Murder, Mystery, and Scandinavia: The Perfect Combination

If you like the setting of your murder mysteries to take place in a cold, snowy climate, you’re not alone. The newest and bloodiest murder mysteries now seem to take place in Scandinavia. There’s something about murder, mystery, and the bitter cold that seem to go together, and it seems that readers have been entertained by them for years.

The first tastes of “murder in the cold” were not centered in Scandinavia at all, but in Canada. King of the Royal Mounties by Zane Grey and Sgt. Preston of the Yukon by Fran Striker not only paid homage to the brave officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but also took pleasure in the descriptions of the snow and cold where they work. But those thrillers were mild.

Today’s popular snowy whodunits are set in the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland. Most readers discovered the Scandinavian version of murder and mayhem through the bestselling book by Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Remember the description of the icy wind and the heavy snow? Those descriptions by Larsson were almost as fascinating as his riveting storyline.

But it isn’t simply the cold and dark setting of these murder mysteries that appeals to readers; it’s something much more. Scandinavian mysteries use criminal investigations to delve into social issues with candor and straightforward truths. Social problems—such as sexual abuse, inequality (both gender- and class-based), and the horror of how the mentally ill and the elderly are treated—are often strong themes that play into the meat of the stories.

These novels tap into the underbelly of their society. It seems that the modern crime writers of Scandinavia have chosen to emulate the social novelists of two hundred years ago who explored the ills and hardships of certain parts of their world.

The interest in mysteries set in Nordic climes has grown in popularity over the last few years.  Part of their appeal is the unrelenting bleakness, the dry humor of the protagonists, and the terrifying fierceness of the crimes themselves. There is also a unique obsession from those tasked with solving the crimes. They methodically try to understand why people commit these horrific crimes in the first place. If you like your stories dark, gloomy, and violent, then these novels from Scandinavia are for you.

Despite the murders taking place on the pages of the novels, readers may be surprised—hopefully pleasantly—that Scandinavian countries have some of the lowest homicide rates in the world. Perhaps the bleakness and violence of the murder mysteries themselves is one hell of an outlet for the “evil in the human soul.”

See also: Iceland: A Locked Room Mystery on a Grand Scale


Kristen Houghton is the author of nine top-selling novels, including For I Have Sinned and Grave Misgivings. She is hard at work on a new series that features a paranormal investigator with distinct powers of her own. Houghton is also the author of two non-fiction books and numerous short stories which appear in popular horror anthologies

Magic, mystery, murder! Coming in December, Unrepentant: Pray for Us Sinners, Book 3 in Kristen Houghton’s bestselling new series, A Cate Harlow Private Investigation.

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