Thursday, December 8, 2011

Reading Lists - Kristin on Nordic Crime Fiction

Since Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo hit the United States, there has been a growing interest in Scandinavian crime fiction here. I've done a bit of reading in the genre, though I'm looking forward to doing a lot more. (I'm especially fond of Norwegian author Jo Nesbø.) I decided to put together a list for other fans of the genre, focusing on authors whose work we own here at Samuels.

The definition of "Scandinavia" in this case isn't quite accurate. From what I read, strictly speaking Scandinavia is only Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. However, Finland and Iceland are sometimes grouped with Scandinavia because of their historic and/or cultural ties, in which case they're more accurately called the Nordic countries. I've included them too.

This is just a brief, and by no means comprehensive, list. For more Nordic crime, I would recommend starting with Glass Key award winners. The Glass Key, named after the Dashiell Hammett novel, is given every year by the members of the Crime Writers of Scandinavia (Skandinaviska Kriminalsällskapet) to a crime novel written by a Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian, or Swedish author. Each country's members put forth a candidate novel, making up the shortlist.

Now without further ado, I give you a briefly annotated list of Nordic crime fiction available at Samuels Library.


Adler-Olsen, Jussi - His first (and so far only) book to be translated into English is The Keeper of Lost Causes, the first in a series about chief detective Carl Morck. The Copenhagen detective is recovering from what he thought was a career-destroying gunshot wound when he is assigned to Department Q, a newly created unit charged with solving cold cases. I haven't read this yet, but I like the sound of the cold cases, the twisty plot, and the touch of humor that Glass Key winner Adler-Olsen is said to possess.

Davidsen, Leif - Davidsen won the Glass Key for Lime's Photograph, a political espionage thriller about Danish expat Peter Lime, who makes his home in Madrid and his living as a paparazzo. Lime takes one photo too many and finds himself in prison; when he is released, it is to discover his wife and daughter have been murdered and his archives burned. Lime's suspenseful search for answers leads him to Moscow, Berlin, and  his own past. Sounds exciting!

Høeg, Peter - I understand that Høeg's Glass Key winner Smilla's Sense of Snow is a must read in the genre. Smilla Qaavigaaq Jasperson is an unemployed glaciologist from Greenland living in Copenhagen. When her six-year-old neighbor falls to his death and no one is willing to suspect foul play, Smilla begins her own investigation. She is a rebellious, stubborn, tough, fearless Eskimo woman with an uncanny sense of direction, a love of Isaac Newton's theories, and a gift for mathematics. She treasures her aloneness, successfully hiding her vulnerability under a near-impenetrable facade of aggressiveness. What a character!

Jungersen, Christian - In Jungersen's only novel translated into English, The Exception, four women employed at the Danish Centre for Genocide Studies are receiving death threats. They suspect a Bosnian torturer and war criminal is the culprit, but then they discover that it could be someone in their very midst. Again, this is another book I haven't read yet, but it sounds like a masterpiece of psychological suspense.


Fossum, Karin - Fossum writes a series about Inspector Konrad Sejer. The second in the series and first to be translated into English, Don't Look Back, won the Glass Key. Here, the residents of a small village northwest of Oslo are torn asunder by the murder of a much-loved 15-year-old girl. Sejer, an aging, secretive cop still grieving for his late wife, must probe the psychological ticks of members of the seemingly idyllic community to solve the crime. I hear great things about this series.

Holt, Anne - Holt has written two series and several stand alone novels, though many haven't been translated. Her Stubo/Vik series follows the partnership of Norway police commissioner Adam Stubo and troubled FBI profiler Johanne Vik. Personally, I'm really looking forward to the first book to be translated into English from her Hanne Wilhelmsen series, which is coming out on December 27. In 1222, travelers on the Oslo to Bergen train are stranded by a blizzard in a decrepit hotel, where one of their number begins killing off the rest. I love a good locked room mystery!

Nesbø, Jo - I have to try not to get carried away when I talk about Nesbø's Harry Hole series. Hole is a classic loose cannon in the police force, with few close friends and unorthodox methods. He's a smoker and an alcoholic, always in the process of recovery or relapse, which puts his boss, Bjarne Møller, in difficult situations when he's forced to save his brilliant detective's job. In my opinion, Harry is one of the best-written characters I've ever read, and Nesbø's novels are intricately plotted, fascinating, and strongly written. The first in the series, The Bat Man, won the Glass Key. The first translated into English is The Redbreast.


