6 Reasons to Read Scandinavian Crime Fiction This Summer
When you think “summer reading,” what kinds of books pop into your head? Something light and feel-good, maybe an inspiring memoir, or, if you want to venture into crime, a twisty domestic suspense novel... now, I love a good “beach read” as much as the next person, but today I want to make the case for why your summer reading list needs - or, dare I say, why it deserves - a dark and gritty Scandinavian crime novel, too. With each of the six reasons listed below, I’ll also provide an accompanying book recommendation that exemplifies that particular quality! I hope you'll love this list—and, if you've already read all the books listed here and need additional options, please feel free to reach out. There are plenty more recommendations where these come from!
Happy reading! xx A
1. Find your summer book boyfriend/book girlfriend.
No one does character development quite like Scandinavian crime writers. If you're looking for a character to fall in love with this summer, you're bound to find one here! There’s a certain attention to detail paid when it comes to the development of Nordic Noir characters that is hard to beat - and it’s something I’ve heard emphasized by Nordic authors over and over again, too: there is huge importance placed on developing three-dimensional characters for readers to “meet” through these books. No matter the book or author, whenever I dig into a new Scandinavian crime read, I’m consistently struck by the depth of the characters found within its pages. It’s perhaps one of the greatest reasons that Scandinavian crime authors are able to put out such long-standing series that continue to be so wildly popular - readers fall in love with the vividness of these characters, and want to stay with them through the good and the (very, very) bad.
“Book Boyfriend” Recommendation: THE SNOWMAN by Jo Nesbø
If Nordic Noir has strong character development, within the genre, Nesbø’s character development is (in my humble opinion!) the absolute strongest. THE SNOWMAN is part of Nesbø’s Harry Hole series, but it will serve as a perfect introduction to the crime fiction mastery that this series is. Readers are practically guaranteed to fall head-over-heels for Nesbø’s troubled detective Harry; he’s the perfect balance of damaged, haunted man and devoted civil servant. Bonus: it’s my favorite book of all time! For more information on THE SNOWMAN, check out my “Re-Read Review” of the book here, and my Beginner’s Guide to Jo Nesbø here.
Plot Summary: 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.
“Book Girlfriend” Recommendation: THE ICE PRINCESS by Camilla Lackberg
Meet Erica Falck: a crime journalist whose life is marked by tragedy when her best friend is found dead of apparent suicide. Erica is one of my personal favorite female protagonists in crime fiction—she’s the kind of woman I would want to be friends with in real life. Over the course of this series, Erica puts her journalistic talents to good use by aiding local police in solving a number of crimes. These books aren’t as dark as other examples of Scandinavian crime, but they’re totally addictive nonetheless.
Plot Summary: 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.
2. Escape summer heatwaves with a bookish trip somewhere cool.
Now, I may be in the minority in this, but there are always comes a point in the summer when I’ve had enough of the heat and start daydreaming about fall. If you’re of a similar mindset, take a virtual break from the summer heatwave with a trip north! Scandinavian crime novels inherently offer their readers a glimpse into a truly picturesque world—and, even better, they do so through an examination of that world’s dark underbelly. Whether you want to “travel” into the middle of a blizzard, walk the streets of Copenhagen in the fall, or even experience a gorgeous (and more mild!) summer on the coast of Norway, there’s sure to be a Scandinavian crime novel that will give you that perfect escape from the muggy summer weather.
Book Recommendation: SNOWBLIND by Ragnar Jonasson
Nothing says “escape a heatwave” like a trip to northern Iceland. In Jonasson’s masterful Dark Iceland series (of which SNOWBLIND is Book 1), readers will travel to Siglufjordur - an isolated town in northern Iceland. In SNOWBLIND, the town is cut off from the rest of the country by a blizzard that blocks off the only road leading into - and out of - the town. During the storm, a body is discovered, and the realization that a murderer is among the townspeople begins to take hold. The town depicted in this series is a real place—Jonasson was kind enough to conduct a “photo tour” of the town for CBTB readers last year! Jonasson’s books reflect the best of golden age detective fiction; they’re not brutally violent, but they rely instead on clever plotting and a richly developed sense of mystery.
Plot Summary: Where: A quiet fishing village in northern Iceland, where no one locks their doors. It is accessible only via a small mountain tunnel.
Who: Ari Thor is a rookie policeman on his first posting, far from his girlfriend in Reykjavik. He has a past that he's unable to leave behind.
What: A young woman is found lying half-naked in the snow, bleeding and unconscious, and a highly esteemed elderly writer falls to his death. Ari is dragged straight into the heart of a community where he can trust no one, and secrets and lies are a way of life.
Past plays tag with the present and the claustrophobic tension mounts, while Ari is thrust ever deeper into his own darkness―blinded by snow and with a killer on the loose.
