The Scandinavian Crime Spree


The title is obviously misleading, since the crime rate in Scandinavia (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland) is relatively low. However, thriller/mystery novel readers’ pulses are racing, whenever they pick up a Scandinavian crime fiction. Called as ‘Scandinavian touch’ these stupendous crime novels possesses starkly detailed plot structures and is often interwoven with contemporary social themes. The works started to gain international recognition in the 1990’s, starting with Henning Mankell series of stories about Inspector Kurt Wallander.

But, the readership remained largely confined to Europe until a few years ago, until the arrival of Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy. It swept up all the top lists, selling more than 25 million copies worldwide. Unfortunately, Larsson died at the age of 5o, before the publication of the trilogy. Prolific Japanese mystery writer is named as ‘Japanese Steig Larsson’ and in the Nordic region the stable of masterful crime writers have gone to a high point. Camilla Lackberg, Liza Marklund, Jens Lapidus, Steig Larsson, Amaldur Indridason, and former Stockbroker Jo Nesbo are some of the rising starts, who are all set to storm the world of fiction.


Most of the novels are uniformly depressing. These books doesn’t fits itself into the regular serial-killer, detective story type. The protagonists and the villain will face deplorable moral dilemmas. Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole is a skilled detective. He believes in law, but he is a chronic alcoholic and finds himself easily drawn to the darker side of things. Mankell’s Wallander is also obsessed with his work and is a loner. So, these detectives are not just machines, cracking-up ‘whodunit’ mysteries, but also face various quandaries, as each crime makes them to look inward into their souls.

The crime fictions based in this area reject the idealizations of police work and heroism and instead narrate with a verisimilitude, which makes the police procedural to stir up debates over social issues. The police procedurals also clearly examine the role of the police in protecting individuals and communities from a range of crime activities and assaults. The fear of becoming a ‘victim’ is the topic that is always analyzed in our evolving post-modern society. Surveys, in Scandinavia and maybe all over the world, indicate us that people are afraid of criminal victimization or afraid of strangers and have well-honed notions of risk, safety and danger. Many people have also said to lost faith in the ability of the police to protect them. Furthermore, we believe that the criminal justice system prioritizes the rights of victims over offenders.


So, a police procedural Scandinavian novel that covers these entire societal issues serve as an important symbolic function, which seeks to restore a sense of balance as well as to reassure us that authority and truth will prevail and that the social organizations which oversee these processes are fit for their purpose. Henning Mankell has commented on this portrayal of complex, evolving police characters, saying that: “Anyone who writes about crime as a reflection of society has been inspired to some extent by what they wrote. They broke with previous trends in crime fiction and showed people, the characters, evolving right before their eyes.”

As we have seen, the lack of heroism and abundance of moral dilemma are the primary reason for Scandinavian fictions popularity. Jo Nesbo says he never wrote his stories to be translated for readers outside Norway, and he worried when publishers began translating his work that the stories would not travel well. He was proven wrong and he said, “Seems like the more local you are in your writing, the more universal the stories are.”

Jo Nesbo

Jo Nesbo

In the near future, lot of films is going to be based on Nordic crime fiction and many might be Hollywoodized (writers like Jo Nesbo are still saying ‘no’ to movies). This craze might come to an end at that time, but, as of now, the Scandinavian crime fiction is luring every potential reader.


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