What to Read Before You Go, Part 1: Scandinavian Crime

There must be something in the water in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark that helps authors write good mysteries, because Scandinavian crime writing has taken the world by storm. If you’re dreaming about an upcoming trip to Scandinavia — or reliving memories of a past visit — check out these authors.

Stieg LarssonStieg Larsson — Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, you’ve surely heard of the most wildly successful Scandinavian crime writer of all time. Swedish author Stieg Larsson unfortunately passed away without seeing his books become a global phenomenon, but his words live on in his Millennium Trilogy: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Bold and often shocking, the books illuminate the dark underbelly of Swedish society — unsuprising given the fact that Larsson was a leading expert on right-wing extremism who often received death threats for his outspoken opposition to such groups. Millennium  fans visiting Stockholm won’t want to miss the chance to walk in the footsteps of Lisbeth Salander, Mikael Blomkvist, and Stieg Larsson himself.

Henning MankellHenning Mankell — Sweden’s southernmost region, Skåne, provides the setting for Henning Mankell’s beloved series of books about depression-prone Ystad police detective Kurt Wallander. Like Wallander’s outlook on life, the stories are sometimes bleak, but they are never less than compelling. Start with the first book in the Wallander series, Faceless Killers, and discover how Mankell’s intricate plots weave together the issues facing modern Sweden with the additional challenges posed by an increasingly globalized world. If you’re visiting southern Skåne, be sure to stop in Ystad for a chance to explore Wallander’s picturesque hometown on a guided or self-guided tour.

Camilla LäckbergCamilla Läckberg — Among the younger generation of Swedish crime writers, one of the most popular is Camilla Läckberg, whose psychologically complex crime dramas take place in the idyllic small town of Fjällbacka on Sweden’s west cost. Her books feature dual protagonists, police detective Patrik Hedström and author Erica Falck, whose deepening relationship provides a counterpoint to the crime plots, even as murder invades their lives again and again. The first in the series is The Ice Princess. Readers visiting Fjällbacka can join a 45-minute Läckberg-themed “cosy crime walk” run by the Fjällbacka Tourism Office.

Jo NesbøJo Nesbø — Norway’s most famous crime writer, Jo Nesbø has captured the attention of readers worldwide with his series of novels featuring alcoholic Oslo police detective Harry Hole, a character so self-destructive he has been called a “riveting train wreck” (Booklist). The first book in the series, for some reason released in English well after later installments, is The Bat, which sees Hole traveling to Australia to consult on a murder case involving a young Norwegian woman. Most of his cases, however, take place closer to home, and visitors to Oslo can follow in Hole’s footsteps on a walking tour offered weekly by a pair of local guides who also happen to be Nesbø fans.

Jussi Adler-OlsenJussi Adler-Olsen — The current king of Danish crime writing is Jussi Adler-Olsen, whose Department Q series feature sardonic police inspector Carl Mørck, once a top homicide detective and now stuck in the basement heading up an underfunded, understaffed cold-case department. Mørck isn’t the happiest of men, constantly struggling with a complicated private life and a heavy cloud of guilt and self-recrimination after a shooting that left one colleague dead and another paralyzed while he himself survived unscathed. Nevertheless, Adler-Olsen’s books contain plenty of humor, most of it stemming from Mørck’s interactions with his assistants, the mysterious and sometimes linguistcally challenged Syrian immigrant Assad and the decidedly odd Rose. Start with the first book in the series, published in English The Keeper of Lost Causes.

For those who want more:

Many other Scandinavian crime writers are available in English translation. Here are a few to look for.

Liza Marklund (Sweden) –Feminist crime novels featuring prickly newspaper reporter Annika Bengtzon. Start with The Bomber (the first published) or Studio Sex, a.k.a. Exposed and Studio 69 (the first chronologically)

Mari Jungstedt (Swedish) — Atmospheric series featuring Inspector Anders Knutas and set on the island of Gotland. The first book is Unseen.

Karin Fossum (Norwegian) — Slim but psychologically complex books featuring Inspector Konrad Sejer and his younger colleague Jakob Skarre. Start with Eva’s Eye (also translated as In the Darkness).

Åke Edwardson (Swedish) — Series set mostly in Gothenburg and featuring Chief Inspector Erik Winter, a smart, upper-class detective with a fondness for whisky, American jazz, and tailored suits from London. Death Angels is the first book.

Helene Tursten (Swedish) — Another Gothenburg author, whose series features Detective Inspector Irene Huss, a former national judo champion who struggles to balance work and family life but lacks the demons that torment many fictional Scandinavian detectives. The first book in the series appeared in English as simply Detective Inspector Irene Huss.

Anne Holt (Norwegian) — Known particularly for two separate but occasionally intersecting series. The first begins with Blind Goddess and features lesbian police detective Hanne Wilhelmsen. The second stars police detective Yngve (called Adam in the English version) Stubø and psychologist Inger Johanne (just Johanne in English) Vik, and begins with What Is Mine (also translated as Punishment).

Åsa Larsson (Swedish) — Captured critics’ attention with Sun Storm, a thriller set in Kiruna in far northern Sweden and centered on a murder victim’s involvement with a local fundamentalist church. Like its sequels, it features lawyer Rebecka Martinson, who reluctantly returns to her hometown to help a friend connected to the murder.

Håkan Nesser (Swedish) — Cynical and idiosyncratic Inspector Van Veeteren solves crimes in a fictional town whose location is never precisely specified. Black humor and unusual characters abound. Mind’s Eye is the first in the series.

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RELATED ARTICLES:

In the Footsteps of Lisbeth Salander: A Walking Tour of Stieg Larsson’s Stockholm

From Medieval Monks to Henning Mankell: Exploring Ystad’s History and Mystery

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