CBTB’s Best Scandinavian Crime Novels of 2018
7 Immersive, Gripping Nordic Crime Reads to Transport You to Scandinavia
Dark atmospheres, richly developed characters, vivid sense of place, complex plots—these are just a few of the qualities that the Scandinavian crime fiction genre boasts, and they are all qualities that shine in the books I’ve selected for my Best Scandinavian Crime Novels of 2018. As CBTB readers well know, there’s nothing I love more than a really great Nordic crime read, and the Scandinavian books I read in 2018 absolutely blew me away. From new series launches to the return of old favorite characters and everything in between, I loved every moment spent in these books’ pages - and I’m so excited to share them with you today, too! Read on for my favorite Scandinavian crime fiction releases of the year—and make sure you’re all caught up on the best Nordic Noir of 2018 before 2019 arrives!
I received free copies of the books included in this post in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the books or the content of this post. All opinions my own. || Crime by the Book is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.
THE LEGACY by Yrsa Sigurdardottir
No one writes Nordic crime fiction quite like Yrsa Sigurdardottir. Iceland’s Queen of Crime has a knack for weaving into her crime novels a thread of horror-inspired scares, delivering reads that are both masterfully-plotted and genuinely chilling. Her books are something special, and her 2018 release THE LEGACY further solidified my love for her work. THE LEGACY is Book 1 in Yrsa’s new Children’s House series, making it the perfect place to start with her work. In this superb police procedural, a police officer and a child psychologist team up to solve a gruesome murder—the only witness to which is the young child of the deceased. THE LEGACY is a hair-raising, multifaceted crime novel exploring the lasting impact of childhood trauma.
From My Review of THE LEGACY:
Iceland’s Queen of Crime Yrsa Sigurdardottir brings her newest series to the US in February, and it’s an absolute knockout. THE LEGACY launches the Children’s House Series with a story that is equal parts measured police procedural and gripping suspense narrative. Weaving together dark family secrets both present and past with a chilling investigation, Sigurdardottir effortlessly delivers a standout Nordic thriller that will more than satisfy her longstanding fans, and is sure to open up new doors for her readership in the US. THE LEGACY is all the slow-burning, layered procedural a Nordic Noir reader could hope for, infused with the trademark dark imagination that has come to define Sigurdardottir’s own ever-developing legacy.
THE SANDMAN by Lars Kepler
If you ever find yourself in a reading slump, reach for a book by Lars Kepler to get you back on track. Blisteringly fast-paced and action-packed, Kepler’s thrillers are built for binge-reading. Don’t be fooled by their lengthy page count—these page-turners are easy to devour in one or two sittings. In a genre like Scandinavian crime, which leans more towards layered, slow-burning procedurals than rip-roaring thrillers, Kepler is an absolute standout. Bonus: these books - THE SANDMAN in particular - include some of the scariest, most vividly-drawn villains the genre has to offer. THE SANDMAN is Book 4 in Kepler’s Joona Linna series, but it can easily be read as a standalone. In THE SANDMAN, a young man is found wandering on the train tracks in the middle of the night… the only problem? He and his sister were declared dead years prior.
From My Review of THE SANDMAN:
Crime fiction readers, listen up: if you love gritty, cinematic, edge-of-your-seat thrillers, I've found one of your future contenders for favorite book of 2018. Today’s featured Buzzworthy 2018 Book, THE SANDMAN by Lars Kepler (March 2018), is one of those rare books that balances meticulous plotting, edge-of-your-seat suspense, and an almost mythic serial killer to pitch-perfect effect. Cinematic, action-packed, and bone-chilling, THE SANDMAN is poised to deliver a standout 2018 thriller read. It might release in March, but I’m betting it will top the “Best Of” lists for fans of Scandinavian greats like THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO by Stieg Larsson and THE SNOWMAN by Jo Nesbo. Read this book as part of the Joona Linna series or as a standalone (I did the latter!); either way, you’re guaranteed an utterly gripping ride. It’s been a while since I could so confidently recommend a crime book, but I’m recommending THE SANDMAN without hesitation or qualification. Nordic Noir fans and genre newcomers alike will find THE SANDMAN as chilling as the Swedish winter, and as utterly addictive as your favorite TV crime drama.
THE SILENT WOMEN by Sara Blaedel
(Previously published as CALL ME PRINCESS)
Sara Blaedel is known as Denmark’s “Queen of Crime,” and the title is well-earned. 2018 brought with it very good news for American readers: this year, Sara’s American publisher re-released her entire Louise Rick backlist in brand-new editions, giving us the chance to finally dig in to the early stories surrounding Blaedel’s now-infamous character. Book 2 in the Louise Rick series, THE SILENT WOMEN, quickly became my personal favorite of these re-releases. In THE SILENT WOMEN, a dark and disturbing series of crimes is plaguing Copenhagen, Denmark: a criminal is using dating apps to target and assault vulnerable women. Police officer Louise Rick is charged with investigating the crimes, and quickly becomes a ferocious advocate for the women who have fallen victim to this criminal.
