What do people think of when they hear the words “Nordic Noir?” The crisp, cool air. The red rooftops. The brooding sun that sets seemingly forever. The dark forests. The endless daylight in summer. Beautiful landscapes and idyllic cities to explore. These are some things that come to mind when I think about Nordic Noir novels. There is an atmosphere of dread hanging over the somber stories of these amazing Scandinavian thrillers. It even translates well implicitly with movies and TV shows made after them as adaptations…
Police procedurals, psychological thrillers, and murder mysteries dominated both the small and big screens in recent years. It is hard to know where to start when looking for the right Nordic Noir series or book. This list aims to bring together the best Nordic Noir series available today.
The Chestnut Man
The Chestnut Man is a collection of short stories by Swedish author Henning Mankell. He is best known for his long-running series of novels featuring detective Kurt Wallender. Throughout this series, Mankell has often incorporated crime into socially conscious political thrillers that explore the moral and social fabric of Sweden. The Chestnut Man continues in this vein, following each story with a brief essay about its background or cultural context.
In “The Isdal Woman,” for example, two journalists go on a quest to discover the life and death of a woman whose body was found at Isdalen. This is an infamous location in Norway popular with suicides. Pursuing leads to her identity takes them outside their comfort zone and exposes deep frustrations about what it means to be Scandinavian in an increasingly global world.
Throughout this book and others like it, Mankell’s greatest skill is creating characters who feel like real people. He is also embodying larger truths about how humans work. Some are vulnerable while others are callous. They all wrestle with their morality as they navigate tricky situations that could have lasting consequences.
Entrapped is a TV series based on the eponymous novel by Jón Kalman Stefánsson. The TV series itself was inspired by a true story. The plot revolves around a corrupt politician and a young woman named Sara who is blackmailing him. In the context of our media landscape, you’d be forgiven for writing this off as just another American political drama, but that would be doing it an injustice.
It’s set in the Faroe Islands and inspired by an actual case from 2004 (the island chain used to be under Danish rule). When people think of Nordic Noir, what usually comes to mind are Scandinavian countries like Sweden or Norway. But the Faroes are an autonomous territory of Denmark, meaning they’re within the region too!
This series is all about truth and justice and how corrupt power structures work to subvert them both. You’ll find yourself gripped by the events happening before your eyes. Making moral judgments with every episode forces you to reevaluate where you stand on those issues. It doesn’t require much commitment beyond binge. Watching the whole thing will take no more than a day depending on your Internet connection speed!
If you’re a fan of the TV crime drama Nordic Noir genre, chances are you’ve heard of Trapped. The show follows a detective named Saga and her colleagues as they investigate murders in an isolated town called Thorshavn on the Faroe Islands. It’s a classic whodunnit that keeps viewers guessing until the very end, and it also happens to be one of the most visually stunning shows on television.
Trapped is based on a series of novels by Icelandic author Arnaldur Indriðason. He is also responsible for creating some other great Nordic Noir stories like Silence of the Grave and Jar City, among others. The books follow Detective Erlendur through his crime-solving experiences in Iceland while wearing his signature awful sweaters. Trapped has already aired three seasons, with a fourth premiering this spring on Netflix in America (Season 2 is currently on Netflix).
The show has been met with critical acclaim for its writing and plot twists as well as its depiction of life in this isolated area of Europe. In 2017 it was nominated for an Emmy award for Best Foreign Language Series.
In stark contrast to the social tumult of postwar America, the Nordic noir follows a familiar narrative arc. A small town is in upheaval as dark secrets unfold. Norwegian writer Jo Nesbø popularized this style with his 2001 novel The Bat. The Bat was awarded the Glass Key Award at the Euro Crime Fiction short story competition. It is praised by critics as one of the best crime novels ever written. Since then, countless other writers have followed suit with their renditions of noir fiction in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland.
Throughout these books, an atmosphere of suspense permeates like a dense fog over still water that you can’t see through until its existence is revealed. Murder or other violent act serves as a catalyst for discovering deeper truths about human nature. What makes us afraid of being alone when we are. How vulnerable we are to long-forgotten patterns from our past that resurface violently when triggered. How much we fear loss and how easily it affects our lives. Finally, how far we are willing to go to protect those close to us to ensure their safety—even if they’re bad people who do hurt others.
Occupied, a Norwegian TV series made available on Netflix is a thrilling political thriller with an intriguing premise. Norway has been invaded by Russia because of the country’s oil reserves. The occupation is brutal, and resistance from its citizens foments as the show progresses. What makes the story compelling is that it feels entirely plausible. The characters are never unbelievable; their motivations are human and understandable.
As for the storytelling itself, Occupied doesn’t rely too heavily on plot twists, although there are some. What keeps viewers invested in the plot is its natural escalation of tension as well as the show’s direction. It focuses on small details to create a bigger picture of what happened during this occupation. Perhaps most importantly, there isn’t any gore or gratuitous violence typical of many spy thrillers focused on terrorism or war. Instead, Occupied presents a highly realistic idea of what could happen if countries were put into similar situations to ours.
Criminals, cops, robbers, and innocent bystanders; Nordic Noir is all about dark subject matters, shady characters, and the beautiful people who are caught in the middle of it all. We’ve listed the best of each Nordic country to date, so you don’t have to. Just pick a category, find a show or movie that fits the bill, and enjoy your new viewing experience. There’s plenty of great entertainment outside of English-speaking countries too, so dive in and enjoy! Watch a Nordic show and feel happier simply by witnessing lives being destroyed.
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