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Where to Start with Scandinavian Crime Fiction From the author of the new book: Death in a Cold Climate: A Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction

Out January 2012 1

Overwhelmed by the Nordic Noir invasion? Barry Forshaw, author of the new book Death in a Cold Climate: A Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction, offers a road map to help you get your bearings...

Out January 2012

Paperback 978-0-230-36144-7 RRP: £16.99

Using unique interview material with writers, publishers and translators, Barry Forshaw, the UK's principal crime fiction expert, guides readers through this celebrated genre. Covers Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbø, Håkan Nesser, Karin Fossum, Camilla Läckberg, Liza Marklund, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Matti Joensuu and many others. 2

Jacket reproduced courtesy of Fourth Estate

MAJ SJÖWALL AND PER WAHLÖÖ The Laughing Policeman (1968) Two writers – a crime-writing team – might be said to have started it all. It is a cause for real celebration that readers (other than Scandinavians) can now read the complete works (in English) of the duo: Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. The critical stock of Sjöwall/Wahlöö could not be higher, with most fellow crime writing practitioners rating them as the very best exponents of the police procedural. So if you haven’t familiarised yourself yet with the Martin Beck series (of which The Laughing Policeman (1968) is the best known), you should; Beck is the ultimate Scandinavian copper, and the setting is (to British eyes) strikingly unfamiliar. And if you prefer to ignore the subtle Marxist perspective of the books, it is easy to do so.


Jacket reproduced courtesy of Random House Group

PETER HØEG Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow (1992)


The atmospheric literary crime novel that almost single-handedly inaugurated – without trying to – the current Scandinavian invasion mesmerises with its evocative use of Copenhagen locales and weather, so significant for the troubled, intuitive heroine. Most of all, it’s the poetic quality of the novel that haunts the reader.

Jacket reproduced courtesy of Random House Group

JO NESBØ The Redbreast (2000) Is he really ‘The Next Stieg Larsson’ as it proclaims on the jackets? Perhaps not, but he’s certainly the breakthrough Nordic crime writer post-Larsson, and such Jo Nesbø books as The Devil’s Star (2003) and his massive 2007 novel The Snowman are more quirky and individual than those of most of his Scandinavian colleagues – not least thanks to Nesbø’s wonderfully dyspeptic detective, Harry Hole (pronounced ‘Hurler’). The Redbreast, one of the writer’s most riveting novels, might be said to have predicted the recent neo-Nazi killings in Norway – and the book’s scarifying vision of Nordic fascism is as powerful as its emotional force and humour.


Jacket reproduced courtesy of Random House Group

HENNING MANKELL Firewall (1998)


Currently the subject of two TV series (one British, one Swedish), Henning Mankell’s detective Kurt Wallander (something of an alter ego for the similarly laconic Mankell) is one of the great creations of modern crime fiction: overweight, diabetes-ridden and with all the problems of modern society leaving scars on his soul. Firewall is one of the writer’s unvarnished portraits of modern life, in which society and all its institutions (not least the family) are put under the microscope. Mankell’s long-term protagonist finds himself propelled into a new area of crime: cyberspace. Several deaths have occurred: the victims include the user of a cash dispenser, and a taxi driver murdered by two young girls. The country is plunged into a blackout by an electricity failure, and a grim find is made at a power station.

Jacket reproduced courtesy of Random House Group

ARNALDUR INDRIĐASON Jar City (2000) When the writer Arnaldur Indriđason won a prestigious CWA Gold Dagger Award for his novel Silence of the Grave (2001), originally written in his native Icelandic, it alerted many people to a writer already celebrated by Nordic crime readers. After that Gold Dagger, many felt that Indriđason would be the first foreign-language crime writer to break the Henning Mankell stranglehold. So far, the late Stieg Larsson is in pole position, but the talented Indriđason is making a mark with his Reykjavik-set thrillers. His debut, Jar City is Indriđason’s calling card. When the body of an old man is found in his apartment, DI Erlendur has only an enigmatic note found on the body to go on. The murdered man’s computer is found to contain pornography, and it transpires that he has been accused of rape in the past.


Jacket reproduced courtesy of Hodder



It’s to be hoped that the children who so avidly consumed Yrsa Sigurđardóttir’s juvenile novels didn’t accidentally pick up Last Rituals, as the author’s first adult book was a very different kettle of fish from her earlier work (‘I had five books’ worth of bad thoughts I needed to vent – Last Rituals was a sort of release for my darker side,’ she noted). The book showed that Sigurđardóttir has arrived (fully formed, it seems) as something of a unique talent in the field (she needs to be – the once rarefied field of Icelandic crime thrillers is now becoming overcrowded). The body of a young history student is discovered in Reykjavik, his eyes gouged out. He has been researching witchcraft and torture, and his moneyed German parents won’t accept the police theory that he was killed by his drug dealer...

