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Nordic Noir 101: Best Books to Get to Know the Genre

For fans of crime fiction, Nordic noir represents the bleakest of the bleak, often centering on brutal crimes tinged with shocking violence. The tales invariably feature protagonists who, while possessing a generally ferocious sense of justice, are nonetheless tortured, brooding, and generally introspective. The settings, whether city streets or remote villages, are desolate and harsh. Combine these elements with densely plotted mysteries that often feature more than a few shocking turns and a spartan, direct prose style to accentuate the genre’s dark themes and it is not difficult to see why Nordic noir has been so influential and successful a piece of the crime genre.
  1. 1

    The Boy at the Door

    Cecilia Wilborg seems to have it all: a loving husband, two beautiful daughters, and a gorgeous home in the affluent Norwegian town of Sandefjord. She works hard to keep everything together because she knows that one mistake from her past that could bring it all crashing down. When someone forgets to pick up their little boy at the local pool, Cecilia agrees to take him home, only to find an abandoned, empty house. It’s the first step in the unraveling of her meticulously crafted life, as her world collides with someone who knows her deepest secrets.

    The Boy at the Door Book Cover Picture
  2. 2

    The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye

    In the fifth installment of the Millennium Series, brilliant hacker and troubled outsider Lisbeth Salander is as close as she’s ever been to unraveling the mysteries of her traumatic childhood. In order to finally do so, she turns to Mikael Blomkvist, editor of the investigative magazine Millennium. The duo soon find themselves in the midst of one of the most dangerous predicaments either has ever faced.

    The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye Book Cover Picture
  3. 3

    Smilla’s Sense of Snow

    This acclaimed 1992 novel by Peter Hoeg was part of the vanguard of Nordic noir. It centers on Smilla Jaspersen, a scientist specializing in the study of snow, who is drawn into the investigation of the death of her six-year-old neighbor.

    Smilla's Sense of Snow Book Cover Picture
  4. 4

    The Snowman

    Jo Nesbo may be the current king of Nordic noir and his tortured investigator Harry Hole is one of the genre’s most intriguing protagonists. Hole is a celebrated, if unorthodox, detective and Norway’s leading investigative expert on serial killers. The very limits of his endurance and sanity are tested when he falls into a deadly game of cat and mouse when a missing woman leads him to a pattern of disturbing murders from the last decade. While The Snowman is the eighth Harry Hole novel, it also works as a standalone read and is arguably the point where Nesbo really hits his stride with Hole’s character.

    The Snowman (Movie Tie-In Edition) Book Cover Picture
  5. 5

    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

    The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was an instant classic upon publication and stands as one of the finest thrillers in recent memory. Centering on the forty-year-old investigation of a missing person’s case, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a dense and atmospheric read and introduced the world to one of the thriller/crime genre’s most captivating heroines in Lisbeth Salander.

    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Book Cover Picture
  6. 6

    The Crow Girl

    This 2016 bestseller focuses on the murder investigation that follows after the body of an abused young boy is discovered in a city park. As Detective Jeanette Kihlberg dives into the case, she is drawn into a deep and complex web of violence and corruption. Originally published as a trilogy in Sweden, The Crow Girl is an intricate and emotionally complex read.

    The Crow Girl Book Cover Picture
  7. 7

    The Ice Beneath Her

    The Ice Beneath Her is the American debut of acclaimed Swedish author Camilla Grebe. Taking place in Stockholm, the novel follows a group of investigators unraveling the threads of a brutal murder that is eerily similar to an unsolved killing from a decade previous. It is an ingeniously plotted and twisting thriller.

    The Ice Beneath Her Book Cover Picture
  8. 8

    Faceless Killers

    This first installment of the Kurt Wallander series sees the gruff and somewhat misanthropic detective investigating the grisly bludgeoning death of an elderly farmer whose wife was also left to die. It is an excellent introduction to one of Nordic noir’s most iconic characters as well as the style of Henning Mankell, an author often thought of as the dean of Nordic noir.

    Faceless Killers Book Cover Picture
  9. 9

    I’m Traveling Alone

    This American debut for Norwegian author Samuel Bjork is a chilling thriller centering on the hunt for a vengeful killer targeting children in disturbing fashion. The novel follows Investigators Holger Munch and Mia Kruger – a brilliant and haunted detective with her own unnerving past – as they delve into a case with increasingly personal implications.

    I'm Traveling Alone Book Cover Picture
  10. 10

    The Keeper of Lost Causes

    With The Keeper of Lost Causes, bestselling author Jussi Adler-Olsen introduces Carl Morck, one of Denmark’s best homicide detectives. Morck is in charge of a growing pile of cold cases, left to him following a career blunder. Though expectations are low for new developments, Morck is drawn into one particular case centering on a missing politician presumed dead but who may be, for the moment at least, anything but.

    The Keeper of Lost Causes Book Cover Picture
  11. 11

    Roseanna

    This one is a true classic that heralded the Nordic noir genre. Originally published in 1965, Roseanna is the first of the Martin Beck Police Mysteries and inspired an entire generation of writers. It follows beleaguered detective Martin Beck as he investigates the mysterious death of a young woman who appears to have been strangled and tossed overboard during a cruise. In a lot of ways, it laid the template for what has come to be known as Nordic noir.

    Roseanna Book Cover Picture
  12. 12

    The Thirst

    In this Jo Nesbo thriller, Inspector Harry Hole joins the force one last time to hunt down a crazed serial murderer who finds his victims on Tinder. Harry must piece together the clues to find the killer before i’s too late. Packed with riveting twists and turns, this novel will keep every reader on edge until the very last page.

    The Thirst Book Cover Picture

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