Nordic Noir is a sub-genre of crime fiction that originated in the Nordic countries and features bleak, dark themes. The genre has been described as "uncompromising", "bleak" and "grim." While the term 'Nordic Noir' was first coined by Swedish journalist Per Wahlöö to describe these novels, it has since evolved into an international phenomenon with books translated from one language to another. Writers of the genre include authors such as Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson, and Karin Fossum.
They have become wildly popular in Scandinavia and the rest of Europe. The novels usually feature one or more flawed detective protagonists who investigate murders often based on real crimes, for example serial killings. They often have a dark atmosphere with an emphasis on social realism. The protagonist is typically either recovering from his own past mistake, struggling with addiction or personal demons; and the plot heightens tension by introducing another murder during the investigation to complicate matters further.
Here's our favourite selection of Nordic Noirs.
1. The Snowman (Crime Fiction) by Jo Nesbo
Inspector Harry Hole is on the hunt for a Norwegian serial killer. One winter night, Jonas realises that his mother has disappeared. Only her pink scarf remains. What’s more chilling is that it’s been carefully placed on a snowman thrown together in the back yard.
Inspector Harry Hole connects the disappearance of the woman to a suspicious letter he’s received. A pattern then emerges: over the last ten years, eleven women have gone missing on the first day of snow. Drawn deeper and deeper into the serial killer’s web of clues – he gets ever more tangled in the case. With suspense at every corner, Nesbo does a phenomenal job at weaving together a hair-raising tale that challenges Inspector Harry Hole to his very core.
(b) The Consorts of Death(Crime Fiction) by Gunnar Staalesen
In September 1995, Detective Veum, reopens a 25-year-old case after a phone call brings to light new information. The case is about a small boy, tragically separated from his mother, who is now linked to various murder cases.
The boy now a young man, is angry, seeking revenge, hoping to bring to justice the people who should have protected him and prevented his life from taking the turn that it did. One of these people is Detective Veum who was a child protection officer working in social services back then.
Staalesen’s books are brilliant; they bring an element of social realism to crime fiction, tackling social issues head on through conversational narratives. It is a genuine treat for crime lovers.
(c) The Redbreast (Crime Fiction) by Jo Nesbo
Another Detective Harry Hole crime thriller by Nesbo, The Redbreast remains a captivating page-turner.
A rare and unusual gun that’s the arm of choice of assassins is smuggled into the country and intrigues Detective Harry Hole. Then two unconnected events take place – a former WW2 Nazi sympathiser has his throat slit and a woman close to Harry is killed. The killer appears to act in lethal ways to ensure justice is served – and Detective Harry Hole is determined to stop him at all costs – will he?
Without giving away any spoilers, this is gripping bedtime reading.
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