Scandinavian crime thrillers: exciting books, films and series

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Where better to find suspense, murder and mystery than in the Scandinavian countryside with its mountains, lakes and fjords? In recent years, Scandinavian crime novels, regardless of format, have become increasingly popular. Whether it’s Stieg Larsson’s famous Millenium trilogy or a Swedish crime series – there is definitely plenty of suspense and darkness in northern Europe.

Scandinavian crime thrillers: origins and success

Nordic Noir, Scandi Noir or Nordic Killing: the Scandinavian crime thriller has now found its way into numerous formats and its success has earned it these genre designations. It is known for its dark brutality, which is precisely what makes it so appealing. The numerous book series by the successful Scandinavian authors are no longer only available in bookshops, but also as radio plays and film adaptations. Their success may also be due to the fact that the Scandinavians themselves spend a lot of time indoors and can therefore let their imaginations run wild. Conversely, between the cold and the cosy, readers have enough time to devote themselves entirely to crime novels. One thing is clear: Scandinavian crime thrillers are not for the faint-hearted.

Scandinavian crime thrillers

The “Scandi crime thriller” is usually a crime series in which you always root for the same investigator and which are even named after the person. A popular example of this is Henning Mankell’s detective Wallander, who ensured the renewed success and breakthrough of Scandinavian crime fiction in the 1990s. From 1991 to 2009, Mankell wrote a total of 12 parts in which the fictional detective Kurt Wallander investigates in the small town of Ystad in southern Sweden. These were not only a literary success, but also made the region more attractive to tourists.

Although the origins of the genre also lie in Sweden, they go back even further: the first internationally successful Swedish crime novels came onto the market in the 1960s and 1970s. The popular series by authors Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, centred around detective Martin Beck, was later both set to music and made into a film. It arose from a political aspiration, as the authors wanted to indirectly criticise the Swedish state and the system of authorities in the books. Another significant difference is that the novels provide a more realistic portrayal of police investigative work than has previously been the case in literature.

Swedish crime thrillers

Swedish crime novels paved the way for Scandinavian thrillers and investigation series and became the so-called “Swedish thriller”. Since 2000, over 100 Swedish crime writers alone have been translated into German, for example.

Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, consisting of the parts “Blindness”, “Damnation” and “Forgiveness”, has been made into several films. The Swedish production of the first part was so successful that it is one of the most successful cinema films of all time in Scandinavia. Just two years later, the novel was shown in cinemas as an American production starring Daniel Craig. Both films can be streamed on Amazon. After the author’s death in 2004, three further novels were published, which were written by the Swede David Lagercrantz as a continuation of the plot.

Well-known Swedish crime writers

There are many authors from Sweden who have made a name for themselves with their crime novels in recent years, so many of them have also been made into films or radio plays. Some of them use pseudonyms, behind which some author duos also hide. Here are the best-known contemporary crime writers:

  • Henning Mankell
  • Stieg Larsson
  • Lars Kepler
  • Erik Axl Sund
  • Håkan Nesser
  • Arne Dahl
  • Åsa Larsson
  • Johan Theorin
  • Åke Edwardson
  • Camilla Läckberg
  • Liza Marklund
  • Viveca Sten
  • Stefan Ahnhem

Swedish crime bestsellers, crime series and films

But Swedish thrillers can do much more than old classics and blockbuster cinema. Published in 2019, the suspense novel “Dark Summer” by author Stina Jackson is a number one bestseller from Sweden and is also available as an audiobook. It is set in the gloomy autumn in Norrland. The six volumes of the Rönning/Stilton series (named after the two investigators in the series) by twin author duo Cilla and Rolf Börjlind are also considered bestsellers and were filmed in Sweden as a series with two seasons in 2016.

The series “A Case for Sebastian Bergman” by author duo Hjorth and Rosenfeldt, which has been running since 2010, is similarly successful. It centres around the Swedish criminal psychologist of the same name, who is considered highly intelligent but at the same time headstrong and gruff. The two authors were also inspired by Mankell and have now published six volumes.

The Swedes are also leading the way when it comes to crime series. In 2019, the thriller Netflix series “Quicksand” (original title: Störst av allt) was released, based on the crime novel “You can’t lie in a dream” by Malin Persson Giolito. The work was voted best crime thriller of the year in Sweden in 2016. The six episodes revolve around a killing spree at an elite school in Stockholm and the city’s high society.