3. Become immersed in a longer novel - or a whole series.
For many of us, summer will bring with it vacations - and what could be better than using your vacation to make time for a longer read... or a whole series? Sometimes the sheer size of Nordic Noir novels can feel daunting; these books tend to air on the lengthy side, and it can be hard to make time for them during the business of our ordinary lives. But I’d challenge you to set aside any concerns over book length this summer. The fact is, Scandinavian crime novels are long for a reason: their masterful, complex plotting and deep character development necessitate that higher page count. Instead of bringing a couple 250-page books to the beach with you this summer, why not grab one heftier one? You’ll find yourself all the more invested in the story for the book’s length.
Book Recommendation: THE LEGACY by Yrsa Sigurdardottir
Iceland’s Queen of Crime delivers a masterful and complex story of long-buried family secrets and their present-day fallout. This book clocks in at 464 pages, but every page is worth it. Readers follow a police officer and a child psychologist who must team up to uncover the truth behind a brutal crime—the only witness to which is the young daughter of the victim. Sigurdardottir has a knack for writing thrillers with just enough horror to really get under your skin, and this book is no exception; it’s a police procedural injected with dark imagination, and I loved it. Read my full review here.
Plot Summary: The only person who might have the answers to a baffling murder case is the victim’s seven-year-old daughter, found hiding in the room where her mother died. And she’s not talking.
Newly-promoted, out of his depth, detective Huldar turns to Freyja for her expertise with traumatized young people. Freyja, who distrusts the police in general and Huldar in particular, isn’t best pleased. But she’s determined to keep little Margret safe.
It may prove tricky. The killer is leaving them strange clues, but can they crack the code? And if they do, will they be next?
Book Series Recommendation: The Louise Rick Series by Sara Blaedel
Speaking of superb female crime writers, Denmark’s Sara Blaedel is known as “Denmark’s Queen of Crime” for a reason. Blaedel is best known for her internationally-bestselling Louise Rick series, which follow police officer Louise as she rises through the ranks and faces challenges both personally and professionally. Blaedel’s series is darker than Lackberg’s, but both series share a similar strength in their endearing characters; readers will find themselves cheering for Louise and following her career with great emotional investment. Blaedel’s US publisher, Grand Central, is re-releasing Blaedel’s entire Louise Rick series with gorgeous new covers and excellent new translations, making this a perfect time to dive in! The order of the Louise Rick books currently on sale is:
The Camilla Trilogy (4-6):
THE NIGHT WOMEN | THE RUNNING GIRL | THE STOLEN ANGEL
The Missing Persons Trilogy (7-9):
THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS | ★ THE KILLING FOREST ★ | THE LOST WOMAN
★ = CBTB favorite!
4. Play detective alongside some top-notch sleuths.
In my mind, there’s nothing better than spending an evening on vacation cozied up with glass of wine and a classic police procedural. (I love playing armchair detective!) If you love classic detective novels that let you get up close and personal to a police officer’s investigation of a crime, too, Nordic Noir has so much to offer you. The Nordic Noir “greats” are known for writing exactly these kinds of books: procedurals that delve into the inner workings of an investigation, and provide methodical, meticulous plots for readers to puzzle out alongside the story’s protagonist. These kinds of layered procedurals can feel almost luxurious to me; there’s something so wonderful about just sinking into these slower-burning - yet no less entertaining - classic crime novels. You can find a whole array of these reads within Nordic Noir, from the genre classics to up-and-coming authors.
Book Recommendation: THE DYING DETECTIVE by Leif GW Persson
THE DYING DETECTIVE has won just about every significant Scandinavian crime writing award out there, and it’s easy to see why. Persson’s masterful mystery begins with its protagonist suffering a stroke, and finding himself in the hospital. From his hospital bed, he begins to investigate a cold case that no one has been able to crack for years… and finds himself embroiled in a dark mystery. This isn’t a flashy or in-your-face shocking kind of book, but it absolutely shines in the precision of Persson’s plotting. If you love a crime novel that’s slow-burning and layered, you will absolutely love THE DYING DETECTIVE. Read my full review here.
Plot Summary: After suffering a stroke, retired detective Lars Martin Johansson finds himself in the hospital. To save himself from idleness and despair, the legendary investigator turns to an unsolved murder case from years before. The victim: an innocent nine-year-old girl.
With the help of various associates and assistants, Johansson launches an informal investigation from his hospital bed. Racing against time, he uncovers a web of connections that links sex tourism to a dead opera singer and a self-made millionaire. But as Johansson draws closer to solving the crime, he finds that he will have to confront not just a mystery but his own mortality.
5. Indulge your serial killer fascination…
What is it about a really twisted serial killer that is just so fascinating? From The Silence of the Lambs to Se7en and Criminal Minds, our cultural fascination with serial killers has fueled just about every form of entertainment you could imagine—and I, for one, am a pretty darn huge fan of all of it. If this applies to you, too, you have no reason not to be exploring Scandinavian crime fiction. Nordic authors can write terrifying, disturbing, fascinating villains with the best of them… and remember that rich character development I mentioned previously? It applies to these villains, too. These aren’t throwaway bad guys (and girls)—they’re villains you’ll become equal parts invested in and terrified of. From the almost mythic to the very ordinary, there’s just about every variety of antagonist imaginable available within the pages of Scandinavia’s extensive crime fiction culture.
