Despite Australia being better known for its sunny skies than its nippy nights, that doesn’t stop us from settling down in the shade with a stack of spine-chilling reads. And that’s where the Nordic noir books come in.
What is Nordic noir? Think dark, gritty narratives with Scandinavian settings that are often remote and bleak – the perfect spot for a gruesome crime. Since gaining popularity thanks to some Nordic noir on Netflix, people have become drawn to this dark genre that takes the term ‘crime thriller’ to the next level.
If you’ve felt underwhelmed by thrillers recently, then give Nordic noir a try – you might just find your new favourite genre.
For Nordic noir books, my number one recommendation is:
The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup
Described as: Twisty, chilling, and gruesome
Well before it was released as a Nordic noir Netflix series, The Chestnut Man was one of the best crime books I’d ever read and my first in the Nordic noir genre. Expect plenty of action, twists and turns throughout, red herrings that catch you completely off guard, and an ending that you won’t see coming.
When Copenhagen’s murder squad discover a dead woman, they find her hand amputated and a chestnut man left at the scene. Forensics reveal a fingerprint on the chestnut, which matches that of a young girl declared dead after going missing a year ago. A series of similar murders occur, each more brutal than the next, with the same chestnut and fingerprints found at the scene. The police must work fast to find out why the women are being targeted, the significance of the chestnut men and crucially, the psychopath who is terrorising the city.
Other Nordic noir books to sink your teeth into
As this remains quite a new genre to me, I’ve taken inspiration from some of my Bookstagram friends, notably Heidi from @ButBooksAreBetter2, who drew my attention to most of the books on this list:
The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen
Described as: Darkly humourous, propulsive, and atmospheric
Alone in Department Q, Carl is left with only Copenhagen’s coldest cases for company. His colleagues snicker, but Carl may have the last laugh because one file keeps nagging at him: a liberal politician vanished five years earlier and is presumed dead.
But she isn’t dead … yet.
I’m Travelling Alone by Samuel Bjørk
Described as: Grisly, explosive, and shockingly realistic
A six-year-old girl is found in the Norwegian countryside, hanging from a tree with a rope around her neck. She’s dressed in strange doll’s clothes. Around her neck is an airline tag that says “I’m travelling alone.”
👍 One thing I admired about this book was how strong the motive was. It’s something I often find lacking in thrillers but this one was solid and gave the book a true sense of realism.
Watching You by Arne Dahl
Described as: Masterful, dark, and disturbing
At each abandoned crime scene there’s a hidden clue: a tiny metal cog, almost invisible to the naked eye. Someone is sending Detective Sam Berger a message, someone who knows that only he will understand the cryptic trail.
Dark Pines by Will Dean
Described as: Creepy, sinister, and intriguing
Book one in the Tuva Moodyson Mystery series, Dark Pines takes place in an isolated Swedish town, where a deaf journalist who is terrified of nature reports on a pair of eyeless hunters found dead in the dense forest.
After She’s Gone by Camilla Grebe
Described as: Atmospheric, tense, and a slow-burn
In After She’s Gone, psychological profiler Hanne and her partner investigate a cold case: 10 years ago, a five-year-old girl’s remains were found in a cairn near the town. Dealing with a recurring memory problem that has resurfaced, Hanne struggles to keep track of the case. And when a woman’s body turns up at the cairn with one of Hanne’s shoes found nearby covered in the victim’s blood, can Hanne explain?
The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler
Described as: Adrenaline-drenched, gruesome, and gripping
In The Hypnotist, a triple homicide attracts the interest of DI Linna. The killer is still at large, and there’s only one witness—the boy whose family was killed before his eyes. Desperate for information, Linna sees only one option: hypnotism. He enlists Dr Bark to mesmerise the boy; it’s the sort of work Bark has sworn he’d never do again but when he relents, a terrifying chain of events starts to unfold.
The Bat by Jo Nesbø
Described as: Chilling, intriguing, and violent
The first in the Harry Hole series, The Bat introduces us to Inspector Hole of the Oslo Crime Squad who is dispatched to Sydney to observe a murder case. After befriending a detective and a witness, Harry is drawn deeper into the case where they link the murder to a string of unsolved cases. As they close in on the killer, Harry fears that no one is safe, least of all those investigating.
*Although this book is set in Sydney, the majority of the series takes place in Norway.
I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir
Described as: Goosebump-worthy, terrifying, and ghostly
When three friends start renovating a rundown house in an abandoned village, they soon realise they are not alone. Meanwhile, a young doctor investigating an elderly woman’s suicide discovers that she was obsessed with his vanished son. When the two stories collide, the shocking truth becomes horribly clear.
While this book certainly has the chill factor, it also has the most annoying characters who continuously make terrible decisions. I personally couldn’t get past this and it ruined my enjoyment of the plot (which is actually really good). Would love to know your thoughts if you read this one.
Even more Nordic noir books to curl up with:
- The Ice Beneath Her by Camilla Grebe – A chilling dance of obsession, vengeance, madness, and love gone hellishly wrong.
- Dark Iceland series by Ragnar Jónasson – set in and around a quiet fishing village in Iceland, where no one locks their doors. Features Ari Thór Arason, a rookie policeman with a past he’s unable to leave behind.
- The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbøl – When Red Cross nurse, Nina, is left a key to a locker in Copenhagen train station, she is sucked into her most dangerous project yet. Inside is a suitcase, and inside the suitcase is a three-year-old boy: naked and drugged, but alive.
- The Ice Princess by Camilla Läckberg – Returning to her hometown after her parents’ funeral, Erica finds a community on the brink of tragedy. The death of her childhood friend, Alex, is just the beginning.
- The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson combines murder mystery, family saga, love story, and financial intrigue into one satisfyingly complex and entertainingly atmospheric novel.
- The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea – Iceland, 1686. Newly betrothed, Rósa must join her husband in a remote village where the locals are wary of outsiders. But Rósa harbours her own suspicions. Alone and far from home, she sees the darkness coming and fears she will be its next victim…
Have you read any Nordic noir books that are missing from this list? Which here have you added to your TBR? Let us know in the comments or via Instagram!