Scandinavia has become the crime capital of the world thanks to the recent popularity of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, but there is so much more to the Nordic region than Larsson’s trilogy. Some truly phenomenal talent has emerged from Scandinavia, whose crime fiction scene stretches back far beyond Lisbeth Salander. Here I showcase ten of the very best crime fiction writers from across the region.
10. Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö– The Martin Beck novels created by this husband and wife team were among the very first crime fiction books from Scandinavia to garner international attention. The series is essential reading for anyone interested in crime fiction, and, despite at times being dense and difficult to read, serve as both stunning critiques of 1960s Swedish society and deftly crafted crime novels.
9. Stieg Larsson– The journalist who is often credited as having bought Scandinavian crime fiction into the mainstream, Larsson never lived to learn the true impact his phenomenal trilogy would have on the world. With murder, rape, torture and obscene corruption all regular features of his work, it is unsurprising that the Millennium trilogy is also highly emotive, with the writer skilfully combining violence and horror with human understanding. Strong characterisation really makes these novels stand out, and it is unsurprising that the trilogy has obtained a global following.
8. Jo Nesbø– Famed for his book Headhunters, which spawned a film featuring a member of the Game of Thrones cast, Nesbø is a highly diverse writer, capable of expressing the full plethora of human emotion. His Harry Hole novels, set in his native Norway, are both frightening and understandable, with the author showing a real eye for empathy and a true understanding of human emotion.
7. Peter Høeg– Whilst his The Quiet Girl is generally regarded as complete nonsense and his bibliography is far smaller than many on this list, Høeg deserves an entry on this list entirely for the excellence of his novel Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow. A beautiful, atmospheric novel which explores a number of key themes including motherhood, betrayal, colonialism and political corruption, this is the thrilling tale of Smilla Qaaviqaaq Jaspersen, and how her unique knowledge of the various types of snow leads her on a journey which begins with the death of a child leads her right back to her own past. Quite possibly one of the best books written in the last thirty years, I would strongly urge you to seek out a copy.
6. Karin Fossum– This successful Norwegian author is an excellent introduction to Scandinavian crime fiction, offering relatable plots and intriguing characters. Her detective, Inspector Konrad Sejer, is unusually polite, a very nondescript man with admirable dedication to his job whose overbearing niceness contrasts with the dark themes Fossum threads through her narrative. On the surface these novels are not typical of this genre but there is an essential creepy atmosphere that renders these novels excellent examples of why Scandinavian crime fiction is so popular.
5. Åsa Larsson– An award winning novelist, Larsson’s books are defined by the detail she puts into her setting and the atmosphere this creates almost seeps from the page. Her work is instantly recognisable, and her use of language and beautiful construction perfectly portrays the atmospheric and grimy side of the usually picturesque region which has made the genre internationally popular.
4. Karin Alvtegen– Alvtegen’s novels are tightly wound psychological thrillers that analyse human behaviour and are often terrifyingly identifiable. Her writing translates brilliantly and the novels are always terse, taunt and highly dramatic. The plots race along and the conclusion is always a dramatic, surprising climax.
3. Camilla Läckberg– Läckberg deploys depth in her characterisation which, married with her experienced storytelling, makes all of her novels immediately classic. Her work is both stunningly human, yet simultaneously rich with an ethereal darkness, which makes for a captivating read. There is a very human element to Läckberg’s writing which makes the novels brilliantly plausible despite the dark and twisted plots. Her atmospheric use of setting also makes her writing so engaging it is hard to put her novels down.
2. Håkan Nesser– With a commanding writing style and an eye for detail, Nesser crafts beautiful novels. Bringing to life his fictional setting through his strong descriptive powers Nesser has developed an almost cult following, with his books translated into many languages. His dour Inspector Van Veeteren is a superb character; both wry and wary, he acts as a filter for the dark and despicable deeds carried out by his fellow characters.
1. Henning Mankell– The true king of Scandinavian crime fiction, Mankell’s Kurt Wallander novels portray human nature at its very worst; with a pathetic, often highly unlikable detective and a cast of suspicious, often truly vile villains, the Wallander series is among the best in the world, never mind just Scandinavia. Translated into many languages, in some countries the novels are more popular than the Harry Potter series.