Itt may be getting warmer outside, but there’s always room in our icy cold hearts for the frozen tundras of Nordic noir. Nordic noir is a darkly twisty genre that tells stories about investigative crime in cold Scandinavian locales. These are the best Nordic Noir pieces to get you started.
Denmark: The Killing
If you’ve seen the American remake on AMC, you know the premise of The KillingA female detective at the brink of retiring is pulled into the murder case of a teenage girl. Sofie Gråbøl stars as Sarah Lind, whose investigation finds her wading into the political corruption plaguing Copenhagen. Forbrydelsen, as it’s called in Danish, which translates to The CrimeThe American is more formal and colder than that of. The KillingThis gives it an authentic Nordic noir atmosphere. It’s also much longer, with more episodes per season, which may thrill you or enrage you depending on how deep you want to go.
The Finnish creeper has more fun with snowy mountains than any Nordic Noir TV. Lappeenranta is a Russian town. The story centers on detective Kari Sorjonen (Ville Virtanen), a talented investigator who has a great photographic memory, but also suffers from some social awkwardness. The serial killers who Sorjonen hunts are some of the most dark and twisted we’ve seen in similar series. For example, one of Sorjonen’s serial killers prefers to place his victims in ice fishing containers. Thankfully, Sorjonen’s not a dour loner, but rather a family man with a wife and daughter. They are a contrast to the cold landscapes.
Sweden: The Dragon Tattoo GirlBy Stieg Larsson
Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s Millennium TrilogyThe popularity of Nordic Noir novels in America was practically a result. It is a dark story about Lisbeth, a gothic hacker and private investigator who teams up with Mikael Blomkvist as a journalist to investigate gruesome murders. All three of Larsson’s novels were made into films in Sweden, while the first book made it to Hollywood at the hands of David Fincher. Larsson passed away in 2004. Millennium The stories of three Swedish journalists and authors David Lagercrantz continue to tell the tales of their characters. Karin Smirnoff has a new trilogy in the works. She will show us how she combines misogynistic violence and the feminist strength of this series with a female writer.
Hollywood is awash with Nordic noir. American films, books and series based on Scandinavian literature, film and television are all available for purchase. Christopher Nolan’s 2002 remake of Insomnia—which was packed with stars Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank—centered on a case that took place in Alaska. But Nolan’s Hollywoodized version wasn’t nearly as grim as the 1997 Norwegian original. Directed by Erik Skjoldbjærg and starring Stellan Skarsgård, the story follows the investigation into the murder of a teenage girl in an isolated town. Whereas in Nolan’s Insomnia there is a definitive good and bad, the original is much more concerned with the existential crises that inhabit the darkest parts of everyone’s minds.
Faroe Islands: Eivør Pálsdóttir
The Faroe Islands lie approximately 200 miles north from Scotland, midway between Norway & Iceland. Here, the sun is rare and puffins can be seen roaming alongside Faroese sheep. These islands are where singer and songwriter Eivør Pálsdóttir got her start at age 13. Decades later, over the course of her eclectic career, Pálsdóttir has mixed traditional Faroese folk music with electronic sounds and haunting Scandinavian vocals. Gamers will recognize her work from the 2018 edition of God of WarThis used Norse mythology. She’s also providing some medieval-esque tunes for the BBC’s Anglo-Saxon series The Last Kingdom. But for more of the modern Nordic noir sound, check out her songs “Salt” from her 2015 Faroese album “Slør” and “Mánasegl” from her most recent album “Segl.”
Denmark: The Midnight WitnessSara Blaedel
Danish writer Sara Blaedel is called Denmark’s “Queen of Crime.” Her most famous novels follow a Danish homicide detective named Louise Rick, who takes it upon herself to solve crimes committed against marginalized women. Her novel The Forgotten GirlsIn North America, it was published in 2015. It sparked the American obsession for Louise Rick. But to go back earlier chronologically in Rick’s story, hit up 2018’s The Midnight WitnessBlaedel shares her experience as a former journalist in the movie “The Last Days of Louise Rick”. Bron Studios nabbed the rights to turn Louise Rick into a TV series back in 2017, and we can’t wait to see the character in live action.
Iceland: The Valhalla Murders
Speaking of female detectives: Iceland’s The Valhalla Murders stars Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir as Detective Katrín “Kata” Gunnarsdóttir. Think of her as Iceland’s version of Mare of Easttown. Kata is tough and doesn’t take anyone’s nonsense, and much like Mare, her own life is kind of in shambles. Also like Mare, she’s forced to work with a new male partner—only her version is a secretive Norwegian who’s not nearly as adorable as Evan Peters’ Detective Zabel. Iceland’s gorgeous scenery is another major character here, with its snowy landscapes on full display.
There are no grisly murders in Thomas Vinterberg’s 2012 film Hunt, but the icy tension and cold characters give it enough Nordic noir weight, and there is a crime at the story’s center. Mads Mikkelsen portrays Lucas, who is accused by a Danish school teacher of being a child pedophile. As word spreads about the accusations, Lucas struggles to protect his reputation, maintain his friendships, and defend himself. Hunt premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where Mikkelssen won Best Actor for this daring and moving performance, while Vinterberg was nominated for the Palme d’Or.
Norway: Juno Jensen AKA Pieces of Juno
Nordic Noir has been so popular that you can listen to the soundtrack to these TV series. The album “Nordic Noir” from West One Music Group features music from Scandinavian film and TV composers and perfectly reflects those moments of blood splattered over pristine white snow or investigators lurking down a dark corridor. Juno Jensen is Pieces of Juno, and she’s a musician worth your time. Check out her haunting yet thumping song “Your Mouth Is a Dragon,” which feels like it’s accompanying a jaded Scandi detective going about their day.
Denmark/Sweden: The Bridge
“One body, two murders, two countries, and one bridge.” Intrigued yet? This TV co-production between Denmark and Sweden tells the story of a body found on the bridge between Copenhagen, Denmark, and Malmö, Sweden. It has been cut in half around the waist and placed right on the border between the countries. Swedish detective Saga Norén and Danish Detective Martin Rohde must work together to solve the crime while dealing with the clash between their two countries. It would spoil a very bizarre surprise to reveal more. There’s good reason that The Bridgeis a highly acclaimed Nordic Noir series.
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