Why Nordic crime
If you like crime novels and haven’t read Scandinavian crime fiction yet, I urge you to do so immediately. There’s a lot that can be said about them— the plotting is great, yes, but I think it’s the atmosphere the words conjure up — snow-filled mountains, endless fjords, chilly snowstorms, boots chomping on hard ice, bleak, gloomy nights — so perfect for murder! Because a trickle of deep red blood in stark white snow is creepily poetic. Because blonde brooding men with impossible names and a disposition to alcoholism brings out what’s tender in us.
We all love the lure of the damaged detective. The David who time and again proves his naysayers wrong. We support him, root for him, he is our hero, our redemption.
And add to that the exoticism of the land — I mean, Scandinavian countries witness only a few months of regular daylight in a year — an ideal setting for the darkest of crimes.
But did you know crime in Scandinavia is the lowest in the world?
Apart from Sweden, which in recent times has seen an alarming rise in gang-related executions and social unrest, the crime rate in the region is fairly benign, with Iceland topping the list of the safest. Perhaps this happy circumstance of low crime rates is the very reason Nordic crime novels are so enamoring, to both the locals and outsiders. We are not already jaded by what we’ve read, and imagination can run wild.
To pique your interest, I’m listing down five of my favorite Scandinavian authors. Find a larger list here.
Arguably, the most famous Scandinavian writer who unfortunately did not live long enough to witness his immense global popularity. I read the three books of the Millennium series (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest) within a week, one after the other, sleeping very little as you can imagine. The books were totally worth it. The suspense is wonderful, the twists engrossing, but most of all I so badly wanted to be Lisbeth Salander. The underdog wins and how! A sequel, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, written by David Lagercrantz is pretty good too, so the legacy lives on.
Start with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
I read the books first and then watched the brilliant Kenneth Branagh play Mankell’s fictional detective Kurt Wallander in the BBC One series. One reinforced the other and thus was born an addiction. Kurt is as dark, desolate and melancholic as the beautiful backdrops he passes through; his character seems to be integrated with the milieu. The stories are set in and around Ystad, an 11th-century town in the southern province of Skåne, Sweden. Wallander has a difficult relationship with his wife and daughter and an easy one with the bottle. He is brilliant at solving crimes of course, with pregnant pauses leading to moments of brilliance. And that salt and pepper beard, oh! (Ok, daddy complex much?) In short, Kurt Wallander is a man to be reckoned with.
Start with Faceless Killers.
A former economist and songwriter, author Jo Nesbo enjoys cult status in Scandinavia. In Oslo, he is a household name. He is one of the few authors in the world whose face graces billboards. He is Norway’s bestselling writer and often (much to his ire) tagged as the next Stieg Larsson. But are his books worth the hype?
Very much so. Nesbo’s style is easy, witty, and the pace of his books fast. Battling alcoholism (again!) and his erratic moods, is his creation, the enigmatic detective Harry Hole. Harry is a police officer with the Oslo Crime Squad who uses unorthodox methods to solve crimes, thus frequently upsetting the police top brass. A classic loose cannon, unloved by and unloving of politics and power, Harry is instead adored by the common folk. He is the man we all hate to love, but love we must.
Start with Snowman.
I discovered the Icelandic writer before the aforesaid trip to Iceland. And how wonderfully the landscapes rose before my eyes even before I’d seen it! Arnaldur’s novels feature Detective Erlendur — gloomy, anti-social, moody, what else? And if the sardonic-tragic way in which Arnaldur writes doesn’t make you want to read more of him, I’ll eat the very expensive sweater I later purchased from Iceland. His books are translations, so the language is often simplistic but the stories are charming and intriguing nonetheless.
Start with Jar City.