8 Wintry Mysteries to Read Over The Holiday Break
There’s nothing better than spending your winter holidays with your nose buried in a chilling mystery. Holiday breaks just seem made for crime fiction reading, and today I’m rounding up eight of my personal favorite wintry mysteries for your holiday TBR! I don’t personally read Christmas-themed mysteries, so you won’t find any of those here—but you will find books with plenty of snow, chilling atmosphere, and, of course, murder. (Because what holiday break would be complete without it, right?!) Cozy up with a blanket and a cup of hot cocoa, and settle in for a mix of Scandinavian crime, classic mysteries, police procedurals, and more - all guaranteed to make your holiday break reading list complete.
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THE SNOWMAN by Jo Nesbø
No surprise here: topping my list of wintery reads is Jo Nesbø’s brilliant crime novel THE SNOWMAN, which pits troubled Norwegian detective Harry Hole against a vicious serial killer. Beyond its whip-smart plotting, THE SNOWMAN is brimming with wintery atmosphere—in fact, the killer at the heart of this novel actually times his kills around the falling snow. And this killer’s calling card? He leaves behind a snowman on the lawns of his victims. Nesbø is the king of Nordic Noir, and THE SNOWMAN proves exactly why. It’s gritty, moody, and brimming with vividly drawn characters. If you haven’t yet explored Nesbø’s work, THE SNOWMAN will be a great place to start; yes, it’s part of a series, but if you want to dip in to his books without committing to a full-series read-through, THE SNOWMAN is a great choice. And if you want to learn more about Nesbø’s books in general, check out my Beginner’s Guide to Jo Nesbø!
One night, after the first snowfall of the year, a boy named Jonas wakes up and discovers that his mother has disappeared. Only one trace of her remains: a pink scarf, his Christmas gift to her, now worn by the snowman that inexplicably appeared in their yard earlier that day. Inspector Harry Hole suspects a link between the missing woman and a suspicious letter he’s received. The case deepens when a pattern emerges: over the past decade, eleven women have vanished—all on the day of the first snow. But this is a killer who makes his own rules . . . and he’ll break his pattern just to keep the game interesting, as he draws Harry ever closer into his twisted web. With brilliantly realized characters and hair-raising suspense, international bestselling author Jo Nesbø presents his most chilling case yet—one that will test Harry Hole to the very limits of his sanity.
WHITEOUT by Ragnar Jonasson
Icelandic author Ragnar Jonasson is known for blending the atmosphere of Nordic Noir with plots worthy of classic detective novels, and it’s exactly that combination that makes his books so perfect for winter reading. In reality, you could pick up any one of Jonasson’s books and find within its pages a mystery perfect for your holiday TBR—but in WHITEOUT, Jonasson delivers a mystery that takes place over the Christmas holiday, aka the perfect choice for the season! Think of WHITEOUT like a modern-day Agatha Christie story, set in an isolated village in Iceland. Jonasson masterfully weaves together a present-day mystery with past secrets, and the result is a richly atmospheric mystery you won’t want to put down. WHITEOUT is part of Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series, but you can read it as a stand-alone - the mystery found here is self-contained, and you will quickly fall in step with Jonasson’s characters.
Two days before Christmas, a young woman is found dead beneath the cliffs of the deserted village of Kálfshamarvík. Did she jump, or did something more sinister take place beneath the lighthouse and the abandoned old house on the remote rocky outcrop?
With winter closing in and the snow falling relentlessly, Ari Thór Arason discovers that the victim’s mother and young sister also lost their lives in this same spot, twenty-five years earlier. As the dark history and its secrets of the village are unveiled, and the death toll begins to rise, the Siglufjordur detectives must race against the clock to find the killer, before another tragedy takes place.
Dark, chilling and complex, Whiteout is a haunting, atmospheric and stunningly plotted thriller from one of Iceland’s bestselling crime writers.
THE ICE PRINCESS by Camilla Läckberg
Every single winter since I first discovered Camilla Läckberg’s books so many years ago, I’ve wished I could re-read her very first Fjallbacka navel, THE ICE PRINCESS, for the first time. Back in my early Nordic Noir days, Läckberg’s series was one of the first to sweep me up in the genre - and I am still such a fan. If you haven’t yet read the first book in her superb series, add it to your winter TBR immediately! (And if you have read THE ICE PRINCESS, consider this your reminder to continue on with her series!) This book introduces readers to series protagonists Erica Falck (a writer) and Patrik Hedstrom (a police officer), and finds the two teaming up to investigate the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of Erica’s childhood friend. Läckberg’s books are set in a small Swedish fishing town, so you really can’t go wrong when it comes to the wintery atmosphere of these stories - but this series is definitely best read in order. One of the biggest selling points of this series is its endearing characters, and you’ll want to watch the relationship between Erica and Patrik progress over the course of the books. Läckberg’s books are less violent and not as gritty as many of her Nordic counterparts - making them a great “starter” series for genre newcomers.
