Monday, October 26, 2020

Social Distancing With Nordic Noir

Reading through the pandemic has been a challenge but I seem to have caught my stride by diving into the things I like to read the most, darker fiction. Horror, thrillers, dark sci fi, all of them have been serving well as distractions as we muddle our way through the current situation this year. 

I know this isn’t the case for all readers. Many are finding comfort in lighter reads. For me, darker fiction has always been my jam and one of my favorite genres is Nordic.

Nordic Noir is simply crime fiction set in Nordic countries (Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden). But any fan of these books can attest to the fact that there’s a definite aesthetic to the genre that sets it apart from crime fiction from other regions.

Nordic Noir is brutal. It’s gritty and dark and features some of the most twisted and depraved criminals I’ve ever seen in fiction. So it’s definitely not a genre for everybody. But it is a genre that has a huge fan base, so much so that there multiple festivals celebrating these books in various countries!

Henning Mankell is one of the most well known authors of the genre. His Kurt Wallander series made its way to the English language readers early on and was adapted into a Swedish film series and TV show as well as an English TV show starring Kenneth Branagh. But it was Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo that really kicked the genre into the mainstream.

My own introductions were Kirsten Ekman's Blackwater and Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow. Though the latter not considered true Nordic Noir, it is helmed as a predecessor to the trend. I don't recall much about Ekman's book at this stage. It was her first to be translated to English and I read it around 1996, so it's been a while. 

I recall more of Smilla's Sense of Snow thanks to having seen the movie so many times! In the book, a child falls off the roof of a building and dies but Smilla is convinced it wasn’t an accident. When no one listens, she decides to take matters into her own hands and investigate. It’s an odd read, but as a teenager I loved it and it opened the way to my reading more Nordic authors!

One of my longtime, current favorites is Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. Her Thóra Gudmundsdóttir is heavily inspired by actual events and history in Iceland and each book always has just a hint of the supernatural to it. One is even based on the Icelandic folklore around trolls! The first in the series, and the author’s debut, was Last Rituals, a book that finds Thóra, an attorney and single mother, aiding in the investigation of the murder of a college student.

Sigurðardóttir has recently kicked off a new series as well, this one featuring a psychologist. The first book is called The Legacy. I was lucky enough to be in Houston on the very day she was doing an event last fall and got to hear her speak!

As a longtime reader of mysteries and thrillers, it’s always a treat to find an author who can keep me guessing straight through to the end and Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen is one of those authors. His Department Q series is an absolute favorite of mine and features a grumpy detective relegated to sifting through cold cases thanks to his bad attitude. Unfortunately for the powers that be, Carl Mørck and his misfit cohorts prove to be better at their jobs than anyone expected. The Keeper of Lost Causes is the first book in the series and it is fabulous. Be warned, though, it is incredibly dark! (The movie adaptation is fabulous as well and I highly suggest seeking it out! There are actually movies based on the first four books, but the last one hasn't made it's way to the States as of yet, sadly.)

This year saw me reading my first Lars Kepler novels. These are penned by a husband and wife team. The series kicks off with The Hypnotist. If you read the blog often, then you've also seen my recent coverage of Ragnar Jónasson, Sara Blaedel, and Søren Sveistrup. Other well known and excellent authors in the genre include Jo Nesbø, Jenny Rogneby, and Camilla Läckberg amongst others.

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