From My Review of THE SILENT WOMEN:
Nordic Noir fans, listen up - this fall is bringing with it some fantastic new crime novels to sink your teeth into, including Sara Blaedel’s THE SILENT WOMEN—the second book in the author’s internationally bestselling Louise Rick series. (Of note: this book was previously published in the US under the title Call Me Princess.) In THE SILENT WOMEN, Copenhagen detective Louise Rick faces a disturbing case when a young woman is found brutally assaulted in her home, the victim of a man who appears to use dating websites to identify and meet his prey. THE SILENT WOMEN was Blaedel’s breakout book in her native Denmark, and it’s easy to see why. Dark and visceral, this chilling crime story will get under readers’ skin and stay there long after the final page is turned. The crimes portrayed in this book are deeply disturbing, but Blaedel handles them with sensitivity; readers will find Louise Rick a fantastic advocate and champion for the women who fall victim to our story’s criminal. Where THE MIDNIGHT WITNESS, Book 1 in Blaedel’s Louise Rick series, is a more slow-burning story, THE SILENT WOMEN is gripping right from the outset; readers looking for a procedural with tense, page-turning pacing will thoroughly enjoy this series installment. THE SILENT WOMEN is sure to hook readers on Sara Blaedel’s Louise Rick series.
THE BOY AT THE DOOR by Alex Dahl
Alex Dahl’s fantastic Nordic suspense novel blends the best of the psychological thriller genre with the atmosphere and mood of Scandinavian crime. This book isn’t a police procedural—readers looking for a domestic suspense novel will find it much more aligned with their expectations. However, this book is intrinsically Nordic, which is why it belongs on this list! In THE BOY AT THE DOOR, debut author Alex Dahl sets a story of family secrets against the backdrop of an elegant, posh town in Norway. Cecilia Wilborg has a loving husband, two beautiful children, and a picture-perfect life—and she works very, very hard to keep it all together. But when she offers to temporarily look after a young boy whose parents appear to have forgotten to pick him up at the local pool, her picture-perfect life begins to unravel. THE BOY AT THE DOOR explores some genuinely tough themes, and Dahl masterfully wraps these themes all up in the mood and atmosphere of Norway.
From My Review of THE BOY AT THE DOOR:
It’s hard to imagine a summer read better tailored to Crime by the Book than a Scandinavian psychological suspense novel, aka a combination of my two favorite kinds of crime books—and that’s exactly what readers will get in THE BOY AT THE DOOR by Alex Dahl. As an avid reader of Nordic Noir, I was fascinated by the concept of a psychological suspense story set against a Nordic backdrop; I couldn’t wait to see how Dahl would balance these two often extremely different styles of crime writing. What I discovered in THE BOY AT THE DOOR well exceeded my expectations. A binge-worthy story of suspense with dark and weighty undercurrents, Dahl’s first novel strikes an excellent balance between the melancholy and gloom of Nordic crime and the breezy pacing of your favorite beach read. Despite its well-deserved “binge-read” status, THE BOY AT THE DOOR tackles genuinely difficult themes: most prominently, addiction and the pressures of motherhood take center stage here. It’s a winning combination, and, set against the atmospheric and picturesque backdrop of Scandinavia, Dahl’s tense and menacing story of familial suspense is a summer standout. Add this to your summer reading list and set aside a weekend to tear through its addictive and taut interpersonal mystery.
KILLED by Thomas Enger
Over the last couple of years, Thomas Enger’s Henning Juul books have become some of those “comfort reads” that I just keep coming back to over and over. I consistently love Enger’s endearing, engaging characters, his books’ layered plotting, and the heartstring-tugging mystery that ties this entire series together: the suspicious circumstances surrounding the untimely death of protagonist Henning’s son. KILLED is the explosive, heartbreaking conclusion to this superb Nordic crime series; if you haven’t yet delved into Enger’s books, I would highly recommend reading them in order—you won’t want to miss the rich character development and intricately woven mystery that ties these books together. The driving force behind this series is protagonist Henning Juul: a journalist who bears the emotional and physical scars of a terrible tragedy that marked his life years prior. Henning’s quest for the truth about his son’s death gives this story both its compelling central mystery and the emotional heart at its core.
