Sweden, Denmark, and Finland (three of the countries that make up Scandinavia) are united over their deft eye for prickling suspense and original mystery. Add Iceland to the mix, and you'll have a distinctive blend of crime fiction that is being translated to the delight of English-speaking readers. In fact, as explained by Kirkus Reviews, Germans have a word for the literary genre that sells madly across the European continent: Schwedenkrimi, “Swedish crime novels.”
Here a couple of those novels making headlines around the World. Pick at least one or two to read to see if you like the genre and the style. Even if you don't usually read crime books, they might surprise you.
The Ice Princess by Camila Lackberg
Swedish economist turned novelist Läckberg, is a phenomenon in Europe but still not as famous in the United States.
Her new novel tells the story of biographer Erica Falck, who after many years in Stockholm returns home to her tiny coastal village to tend to her late parents’ estate. After she discovers the body of her childhood best friend, Erica tries to write about her friend’s life. Her death by apparent suicide leads to uncovering more secrets than Erica bargained for. This international bestseller is the first in a series of books that take place in the same creepy, near-empty tourist town.
Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason
Even though Iceland has the third lowest murder rate in the world, its citizens love the crime fiction scene.
Jar City tells of a lonely old man who is found dead in his Reykjavík flat. When the only clues are a cryptic note left by the killer and a photograph of a young girl's grave, inspector Erlendur has to open up a cold case the man was accused of years prior. The victim had been accused, but not convicted, of an unsolved crime, a rape. Did the old man's past come back to haunt him?
Arnaldur Indridason is following the footsteps of his Scandinavian neighbors and provides a very creepy and one of the weirdest stories out there.
Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell
Faceless Killers is the first riveting installment in the internationally bestselling and universally acclaimed Kurt Wallander series. This book is also the basis for the PBS series starring Kenneth Branagh.
The series follows the rugged, obsessive Ystad police inspector, Kurt Wallander. While battling a midlife crisis, he attempts to solve a murder going on nothing but a foreign word uttered by a dying woman.
The perpetrator savagely killed an elderly farming couple in the Swedish town of Lenarp. The husband was gruesomely tortured and the wife was slowly strangled with a noose tied in an unusual knot.
Readers who think of Sweden as snow-white are in for a surprise.
The Maria Kallio Series By Leena Lehtolainen
When twenty-three-year-old law student Maria Kallio is recruited for a temporary position at the Helsinki police department, she has to enter a world of murder, jealousy, and passion. When a young playboy is murdered at his family’s summer villa, she has to prove herself. He is found floating facedown at the water’s edge after a night of partying, Tommi Peltonen appears to have been murdered by one of his closest friends – but no one understands why?
The group’s privileged, carefree lifestyle masks the jealousy underneath. As Maria uncovers the victim’s unsavory secrets, motives for all seven suspects come to light. Now it’s up to her to untangle the clues before the killer strikes again.
The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen
Jussi Adler-Olsen's novel tells the story of Carl Mørck, one of Copenhagen's best homicide detectives. After two of his fellow cops are shot down, Mørck is unexpectedly promoted. He lands himself in Department Q, a one-person department with only a stack of cold cases for company. One case keeps nagging at him: a missing politician who has been presumed dead for five years. The thing is, she isn't dead... yet.
The Trespasser by Tana French
Being on the Murder squad is nothing like Detective Antoinette Conway dreamed it would be. Her partner, Stephen Moran, is the only person who seems glad she’s there. The rest of her working life is a stream of thankless cases, vicious pranks, and harassment. Antoinette is savagely tough, but she’s getting close to the breaking point.
Their new case looks like yet another lovers’ quarrel gone bad. Aislinn Murray is blond, pretty, groomed to a shine, and dead in her catalog-perfect living room, next to a table set for a romantic dinner. There’s nothing unusual about her—except that Antoinette’s seen her somewhere before.
And that her death won’t stay in its neat by-numbers box. Other detectives are trying to push Antoinette and Steve into arresting Aislinn’s boyfriend, fast. There’s a shadowy figure at the end of Antoinette's road. Aislinn's friend is hinting that she knew Aislinn was in danger. And everything they find out about Aislinn takes her further from the glossy, passive doll she seemed to be.
Antoinette knows the harassment has turned her paranoid, but she can’t tell just how far gone she is. Is this case another step in the campaign to force her off the squad, or are there darker currents flowing beneath its polished surface?
