Top 10 Nordic noir novels of 2017

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They’ve been saying it wouldn’t last for a while now. And that tells you everything you need to know about Nordic noir. Although this year’s crop of books doesn’t have quite the same level of electric spark as last year – when we featured the likes of The Crow Girl, The Dying Detective and The Bird Tribunal – what this year’s booty does offer is plenty of innovation. This suggests to us that the sub-genre is broadening, deepening and that it’s here to stay. What do we mean? Well, in 2017 we’ve detected more Scandinavian authors who are unafraid to strike out in new directions, with bold approaches, some innovative takes on storytelling and, frankly, the cojones to drop what they’ve been doing and try something different. We’ve got new series starting, authors you might not have heard of before, and ch-ch-ch-changes in style that would impress even David Bowie. Read on and discover the top 10 Scandinavian crime novels of 2017.

10 – Watching You by Arne Dahl

Tension, suspense, action and darkness – Watching You has all the elements in place to become a Nordic noir TV screenplay, and if you like The Bridge you’ll enjoy this book. Swedish author Arne Dahl introduces his new detective character Sam Berger and his mission is to find missing teenager Ellen Savinger. It seems as though she has been taken by a killer who has already claimed two victims, in a plot full of unexpected twists typical of the author, already known for his Intercrime series. Eventually Berger teams up with an unexpected accomplice, but can he catch Sweden’s first serial killer? This book even includes booby traps with flying daggers – possibly for the first time ever in Nordic noir. We reviewed Watching You in July and you can read it here.
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9 – The Legacy by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Like Arne Dahl, Icelandic author Yrsa Siguradardottir began a new series in 2017. The Legacy centres on the mysterious torture and murder of a young mother. Reykjavik police detective Huldar is baffled by the case, and must work with Freyja, who works at a children’s home and can help him get a statement from the victim’s daughter, who might be able to tell Huldar more about the intruder who killed her mother. But it just so happens that Freyja had a one-night stand with Huldar recently and this makes things awkward. Speaking of awkward, in a parallel storyline we are drawn into the life of Karl, a young man who was adopted and becomes curious about his origins after his mother’s death. Brilliant plotting by the author shows why she’s been brought in to help script Trapped season two. Read the review here.
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8 – The Scarred Woman by Jussi Adler-Olsen

The Danish series Department Q featuring Carl Morck continues with a case full of twisted characters who have very dubious motives indeed. On the one hand is a small gang of young women, all living on welfare payments, who believe there is an easier way of getting money than working. So, they plan a nightclub heist. On the other there’s Anneli, a social worker who’s grown tired of handing money out to scroungers like the aforementioned young women. She’s got a plan involving a stolen car and a hit-and-run strategy. Meanwhile, Carl and his team are investigating the strange death of elderly woman Rigmor Zimmerman who was bludgeoned in a Copenhagen park, and his colleague Rose is off work with serious mental issues. A big, complex mystery, with some truly excruciating and moving moments. See the review.
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7 – The Thirst by Jo Nesbo

For the first time since 2013, when Police hit the shelves, fans of Scandinavian crime fiction were able to savour a new Harry Hole novel in April 2017. Our thirst was sated at last, so to speak, in a novel featuring as dangerous and devious a killer as Harry has yet faced. Reminiscent of James Ellroy’s Black Dahlia, the killer here has an MO that includes a prosthetic biting device. What’s more, he likes to savour the blood of his victims, and more than that his activities across Oslo are far from random. It is Harry Hole this particular perpetrator is really targeting, and yet with each victim Harry and his team are even more confused by the events that unfold. The way Jo Nesbo expertly constructs his plot, you’re never quite sure until the ending who is behind all this and who is really in danger because it seems everyone close to Harry could be snuffed instantaneously… Read our review.
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6 – Cursed by Thomas Enger

Norwegian author Thomas Enger’s fourth novel featuring investigative journalist Henning Juul actually begins with a case for his ex-wife, Nora Klemetsen. She’s an investigator too, and in a move reminiscent of Mikael Blomkvist in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo takes on a case to find missing Hedda Hellberg, who failed to return from a trip to Italy and who belongs to a wealthy Norwegian family. Juul himself is obsessed with the death of his own son but becomes enmeshed in Nora’s case as it becomes increasingly dangerous for her. Then there’s Daddy Long Legs to deal with – a hitman, who might just be a lawyer connected to the Hellbergs. Could the case of missing Hedda bring Juul closer to the truth about his son, who died in a fire two years prior? Complex and with vivid characters throughout, if you haven’t discovered Cursed yet, it’s about time. Read our review for more detail.
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5 – Wolves in the Dark by Gunnar Staalesen

