The Girl in the Spider’s Web was released in August to critical acclaim and huge sales, once again reminding us Lisbeth Salander is a force of nature and Michael Blomkvist is the sexy middle-aged journalist we didn’t know we needed in our lives. Filled with twists, tense confrontations, and that specific Swedish flavor, it also reminded us why we loved Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. If you want to keep the dark, chilly, Scandinavian party of dark secrets and mounting body counts going, we’ve got good news: “Nordic noir” is a booming subgenre, and has produced some of the best mysteries and thrillers of recent years. Here are five masterpieces of the form anyone who loves Lisbeth Salander ought to check out.
Smilla’s Sense of Snow, by Peter Høeg
The oddities of translation mean you can also find this book under the less-poetic title of Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow (ah, the potent power of alliteration), but under any title it’s a classic. Smilla, a member of the tiny population of Eskimos living in Copenhagen, hears of a young boy with a fear of heights who falls to his death from a rooftop. Something about the tracks in the snow on that roof prompt Smilla—an expert on ice and snow—to dig into the boy’s background. She uncovers a vast, dark conspiracy stretching back to World War II. Driven by a fascinating and genuine narrative voice, Høeg’s novel was adapted into a film shortly after its publication and remains a haunting tale of murder and one person’s quest for justice.
Faceless Killers, by Henning Mankell
The first in the incredibly popular Wallander series, the late Mankell’s English-language debut is a classic of the genre. Wallander, a depressed middle-aged detective in a small town in Sweden, investigates the double murder of an elderly couple. The wife’s final word was “foreigner,” and the knot of the noose around her neck implies a non-Swedish killer. Wallander rejects easy answers, but when these facts leak, his messy private life is matched by a messy public one as anti-immigrant feelings complicate an already tense investigation. The story is first-rate, but it’s Wallander himself who captures your heart; Mankell paints him with a fine brush, leaving you feeling like you’ve met a real person.
Jar City, by Arnaldur Indridason
Set in Iceland, the first in Indridason’s Reykjavik Thriller series contrasts a horrible crime (the bludgeoning murder of an old man) with the placid, peaceful culture of Iceland, where murder is rare and almost everyone is distantly related, prompting them all to use first names. A note and photo at the scene of the crime lead Inspector Erlendur, another example of the messy, complex characters that are a trademark of Nordic Noir, to a series of cold case rapes and assaults, painting the old man as a nasty piece of work indeed. As his investigation exposes a classic conspiracy, Erlendur wades through hostile witnesses, lazy police, and chilly bottom feeders on his way to a grim, satisfying climax that will please any fan of the Salander novels.
Headhunters, by Jo Nesbø
Nesbø is a prolific and incredibly successful Norwegian author who has been getting better with each novel. While he’s best known for his Harry Hole books, Headhunters is an incredible standalone novel and a great display of Nesbø’s skill. With the story of Roger Brown, a high-powered corporate recruiter who uses information gleaned from his wealthy prospects to plan art heists from their homes, replacing them with expert fakes, Nesbø paints a dazzling picture of a cunning man who is the master of his own small world. When Brown bungles a heist from Clas Greve, a dangerous figure with a mysterious past, things go sharply left for the clever, urbane thief, and the story becomes a battle of wits that quickly turns violent and surprising.
Paperback $14.40 | $16.00
The Keeper of Lost Causes, by Jussi Adler-Olsen
Adler-Olsen is Denmark’s bestselling novelist, and has lately been taking the world by storm. In The Keeper of Lost Causes he creates Department Q, a police division assigned to work on unsolved cases. Carl Mørck, who has been in a personal tailspin ever since a shooting gone wrong, is assigned to lead the division, with his first case centering on the five-year-old disappearance of a politician everyone assumes is dead. Even as the investigation unveils a shocking crime, the real attraction is Mørck himself, a man ruled by curiosity and written as a fully-fleshed out, haunted human being. He’s a character who will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.