Find out more from the critically acclaimed Scandi-crime fiction masterpieces of the year!
We may have been overwhelmed by the abundance of Nordic Noir television series keeping us entertained this winter: from the return of Arne Dahl season two, the fifth season of Beck and we are still on the edge of our seats with the The Bridge III on BBC Four. Nevertheless, the origins of Nordic Noir – as with the birth of Film Noir with French pulp novels influencing classic Hollywood cinema – continue to engage us with the awe-inspiring realm of Scandinavian crime fiction.
Here are our Top Nordic Noir novels of 2015 for your guilty pleasure…
The Girl in the Spider’s Web (Millennium Series)
David Lagercrantz – MacLehose Press – 27th August 2015
The posthumous success of the Millennium trilogy written by Stieg Larsson cultivated the Nordic Noir genre from international best-selling crime fiction to a cinema movement. Following the publications of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in 2005, The Girl Who Played with Fire in 2006 and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest in 2007, Larsson’s deft prose that combined a blistering cyber-crime journey with left-wing media investigating corruption in the pillars of Swedish society, seemed to end prematurely. However, the saga which intended to span across a series of ten volumes has been continued in the same literary vein as Larsson, with Swedish author and journalist David Lagercrantz at the helm.
With Lisbeth Salander acquitted of her father’s murder at the climax of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, a new mystery reunites Salander with Millennium journalist Mikael Blomkvist. Much like the ‘locked door mystery’ of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl in the Spider’s Web centres round Blomkvist’s help in uncovering a nefarious family plot. Swedish scientist Professor Balder is distinguished for his advances in Artificial Intelligence. However, when he becomes a target and fears for the life of his son, he tasks Blomkvist to document and publish his story. Salander is drawn into the intricate mystery of cutting-edge technology when she is threatened by a violent sect of cyber terrorists.
She’s definitely back and with positive critical acclaim:
“As I read Lagercrantz’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web, I found that I kept forgetting for several pages at a time that I wasn’t reading genuine Larsson . . . One devours Larsson’s books for the plots, the action, the anger, and most of all for Lisbeth Salander . . . Lagercrantz has caught her superbly, and expertly spun the sort of melodramatic yarn in which she can thrive.” – Jake Kerridge, the Daily Telegraph
“Lagercrantz’s real achievement here is the subtle development of Lisbeth’s character; he allows us access to her complex, alienated world but is careful not to remove her mystery and unknowability. Lisbeth Salander remains, in Lagercrantz’s hands, the most enigmatic and fascinating anti-heroine in fiction.” – Barry Forshaw, the Financial Times
The Man Who Watched Women
Michael Hjorth and Hans Rosenfeldt – Arrow – 19th Nov 2015
From the creator and writer of The Bridge (2011- ), Hans Rosenfeldt teams up with Michael Hjorth – producer and screenwriter for Henning Mankell’s adaptations of Wallander (2005-2013). From penning scripts for iconic Nordic Noir televisual crime dramas, the duo bring us a new thriller away from the screen and back to the source of the prevalent genre: the crime fiction novel. The Man Who Watched Women launches a new flawed detective onto the streets of Stockholm in the first ‘Sebastian Bergman thriller’.
To counteract the synonymous icy climate and chilling milieu of the Scandinavian setting, a killing spree unravels during a sweltering heat-wave in the Swedish capital. Women are found murdered and the only clues the national police homicide unit can fathom is that the killer’s M.O. bears an uncanniness to Edward Hinde; convicted fifteen years earlier by the brilliant psychological profiler Sebastian Bergman. With the only suspect serving his prison sentence, Bergman takes charge of the case. As he struggles to keep his unstable life together, Bergman not only discovers he has a daughter, Vanya, but that the unknown murderer has Bergman in his sights for his macabre end-game. Will Bergman solve the investigation or will his pasts detrimentally collide leaving him in a chaotic spiral he cannot escape?