A third Norwegian crime thriller makes the list, and it’s the latest book in a series that goes back all the way to the 1970s. Even though only eight Varg Veum books have been translated into English, the stories have been turned into films in their native land and there is even a statue of the private detective in the city of Bergen. Gunnar Staalesen has really put his detective through the wringer, and in recent novels he’s been mourning the death of his wife and has hit the bottle like a steam train. When he’s accused of having child pornography he assures the police that he has nothing to do with that sort of thing, but with so much alcohol in his life he can’t be certain of anything. As much as this book is about Veum trying to get to the bottom of his predicament, it’s also about him exorcising the ghosts of the past four years, coping with the pain and pulling himself back from the brink. Atmosphere, emotion, narrative tension – these are the reasons you’ll find it hard to put this crime novel down. Read the review.
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4 – The Susan Effect by Peter Hoeg

The author of Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow – one of the defining novels in modern Scandinavian crime fiction – isn’t an author to produce a novel a year. So it’s a special thing when Peter Hoeg writes a crime novel. This baffling and in-depth novel, in which the mystery surrounds a conspiracy that could shape the future of the entire planet, begins with Susan Svendsen and her peculiar family. They’re all in Asia, and they’re all in one form of trouble or another. The Danish foreign office can extricate them but in return Susan – who has a unique ability to extract the truth from anyone she meets – is press ganged into tracking down the surviving members of a secret committee. It may not surprise you to find out that someone is getting to these people first and leaving them without a pulse. Who is really manipulating Susan? How do her family relate to the predicament she’s in? Typical of Peter Hoeg, this novel is insanely epic and esoteric, yet tense and constantly twisting nonetheless. Read our review here.
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3 – What My Body Remembers by Agnete Friis

This third Danish entry is as off-beat as The Scarred Woman and The Susan Effect, but perhaps even more innovative in its storytelling. Ella Nygaard is a single mother with a deep distrust for the nanny state, which she thinks will take her 11-year-old son away at her next false move. To escape its intrusions into her privacy, she moves away from the grey city life to stay on the wild coastline at her grandmother’s house. She’s gone on the run. Her grandmother is in a care home, and Ella spends much time avoiding her and a range of other eccentric characters. Little by little, however, Ella reluctantly picks away at the trauma behind her situation and her outlook. There’s a murder deep in her memory somewhere, and all the tension here comes through Ella’s attempts to unpack her emotional baggage despite seeming ill-equipped to do so. Gritty, and surprisingly realistic, with a great setting typical of a Nordic noir novel. Here’s our full review.
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2 – The Man Who Died by Antti Tuomainen

There’s a certain comfort to be had reading crime novels from a series you like. Dependable writer, characters you know… But Finnish author Antti Tuomainen doesn’t do series. Instead he writes standalone novels of outstanding quality every time, bringing out different aspects through his writing, from the poetic desperation of The Healer through the timeless tragedy of Dark as My Heart and on to the black comedy – yes, comedy – of The Man Who Died. It seems almost absurd that someone would want to poison a mushroom magnate to death, but that’s what is happening to Jaakko Kaunismaa. He’s only 37, he knows he’s going to die, and because of the situation another side to his character emerges. Jaakko sets out to deal with certain aspects of his life that he should have quashed ages ago. Oh, and he also wants to eat as many verboten delicacies as he can. Laugh-out-loud humour is juxtaposed with an uneasy confrontation with betrayal and the sad inevitability of death. The Man Who Died is a brilliant read, which gained five stars when we reviewed it.
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1 – The Shadow District by Arnaldur Indridason

We thought Arnaldur Indridason was at the top of his game when he wound up his Detective Erlendur series – albeit ambiguously – with Strange Shores. He then wrote his Young Erlendur novels, but now has taken things to a new level with a series of mysteries rooted in Iceland’s past, specifically the War years. The Shadow District is the first of these, and it centres on the murder of a young girl, found strangled behind the National Theatre in Reykjavik during World War II. Suspicion automatically falls on the GI she was meant to meet there but Flovent and Thorson, who are investigating the case, aren’t comfortable with this simplistic scenario. Other things about the case bother them and they dig deeper. Meanwhile, in the present day, an elderly man has been found dead in his flat and papers relating to the WWII mystery are among his belongings. What unfolds over the two timelines is a captivating and touching story that brings together fully-formed characters, a little Icelandic folklore, a look at some difficult aspects of the country’s history and social values, and the kind of bleak yet beautiful setting fans of Nordic noir tend to crave. Indridason writes with rare sensitivity and perceptiveness, and even though there’s little action you’ll find this impossible to put down – unless it’s to digest his wonderful prose. Full review here.
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To find out which Nordic noir novels we picked last year, click here. Also see Barry Forshaw’s selection of Scandinavian crime fiction classics here.

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