Intro To Nordic Noir: A Beginners Guide To The Icy Genre

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When I started reading Nordic Noir, I didn’t know it was Nordic Noir. I just thought they were mysteries that happened to be set in Denmark, but I loved them.

Then, a few years ago, I came across the term Nordic Noir and learned what it was. It’s now a genre I firmly enjoy and will always read when I come across it.

Since then I’ve read quite a bit more of the Nordic Noir book genre but still have a long way to go in really knowing a lot more about it and having solid recommendations on the big dogs of the genre. Most of the books I’ve read were pretty random so far.

I haven’t read any of the most popular series yet, though I do have two of them and parts of some others. I’ve had some hits and some misses, but overall, it’s a genre I really enjoy.

So here were are today with a beginner’s guide to Nordic Noir. You’ll learn what it is, popular authors, other great authors, top series, my favorite Nordic Noir so far, and even a few shows you can enjoy.

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What is Nordic Noir?

Nordic Noir is a subgenre of the bigger umbrella of crime/police procedural books and the smaller umbrella of Scandanavian crime books. They are set in Scandanavian countries and often have a dark, moody, morose vibe with, usually, a detective or investigator as the main character.

The plot is usually very dark and raw, centering around the investigation by the troubled detective. The crimes usually involve things like murder, rape, racism, and misogyny, and lots of bodies washing up on shores or being found in glaciers.

The protagonist is usually battling inner demons of some sort but is determined to find out what really happened, uncovering mountains of secrets along the way.

Henning Mankell is a Swedish author sometimes known as the father of Nordic Noir. And he may be the father of the genre but he believes the Martin Beck series by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö really solidified the genre as something different from previous crime fiction.

It was well-established in the 1990s but didn’t have a name until around 2010 when it was coined. by the Scandanavian Department at the University College of London.

Where countries are Nordic Noir books set in?

Are Nordic Noir and Scandanavian Noir the same thing?

Yup! Nordic Noir is also sometimes called Scandanavian Noir or Scandi Noir. They all take place in Nordic/Scandanavian countries.

Best Nordic Noir authors

Like every genre, there are a few top authors that you see everywhere. I’ve included those generally regarded as the top Nordic Noir authors in this section and some other notable authors and authors I like in the next section.

I think most beginners to the genre will usually start with these authors since they are so popular, but I didn’t. I didn’t even know what I was reading was Nordic Noir at the time but I really enjoyed it.

  • Jo Nesbø
  • Ragnar Jonasson
  • Sara Blaedel
  • Yrsa Sigurðardóttir
  • Stieg Larsson
  • Camilla Läckberg
  • Thomas Enger
  • Henning Mankell
  • Lars Kepler

Other notable Nordic Noir authors

Here are some other authors that are both very popular and maybe not quite as well known at the same time. Willow Rose is where I got my start but Christoffer Petersen is a favorite so far.

I would love to hear any Nordic Noir authors you love (and which books) if I didn’t include them on these lists!

  • Willow Rose
  • Samual Bjørk
  • Erik van Axel
  • Christoffer Petersen
  • Jørn Lier Horst
  • Alex Dahl
  • Katrine Engberg
  • Kjell Ola Dahl
  • Kjell Eriksson

Popular Nordic Noir series

I would say more Nordic Noir than not is part of a series, though there are plenty of standalones out there, too. The beauty of these series, though, is that you can usually read them out of order and still get what’s going on.

There are series-long story arcs but they aren’t usually critical to the main story of each book. They do come into play but it’s usually easy enough to know what is going on.

This may not be the case for all of them but quite a few (longer series especially) can usually be read in any order. The Louise Rick series is one of them. I think I’ve only read books seven and eight, maybe?

And while there are tons of Nordic Noir series out there, these are some of the most popular ones and great places for beginners to the genre to start.

My favorite Nordic Noir so far

I’m still working my way through a lot of the Nordic Noir that I have and a lot of the more popular series but I’ve read a fair amount, I think. Enough to have favorites and least favorites and here are a few of my favorites so far.

Run Run as Fast as You Can

Simone Beaumont is having a rough day. Her baby is always crying and she’s in a fight with her husband. Part of her just wants to run away from it all. While putting her baby in the car, a man in the parking lot makes her wish come true without even asking.

Eleven, Twelve, Dig and Delve

This Monday is worse than other Mondays because all the residents of Blegevej in Northern Denmark were just swallowed by an enormous sinkhole.

Rebecca Franck is visiting a friend and ends up swallowed by the hole, trapped in a limestone quarry. She’s just trying to hold out for rescue with the other survivors when one of them turns up dead.


Sofia Kovic has uncovered a connection between several deaths in Oslo over the last year and a half. She tries calling Alexander Bliix for help but before he can return her call, she is shot and killed in her home. Her roommate, Blix’s daughter is in the apartment below and narrowly escapes.

Four days later Blix and Emma are locked in interrogation rooms recalling the events to investigators. They don’t know who they can trust and no one’s life is certain anymore.

The Ice Princess

Erica Falck is returning to her hometown of Fjallbacka after her parent’s funeral where she finds the community on the brink of tragedy and the death of her childhood friend, Alex, is just the beginning.

It seems she has taken her own life when she is found frozen in a ice-cold bath with her wrists slashed. Her interest grows into an obsession as she decides to write a book about Alex.

Patrik Hedstrom is a local detective with his own suspicions about the case but the disturbing past of the town isn’t revealed until they start working together.

The Creak on the Stairs

In the town of Arkranes, a woman’s body is found in a lighthouse and she is no stranger to the area. After a failed relationship, Officer Elma returns to Arkranes. She and her colleagues begin an uneasy investigation that uncovers a shocking secret in the woman’s past that continues to reverberate through the present day.

As they investigate, they uncover a host of hidden crimes that shock the community. They have to find justice as they fight through shattered memories of the townspeople while they dodge increasingly serious threats.

The Tenant

A young woman is stumbled upon (literally) by her elderly neighbor, murdered in her own apartment with intricate lines carved into her face.

Detectives Korner and Werner of the Copenhagen police are assigned to the case and immediately make a connection between Julie and her landlady, Esther, who happens to be writing a novel that exactly describes the way she was murdered.

Nordic Noir TV series

Nordic Noir isn’t just a genre of books, it’s also featured on TV. I would like to watch most of these, especially The Chestnut Man but I want to read it first.

I didn’t really see any Nordic Noir shows on anything but Netflix based on the services I currently have (Netflix, Hulu, HBOmax, Paramount+, and Disney+.)

  • The Chestnut Man (Netflix)
  • Bordertown (Netflix)
  • Deadwind (Netflix)
  • The Valhalla Murders (Netflix)
  • Entrapped (Netflix)
  • Borderliner (Netflix)
  • Ragnarok (Netflix, sort of fantasy)

Have you read any Nordic Noir? Which ones? What is your favorite book, author, and/or series? Any I should definitely check out soon?

Author: Megan Johnson

I'm Megan, a cheesehead at heart currently residing in the Sunshine State. You can probably find me reading, watching Forensic Files, or both.

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