From My Review of KILLED:
Have you ever picked up a book by a new-to-you author and just felt instantly in step with the author’s voice and style? That’s exactly how I felt when I first dove into Thomas Enger’s Henning Juul series. I started the series about a year and a half ago, after meeting the author at Iceland Noir, and was totally hooked. Enger’s writing is accessible and engaging, his stories’ atmospheres are gloomy and moody, and (perhaps best of all) his main character, Henning Juul, is endearing and sympathetic for the entirety of the series. These are crime novels with a heart—Enger infuses each story with humanity, delivering characters the reader will root for and cry over - sometimes quite literally. The fifth and final installment in the Henning Juul series, KILLED, will be best appreciated by readers who have followed the series from the beginning; if you’re intrigued by this series, you can read about Book 1, BURNED, here. For long-standing fans of Henning Juul, KILLED will prove a satisfying and heartbreaking finale to a much-loved series.
THE DARKNESS by Ragnar Jonasson
Ragnar Jonasson’s books are consistently impressive, but his 2018 release THE DARKNESS absolutely blew me away. This superb Icelandic mystery launches a brand-new trilogy from Jonasson… and here’s the best part: the trilogy is told backwards. That may sound crazy, but just trust me, Jonasson pulls it off beautifully. In THE DARKNESS, we meet series protagonist Hulda Hermannsdottir at the end of her career with the Icelandic police, in the time immediately leading up to her retirement. THE DARKNESS centers around the final case of Hulda’s career, but it’s much more than that, too; this mystery gives readers a glimpse into Hulda’s complex personal life, and hints at the intriguing backstory that we will continue to uncover in the series’ next installments. THE DARKNESS is richly atmospheric and infused with the natural beauty of Iceland—it’s the perfect choice for a winter read.
From My Review of THE DARKNESS:
Ragnar Jonasson, you have simply outdone yourself. Just when I thought I couldn’t love Ragnar’s books more, he goes and writes THE DARKNESS - and man, is it excellent. Already known around the world for his modern classic Dark Iceland series, Ragnar proves with THE DARKNESS that his winning brand of crime fiction can work just as well - if not better - in a new series as it did in his Ari Thor books. THE DARKNESS has all the brooding atmosphere of the Dark Iceland books with a creativity and breath-of-fresh-air protagonist all its own. Readers will travel eagerly from the streets of Reykjavik to the desolate wilds of Iceland alongside Hulda, a detective whose retirement is on the horizon—and who is determined to make the most of her time left on the force. There’s an addictiveness to THE DARKNESS that elevates this read—Jonasson beautifully balances slow-burning plotting with binge-worthy tension, and the result is just plain gripping. There’s so much that works so well in this book, and I have a feeling Jonasson’s new series will become my favorite of his work… that is, until we see what this talented writer comes up with next. If THE DARKNESS isn’t yet on your fall reading list, it absolutely belongs there. There’s little doubt in my mind that this book will be one of my favorites of 2018.
THE MAN WHO DIED by Antti Tuomainen
Witty, darkly comic, and wholly original, Antti Tuomainen’s THE MAN WHO DIED combines a Nordic mystery with a grimly humorous story of love and mortality. In this intelligent and quirky noir comedy, a Finnish mushroom farmer is informed by his doctor that he’s dying due to poisoning. As he seeks to unravel the mystery of what - and who - is killing him before he dies, he discovers that those around him have motives more sinister than he ever could have imagined. THE MAN WHO DIED won’t be for everyone; this isn’t your standard procedural or thriller. But don’t let that putt you off! There’s so much to enjoy about Tuomainen’s fresh and gripping noir read. if you’re game for a book that leans in to dark comedy while also delivering action scenes (some funny, some very serious) and poignant commentary on life and death, you will love Tuomainen’s wholly unique and compelling slice of Scandinavian crime.
From My Review of THE MAN WHO DIED:
As an avid reader of Nordic Noir, I generally feel well-prepared when it comes to starting a new Scandinavian crime read - I typically know what to expect, and what I’ll enjoy, when I dive into a new Nordic crime novel. Every so often, I’m completely surprised by what I uncover in between that new book’s pages - and THE MAN WHO DIED by Antti Tuomainen is a prime example of a book that completely surprised me. THE MAN WHO DIED is a superb example of just how fluid and elastic the crime genre in general - and Nordic Noir in particular - can be. Yes, this book is distinctly tied to its Scandinavian roots, both in its setting and in its mood; however, this book also draws on dark comedy to create a genuinely unique and compelling story. Combine these qualities with an urgent investigation into main character Jaakko’s poisoning, and THE MAN WHO DIED will feel simultaneously familiar and wonderfully inventive to crime fiction readers. Tuomainen’s creativity shines in this compelling and poignant story.