What, exactly, is Scandinavian noir? They’re thrillers with a few things in common — an almost dour sensibility, a belief that political issues are the bedrock of modern crime fiction. They often feature bleak, snowy settings and what seem to be rather morose police detectives. If you’re looking for a dark, chilly read, pluck one from this list.
One of Denmark’s most popular crime authors, Adler-Olsen brings great inventiveness to the depiction of sadistic brutality in his disturbing Department Q novels.
Must Read “The Absent One”
Her best-known series is about a Danish homicide detective, Louise Rick (a housebroken Lisbeth Salander), who often takes up the cause of marginalized women in her cases.
Must Read “The Midnight Witness”
The foreign correspondent’s trenchant novels offer an intrigue-filled look at European politics.
Must Read “The Russian Singer”
Soren and Lotte Hammer
This brother-and-sister writing team delivers a solid series about the melancholy homicide chief at the Copenhagen Police Department.
Must Read “The Vanished”
It wasn’t Stieg Larsson who sparked Americans’ current love affair with Nordic crime novels. It was Hoeg, whose Greenland-set crime thriller “Smilla’s Sense of Snow” became a surprise best seller when it was translated into English in 1993.
Must Read “Smilla’s Sense of Snow”
Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis
Their disturbing novels, all exposés of social injustice, are led by the righteous Red Cross nurse Nina Borg.
Must Read “The Boy in the Suitcase”
Sveistrup, the creator of the Danish crime show “The Killing,” has written only one book, a graphic, gruesome police procedural about a body-part-collecting serial killer.
Must Read “The Chestnut Man”
Her novels are a bracing mix of crime and social commentary, but what sets Hiekkapelto apart are her narratives, a dizzying blend of twists, switchbacks and turns.
Must Read “The Defenceless”
Joensuu, a Finnish cop, wrote beloved, fantasy-laced books starring Detective Sgt. Timo Harjunpaa of the Helsinki Police Department’s violent crimes unit.
Must Read “The Priest of Evil”
In Lehtolainen’s edgy series, the personal life of cop-turned-lawyer Maria Kallio keeps interfering with the crimes she’s trying to solve.
Must Read “Copper Heart”
Not many volumes of Sipila’s biting, dry Helsinki Homicide series have been translated into English, but the ones that have are excellent.
Must Read “Against the Wall”
You don’t expect to laugh when you’re reading about terrible crimes, but that’s what you’ll do when you pick up one of Tuomainen’s decidedly quirky thrillers.
Must Read “The Man Who Died”
In his best books, set in remote parts of Iceland, Ingolfsson weaves in strands of history, folklore and sociology; you’ll learn how to collect eiderdown from duck nests and gather kittiwake eggs.
Must Read “The Flatey Enigma”
Bragi’s psychological thrillers, tinged with an almost Lovecraftian sense of horror, are as much about the ills of contemporary society as they are about individual crimes.
Must Read “The Ice Lands”
Loss and abandonment bedevil Indridason’s detective, Erlendur Sveinsson, who is haunted by the childhood disappearance of his younger brother in a snowstorm.
Must Read “Arctic Chill”
Although he specializes in classically crafted whodunits, Jonasson has a gift for describing his starkly beautiful Icelandic settings.
Must Read “Snowblind”
Like many of her fellow Scandinavian writers, Sigurdardottir has created a memorably depressed police detective.
Must Read “The Day Is Dark”
Books by Bjork — the pen name of the Norwegian novelist, playwright and singer-songwriter Frode Sander Oien — check all the Scandinavian noir boxes. The real pleasure comes from deciphering their plots, which are as deviously tricky as a 500-piece puzzle.
Must Read “I’m Traveling Alone”
In his series, Enger follows the high-octane exploits of an investigative journalist named Henning Juul, who gets involved in some of the best chase scenes ever written.
Must Read “Burned”
Fossum writes suspense novels on abnormal-psychology themes, but in a perversely delicate style that brings Ruth Rendell to mind.