Book Recommendation: THE SANDMAN by Lars Kepler
Hannibal Lecter, meet your match. Kepler (the pseudonym for a husband-and-wife writing duo) delivers a seriously chilling, almost mythic antagonist in their outstanding thriller THE SANDMAN. Jurek Walter (the villain of the story) is so shrouded in mystery, he seems to take on an almost legendary status. From the cell in which he’s being held at a psychiatric facility, Walter seems to have the power to compel those around him to do his bidding—not by any superpowers, but simply by the sheer force of his powers of persuasion. Unlike many of its Nordic counterparts, THE SANDMAN is an absolute binge-read; short chapters and breezy writing make this book one you’ll want to devour in one or two sittings. Read my full thoughts on the book here.
Plot Summary: Late one night, outside Stockholm, Mikael Kohler-Frost is found wandering. Thirteen years earlier, he went missing along with his younger sister. They were long thought to have been victims of Sweden's most notorious serial killer, Jurek Walter, now serving a life sentence in a maximum security psychiatric hospital. Now Mikael tells the police that his sister is still alive and being held by someone he knows only as the Sandman. Years ago, Detective Inspector Joona Linna made an excruciating personal sacrifice to ensure Jurek's capture. He is keenly aware of what this killer is capable of, and now he is certain that Jurek has an accomplice. He knows that any chance of rescuing Mikael's sister depends on getting Jurek to talk, and that the only agent capable of this is Inspector Saga Bauer, a twenty-seven-year-old prodigy. She will have to go under deep cover in the psychiatric ward where Jurek is imprisoned, and she will have to find a way to get to the psychopath before it's too late--and before he gets inside her head.
6. ... or find your next favorite psychological suspense novel.
But just because Nordic Noir tends to rely on police procedures and more traditional cop vs. killer investigations doesn’t mean it’s not without its varieties, too. If you prefer psychological suspense over a more straightforward detective novel, never fear—there are Scandinavian authors exploring all different styles of crime writing, and doing it very successfully. Set against a Nordic backdrop, stories of interpersonal secrets and domestic suspense take on a totally new flavor; I’ve personally loved seeing how Scandinavian authors use the image of Scandinavia as a “utopia” to contrast the external perfection of the country with the inner turmoil of its residents.
Book Recommendation to Pre-Order: THE BOY AT THE DOOR by Alex Dahl
If psychological suspense is your thing, you’ll want to snag yourself a copy of Alex Dahl’s THE BOY AT THE DOOR as soon as it’s on sale this summer (July 24th)! This story will appeal to fans of Clare Mackintosh and Fiona Barton—it’s very much focused on the inner workings of a family, but it has a distinctly Nordic flavor to it, too. Dahl has done an excellent job contrasting the “picture perfect” quality of Scandinavia with the inner tensions maintaining this perfection creates for its residents; our main character, among many other challenges, struggles with maintaining that facade of a perfect life when behind closed doors, her life seems to be falling apart around her. I loved this book and its balance between Scandinavian crime and very on-trend psychological suspense. Read my full review here.
Plot Summary: Cecilia Wilborg has it all--a loving husband, two beautiful daughters and a gorgeous home in the affluent Norwegian town of Sandefjord. And she works hard to keep it all together. Too hard. Because one mistake from her past could bring it all crashing down around her.
Annika Lucasson lives a dark life with her abusive, drug-dealing boyfriend. She's lost everything one too many times and now she's got one last chance to save herself, thanks to Cecilia. Annika knows her secret--and just how much she's willing to do to make it all go away...
When someone forgets to pick up their little boy at the local pool, Cecilia agrees to take him home, only to find an abandoned, empty house. It's the first step in the unraveling of her meticulously crafted life, as her and Annika's worlds collide...
Book Recommendation to Read Now: THE BIRD TRIBUNAL by Agnes Ravatn
What do you get when you cross literary fiction with psychological suspense and a Nordic backdrop? Agnes Ravatn’s haunting THE BIRD TRIBUNAL is bound to be one of the most unusual reads on your TBR. Set against the isolation of a Norrwegian fjord, this short but impactful book explores the tensions that can exist between two strangers who now find themselves living in close proximity to one another. This isn’t the kind of book where a lot actually happens, but it sure is the kind of book with a lot of emotional and interpersonal tension to unpack. This book will work well for the reader who prefers their suspense subtle yet thoroughly hair-raising.
Plot Summary: Two people in exile. Two secrets. As the past tightens its grip, there may be no escape . . .
TV presenter Allis Hagtorn leaves her partner and her job to take voluntary exile in a remote house on an isolated fjord. But her new job as housekeeper and gardener is not all that it seems, and her silent, surly employer, 44-year-old Sigurd Bagge, is not the old man she expected. As they await the return of his wife from her travels, their silent, uneasy encounters develop into a chilling, obsessive relationship, and it becomes clear that atonement for past sins may not be enough . . .
And that's a wrap on my 6 Reasons to Read Scandinavian Crime Fiction This Summer! Have you read any of these titles? Are any of them on your TBR? I'd love to hear from you! xx A