The Nordic Detective

nordicIs it the dark long winter that makes Scandinavian crime fiction so alluring? I don’t know. However, I do know that with the success of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, an American remake of the Danish-Swedish crime show The Bridge, and an increasing number of English translations of Scandinavian novels , the trend of great fiction coming from the Nordic North does not seem to be stopping.

Below I highlighted one detective from each of the Nordic states to showcase some of the notable authors and detectives coming from our friends at the top of Europe.




Carl Mørck

Jussi Adler-Olsen

First Appearance: The Keeper of Lost Causes

Carl Mørck is a detective in Copenhagen that feels responsible after an incident leaves one of his partners dead and his other partner paralyzed. He was “promoted” to his own little Department Q, a cold case squad that is away from all the action, where no one expects much of him and he finds it easy to fall into laziness. However, with Assad, an assistant who speaks Danish in his own unique way, Mørck still manages to give in to his inner detective and finds cases to solve. A flawed anti-hero added to a sidekick, and a healthy dose of humor makes for a great narrative that surprises readers while also drawing out some laughter.




Inspector Kari Vaara

James Thompson

First Appearance: Snow Angels

Vaara has a stoic introspective nature that joined together with detailed crime descriptions and facts about Finnish history, makes for an interesting book series. There is a cultural depth that  deepens the dimensions of Thompson’s writing. While Kari lives in Finland, he has an American wife who wants to return home. In Snow Angels the plot revolves around the murder of a native Sami woman throwing issues of cultural representation right into the forefront. The Inspector Kari Vaara series offers a small education about Finland wrapped up in the comforting familiarity of a detective novel.




Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson

Arnaldur Indriðason

First Appearance: Sons of Dust (Synir Duftsins); English translated Jar City

Inspector Erlendur is a chief homicide detective in Reykjavik, and also is a man with a complicated relationship with the past. He lost his brother in a snowstorm when he was younger and still searches for the undiscovered body every year. When his two children were young, Erlendur abandoned his family for reasons he doesn’t even fully know. While he seems to be lost in his own life, the detective spends a lot of time trying to find lost people. His mind always seems to be on crimes and details, which makes for a compelling detective and a series that answers some questions while leaving others out in the open. As the series goes on Erlendur’s two partners Elínborg and Sigurður Óli get the privilege of becoming central characters of their own books.




Harry Hole

Jo Nesbø

First Appearance: The Bat

When it comes to the Nordic detectives, Harry Hole is the international detective. While his home base is in Norway, Hole solves cases in Australia, Thailand, and the brilliant detective has also experienced special FBI training in America. While he is certainly an accomplished detective, he also has his fair share of issues. The main problem Hole has is his complicated relationship with alcohol. His battle with alcoholism does hinder Hole, but reading his struggle of dealing with grisly crimes and his addiction adds a realistic dimension to the fictitious officer. With the announcement that Nesbø’s seventh book in the Hole series, The Snowman, will become a movie (directed by Swedish director Tomas Alfredson), I’m sure Harry Hole will be entertaining more readers from around the globe.




Kurt Wallander

Henning Mankell

First Appearance: Faceless Killers

Wallander is a captivating example of the detective. Yes he struggles with liking alcohol a little too much, but also drowns his sorrows in opera along with drinks. He has a bit of a terse manner, but that might have something to do with his wife unexpectedly leaving him, his strained relationship with his daughter, and his disapproving artist father. Besides his somewhat glum private life, Wallander is a detective that throws himself into his police work. His degree of dedication to a case and first-rate detective skills makes Wallander universally appealing. While he is a complex man, in the end Wallander is utterly endearing. An added plus to the Wallander series is the novel A Cold Night’s Death where Linda Wallander, Kurt’s daughter, works on her first case fresh out of the police academy. Two generations of detectives, endless possibilities for more novels. With Mankell’s help, readers might be spending more time in Scandinavia.


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