Top 10 Detectives of Nordic Noir

We put together a profile of top ranking officers whose dedication to the force has awarded them a distinction in taking Nordic Noir cases above and Beyond…

Every crime committed in Scandinavia has a brilliant detective assigned to solve the mystery by the time the suspenseful season finale astounds our senses. While the crime is the driving force of the show’s narrative, the murderous plots that keep us on tenterhooks are almost reduced to a ‘Hitchcockian’ MacGuffin. We are inexplicably drawn into the less than perfect life of the Noir detective and their intense reactions to fully immersing themselves into the life of the victim.

Take a look at our Top 10 detectives of Nordic Noir who have shone their torch-light over the dark and macabre genre that continues to grab our attention and intrigue.

1. Sarah Lund (Sofie Gråbøl) – The Killing (2007-2012)


She may be a single mother who wears those delightfully wholesome Faroese knitted jumpers to work but the warm, maternal side to Sarah Lund is hidden by her unflappable desire to solve crime. Lund will challenge her superiors and mayoral candidates without blinking an eye. The murder of Nanna Birk Larsen thrusted her into the scrutiny of the media and, despite unveiling the identity of the killer, Lund’s methods and disdain for operating within the parameters of the law sully her reputation. Nevertheless, Lund is integral to the investigations over the three season series arc. While she manages to push people away and destroy any personal relationship, Sarah Lund is a beloved heroine in the eyes of her fans as the tenacious person against the system.

2. Kurt Wallander (Rolf Lassgård  and Krister Henriksson) – Wallander (1995-2013)


Perhaps the most distinguished entry to pave the way for Nordic Noir television drama is Wallander of Skäne. We are shown two sides to Kurt Wallander beginning with Rolf Lassgård in the Faceless Murderer (1995) miniseries to Krister Henriksson taking over the role in the long-running series of Henning Mankell’s Wallander novels from 2005 up until 2013. The original hot-headed powerful stature of Lassgård is exchanged for an older, milder natured Henriksson in the twilight of his career. Wallander may not be in the best physical condition as his heavy drinking and fluctuating health lead to him being diagnosed with diabetes. He likes to unwind by listening to opera and struggles to rebuild his fractured relationship with daughter Linda.

3. Saga Norén (Sofia Helin) – The Bridge (2011- )


“Saga Norén, Länskrim Malmö”. As soon as she greets you, you know where you stand with Saga; there is no sugar-coating or sympathy. Instead, you are left in shock and awe at her precision to details and lack of social skills. Despite the cold personification of the acute ‘Scandinavian personality’ with an allusion to Asperger’s syndrome, there is a respect and warmth towards Saga that we learn to discover from her new partner from the Danish side of the Øresund Bridge – detective Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia). Saga’s leather trousers and functional way of approaching sex are additional quirky character traits we become accustomed to.

4. Martin Beck (Peter Haber) – Beck (1997- )


Much like Kurt Wallander, Beck is a classic cop of Scandi crime with the greatest longevity on our screens. Based on the character created by crime fiction writing duo Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, Swedish police officer Martin Beck has been portrayed by actors Gösta Ekman, Keve Hjelm, Carl-Gustaf Lindstedt, Jan Decleir, Walter Matthau and Derek Jacobi throughout the 1960s-1990s. However, Peter Haber (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, 2009) is the modern Martin Beck whose investigations come from contemporary scripts, influenced by Sjöwall and Wahlöö. He works best with partner Gunvald Larsson, played by Mikael Persbrandt (The Hypnotist, 2012 and The Salvation, 2014). Beck is a divorced, older detective inspector with a lot of experience, level-headed and commands respect. While, Gunvald is younger and more temperamental with controlling his aggression, the duo are well suited to harnessing the explosive crimes ravaging Stockholm that has been argued is a political comment on society at the time.

5. Carl Mørck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) – The Keeper of Lost Causes (2013)


Keeping in tradition with the roots of Nordic Noir, Carl Mørck hails from Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Department Q books. Nikolaj Lie Kaas first brought Mørck to the life on the big screen in The Keeper of Lost Causes, quickly followed by The Absent One (2014) with another adaptation on the horizon with A Conspiracy of Faith, currently being filmed. We initially meet Carl as he returns to the force after recovering from a traumatic experience leaving his partner dead. A shadow of his former self, Carl is reduced to desk duty and cold case administration. His gruff demeanour with new partner Assad (Fares Fares) incites animosity and racism. However, they must overcome their differences when the disappearance of a Danish politician doesn’t seem to be as cold a case as their superiors think.

