10 Scandinavian Crime Novels to Read While Getting Your “Hygge” On
So many umlauts
Turns out, Americans have been getting the winter doldrums all wrong. This year, instead of complaining, we’re taking a little inspiration from a region well versed in cold, dark days: Scandinavia. By now, you’ve probably heard about most of the things you need for the Danish concept of hygge (it’s untranslatable, but “cozy” comes close): warm socks, a nice fireplace, candles, etc. But once you get all snuggly, what are you reading? Hygge experts recommend a good Scandinavian crime novel (yes, that’s a thing)—the scarier the better. Here are ten of our favorites.
“Smilla's Sense of Snow” by Peter Hoeg
Smilla is a 37-year-old, unmarried half Eskimo living in Copenhagen….and also one of the most badass literary heroines we know. When her six-year-old neighbor is found dead, the formerly reclusive Smilla steps into action, following footprints in the snow to uncover a story that gets much, much bigger than one child.
“Faceless Killers” by Henning Mankell
The Swedish Mankell, a master of the police procedural, is best known for his 11-book series following the rugged, obsessive Ystad police inspector Kurt Wallander. In this first installment, Wallander tries to solve a murder at a remote Swedish farmhouse, going on nothing but a foreign word uttered by a dying woman.
“The Ice Princess” by Camilla Lackberg
After years in Stockholm, biographer Erica Falck returns home to her tiny coastal village to tend to her late parents’ estate. Then, Erica discovers the body of her childhood best friend, dead of an apparent suicide. Erica tries to write about her friend’s life, and ends up uncovering far more secrets than she had bargained for. This international best seller is the first in a series of books that take place in the same creepy, near-empty tourist town.
“The Snowman” by Jo Nesbo
The Snowman is the seventh in Jo Nesbo’s series following maverick Oslo detective Harry Hole. It’s also the best, and arguably most terrifying. (Hole tracks a serial killer who leaves a snowman at the scene of every crime.) Watch out for the movie version, starring Michael Fassbender, next fall.
“Roseanna” by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
Husband-and-wife duo Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo helped define the Scandinavian crime genre with their 1960s and '70s Martin Beck series. In the first, the body of a strangled woman is dragged out of a lake. The possible suspects? Her 80 fellow passengers on a pleasure cruise. It’s like Hitchcock, in book form, with a lot more umlauts.
“The Trespasser” by Tana French
OK, so Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad books aren’t technically Scandinavian. But there’s plenty of gloomy weather, and some great Irish slang, so we’ll give it a pass. Antoinette Conway is a newbie detective looking for an interesting case. What she gets is an open-and-shut lovers' quarrel. That is, until her colleagues start acting strangely, and someone shadowy is lurking outside her house…
“Jar City” by Arnaldur Indridason
With the third lowest murder rate in the world (some years, there are no murders in the country at all), Iceland is an odd place for a thriving crime fiction scene. Nonetheless, Arnaldur Indridason has followed in the footsteps of his cold, isolated neighbors—his Jar City (which refers to a super-creepy forensics lab full of old organs) is one of the best, and weirdest, out there.
“1222” by Anne Holt
Norway’s Anne Holt gives us what Agatha Christie would have called a classic locked room mystery. When her train crashes in the mountains in the middle of a snowstorm, detective Hanne Wilhelmsen gets stuck with the rest of the passengers in an isolated hotel. Clearly, someone turns up dead. But whodunit?
“Gorky Park” by Martin Cruz Smith
Published in 1981, at the height of the Cold War, Gorky Park is really more of a spy novel than anything else. But it all starts with a triple murder in the snow—three bodies are found in an old Moscow amusement park, with their faces and fingers missing, so they can’t be identified. It doesn’t get much more ominous than that.
“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson
Crime fiction has been popular in Scandinavia for years, but this is the book that got the rest of the world hooked. A searing family saga, a decades-old locked-room mystery (of sorts), a complicated financial web and an incredible revenge fantasy all rolled into one—there truly is something for everyone.