Monday, August 29, 2011

Stieg Who? Nordic Mystery Writers You Should Check Out!

Well, like many of you mystery readers, I read and fell in love with the Stieg Larsson trilogy beginning with Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  After finishing the third and final book, I was left wanting much more so I immediately began to look for other authors from the region.  As it turns out, there are many Nordic mystery writers who have been very successful in their own country and who are recently receiving the attention of western readers thanks to Mr. Larsson.

The Swedish author Henning Mankell has been writing excellent crime detective novels for over twenty years. The highly popular Wallander series features inspector Kurt Wallander - a boozing, smoking, overweight, regular guy who follows his hunches, obsesses over minute details, and always gets his man. The series is so popular in England that a television series has been created starring English actor Kenneth Branagh that broadcasts on BBC (available here at the library.)

The series begins with Faceless Killers. (Readers may first enjoy a series of short stories called the Pyramid which chronologically precede all the other Wallander books.)  In Faceless Killers, Wallander investigates the brutal and inexplicable murder of a farmer who had no known enemies. The only clue available points to the killer being a foreigner and when the press leaks this information, the community erupts with hostility, unleashing volumes of long simmering anti-immigrant sentiment. Wallander must solve the murder before innocent immigrants become targets of violent retaliation, and do so during a time in which his personal relationships are all unraveling. The Wallander novels are tightly written and are an excellent example of nuts-and-bolts police procedure.

Karin Fossum is a Norwegian author of the crime detective series featuring Inspector Konrad Sejer.  The book, Don’t Look Back, is the first in the Sejer series to be released in the U.S.  The book starts off with a suspenseful twist that will leave the reader hooked. When a sweet teenage girl is found drowned and naked near a local pond, everyone in the tiny village is shocked and horrified to learn of her death.  Inspector Sejer begins his investigation with almost no clues but doggedly pursues the girl’s recent past and in so doing, uncovers dark family secrets beneath the surface of the quiet unassuming town; the darkest secret of them all leads him to the killer.   Inspector Sejer is a very likable, wizened and somewhat melancholic police officer who uses the most minute and seemingly unrelated details of an investigation to solve the case. Fossum does a superb job of building suspense and allowing the reader to suspect nearly every character of hiding something sinister.

Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason’s book, Jar City, is the first in the Reykjavik mystery series featuring Inspector Erlendur. An elderly man is found murdered in his flat and no one seems to even know who he is. Erlendur and his team of detectives begin an exhaustive investigation into the man’s past and a disturbing image appears before them. Inspector Erlendur makes no friends as he disrupts the lives of nearly everyone who ever came into contact with the dead man. Long hidden secrets come to the surface as the team closes in on the killer and forces Erlendur to look at his own life in perspective.

Reading translated books, especially those from original languages so remote from our English, is a different and distinct experience from reading books written in English. I found it entertaining just trying to pronounce proper nouns with six or more syllables. Also, all of the authors do a nice job of describing these exotic foreign landscapes lending great atmosphere to the mystery.

So to all you Stieg Larsson fans out there, I hope you quench your thirst for Nordic mysteries with one of these outstanding authors

Other Recommended reading
Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg (Patrik Hedstrom, book 1)
The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo (Harry Hole, book 3)  


  1. I really like the Scandinavian writers. Ice Princess by Lackberg is really good. Only 2 of the series has been translated so far, but I'm looking forward to the rest of the series. I also really like Fossum. I really enjoyed your blog!

  2. Thanks Anonymous! I have heard many good things about Lackberg and will be reading Ice Princess soon. Did you read the Stieg Larsson series? Of all the Nordic authors I've read, I have to say his novels captivated me the most. Also, after reading so many translated novels I've come to realize how important the translation to English is. I was unable to finish one particular book by a Swedish author because the language was so awkward. Thanks again for responding.