Jungstedt, Mari - I chose to include Jungstedt because her novels are set on the island of Gotland, which makes a nice change from Stockholm. The series features Detective Superintendent Anders Knutas and the journalist Johan Berg. (Jungstedt herself has worked as a journalist for many years.) In the title we own, The Inner Circle, students working on an archaeological dig to uncover an ancient Viking fortification become caught up in a web of horror when a young woman turns up dead, naked, and hanging from a tree, the victim of a ritual killing. Dark enough for you?

Läckberg, Camilla - Läckberg's American debut and first in the Erica Falck/Patrik Hedstrom series is The Ice Princess. After she returns to her small west coast hometown, Fjällbacka, biographer Erica Falck learns that her friend Alex was found in an ice-cold bath with her wrists slashed. She researches her friend's past in hopes of writing a book and joins forces with Detective Patrik Hedstrom, who has his own suspicions about the case. I like the premise of a professional and an amateur working together, plus it sounds like there may be a bit of romance. Also, there are many empty houses in the small village's off-season, and I've read that the quiet creates a chilling atmosphere in which silence drives suspense. Sounds awesome.

Mankell, Henning - Mankell won the inaugural Glass Key in 1992 for Faceless Killers, the first novel in his Kurt Wallender series, and was an international bestseller before Steig Larsson had been published. Inspector Wallander works in the southern town of Ystad,  has few close friends, and is known for his less-than-desirable lifestyle—too much alcohol and junk food, too little exercise, and some anger issues. He  investigates on a very personal level, throwing himself into catching criminals and going against the orders of his superiors to try to solve a case. In Faceless Killers, he finds himself coping with a wave of anti-foreigner sentiment when he is put in charge of the investigation into the brutal murders of an elderly couple.

Marklund, Liza - Some mystery/thriller readers might recognize Marklund as the coauthor of James Patterson's Postcard Killers. She has also written her own series about journalist Annika Bengtzon. In the American debut of the series, Red Wolf, a journalist is murdered in the northern Swedish town of Lulea during the freezing winter. Annika suspects that the killing is linked to an attack against an air base in the late sixties. Against the explicit orders of her boss, Annika continues her investigation of the death, which is soon followed by a series of shocking murders. With terrorism and communist splinter groups abounding, this sounds like quite an exciting read.

Sweden seems to dominate the Nordic crime genre, so I've only detailed a few authors here. Also try: Karin Alvtegen,  Åke Edwardson, Kjell Eriksson, Lars Kepler, Åsa Larsson, Steig Larsson, Håkan Nesser, Leif Persson, Anders Roslund, Maj Sjöwall & Per Wachlöö, and Helene Turseten.


So far I haven't been able to find any Finnish crime authors in our collection, but they might be hiding from me! If you're looking for something from Finland, let me know!


Arnaldur Indriðason - A two-time Glass Key winner, Arnaldur Indriðason has written a few stand-alone books and 11 novels featuring Detective Erlendur. (Icelanders are called by their first names since their second name is a patronymic.) In his American debut, Jar City, Erlendur Sveinsson investigates the murder  of an elderly man named Holberg, who was found with a cryptic typed note reading, "I am HIM." Murder in Iceland is rare, and Erlendur is just coordinating his probe when two other crimes demand his attention: the assault of geriatric twin sisters in their home and the disappearance of a bride shortly after her wedding. Sounds like the type of moody, psychological, twisty Nordic mystery that we love!

Ridpath, Michael - Okay, so Ridpath is actually British, but I included him because I recently read his book Where the Shadows Lie, which takes place in Iceland. I thought he did really good research and the book felt Nordic, so it gets a special guest spot on the list. Sequestered to the Icelandic Police Force after a drug cartel puts a bounty on his head, former Boston detective and native Icelander Magnus Jonson is forced to confront difficult truths while investigating rumors about a priceless ancient manuscript. Norse mythology, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, details of life in Reykjavik, stunning settings, an interesting detective... I thought this was a real winner, and I'm looking forward to the next installment, 66 Degrees North.