6. Eva Thörnblad (Moa Gammel) – Jordskott (2015- )


Relative newcomer to the Nordic Noir scene, Moa Gammel is a detective compelled by the disappearance of her daughter Josefine seven years earlier in the Silverhöjd Forest. Not only is Eva the tragic figure of a mother mourning the loss of her child; she is hopeful and determined to prove Josefine is alive. As the antithesis to Sarah Lund, Eva’s maternal motivation takes precedence and often compromises her integrity. Eva’s desperation to uncover the truth also benefits her in exploring the supernatural mystery of Silverhöjd; the home of the famous cloudberry pie

7. Christer Wijk (Ola Rapace) – Crimes of Passion (2013)


In a very glossy and sun-kissed 1950s Sweden, suave and irresistible Christer Wijk uses his charm and sexuality to coax the answers out of his myriad of suspects in each of these six feature-length TV movies, tempered with Crimes of Passion. Having been best friends with Einar (Linus Wahlgren) since a very young age, their vocations have taken them on different journeys with Christer as an inspector stationed in Stockholm. Each episode finds Christer at the centre of an Agatha Christie style murder mystery, as well as the third person in a love triangle with Einar’s love interest Puck (Tuva Novotny) who shares Christer’s zeal for detective work.

8. Van Veeteren (Sven Wollter) – Van Veeteren (2000 – 2006)


A retired Chief Inspector from Maardam, Van Veeteren is the epitome of experience. His intellectual prowess may be unsuspecting due to his undisclosed age but he is still ready to step back into his former life of crime solving. Van Veeteren is the aged brainchild of renowned author Håkan Nesser. Nesser’s original intentions were to create a protagonist who was “rather old and traditional. A literary, traditional sleuth” as shared in an interview with MHz Networks. Somewhat jaded and rough around the edges, it is clear that retirement is not the definitive chapter for this gentlemen. His bitterness and anger towards the sadistic acts of the criminals he interrogates reinforces his dedication to justice and passing judgment. Without this, Van Veeteren would be left hollow and contemplating his own personal demons.

 9. Gustav Dåådh (Peter Eggers) – Anno 1790 (2011)


Gustav Dåådh is a doctor who has been serving during the Russo-Swedish War of 1788 up until 1790. Upon his return to Sweden he is greeted with social unrest; Denmark is disillusioned by their King and news of the French Revolution is evoking interest. Gustav stands out as an atheist with modern ideologies for progression against his traditional-minded peers. He is an intellectual who rejects war and violence as a solution. Gustav agrees to take the job due to his repressed love for his superior officer’s wife Magdalena. And so Gustav turns his attention to solving crime as a police commissioner in Stockholm with the help of Simon Freund; a soldier he saved the life of on the frontline. Nevertheless, his passion for Voltaire’s philosophy and revolutionary ideologies which are forbidden by the King fuel the fire in his heart.

 10. Paul Hjelm (Shanti Roney) – Arne Dahl (2011- )


When key figures in the Swedish financial world are targeted by an unknown assailant, an elite team of detectives are handpicked for a ‘special mission’ to put a stop to these atrocities. Enter Paul Hjelm; a family man with a short fuse and ready to risk his life in the face of danger. From the first TV movie Misterioso (2011), otherwise known as The Blinded Man, we see Paul’s Gung-ho style when he steps into the crosshairs of a hostage situation. This reckless behaviour wears thin with his colleagues but his talent for getting results is recognised when Paul becomes the last and most coveted member of the clandestine crime unit. Getting along with his new covert squad is not so easy at first, especially earning respect from Jorge Chavez, played by Matias Varela (The Easy Money trilogy, 2010-2013). The maverick cop balances fights to balance his family and job across two TV movies and eight mini-series based on Jan Arnald’s ‘Intercrime series’, written under the pseudonym of Arne Dahl.