Top 10 Nordic Noir novels

Scandinavia is one of the first birthplaces of crime fiction; at least these days. With novels selling millions of copies from Norway, Sweden and Denmark by the second, it is easy to see why they have attributed a loyal fan base. As well as literature, there also comes film and television, as the majority of published works nowadays have been adapted for the big and small screen. Novelists and Nordic natives like Jo Nesbø, Hakan Nesser and Hanning Mankell are swiftly becoming the best in the business. Their eerie setting, desolate characters and complex subject matters are constantly leaving readers wanting more so we couldn’t help but wonder; what are considered the top 10 Nordic Noir novels in the eyes of the readers?

We conjure up the readers’ ratings on the best Scandinavian crime fiction novels of all time.

No. 10 – The Consorts of Death – Gunnar Staalesen


This 2006 crime novel stands at number fifteen in Gunnar Staalesen’s staggering Varg Veum book series. The Consorts of Death follows the Norwegian detective when he delves deep into his past as a child protection officer after a cold case suddenly resurfaces. Staalesen’s acclaimed Varg Veum collection has been adapted into a series of film adaptations and has been translated into over twenty different languages.


No. 9 – Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow – Peter Høeg


Number nine is brought to you from Danish author Peter Høeg whose 1992 novel Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow became an international bestseller. After a six-year-old plummets to his death on the streets of Copenhagen, Greenland native and neighbour Smilla suspects that this was no accident and somehow foul play is imvolved. Høeg’s Danish novel was adapted into a critically acclaimed film drama directed by Bille August, which was nominated for several prestigious awards.


No. 8 – Headhunters – Jo Nesbø


Jo Nesbø’s comical and daring tale follows the life of corporate headhunter Roger Brown who lands himself in hot water after obtaining a treasured painting owned by a former mercenary. Headhunters became a worldwide bestseller and was later adapted for the silver screen by filmmaker Morten Tyldum becoming the highest grossing Norwegian film of all time.


No. 7 – Faceless Killers – Henning Mankell


Faceless Killers marks the first in Henning Mankell’s Wallander novel series. This eerie story follows Police Inspector Kurt Wallander as he becomes obsessed with capturing the killer who bludgeoned an elderly farmer to death. Mankell made Nordic crime fiction history when Faceless Killers became the first novel to receive the Glass Key Award in Scandinavia. His crime series has been adapted into the successful television series both in the UK and in its native Sweden.


No. 6 – Borkmann’s Point – Håkan Nesser


Håkan Nesser has transcended into one of crime fiction’s most esteemed writers. The 1994 novel Borkmann’s Point is the second of Nesser’s praised Inspector Van Veeteren series, which sees the protagonist postpone his earned retirement after a double homicide in committed in a small town. Nesser’s Inspector Van Veeteren series consists of ten bestselling novels; all of which take place in his fictional but unnerving Nordic town.

Watch our interview with Hakan Nesser here.


No. 5 – Don’t Look Back – Karin Fossum


Don’t Look Back is the second novel from Karin Fossum’s Inspector Kondrad Sejer series. Set in the tranquil village of Kollen Mountain, Norway, the lives of its natives is shattered forever after the body of a teenage girl is found by a local lake. Don’t Look Back won Fossum the Glass Key Award in 1997 and she is often recognised as the ‘Norwegian Queen of Crime.’


No. 4 – The Keeper of Lost Causes – by Jussi Adler-Olsen


Jussi Adler-Olsen’s gritty crime thriller follows police inspector Carl Mørck as he leads the department of cold cases after a previous job goes awry. However, Mørck slowly becomes obsessed with a missing politician who disappeared on a ferry five years earlier. Adler-Olsen’s bestselling novel was adapted for the silver screen in 2013 and is often compared to Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.


No. 3 – The Laughing Policeman – Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö


This Swedish crime novel was originally written by literary duo Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö in 1968. The Laughing Policeman is the fourth novel of the Martin Beck mystery series and follows the police detective as he heads a manhunt to capture a mass-murderer running the streets of Stockholm. The Laughing Policeman became an instant bestseller and won the husband and wife the Best Novel Edgar Award at the 1971 Mystery Writers of America awards.


No. 2 – The Leopard – Jo Nesbø


Jo Nesbø makes a second entry on our list with his 2009 bestseller, The Leopard. The eighth novel in Nesbø’s Harry Hole sees the detective attempt to track down a deadly killer loose on the streets of Oslo. With no lead and very little clues, Hole is running out of options before the notorious killer strikes again. Nesbø’s Harry Hole series includes ten bestselling novels and has sold more than 20millon copies worldwide. 


No. 1 – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (The Millennium Trilogy) – by Stieg Larsson


Stieg Larsson’s renowned Millenium Trilogy is recognised as one of the greatest works of 21st Century literature. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest transcended into an international phenomenon following the author’s untimely death in 2004. The novels have been adapted both for the Swedish and Hollywood screen. Larsson’s saga of a Swedish journalist and talented outcast was aptly inspired by his own life experiences producing one of the greatest heroines in Nordic fiction; Lisbesth Salander.