Scandinavian Murder Mysteries

By Joyce Worsley, Librarian, Fiction Department

In Scandinavian murder mysteries, the authors interweave murder/suspense stories with thoughts about social injustice: xenophobia, racism, class differences, brutality towards women and overall, exhibit a social consciousness.

There were some early front runners in the genre. Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo in the 1970s and 1980s (Martin Beck series),  and Peter Hoeg (Smilla’s Sense of Snow) and Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallender series in the 1990’s. But no author sparked the explosion into Scandi or Nordic noir fiction, as it’s often called, like Stieg Larsson’s first entry in the Millennium trilogy in 2005, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Since that time, there have been many authors translated and published in the U.S. for the reading enjoyment of mystery lovers. The following are three authors well worth exploring.

The first author is Jo Nesbo and his latest offering is The Knife. Nesbo has become a familiar and steady presence on the best seller lists with his book series about Harry Hole. The newest book does not disappoint as Hole faces one of the darkest and most complex cases of his entire career. It’s typical Nesbo with plot twists and turns and plenty of red herrings. While some might prefer to start at the beginning of the series, The Knife has enough stand alone qualities to dip one’s toe into the murky world of Nesbo’s Norwegian police procedural. The story is typical – dark, gritty, and with an air of “what can go wrong next” for the likeable but often quirky, drunk, and battered genius that is Harry Hole.

The second book, The Island by Ragnar Jonasson,  which features an Icelandic woman as Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdottir, is actually a prequel to the first book in the series The Darkness. It’s a perfect starting point for this author. Hulda is a dogged and determined investigator and won’t let anyone or anything stop her from finding out exactly what happened or who the real culprits are. The atmosphere of The Island is suitably bleak and foreboding and the sense of dread that the author creates is perfect for reading to forget the real world for a while. This makes The Island an excellent addition to the Nordic noir genre.

The third and last book is The Chestnut Man by Soren Sveistrup. Sveistrup is interesting because until this debut novel, he was most notable as the scriptwriter for a 3 season TV show on AMC called The Killing. He carries the brooding suspense of The Killing into his novel. The primary detective, Naia Thulin, is saddled with a sidekick who often seems distracted and oblivious to the case they are investigating. The two are tasked with solving a series of gruesome murders where the killer’s calling card is a child’s handmade Christmas decoration composed of chestnuts. It’s a compelling story and definitely a welcome new addition to the genre.

These books and more are available to Pratt readers through the Enoch Pratt Free Library ‘s digital collection.