OK, so Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad books aren’t technically Scandinavian. But there’s plenty of gloomy weather, and some great Irish slang, so we’ll give it a pass. Antoinette Conway is a newbie detective looking for an interesting case. What she gets is an open-and-shut lovers' quarrel. That is, until her colleagues start acting strangely, and someone shadowy is lurking outside her house…
Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson
The central character of Snowblind is a troubled rookie cop, Ari Thór, who has been posted to Siglufjörour, a depressed fishing community in the north of the country where everyone knows everyone else. Ari Thór leaves unfinished business behind him in Reykjavík in the shape of his medical student girlfriend and his own interrupted training for the priesthood. Soon a major snowstorm leaves the town, him and others stranded amid the investigation of the apparently accidental death of a leading citizen. Soon it seems that everyone in town has a secret.
Selected by THE INDEPENDENT as one of the eight best crime novels of the year in the UK, Snowblind is a gigantic locked-room mystery, an investigation into murder and other crimes within a closed society with a limited number of suspects.BUY THE BOOK
SMILLA’S SENSE OF SNOW BY PETER HOEG
During her Greenland childhood, Smilla developed an almost intuitive understanding of all types of snow and their characteristics. As an adult, she worked for a time as a scientist whose specialty was snow and ice.
The story begins in Copenhagen, where a child has fallen to his death from the snowy rooftop of an old warehouse. The police refuse to consider it anything but an accident—there is only one set of footprints (the child's) in the snow leading to the edge of the roof—but Smilla believes there is something about the footprints that shows that the boy was chased off the roof. Her investigations lead her to decades-old conspiracies in Copenhagen, and then to a voyage on an icebreaker ship to a remote island off the Greenlandic coast, where the truth is finally discovered.
Smilla is one of the bravest literary heroines we know.
THE SNOWMAN BY JO NESBO
The Snowman is the seventh in Jo Nesbo’s series following Oslo detective Harry Hole, but it can be read as a stand-alone. The novel is set in Norway where the detective, a complex hero at the center of the investigation, tracks a serial killer who leaves a snowman at the scene of every crime. It is terrifying, having all the requisite elements of a great thriller with lots of red herrings that keep you guessing until the end. It has been adapted into a major motion picture, starring Michael Fassbender.
BLIND GODDESS BY ANNE HOLT
Norwegian author Anne Holt has become one of the hottest writers of dark, sophisticated mystery fiction in the world today.
In Blind Goddess, detective Hanne Wilhelmsen and her colleague Håkon Sand, an attorney with the Special Branch of the Oslo police, look into two murders in Edgar-finalist Holt's well-paced first Hanne Wilhelmsen novel.
Karen Borg is a rich, successful lawyer who one night stumbles across a body in the woods. Some hours later, a young man is found sitting in the middle of the road, covered in blood. Hanne and her colleagues, of course, suspect him of the crime, but he won't speak, other than to insist that he's kept in a cell at the police station rather than being transferred to prison. He does, however, ask to see Karen. Despite the fact that she practices commercial law, he wants her to represent him in court.
As the officers investigate, they uncover a massive network of corruption involving the highest level of government whose exposure may well get them killed.
GORKY PARK BY MARTIN CRUZ SMITH
Published in 1981, at the height of the Cold War, Gorky Park is a spy thriller set in the Soviet Union. It is the first book in a series featuring the character Arkady Renko, a Moscow homicide investigator, who is assigned to a case involving three corpses found in Gorky Park, an amusement park in Moscow. The victims - two men and a woman - were shot, and have had their faces and fingertips cut off by the murderer to prevent identification.
Spurred on by the possibility of an illicit icon trade and KGB involvement, Arkady discovers that the more he learns, the more confused and pointless the murders seem to be. Given more and more rope by the KGB, he finds himself involved in an increasingly complex and sinister web of intrigue.
The plot grows even denser, and the storytelling increasingly tense. The story is an exemplary page turner.
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO BY STIEG LARSSON
Everybody surely knows this one, but we couldn't let it out of our list since its probably the one responsible for readers around the World looking for more books like it. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the award-winning crime novel by Swedish author and journalist Stieg Larsson, the first in his Millennium Trilogy.
Murder mystery, family saga, love story, and financial intrigue combine into one satisfyingly complex and entertainingly atmospheric novel, featuring Lisbeth Salander, a rebellious girl hacker, who often wore black clothing and makeup, and the survivor of a traumatic childhood. She as a complicated relationship with investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist, when he hires her to assist him in investigating the disappearance of Vanger's grandniece, Harriet, 40 years earlier. Salander uses her research skills to uncover a series of murders, dating back decades and tied to Harriet's disappearance.
This blockbuster series has sold tens of millions of copies around the world, exposing international audiences to Nordic crime fiction.