Just recently, the streaming service Netflix also produced the crime series “The Young Wallander”, which, as the title suggests, provides a prequel to Mankell’s popular investigator character Kurt Wallander. Here is a brief insight:

Danish crime thrillers

After Sweden, Denmark also has plenty of goosebump potential to offer. Even if many Danish authors are not yet so well known outside their country’s borders, their works are in no way inferior to the darkness of Swedish crime fiction.

The Dane Jussi Adler-Olsen is regarded as a pioneer. Since his debut novel in 1997, he has repeatedly succeeded in writing bestsellers. With the second volume of the thriller series about investigator Carl Mørck and the “Department Q” in Copenhagen, he made it to number two on the Spiegel bestseller list in Germany.

There are now nine volumes, four of which are available as audio plays on audible. In addition, the same four were produced as cinema films in Denmark.

Well-known Danish crime writers

  • Jussi Adler-Olsen
  • Julie Hastrup
  • Jens Henrik Jensen
  • Inger Madsen
  • Katrine Engberg
  • Anna Grue
  • Lotte and Søren Hammer
  • Steffen Jacobsen
  • Jens Østergaard

Danish crime bestsellers, series and films

Other successful crime novels from Denmark come from author Jesper Stein. The journalist also published a crime series, the first part of which, “Unrest”, was a bestseller list for months. This was followed by the three other volumes, which deal with the exciting cases of a Copenhagen investigator in the red light and drug district of Nørrebro. Jens Henrik Jensen’s Niels Oxen series also made it onto international bestseller lists.

The film series “Pusher”, which also sheds light on the Copenhagen drug milieu, attracted international attention in the cinema. The first installment is also regarded as the breakthrough for the now internationally renowned Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, who has also appeared as James Bond’s adversary. However, the films are not based on a crime novel. The same applies to the crime series “The Team” set in Denmark, which can be streamed on Netflix.

Norwegian crime thrillers

As in Sweden and Denmark, Norway has a master and pioneer of crime fiction: author Jo Nesbø established the Norwegian thriller in contemporary literature with his dark and brutal stories. His thrillers are mirror bestsellers. The series centred around the detective Harry Hole is particularly popular.

In general, Norwegian crime novels follow the system-critical legacy of the Swedish authors Sjöwall and Wahlöö. However, the cases are often set in the countryside in small, unknown villages, so that the Norwegian backdrop of skerries and fjords – preferably in the snowy winter – comes into its own and creates even more suspense.

Well-known Norwegian crime writers

  • Jo Nesbø
  • Thomas Enger
  • Ingar Johnsrud
  • Øistein Borge
  • Samuel Bjørk

Icelandic crime novels

Even though Iceland is statistically the European country with the fewest murder cases, the island’s landscapes are ideal as a setting for a gloomy murder mystery. The capital Reykjavík, in particular, is always the scene of gruesome murders and crimes.

Well-known Icelandic crime writers

  • Ragnar Jónasson
  • Arnaldur Indriðason
  • Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

Icelandic crime bestsellers and series

“Dark” by Ragnar Jonasson is the first volume in the HULDA trilogy and is Amazon’s number one bestseller in the noir fiction category. As is usual for the Skandi crime thriller, it centres around a central investigator character. In Jonasson’s series, it is Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir, who is about to retire and is investigating her last case in the Icelandic capital.

The current Netflix series “The Valhalla Murders” is also set in Reykjavík and features a pair of detectives investigating a brutal series of murders. Although the story is not based on a crime novel, it is partly based on true events, which makes it all the more exciting. Here is an insight into the Netflix production:

Finnish crime thrillers

Crime stories from Finland may be less well-known, but they are in no way inferior to their forerunners when it comes to dark suspense. There is often a special connection to the Finnish landscape, which is depicted in great detail: Whether in Helsinki or the barren regions of Finnish Lapland.

Well-known Finnish crime writers

  • Taavi Soininvaara
  • Leena Lehtolainen
  • Matti Rönkä
  • Ilkka Remes

Buy Scandinavian crime thrillers or stream them as audio dramas

You can find all Scandinavian crime novels as books or eBooks on Amazon. You can also experience numerous crime thrillers from the North in audio format under the “Scandinavian crime thrillers” category at the associated audio drama provider Audible. There is even a free trial month before you take out a subscription.

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