Scandinavian noir

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Nordic noir)
Jump to: navigation, search

Scandinavian noir (Scandinavian crime fiction, Scandi noir, Nordic noir) is a genre of crime fiction written from a police point of view. The language is simple and eschews metaphor, the settings have bleak landscapes, and the mood is dark and morally complex. The genre depicts a tension between the apparently still and bland social surface in Scandinavia and the murder, misogyny, rape, and racism it depicts as lying underneath. It contrasts with the whodunit style such as the English country house murder mystery.


Henning Mankell notes that the Martin Beck series of novels by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö "broke with the previous trends in crime fiction" and pioneered a new style. "They were influenced and inspired by the American writer Ed McBain. They realized that there was a huge unexplored territory in which crime novels could form the framework for stories containing social criticism."[1] Kerstin Bergman notes that "what made Sjöwall and Wahlöö's novels stand out from previous crime fiction – and what made it so influential in the following decades – was, above all, the conscious inclusion of a critical perspective on Swedish society."[2]

Bergman also claims that "it was not until Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy (2005–07) that Swedish crime fiction truly became a worldwide phenomenon.[3] However, British author Barry Forshaw, writing in Nordic Noir, suggests that Peter Høeg’s atmospheric novel Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow as being "massively influential" in being the true progenitor of the "Scandinavian New Wave" and, by setting its counter-intuitive heroine in Copenhagen and Greenland, inaugurates the current Scandinavian crime wave.[4]

According to one critic, "Nordic crime fiction carries a more respectable cachet... than similar genre fiction produced in Britain or the US".[5] Language, heroes and settings are three commonalities in the genre, which features plain, direct writing style without metaphor.[6]

The novels are often of the police procedural subgenre, focusing on the monotonous, day-to-day work of police, though not always involving the simultaneous investigation of several crimes.[7] Examples include The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels by Stieg Larsson,[8] Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander detective series and Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö's Martin Beck novels.[9]

The term "Nordic Noir" is also applied to films and television series in this genre, both adaptations of novels and original screenplays. Notable examples are The Killing, The Bridge[10] and Trapped.

At least one cultural commentator[11] suggests the British but heavily Scandinavian-influenced Shetland Isles and Outer Hebrides have produced authors in an allied, if not precisely identical tradition. Best-known exponents being Ann Cleeves, whose "Shetland" books have been adapted for television, and Peter May's Lewis Trilogy.

It is also arguable another English-language nearly-Nordic Noir TV series is that based on Robert B Parker's Jesse Stone novels. Featuring Tom Selleck as the brooding, introspective, laconic hero with a stronger moral compass than the worthies of the town who recruited him specifically not to make trouble, the Paradise Police Department in the chill, bleak coastal community of Paradise, Mass, (loosely based on the real town of Marblehead) seems to be — at least visually and thematically — set firmly in the Scandinavian Crime tradition not despite its setting but because of it.

Other English-language TV and cinematic adaptations have been more or less successful subtitled original programmes have proven more popular with British audiences, 'spin-off' remakes such as Sky Television's French/British The Tunnel (adapted from the Swedish/Danish The Bridge) now in its second series and having its own identity but retaining a stylistic and thematic affinity with the original series. While American cinema brought the English language movie version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo to a worldwide audience, receiving plaudits and was a box-office success, the English-language US TV versions such as The Killing have fared less well critically[12] and have proven less popular in terms of audience reaction than original productions, an example being the enduring interest in Arne Dahl's Intercrime series, originally titled The A Team, and its TV adaptations.

Common features[edit]

Some critics attribute the genre's success to a distinctive and appealing style, "realistic, simple and precise… and stripped of unnecessary words".[6] Their protagonists are typically detectives worn down by cares and far from simply heroic.[6]

The works also owe something to Scandinavia's political system where the apparent equality, social justice, and liberalism of the Nordic model is seen to cover up dark secrets and hidden hatreds. Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, for example, deals with misogyny and rape, while Henning Mankell's Faceless Killers focuses on Sweden’s failure to integrate its immigrant population.[6][13]


Authors who have contributed to the creation and establishment of the "Nordic noir" genre include:[4] Jens Lapidus, Jan Arnald aka Arne Dahl, Henning Mankell, Mari Jungstedt, Kjell Eriksson, Kerstin Ekman, Håkan Nesser, Åke Edwardson, Helene Tursten, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, Åsa Larsson, Göran Lundin, Liza Marklund, Stieg Larsson, Leif GW Persson, Camilla Läckberg, Majgull Axelsson, P. C. Jersild, Annika Bryn, Mons Kallentoft, LiseLotte Divelli, Robert Karjel, Karin Alvtegen, Johan Theorin (all Swedish); Pernille Rygg, Anne Holt, Karin Fossum, Jo Nesbø, Hans Olav Lahlum, Gunnar Staalesen, Jørn Lier Horst (all Norwegian); Jussi Adler-Olsen, Michael Larsen, Leif Davidsen and Peter Høeg (Danish); Leena Lehtolainen, Reijo Mäki, Mikko Porvali and Matti Rönkä (Finnish); Arnaldur Indriðason and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir (Icelandic).


  1. ^ Mankell, Henning (2006). Introduction to Roseanna. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-00-743911-3
  2. ^ Bergman, Kerstin (2014). Swedish Crime Fiction: The Making of Nordic Noir. Mimesis International. ISBN 978-88-575-1983-8
  3. ^ Bergman, Kerstin (2014). Swedish Crime Fiction: The Making of Nordic Noir. Mimesis International. ISBN 978-88-575-1983-8.
  4. ^ a b Forshaw, Barry (2013). Nordic Noir. Pocket Essentials. ISBN 9781842439876. 
  5. ^ Forshaw, Barry (July 8, 2011). "New stars of Nordic noir: Norway's authors discuss their country's crime wave". The Independent. Retrieved 5 September 2011. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Scandinavian crime fiction - Inspector Norse - Why are Nordic detective novels so successful?". The Economist . March 11, 2010. Retrieved 5 September 2011. 
  7. ^ Miller, Laura (January 15, 2010). "The Strange Case of the Nordic Detectives". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 5 September 2011. 
  8. ^ "Nordic Noir: The Story of Scandinavian Crime Fiction". BBC. August 21, 2011. Retrieved 5 September 2011. 
  9. ^ "Nordic Noir and the Welfare State". The New York Times. March 19, 2010. Retrieved 5 September 2011. 
  10. ^ "Nordic Noir & Beyond". NordicNoirTV. Retrieved 2016-04-15. 
  11. ^ Tonkin, Boyd (29 December 2012). "The new wave of 'Nordic' noir comes from within the UK". The Independent. Independent Newspapers. Retrieved 28 April 2016. 
  12. ^ Hale, Mike (28 March 2012). "The Danes Do Murder Differently". New York Times - Television. New York Times. Retrieved 30 April 2016. 
  13. ^ Marc Sidwell, "Sweden turns the page and Scandinavian noir explains why", City AM, August 28, 2012

Further reading[edit]

  • Bergman, Kerstin (2014). Swedish Crime Fiction: The Making of Nordic Noir. Mimesis International. ISBN 978-88-575-1983-8
  • Forshaw, Barry (2013). Nordic Noir: The Pocket Essential Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction, Film & TV. Harpenden: Pocket Essentials. ISBN 978-1-84243-987-6. 
  • Nestingen, Andrew & Arvas, Paula, eds. (2011). Scandinavian Crime Fiction. University of Wales Press.