Hjorth and Rosenfeldt’s transition from TV script to book form has been received with praise around the world:
“One of the best Swedish serial-killer thrillers ever.” – Smålandsposten, Sweden
“Crime novels simply do not get any better.” – NDR, Germany
“Relentlessly exciting and intelligent.” – Vrij Nederland, Netherlands
“Hjorth and Rosenfeldt are able to create suspense and maintain it over hundreds of pages … yet another unexpected twist.” – Der Standard, Austria
Ragnar Jónasson – Orenda Books – 15th June 2015
Author Ragnar Jónasson has made an impressive debut in the realm of Nordic Noir. Having worked in radio, as a television reporter for Iceland’s National Broadcasting Service and as a teacher at the Law School in Reykjavik University, Jónasson’s discerning flair as a crime fiction writer is fast becoming established. Snowblind introduces a fresh-faced policeman – Ari Thór Arason – in the first instalment of his ‘Dark Iceland’ series.
The rural and picturesque fishing village of Siglufjörður violently awakens from a serene existence to dust off its peaceful, snow-covered veneer. Considered to be an idyllic community, Arason struggles to acclimatise to the unsettling atmosphere, all the while being stationed far from his girlfriend and urban lifestyle in Reykjavik. A slew of deaths suggests a gruesome conspiracy is afoot, which places the residents of the secluded village under suspicion. When the inclement weather conditions cause an avalanche to block the mountain pass, Siglufjörður is cut-off from the outside world leaving Arason trapped and forced to find out the identity of the killer before it is too late.
The Icelandic writer is notably a UK Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) member and has since created a CWA chapter in Reykjavik. Jónasson has also co-founded the international crime writing festival named ‘Iceland Noir’, hailed the Guardian as one of the “best crime-writing festivals around the world.” This has helped elevate Iceland in the Nordic Noir collective, alongside the likes of famed writers Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Arnaldur Indriðason.
The writer’s premiere foray into the ‘Dark Iceland’ series has already been recognised as a burgeoning talent in the eyes of critics and peers, with a second edition – Nightblind – to be released in 2016:
“Snowblind is a dark, claustrophobic read, and Jónasson evokes perfectly the 24-hour darkness, the biting cold, the relentless snow and fear of a killer on the loose in a village suddenly cut off by an avalanche. His crisp, bleak prose is an exemplary lesson in how to create atmosphere without producing over-inflated books that would cause their own avalanche if dropped.” – Crime Review
“Is King Arnaldur [Indridason] looking to his laurels? There is a young pretender beavering away, his eye on the crown: Ragnar Jónasson.” – Barry Forshaw
“Enjoyed @ragnarjo’s Snowblind – a modern Icelandic take on an Agatha Christie-style mystery, as twisty as any slalom…” – Ian Rankin
Midnight Sun (Blood on Snow 2)
Jo Nesbø – Harvill Secker – 5th November 2015
Jo Nesbø catapulted to fame in Norway as a footballer for Molde FK and musician in the rock band Di Derre. His ‘Harry Hole Thrillers’, beginning with The Bat originally publishedin 1997, initiated his vocation as a prolific crime writer. This commenced with nine more novels with Harry Hole, as well as presenting two more series that revolve around recurring protagonists: Doctor Proctor and Olav Johansen. Olav Johnson emerged in Blood on Snow in January 2015 and its sequel Midnight Sun rapidly reprises the new series.
In Nesbø’s latest book, Jon flees Oslo to take solace in the Northern region of Finnmark; the home of the aboriginal Sámi people. The fear that he will be caught and punished for his sins lead him from the city landscape to a religious community in the most rural part of the country. After Jon finds shelter with the help of single mother Lea and her young son, Knut, the paranoia and anxiety of being caught keeps him on edge; threatening to prize his grip on his sanity and engulf him in the overwhelming radiance of the sun.