In this electrifying tale of suspense from an international crime-writing sensation, a grisly death exposes the dark heart of a Scandinavian seaside village. Erica Falck returns to her tiny, remote hometown of Fjällbacka, Sweden, after her parents’ deaths only to encounter another tragedy: the suicide of her childhood best friend, Alex. It’s Erica herself who finds Alex’s body—suspended in a bathtub of frozen water, her wrists slashed. Erica is bewildered: Why would a beautiful woman who had it all take her own life? Teaming up with police detective Patrik Hedström, Erica begins to uncover shocking events from Alex’s childhood. As one horrifying fact after another comes to light, Erica and Patrik’s curiosity gives way to obsession—and their flirtation grows into uncontrollable attraction. But it’s not long before one thing becomes very clear: a deadly secret is at stake, and there’s someone out there who will do anything—even commit murder—to protect it.
Fans of Scandinavian greats Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell will devour Camilla Läckberg’s penetrating portrait of human nature at its darkest.
THE GIRL IN THE ICE by Robert Bryndza
When I think of “comfort reading,” my mind immediately goes to books like Robert Bryndza’s THE GIRL IN THE ICE: slow-burning yet addictive police procedurals that are familiar, but in a good way. The first in Bryndza’s Erika Foster series, THE GIRL IN THE ICE finds our protagonist recovering from a personal tragedy and investigating a gruesome crime: underneath the ice in a London park, the corpse of a young woman has been found. Readers follow Erika as she delves into a twisting mystery and tackles the demons of her personal life, too. When you’re in the mood for a story that’s just plain easy to sink into, THE GIRL IN THE ICE will do the trick; this book isn’t too dark or too violent, but it still delivers plenty of intrigue and chills. There’s an ease to reading THE GIRL IN THE ICE that makes it the perfect choice for winter vacation reading.
When a young boy discovers the body of a woman beneath a thick sheet of ice in a South London park, Detective Erika Foster is called in to lead the murder investigation.
The victim, a beautiful young socialite, appeared to have the perfect life. Yet when Erika begins to dig deeper, she starts to connect the dots between the murder and the killings of three prostitutes, all found strangled, hands bound and dumped in water around London.
What dark secrets is the girl in the ice hiding?
As Erika inches closer to uncovering the truth, the killer is closing in on Erika.
The last investigation Erika led went badly wrong… resulting in the death of her husband. With her career hanging by a thread, Erika must now battle her own personal demons as well as a killer more deadly than any she’s faced before. But will she get to him before he strikes again?
SUN STORM by Åsa Larsson
Of all the Nordic Noir books I discuss on CBTB, Åsa Larsson’s fantastic crime series is probably the one I’ve discussed least of all - and what a shame that is! I read these books prior to starting CBTB, but they’ve stuck with me. Of all of Larsson’s books, my favorite remains the first in her Rebecka Martinsson series, SUN STORM. Set in the small Swedish town of Kiruna, this book follows a big-city attorney as she returns home to be with her closest childhood friend after the death of her friend’s brother. But her friend’s brother didn’t exactly die of natural causes… he was found brutally murdered on the floor of the town’s local church. SUN STORM is richly atmospheric and chilling; I absolutely loved its small-town setting, and I fell instantly in love with the character of Rebecka Martinsson. Combine this book’s endearing cast of characters with its dark crimes and you’ve got the perfect recipe for winter Nordic Noir reading. Fans of Sara Blaedel and Camilla Läckberg will adore this series!
On the floor of a church in northern Sweden, the body of a man lies mutilated and defiled–and in the night sky, the aurora borealis dances as the snow begins to fall....So begins Åsa Larsson’s spellbinding thriller, winner of Sweden’s Best First Crime Novel Award and an international literary sensation.
Rebecka Martinsson is heading home to Kiruna, the town she’d left in disgrace years before. A Stockholm attorney, Rebecka has a good reason to return: her friend Sanna, whose brother has been horrifically murdered in the revivalist church his charisma helped create. Beautiful and fragile, Sanna needs someone like Rebecka to remove the shadow of guilt that is engulfing her, to forestall an ambitious prosecutor and a dogged policewoman. But to help her friend, and to find the real killer of a man she once adored and is now not sure she ever knew, Rebecka must relive the darkness she left behind in Kiruna, delve into a sordid conspiracy of deceit, and confront a killer whose motives are dark, wrenching, and impossible to guess...
