There’s something so atmospheric and intriguing about a good Nordic Noir book. The term, which has its origins going back to the 1990’s, describes mystery novels set in Scandinavian countries that tend to be written in a plain, straightforward style and feature protagonists that are often members of law enforcement or detectives of some kind. Bleak landscapes, brutal crimes, and morally grey areas are also recognizable elements of the sub-genre, and in recent years Nordic Noir book series have found a wide American audience thanks to the popularity of work by authors such as Henning Mankel and Stieg Larsson. If you want to explore this subgenre and you love series, here are essential Nordic noir book series to check out!
Harry Hole by Jo Nesbø
Harry Hole is one of the most famous detectives in Nordic noir, and his compulsive need to solve crimes coupled with his often unorthodox methods mean he is a memorable detective. Harry Hole is a recovering alcoholic who often has struggles with mental health, which both affect and inform his work as a detective with the Oslo Police Department. In addition to solving crimes in his home country of Norway, he os often sent abroad to investigate mysteries involving Norwegian citizens. Start with The Bat.
Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo took the world by storm, introducing readers to two memorable characters: Lisabeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. Salander is a genius hacker with a dark past, and even though she finds herself in bleak situations, she always manages to find a way out. Blomkvist is a disgraced journalist who is in desperate need of work. When a millionaire CEO asks Blomkvist to solve the cold case disappearance of his favorite niece and one-time heir, Blomkvist and Lisabeth’s paths collide. Larsson planned ten books in this series, but only managed to write three before his sudden death. Since then, Daniel Laggencratz has written three more books in the series. Start with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Louise Rick series by Sara Blaedel
This series is named for Louise Rick, a detective inspector in Copenhagen, but it also prominently features her best friend Camilla Lind, an investigative reporter. The series follows Louise as she starts off as a rookie detective and ascends the ranks, often balancing her professional and personal duties. Series order differs depending on sources, as Blædel did not write in chronological order, and English translation isn’t in publication order, but start with Call Me Princess or The Midnight Witness.
Department Q series by Jussi Adler-Olson
For readers who enjoy cold cases, Carl Mørck is your detective. This series focuses on Carl, a detective who isn’t exactly the most popular or social guy on the Copenhagen police force. After a mission that went wrong, a disillusioned Carl is put in charge of cold cases, given barely any funding, and shuffled off into the basement. But Carl’s keen instincts and relentless skills are the perfect fit for some of the most puzzling unsolved cases. These books are so popular in their native Denmark that three feature length films have been made starring Carol Mørck. This is an ongoing series and all books have been published in the U.S. Start with The Keeper of Lost Causes.
Wallander series by Henning Mankel
One of the most famous series that has spawned multiple adaptations and spin-offs, and often credited with being among the first books in the Nordic noir genre, this series stars Kurt Wallander, a Swedish detective who lives in the town of Ystad. Known for his bruise attitude, brilliant mind, and not-so-healthy lifestyle, Wallander is a detective who fully immerses himself in his cases. He also has troubled relationships with his family, which include an ex-wife and daughter Linda, and has a handful of lovers throughout the series. Another hallmark of his character is his complicated relationship with his father, an artist. Manekl wrote eleven Wallander novels, and one spin-off novel starring his daughter. Start with Faceless Killers.
Embla Nyström series by Helene Tursten
Embla Nyström is a young inspector in Gothenburg, Sweden who is known to be headstrong and impulsive, but whose big risks usually pay off when it comes to solving various crimes. She also suffers from nightmares and anxieties, and funnels her energy into her work and sports as a way of coping. Her mysteries often involve an unsettling mix of personal and business, but she never shies away from a case. Start with The Hunting Party.
Thora Gudmundsdottir series by Yrsa Sigurdardottir
This series is a slight departure in that it stars not a member of the police, but a lawyer named Thora Gudmundsdottir. She lives in Reykjavik and is the single mother of two children, and people often turn to her when a case isn’t easily solved or when the suspect the place have arrested the wrong person. This is an ongoing series that has a solid track record of being translated into English and published in the U.S. Start with Last Rituals.
Want to discover more great reads? Check out our recommendations fo the best true crime books of 2020, as well as our mystery book club recommendations and what we consider to be some of the best domestic thrillers. And if you want to find even more Nordic Noir book series, sign up for TBR: Tailored Book Recommendations!
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