Top 10 Nordic noir novels of 2016

Here at Crime Fiction Lover we review a lot of Scandinavian crime fiction, and our coverage of characters like Detective Erlendur, Harry Hole and Konrad Sejer seems to bring an endless stream of new readers to our site. So this year we decided to bring you a ‘best of’ list. If you’re new to this engaging sub-genre, maybe it’ll help you choose a book to begin with. Every single one of these titles achieved five stars, and that’s not because our reviewers are soft on Nordic Noir, it’s because Scandinavian authors are consistently hitting the right note.

10 – Hard Cheese by Ulf Durling
Originally written in 1971, this enigmatic book has just recently appeared in English. It’s about a group of old timers – members of a local mystery club – who team together to solve the murder of Axel Nilsson. Detective Gunnar Bergman of the local police is quick to call the case suicide, but the old men aren’t so sure and the case becomes a bit of a locked-room mystery. There are hints of Golden Age-style puzzle solving as well as police procedural detective work, in a book that is far more than an anomaly. In fact, it’s a rare treat as Swedish mystery novels go and you should try Hard Cheese. Read our review here.
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9 – Where Roses Never Die by Gunnar Staalesen
The fact that there’s a statue of Gunnar Staalesen’s private detective character Varg Veum in the city of Bergen, where the fictional detective operates, has to be one of the most repeated in all of crime fiction. Yet it’s there, in metal, leaning against a wall outside a hotel, poetically speaking of the permanence of a character who first appeared in 1977. In the 19th Varg Veum novel, Gunnar Staalesen’s writing and inspiration are as sharp as ever. With Veum suffering badly from alcoholism brought on by past failures, perhaps redemption is possible if he can help a mother find out what happened to her three-year-old daughter. She disappeared nearly 25 years prior, and the statute of limitations is about to run out. In our review we said Veum is like a Norwegian Columbo and that’s high praise indeed.
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8 – Thin Ice by Quentin Bates
No statue here, but Quentin Bates’ writing is as solid as it always has been, and his storytelling is better than ever in Thin Ice, the fifth Gunnhildur Gisladottir novel. The dangerously inept thieves Össur and Magni decide to rob a Reykjavik drug baron, and when their getaway car fails to arrive they carjack a poor woman outside a shopping centre. Her daughter is in the car with her and off the four of them go. The car runs out of petrol and… well read it and you’ll find out what sort of capers they get up to. It turns into a crazy road trip around Iceland but what’s really interesting is the relationships that develop between the kidnappers and their prisoners, and how the episode affects Gunnhildur and the kidnapped woman’s family. A brilliant read and, yes, Quentin Bates might be a ScandiBrit but his series counts as Nordic noir in our eyes. Here’s our original review.
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7 – The Crow Girl by Erik Axl Sund
What an outstanding debut by the Swedish writing duo Jerker Eriksson and Håkan Axlander Sundquist! Originally published as three separate volumes in Sweden, Harvill Secker has combined them to produce a 750-page flying brick of a book that takes you in its talons and hurtles straight towards the darkness of the human soul. On the one hand, there’s the creepy and sadistic Crow Girl who is capturing and torturing children around the city of Stockholm. On the other, police detective Jeanette Kihlberg and psychologist Sofia Zetterlund, who are trying to crack the case. And there seems to be a strange connection to a mental patient that Zetterlund is treating, whose bizarre ramblings and multiple personalities give the book an extra nightmarish quality. A must-read for any fan of Scandinavian crime fiction, and it’s reviewed here.
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6 – Dark As My Heart by Antti Tuomainen
Antti Tuomainen’s second novel translated from Finnish is a standalone that focuses on Aleksi Kivi, a 33-year-old man who has wondered what happened to his mother for two decades. One evening, she went out on a date, never to return. He manages to get a job working on the estate of Henrik Saarinen, an incredibly wealthy man his mother dated all those years ago. He works his way into a position of trust, but compromises things by getting a little to close to Saarinen’s daughter. The nearer he gets to the truth, the closer he comes to madness as his obsession drives him on. It’s dark, captivating and troubling. Read our review here.
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5 – Hellfire by Karin Fossum