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS by Agatha Christie
No wintertime reading list would be complete without a book by the Queen of Crime! When I think of Agatha Christie books to read during the holidays, my mind immediately goes to one of Christie’s best-known classics: MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. This “locked-room mystery” takes place on a luxury passenger train, and involves an avalanche, brilliant detective Hercule Poirot, and, of course, a murder. There’s just something about an Agatha Christie book that’s perfect for the holiday season, and MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS has all the charm, atmosphere, and wit your winter reading list needs. Bonus: I also really enjoyed last year’s big-screen adaptation of this book! Worth adding to your to-watch list - after you read the novel it’s based on, of course.
“The murderer is with us—on the train now . . .”
Just after midnight, the famous Orient Express is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. By morning, the millionaire Samuel Edward Ratchett lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside. Without a shred of doubt, one of his fellow passengers is the murderer.
Isolated by the storm, detective Hercule Poirot must find the killer among a dozen of the dead man’s enemies, before the murderer decides to strike again.
DARK PINES by Will Dean
Will Dean’s debut crime novel DARK PINES made a huge splash upon its release, and it’s easy to see why. Set in a remote Swedish town on the edge of a vast forest, DARK PINES introduces readers to Dean’s series protagonist Tuva Moodyson, a deaf reporter working at the local paper. When bodies are found in the nearby forest with their eyes missing, Tuva knows she has found the story that could make her career - so long as the killer doesn’t catch her before she can catch him. If you’re looking for atmosphere in your crime fiction, look no further: Dean nails the sense of place in his excellent debut. Dean isn’t Swedish himself, but he actually lives in a remote part of Sweden much like his characters, and I think it must be his personal experience with this kind of location that gives his book its authenticity. While reading DARK PINES, you will find yourself instantly transported into the depths of the Swedish forest alongside Dean’s fantastic protagonist, Tuva. And speaking of Tuva: readers will fall instantly in love with Dean’s endearing, independent protagonist, and will eagerly await her next outing.
SEE NO EVIL
Eyes missing, two bodies lie deep in the forest near a remote Swedish town.
HEAR NO EVIL
Tuva Moodyson, a deaf reporter on a small-time local paper, is looking for the story that could make her career.
SPEAK NO EVIL
A web of secrets. And an unsolved murder from twenty years ago.
Can Tuva outwit the killer before she becomes the final victim? She'd like to think so. But first she must face her demons and venture far into the deep, dark woods if she wants to stand any chance of getting the hell out of small-time Gavrik.
THE ICE BENEATH HER by Camilla Grebe
Psychological thriller meets Nordic Noir in Camilla Grebe’s outstanding solo suspense debut. (Grebe previously wrote crime novels with her sister, Åsa Träff.) As winter descends on Stockholm, police are called to a beautiful suburban home… where a woman is found decapitated. Suspicion falls on the owner of the home, a prominent local businessman. Readers follow both the police officers charged with investigating the case and one of the employees who works for that very same businessman in this twisty, shocking tale. What I found so brilliant about this book - and why I’m still raving about it, nearly two years after its US release - is its seamless blend of modern psychological thrills and rich Nordic atmosphere. This book has all the twists and turns of the best psychological thriller, and it includes some very unreliable characters, too—and it also has the rich, chilling sense of place that defines the best Scandinavian crime. Whether you’re a Nordic Noir reader, a psychological thriller reader, or a reader who loves both, you’ll find lots to love about this outstanding thriller.
Winter’s chill has descended on Stockholm as police arrive at the scene of a shocking murder. An unidentified woman lies beheaded in a posh suburban home—a brutal crime made all the more disturbing by its uncanny resemblance to an unsolved killing ten years earlier. But this time there’s a suspect: the charismatic and controversial chain-store CEO Jesper Orre, who owns the home but is nowhere to be found.
To homicide detectives Peter Lindgren and Manfred Olsson, nothing about the suave, high-profile businessman—including a playboy reputation and rumors of financial misdeeds—suggests he conceals the dark heart and twisted mind of a cold-blooded killer. In search of a motive, Lindgren and Olsson turn to the brilliant criminal profiler Hanne Lagerlind-Schön. Once a valued police asset, now marooned in unhappy retirement and a crumbling marriage, she’s eager to exercise her keen skills again—and offer the detectives a window into the secret soul of Jesper Orre.
But they’re not the only ones searching. Two months before, Emma Bohman, a young clerk at Orre’s company, chanced to meet the charming chief executive, and romance swiftly bloomed. Almost as quickly as the passionate affair ignited, it was over when Orre inexplicably disappeared. One staggering misfortune after another followed, leaving Emma certain that her runaway lover was to blame and transforming her confusion and heartbreak into anger.
Now, pursuing the same mysterious man for different reasons, Emma and the police are destined to cross paths in a chilling dance of obsession, vengeance, madness, and love gone hellishly wrong.