Must Read “Black Seconds”
This author and former minister of justice — best known for procedurals that are written with an easy, unforced style — has created one of the genre’s most memorable detectives, a prickly police officer named Hanne Willhelmsen.
Must Read “1222”
Jorn Lier Horst
Horst, a former Norwegian police detective, is often compared to Sweden’s Henning Mankell for his moody, sweeping crime dramas.
Must Read “Closed for Winter”
The best-known novels from this Norwegian rock star-turned-crime writer feature Harry Hole, a macho homicide cop in perennial pursuit of foaming-at-the-mouth psychopaths.
Must Read “The Redbreast”
In Rygg’s atmospheric yet delightfully offbeat thrillers, a young scientist becomes an amateur sleuth after the unexpected death of her father.
Must Read “The Butterfly Effect”
Staalesen isn’t very well known in this country, which is a shame, since his series, starring the hard-boiled Bergen detective Varg Veum (whose name in Old Norse means “the outlaw”), is as searing and gripping as they come.
Must Read “Wolves at the Door”
A personal tragedy led Alvtegen — the great-niece of Astrid Lindgren, of “Pippi Longstocking” fame — to pick up a pen for the first time. (“Finding the ability to write felt similar to have suddenly discovered a secret room in which I had never been before,” she has said.)
Must Read “Missing”
Jan Arnald, a Swedish literary critic and novelist, writes the grisly but blackly comic Intercrime novels — about a team of Swedish investigators — under the name Arne Dahl. Must Read “Misterioso”
Best known as a Y.A. author in Sweden, Edvardsson has had only one book translated into English: “A Nearly Normal Family,” the story of an 18-year-old girl who’s been accused of murder.
Must Read “A Nearly Normal Family”
In Ekman’s powerful, evocative novels, the brooding landscapes become characters in their own right.
Must Read “Blackwater”
While Scandinavian thriller writers are famously unemotional, Eriksson’s police procedurals demonstrate extraordinary compassion for those caught up in serious crimes.
Must Read “The Cruel Stars of the Night”
Though she sometimes teams up with her sister Asa Traff to write novels, Grebe’s best books — the slow-burn ones starring the profiler Hanne Lagerlind-Schon — are her own.
Must Read “After She’s Gone”
The husband-and-wife team behind Kepler — Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril and Alexander Ahndoril — has a taste for the macabre and a surefire recipe for the lurid serial-killer thriller.
Must Read “The Sandman”
His Stockholm Trilogy is a good old-fashioned gangster story about the godfathers of Sweden’s criminal underworld.
Must Read “Easy Money”
He revived the craze for Scandinavian mystery with “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” and his political paranoia and sadomasochistic sensibilities continue to influence the genre.
Must Read “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”
Outside of Larsson, Mankell is probably Sweden’s best-known crime novelist; his philosophical police procedurals feature the gloomy homicide detective Kurt Wallander.
Must Read “Faceless Killers”
His novels, set in a made-up country with a vaguely Swedish coastline, feature a cerebral chief inspector given to brooding on abstract concepts of good and evil while solving un-Swedish crimes like ax murders.
Must Read “Borkmann’s Point”
Roslund & Hellstrom
Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom, the authors behind this pen name, have a knack for transforming social scourges into taut, gritty thrillers.
Must Read “Box 21”
In her trilogy about an aloof and unlikable public prosecutor with a hidden past, Schepp takes on such thorny issues as class prejudice, exploitation and broken trust.
Must Read “Marked for Life”
Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
Their widely translated police procedurals, about a dedicated cop named Martin Beck, introduced an international readership to the progressive socialism of Swedish society in the 1960s and ’70s.
Must Read “The Laughing Policeman”
Theorin, a journalist and author, improvises on the traditional recipe for Nordic thrillers by adding generous sprinklings of folklore and the supernatural.
Must Read “Echoes From the Dead”
When it comes to Scandinavian fiction, as Tursten shows, the women can be every bit as bloodthirsty as the men.
Must Read “An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good”
Marilyn Stasio has covered crime fiction for the Book Review since 1988. Her column appears twice a month.