The novel Norwegian is wasting no time in inaugurating Olav Johnson onto our bookshelves with confidence:
“A perfectly-formed thriller, written in pure, unadorned prose that pierces the heart with its icy brilliance.” – Deirdre O’Brien, the Sunday Mirror
“A thrilling tale.” – Cole Moreton, the Mail on Sunday
“Another success for Nesbø.” – Geoffrey Wansell, the Daily Mail
“A short, lyrical tale where every word counts […] another brilliant thriller from the master storyteller.” – The Daily Express
“Short, brisk, emotionally compelling and stylishly written.” – The Belfast Telegraph Morning
The Living and the Dead in Winsford
Håkan Nesser – Mantle, Main Market Edition – 2nd July 2015
Inspector Van Veeteren and his first outing in The Mind’s Eye, written in 1993, is Håkan Nesser’s crowning achievement. The ageing detective has appeared in ten novels which have been translated into English over a decade after enthralling readers when originally published in the native Swedish language. The Van Veeteren series has won the author the Best Swedish Crime Novel Award three times in 1994, 1996 and 2007, as well as the Glass Key award in the year 2000. Nesser’s ‘Inspector Barbarotti’ collection of mysteries has guided his attention to the English setting, which is also the location for The Living and the Dead in Winsford.
Winner of the Rosenkrantz Award for Best Thriller of the Year, The Living and the Dead in Winsford exchanges the cold and desolate Scandinavian landscapes for the pastoral and haunting countryside of Exmoor. Maria appears in a cloud of anonymity – retreating to the quiet and apparently deserted cottage away from civilisation. As the days become darker and the weather takes its toll, the isolation reveals that Maria’s secrets cannot be avoided. We gradually discover the reasons of Maria’s furtive arrival. Maria’s husband intended to release a tell-tale book about a sinister and clandestine group of writers, which he once belonged to. However, during their hasty departure from Stockholm to Morocco, disaster struck. Now alone, Maria’s fears begin to manifest as not everything is what it seems in the idyllic Somerset countryside.
Håkan Nesser’s tantalising weave of mystery with an English pathetic fallacy has added a fresh, international twist to his outstanding oeuvre:
“A standalone that certainly won’t disappoint . . . Told in the first person, this is a superb evocation of a woman in the grip of a major emotional and moral crisis, set against a well-evoked moorland landscape.” - The Guardian
“One of the pleasures of The Living and the Dead in Winsford is the drip feed of vital information that hurtles you through its 471 pages as it probes deeper into its heroine’s demons. Nesser lives in Gotland but spends part of each year in the UK and he obviously knows his Winsford – and better still his Exmoor. The claustrophobia and comfort of village life, the terror of darkness on an exposed and desolate landscape; proximity with a natural world as beautiful as it is harsh: every detail seems etched into Nesser’s viscerally descriptive writing. . . A ripping yarn.” – The Times
The Silence of the Sea
Yrsa Sigurðardóttir – Hodder Paperbacks – 26th March 2015
The Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year was awarded to Yrsa Sigurðardóttir for the chilling The Silence of the Sea which spoke volumes with its esteemed win at the Petrona Awards 2015. She has been heralded as the “Queen of Nordic Noir”, following her break-out series of Thora Gudmundsdottir investigations in 2005 with Last Rituals. In addition to writing children’s books, the Icelandic author was awarded with the Icelandic Crime Fiction Award (as well as The Glass Key nomination) for her horror themed novel I Remember You in 2011. Sigurðardóttir’s sixth novel – The Silence of the Sea – has been making overwhelming waves, shadowing the formidable lawyer Gudmundsdottir on new case.
A yacht that has sailed from Lisbon turns up in Reykjavik without a soul on-board. The enigma of the missing crew and passengers, including a family, is unfathomable. Without a notion of how such an inexplicable event could have occurred, the father of the family that vanished without a trace recruits Thora Gudmundsdottir to cast her perceptive eyes over the strange disappearance. The vessel is said to be cursed, yet however sceptical Gudmundsdottir may be, the ethereal visions of one of the missing twins and a body which washes ashore nearby, casts a transcending doubt in this peculiar, atmospheric thriller.
The ghostly and grisly award-winning tale that straddles the supernatural and corporeal crime has been a global hit:
“Iceland’s answer to Stieg Larsson.”- The Daily Telegraph
“Yrsa is one of the most exciting new voices in the crime thriller world.” – Peter James
“A corker of a locked-room mystery, with one of the most dramatic twists in recent crime fiction.” – The Sunday Times
“A gripping thriller with enough mystery and horror to keep you sitting on the edge of your seat while you try to work out what happened.” – Peter Robinson
We hope you enjoy catching up with the contemporary classics of Scandi-crime fiction!