in the snow at the same time a man is found dead in a local theatre, rookie policeman Ari Thór Arason is dragged into a community full of secrets. Between 24-hour darkness and an avalanche blocking off the mountain pass, Ari’s investigation becomes increasingly complex as he hunts the killer still on the loose.
THE CROW GIRL BY ERIK AXL SUND
Together, Detective Superintendent Jeanette Kihlberg and psychotherapist Sofia Zetterlund work to uncover the mystery behind a series of young bodies found, bound, and covered in markings. Does a chain of events that started years ago have anything to do with this new serial killer? This is a tome of a novel originally published as a trilogy in Sweden.
NEW NORDIC NOIR BOOKS
THE TENANT BY KATRINE ENGBERG
Detectives Jeppe Korner and Anette Werner are put on the case of a young woman murdered in her apartment with a pattern of intricate lines carved into her face. It just so happens that the victim’s landlord is writing a mystery novel…which now casts her tenant as the story’s murder victim. But the involvement of the landlord, Esther de Laurenti, is not so cut and dry. The two detectives must now determine whether Esther is the culprit or just another victim.
THE GOLDEN CAGE BY CAMILLA LÄCKBERG
Faye has a seemingly perfect life living in the heart of Stockholm with a daughter and a husband who dotes on her every need. But, as with most seemingly perfect things, her life isn’t as bright and shiny as she’d like people to believe. In fact, her name isn’t even Faye, and once the secret is out, we can’t be sure who will escape with their life.
THE CHESTNUT MAN BY SØREN SVEISTRUP
This debut novel written by the creator of the television show The Killing follows the case of a psychopath terrorizing Copenhagen. At every murder scene, the killer leaves a “chestnut man,” or handmade doll made of matchsticks and chestnuts. Upon further examination, forensics finds the fingerprint of a government minister’s daughter who was kidnapped a year prior. Is it a coincidence, or something more?
BETRAYAL BY LILJA SIGURÐARDÓTTIR
Returning home to Iceland after traveling the world as an aid worker, Úrsula accepts a high-profile government role hoping to make a difference. She knows she’s in for something more harrowing than expected when her first day on the job involves helping a mother whose daughter had been raped by a policeman.
Simultaneously dealing with the case, a personal stalker, and the reemergence of her father’s death in police custody years prior, Úrsula is drawn into a world of corrupt politics and deadly threats.
THE SILVER ROAD BY STINA JACKSON
Lelle’s daughter went missing in a remote part of Sweden three years ago. In the summers since he has spent his time driving the Silver Road looking for her and the redemption that would come with bringing her home.
Around the same time, Meja arrives in town looking for a fresh start. She’s around the age of Lelle’s daughter, and as autumn approaches, their lives intertwine in ways neither could expect.