I’m thrilled to be joining Scandinavia On My Mind today to share my Top 5 Nordic Noir reads. Over on Crime by the Book, I’m constantly on the hunt for the next great Scandinavian crime title to devour – and you can always keep up with my reads with my Nordic Noir reading list. But for now, let’s get to my Top 5. Of all the exceptional books hailing from Scandinavia that I’ve had the pleasure of reading, these five have risen to the top for their compulsively-readable plots, their atmospheric backdrops, and their vivid characters.
CBTB’s Top 5 Nordic Noir Reads:
- THE SNOWMAN by Jo Nesbo (Norway)
Nesbo is simply the king of Scandinavian crime in my book, and The Snowman is hands-down my favorite of his works. The Snowman is Book 7 in Nesbo’s infamous Harry Hole series—but it can be read as a standalone, if you’re just starting out with his series! In The Snowman, readers meet a young boy who wakes one morning to discover freshly fallen snow outside, a strange snowman in his front yard, and his mother missing… police investigator Harry Hole is on the case of the boy’s missing mother, and connects the dots with a number of similar cases: women who have gone missing as fresh snow falls. Harry soon realizes he is hunting a systematic serial killer—a killer the likes of which Norway has never seen before. This book is the perfect example of Nesbo’s mastery of the crime fiction genre. It’s gritty, edge-of-your-seat suspenseful, and compulsively readable, with characters who seem to leap off the page. The backdrop of a Norwegian winter completes the chilling picture. The Snowman illustrates exactly why Harry Hole is my favorite protagonist in crime fiction. More an antihero than a hero, he’s a man deeply burdened but also deeply committed to doing good when he can, and keeping his inner demons at bay as best as he’s able. I dare you: read this book and try not to want to spend time with Harry Hole in real life. Bonus: This movie will be releasing as a feature film this autumn!
- THE CROW GIRL by Erik Axl Sund (Sweden)
750 pages of purely twisted, disturbing, emotional, redemptive crime fiction. The Crow Girl was originally published as a trilogy in Sweden, and has now been published in the U.S. and U.K. as one massive tome. Also of note: Erik Axl Sund is a pen name for a writing duo. As you can imagine from a book that’s this long, the plot is incredibly intricate—but it all begins with the discovery of the body of a young boy, mummified and left by a train station in Sweden. As our main detective delves into the case, she uncovers a web of dark secrets and corruption permeating local government and the police force. This book is relentlessly violent and dark—it’s not for the faint of heart. But at its core, this story is also quite powerful and redemptive: it rails against social injustice, misogyny, and the abuse of children and the powerless, and drop its readers in the midst of a group of broken people who will fight tooth and nail to get back from the darkest parts of society, and from the darkest corners of their minds.
- BLACKOUT by Ragnar Jonasson (Iceland)
Book 3 in Jonasson’s exceptional Dark Iceland series, Blackout is a standout among all the Scandinavian crime books I’ve read for its one-of-a-kind spin on a Scandinavian crime novel. Jonasson’s series is a unique blend of Nordic Noir and golden age mystery: his books are heavily influenced by Agatha Christie, but still fall decidedly within Nordic Noir, thanks to their atmospheric Icelandic setting. Readers will love books 1 and 2 in the series (Snowblind and Nightblind), but to my mind, Blackout is where he shines the most. This mystery begins with a simple crime: a man is beaten to death. Of course, nothing is at it seems, and soon a police officer and a journalist find themselves uncovering dark secrets of the dead man’s past—and hunting down the solution to a crime with implications much more far-reaching than either could imagine. Set against the unforgiving backdrop of an Icelandic volcanic eruption, Blackout is a chilling, gripping story that I simply couldn’t put down.
- I’M TRAVELING ALONE by Samuel Bjork (Norway)
Layered, intricate Norwegian crime fiction, I’m Traveling Alone is the perfect choice if you’re looking for a book that you can fully immerse yourself in. This book might start out slow, but it quickly becomes an all-consuming mystery that blends bizarre serial crimes with a strange, isolated community at the outskirts of society. This book is measured and deliberate in pacing; the author takes his time laying out each piece of the puzzle slowly but surely. If you’re looking for a fast-paced, action-packed book, you won’t find it here—this book is all about un-peeling the layers of its central crime one by one. Readers will come for the shocking crime that launches the book: a young girl is found murdered, hanging from a tree with a sign around her neck that reads “I’m Traveling Alone.” Readers will stay for the layered, complex plot, and the disturbed female lead, police officer Mia Kruger, who is as close to carrying on Lisbeth Salander’s legacy as any character I’ve ever found.
- THE ICE PRINCESS by Camilla Lackberg (Sweden)
Some books just worm their way into your heart and stay there forever. Lackberg’s The Ice Princess is that book for me. This book launches Lackberg’s Fjallbacka series, and I do recommend reading this series in order. Where Lackberg really shines is in writing endearing characters, and their development over the course of the series is essential to your enjoyment of it. The main characters of Lackberg’s series aren’t harried or burdened—sure, they have their troubles, but they really are individuals I’d love to spend time with. They’re genuine, flawed, and most of all, they’re human. In The Ice Princess, crime journalist turned true-crime writer Erica Falck takes it upon herself to aid her local police in investigating the murder of her childhood friend. She works alongside Detective Patrik Hedstrom, and the two quickly become an unstoppable duo. Falck and Hedstrom are really the best part of Lackberg’s books, and everyone I’ve recommended these books to has said the same thing: they just want to be friends with the cast Lackberg has created. Of course, these books have excellent mysteries at their core as well! But this series really is ideal for the reader looking for character-driven crime fiction.
Plus: I can’t not mention Danish crime author Sara Blaedel in this post – if you’re a fan of Camilla Lackberg, you’ll absolutely love Sara’s books as well! Sara blends the endearing characters of a Lackberg novel with a detail-oriented approach to writing about police investigations. Try Sara’s The Forgotten Girls first.