Why I love my Scandinavian crime novels

I absolutely adore crime/detective novels and it is without doubt my all-time favorite genre.

This month, I found myself moving away from the regular English crime fiction to lap up the writings of the Scandinavians. I have thus far completed two from Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo and one from Swedish writer Hakan Nesser. (CLICK HERE for previous book reviews of Nesbo) The titles are shown below:
Scandinavian crime novelsSo in this post I will share three reasons why I love my Scandinavian crime stories:

1. Scandinavian detectives are never perfect. They are rarely the well-bred, intelligent and moralistic heroes who will save the world at the end of the day. Rather, these detectives veer into the categories of shady and broken characters who are never too far from breaking the law themselves.

Eg. Harry Hole, detective from the Jo Nesbo’s series, is an alcoholic with a substantial drug-taking history and is engulfed in a slew of troubled relationships with an estranged girlfriend, her son who regards him as a father figure but he cannot meet and barely a few true friends. In spite of all these flaws, he remains as the best detective on the Norwegian crime squad.

Jo Nesbo. Picture credit: Håkon Eikesdal

2. Nordic crime fiction can be deliciously grisly and cruel. I find that Scandinavian novels provide the same kick as watching horror movies like the “Saw” movie installments because unlike in Agatha Christie’s crimes where a murder is simply pronounced, the Scandinavians like details. Pages and pages will be spent on elaborating how the victim died, the killer’s methodology and his choice of weapons in a cool and calm manner that doubles up on the creepy factor.

Eg. Leopold’s Apple, named after King Leopold II of Belgium, is the torture device used in Jo Nesbo’s book ‘The Leopard.’ It is a metallic ball-shaped contraption made to just fit inside a human’s mouth so that the victim cannot speak, swallow or breathe properly. The discomfort will slowly and painfully drive the victim to pull the wire attached to the ball, which in turn releases 24 metal spikes to drown the victim in his own blood. Thank goodness this psychotic device is entirely concocted by Jo Nesbo, but it certainly speaks volumes of his state of mind.

Hakan Nesser

3. Scandinavian novels are mini-criminal psychology textbooks. Chapters are often written alternating first-person narratives between the criminal(s) and investigators in attempt to read into the different psychological mindsets from multiple angles.

“A crime is born in the gap between the morality of society and that of the individual,” said retired Detective Chief Inspector Van Veeteren who features frequently in Hakan Nesser’s novels. It is this tenuous balance between the ethics of the individual and the morality of the society that the Nordic writers are always exploring and challenging the boundaries.

Here is another line from Van Veeteren worth sharing:

“I don’t defend evil deeds, but if you can’t understand the nature of crime… the motives of a criminal… well, you won’t get very far as a detective. There is sort of twisted logic which is often easier to discover than the logic that governs our everyday actions. As we all know, chaos in the neighbour of God: but everything’s usually neat and tidy in hell.”

Though Scandinavian works have been gaining popularity amongst the English-speaking world, it is still being translated slowly which is such a pity.

If you have any crime novels from Nordic countries such as Denmark, Finland or Iceland that have been translated to English to recommend, please leave the titles or authors below in the comment box!

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17 thoughts on “Why I love my Scandinavian crime novels

  1. Ah, but you are overlooking so many more! 🙂
    I think my favourite is the marvellous Arnaldur Indridason from Iceland; but there’s also Karin Fossum from Norway. Ake Edwardson and the great Henning Mankell from Sweden … too many to remember off the top of my head. I’ve had all of the books from lots of the Scandinavians, but passed them on, as I did with even Ian Rankin’s books. Couldn’t keep them, as my library would’ve had to occupy most of my little flat. You have a helluva lot of reading in front of you, eh?

    1. Hahahaha thank you for all your lovely author recommendations!! I would have never knew about all of them 😀 Can’t wait to read them all, though that surely is a tall order!

  2. Hello! My name is Jann and I started following your blog after it was recommended. This post is interesting. I’ve heard from an acquaintance that her guilty pleasure are Scandinavian mystery novels too. I like mystery novels and I’ve read Agatha Christie…used to read Nancy Drew and such. Also read Steig Larson’s Girl with Dragon Tattoo.

    What Scandinavian novel would you recommend for a newbie?

    Also, have you read Ian Hamilton’s Ava Lee series books? They’re pretty good and he’s Canadian!

    1. Hey Jann, good to have you here on my blog and hope you’ve enjoyed some of my posts.

      For starters, I would recommend Norwegian Jo Nesbo’s novel simply because they are really good and you can find many of his titles in English.

      I would certainly be open to reading Ian Hamilton’s books. Will give you a shout out when I do (:

  3. I am completely in love with Nordic crime novels as well, for all of the reasons you have stated above. Harry Hole is my favourite fictional detective, he is so flawed yet utterly likeable. I know they are very well known but I have to admit to loving the Steig Larsson trilogy. It was my introduction to Scandinavian crime and for me it ticked all the boxes.

    1. Ah, one cannot but help start off with Steig Larsson’s trilogy given his books shot to fame in most of the English speaking world. But once I moved beyond Larsson, I found this whole new world of fascinating Nordic crime novels that are just grisly and wonderful

  4. I was going to say that this makes me want to read Scandinavian crime novels! But it’s too bad that there’s such few English translation. I know I definitely prefer their crime tv shows than the American ones.

    1. You made me a little jealous because you can read Jo Nesbo’s books in Norwegian. But thanks for recommending Anne Holt! Am going to check her out real soon.

  5. I can recommend the work of Karin Fossum, in particular ‘The Water’s Edge’ – simply written, but very powerful. Also the grandparents of the genre, Per Wahloo and Maj Swovall, and their Martin Beck novels from the 1960s. I’ve read the first two, with the third waiting on my ‘to be read’ pile at home. Worth a look

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