Jacket reproduced courtesy of Quercus

STIEG LARSSON The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005) Larsson is the ultimate posthumous phenomenon. Lisbeth Salander is a million miles away from the alcoholic coppers with messy private lives who crowd most current fare. She is a damaged, resentful young girl, using her Goth makeup, tattoos and piercings to conceal -- and barely, at that -- her sociopathic tendencies. But the appearance is deceptive -she has a laserlike intelligence and an ability to assess the depths of the human psyche. Stieg Larsson pairs her with a journalist who has fallen from grace and is redeeming himself by investigating a string of grisly killings from four decades ago. But his surly computer hacker assistant turns out to be more than his equal when the duo takes on the darker tributaries of the influential Vanger family (while she exacts revenge on a corrupt authority figure who has abused her). The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an exuberant piece of fiction that defies category -- it’s a shame that its author was never able to witness its success.


Jacket reproduced courtesy of Pan Macmillan

HÅKAN NESSER Woman with Birthmark (1996)


Where does Håkan Nesser set his novels? It’s not important; his crime fiction, located in an unnamed Scandinavian country, is so commandingly written it makes most contemporary crime fare seem rather thin gruel. Nesser’s copper, Chief Inspector Van Veeteren, has been lauded by Colin Dexter as ‘destined for a place among the great European detectives’, and the handling of the labyrinthine cases he tackles has a rigour and logic all too rarely encountered in most modern crime fiction. Perhaps the best entry point for those new to Van Veeteren is Woman with Birthmark. A young woman is given a grim deathbed revelation by her mother. Calmly she begins to draw plans for a bloody campaign of revenge. Her first victim is shot at point-blank range, first in the chest, then in the groin. Soon Van Veeteren is up against a crusade of slaughter – made more pressing when it becomes apparent that there are a possible 30 targets in the killer’s gunsights.

Jacket reproduced courtesy of Corvus

Anne Holt 1222 (2010) Agatha Christie (whose cut-off locales are echoed in Anne Holt’s 1222) dropped the occasional sexually ambiguous character into her murderous scenarios – but what would she have made of Holt’s steely sleuth, Hanne Wilhelmsen, married (with a child) to her lesbian partner? In a tunnel under the Norwegian mountains, a train crash results in only one fatality: the driver. The survivors – nearly 300 of them – are transported (during a snowstorm) to a hotel called Finse 1222 near the site of the accident. As attempts are made to move the stranded passengers to safety, people are being murdered one by one, and a new terror is added to the suffering of those holed up in 1222. But among the survivors is a difficult, antisocial woman who has had a ski pole driven into her thigh in the train wreck. But this isn’t her only handicap: Hanne Wilhelmsen, retired from the Oslo police, is paralysed from the waist down after being shot on duty. However, she is still a formidable opponent, as the unknown murderer is about to learn.

Jacket reproduced courtesy of Random House Group

JOHAN THEORIN Echoes from the Dead (2007)


If you’re looking for the real ‘sleeper’ among Scandinavian crime writers – the real crème de la crème -- you’ve found him in Johan Theorin. His Echoes from the Dead is exemplary stuff – and its prizewinning status (Swedish and British) is massively justified. We are taken on a memorable trip to the Swedish island of Oland, and the atmosphere of a windblown off-season Swedish island is handled in nonpareil fashion. The narrative shifts between past and present are impeccably handled, but Theorin is equally adroit at characterisation: the relationship between a woman whose son has vanished in the fog and her father is strikingly done. Theorin has few equals at disturbing the reader – a key element of another equally accomplished novel, The Darkest Room, which won the Glass Key Award in 2009.

Jacket reproduced courtesy of Random House Group

KARIN FOSSUM He Who Fears the Wolf (1997) At one time, the crime novels of Karin Fossum were something of a well-kept secret, known to a growing band of aficionados but not to the larger crime readership. Not any more. In fact, Fossum’s work certainly deserves the widest possible audience. Don’t Look Back (1996) was a taut psychological thriller, and He Who Fears the Wolf is even more persuasive. In an isolated village, a horribly mutilated body has been found, and the suspect (spotted in the woods nearby) has recently been committed to a psychiatric institution. Then a violent bank robbery occurs, with the thief grabbing a hostage and escaping. As the gunman becomes more and more desperate, paradoxically a strange calm seems to descend on his hostage...


Jacket reproduced courtesy of Arcadia Books

GUNNAR STAALESEN The Consorts of Death (2009)


Staalesen is undoubtedly one of the finest detective novelists in a line that stretches from Raymond Chandler to the present. A phone call from the past sets The Consorts of Death in train: an old flame brings back the name ‘Johnny boy’ to Bergen private eye Varg Veum. Veum started his career as a child protection officer in the Norwegian social services, and in 1970 twoyear-old ‘Johnny boy’ was an ‘acute referral’ case, who needed to be rescued from an abused mother and her violent partner. Four years later, Veum was requested to look after a traumatised child at a murder scene. It was Johnny boy – and the dead man is his foster father. Still later, Veum, now a private eye, is asked to intervene in a hostage situation...