There are psychological thrillers, and then there’s psychological crime fiction of the brand Karin Fossum produces. Here it’s not about coping with fear and suspense, or judging the intentions of killers and their victims based on their often twisted psychologies. She really takes you inside the heads of the characters, breaks down their thinking, reveals the interplay between thoughts, emotions and physical actions in a way that truly explores what it is to be… well, human. This book, like so many in the Inspector Sejer series, is perfect on that count, looking at the brutal murder of a woman and her young son in a caravan in the Norwegian countryside. Powerful stuff that will stay with you for a long time. Read the review here.
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4 – The Dying Detective by Leif GW Persson
This novel won the 2011 Glass Key Award, given to the best Scandinavian crime novel each year since 1992, and is now available in translation from the Swedish. You’ll see why it won, as retired detective Lars Martin Johansson pulls together an odd assortment of characters to help him catch the person who killed a nine-year-old girl back in 1986. Lars has been battling ill health, and his doctors say if he doesn’t stop eating rich sausages his ticker will go pop. Nothing like a heart-pounding investigation for him to get his teeth into, then! But it’s not so much who did it that will get you on edge as what happens next. Because the statute of limitations has lapsed, Lars has to decide how justice will be meted out. Have a look at our review.
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3 – Midnight Sun by Jo Nesbo
Shorter, tighter, honed to perfection – Jo Nesbo has found a new voice with novels like Blood on Snow and its sequel Midnight Sun. The dreamlike quality you’ll notice in parts of his Harry Hole books remains, without the pinball mayhem. Here, his pared back storytelling takes us to the late 1970s, when a drug lord called the Fishman ruled Oslo’s underworld. Hapless hitman Jon Hansen has crossed the Fishman for the last time and is forced to go on the run. He heads to the most out-of-the-way place he can think of, living among a strange Christian sect in the Arctic Circle. It’s summer, the sun doesn’t go down, and he stumbles into the lives of 10-year-old Knut and his mother Lea. Let’s just say the light of love might now shine into Jon’s life… if he can avoid the Fisherman’s death squad, and the assorted local crazies! Here’s our review.
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2 – The Exiled by Kati Hiekkapelto
So thorough and poetic is Finnish author Kati Hiekkapelto’s rendering of the Serbian town where this mystery takes place that you won’t want it to be solved. Well, just about, because beside the beautiful writing a gripping and moving story unfolds. Anna Fekete is back visiting the Hungarian community in Serbia which she and her family fled during the Balkan War in the 90s. She just wants to kick back and see old friends and family, but right away her purse is stolen. When the thief turns up dead, she just can’t believe the young man drowned, and will not return to holiday-making until she knows the truth. The man’s death and apparent coverup threatens to tear Anna and her family apart as a link appears to connect this case with the mafia’s murder of her own father back in 1988. A wonderful read, and our review is here.
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1 – The Bird Tribunal by Agnes Ravatn
Here we have a modern day Rebecca, or Jane Eyre, set in the wilds of Norway. Yes, it might evoke these Gothic classics but it does so in its own beautiful, haunting and unusual way. Allis Hagtorn heads to the back of beyond after answering an ad for a carer. She’ll be working for Sigurd Bagge, a surly and secretive character who isn’t so much in need of care as companionship, perhaps… though he may not admit it. As she timidly sets about impressing him, she grows curious about what happened to his wife and the more she seeks to know, the stormier his moods become. Read on through the growing sense of dread to discover the secrets both Allis and Sigurd hold on to. Mystery. Violence. A touch of the supernatural. The word on the street is that this author’s not likely to return to crime writing any time soon so you might as well snap this one up and savour it. Read our full review for more details.
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What was your favourite Scandinavian crime novel of the year? Let us know in the comments below.

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  1. Pingback: Dark As My Heart: Best Nordic Noir | The Chawed Rosin

  2. Pingback: Weird Genre Wednesday – post 3/22? | The Library

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