5 classic Scandinavian mysteries to keep you guessing this winter

By Rebecca Thandi Norman

Photo: Arran & Jules

This part of the world does intrigue and mystique like no other. So curl up with a good book this evening – we've got a few in mind...

Moody, gritty, and usually set in the dark landscape of Scandinavia in winter, Nordic Noir has become an international sensation in both literature and television. Full of mercurial characters, down-and-out detectives, and incredibly complicated plots, Nordic Noir books are not necessarily “easy reads,” but they are always page-turners.


If a light and humorous rom-com or English-style murder mystery is ideal for a summer holiday, beach read, then this lot are the perfect treat for a winter holiday read, snuggled under a blanket with a cup of tea.

Ready to dive in and enjoy a toe-curling thriller as the nights get darker and colder? Here’s where to start...


'The Keeper of Lost Causes' by Jussi Adler-Olsen

In the first instalment of the Department Q series by Danish bestselling author Jussi Adler-Olsen, readers are introduced to Carl Morck, a talented homicide detective who has been relegated to cold cases (called “Department Q”) along with his assistant Assad. The two focus on one case having to do with a dead politician who may not be dead after all. It’s an undeniable page-turner, as is most of Adler-Olsen’s work.

The Keeper of Lost Causes was published in 2007 and was made into a Danish hit film (Kvinden i Buret) in 2013 starring Nikolaj Lie Kaas as Carl Morck.


'Smilla's Sense of Snow' by Peter Høeg

Published in 1996, Smilla's Sense of Snow is one of the original Nordic Noir books, and also an incredibly fresh take on mystery genre. Smilla Jasperson, an Inuit from Greenland now living in Copenhagen, is an expert on snow and ice. When she realises that the death of a child that has been labelled an accident is anything but, she begins a dangerous investigation. It was made into a film in 1997 starring Julia Ormond and Gabriel Byrne.


'The Redbreast' by Jo Nesbø

The third novel featuring Harry Hole, The Redbreast is a great place to dive into Nordic Noir. Hole, the depressed and alcoholic detective is, in many ways, the blueprint for the classic Nordic Noir detective fiction. Published in 2000, Norwegian author Jo Nesbø’s book takes the reader back and forth between modern day Oslo and the Eastern front during WWII. A tale of revenge unfolds, focused on a war criminal who was not punished due to a technicality, with Harry Hole on the trail.


'Roseanna' by Maj Sjöwal & Per Wahlöö

Husband and wife team Maj Sjöwal & Per Wahlöö released the first novel of their famous Martin Beck series back in 1965, and Scandinavian fiction has never been the same. Quiet and mercurial, Beck is the hardworking detective that has inspired many that came after him, including Kurt Wallander and others.

Roseanna is the story of an American woman who is found strangled in Sweden’s Lake Vattern. Three months in, Beck hasn’t gotten anywhere with the case and is still sifting through an enormous number of potential perpetrators. Despite scant evidence, Beck leads an investigation that ends in a sting operation.


'Last Riturals' by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

The first in the Thora Gudmundsdottir series, Last Rituals brings together a Nordic Noir thriller with an exploration of Iceland’s little-known history of torture. Published in 2005, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir is perhaps the most popular Icelandic Nordic Noir writer working today (And, rather surprisingly, she is also a well-known children’s book writer).

Thora Gudmundsdottir is an attorney who works with her associate Matthew. In Last Rituals, a German graduate student is found murdered in a ritualistic way. As Thora and Matthew uncover more about the murdered man’s obsessions, they start down a shocking and dangerous path.