Jacket reproduced courtesy of Faber & Faber

K O DAHL The Last Fix (2000) The Norwegian K O Dahl has a signature book: The Last Fix -- and it’s unflinching stuff. Katrine is a young woman struggling to put her shattered life into some kind of order. She is finishing a drug rehabilitation course at a commune for addicts in Vinterhagen, and feels confident enough to celebrate with her social workers at a party. Leaving her lover asleep in a car, she strays to the shore of a lake. As dawn breaks, she sees a man approaching her from the nearby trees. He is naked. It is the last thing Katrine will ever see. This arresting opening of The Last Fix instantly grabs the attention, and the book (the third to be translated into English -- Dahl had written eleven by this point) had UK and US readers wondering why he is the least known of the ocean of Scandinavian writers washing over the current crime scene.


Jacket reproduced courtesy of Random House Group

ǺKE EDWARDSON Frozen Tracks (2001)


It’s only a matter of time. While the ex-journalist and novelist Ǻke Edwardson hasn’t yet enjoyed the success of his better-known colleagues, the auguries are good, with the youthful Inspector Winter (and his older, more saturnine colleague Ringmar) bidding fair to make a breakthrough. In Frozen Tracks, it’s autumn in Gothenburg, and two unpleasant incidents have caused headaches for DCI Erik Winter. Two children have been lured into a car by a man proffering sweets. Reports are filed, but as different day nurseries and different police stations are involved, the reports are not correlated (Edwardson implies that a lack of joined-up thinking is just as endemic to Swedish policing as it is to British). But Winter has a more pressing problem: a series of university students have been violently attacked, seemingly at random.

Jacket reproduced courtesy of Quercus

ROSLUND AND HELLSTRÖM Three Seconds (2010) The edgy writing team of Roslund and Hellström (ex-criminal and criminologist) are among the hottest names in new Nordic crime fiction (and are notably darker than most). Three Seconds is a book that invites comparison with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. There is the same obsessive piling on of detail, the same endemic corruption of the authorities (police force, Ministry of Justice), and there’s even Larsson’s tactic of the slow, challenging introductory chapters that suddenly shift into higher gear. But these comparisons aside, Roslund and Hellström are very much their own men. A murder in Stockholm appears to be the bloody aftermath of a drug deal gone sour -- what’s more, the police are involved. Ace undercover man Piet Hoffmann has to infiltrate the Polish mafia’s drug set-up in a maximum security prison, but finds himself linked to the killing of another clandestine operative posing as a drug dealer. 17

Jacket reproduced courtesy of Harper Collins

CAMILLA LÄCKBERG The Ice Princess (2002)


A name (already massively successful in Sweden) that may soon be on many non-Nordic lips is that of Camilla Läckberg. Her first book to reach the UK was The Ice Princess -- and if its acclaim in Sweden wasn’t quite repeated here, there was still a great deal of praise, with Läckberg hailed as Sweden’s new Agatha Christie, though that hardly tells the whole story. True, there is a Christie-style provincial village (here, Fjällbacka, in which the author herself was born) and a slew of suspects for a very unpleasant murder. Also Christie-like is the machine-tooled precision of the plot, but Läckberg is very much a contemporary writer. The writer Erica Falck has made a journey to her home town on the death of her parents, but discovers the community in turmoil. A childhood friend, Alex, has been found with her wrists slashed, and her body is frozen solid in a bath that has turned to ice.

Praise for Death in a Cold Climate: A Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction

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Extensive, penetrating and intelligently written, Barry Forshaw’s book is the most fulfilling work on the strange genre of Nordic Noir I have ever encountered.’ - Håkan Nesser, author of The Inspector and Silence Far more than a checklist, this is the essential guide through the snowdrifts of Nordic Noir.’ - Val McDermid, author of The Wire in the Blood Like its subjects, this book is hard to put down, and will undoubtedly be returned to time and again.’ - Dr Steven Peacock, University of Hertfordshire, UK An essential reading guide for lovers of the crime genre.’ - Laura Wilson, crime fiction critic, The Guardian

Out January 2012 Paperback | 978-0-230-36144-7 RRP: £16.99

Part of the Crime Files series – for more information visit 19

About the Author BARRY FORSHAW is a writer and journalist specialising in crime fiction and cinema. His books include The Man Who Left Too Soon: The Life and Works of Stieg Larsson (2010), British Crime Writing: An Encyclopedia (2008), The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction (2007), Italian Cinema: Arthouse to Exploitation (2006) and the forthcoming British Crime Film (2012), and he has contributed to the Directory of World Cinema. He has also written for a variety of national newspapers as well as for Movie Mail, Waterstone’s Books Quarterly and Good Book Guide and is editor of the online Crime Time magazine. He is also a talking head for the ITV Crime Thriller author profiles and BBC TV documentaries, and has been Vice Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association


Where to start with Scandinavian crime fiction  

From the author of "Death in a Cold Climate: A Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction"

Where to start with Scandinavian crime fiction  

From the author of "Death in a Cold Climate: A Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction"